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Hey, Guys, It's Totally Okay If You Don't Get Rich (seattle20.com)
383 points by 3d3mon 2678 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 219 comments

In my experience, startup founders who want to get rich want it more in order to have the freedom to work on what they want than to impress people.

That could be because we prefer startups whose founders include hackers. On the other hand, we don't just prefer that type because they're more fun to hang around with, but because in our opinion they're more likely to succeed.

I keep hearing this thing about freedom to work on something you want to after getting rich as opposed to something you have to. I'm not sure that Utopian scenario exists.

It sounds charming to be a vintner, writer, film producer, or my personal favorite, travel the world care-free once you have enough money but I'm honestly not sure there's more to it than the charm of it. Time and resources aren't that short that we cannot do what we want to (even if it means in a limited manner) in the present. I have a friend who wants to become a writer (he writes very well, too) but in the mean time wants to make a lot of money by being a Fx Quant so he can "retire" to write full-time. I can't help but think that he is mistaking what it means to be a writer to the idyllic charm of the idea.

My field of view might be limited but I don't know of even half a dozen people who went on to do drastically different things after getting rich, so to speak. They continued doing what they did before, the only difference being that they now had the means that afforded them more diverse experiences. In fact, just recently one of the ten richest men in my city came back to my division to run it after a hiatus of ten years. He is past 60, owns a vineyard, and enough money to outlast five generations. At this age, he comes back to the challenge but grind of trying to turn around a division's fortunes.

The purpose I think comes from industriousness, not in bumming around from one fleeting interest to another because you have money.

OK, since I have retired to travel and write, I'll chime in here. The writing part is fun, and being able to do it on my own terms (i.e., not kowtow to a publisher/editor's need to sell books by the pound rather than by content) was worth it to me.

The travel is even more so. I'd taken vacations before, but always came back wishing I had 1 or 2 more weeks more. With a day job, it was hell asking for 5 weeks or so. Now, I just go. And I no longer come back wishing I had another 2 week. The indignity of having to ask for permission always annoyed me, but I didn't realize how annoying it was until I didn't have to ask.

Ultimately, I think you have to ask what it is that drives you. Some people like being bosses and being able to lord it over their underlings. Those people will never retire, and they shouldn't. Their self-worth is dependent entirely on other people being subservient to them and their goals. But many INTJ types (especially engineers) don't have self-worth tied to the opinions of other people. Such people historically do very well in retirement, and retirement is not a bad goal for them: http://retireearlyhomepage.com/mbti.html

I'm honestly not sure there's more to it than the charm of it.

I think this is true for those folks who are putting these things off... if you don't enjoy it enough to do it today, there's a good chance that you only find it "charming" in the abstract.

I'm not a vintner or a writer... but I brew beer and I write software for fun, and I garden and cook and all of these things... on top of my day job and my startup. They aren't just charming to me, these are things I love, and I'm excited about replacing my day job with more of that stuff as my startup starts to earn a profit.

Nail, head, hit.

A friend of mine's private dream is to quit the IT business entirely and go raise sheep in NZ. He may truly be a country boy at heart, but there's little stopping him from doing it now… it's just an escapist fantasy.

I always wonder if people who claim to want to travel the world have ever actually done enough travel to know how brutal it can be to, in fact, travel the world. I spent 9.5 weeks traveling around the world last year and it just about killed me.

Most people can't separate "feeling an impulse to do something" and "knowing it's the real deal for the rest of your life." My husband is one of those types who always wants to move to wherever we're vacationing, but since they're usually backwaters, I know for a fact he'd end up miserable. It's just that they feel good because they're away from obligations. (The real thing is that he doesn't enjoy the work he's doing but he's not ready to admit it to himself yet!)

It's the Mexican fisherman story. Sacrifice your freedom and happiness so that you can get rich so that you can have freedom and happiness.

Why not just take the direct route?

"It's the Mexican fisherman story. Sacrifice your freedom and happiness so that you can get rich so that you can have freedom and happiness."

and how do you suppose we do that?

Freedom to me means:

1) not having to work for anyone 2) having enough time to do what I want 3) traveling around the world

You need money to do all of these. To get money, you need to create something that people are willing to pay for, which takes some sacrifices.

You are sacrificing some time and freedom now for complete freedom later.

Sounds like you've never tried this freedom that you speak of. I've been doing the 3 things on your list for the better part of 10 years now, and I've never been wealthy.

3. Living on the road is no more expensive than living anywhere else. Less usually, since there's no rent or car payment involved. I can live large in Thailand for $500/month.

2. Living on the beach, I once calculated that I needed to bill one day per month to break even. Anything above that went into savings. That leaves 29 days a month to do whatever you like.

1. During those 29 days per month, I work for either a.) myself or b.) nobody. Maybe once a year I'll take a short contract, pull in 20k or whatever, and repeat for another year.

