June 22, 2022

Building L3v3rag3 to succeed as a startup

Or why the 2% have 98% of the world's wealth.

Or why the 2% have 98% of the world's wealth.


I often find myself annoying other people: telling them how inefficient their development environment is, how they aren't fully utilizing their screen space, or not using the right shortcuts. Often people perceive this as an insult and abuse of their "personal" space. One former colleague even put a Glassdoor review about that. Reflecting on this, I was thinking about why this is happening.

As a founder, I was taking it for granted that we are fighting against time and "swimming upstream". I thought everyone joining a startup at an early stage should realize the same, but, apparently, I failed to communicate why. This post is an attempt to explain why things like putting effort, high efficiency, and sharp focus matter very much for the success of a startup.

Our world is not "fair"

I finished high school with all perfect A's. Then did the same in college. Then again during my Master's and Ph.D. In fact, the last "B" I had I still remember to this day. It always felt like the teacher was on my "a$$" for no reason. I clearly knew more than anyone else in my class and could handle homework assignments way before any of my classmates did. Yet she was still giving me "B"s instead of "A"s. What the hell, right?!

She was right, though, in pushing me to do more and realize my abilities. "It's 3% talent and 97% perspiration." - I remember her saying. Our world is not fair. We can try and pretend it is. We can try and "improve" it to be so. But the truth is that it is not what most will call "fair". Mathematics helps understand it. The term "fair" is perhaps better suited by the normal distribution where a majority is at the central portion and the weight of the "outliers" is relatively small. Our society is governed by the Pareto law or the "80/20 law", or in our case - the "98/2" law.

The distribution of wealth in our society, the values of oil reserves in oil fields, the standardized price returns on individual stocks, and even the sizes of sand particles are all distributed according to the Pareto law, where the weight of the few larger outliers is equivalent to the rest of the small specimens in the population [1]. And of course, 2% of startups make 98% of the money.

Archimedes once said...

If you give me a lever and a place to stand, I can move the world.

How does one end up in the 2%? Like swimming upstream or fighting gravity, this requires a combination of factors and a comprehensive approach. Of course, one has to be in the right place at the right time, but that alone is not enough. Great things can happen with enough leverage. [2]

When building digital products, how do we create leverage? Creating leverage is a complex multi-layer process that requires multiple factors to be in "sync". Not all of these factors are equally important, and their relative influence will be different from organization to organization, and from person to person. That said, when these factors work together, great things do happen.

How to build leverage

An engineer at a startup can be 36 times more efficient than a regular engineer at Big Tech (quoting PG [3]). How does one get to that level? Here's how:

  1. Putting Effort. Work hours are a required item that everything else builds upon. It is definitely not a sufficient item on its own, and spending long hours with low efficiency (see below) is worse than highly efficient 9 to 5. That said - true dedication, and excitement - that helps find and optimize the other factors listed below - will hardly happen 9 to 5.
  2. Efficiency. To make the effort count, use the best possible tools for the job. For writing code, it's things like one's development environment, high-performance hardware, correct posture, etc. Debugging setup, multiple selections, shortcuts, fast typing. When organizing any digital work the use of Object-oriented Design can bring important benefits. The list is endless, really.
  3. Planning. Think about what needs to be done, and plan it well to eliminate any kind of unnecessary redundancy or repetition. To make the process predictable, use the "five why" approach and "divide and conquer" to get down to a predictable amount of work to be delivered quickly.
  4. Motivation. Make sure you are not just "laying the bricks", nor "building the wall", but you are (all, together) there to build a "cathedral".
  5. Synergy. Enjoy, learn and bounce ideas and energy from the team.
  6. Focus. Don't boil the ocean. Concentrate your effort on what's important.
  7. Talent. This one is the "cherry" on top, that propagates through all the other items above.

What about Luck?

Luck is just like faith: you either have it or not. Are we in the right place? Is it the right time now? In the end, everyone decides for themselves. There are, however, global trends that affect the markets. For digital materials R&D, there are several trends that now project rapid growth, so much that there are now reports of materials informatics markets growing at a whopping 29.2% annual percentage rate during the next few years [4].

Among the global trends affecting the growth of digital materials R&D are:

  1. the proliferation of artificial intelligence and machine learning
  2. the rapid adoption of cloud-based high-performance computing
  3. the global push for digital transformation, boosted by COVID-19

Other important factors for materials/chemicals stem from the global issues we are facing today, such as climate change, transition to renewable energy, pollution, overpopulation, and many others. New materials will be key no matter what we do to solve these.

Life is short

Build leverage and apply it to go something great, while you still can!


  1. Pareto Distribution, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_distribution
  2. Paul Graham about building wealth, http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html
  3. Object-Oriented Design, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Object-oriented_design.
    Object-Oriented Programming: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/benefits-advantages-of-oop/#:~:text=OOP language allows to break,from small to large systems.
  4. Precedence Research, Materials Informatics market forecast: https://www.precedenceresearch.com/material-informatics-market