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Why Should I Start a Startup? (ycombinator.com)
569 points by craigcannon 213 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 279 comments



He sounds twice exceptional -- gifted, but with some sort of learning disability or handicap of some sort.

Twice exceptional people often appear to be "average" but find an "average" or normal life enormously frustrating. Because of having some sort of handicap, it can take a lot to get them going. Once they get going, they often outperform others. Life is vastly better for them when they can create their own niche because they simply do not fit in to normal societal expectations very well, try though they might.

No insult intended. I fit that profile, as do both my sons.

So, perhaps a good summary is if you are bright, but having trouble finding your niche, then starting your own company is a means to create your own niche. This is exactly what I have always told my oldest son. From an early age, it was clear to me he would not make a good employee. But that doesn't mean he won't eventually be successful. He just needs to grow his own.


This article is selling a narrative that you want to hear with a huge dollop of confirmation bias as andy_ppp points out. It's not very likely that you or your family are that 0.01%[1], but it is very likely that you think you are exceptional.

(I wish you all and your family all the best, but one needs to be very careful around this kind of narrativium.)

[1] Made up number, obviously.


The opposite side of the problem is that sometimes people continually tell you you're exceptional, talented, capable, and driven, while you point to your record of actual accomplishments and proclaim your mediocrity.

And by "you" I of course mean "me".


you could also just have a ton of below average coworkers so your mediocrity is still amazing. This is what happens in highschool sports. Folks mistake "above average" which is get you to college sports (I played D3 I know) with exceptional, eg Pro, or even All Star Pro. Few can even tell at that level.

I enjoyed myself a lot by going to a place where I was continually challenged in a domain I didn't know, games. Learned a ton, including humility, and got way better. It broke a lot of my assumptions or held beliefs with plain evidence to the contrary.


I hugely enjoyed my last job: the coworkers were all above my skill-level in practically everything, but somehow still liked having me around. I learned loads and built great relationships. We still keep in touch.

Pity our client cancelled the big project I'd been hired on for, revenue flow never quite got back up, and I was the only person in the company who couldn't do hardware dev :-(.


> while you point to your record of actual accomplishments and proclaim your mediocrity

Luck being the missing ingredient.


No, not at all. The missing ingredients are drive from an early age, extreme privilege from almost birth, and/or efficiency of work-ethic from an early age.

You can crank things out by putting in a lot of hours, to work towards a goal, but that's not actually enough. You needed to learn how to just process things efficiently and mechanically from the start.

You shouldn't have grown a sense of drive at age 23 and then needed to figure out how that works. You should have been efficient since forever, and then been able to deploy that towards drive at whatever age. Ideally, you should have had drive starting around age 14 on top of efficiency.

Provided you never managed any of those things, you should have just been born right. It's easy to hit all the top-ranked targets in life without having efficiency, or even an idea or drive before adulthood -- provided someone sent you to prep school, put you through top universities, and let you know you could start a business without worrying about ever starving or missing rent.

(I've met some people as privileged as that last description. The best among them is absolutely one of the most friendly, helpful, overall nice people I've ever met. Many of them are self-aware about the whole thing. Those who are neither nice nor self-aware are a danger to society, and IMHO haven't really earned it. Oh, and worse, some of the non-nice, self-unaware ones are in some very, very high places. Apparently they're awkward at parties, too.)


A meta observation around the reaction to the word "exceptional" based on some posters' comments:

- lomnakkus: "It's not very likely that you or your family are that 0.01%[1], but it is very likely that you think you are exceptional."

- deepGem: ", being frustrated with day to day life doesn't make one exceptional."

I think the problem here is that Mz's chosen word of "exceptional" makes it look like a superior attribute and self-aggrandizement. (This triggers a reaction: https://i.redd.it/1sd91qydx16z.gif)

So it seems like the word "exceptional" has too much positive connotation and that in turn triggers some to "knock the poster down a few pegs".

Can we find an alternative word that doesn't trigger that reflex? For whatever reason(s), a lot of entrepreneurs can't seem to conform to the typical 9-to-5 job. Maybe it is:

- ADD/ADHD

- DRD2 "thrill seeking" gene[1]

- mild sociopathic disorder[2]

- rule-maker or rule-breaker personality instead of rule-follower

- <some other dominant attribute>

Whatever the cause is, don't label it "exceptional" because it will lead to replies correcting you that "you're not exceptional".

How about another word such as "misfits"? If you're a person that sees no compatibility for careers such as programmer for BigCo, or doctor, or accountant, or teacher, etc, you'd self-diagnose yourself as a "misfit". Those careers are all noble endeavors -- but they also all feel "wrong" to the misfit. In a conformist-economy, the paths for the misfit earning a living is very different: If you're a "creative misfit", you can write novels or be in a rock band and people overlook your eccentricities. If you're not artistic but see business opportunities, you become an entrepreneur.

Is there a better word than "misfit" that captures the spirit above but is also sufficiently self-effacing to not make people think one has a superiority complex?

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=drd2+gene+entrepreneur

[2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2162-6057.1987....


Probably true, but 'twice exceptional' is the established term that describes what you are saying [1]. For example, someone who has 'genius' IQ (of 98th percentile) along with an uncommon neurotype (ADHD, autism-spectrum, dyslexia). These people often don't fit the stereotype of 'genius' nor their neurotype - and so are double 'misfits'. Probably the term 'twice exceptional' was chosen as more tact than 'double misfit', as these people often not accepted to normal society, especially as youth.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twice_exceptional


"For whatever reason(s), a lot of entrepreneurs can't seem to conform to the typical 9-to-5 job."

In my experience (almost 30 yrs of working at all sorts of companies, 2 startups of my own, lots of friends and acquaintances with their own businesses) the most people I've seen who are most successful at launching and running their own firms were those who did VERY well at previous 9-to-5 jobs.

That said, I've known plenty who did well at 9-to-5 jobs who didn't do so well with their own company. So I don't think that's a predictor for success, per se.

But I do think not being able to handle a regular job is, quite possibly, a negative indicator. I mean, face reality, MOST people don't like to go to a 9-to-5 job very much. After all, if they weren't being paid, 99% would not show up.


Perhaps the people that do well at a 9-5 and do well as an entrepreneur don't do well at the 9-5 because they're a model employee by nature but rather because they seek to be the best at whatever they do, however they can.


"different"?

FWIW, at least as far as I can know my own mind, my comment wasn't spurred by any notion of perceiving as OP being "arrogant" or thinking that they are "a special snowflake" or anything like that.

It's just that unlikely statistical events are... unlikely even though they often do happen to someone (in aggregate). As an individual, and without compelling evidence, it's simply meaningless to think that you're anything other than average in most respects.


It's just that unlikely statistical events are... unlikely even though they often do happen to someone (in aggregate).

You may think you mean well, but your original comment came across as ugly and dismissive and personally attacking. I didn't provide any evidence that I am some extreme outlier because a) that wasn't the point and b) people who know me already know I am twice exceptional and don't need that elaborated on.

You also fail to understand some basics about statistics and life, the universe and everything and that is this: That which is a longshot is unlikely to happen to any specific individual, but guaranteed to happen to someone. So if it is "one in a million odds," with a human population of 7 billion people, there should be 7000 such people somewhere on earth.

Given that this is the internet, you can easily run into any one of those 7000. Like you, they just need an internet connection, which is as common as dirt these days. You could even stumble into a forum that, for some reason, tends to aggregate such individuals. In which case, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of the people actively participating in the forum could well be that "1 in a million" outlier.

You completely misread my original comment and then personally attacked me and told me that I am basically an idiot who just likes the narrative they are selling. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was Director of Community Life for a few months for The TAG Project. While I was director, I got support for attending a gifted conference in the Boston area and I heard speak or met some of the luminaries in the gifted field, such as Kathi Kearney.

Prior to the conference, Kathi Kearney was already internet familiar with me due to my work for The TAG Project, and we had a nice little conversation following her presentation. Based in part on that conversation, I strongly suspect that my oldest son's IQ can be guestimated as "probably over 200, possibly waaaaay over." He also has such big problem areas that he was almost an idiot-savant when he was a child, and I really had to work with him to get him functional in some areas.

We will never know what his IQ actually is because you cannot accurately peg an IQ that high with adult testing and he is now 30. Last I heard, such people need to be properly assessed by a qualified professional specializing in such things by about age 7 in order to have any kind of accurate IQ number (and he was 12 before he was identified as gifted, in part due to his poor school performance).

So hand-wavy guestimates based on mom's discussion with some luminary in the gifted field is as good as it will ever get. That and perhaps someday he will be famous for his work and widely lauded as a "genius." That would be cool, but I honestly don't care if it goes that way or not. Such things are not hugely important to me. They never were, which is why I gave up my National Merit Scholarship in my teens, dropped out of college and went and did the wife and mom thing for a lot of years. (shrug)


I really don't understand why you addressed this comment to me...? I think I specifically stated that I wasn't being dismissive of your experience?

(Also, assuming you're telling the truth, I think it might also be imprudent to divulge so much of your life story online. It'd be very easy to gather a lot of detail about you that might lead to a spearphishing attack or similar. You should probably ask a mod to delete some of your comment, or do it yourself if the time limit hasn't expired.)


This is your original comment:

This article is selling a narrative that you want to hear with a huge dollop of confirmation bias as andy_ppp points out. It's not very likely that you or your family are that 0.01%[1], but it is very likely that you think you are exceptional. (I wish you all and your family all the best, but one needs to be very careful around this kind of narrativium.)

You may not mean it to be dismissive, but it absolutely is. It is also overly personal since most of my original comment was about the article. Comments about me and my sons were merely in support of those points.

And that's why it is addressed to you.


I'm not sure exceptional is the right word. I wouldn't even call it 'gifted'. Maybe its just being able to function better when the conditions are not ideal and the pressure is up, as opposed to when things are fine and there is nothing to worry about.


There are multiple definitions of gifted, including "having a special talent." It doesn't inherently mean that someone has a genius level IQ. By various definitions, 10 percent or more of the population can qualify for the label, last I heard, back when I was involved in such things.


This cannot be stressed enough. Well said.


Twice exceptional people often appear to be "average" but find an "average" or normal life enormously frustrating

Like all correlation to causation misconceptions, most people read this and imply the converse. I find the normal life exceptionally frustrating, so I must be exceptional, hence I must do a startup. I am questioning if this is indeed true. I believe that this is a misconception, being frustrated with day to day life doesn't make one exceptional. Getting out of that frustration and finding something that they can be less frustrated with, perhaps makes people exceptional. One can just be frustrated with day to day life purely because of laziness, for instance.


> I find the normal life exceptionally frustrating, so I must be exceptional

Isn't this just the mantra of the millennial?


The mantra of the millennial is more like "Sure I might have no job prospects, no money, no home, a ruined environment, and a boss that treats me like crap .... but it'll be better once all the selfish old people die"


"Sure, I might be deep in debt, I'll never afford permanent housing, the government's gone fascist, and the biosphere's ability to support human life is rapidly collapsing, but at least I've got a scone while the world burns."