And that's just the level of effort needed for subsistence. Any money earned above that goes straight in to the "retirement" fund, in quotes because frankly I consider myself retired today.

Aren't you extremely wealthy compared to the average Thai?

It sounds interesting for someone in your kind of situation, but there's a lot of assumptions that are not universals: being fairly rich (or having skills worth a lot) off the start, being limited to cheap countries (the parent poster talked about going around the world, which sounds a lot more expensive than and quite different from staying on a beach in Thailand), having skills that can be applied via teleworking and short contracts, etc.

A personal question. You do not need to answer.

When you return "home", wherever that may be, do you find yourself treated distantly by friends and family? My sister did the world traveling thing for years and though she did send postcards - we found it hard to share the same feeling of excitement for her travels as she did. She is back home now and starting her own family.

What is it like when you return home?

"Living on the road is no more expensive than living anywhere else. Less usually, since there's no rent or car payment involved. I can live large in Thailand for $500/month."

When I say "travel", I mean living in other countries for extended periods of time, which as you pointed out, is cheaper than living in many cities in the US.

" Any money earned above that goes straight in to the "retirement" fund, in quotes because frankly I consider myself retired today."

so..are you wealthy or not? It sounds like you are agreeing with me.

If you don't mind me asking, what sort of short contract do you take? How do you get them (advertised jobs, through contacts)?

Welcome to our site, Mr. Ferris. ;)

My cofounder was telling me a story about his friend's brother--where he doesn't really work much, but travels a lot.

Apparently, when asked how he does it, the brother quipped, "Most people are too stupid to be poor."

> You are sacrificing some time and freedom now for complete freedom later.

No, for the chance of complete freedom later.

is that what freedom means? it sounds like you're condition of freedom is to have money, and its only freedom as long as you can pay for it. not really that free.

"is that what freedom means? it sounds like you're condition of freedom is to have money, and its only freedom as long as you can pay for it. not really that free."

I suppose I could live in a cardboard box on the side of the road and quit my job, but I don't think it would be a very nice existence.

Having enough money to quit your job, buy a nice house, support a family, and travel is the ultimate freedom. You don't have to answer to anyone.

You may be happy with much less, and that's your choice. This is my definition of freedom. It's also why I am working on my own company.

The money isn't even the point. If I could get all of the above for free, I would do it (who wouldn't?). It's what the money provides.

Having enough money to quit your job, buy a nice house, support a family, and travel is the ultimate freedom. You don't have to answer to anyone.

Ahh, but there's the rub. What good is a nice house and a family if you live at the office and devote every waking moment to your startup?

I think those things are nice too. My point is that there are a lot of people who have a house, a loving family, and travel, who are not rich. If that is really your goal, sacrificing your happiness, health and sanity in pursuit of FU startup money is a pretty circuitous way of attaining it.

"Ahh, but there's the rub. What good is a nice house and a family if you live at the office and devote every waking moment to your startup?"

You don't need to devote every waking moment to a startup to be successful. I devote lots of my time right now only because I am also working a day job. Once I am making enough money and I quit my job, I could easily run it during the day.

I value my free time more than anything. If I was just going to trade in one office slave job for another, I wouldn't even bother.

I would also rather spend my life working on my own projects than be forced to make someone else rich. Have you ever had to implement ridiculous features or work until 10 o'clock (unpaid) because your manager or boss decided at the last minute that something needed to be changed?

"I think those things are nice too. My point is that there are a lot of people who have a house, a loving family, and travel, who are not rich."

What is "rich" to you? It's a relative term.

"If that is really your goal, sacrificing your happiness, health and sanity in pursuit of FU startup money is a pretty circuitous way of attaining it."

When did sanity come into the discussion? I love working on my business. Programming is a passion of mine. I am also pretty healthy. I exercise every day (biking, jogging, and/or lifting weights). I also sleep around 8 hours a night and try to eat a healthy diet.

It's also not a permanent sacrifice. It's only until things get to a level where I can hire other people and or quit my job. School is a 4+ year sacrifice. What's the difference?

is that what freedom means?

I'm halfway through Harry Browne's "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" (recommended by someone on HN) and he has an interesting definition of freedom. Freedom is spending more time seeking pleasure than avoiding pain.

I'm paraphrasing, but I think that's the gist of his definition. Good book.

Freedom is spending more time seeking pleasure than avoiding pain.

Very interesting definition. Thanks for sharing that.

It vaguely reminds me of Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom, in which he explores how the right to certain opportunities may be as essential to freedom as the right to property.

The connection may only be superficial, but that was a good book too. (Sen was a Nobel Prize winner.)

Awesome book!

I think you're conflating two ideas here: negative and positive freedom.

Negative freedom, freedom from having to do things you don't want, can be had by quitting your job and living in a cardboard box. Don't want to go to work? That's cool, you can just sit in your box, or go for a walk, or whatever.

