Startup Mom
A blog based on my experiences building ParentScheduler and Frever

The Dao of Lean Startup

About the fallout from the YCombinator interview, and what's Dao got to do with it.

11 Jan 2021, 5 minutes read

I’ve been interested in the Dao for a while now. And I always felt having this spiritual perspective helped me in building a startup as I use meditation and yoga to balance my emotional and mental state as I am going through the roller coaster called building a startup. But in the past month I started thinking about the deeper aspects of how the approach of lean startup is connected to daoism and how the lean approach follows some daoist concepts. Sounds weird?


Why do I say lean startup is a daoist approach? Because it instructs us to do as little as possible. To invest as little effort as possible. To be precise in our work.

As I mentioned in my last post, a month ago I had my interview with YCombinator. While I thought that getting in or not will not make a difference in my direction I found that I was wrong. The interview did shake something in me, and shortly after it took place I felt I needed to stop and reassess my direction and assumptions.

You know, starting your first startup is a little bit like having your first child. No matter how much you read, no matter how much people tell you about it, no matter how prepared you think you are. You realize as you become a parent for the first time - nothing can really prepare you for it. No amount of intellectual understanding can ever equal what it means to live through it. Part of what the interview did was shake off a bit of my leftover naivety. And I felt I needed to just stop. Stop running, stop pushing. Stop and rethink.

One of the core concepts of the Dao is wu-wei. The art of not doing. Or at least “effortless action”. Or “not-forcing”. Shortly after the interview I decided to take a week of not doing. Not working or pushing, and as much as I can not-thinking, about ParentScheduler. Not-doing is harder than it sounds. We are so used to action. Most of us are taught from a young age to solve our problems and difficulties by doing something about it. But what if the best thing you can do is step back? What if the best course of action is to create space for new things to emerge? What if your best idea can only appear if you sit quietly and not try to think and solve?

Sometimes things need space to clarify themselves in.

What was the outcome of not-doing for a week? I realized my work on ParentScheduler has stopped being like water. That I am pushing against resistance. I have become hard instead of flexible.

One of the questions that came up in the interview was “where is the resistance?”. I was focusing on collaboration between the two parents but often time, while one parent is committed and interested, the other had resistance to introducing a new tool to a process they did not feel was broken. It’s a path with a lot of resistance.

So I decided to go back to my own roots. What do I need in my life right now in terms of managing my daughter’s schedule? What I really need is a way to organize my daughter’s schedule with friends and other families. In this path there is less resistance - as usually both sides who are organizers suffer from the hardship of communicating and coordinating around it. It also allows me to share with my network and see if it spreads. An easier path to test engagement and retention.

I have spent the last few weeks building that functionality and today it was finally released.

Not-doing does not mean to do nothing. It means that the best course of action feels natural. And as the yoga instructor mentioned as we were trying for a hard pose - simple does not mean easy. The concept of wu-wei is simple. The concept of lean startup is simple. Neither of them is easy.

What will happen next? I am trying to accept that I have no idea. I truly believe this problem space needs a solution. But do I have what it takes to find the path? I am looking for the Way.

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.
True words seem paradoxical.
-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Share on: