You’ve got to really want it

by Giff on February 13, 2010

For as much as we like innovation, most people aren’t cut out to start a tech company or even join one in a super-early stage.  That’s my point of disagreement with Chris Dixon on his latest post, “Every time an engineer joins Google, a startup dies“.

Smart entrepreneurs try to mitigate risk every way they can, but let’s not sugarcoat how difficult startups are. Unless you are independently wealthy, have a big win already under your belt, or win the VC lottery, a startup means:

  • burning through savings
  • obsessing about work all the time
  • putting strain on your marriage / relationships
  • trying to keep an even keel through huge ups and downs
  • fighting on and digging deep and deeper with each setback
  • investing massive amounts of time on a belief that might come to nothing

Of course there are many wonderful things too, but it’s not by accident that you’ll hear a lot of successful entrepreneurs say a huge factor is simply determination and perseverance.

Even if you do every “lean startup” approach right on the money, you still face huge risk.  Investors know this — for all the due diligence they do, only a few companies in their portfolio will be stars.  Unlike investors, entrepreneurs have all their eggs in one basket.

Most people who join Google/McKinsey/Goldman out of school are not cut out to start or join an early-stage startup.  These young men and women are not lacking for ambition, work ethic, and determination, but they have different motivations. They are not yet ready for the sheer pace, light support structure, instability, lower salary and possibility of failure.

Plenty of folks like the *concept* of a startup, but are not ready to take the plunge.  To loop back to Dixon’s post, my read is that he’s disappointed our culture pushes these people into the BigCo’s rather than the startups.  I think he’s right that a few good entrepreneurs are lost this way, but I don’t think it’s a huge number.

In the U.S., our culture acts as a filter on entrepreneurial drive and moxie.  The US culture is probably more welcoming of entrepreneurship (and forgiving of failure) than any place in the world.  If you don’t do a startup because your parents think it’s crazy, or you want people to be impressed when you name-drop your employer at a party, or you’re not willing to dedicate such a huge portion of your life and energy to work, or you aren’t willing to take on that financial and career risk, then you’re not ready.  You might be later, but not yet.

You don’t start a company to play at being entrepreneur.  If you are anything but fully committed, you’ll fold after the first few big tests. Culture acts as a first gauntlet, and, much as I encourage entrepreneurship, serves a purpose by not making entrepreneurship too easy or too casual.

I’m still doing this at 37, having been at 5 prior tech startups (with a troublesome detour in the art world).  Each of those 5 had their moment in the sun, a chance at greatness, but none were a really big win.  Actually, the only one that did well for me financially was also the only one I founded and ran, and so I am glad to be back in the founder saddle again rather than working for another’s company (though I’ve learned amazing lessons at all of them).

The truth? I feel sorry for my wife and kids having to bear with an entrepreneur dad (and I suspect the other moms at the nursery school feel sorry for her too), but I’m hardwired this way.  It can be brutal, but I love it.  I can’t help it.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.  It comes with awesome highs, punishing lows, and incredible challenges, but I feel like I *have* to do it. And I’m ready to pound down any goddamn wall that gets between me and my win.

Some related recent posts;
Dave Lifson wrote about sacrifices and an investor backing out of a $200K commitment
– Paul Graham told Mixergy that the thing they really look for is determination and the inner steel to stick it out
Jordan Cooper on 35 gut checks when founding your first company

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  • http://positive-footprint.org David Guzman

    Great post, Giff. Coming from the perspective of an entrepreneur that will be graduating in May, I would say that your theory on why young individuals most often go the course of seeking the safety of larger firms as opposed to taking the risk associated with joining start-ups is pretty spot on. There are obviously different priorities and motivations that are at work here. Whether it is college loans, debt, etc. , more often than not students appear hesitant to go against the trend and start new ventures. Costs are benefits are carefully weighed and consistent with these calculations, incentive packages, benefits associated with a new position, and high salaries usually appeal as a more attractive package. rnrnOn a personal note, I can say that my calculations are quite the same. There are different factors at work that I know will come into play later in life (namely family, greater need for a consistent income, etc.). As I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to my institution, I am now at a place where I am more or less starting ahead of the curve (with savings, resources, and a network of colleagues across diverse industries), therefore I feel less restricted by any financial barriers associated with playing the entrepreneurial game. If you are to ask me whether or not I would do this 10 or even 15 years down the line, you could quite possibly get a different answer.

  • http://twitter.com/davidrguzman David Guzman

    Great post, Giff. Coming from the perspective of an entrepreneur that will be graduating in May, I would say that your theory on why young individuals most often go the course of seeking the safety of larger firms as opposed to taking the risk associated with joining start-ups is pretty spot on. There are obviously different priorities and motivations that are at work here. Whether it is college loans, debt, etc. , more often than not students appear hesitant to go against the trend and start new ventures. Costs are benefits are carefully weighed and consistent with these calculations, incentive packages, benefits associated with a new position, and high salaries usually appeal as a more attractive package.

    On a personal note, I can say that my calculations are quite the same. There are different factors at work that I know will come into play later in life (namely family, greater need for a consistent income, etc.). As I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to my institution, I am now at a place where I am more or less starting ahead of the curve (with savings, resources, and a network of colleagues across diverse industries), therefore I feel less restricted by any financial barriers associated with playing the entrepreneurial game. If you are to ask me whether or not I would do this 10 or even 15 years down the line, you could quite possibly get a different answer.

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    thanks for the comment David, and I hope your entrepreneurial efforts are going well

  • http://giffconstable.com giffc

    thanks for the comment David, and I hope your entrepreneurial efforts are going well