Positive freedom, on the other hand, can really only be had in this society by accumulating money. If you want to buy a house, support a family and travel, then you need to have the cash to do so.

Of course, if you get enough money, then you can have both. The converse isn't true. But that's difficult to do, and it certainly is a gamble. I think you and the OP just have a different idea of where it's desirable to be on the continuum from -ve to +ve.

Care to offer a better definition?

i honestly can't think of one that isn't constrained in some form. in modern society, that is. freedom seems to be constrained by the existence of other people.

"i honestly can't think of one that isn't constrained in some form. in modern society, that is. freedom seems to be constrained by the existence of other people."

When has it ever not been? In pre-modern society people still used some for of currency to obtain things. You could technically live a "free" life without money, but your existence would be even worse than it is now.

The Mexican fisherman story, in case people haven't heard it:


The main flaw is that it ignores the massive amount of wealth created by scaling up the fishing operation. The fisherman could've made a much greater contribution to the world by listening to the investment banker. We are all morally obligated to make enough money to buy a yacht with a flag saying, "Chillin' the most" and to subsequently rock that bitch up and down the coast.

Please god tell me you're joking.

I'm sure that is sarcasm.

Yeah, you're kidding me right?

Are you saying that there is some more direct route to working on what one wants? Or that the direct route to happiness is to give up such aspirations?

If your aspiration is simply to code interesting software projects all day long, I see no reason why being rich should be a prerequisite. Your expenses are minimal; you have no need of an office and can live anywhere. Will you require some money? Yes, and acquiring that will distract you slightly from the things you'd rather be doing. But that is a much better proposition, to me, than gambling away a decade or two of my best years on the remote chance to become wealthy and "completely" free.

You're talking theoretically about the life I actually lived for the second half of my twenties, living cheaply and supporting myself with occasional bursts of consulting. It was not as easy as you make it sound. I preferred it to a regular job (which leaves you too little time to work on your own stuff), but it was extremely stressful to keep running out of money. With kids it would have been impossible.

How remote the chances are of making money from a startup depend on the person. The probability ranges from a snowball's chance in hell to maybe 90% in the case of someone like Bill Gates. (He was not necessarily going to be the richest man of all, but the likelihood of him not even making enough to be independently wealthy was pretty small.) I can't tell what the chances would be in your case without meeting you, but certainly there are some people for whom starting a startup is a reasonable gamble.

It definitely wouldn't take decades to find out. When startups fail they usually fail in less than 2 years.

As a 27-year old, part-time consultant, it's not so theoretical :-) I agree I could never support a family living the way I do, but raising a family is at odds with maximizing your free time anyways.

I don't really know what to say about this. It makes me totally face_plain. In my opinion, a goal of maximizing your personal free time at the expense of family is completely crazy. You should raise a family because its joys are immense and awesome, more immense and awesome than anything involving a huge chunk of money and/or free time (i.e. boredom, which more often than not does not end well), and I would instantly sacrifice my entrepreneurial desires if I had to choose between my wife and son and my hope of getting a lot of money independently. It's much better to have a family waiting for you after an eight-hour work day than to set your own hours and come home to an empty house.

I draw the line at like 6 threads deep, so I will shut up after this, but:

At the expense of what family? The hypothetical one which I am purposely not creating? I'm glad that it's worked out well for you (really), but you need to recognize that, contrary to what people want to believe, parenthood and happiness are not synonymous. You look at my life and see empty houses (nevermind that I live with a bunch of fun, like-minded people); I look at yours and see sleep deprivation, debt, stress, loss of the ability to travel and develop myself personally--basically the end of everything I enjoy. Other than conventional wisdom, is there anything to suggest that your life is "immense and awesome", while mine must be empty and sad? For my part, I see a litany of studies suggesting that people like me are, on average, actually a lot happier (http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/).

I would never be so smug as to insinuate that you made the wrong choice. But it's not your place to make face_plains at me, either.

For what it's worth, as Daniel Gilbert notes in "Stumbling on Happiness", people's minds tend to rationalize their actions and warp the past based on more recent events.

If you were to marry and have kids, you would likely argue the same points about it being the greatest experience of your life. However, you would only feel that way because your memory of your past bachelor life would be distorted by the joy that your new settled life has brought you.

So I think you're both right. :)

Hah, so it doesn't matter what we do.

Live frugally and work on projects we love.

Develop an idea into a valuable tech business and get rich.

Or work at a regular job and make modest but secure income.

Our level of happiness will be relative to our current life, warping our history to match.

I can see many potential life threads for myself going forward. Most include a family because I'm married and both of us wish to have children. All of them include struggling to build a valuable tech company by solving a pressing need. Making enough money to survive in the meantime is a given (part time work), I can't imagine not paying the bills.

