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What people say that they want and what people actually want are frequently two very different things. When it comes to finding product-market fit, this is obvious. There is an old quote often attributed to Henry Ford: "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." It is better to look at people's actions and behaviour rather than their words when judging what they actually want.

The people whom cdixon talks to that say they want to be '"working at or founding a startup"' are lying. They are lying to themselves first and foremost and only secondarily to cdixon. Their actions speak much louder than those words. Those actions say that they want to safety and security of the job that they don't enjoy rather than the risk and uncertainty of a startup.




There is some truth in what you say, but there is also a trap.

In my experience I've found that by thinking about what they want, a person can get a better understanding of what their choices are offering. The challenge is differentiating between 'heading to' (aspirational wants) versus 'running from' (symptomatic wants). The question the example person in Chris' article did not answer was "Do you want to do X?" (aspirational) or "Do you not want to do Y?" (symptomatic). People can spend all of their careers running away from things they don't like, that seems to leave them feeling bitter.

The nuance that I think Chris overlooks is that you can see the next hill but the valley is still full of fog, and that fog can obscure the fact that some hills have a cliff on one side of them. For example you can't just go over to the local hospital and say "Hey, I'd like to be brain surgeon! Got any openings?"

One way I've found to separate things I'm simply running away from versus things I'm trying to run toward, is that when I think I want to go to X, I start researching X and what paths lead there. Sort of like looking at people who are in the space I think I want to go and looking at the path they took there. Then trying to figure out what steps were necessary and which ones were not. To be a doctor these days you need a medical degree, its necessary, but you don't need like biology, that is helpful but not essential. If I am unwilling to take the essential steps, I have to consider that perhaps I don't really "want" what I think I want.

As a result one of the things I try to do in every place I work is 'round' myself out in some way or another. The goal is to make as many "hills" accessible as I reasonably can.


There are more than two things to consider. I think there are at least four. What people say they want, what they think they want, what they actually want, and what would make them happy. It is pretty rare for any two of these to be the same, let alone all four.


"Startup-founder" has become a fashion accessory. A bucket-list item. A cool factor.

As much as I don't wish for another down-turn, I will admit that it washes out the gold-diggers, the frauds and the wantapreneurs.


> He has decided he hates Wall Street and wants to work at a tech startup (good!).

> How can smart, ambitious people stay working in an area where they have no long term ambitions? I think a good analogy for the mistake they are making can be found in computer science.

It's as if being an entrepreneur is the end-all, be-all of all careers. It's hard work. It's riddled with failure. It's not for everybody.

In addition, the algorithm that the author attempts to describe is called Simulated Annealing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulated_annealing


For the system, it's like the particle swarm algorithm (PSO). Well, fine, the system will do fine. But it's really hard on ants.

EDIT: Almost all multi-agent exploratory algorithms have these characteristics: evolution, free-market capitalism.

And we all (as the species, as the beneficiaries of the system) benefit, even if 10M sperm died to give us 1K eggs to give us 1 living turtle to get back to the beach to re-spawn. The species will live. The ecosystem will adapt and thrive -- but it is very wasteful in terms of point-probes on the multi-dimensional problem space. 1K:1 or 1M:1 die, to have the one survive, because it found the niche in the problem space. That's all fine and dandy until we realize that each of us are the point-probes. We think that we are better than that. Well, maybe we are. In 1000 years, they will look back and see.

EDIT2: > It's as if being an entrepreneur is the end-all, be-all of all careers. It's hard work. It's riddled with failure. It's not for everybody.

Well, for the system, it's great. The system searches for it's maximum potential. For the entrepreneur, he's just a point-sample (in one algorithm), or a geodesic field in yours. These things are tried and tossed away as if they are trash if they don't "fit".

Nothing wrong with that ... it's as if the universe is using the human geoplex as a hive-mind to achieve something greater. But, we, as individuals, might have opinions about how we want to be treated as agents of this algorithm.


Looking up PSO, I came across Russell Eberhart's name as the co-author of the algorithm. He is also the author of the excellent book called Swarm Intelligence where I first encountered the Simulated Annealing algorithm (and many other cool ones)


I first came across it when I was hitting certain boundary conditions w/ GA/GP in the early 90s. It's pretty great. Of course, as stochastic methods go, you never know when they are going to get there. I am gratified to find recent research in the DL community going back and saying, "you know what? some of these GA/GP/PSO critiques of multi-layer NN were right, and they had something to say!". But, I'm too old and grumpy to do anything with either gratitude, or revenge or research dollars now. I just mostly tell the kids to get off my lawn.

EDIT: I'm simply saying that saying: "I told you so!" 25+ years later doesn't get me my life or my wife back. I was a misplaced, from my agent-centric-point-of-view, sample. If I could only learn to lean back and give it up for England. (just kidding)


> In addition, the algorithm that the author attempts to describe is called Simulated Annealing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulated_annealing

And the last one i thought was a nod to genetic programming.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_programming


You mean Genetic Programming or Genetic Algorithms? Because they're not the same. The former is what happens when you apply the latter to optimize an abstract syntax tree :).


What makes a "true" entrepreneur, as opposed to a "fraudulent" entrepreneur? I think you'd be disappointed to learn why most people start companies.