Hey, I like scones. If it makes you feel better, us Gen Xers have it worse. We're stuck in mid-level positions at work and when the boomers blocking our advancement finally croak, some young, ambitious millennial will simply be promoted over us. Because if we were any good, we would be in upper management by now.

On the flip side, I'm just young enough to not have any sort of pension through my employer(s), and I'll get to watch Social Security (and/or the entire economy) completely collapse right before I reach retirement age.


It was more a generational characterization than a personal one. I have no debt, some assets, and no scone.

I could walk out and buy a scone, but every time I think to do that, I get to the shop and see that one of their scones would more than double my calorie count for any given meal. So then I don't.


most people read this and imply the converse.

I am not responsible for strangers on the internet reading my comments and twisting them to mean something I did not intend at all. I have been online long enough to know that it is not possible to open my mouth online at all without someone, somewhere wildly misinterpreting my words and having zero desire to make a good faith effort to actually understand my point. I do my best to frame things carefully, but, to some extent, I have simply had to make my peace with the fact that people are gonna people and there is nothing I can do about that.


Yes, you mean well and I don't mean to imply that people are misinterpreting your words. People understand things differently. They read correlation and imply the converse. I have done it so many times. Another analogy - Alan Turing was a great computer scientist, he was also a long distance runner. The thought process in my head after reading that sentence, "To be a great computer scientist it's good to start long distance running". This is because I like running and my brain perceives it as the path of least resistance to achieve mastery over a subject.


Exceptional people are often exceptional because they don't spend time worrying about whether or not they are exceptional or classifiable as such.

Find a problem, a passion, and love it. Forget yourself.

The moment you're convinced you're some sort of 'type' it's over. You'll set up ridiculous expectations, founded on nothing, and defeat yourself at every impasse because you aren't fitting the type/persona/image you've crafted for yourself.

It's good to have small, concrete goals.

It's bad to have hopes.

Or at least that's my experience.

And it takes a long time to crawl out of the ravine of disappointment and frustration that sort of attitude eventually creates.

Leave the needless typifying, categorizing, and psychologizing to the psychologists.

So many people seem to think they just need to correctly identify what kind or type of human being they are--oh I'm a INFJ, PB&J or whatever--and they'll have figured it all out. It doesn't work like that. That's just a desire for the easy way out. Truth is there is no easy answer. Localized contingencies and circumstances way beyond your own control shape who you are and your opportunities.

Existence precedes essence, as Sartre might say.

You are, though the same as everyone else, also unrepeatable.

For the Greeks, one wasn't a genius, one was lucky enough to have a genius. Furthermore, everyone had a little bit of genius following them around.

I think there's some benefits to decoupling ability and the ego in that manner--some benefit in placing our gifts, once more, in the hands of the gods.

Don't sweat it.


Exceptional people are often exceptional because they don't spend time worrying about whether or not they are exceptional or classifiable as such.

People who have a disability generally benefit from getting a proper diagnosis. Twice exceptional people often have terrible self esteem problems due to a long track record of failing to perform as well as they expect of themselves and as well as others around them expect of them. Learning that they actually are smart, but also have a handicap, is often life changing in a very positive way. Getting proper accommodation for the handicap can be incredibly empowering and allow them to start hitting some of the marks they have long desired, but kept failing to reach.


Well put. The emphasis in this title is on the I.

A startup path has some unusual/extreme features (eg high risk, gatekeepers or gates...) that make it a poor fit for many/most people, even if it's a good fit for the above reasons. It would be great if we could get some of that flexibility to create your own niche, outside of Capital-S Startups.

For a relatively shallow example, consider the whole open plan debate that re-opens periodically on HN. Some people want X. Others want Y. All insist they are many times happier and more productive with the right setup. It's clear from looking at people's home office setup that individuals will put a lot more time, effort & money into a work environment that they control themselves.


Your posts always resonate with me, thank you, but I particularly need to hear this one. I will not call myself exceptional, but I often find fitting in almost impossible. Finding a niche and owning it is then survival! Although I'm very aware of the high failure rate with startups, I can't help but keep believing that I can do this thing. Sometimes though I am torn by guilt, that I'm such a snowflake, but I don't know, one thing I know for sure is that if I don't give it a shot, I will regret for the rest of my life. And that is much more unbearable.


It might help to think of yourself as enriching the diverse ecosystem of humans in order to enhance life for all. In nature, monocultures are horribly vulnerable to disease and other problems. In contrast, diverse ecosystems mean that one creature's wastes are another's nutrients and many creatures can co-exist because they aren't direct competitors. They need inherently different things.

Taking up some niche no one else wants means you aren't in competition with others and you add life to spaces that would otherwise be dead. There is zero reason humans should all strive to fit the same mold and many reasons to be horrified by the idea.


> In contrast, diverse ecosystems mean that one creatures wastes are another's nutrients

Wow. This is so insightful. When applying this lense to one's failures or struggles or disappointments... this really clicked with me to put it all in perspective. Thank you!


"Exceptional" does not always have to mean "excellent," if you are worried about being immodest. It can also mean - and was originally meant to mean - irregular, not typical.

So use it, if it fits!


Find a cofounder. Someone you respect and trust, who will fill the gaps in the skills outside your niche. The great startup ideas that can be built by one person, no matter how talented, are largely taken now imo. But for a duo or team, the sky is the limit, because each can retreat to their niche when necessary and know the world will keep going.


Example cases: Richard Branson, John Chambers (Cisco), Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea), Henry Ford (GM or something), Bill Hewlett (HP co-founder)... All these guys were dyslexic and achieved fairly exceptional things.


This isn't intended as snarky but after listening to the "You Are No So Smart" podcast [1] for a few months now, seeing these sort of examples my mind immediately goes to Confirmation Bias [2] and that use of inductive reasoning like this cannot be trusted.

[1] https://youarenotsosmart.com/podcast/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias


I didn't see the comment as snarky :) I'd argue however that those examples were just examples of others succeeding even though they had a limiting factor, not evidence to say that a reduced learning capacity is going to guarantee success haha.


Even so, if you are suggesting dyslexia (in these cases) probably has or probably hasn't affected outcomes, that's problematic. The examples you give provide zero information either way; without enumerating a statistically relevant section of people considered successful, these examples seem to provide information, but actually provide nothing.

You'd also have to adjust for other factors such as parents trying harder to find areas (other than academia) where dyslexic children can consider themselves successful. It's almost intractable to think of a study that could remove these correlations from any statistically relevant top level study...


It was just a bit of Thursday inspirational fluff, not really intended to be used as part of the 'social implications of saying positive things on the internet' study.


Um, Henry Ford founded ... Ford Motor Company.


I believe he was kidding :)


haha yep.


a better term than 2X is "blessed but cursed"

sugarcoating learning disabilities / other life-ruining disabilities is a trick that people use when they can't confront the excessively negative reality: most geniuses with LD die in obscurity after being outrageously frustrated with life. once in a great while, we learn about them long after they're dead and appreciate their works. but usually not.


You seem to be very knowledgeable in regards to the twice exceptional theory. This may be confirmation bias but I feel as if I fall somewhere on the spectrum. What do you suggest for an adult who may be 2e? What online resources have you come across in terms of helping to "diagnose" and deal with this?


This is a general clearing house of gifted info:

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/

This is their 2xe page:

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/what_is_2e.htm

I will suggest that you consider joining a gifted homeschoolers list. I would not know what a good one is currently because it has been a lot of years since I did that stuff. But parents homeschooling a gifted child are very often dealing with a 2xe kid. Most school systems are ill equipped to deal with a 2xe kid. In fact, they often have trouble acknowledging that such a thing exists. (The schools ID'd one of my sons as gifted and the other as special needs, but they are both 2xe. The school system couldn't even conceive of such a thing, it seems.)

Parents on such lists often personally get a lot out of trying to understand what is going on with their kid and how to best support them. They often find themselves having big epiphanies about their own life and coming to terms with some things.

If you lurk, you will be privy to good discussions and find out what the current hot resources are and which ones have remained timeless classics that never go out of style. That is probably the best way to get some kind of useful info if you want to "self diagnose." It may also be okay for you to ask about adult assessment on some lists. Some gifted lists are not just for parents, but are more general. That would probably be a better place than a homeschooling list to ask about adult assessment.

Adult assessment is fraught with difficulties. If you aren't trying to get formal accommodation at college or at your job, I fully support a plan to "self diagnose" in order to try to figure yourself out. But do be aware that if you self diagnose and then want to talk about it online, an awful lot of people will be immediately dismissive, no matter your reasons for trying to engage and no matter how carefully you frame it. So self diagnosing can be useful for personal insight, which can be very valuable, but without a formal diagnosis, you won't qualify for official accommodation from work, school or other institutions and most people, online or off, will be pretty unsympathetic, if not downright ugly about it.

Best.


I totally agree with you. And although my two sons are too young to accurately observe this on them, I can tell you I fit the bill. I can manage on the 'fixed path', working in a company that has a plan sorted out, but I feel constrained and frustrated. I see rules as something nice but that has to be allowed to be broken when its the right thing to do. So I did do my start up journeys. A few times over the last 20 years and I'm still at it. I have never, however, heard it explained in that manner as to WHY I feel most comfortable when the odds are stacked against me and when I'm doomed and expected to fail. I revel in those moment as i know its my time to spark up and deliver. And when things get routine my light seem to dim... Until the next 'crisis'.


He went to Yale. He's definitely not average or with a learning disability.


Temple Grandin has a PhD and has Autism. Stephen Hawking is wheelchair-bound and famous as a genius in his field.

Going to Yale is not proof positive that he has no learning disability or other handicap. He talks about failing to initially qualify for the gifted program in school and working to make it happen, then continuing to push. This is what fits the "looks average, but isn't" pattern common for 2xe types.

When I was active in the online gifted community, it was well known that the higher the IQ, the more likely it was that someone also had OCD, ADHD, Asperger's or similar. This was so common that some people referred to such conditions as "comorbidities" of giftedness, in part for lack of a better word, in part because these were support groups for parents of gifted kids. Because they were support groups, it was an environment where people complained a lot about the downside of being smart, which, among other things, tends to come with a boatload of social BS that is incredibly unpleasant.


Perhaps people who are characterized as such - ADHD, Aspergers (remember these are diagnoses made on observation,there are no lab tests to diagnose them) are in a learning environment that is not conducive to promoting their underlying talent. Perhaps it's the education system that needs change, and not the pupil. If so, we may see fewer of these diagnoses.

I don't know temple grandin, but hawking certainly didn't have a learning disorder.


And my original comment indicated learning disability or other handicap. My handicap is medical, not a learning disability.


This was something I've really needed to hear.

Thank you, and good luck to you and your sons!


I'd like to fill out the "maybe" part of his "If you answer yes three times, then maybe starting a startup is for you" bit.

I answer a very strong yes to all three of those. Always have. But a startup, despite my always having worked in them and run one of my own for three years, was resolutely not a good idea for me.

