This chapter is a free excerpt from Make Something People Love: Lessons From a Startup Guy.

One of my favorite campaigns started out as social commentary: the reddit alien, being an alien of course, was having some immigration issues, and unfortunately got caught up in a lot of red tape. This led shortly to his deportation, along with Yoda. A tragedy, right? So the alien was put on a rocket ship, which naturally veered off course and landed on LV-426, which is not a fun place to be. Fortunately, the colonial space marines saved the day and the alien was returned to the front page. But soon he had stomach ache and that got worse, much worse, until the predator came in to save the day. And the alien was gonethis was actually an interesting day because we had a number of people lamenting the loss of the alien. They really thought it was gone for good and we had a bunch of feedback email. That is a great sign. When people care that much, you are doing something right. And naturally, we had to bring the alien back. Through the wonderful magic of evolution, the reddit alien finally returned to its place on the front page.

WATCH: MAGIC OF EVOLUTION

I don’t know what drove me to get up every morning to work on this thing, it was just kind of cathartic and in the process it gave people a little something to be surprised and delighted by. And even now, years later, I’ve heard from people who said that they would still check in just to see what was going on with the alien that day. To put it another way, these people cared so much about what we had made that they went to our website just to see what our logo was doing. That’s the power of surprise and delight.

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One of my favorite campaigns started out as social commentary: the reddit alien, being an alien of course, was having some immigration issues, and unfortunately got caught up in a lot of red tape. This led shortly to his deportation, along with Yoda. A tragedy, right? So the alien was put on a rocket ship, which naturally veered off course and landed on LV-426, which is not a fun place to be. Fortunately, the colonial space marines saved the day and the alien was returned to the front page. But soon he had stomach ache and that got worse, much worse, until the predator came in to save the day. And the alien was gonethis was actually an interesting day because we had a number of people lamenting the loss of the alien. They really thought it was gone for good and we had a bunch of feedback email. That is a great sign. When people care that much, you are doing something right. And naturally, we had to bring the alien back. Through the wonderful magic of evolution, the reddit alien finally returned to its place on the front page.

WATCH: MAGIC OF EVOLUTION

I don’t know what drove me to get up every morning to work on this thing, it was just kind of cathartic and in the process it gave people a little something to be surprised and delighted by. And even now, years later, I’ve heard from people who said that they would still check in just to see what was going on with the alien that day. To put it another way, these people cared so much about what we had made that they went to our website just to see what our logo was doing. That’s the power of surprise and delight.

What this all comes down to is doing something exceptional for your users. Whether it’s in community, whether it’s in connection, or whether it’s in design. One of our most important advantages as startups is that when you’re not beholden to making money for your shareholders, you can make delighting your users a core part of why you do business. People want to be inspired, and you can’t help but try. As a startup, you just don’t have any other choice.

The truth, though, is that it’s actually really easy—especially given what a terrible job most companies are doing in this area. Here’s a great example: Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, wrote a book called Delivering Happiness. It’s a great book, with the simple premise that customer service is really, really important and that is a large part of why Zappos has been so successful. Now, what really blows my mind is that this book is an international bestseller and that Tony gets asked to speak at corporations and conferences all over the world to basically say, “Treat your customers well.” And CEOs all over the world are going, “This guy is brilliant! We never thought of that. Johnson, did you hear this? He says treat customers well. Wow!”

If this message is causing such waves, what does that say about how most businesses treat their customers? The fact that this is revelatory is kind of depressing, but I’m happy he’s out there and I’m happy this message is being spread. There’s a tremendous opportunity for all of us who are now starting businesses with this in mind.

Whether it’s community, whether it’s connection, whether it’s design, these are all things we need to be thinking about as founders if we want to inspire and surprise and delight our users.

I hope this book has given you a few tools and insights to help you build something people love. It is totally within your ability. Who’s to say you can’t? You don’t need anyone’s permission. It’s as simple as writing some code and getting something online. There is no excuse for you not to be trying. That’s not to say it won’t be tough. You won’t get a whole lot of breaks as a startup founder. The incumbents have a lot going for them. As always, they’ve got tons of money, they’ve got brand awareness, and they’ve got lots of market share. But you, as a startup, have tremendous focus.

In the entire sample of Y Combinator startups—literally hundreds of companies—only one has actually ever been put out of business by a competitor. The rest continue to grow and succeed in spite of all kinds of incumbent competition. I think what really makes a difference, along with the focus, is simply giving a damn. Do it all like you give a damn.
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