Startup Lesson 2: Work from the Fundamentals

Some things change, some things stay the same. This simple idea can help you build your startup into something that will stick. At StackAdapt, two fundamental concepts help us uncover opportunities and decide our company’s direction. Differentiating between and acknowledging finite trends and universal truths will impact how you view your product, industry, and customers and help decide the direction of your business.

Trends: What Will Change?

Odds are, you wouldn’t start a newspaper company today because you understand that content is mostly consumed digitally. But 10 years ago you may have felt differently about launching a print media empire.

Key questions to ask yourself when positioning your startup: Where is everything heading? What can I do today that will be the default way of doing things in the near future?

For example, here are some general societal trends:

  • Openness and inclusion. More countries are opening their borders to international trade. People and businesses demand more transparency. Liberal views gain momentum across the globe.
  • Health consciousness. The West’s obesity problem is widely discussed. Consumers demand healthier options, which in turn pushes companies to create healthier products. The culture of sport and fitness is on the rise.
  • Automation. Barriers to building technology are the lowest they have ever been. Computers are beginning outperforming humans in many tasks, and as a result, are being widely integrated across all organizational functions.

Once a trend picks up, it’s really hard to go against it. Starting a newspaper company today would be as silly as launching a discount burger joint a la McDonalds, which is also actively trying to reinvent itself.

It’s not impossible to pull off, but you will battle headwinds every day, and that’s on top of all other difficult things you have to do as a startup.

Some trends are short, some are long. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of something that’s only popular for a year so long as you recognize this fact heading into your work.  

Universal Truths: What Will Stay the Same?

This term is something we use a lot at StackAdapt. A universal truth can be absolute -- something that never changes (for example, everyone wants to be happy), or temporary -- something that’s true at this given moment in time (for example, knowledge sharing in a growing company is difficult).

Absolute Universal Truths are here to stay. For example, they can encompass how we, as humans, are wired:

  • People are lazy. No one wants to do extra work. Everyone wants to do less, but yield higher return (money, time, happiness, health etc.)
  • People are social beings. People need other people. People need interactions. People care about what other people think of them. That’s why social networks blow up. That’s why fashion and luxury items exists.
  • Everyone wants sex. Dating apps, nightclubs, fashion, and alcohol are here to stay because they help people get laid.

Or they can encompass certain societal facts:

  • Every company needs more customers. Except Sears, apparently.
  • All rockets are too slow to reach nearby galaxies in our lifetime. You can’t travel faster than speed of light.

Changing human behaviour is difficult, if not impossible, and absolute universal truths are often acknowledged by the majority. Startups should go on the path of least resistance and work with these truths rather than against them.

Temporary Universal Truths remain until someone solves for them. Temporary truths can range from something as trivial as “people are unhappy with the transit system”, to something as large as “we don’t know how the human brain works”.  

Here are some examples of Temporary Universal Truths from trivial to grand:

  • Everyone hates food on airplanes. At least in economy class.
  • Building a marketing stack is as difficult as building a rocket. See point below.
  • All life as we know it is currently trapped on Earth. Talk about putting all our eggs in one basket. Perhaps, soon we can live on Mars.

When building a product, identify the universal truths that apply to you and build a product that satisfies and addresses the Absolute Universal Truth, or tries to solve for the Temporary Universal Truth.


The terms Absolute and Temporary as applied to Universal Truths were made up by me as a structural framework for my ideas. I don’t exclude the possibility of Absolute truths changing in the long, long, long run.