It took a lot of self-discovery to see myself not as an entrepreneur, but as an artist, and it's frustrating, because it sure took me a while to admit it. I spent all my time and money and effort trying to be successful as a startup founder, and expecting that I'd eventually feel the spark that I know can drive me. But now I look at the creative work I do on my own, even though I still have a full-time job, and I feel the same connection that Michael describes here, which I had chased for so long.

The irony is that pretty much every idea I have uses the technical skills i built as a startup founder. But hey. Time to do what I always should have.


I feel the same way (though I never ran my own startup). On the surface it would make sense for me to start companies. I tick most of the boxes, but at heart I'm more of an artist. Maybe 10 years ago I'd be interested in spending five years of my life for a 1% chance of getting better returns than working for a regular salary. Also I'm no longer in my 20s, not independently wealthy, and most importantly I don't want the stress of being responsible for a company. But that's just where I'm at right now...


You seem a little more confident than me but otherwise we are fairly alike. Maybe the desire comes later in life?


To make it as an artist appears to be much harder than to create a successful business, at least from the outsiders perspective.


>It took a lot of self-discovery to see myself not as an entrepreneur, but as an artist, and it's frustrating, because it sure took me a while to admit it

i'm in the midst of this realization as well, not exactly as an artist though. it's shitty-- artists/etc don't get paid.


Well, so far I don't get paid as an artist. But artists definitely get paid. It's probably about as hard as getting paid as a startup founder.


Thanks for your replay. What kind of art do you do and can I look at it somewhere online?


I think the best description is conceptual art; I tend to write code or build hardware that gets you into and gets you exploring a specific emotion or feeling. I'm working on where to show it actually — if you send an email to the address in my profile I can share when it's up!


Great post! I love reading pre-company autobiographical accounts from successful founders, as I find it to be a great way to get ideas for what pre-company experiences might best prepare me to be successful myself.

Some additions I would make to Michael's list for "Why to start a start-up":

- As a founder you get a level of control over what problem you're solving that you'll rarely have as an employee.

- You also get a level of control over who you're working with that you'll rarely have as an employee.

- You also escape having your income determined by the market for labor, and instead have it determined by the market for your product.

Those three things are very, very important to me, and I suspect also to many other founders.


"- You also escape having your income determined by the market for labor, and instead have it determined by the market for your product."

one of the most insightful comment on the concept of value ive read in my 34+ years.


With your income determined by the market, you can scale big, not limited just to your own 24 hours and two hands.


Well said. I agree with you. Those exact reasons are why entrepreneurship appeals to me.


> 1. The vast majority of startups are not successful

This alone is why 90% of people will not choose to work at a startup. You will work long hours, for crap pay, and you'll be waiting in line if there is an exit.

The odds of there being an exit worth anything to anyone other than a founder are small enough to not even worth considering.

If you are a founder you're gambling on your chances. There are ways to mitigate the risk but there's no sure thing.

Don't start a startup if you do not have the financial security to basically lose everything you put in.

Don't start a startup if you have family that depends on your income. You could choose to eat ramen and sleep on the floor of a college dorm room. Your kids (and CPS) might not appreciate it.

I agree the motivation is very important. I disagree that you cannot find the same motivation in a more stable organization (or can't motivate yourself). I recently finished reading, Extreme Ownership [0], and I bring that with me to work. People need to be responsible for outcomes: that's not unique to startups. You can also find that motivation internally and share it with your colleagues as you go.

[0] https://www.amazon.ca/Extreme-Ownership-U-S-Navy-SEALs-ebook...


I'd argue that if you're thinking in these terms, you're probably not the startup type.

There was an interesting RibbonFarm essay on "guardian" vs. "commerce" syndrome that really crystallized this for me:

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2014/06/04/saints-and-traders-the...

Entrepreneurs are the ultimate in "commerce" types, but beyond that, his key point was about bulletpoint #2, "exert prowess" vs. "compete". For most people, the point of effort is to get a reward; you are doing things now so that you can be the person you want to be at the end. You do your homework so you can graduate from a good college; you get a job so you can make money and live a good life; you get your MBA so you can get a promotion.

For a small minority of people, this is reversed. Who you want to be is just a guidepost for what you should be doing. It's the doing that's the important part. The RibbonFarm article describes this as the finite vs. the infinite game; guardian types do things for the victory at the end, while commerce types set the victory conditions so they have a motive to keep doing things. So you went to school because the material was interesting, and graduation was a little side-note along the way. Or you program computers because that's what you want to do, and the salary just determines who you should program computers for.

It's these folks who make the best entrepreneurs, simply because if you're playing to win, there are ways to win with less effort.

This, BTW, is why so many entrepreneurs go on to found repeat companies, and why a few are (frankly) dicks after they've gotten rich. A lot of folks can't imagine founding a company after you already have F-U money; why put yourself through all those challenges if you don't have to? But for many entrepreneurs, the challenges are the point, the competition is the point, and they don't stop competing just because they've gotten rich. Sometimes this is expressed in healthy ways, like YCombinator after ViaWeb, Medium after Twitter after Blogger, git after Linux, Stripe after Auctomatic, etc. And sometimes it's expressed in unhealthy ways, like Khosla's feud with San Mateo county over his beachfront property. But the point is that these people aren't founding companies because they need money or success, it's because they love the thrill of competition.


Sure. This is a nice dichotomy.

Until you add "living out of a car with your pregnant wife and 2 year old child" to the things you have organized your life to do.

Humans are very adverse to ruin, and this has nothing to do with what they want to do or achieve. It has to do with what they do not want to experience or put others through.


At some point we have to stop using "the wife" as an excuse. I can't tell you how many times a friend has used "the wife" as an excuse for...

not starting a project, not finishing a project, not learning something new, not starting a lifestyle business, not investing, not changing their career, not leaving a sucky job

It's not the wife, it's you.


If my husband risked our financials to the point that our 2 years old have to live in car while I am pregnant, the hell I would object. Financial misfortune or unemployment or not having choice is one thing, being irresponsible to that level just because you want to "feel like special doer" quite another.

Sometimes it is not the wife, sometimes it is the wife. And other times it is being responsible and considering consequences of your actions on your children before taking action.


This. My partner has no problem supporting me and I her; but we work together. And we don't take stupid risks just so that I can feel the thrill of competition.

I compete at my job -- I compete with myself to do better, to improve the company against all the challenges set before me, to provide more for my family.

There's nothing special about being an entrepreneur other than the privilege and ability to take serious financial risks.


This comment swings way too far in the other direction-- of course there is more to being an entrepreneur than privilege. That might help give you a chance at success, but it doesn't come remotely close to making that success a reality!


Unsuccessful entrepreneur is still an entrepreneur. Somehow the image of entrepreneurs tend to be someone who succeeded in the end, but plenty did not and they should count too - whether the cause was own mistake or bad luck.

I agree that there are also entrepreneurs that are not privileged and basically can afford risks because it can not get worst. And also enterpreners that don't take unreasonable financial risks - if you know you can get well paid job whenever you want to (as a coder or in friends/familly company) then it is less of risk.

Nevertheless, an original attempt to label responsible decision making as "excuse" and stigmatize it in favour of "following passion" or proving whatever to yourself or other emotions based decision was misguided. I don't know why some people treat it as decision you are supposed to make no matter what circumstances and skills. If they are really naturally ok with it, they should not need others to make the same decision.


People do definitely use their spouses and children to avoid taking on risks, but the fallout from a failed start-up can be devastating and many parents would (very reasonably) wish to shield their kids from that kind of instability. Especially if you're not in a financially secure place to begin with.

It's tough to suss out when a person is or isn't be too risk-adverse in general though. It may be impossible, in fact.


I find this unnecessarily aggressive and dismissive of people's (willfully chosen) social responsibilities. Yes, "the wife" is a convenient excuse for many things, including why you can't go out drinking tonight, even though you're really just tired from work and don't want to admit it. But presumably, if you're a decent person who has chosen to marry in this day and age, you take that choice seriously and choose your risks carefully.


I kind of see the point you are making, that some people don't do things that are good for them because they let their wife says no.

That said, I think you miss the point ABCLAW is making. A lot of people care highly about making sure that their family is taken care. This keeps them from risking everything on starting on a start-up.

As an aside, I see the options as 1) find a 8-5 I enjoy, get paid well enough to support my family and enjoy the extra time with them. 2) Start a company, work 80+ hours a week for >2 years for a <5% chance to never have to work again.

For me and my family 1 is a much more appealing option


>> it's not the wife, it's you

Also, anyone who thinks "I couldn't/didn't/wouldn't because ... " and hides behind those excuses, should read Charles-Bukowski's air-and-light-and-time-and-space (https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/10/04/charles-bukowski-ai...)

ZenPencils on air-and-light-and-time-and-space, for a more delightful read. (https://i0.wp.com/www.brainpickings.org/wp-content/uploads/2...)


This. If other people asked you whether you can start a project or not, and you reply using "wife" as an excuse, accept it for what it is. An excuse. I had met entrepreneur types that replied either yes or no, straight forward and no detour replies.


I did my startup while taking care of my parents and briefly paying ourselves very little. It sounded illogical to a lot of people. One of my friends honestly asked me if I'm doing the startup because I couldn't find a regular job (???). After a nice exit a large part of me is still itching to try again.


While living out of my car is a bit more hardship than I'm willing to endure or put my wife through, I do know people who have voluntarily quit their job and lived out of their car for six months or so, because seeing the country, rock climbing, and camping by the side of the road was more important to them. Heck, my wife lived in a house with 3.5 walls for 2 years (Peace Corps).

Hopefully you are not giving up things that are really important to you for the sake of pursuing your one burning passion. But there is a wide variance in the set of things that people consider important, much wider than contemporary culture considers. You don't have to choose the same goals that everybody else does, nor do you even need to choose a goal at all. Some people just live for the experience.


Sure.

When you're financially secure, it isn't a big deal to live out of your car and climb a few mountains for shits and giggles.

But what does that have to do, prescriptively, with the reverse situation, when you aren't financially secure? Very little.


Person in question wasn't exactly financially secure...I think he had about a grand or two in the bank, if that.

I think what commenters here are trying to drive home is that people have different "set points" about what acceptable risk tolerance is, and that we build up these ideas in our head of "I could never do X or live through X". But then if X happens, and we are experiencing it in the moment, suddenly the human brain has a way of adapting, most of the time. The important thing becomes that we are still alive, and we can still make choices, and then all the other strictures we set for ourself fall away.

Now, does that mean I suddenly want to go homeless, or have a grand in net assets, or live in a house where they didn't bother to finish all the walls, or try to build a startup while my kid is in the NICU? No. But by putting these options on the table, instead of making them no-go zones, you can consider them rationally and evaluate the likely probability of them happening, and then deal with them if & when they come up.


But she didn't understand

She just smiled and held my hand

Rent a flat above a shop

Cut your hair and get a job

Smoke some fags and play some pool

Pretend you never went to school

But still you'll never get it right

'Cause when you're laid in bed at night

Watching roaches climb the wall

If you called your Dad he could stop it all


Have you heard the Shatner cover of this song? It's pretty great.


>Person in question wasn't exactly financially secure...I think he had about a grand or two in the bank, if that.

That's quite a bit more than the average person has. Especially if you're a coder and can land a 175k/yr job by sneezing at linkedin.

I understand what commentators are trying to do, but the attempt is misguided. I'm replying to a post regarding a dichotomy between being and doing as the foundation of entrepreneurship, and I've stated that this simply isn't the case. The risk-tolerance of a prospective entrepreneur has nothing to do with how their self-perception of reward is set up.

It has to do with how robust they are against the chance of ruin. When ruin isn't in your calculations because your parents or friends have a spare couch to crash on and you don't have a sick newborn to take care of, you discount its importance in dissuading people from having your same risk appetite.

Very seductive mindset, too, as it lets you ascribe a prescriptive virtue to your choices: "If only people were as daring as me!"


I've lived in my car to start a company. I've also failed with a one month old baby in the NICU. It's not the end of the world. You can always go back to having a job.


On the flip side, people who are dependent on the good graces of increasingly deteriorating established socialized methods of making a living probably shouldn't be having children either. A lot of people who don't work in startups find themselves in that position too after layoffs and etc.


If you have the entrepreneurial itch and don't have the financial security to back it up, becoming a bootstrapped micropreneur is a great first choice.

Start your business on the side, when it revenue is high enough to live on, make the jump. It's slower than a funded startup, but a lot less risky. Does come with a high social opportunity cost due to lack of time, however. But so does starting a startup.

If your sidehustle does well, you can even leverage it later to fund your big startup idea. Or, hell, live a good life on a lifestyle business making a few hundred thousand per year.

$150k/year revenue won't get you any headlines, but it's plenty to live on and run a solo business.

Get to $500k/year and you prob have a higher expected ROI over N years than any startup founder.

Disclaimer: my sidehustle is at the $50k/year level, but that's on 60 hours per month. If I didn't insist on living in SF, I could have a very cushy life back in Europe.


Thanks for sharing. I find stories like yours more inspiring and motivating than the "ramen to unicorn" ones. I have little interest in scaling a business to IPO, but I'm very interested in building something that holds my interest and lets me support my family and an enjoyable lifestyle.


I totally agree with this - starting by bootstrapping is a great way to get your feet wet while maintaining a stable salary


Checked out your profile, is your side hustle a combination of books and teaching or do you have another product?


A combination of books and teaching. I'm experimenting with coaching and a company is sponsoring my React Native writing on a cobranded blog/yt channel.

I publish monthly breakdowns on swizec.com and that lists all revenue streams.


Did you leverage a mentor to get started on running something on the side? If so, where did you find one?


I never had an official mentor, but plenty of people helped and nudged me in the right direction and answered questions. You can find most of them on the internets.

It all boils down to this: Make things. Add "Pay For Thing" button. Tell people.

I started with following Ramit Sethi's emails for a few years (he's great to drive home the point that yes you do deserve to get paid), then Brennan Dunn's emails and content (he's great for "you totes can make shitloads"), then Nathan Barry's book Authority which is great for "Here are concrete steps to start making bank", and I went to Dunn's DYFConf which is like a baby MicroConf (to which I want to, but haven't, go), oh and of course I listened to all mp3s of all past talks from MicroConf. Patio11's writings helped a lot as well. I used Bryan Harris stuff for ideas on growing an audience, and Kai Davis is great for being a cheerleader and giving good ideas on positioning and writing.

Somehow I got invited to the Slack group where many of these micropreneur/microconf celebrities hang out and that's been superb as well. A lot of inspiration and great ideas.

Oh and I used Ken Wallace's MastermindJam to join a mastermind of likeminded peers. That helps with keeping you accountable and actually shipping stuff.

I also used Amy Hoy's 30x500, but I bought that too late (or too early, hard to say) and it didn't help super much. I should revisit.

Oh and levelsio's twitter stream is just a huge bundle of inspiration.


Thanks for taking the time to write this up. Plenty to look into.

I get the sinking feeling that achieving many of these things requires being charismatic and/or attractive and/or extroverted, of which I am none. Of course my marketable skill is not in communication but rather in engineering, so hopefully that won't matter.


I get the sinking feeling that achieving many of these things requires being charismatic and/or attractive and/or extroverted, of which I am none.

This has not been my experience of running a software company and, while speaking for others is always risky, most of the people mentioned in that list are personal friends of mine and I think would react to "good thing you are attractive and extroverted" with gales of laughter.


> Don't start a startup if you have family that depends on your income.

This one deserves to be called out. You can make a perfectly respectable living starting a company (perhaps not saving as much), and if it doesn't work out and you're savvy you'll have a job in no-time. Especially if you're an engineer in the bay area.


This is indeed true, but your family might suffer from what you're ready to give away when they are not. This is what I experience right now and it's not always easy.


I agree with most of what you wrote, but I will say that people outside of the scene might not realize how common it is for founders to raise a couple million in seed funding, then pay themselves a market salary (I've seen as high as $350K for a CEO of a ~10 person company), removing most of the downside.

I'm not saying this is advisable, but it's common.


On the flip side - if you want to be a founder - try to start early. On balance you often have fewer constraints, lower expenses, and much more life flexibility.


Or start later because you are likely to have higher savings, better contacts and more experience.


Starting later selects for a founding a different kind of company than the one a fresh graduate/drop out would found.

I don't think there is a best time to be a founder; it's largely an individual thing.


The odds of there being an exit worth anything to anyone other than a founder are small enough to not even worth considering.

So if you go to work for a startup, you should demand substantially more money than with an established company.

It didn't used to be that way. It used to be that the first dozen or so employees of a successful startup did very well, and the first hundred or so did OK.


> So if you go to work for a startup, you should demand substantially more money than with an established company.

The problem is that most startups can't match, much less beat, established companies on salary, and they'll just turn you down. It's not even malice or greed on their part, it's just that they have a finite runway and a few tens of thousands of dollars a year on a single person can mean the difference between life and death.

No one wants to say it out loud, but I'm starting to think that the startup economy requires people to accept the gamble of shit salary for a chance at the equity lottery. I decided not to play along with that and only work for megacorps, but it's up to each individual.


The megacorp economy requires people to accept the likelihood of crushing institutionalized misery in exchange for a chance at being able to sustain a high salary long enough that the accumulated pile of cash after you finally quit will allow you to live a good enough life to make up for all that lost time and deferred happiness. I decided not to play along with that and will never again work for a megacorp, because life is short and I want to enjoy mine. It is, as you say, up to each individual!


But then you have kids, and kids require stability. So you go to work for the man, because the kids are more important.


But... start ups still pay engineers salaries that dwarf teachers, retail, and many other industries. Should people in those industries not have kids? Are they being irresponsible by not making 6 figures?


I wasn't talking about money, I was talking about stability.


People working in software field are extraordinary and deserve extraordinary perks is held as self-evident truth in modern world.


Actually, I don't think many people can stop that "institutionalised misery" spilling out into their family life.


Exactly, be miserable so the next generation can do it too! People raise children in total poverty all the time dude, I'm sure you're going to be fine.


> No one wants to say it out loud, but I'm starting to think that the startup economy requires people to accept the gamble of shit salary for a chance at the equity lottery.

Eh, lots of people say exactly this out loud. People who accept that gamble jsut like to pretend their chances are higher than they are and/or it's worth it for the work experience.


There's more to it than the small chance of winning the equity lottery. Working for a startup confers a number of non-monetary benefits that mega-corps don't. If you pay a startup-salary and then stick people in a cubicle and have them write TPS reports and deal with petty politics (ie: mega-corp conditions), people won't work for you.

The feeling of working for a company that will make a dent in the world, so to speak, and that your effort will have tangibly supported creation of said dent is a powerful motivator.


The odds of "making a dent in the world" are pathetically, abysmally, absurdly small. You cannot plan for that. It just happens to some people and that's it.

If by, so to speak, you mean that some dents are bigger than others -- sure... contributing to a small startup that makes some people a decent amount of money and the rest practically nothing... sounds great. Turns out the bigger the exit the less the rest of the people make and the more a small group of people do. Of all the companies big and small that are started around the globe each day, how many have "made a dent in the world?"

It may as well be zero.

If you cannot be motivated internally you're not going to find it very satisfying to continue taking risks working for (or starting) startups. When the first one fails, and the next few, and you never end up making that dent... you're going to be very disappointed.

You can use that same internal motivation at a big-corp as you can working for a start up. Or anywhere else in life.


Yeah that's not gonna happen. Startups are lots of work for low pay, with the lottery ticket that you might be the 1% who makes it out.

You ask for a megacorp salary and you'll be laughed out the door.


How exactly are startups supposed to get the best engineers without paying market rate for labour? Given the emphasis on only hiring rock stars, you would think that startups would offer higher salaries than megacorps. Relying on your prospective employee being too dumb to notice the raw deal that she is getting is not a recipe for hiring good employees.


Work and growth opportunities, the promise of being paid out if it succeeds. At a startup you can play with the latest hot technologies and if the startup is growing fast enough you can accelerate your career into positions faster than a large corporation.


Being a successful business is not all gambling luck, it's not always working long hours for crap pay, and many, many people have started companies with families and without losing everything they put in. Also, "90% of people choose not to work at a startup" seems like a really bad guess.


I didn't suggest it was impossible or that you couldn't start a business when you have a family or other dependents. I do believe that it's risk to start one or work at one if you do not have ways of mitigating the risk to the people you are responsible to.

It is fundamentally a gamble. Everything else is risk mitigation: having a savings account with enough money to cover your obligations of for a couple of years, starting in a low-risk niche, working with partners, insurance, etc, etc. In the end the market may make the venture a flop: hopefully you've taken enough precautions that it doesn't leave you with a foreclosed house and filing for bankruptcy.

The only real competitor anyone should care about is themselves. Being an entrepreneur, recklessly, is not going to satisfy that itch in the long run.


true but the odds are getting better..it use to be 20%, it's now at 30% contrast that to small biz is now at 50%


Where did you get that 30% figure, if I may ask? The usually cited figure is 10%.


> The usually cited figure is 10%.

Right. And even that 10% is very optimistic. It's closer to 5% or 7% at the most.

> This number suggests that a startling 93% of the companies that get accepted by Y Combinator eventually fail.

Source: [2013] "DEAR ENTREPRENEURS: Here's How Bad Your Odds Of Success Are" => http://www.businessinsider.com/startup-odds-of-success-2013-...


I second this request.


So, does "personal responsibility for [...] failure" really apply when there is a 90% failure rate? Seems like short of failing to execute, it's more a game of chance than something you can influence.

That is, it's seems like its a lot like video poker: you can cause yourself to lose, but you can't make yourself win.

I would also think that getting into an industry with such a high failure rate would be terrible for someone who takes such personal responsibility for the outcome: most of the time they're going to consider themselves a failure. In the worst case, serial failures.


Re: A high failure rate, it doesn't necessarily mean game of chance, it could mean a challenging game. I'd compare it more to darts:

If 90% of dart throws miss the bullseye it could mean various things:

* As you suggest, a game of chance with poor odds, ie 100% of people have roughly the same distribution of shots, landing only ~10% on the bullseye

* Only 10% of people have the right confluence of skill, experience and a bit of luck to nail it ~100% of the time to make up for the 90% people who land it ~0% of the time. Secret society knowledge scenario.