I take comfort in the fact that my personal success is independent of the happiness I can bring to and receive from my family, as long as my restless ambition doesn't become a burden on them. Life feels so short and ephemeral, 36 years have come and gone in the blink of an eye. At other times I feel ancient and have forgotten more than I'll ever learn from here on out.

"You look at my life and see empty houses (nevermind that I live with a bunch of fun, like-minded people); I look at yours and see sleep deprivation, debt, stress, loss of the ability to travel and develop myself personally--basically the end of everything I enjoy."

You can have a very happy life with or without children. My wife and I waited until our late 30's to have our daughter. We were happy before and we're happy now. If we decided not to have a child we would have been happy. Your list of downsides to having a family are accurate with the exception of "develop myself personally". It depends on what you mean by developing yourself. If you mean being able to study interesting subjects, e.g. take foreign language classes/study cooking/etc., then there's some truth to it. With a child, you have to pick and choose what you study based on having a less flexible schedule. But, developing oneself isn't limited to that. My daughter causes me to learn patience, empathy, and selflessness far beyond what I could have learned without her. It's a matter of not having a choice to do otherwise.

As for the other side of developing oneself, she and I will be studying martial arts and piano together. Not bad.

Enjoy your life whatever your choice. You're the only one in control of your happiness.

Actually, as a divorced man, I prefer the empty house.

"With kids it would have been impossible."

It's not impossible, it's just adding another degree of difficulty. I did exactly this in the second half of my twenties. Working on my projects, doing consulting when I had to to support myself and my family. I believe the impetus that drives "family men" to seek shelter in a "normal" job can also drive you to be relentless in making your startup work. More skin in the game.

Also, team comes into play here. Personally. I know that if I wouldn't have had such a wonderful and supporting partner at home, the startup issue would have been a non-starter.

Team first =)

It's a little bit disingenuous to say earning lots of money is the same as "gambling away a decade or two" while a full-time job will "distract you slightly." Getting money and getting modestly rich are essentially the same thing, just one way you have a reasoned goal for which to optimize your money-earning.

In your youth, you don't have to care about risks much, hence your expenses are low. You can never get really broke, because you'll always have an able young body to sell and start over. The older you get the more you have to worry about risks.

Most hackerly types I can think of just go work on what they're interested in, without an explicit goal of making millions from it. Take the quintessential Jobs/Woz thing: Woz, the hacker of the pair, was interested in making Apple machines, but didn't give a damn about getting rich.

I bet he's pretty happy now that he is rich. And Steve Jobs wouldn't have bought Pixar and created NeXT if he hadn't made a fortune at Apple before he got fired.

It's hard to say that for sure. Jobs seems to be a pretty driven guy.

woz was quoted in return to little kingdom that jobs was driven by making money. that was when they started selling blue boxes in dorm rooms.

Darn it you changed your reply after I replied, this still kind of applies. Edit again, you're reply is practically evolving every time I hit update.

Being free and being broke is what I think his direct route is. You can say that the pan handlers have more or less freedom than a business owner, depends on how you define the words.

Yeah but very few people can successfully pull this off. The vast majority of broke people are still harboring some sort of grudge against society or someone from their past - it's like they have 99% of the inconveniences of abandoning materialism, but none of the benefit because they refuse to "go all the way" with it.

In many ways intellectual freedom can only be found once material mastery has been achieved. There are a few famous examples from history that say otherwise, like Diogenes, but I doubt you're at his level. I also doubt you really believe in what you're saying, otherwise you would go straight to "abandoning" instead of posting on Hacker News.

Would you really say intellectual freedom is truly achieved only once the material has been achieved?

I would argue that there is a threshold for this material mastery. I don't think is necessary for it to be exorbitantly rich. I can look at researchers who enjoy their work, and are working on problems interesting to them. They usually don't have a big monetary profit. Just a thought

Way to much you, your and you're in that last sentence zachattack, I felt like you think I personally believe that is freedom. I don't believe in that codswallop at all I was just offering an interpretation of what he might have meant, much like his interpretation of freedom. Money is my means to the end and I won't stop till I've got enough.

Because the direct route is not easy, or even possible for most people.

We are human being living in a commercial society. Money is essential for us to survive. And for most people, a modest level of success is essential for happiness.

I think the right approach is to strike for goals which have dual rewards: material and spiritual. Do things you love. If money doesn't come, also do things bringing in money.

Sitting on your ass all day staring at the see is not what everybody wants. Also, the fisherman in the story already has a successful business.

I'm not familiar with the Mexican fisherman story (search didn't return anything).

Was the Mexican fisherman toiling away on a fishing boat so he could become rich so he could have the freedom to spend his days fishing?

This was one reference to the story I'd found: http://bluehaert.wordpress.com/2006/05/02/story-the-business...

Basically, a businessman runs into a fisherman by the beach and is telling him how he should get a boat, a fleet, put in hard work to make a lot of money and then he can retire, take it easy, go fishing for a couple hours each day, etc. Then the fisherman says "Isn't that what I'm doing now?"

Being successful is vague. If your goal is to be happy rather than rich, your requirements are much simpler.

"Basically, a businessman runs into a fisherman by the beach and is telling him how he should get a boat, a fleet, put in hard work to make a lot of money and then he can retire, take it easy, go fishing for a couple hours each day, etc. Then the fisherman says "Isn't that what I'm doing now?"

If the fisherman is already fishing and selling his fish to earn a living..isn't he already in business for himself? If he can save enough for retirement, than I see his point. If not, it's going to be pretty rough for him when he gets to an age when he wants to quit. If he had enough money, he could also move onto something else if he ever got bored of fishing.

Fishing for fun is also different than fishing for a living.

Money doesn't make you happy. It opens many more doors that can lead to happiness.

I think you may be taking this story too literally.

The moral of the story is to pursue happiness over extreme financial success at the expense of happiness.

The story also acts against the deferred life plan. Many people endure things they hate in order to make a lot of money. In most cases, this is probably a bad thing... especially when there are better alternatives.

I believe your search required "jimmy johns" where the story is often on the wall.


For people who don't know the story: http://pauldecowski.com/

I put it up on my domain a while ago because I liked it a lot. Maybe it will be useful for once.

We just had this discussion yesterday at a StartupDrinks. I think the Darwinian notion says:

1.) We are hardwired to want things to attract mates. 2.) Power, Success, Prestige, Freedom, etc. are attractive. 3.) We want things that are derivative of such things, even if we consciously believe we want to benefit humanity, think it's, fun etc.

Conclusion: The mind has a way of aligning our conscious interests with our subconscious procreative ones. We need to recognize this, but we don't need to embrace the appetitive.

Yes immediate and proximate causations for our actions are often wildly different . This has parallels across all species .

A peacock my really feel that it has passion for dance this need to "express itself"( immediate causation )..but to an outside human observer all it is doing is attracting peahens ( ultimate causation)

I don't care about my freedom being attractive. I want a certain level of material comfort without answering to anyone or reporting to a cubicle. Some drives derive from mating impulses, yes, but many derive from hating bullshit. Period.

The point is that we all consciously have reasons like what you're saying: independence, hating bullshit etc. However, all are motivated by hardwired goals of species survival.

These base needs make us want to gain advantage in mating, but also in things like independence - which give us a higher likelihood of survival (i.e. controlling how to fulfill our base needs, reproduce, not be killed by others, etc.).

Your logic is tautologous. Evolution seeks no such things. Evolution just happens and is random. It's quite likely we have many traits which are not advantageous for survival, especially in our modern world. Appealing to evolutionary psychology is an intellectual and argumentative reductionist shortcut.

Evolution is not random - ask any biologist. Random mutations are actively selected for traits strongly favoring better species survival.

While certainly not a panecea, such strong drives as success, power, etc. that we're discussing are in no way accidental such as optical illusions and the like. To make an argument like this is to misunderstand evolution entirely.

> Evolution is not random - ask any biologist.

First you say this. Then you say this:

> Random mutations are [...]

See, you're arguing semantics. Yes, evolutionary pressures force natural selection, extracting order out of the fundamental randomness, but the mutations of evolution are random. My point is we don't know which pressures forced which particular traits, so to draw specific conclusions about modern behavior based on evolutionary psychology is more in the realm of speculation than actual science. It's all so much guessing and assumption.

No - it's not semantics. Mutations are random, the process selecting which move on is not. If you're picking tomatoes, some will be rotten at random, you select ones that look tasty - that's random rottenness and active selection. Try this out: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/chance/chance.html

Exactly. The reductionism is just too easy in these arguments with every behavior contorted to project onto a sexual / survival basis. There is no quarter given for things simply being what they are.

Very few things are what they are when it comes to how we work, because until very recently (compared to the total history of humans), the environment in which we lived was intensely competitive and brutal, and anything that didn't aid survival/propagation that required energy was strongly selected against over generations.

There are many things for which the evolutionary cause is not obvious to us, but it doesn't make sense that there would just be lots of random truly superfluous aspects to us.

> There are many things for which the evolutionary cause is not obvious to us, but it doesn't make sense that there would just be lots of random truly superfluous aspects to us.

Sure it does. Look at our appendix. Look at all the diseases out there--almost every person has at least one almost-certainly non-advantageous yet obvious ailment. One can speculate that it would be advantageous in scenario A or situation B, but that's all it is, is speculation. Maybe something we have now was advantageous 5000 years ago, but we don't necessarily know why, nor is it useful to describe modern behavior in such terms.

What is the species survival motivation of me enjoying Tolstoy, classic rock or scrabble? I'm sure you can come up with a retrofitted explanation to observation, but the point is you cannot reduce _every_ single human behavior and action to evolutionary impulses, at least not without a heavy amount of speculation. In many cases, we have to be honest enough to say we simply don't know.

