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Turpentine and Startups

· 3 min read

I had come across a tweet mentioning something about turpentine and Stripe. I remembered it had resonated with me at that point. But then I lost it.

Today, I went digging for it again. And yay, found it! This is the tweet thread I was looking for.

Written by a Stripe ex-employee, it explains certain key aspects of how Stripe works.

The one which struck me most was: Turpentine!

The context:

Picasso said, “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” Stripe is obsessed with turpentine.

It's fun to talk about startups in terms of market size, trends, TAM, disruption, etc. Sounds cool, doesn't it?

But as I am getting more experience building one, I am realising that startups are more like knife fights in the back alley, rather than planned invasion. Everyday is a new challenge. You win at things you never dreamt of, and sometimes loose which you thought to be certain.

Who wins is decided by who is the most dogged and has the best tools at hand. And thats why turpentine! At a startup you are always looking for the cheapest turpentine. Anything which gives you an iota of advantage against the rest.

You can't get this by just paddling on the surface. You need to go deep. Really immerse yourself in the problem. What users are doing, where they are finding your product. Then only you find areas which may have been unexplored by others.

At the end of the day, in a fight - no matter who you are. You have to win the fight on that day. There are lot more details in the real world, then a plan on paper would show you.

A map is not a territory.

And thats what gives a startup an edge. Because the team has the will to win. Because they know they will die if they don't put their best fight. Because they refuse to say "ENOUGH".