* Anything in between. It could be 20% of people who land it 25% of the time, and 80% people landing it 6.25% of the time to give you the same output. Some people have figured out some techniques, but can't quite master the challenging problem, and others seem to almost rely on luck. This is where I believe running a company lies.

Taking responsibility is different from "being hard and critical of yourself". You can take responsibility and own failure without feeling like a lesser person, it helps to learn from it and improve (if you don't take responsibility and blame "luck", you have lower motivation to take anything away from the failure). It can be paired with the ability to retain self-confidence, inspiration and motivation while learning from your failures. This is the tenacity and refusal to die that I believe VC's talk about being seen in strong founders.


Your last point is exactly the same as mine, just with different numbers. It still comes down to a gamble - the chance of you succeeding is out of your control, only the chance of you failing is in your control. Hence the analogy to video poker.

Just like gambling, the lucky ones will hit the jackpot early and crow how it's easily possible if you put in the right effort and time (just like they did). The unlucky ones will spend time and money trying to hit that jackpot.

If we step through the numbers, and assume a median of 4 years per real attempt with a 25% success rate:

First round of ten 22 year old, equally skilled and driven entrepreneurs, two succeed. The remaining eight 26 year olds are failures, but try again.

Four years later, two more will succeed, the remaining six are now 30, with two major failures under their belts. But they're driven, and try again.

Now at 34, another two succeed, and the remaining four are trying to drive up the will to let one more of them succeed.

Twelve years, six winners, four losers.

The median entrepreneur will have to spend 12 years - 3 attempts - of their lives to reach success. And that's the median, there will be some (somewhere around 2%) who could never reach success in their own lifespan, regardless of how hard they try, through no fault of their own.

I get the appeal though, just like I get the appeal of gambling. If you do win, you have a chance to win big. But there's a downside too. And that downside is the opportunity cost of all that time, energy and money spent trying to hit it big.


"you can cause yourself to lose, but you can't make yourself win" - I like this - maybe I would restate this as "you can cause yourself to lose, but a lot of things outside of your control need to go right in order to win"


or as pg says if you don't want to die then don't quit.


"there is a certain type of person who only works at their peak capacity when there is no predictable path to follow, the odds of success are low, and they have to take personal responsibility for failure (the opposite of most jobs at a large company)."

I have never really stopped to consider my own motivations for doing a startup but this sums it up. Do a startup because you have to, not because you want to.


I like this post. I wish I really started a startup in college or right after. A regular corporate job turns you into a zombie and you become out of touch with reality especially if you're well paid and well fed. A lot of people are unprepared for the hard life.

If anything, you'll learn more about life in 6 months than you will in decades. It's not just the technical stuff. You'll learn who your real friends are. Being broke and thinking you might go homeless will make you sympathize with the homeless. Co-founders will try to screw you. If you're married, you'll soon find out if your spouse really loves you or just the regular income. Fake people pop up everywhere trying to take credit for your hard work.

I think a startup is akin to the street life without the street creds.


As a counterpoint: My spouse's ongoing education is currently dependent on my regular income. Once she graduates it'll effectively double our collective income and hopefully give her her first good career. I'm not sure how I could sell gambling all of that on a 90% chance of failure even if I wanted to. Sounds like the act of a gambling addict.

Also, if you need to gamble your family's livelihood to find out if your spouse really loves you or not, why are you married? Similar sentiment for your friends. Being able to sympathize with the homeless sounds like a horrible return for sacrificing your livelihood. Dealing with backstabbing co-founders doesn't sound all that educational, just miserable. Fake people are a thing in all walks of life.

I don't come from the rosiest background in the world, I've had enough severe instability and drama forced upon me in the past to know there's nothing romantic about it. It should be avoided unless there's a tangible payoff, and certainly greater than a 10% chance of success.

My regular corporate job is currently giving me a stable platform upon which I can save, build up my household and consider launching a business on my own terms. It's also giving me valuable professional experience as I see how a large company ships product. I'm so glad I didn't go the startup route straight out of college, I've learned so much about business on the job that my engineering degree never remotely touched. It's hardly my dream job but I don't dread my work, nor do I feel like a zombie.

In 10 years I'll likely have enough saved up to seriously consider my own business, and enough contacts/professional clout to go back to regular work if it fails. I'll also have 10 more years of business experience to draw on, likely from at least 2 more companies. Why do a startup now, or God forbid right when I graduated, when I have/had the fewest resources and the fewest advantages?


>In 10 years I'll likely have enough saved up to seriously consider my own business, and enough contacts/professional clout to go back to regular work if it fails. I'll also have 10 more years of business experience to draw on, likely from at least 2 more companies. Why do a startup now, or God forbid right when I graduated, when I have/had the fewest resources and the fewest advantages?

You'll also be a decade older, probably with children, a mortgage, and a bad back. Business opportunities prime for the taking now will be saturated. There's a trade off to everything. Young, single people willing to accept risk have a lot of intangible advantages.


Yes to the first three, but my salary will also be 10 years better as will my Spouse's. Low 6 figures combined or better (our target for 10 years) is more than enough for a family and massive savings per year unless you decide to buy a mansion or live in SanFran. Certainly enough to bootstrap something.

The state of my back is thankfully entirely within my control. I stay fit, and that includes keeping my back strong and loose, as well as investing in a good chair and monitor stands (considering a standing desk). I have no desire to walk into work with my head practically below my shoulders like some of my older co-workers.

As for business opportunities, I see no reason why there should be fewer in 10 years. Different sure, but likely just as many. There are still plenty of areas of growth in technology, no reason to think they'll be dwindling in 10 years.

Younger single people do have some advantages. They can undercut experienced professionals on salary and can move at the drop of a hat. Which is why if/when I start a business I won't be competing with 20-somethings on writing CRUD apps. :)


I have similar feelings, I started my own startup just out of college and feel like that was a waste of time.

I had never shipped any code more than college assignments, there were some classes on entrepreneurship and business but they were so shallow, I had no professional experience and little knowledge outside of academia, I had no network or audience, I didn't know how to run a team which consisted of my college buddies.

After working in a big corporation, big startup, bootstrapped startup and more environments I feel way more prepared and motivated, I know now how to do most of the things I didn't, I have a much bigger network and I know how an actual workplace functions and I feel confident enough I can do it myself.


I had a weird realization that startups might be for people who came from stable households that crave a romantic version of drama and hardship.

Anyone who grew up lower/lower middle class has absolutely no romanticism about being overworked and underfed.


You don't think financing your spouse education is a gamble? Who is to say you won't get divorced right after she's done? That's honorable, but at the same time a huge risk.


Whilst anything is possible, it ought to be much easier to gamble on staying married than gamble on a fickle market of consumers liking a product that you haven't built and is in no way similar to anything else.


This is not true for even the best entrepreneurs of our times...many are divorced multiple times so gambling on staying married is a bigger risk. Elon Musk and Sergey Brin are just a couple examples. Your spouse can dump you at any second no matter how secure you think your relationship is.


That's an example of entrepreneurship being hard on your relationship.

So if you go into a startup, you might end up with both a failed business and a divorce.

It's only tenacity, talent, and good timing that lead to Musk and Brin having the good luck to be divorced.... but successful.


The fact that we were together for 7 years before we were married, and the experiences that came with that. We were a thing long before I had any money to speak of (or any real financial prospects), and she's supported me through quite a bit as I've supported her. If she's milking me for my money then I have no shame, because she'll have outdone Machiavelli several times over to hide it this well for this long.

Sometimes people actually love each other. I'm lucky in that regard.


Nice! You're right in that regard.


> If you're married, you'll soon find out if your spouse really loves you or just the regular income.

Stress does crazy things to people. I have no desire to drag my wife through hell. I love her and want a good life for her. I don't she would leave me if I lost all my income but with that said. The amount of stress it would put on her to go through what you are talking about is not worth any amount of money.


It seems like you started a telenovela, more than a startup...

When everybody is betraying you and being false, it might be that you are the a-hole


Why the flame war? This is from my observation and personal life. My wife and I have friends that are a lot older and this is the reality that no one talks about...betrayal in business is a very common thing...it's the nicest and good natured people who get taken advantage of...


A lot of replies are focusing on the outcomes implied by the OP's checklist -- if you answer "yes" on all, you'll be more likely to succeed financially. As a founder, I think it's far more important to focus on the journey aspects of it. Meaning, if you check the boxes, just maybe you have the mindset that will make you happiest when you're in the midst of all that hustling and struggling in the game. That mindset is what keeps you in it... if you're reward-focused, then you're going to burn out and lose direction.

So let's reframe the discussion from "do you have what it takes to be successful in a startup?" to "do you have what it takes to love the sufferfest grind of each day along the way so the outcome is just a nice reward at the end?"


Hey folks - happy to answer questions here


Did anyone ever question your academic background/track record. Did anyone deny you funding and/or not work for you upon inquiring about your track record?

In absolute honesty, do you think achieving good grades makes sizable a difference to people wanting to work for you or investing in your company?


No one ever asked about my grades - coming from Yale probably helped a bit - but more importantly, Yale allowed me to meet my first co-founders.


Your list excludes what is probably the most common reason to start a startup, which is that someone thinks they're more competent than the 90% who fail, so they have a good chance of succeeding and making themselves rich.

There is uncertainty in business, but execution matters a lot. If you have good reason to think you can execute better than most, then a startup is probably the quickest route to financial independence.


Out of curiosity, if you're able to answer it:

Does YC now collect, or has it ever collected, (anonymized?) data/survey-responses from founders (YC alums or not) on their original motivations for starting the company, and attempt(ed) to correlate that with outcomes?

If so, are you willing/able to reveal any of the things YC learned?

If YC hasn't attempted to do this: why not?


No but we should - we are actually building a lot more data collection in the next year


please do :) P.S. I'd love to see a Q re. motivation and perseverance in the YC application form.


It wasn't totally clear to me in the post: did Yale take you back after your stint at UPenn? If so, how did that work? If not, how did you become friends with Justin Kan (who IIRC was at Yale) if you were at UPenn?


Yes they did :) - I became friends with Justin during my second senior year


Thank God for those senior year World of Warcraft sessions!


Years ago I saw a flyer of Justin.tv, thought it's an amateur college student TV project, and didn't see any potential. Now it's one of my favorite startup stories, due to the wild start and huge impact. Live broadcasting has become a red hot social medium, especially in red China.


Great post. Thanks. As CEO of the company how did you deal with the extreme stress during the most difficult days of Justin.TV/Twitch while at the same time keeping the team motivated?


Honestly I dont have a good answer - I don't think I dealt with it in the most healthy manner - although my girlfriend (now wife) helped a lot!


Thanks for being honest about it. I think founders are masochists. We have to put up with tons of struggles, uncertainties, rejections, setbacks, hypocrisies, backstabbing, betrayals, slanders, deceptions, agonies, burn-out, blood, sweat, and tears while trying to keep positive tone on the outside to keep the team motivated and stick to the vision and mission and not lose investor's confidence. Just thought I asked if you can share what worked in your experience. Thanks.


What's the origin of your desire to be better than all of your peers?


Because I realized that I could be better


In what ways? Sorry Michael, but I reject the idea that you can be 'better' than another person.


I should have said I realized I could be better at the game of high school student looking to get into a good college.


Very interesting post ! The 3 questions really resonate with me. Usually when talking startups, people talk about changing the world, having and impact etc. Your take seems much more personal, and also that's the way I feel it (although I can't explain that to me rationally).

The 3rd is so true - in big corps, you think you're responsible for this and that because you're the tech lead, project manager or whatever. But most of the time, that's not really true - nothing bad will happen to you if you don't deliver. When you're starting a startup you suddenly realize what personal responsibility means.

Anyway, thanks for a great post !


Why create a startup?

Because you have a product and the development and marketing skills to persuade people to keep on using it. It's easy to get sidetracked with colorful terminology and complex definitions.


I would rather just run small businesses and side projects. Still a pretty high chance of failing, but if they do fail you still learn and it doesn't impact your bottom line that badly.


> Do I seek the hard challenges that most people shy away from?

Arguably, you can find much harder challenges working for a bigco, at least when it comes to engineering challenges.

Also, surprisingly one of the biggest factors involved when it comes to starting a startup is not mentioned: idea itself.


Engineering challenges I certainly agree. Life challenges though? I think we can have a good argument about that one.


No argument here, I totally agree.


Loved this post, thanks! You mentioned the 3 constraints under which you (and many founders) thrive in:

* Being the underdog

* Hard challenges most people shy away from

* Personal responsibility for outcomes

Why are some people best under those conditions? Is it something trainable, or inherent?


No idea - maybe another way to think about it is im really bad when these constraints aren't in place


I'd say most people would be. If you don't take responsibility and if you're not challenged, you can hardly expect to excel at anything.

Many people either are too comfortable with their lives or are in too precarious a situation to ever get to try.

That's probably also why we so rarely hear about rich kids with large trust funds accomplishing anything meaningful.


> That's probably also why we so rarely hear about rich kids with large trust funds accomplishing anything meaningful.

Interesting theory... but could perhaps be due to reporting bias? The trust funded who do succeed are unlikely to highlight that fact when telling the story of their success.


Should one also do a startup, when a startup seems to be the only possible path to "see something happen"?


For someone considering a startup, again, once again, yet again, over again, one more time, the probability of being successful in a startup, say, estimated from all the startup efforts, is at best useless and otherwise misleading and, thus, worse.

Instead, what matters for an estimate is the conditional probability of success given other information. It's quite possible for the probability of success to be quite low but the conditional probability of success, given other facts, events, situations, etc. that hold, quite high.

The OP's nice words about working in a big company are also deceptive. In fact, especially in technology, those jobs can be darned unstable, vulnerable, and short lived. If by then have a house mortgage, three kids on the way to college, maybe some kids who need some help like the author of the OP, getting fired at a big company can be one heck of a bummer.

So, ASAP, while young and making good bucks in tech, look all the time for a startup opportunity. Maybe get one going in your house den, basement attic, garage, wherever. Pay attention to, learn about, at least dip toes into startups. Start small, don't invest more than pocket change, and LEARN.

Then think of your kids: What are they going to do? Are they going to have to start all over, from zero, like the author of the OP did? Or, pay attention to a family with a good, stable family business (e.g., with a geographical barrier to entry and a very broad customer list), hopefully not much to do with anything unstable like tech, where the kids can learn the business and, thus, at least learn about business and, hopefully, later move into the family business. For having a good life, that can beat the heck out of anything can learn in political science at Yale.

With high irony, my experience is that the families that can afford to pay full tuition, room, and board at an Ivy League college didn't go to an Ivy League college and, instead, made their money in small-medium business -- ran 10 McDonald's well, was the leading plumbing supply house for a radius of 50 miles, owned a lot of rental property, had a really good independent insurance agency going where they knew nearly everyone in town relevant to the business, etc.

If want a child in law or medicine, likely it helps a lot for at least one parent to be in law or medicine.

Startup? Really, in the US, for a full career, there really isn't much alternative but to do a successful startup. The question is not whether but how. So, learn how. If really know how and are determined, then the chances of success should be good, not bad.


> I cannot promise that doing a tech startup will make you rich (in fact the odds are against you becoming rich), but I can promise that it is one of the most challenging things you can choose to do. It will push you past your limits, force you to learn faster, and maybe show you that once in a while the impossible is possible.

Couldn't have said it better! Bookmarked, thanks for explaining it in simple terms. I find myself fumbling to explain this to my non-startup friends.


I do find it rather hilarious that he dropped interest in yale for being too academic, but during my (failed) interview as a web developer at Twitch about 5 years ago, the questioning had to do with only academic subjects like graph traversal algorithms - they proudly stated when I applied that 90% of their employees come from an Ivy league background.

Here's who I think should start a startup:

- People with the backing of their families and resources to get into Yale and every other college other than Harvard (thank god!), and have the means that failure is not so much of a risk.

- People who really need to do this thing, and can maintain their passion and drive and make it the largest part of their lives. And if that thing requires a lot of money to do, the ability to raise money, or already have money.

Both of the above need to be able to physically and mentally handle the 90% failure chance. The author clearly could.


I think there's some truth to the family support part of this. I was just racking my brain trying to think of any founder I knew (and I know a ton of them) that was in the position of "success or potentially homeless". But, I can't. I think there's some variable confounding going on when YC and others talk about people in their early 20's being better positioned to do startups because they're less risk averse due to youth. I think they're less risk averse because it's not such a big deal for them to move back in with their parents if they fail. And, their parents are usually still working and therefor able to handle the strain of that.

Nearly every successful founder I know of had either very wealthy parents, very supportive family and friends, or both.

I don't see any shame in admitting that it's not about some romanticized risk taker ideal alpha geek, but rather about upper class kids lucky enough to have a bunch of built in risk arbitrage supports that they lucked out on being born with.


My dad was not a successful founder. He quit his job at 40 or so to start a company. He failed miserably, and despite us being fairly well off, went into a downward spiral. He is divorced, alone, and living in a trailer park. Every time I visit him in his doublewide in Campbell, still same furniture as person who died in it had, I expect him to be hanging from the rafters. He was a serial startup employee with over 20 years tech startup experience before starting. His startup destroyed his life. the YC, anyone can become a founder mythology is toxic. My dad was rich from previous exits, had everything going for him, and had a good idea/execution. He just couldn't boil the ocean and it destroyed him.


Something similar happened to my dad. He had a pretty successful company providing security guard services mostly on government contracts. It wasn't very lucrative. He wasn't rich. But, it paid the mortgage and the bills and my siblings and I were well taken care of. Then, when I was around 9 or 10 or so, Wackenhut kind of raised a lot of money and became the Amazon of security guard services. They Amazon'd his company and everything he built just kind of slowly disappeared over the next couple years. He could have done OK getting a job as a security guard himself and working his way up or even changing careers (he was reasonably intelligent). But, something about his company failing broke him and he just kind of never did anything after that. My teen years were absolute chaos until I dropped out of high school and got a job driving a fork lift around 17 and moved out. I remember there being absolutely no food in the house for days and days. It was crazy.

I've had a bunch of friends/acquaintances that killed themselves (hung/shot/jumped off the GG) after their start-ups failed. But, they all did it during the first boom (90's). I haven't personally known anyone that's done it during this boom, yet. I think the difference might be that the bubble hasn't popped yet this time. People who fail can still easily go find work. Back then all the companies were laying people off. So, if your start-up failed there was basically no where to go but back home. Probably the majority of the people I knew in SFBA back when the bubble popped did that. It was crazy how suddenly highways that were packed with traffic could just be cruised down at the speed limit during rush hour with out touching your breaks until you got to your exit. It seemed surreal.


Damn that's hard. Thank you for sharing. Best of luck to you and your family - as optimist, I hope that your dad can find peace soon.


Tech startups are completely random. When you're starting out, it's like playing the lottery.

The more you win, the easier it becomes to win; this keeps you playing... Until you suddenly lose everything.


There are a few examples of startup founders who were potentially homeless if it failed (AirBnB is the obvious one...they started it because they were literally a month away from being homeless), but you're right, this is the exception rather than the rule.

I think what's frequently overlooked in the "how do I get the resources to found a startup without risking everything?" is that you don't do it in one shot. If you have zero in the bank, your first priority should be to get six months of living expenses in the bank, and that usually means taking a job and saving 25% of your paycheck for two years. Then once you have six months in the bank, your next priority should be to get 3 years of savings in the bank, and that usually means taking a better job and saving 50% of your paycheck for 3 years. Only once you've got about 3 years saved up are you really in a position to found a startup without having run across seed funding from an angel.

Few people really understand compound interest or how it works out in practice. It's not just about putting money in a bank account or index fund and letting it grow. It's about having successively larger cash cushions so you can take bigger risks with better risk/reward trade-offs.


> AirBnB is the obvious one...they started it because they were literally a month away from being homeless

How much of this statement is real and how much is just a marketing narrative put together afterward to make project look better or humanize? I see this over and over in every segment.

I laugh every time I read that an investment/asset manager claims to had a paper route or lemonade stand and.or bought 1 stock and suddenly wanted to be an investment/ asset manager.


I suspect the answer is "Yes" and "Yes", but I wasn't there for AirBnB's founding so I don't know for sure. It'd be interesting to get mwseibel's perspective on this because he was there, at least once the company got into YC.

Anyway, you bring up a good point about facts vs. narrative, and how we weave a narrative around the facts that puts a particular spin on it. Among startup founders I do personally know - they seem to be essentially randomly-sampled from the top half of the income distribution. There are not many who were outright poor (although you can always find exceptions), but a lot who come from middle-class backgrounds, many more than those who come from upper-class backgrounds. It's not really that startups are a game for the 1%, it's that they're a game for the 50%.

I'd also like to counterpoint that the same distinction between facts vs. narrative happens when people explain their own life stories. Many people take the facts of their life and then weave them together as "well, if only I were born rich, things would be very different". This is trivially true, but also not really a narrative I find useful; I would much rather focus on the things that I can control having made my life what it is, rather than the things out of my control.


The AirBnB story about `literally a month from being homeless` is total BS. Both Chesky and Gebbia worked for a few years before starting the company and the other guy went to Harvard.


Was airbnb a month away from being evicted or a month away from asking their parents for another deposit?

Lots of rich kids play at being poor all the while knowing they can call home at any point.


I don't know the family situation of the AirBnB founders personally, but Wikipedia says both of them were social workers, which isn't exactly what most people would consider a rich kid background.

I'm always a bit perplexed by the people who come out of the woodwork to say that startups are a rich kid's game, though. What's the family background of folks on this site? I understand that there's a wide variety of socioeconomic statuses on the Internet, and that wealth is relative and 50% of Americans have zero in savings. But is there actually a huge HN population whose families are worse-off than social workers (Brian Chesky), seed & clothing factory workers (Marc Andreesen), mechanics (Steve Jobs), engineers (Steve Wozniak), college professors (Larry Page), or refugees (Sergey Brin, Jan Koum)?

I come from a single-earner (elementary school teacher) family, and usually think of myself as smack in the middle of the socioeconomic spectrum. I could and did move back home after college, but then, a lot of children also have that privilege. Do the demographics of HN skew so much poorer that most folks here do not have parental households they could go back to?


- Chesky: Working for 4 years before founding AirBnB.

- Andreesen: Dual-income family, though details about his parents are scant.

- Jobs: Dual income family at a time when the vast majority of families had a single income.

- Wozniak: Engineers make a lot of money.

- Page: Professors do too

- Brin: Father is professor at University of Maryland, Mother is a researcher at NASA's Goddard.

- Koum: Had been working in industry for 15 years before starting his own company.

So yes, most people in the US have backgrounds much worse than this.


Yeah, your parents don't need to even be middle class in order for you to move back in with your parents, your parents just need to exist and be willing to let you back. In fact loads of poor people live with their parents...


They maybe don't get called "startup founders" because that implies very big business with lots of money on the table, but there are outright homeless entrepreneurs. I have seen stories about it. A quick google turns up this, for example: http://under30ceo.com/from-homeless-to-entrepreneurs-extraor...

Not disagreeing with you that "startups" -- these high growth, big money businesses -- are typically started by rich kids, basically.


I agree that being able to move back in with your parents is a huge luxury that many founders have (I did as well). I also believe that there are a lot of people (not everyone of course) who have that safety net.


Yeah something like 1% have wealthy families and something like 99% don't. YC has always been a program by the upper class and for the upper class.

There's a reason YC doesn't publish economic diversity stats. It would be an indictment of their systemic bias.

You're not better than the all of the 99 other people that didn't go to Yale/YC, you're just lucky that you were granted help instead of them.

And yet it never seems to occur to the "elite" YC team that any of them could've been born on the outside of this class system.

YC, like most class-based institutions, sits on a fortunate while millions are starved for opportunity. The people that receive its help are those that need it least.

Someone with a genuine underdog story needs to create YCs successor. YC is too much the "Harvard of accelerators."


I didn't grow up in the 1 percent and the vast majority of people I know in YC didn't either.


I think they minced the argument a bit bringing up the 1%. I didn't grow up in the 1% but I absolutely have a support system if anything in my life were to ever arise.


Why is it like that, though?

If you are single you can live pretty damn well on 40 to 50k (depending on where you are). If you are in a committed relationship with no kids, things get cheaper with scale (food, living expenses, etc). To make 40k a year isn't that difficult when the going rate is a lot higher for a full time job. You scrap together some part time work and then you are able to support yourself and have lots of free time to work on your side project.

Granted, that's not possible for all startups or for all individuals, but it doesn't have to be homeless or success.


That is true, but not everybody has those conditions. Some people have other demands. For example, I would not be able to start a start up for a while even as a recent grad software engineer at a fortune 50 company because:

1. I have to support my mom and siblings every once in a while

2. Am saving up for grad school expenses (even with funding of tuition and such through grants and such, my mother would not be able to support me for the other misc expenses)

3. I can't do part time work as I heavily am depending on the medical insurance my employer provides (nothing life threatening, but I am using all the preventive care now that I never had access to before)

4. Am saving up for a lot of expenses such as cars and such that I will need as I am starting as an adult

But yes, in an ideal world, 50k can get you good. I don't have kids, but it would not be easy for me, and a part time job would not be enough! There is some merit in the constraint of initial conditions.

Edit: And it is not like I don't have drive. I read papers from astrophysical journals and ML journals all the time, and try to include those ideas in side projects. And I have an idea for a startup once I am more comfortable in my later 20s (after grad school).


Why do you feel entitled to start a startup?

Everything you mentioned aside from your medical expenses is a choice. If you choose to prioritize things that prevent you from starting a startup, then you are choosing not to start a startup.


I don't feel entitled. I understood the nature of the discussion as to what barriers there could be.

And in lots of America, not having a car is not a choice. And, supporting my family is also not a choice.

I could see the grad school stuff as a choice. I also see it as a safe guard against automating away my job because I obtain a higher skill set.


Well, side projects are different. I wouldn't really call them start-ups. I'm talking about a VC funded start-up or a start-up whose goal is to eventually be VC funded. You have to be all-in on that kind of thing or you will not be successful. That is so much the case that it is actually written into the Terms Sheet (funding contract). Usually, it says something like "100% of professional/employment activities".

It's not as important to be in SFBA as it used to be. But, it is still a major factor in success. I consulted for a start-up that had to move there despite not wanting to just because the potential employment pool was so poor in my area (Boston). In SFBA, $40K/yr to $50K/yr is probably not enough to cover just rent, taxes, and utilities. You still need to worry about food, transportation, health insurance, etc. And, you'd have to convince other people to join your "start-up" that was only a part time hobby for you. Attracting the first employees is one of the hardest parts because that is when your ability to cover their paychecks is most uncertain. I imagine it would be very hard to do if they see you're not all-in and absolutely convinced the company was going to be successful. And, who the first employees wind up being is one of the most risky parts... hire the wrong people and you're done.

I know a lot more people that founded a start-up and did not do well than I know people that did. The stories about the failures are usually not that bad (but some are terrible). A joke among that circle of friends and I is that a start-up is basically a really really expensive job application to a more successful start-up that someone else pays for.

I encourage people to apply to YC. Because, I believe entrepreneurship is good and the people I know that did well did very well. But, be honest with yourself - Do you have wealthy parents/a wealthy spouse/close friend? Will they support you while you get back on your feet? If so, for how long? That's a discussion you can have with them and get a verbal commitment before you just go for it.

I had a good long-time friend, that I was supportive of, start a start-up and fail. He wound up sleeping on my couch for an extended period of time. We're around the same age... I have health insurance, a pretty fat 401K and IRA, a vested pension, an emergency fund, and a lot of seniority at my job. He does not have those things.

As you get older, the choices you make now will look like they were very very different choices. Don't romanticize them- really think them through.


I don't really know his story but I think Jan Koum grew up poor. Apparently he signed his FB acquisition papers on the door of a welfare office where he (or his family?) once collected checks.

https://twitter.com/khanoisseur/status/606285374068039682?la...


I understand what you're saying, but are other paths besides being born with a silver spoon.

My family was on food stamps when I was a kid. After college, I worked for a long time in finance before joining the tech industry 7 years ago.

My savings during the first part of my career gave me the risk tolerance to do startups.


Yup.


FWIW Michael wasn't at Twitch. He was at Justin.tv, our precursor. By the time you applied, if you applied to Twitch, you were 6 years post-founding and Michael had left.

I do believe you were asked graph traversal algorithms in the interview. I might have asked the question myself, though by the time we had pivoted to Twitch we had mostly stopped asking those questions. It was very early on and we were still pretty bad at interviewing though, so I wouldn't be surprised.

Additionally, if someone told you 90% of our employees came from an Ivy league background, they were lying to you. I'm actually very proud of the fact that we've hired broadly across the educational backgrounds. That's simply untrue, and I have no idea who would have said it.


You know, after checking wayback, I absolutely conflated Twitch's "about us" site with an edtech startup that I had interviewed with at the same time. My most sincere apologies!

Congratulations on your success :)


I (successfully) interviewed with 'emmett at some point at twitch in 2011 or 2012. I didn't end up taking the offer and I don't remember the exact question, but I have a positive memory of the overall experience.

I don't remember anything overly academic or anyone bragging about ivy league percentages.


[0] is still funny and still true.

"Employing Type A personalities to shuffle around amorphous blobs of questionable value is not called a “startup accelerator”; it’s called Investment Banking."

[0] http://www.leveragedsellout.com/2014/02/the-book-of-graham/


You don't need money to start a startup. It is only startup culture which emphasizes it.

When you've got nothing, you don't have anything to risk, so those people without resources but with drive are as good a place as any.

My friends and I are working on something in the garage. It might not turn into anything, but when you only make 40k a year, it doesn't take much to be really successful. The thought of making an extra 20k a year is life changing for me and my friends. For a lot of people with great jobs or who are used to wealth, making less than 120k a year is a sacrifice. That's a huge disadvantage, and it becomes even more so when your entire company is filled with people like that.


You don't spend money but you spend your other precious resource which is your private time. With money you can leverage a project by buying somebody else time (employee, partner). Such may be not 1:1 comparison of your own dedication but with fair equity and good match you may get similar drive.


What are you making in a garage?


Sorry you didn't have a better interview experience at Twitch. Also, 90% of our employees didn't come from Ivy League backgrounds. Maybe there was a miscommunication there.


What kind of bias do you need to get 10% Ivy Leaguers, given that they make up like 0.01% of the population?

Not a defense so much as an admission that the parent comment is correct.


Sorry was I should have said is the vast majority (over 90%) of our employees didn't come from Ivy's.


As said above, there absolutely was as I had conflated an edtech startup that I had interviewed with in the exact same timeframe. I verified on wayback!


Certainly not 90% of the early employees.


fukk we should have hired more ivy leaguers


Sucks to be you man.


Frankly one of the main responsibilities of CEO is money. Have it, and/or Raise it, and/or sell for it.


I like it. Though I don't think that's the answer I would give. From my experience, I wanted to start a startup because it was like god himself gave me a mission. And I couldn't turn away from that responsibility. I fucking deeply cared about what I was gonna do. It was so much more important than everything else for me. I was freaking Frodo bringing the ring to mordor.

So yeah, everything he said, plus the quest.


"About 2 months after being kicked out of school I suddenly felt pissed off again. I realized that my school, some of my friends, and even some of my family members thought I would never graduate from college. My motivation came back instantly." -- this passage seemed kinda weird to me. Seems like he got his motivation back due to spite?

His 3 questions at the end also seem to point to him having a chip on his shoulder.


Is the desire to transform as a person a good enough reason? Very few endeavors are as challenging as solving a problem by building a profitable business around it, and having the pleasure of meeting and working with a variety of people.


The problem is that you are entangling the lives of a lot of other people (your family at the very least, your co-founders, your employees, potentially your customers) in this quest for personal transformation.


I've tried to start a startup, 2 times. I failed both times.

And now I have 0 money left, the family that cannot help me, I don't have a job and can't find one and thankfully I have some friends that are giving me a place to sleep.

Should I start another startup? I wish. Will I do it? I don't know how.

I wish I had a magic idea and some people to invest in it, but not living in the Valley and not having a clue on how to find great ideas I'm kinda stuck.

I'm already looking for a job, the problem is that I have the fear that the more I wait for the next startup and the more it'll be harder to build a product from scratch because the expectation from all markets will be higher.

Ideas?


I'd get a job and go the more conservative "sidehustle" bootstrapping route of making a site or YouTube channel and then selling something for money. Stay focused on your job and don't quit until a sidehustle has momentum.

If you have no idea what to sell then just teach everything you know (about one topic), try to make something useful for people and make it in public (e.g sharing your progress on your blog or YT channel). Worst case scenario, you'll have a job, be saving money and build a small audience / reservoir of credibility.

Also maybe start hanging out on Indie Hackers instead of here.

Edit: as the sibling commenter said, get your life in order. That's number one. Until you find a job and can cover your rent, don't even spend time on news aggregators. I wouldn't worry too much about timing to be a founder. Everyone feels like they're too late and they've missed all the opportunities but there's always a next big thing. Keep your spirits up!


I'm just a random guy on the internet, but I would suggest you to fix your life first and then remember the hard lessons you (should) have learned on your two failures if you decide to do it again..


Why Most Startups Fail and How To Avoid The Same Fate

http://www.brianhonigman.com/why-startups-fail/


The startup starts up because of money is often time uninspiring. It is a good thing that we have fewer startups like that. If you don't have a good problem, plz don't make a startup for it.


Our problem was how to create a reality tv show with Justin Kan wearing a camera on his head. Is that a good problem?


Are you arguing that startups shouldn't ensure they're solving an important problem?

Creating a reality show out of Justin's life probably wasn't an important problem to solve, but drawing some conclusion based on the successful Justin.TV -> Twitch pivot would be selection bias.


at least we were solving our own problem....


It's impossible to know how many inspiring companies started with a primarily financial motivation. Every company has a bias toward telling a romantic, non-financially motivated founding story, so we can only have a lower bound.


Why so? What if I have an okay solution to a okay problem but see an opportunity to monetize the market gap and band together some folks to create a business around it? Does it have be "inspiring"?


> I cannot promise that doing a tech startup will make you rich (in fact the odds are against you becoming rich)

Ok, so what path has the least resistance for getting rich for a skilled developer?


depends on your definition of rich


$1m/yr


If you want to remain an employee maybe some hedge fund / investment bank quants ? A (senior) partner at mckinsey ? something like that maybe ?

But yeah, 1m/yr is hard if you don't own stakes in the business. And if you make that much as a partner at mc or EY for instance, it's because you have boughts shares of the firm when entering the partnership and that you've worked looong hours for over a decade.

Maybe being super high up at big tech firms through earned stocks ? Well, once you've had a high position at a big tech firm, you can easily go into consulting / start doing conferences and start making real cash. But that'll hardly be before 35-45 years old I don't think.


Okay! Let's do it! I want to start a start-up. What do I do?


Read The Four Steps to the Ephiphany by Steve Blank, and The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki for starters...


"Epiphany". Grrr... I hate that you can only edit HN posts for a short period of time. :-(


Thanks! Noted.


What does your data show regarding success rate for people like you vs those who build companies because of the need to have something exist?

What are specific challenges you see in each case?


You should not start a startup. I like to think of it differently. It's semantics but I find that it aligns my thinking better. You should start a business if:

- you are strongly driven _by the idea_ of doing business, i.e., at some point in your evolution, you become Walt Whitman. A business, which

- solves a problem, makes a product, or offers a service, that

- you think can you do better and make money while doing so, and

- you would rather face the uncertainty of it not working out than be employed working on a thing you are not motivated by.

You should not start a startup if things such as exits, raising VC, optics of running a startup, or some such affair is of primary concern to you. They should be in the service of running the business and serving its needs, not the other way around.

This is not a script that applies to just some lifestyle, sustainable businesses, in the parlance of SV. This is the same script that even the largest, most profitable, and most impactful companies (cue the disruption adjectives) on the planet have followed.


This! Especially the 'solves a problem or offers a service'. Any company without a viable plan to create surplus is a failure waiting to happen. It's why most startups fail... their purpose is to be a startup first, create a surplus if they luck out, or be flipped into a bubble market.


The key word there is "viable plan", and you don't know that you have one until you do it. Many of the biggest, most successful companies are pivots from some lame initial product.

There are plenty of bozos who don't try to solve a problem or offer a service, but there are plenty of dead startups who did all of that and still failed.


The casino explains why you should play dice.


reading comprehension fail


Didn't bill gates say something like "startups are needed, because you need failure so that some startups can succeed".


If you're asking yourself the question "Why Should I Start a Startup?" than you sholdn't start a startup.


Garage. It worked for Apple, Google, and HP.


I really like the way intellect is defined in this post. It's mostly persistence that guides you to success.


Because I can. Also, bootstrap if at all possible. Independence can't be valued enough.


The only way to win is not to play


This article got so many upvotes just because it's wrotten by Twitch's founder.


Building a successful tech startup is easy but extremely unlikely.


When you can/will dismantle a "Pyramid scheme"


You shouldn't .


Fucking great post man. Really hits home.


You shouldn't. Work in open source instead. If that project takes off, start a company. This way you benefit everyone instead of just yourself if you fail. Which you probably will.


Well, this is so motivating for a specific population, but I don't think majority thinks this way... after all paying bills come first..


This is nothing but a pitch by YCombinator to get rubes to work for pitiful amounts of money and likely fail, so that YCombinator can capture the vast profits from the few that succeed. It's YCombinator's business model.


I'm not sure you actually read this because it's pretty obvious that it actually tells many people not to do a startup and makes it clear that 'getting rich' or 'succeeding' isn't a very good reason for doing one. It gives three pretty clear criteria for starting a startup that most people won't meet- those that do might be worth considering it.


That's the sales pitch. "It's too hard, you couldn't do it."

Same sales pitch as gym workout programs. "Are you man enough?" and many others. Create an artificial scarcity (a barrier to entry), weed out those who will ask questions. Ideally they're looking for people who seek outside validation - the sort of people who often become doctors or lawyers.


My goal was to help people create their own framework for deciding whether to do a startup. I actually didn't talk much about YC at all.


You're starting to go down the same route PG did, by engaging with trolls on HN too much.


I thought the same. If if was genuine, he would suggest another option: starting a small/medium business in tech. You know, a business that helps you escape corporate life, and make money for yourself in the process.

Only problem: there is no way for YC to make money off of it...

So let's ignore S&M businesses in tech and as a valid entrepreneurship route. Let's pretend that the only options are a startup or corporate life.


>if was genuine, he would suggest another option: starting a small/medium business in tech.

It's an essay relating his personal experience. (Notice that Seibel wrote: "Here is how I learned this about myself. [... rest of text ...]"

He didn't cofound a small-medium-lifestyle business so he wrote what he was familiar with: justin.tv/twitch.

Lastly, I didn't see any advice that didn't also apply to small-medium businesses. (See the 3 questions to ask oneself at at the end.) He's not advising anyone to start another billion dollar Youtube clone or a company that requires YC funding. One can take his questionnaire and apply it to starting a small bootstrapped 5-person consulting firm if that's what your idea of a "startup" means to you.


Paul Graham goes to extra lengths to differentiate startups vs other type of business: it's all about growth.

So this essay talks about startups under the YC brand, I assume we're talking about hi-growth business, not small and medium ones that have no goals to grow double digits every month.

Finally, we should stop adding a condescending "lifestyle" qualififier to businesses that are not trying to become a unicorn. It is most businesses actually.


@pg has the right to try and define things however he wants, but he isn't the final arbiter of meanings of words in the English language. I see no reason to suggest that a company isn't a "startup" just because they aren't pursuing "double digit growth every month". There are plenty of ways to get big, and "slow and steady" is still one.

It's also important to realize that a company's growth rate will vary at times throughout its lifetime. You might start out as completely self-funded, bootstrapping, and work very slowly for some period of time, only to reach a certain point and say "OK, now its time to turn on the afterburners and go seek VC / PE money". And as a company matures (hello, Microsoft, IBM, CA, HP, etc.) its pretty close to inevitable that the growth rate will slow down.

The important thing is just to do what makes sense for where you are and what your goals are.


>stop adding a condescending "lifestyle" qualififier to businesses

"Lifestyle" is a neutral label and is not a condescending perjorative unless you insist on perceiving it that way. See:

+ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_business

+ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4053554


If someone wants to start a business and call it lifestyle, great for them. It usually tells their business is not all their is in their life, and that's great.

When someone else calls a business "lifestyle" just because it is small, i believe it is condescending.

If I called the CEO of the 20-employees plumbing company i sometimes use, and asked him "how's your lifestyle business doing?" he would probably hang up on me.


Totally agree - I think this applied to starting almost any business. I'm just speaking from personal experience.


I think you are 50% right. This piece will help Y Combinator to recruit new companies, but the article and the reasons are a lot more than just a pitch. I wrote a little explanation here. https://medium.com/startup-shenanigans/my-startup-failed-but...


YC doesn't capture "the vast profits", they take ballpark 6%. That leaves the founders with the vast majority of the windfall, depending on how much outside money you need to make your idea work.


6% of a few billion is still a vast profit compared to their relative effort. It is not a bad thing either. Why shouldn't they make money? Profit is not a dirty word. Still @CryptoFascist makes a valid observation in stating that YC is probably not an impartial entity when writing about whether you should or should not start a start-up, preferably for them.


It wouldn't make sense financially or otherwise for them to try to trick people who aren't well suited to doing startups into doing one, which is what the parent seems to be implying.

Also, the parent says that it's a terrible financial deal for most founders to do a YC startup, which is laughably wrong. If you succeed, there are few better ways to become very wealthy. If you fail, the most common failure mode I've seen is that the team gets a much better than average signing bonus at one of the big tech companies. We've all heard horror stories about people going deep into personal credit card debt to keep their startup afloat, but that doesn't seem to be representative for YC founders.

And whether you end up cashing out for gigabucks or getting acquihired for vested equity megabucks, while you're running it, if you do it well, you get to work the way you like on problems of your choosing with people you like rather than letting your soul die slowly doing pointless tasks and sitting in pointless meetings at a big corporation. People should really not forget that part while they're harping on startup salaries. Startups can be a lot of fun, and you really can have an impact. Unless you join a pointless startup that loves pointless meetings, those exist too. But if you're the founder, you're free to try to run a low-bullshit company.

Anyway, that's all to say that you're trying to find the silver lining of a turd of a comment.


"It wouldn't make sense financially or otherwise for them to try to trick people who aren't well suited to doing startups into doing one, which is what the parent seems to be implying."

Yes it would, because luck plays a role. So long as would-be startups handle some of their runway themselves, of course it suits Y Combinator to have a larger pool of possible candidates.


Not every startup is a an attempt at getting VC funds and make it big. Some startups are the least resistance way of getting something done or trying something new, that the incumbents aren't able or willing to try.


This article is thoughtful and measured and doesn't even steer people towards startups.

It's fun to mock the man, but you didn't even bother reading the article. You should feel bad.


[flagged]


I'm serious. It's literally YCombinator's business model. Based on rapid upvotes, quite a few others agree.


> get rubes to work for pitiful amounts of money

The typical founders are grads of top universities and on average end up worth several million from the YC thing.

(2015 stats - value of YC startups, 65bn, number 940 so valuation / startup $69m. say 1/3 stays with the founders and there are 2 on average that's $11m/founder)


Here is a practical reason to start a startup:

You are married to someone who makes enough money to push your marginal tax rate on income to the point (it can hit 55%+ in places like CA) that you might as well take a flier on a startup rather than pulling a W4.




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