On the one hand I don't need that much money to have freedom. I live frugally.

On the other hand I fear that I'm underestimating how much I need. Because the macroeconomy will be more challenging in the future than it has been in the past. And because we're often competing financially with our closest peers. If more people have successful startups in the bay area the price of housing and everything else will go up. National inflation matters less than regional inflation.

We know the rewards of living in a big city. But the cost of living in a big city grows over time, and faster than one thinks. Like the red queen, you end up having to run at some speed just to stay in the same place.

I know this is how I feel.

The only time I think about the money is when I read someone on here mentioning it, but it quickly fades.

Otherwise, all I think about is being able to work on anything I want and starting my own company. Nothing seems cooler than that in my opinion. Besides, if you want bragging rights, how many people can say they started their own company?

The problem is when you don't have money or savings to not think about money all you think about is making that money to do whatever venture you want without worrying about putting food on the table and a roof over your families head.

If that were the case, I wouldn't be working on a startup probably. Instead I would be looking for a job to pay for the necessaries.

I'm not a startup expert so I'm going to ask an honest question. In old ages, when start-up wasn't a very well-known concept how did great minds convinced themselves to work on what they love without getting rich first (they even had to go through misery)? I mean I probably want to do a startup so that I can get rich enough to work on number theory while feeding my family at the same time (and I'm doing a startup so that I don't go through that misery while pursuing number theory)? So isn't it all because I want to avoid the misery and not because I love freedom?[sorry, not a native speaker]

>> "In my experience, startup founders who want to get rich want it more in order to have the freedom to work on what they want than to impress people."

Isn't the whole point of doing a startup, to be able to work on what you want? Surely creating a profitable startup gives you that freedom to do what you like?

No, because there's billing, payroll, taxes, customer support, management, board meetings and a hundred other things that come with running a startup. We have to do what's best for the company, and that usually doesn't include taking a month off to try to build a robot spider.

Well that depends, and it is the difference between working for a company and "running" a company, IMHO.

The actual act of founding a company can result in you working for it or running it, sometimes one after the other. This transition is as key as the work itself. The traditional method is to sell, taking a lump sum buyout and outsourcing the entire operation to someone else forever. That gives you the base from which you can take a month or more to build robot spiders.

Other methods also exist, most popular being to outsource a lot of operation functions and automate others, but still retain control. This happens a lot in many organizations, not just tech startups.

This provides enough freedom to build robot spiders and work on your company at the same time; retaining the investment for the long term, presumably because it is something you actually enjoy doing. Tim Ferris is the extreme example here, 37Signals a more realistic one.

If you are slaving away "working" for your own company as a long term solution, you are doing it wrong. You may as well go find a corporate job and pile up the pension.

Yes, but if your margins are good and your growth is strong enough, you can remove yourself from the equation and hire people to takeover most of these tasks. You'll probably still have to attend the board meethings though.

Then again, it's probably not considered a startup anymore at that point.

Read "The E-Myth" by Michael Gerber. It points out how most businesses must be setup from the start to allow a systemizatiom/franchising that allows the founder to exit.

Are you looking for people for this robot spider startup? Il join

My goal when I first started was to exit and buy a fully equipped bio/physiology/elec/engineering lab and enough raw material to invent full time.

I thought I'd need 10m+ to do this, but over time I'm gradually acquiring everything I need due to places like sparkfun, ebay and alibaba for little more than the cost of an average car.

I'm inventing every day (5-6days software, weekends building random projects), learning more than I ever thought possible and loving every minute.

My point is that if this is anything like your dream, it's readily doable now as the cost of doing science is extremely cheap these days. And I've found that productivity increases when I take a break from software in the weekends and do some wet/hard projects.

I think it's about the freedom to work on what you want mixed in with the ambition to build something great. I care more that what I am building makes an impact on people and businesses than if I get super rich, but they usually go hand in hand.

Indeed. The danger, however, is getting so caught up in the race that you forget why you started in the first place.

That's why I'm forcing myself to finish a book before my next startup. It's matter of self-respect.

She is saying that the start-up mythology of success, which is vital to keeping up the spirits of the best of us, can lead the good-but-not-great astray in their lives.

She is saying that ideas are powerful, and internalizing the wrong ones can cause damage.

I recently saw pg give an interview wherein he discussed how much more Y Combinator focuses on who the founders are rather than what the idea is. This is a great start, and I think there is a lot of fertile ground that can really be developed into a powerful message that will reach many young people.

Won't successful founders from YC will have the opportunity to work on what they want no matter how much money they have? Or do the founders you know want to work on things that are very expensive?

This is so true.

When I dream of 'winning the lottery', I don't dream of laying on sandy beaches. I dream of starting a new start up, knowing that I can have enough FU money to take risks and make it great.

I can only speak to myself, but I want to get rich not for a Lamborghini, but so I can start another company to truly make a difference. Personally I think the Gates foundation is going to have a longer lasting impact on the world then Microsoft has. Yes I realize how huge of an impact Microsoft has had.

Call me cynical, but I don't think 18-year-old Bill Gates had the Gates Foundation in mind when he started trampling over the competition in his rise to the top. He wanted to be rich and powerful (because frankly, with the looks and alleged personality of Bill Gates, how else was he going to get a date?).

The Gates Foundation, worthy as it is, was something he only realized he wanted after he had achieved everything he'd thought he wanted, matured, and realized it wasn't really important.

> "(because frankly, with the looks and alleged personality of Bill Gates, how else was he going to get a date?)"

Honestly, that's probably a better description of Zuck than it is Gates. If Bill Gates' goal was to get rich and fuck women, I doubt he'd have settled down so quickly with another coder who worked in his company.

You know, more like supermodels and actresses and such.

I doubt he'd have settled down so quickly with another coder who worked in his company.

Gates founded Micro-Soft in 1976. He married Melinda French in 1994, 18 years later. She was a manager, not a technical lead, and she was primarily working on "information products" like Encarta, not software products.

However, I agree that it's unlikely that getting a date was his motive.

Gates is pretty good looking. Maybe not compared to TV stars, but he is compared to, say, Microsoft CEOs.

You make a few grand statements with no backing (e.g., who said Gates decided that Microsoft wasn't important? I'd be a pretty happy person if I'd have contributed as much to the world as MS has).

I can't say for sure what Gates had in mind, but I can extrapolate from the few cases I do know about (myself and other entreprenurial-minded friends). The reasons vary, but I for one am definitely in this to make money for the power to do more important work later.

I agree this is probably true. However I think it still makes a great example.

I can only speak to myself, but I want to get rich not for a Lamborghini, but so I can start another company to truly make a difference.

I honestly don't understand this. To me, this is no different than the arguments elsewhere in this discussion about needing money to "travel". Why do you need money "to make a difference"? I don't have money but I run a website that makes a difference. The number of people it reaches is currently small. I have thought about it and I don't think throwing money at the problem would do any real good. If I thought throwing money at the problem would work, I would be trying to start a foundation and raise the money to throw it at the problem. But I really think the current model of throwing money at the problem is part of the problem, not likely part of the solution.

Gates said something once like "Automating an efficient system multiplies the efficiencies and automating an inefficient system multiplies the inefficiencies." I think throwing money at a problem does the same thing. If the solution you have isn't really that good, more of it may make a bigger "difference" but not of the sort I want to see in the world.

You "make a difference" every day of your life. What kind of difference are you making today? And if it is not something you think is worthwhile, why put off "making a difference" until some mythical time when you have more money?

Sincere questions, not in any way intended to bust you.


I think the one way that riches truly improve your quality of life is to make travel easy. The ability to explore your world is a great gift, and something that not many underpriveledged people can afford. A Lamborghini doesn't factor into that equation, because unless you live near the Autobahn, it doesn't get you anywhere a more modest car can't in the same time.

But if I ever become extraordinarily wealthy, my first purchase will be a private jet, and I will explore as much as I possibly can before I die.

I'm not sure where you live but travel doesn't take a lot of money. If you live anywhere in the western world and make a modest living, it is very much possible to explore the world around on a cheap budget. The pleasure is in experiencing the world and her people, not in being able to do it in style, I suppose. IMO, at least.

EDIT: didn't mean -in style- in a negative manner. There are probably only a few thousand people in this world who own private jets - ridiculously low odds. So why put it off? That was my only point.

I never said anything about style.

If you live in the western world with a modest living, you can afford to take a few vacations here and there to neat places. But I would have to be rich to telecommute during the week from Venice, Peru, Japan, New Zealand, Lebanon, France, and and on alternating weekends see my little brother's Piano recitals in Boston, and visit my girlfriend in India.

Maybe I would discover that that life isn't so great, but I would like to see first hand. And I think you made some unfair assumptions about my point.

That seems like something quite different from traveling and exploring the world; that's some kind of jet-setting commute schedule, which yes, is the purview of the rich.

If you want to just travel and see the world, though, you can do it considerably more cheaply, and no, not just as "take a few vacations". You can travel through Europe for 6 months on Airbnb and train/bus tickets for a few tens of $k, not millions. You can drive around the United States (which has tons of amazing things most people have not seen, especially if you like nature) for even less money. You can spend a year in India for very little money, especially if you meet a few locals to help out making arrangements. Etc. It doesn't even have to be bohemian backpacker style: all you have to do is get slightly off the tourist/resort circuit and costs go down hugely in many parts of the world.