At least going back to the mid 1990s, I've always asked friends & acquaintances if they were interested in starting their own business at some point (when the topic happens to come up).

Close to maybe 90% of those people said yes.

Something closer to 5-10% of those people have ended up starting their own businesses.

Anecdotal for sure. I'd bet that it's a statistical outcome that's not too far from the average however.

They like the idea of finally being their own boss. Most people don't know very much about running a business or starting one, so they think it means immense amounts of increased freedom, to take vacations when you want to for example, or set more convenient hours for yourself.

Then any time they think about taking concrete steps on it, the reality wall hits: the risk (financial & personal) is terrifying (often for good reason). Or they're intimidated by what seems to be a very difficult process ('where do I even start?'). And then they just never do start, the idea never leaves the drawing board, where it remains a sweet fantasy.

I've found you can quickly tell whether someone has a real intention of starting the business they have an idea for, just from the vocabulary they use when discussing it. For one thing, if they're not going to, they'll immediately turn away from any encouragement toward getting started or learning more about it (no matter how small the suggested first step is); they'll shoot down conversation that veers too close to reality, preferring to keep it as that nice thought.

Polling people about such things is ridiculously unreliable. Based on a common view of owning your own business, you might as well ask people: would you like to be your own boss, get rich, set your own schedule and love what you do for a living?


I don't think it is fair to say they are lying, they probably do really want those things, but fear of the unknown and failure paralyzes people, especially those that are already comfortable.

They should probably be more specific and say they want to be working at or founding a successful startup though.


> Those actions say that they want to safety and security of the job that they don't enjoy rather than the risk and uncertainty of a startup.

I think it's quite possible to have both. Have a full time job, work on a side project, and if it becomes successful enough to quit your full time job, then do so. Startup without the uncertainty!

Granted, now you've pushed the odds of your startup failing from 95% to perhaps 98% (since you're not devoting all of your time to it), but what do a few percentage points matter at that level anyway? Replacing a 5% chance of winning the lottery with a 2% chance doesn't mean you should no longer play (especially since you've eliminated the stress of potentially starving).


Say, for example, that my "side-project" was a HIPAA-compliant SAAS-software tool for doctors that they relied on every day (24x7). It needed to be deployed across multiple availability zones, and the team needed to be "on-call" for whatever didn't work, whenever it didn't work? How would that, for example, square with doing it in parallel with a 9-5? Or, are you talking about doing a project that people don't really really need?

I have to imagine the failure rate of pushing a product that people don't need would be high, and the ability to support a product that they do need would not be compatible with the side-project concept. Am I wrong in thinking this?


If your side project is a HIPAA compliant SAAS tool for doctors, than it's hardly an MVP, so it's probably a poor choice for a side project.

However, if you build software for doctors that avoids the regulatory compliance problems, then get it expanded out to 14 hospitals, then raise, then have staff, you can then go back and do that HIPAA compliant SAAS solution that you initially wanted to. Which pretty much describes my path over the last 3 years


I get your point, but getting it regulatorily compliant seemed (to me, at the time) easier than just dodging the question. A pain in the yatkova, to be sure, but it made sales easier to just hand them my basic-docs book (or fill out the questionairre) and say 'yes', 'yes', 'yes', than to fight with the provider's issues with their upstream issues.

If you were able to dodge that, then, salute!

EDIT: And, I will admit, there has been an amount of conflation of the term 'side-project', and 'startup' and 'mvp' and 'project' and 'product' over the (esp. last two) years that confuses me from time to time. I often lose the thread on context. My apologies if my comments reflect my lack of appropriate modern contextual understanding.


The analogy is (of course) imperfect. There's an element of risk and stochasticity in climbing the hill; you might fail, or you might realize you're actually doing the wrong thing.

If you stay at the bank, or at a nice job, you're almost guaranteed to continue that gradient ascent. It's not the case with a startup; it's not as simple as deciding to do it, having to deal with a local minimum, and then continuing upwards.

Many want to be at the top of the hill. Few want to take the risk of actually climbing it.


Let's be fair and admit that faster horses would have been amazing. With self-driving cars, we're only getting to the point where horse technology was 2000 years ago.


Faster horses would have been terrifying and dangerous. Have you ever ridden a fast horse at full gallop? It takes quite a bit of skill just to stay on and maintain control; you generally can't just let the horse "drive" itself.


The point stands, however. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, would read and write sermons as he rode (obviously not at a full gallop) from church to church, if legend is to be believed. These days he might, at best, listen to a few podcasts as he sits in traffic.


If he had a car he would have arrived at the church fast enough to have time to read and write after he got there, even with traffic. Especially if you factor in the extra time it takes to care for a horse and deal with the tackle.


> They are lying to themselves first and foremost and only > secondarily to cdixon. Their actions speak much louder than those words.

Life is not so simple for all of us I guess. When your earning in a corporate job is supporting your family, you can't simply dropout and start chasing a startup lottery.

Only simple minded fools or rich kids who don't have any downside will play this game indiscriminately.


Not trying to invalidate your point, but Henry Ford probably never said that: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/37637/did-henry...


Although I agree with the message, just being pedantic Henry Ford never actually said that.




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