I guess it might depend on what kind of trips you find appealing. To me, flying to Paris for a weekend is a really terrible way to travel, but if that's your ideal sort of vacationing, then I can see the considerations would be different. For me, time rather than money is by far the bottleneck in why I don't do more of the traveling I'd like to do. Of course, that implies money a bit (one reason for not having time is working), but a different magnitude of money than "private jet" type of money.

Sympathy upvote - not sure why you got downvoted for a perfectly cogent argument.

You are of course absolutely right - if what you're after is the resort hotel experience, jet-setting around the world, fine-dining and boutique shopping then yes, you do need to be exceedingly wealthy.

But IMHO travel is so much more meaningful than that, and in fact I don't see much of a point to the jet-set lifestyle at all. A trendy nightclub in Shanghai is going to be largely similar to a trendy nightclub in NYC; you will many of the same boutiques on a chic street in Paris as you would in London.

IMHO the point of travel is to experience the uniqueness a place has to offer - and to do so you cannot ignore the people who inhabit such a space. Largely, they are not rich and wealthy, and living the rich and wealthy jet-set lifestyle is essentially a barrier to meeting, interacting with, and getting to know them.

It is consistently surprising and disappointing to me that the upper classes in our society try so very hard to emulate the bohemian way of life, when it is so very easily in reach for just about everyone.

> But IMHO travel is so much more meaningful than that, and in fact I don't see much of a point to the jet-set lifestyle at all.

As you travel, you slowly get friends around the world who are doing amazing things you'd like to see. I wish I could see my grandmother back in Boston right now, go to my best friend's birthday party in Los Angeles, visit Beijing to catch up with a couple old friends and talk business, and also be here in Vietnam for a couple weeks, also doing some business and adventuring with great people.

I have traveled the world slumming it. It's great, it's awesome. But as you do it, actually, the jet-setting lifestyle becomes more appealing, not less. I wish I had the freedom of action and mobility to be where I want without regard to money. Well, I'm working on that right now, actually. Well, not right now, I'm screwing off on HN right now, so umm, back to work for me :)

I have friends and family around the world, but somehow that makes me even more opposed to this quick-trip view of travel. I have a life and family in the United States, and a life and family in Greece, and I tend to not like mixing them a lot. Visiting Greece for a weekend feels hugely disrespectful to me--- I tend to visit for a week at the minimum, preferably 2+ weeks. It's a context switch, and I find that short trips fail to fully implement the switch, instead treating it as just another location, like any other location, rather than getting into the local language, mood, culture, etc. Even just linguistically, it takes me at least a week to get comfortable using Greek as an everyday language again. You really need some time to properly switch contexts and treat it as somewhere genuinely different, imo.

That, and the jet-setting lifestyle would alienate me from friends and family: if I were the type of person who flew in to Greece for a 3-day weekend, I would no longer be one of them.

These have been some of my biggest disappointments in travelling. Globalization has made Europe look almost indistinguishable from the States in many ways. The week or two that a typical U.S. job allows you to spend abroad doesn't really accomplish much either. The real appeal of travel to me is to genuinely immerse myself in a different culture and live and see the world in a different way. This takes the kind of time that you just don't have unless you're willing to prioritize it over other very pressing needs.

If you think Europe looks like the US, you're doing travel wrong.

He did mention he was traveling for work - business hotels, business districts, fancy lounges that the office takes you out to... those are incredibly similar no matter where you go.

I think that's part of the point - "real" traveling involves seeing the unique aspects of the place you're in. The nouveau riche jet-set lifestyle isn't really optimal for that (or maybe it's just sour grapes from me) :P

Exactly. I'd much prefer to spend at least a few months there, preferably with time to spend outside of a major city as well.

Sorry if that came out wrong. I certainly didn't mean it in a negative connotation. Hell, I'd love to travel in a private jet! :-) I was just saying that travel doesn't have to wait.

To your point, I would love to visit my family in India a few times a year, if it was within my means. At times, I've wanted to just take off to exotic locations for the weekend. But oh well. I still travel internationally to my heart's content once or twice a year.

That's a bizarre attitude. If you cookie cutter travel, you'll get cookie cutter memories. I travel my way, my style, at my pace, and at my speed. When I travel, I get invited into people's homes for tea, get introduced to their families, and get asked to stay. I get chefs coming out of retirement to cook me dinner, because I'm in a position where their hospitality really means something to me, and both they and I appreciate it.

There's no way I would give up travel. If you think travel sucks, you're doing it wrong.

Yeah, I say you have to go out to play good football. Then goals come.

Of course it's not ok. At some level getting rich is a life-or-death issue. How do I get enough money to retire? How can I possibly afford health-care? What if I or my lovely wife get cancer?

The reality is, the later years of your life are going to be significantly more secure and happier if you make a lot of money.

Yes, but the obsession with accumulating money can lead to problems.

Setting a high target for success and working hard to get there are worthy goals for men and women alike but going through life with a perpetually-agitated constitution because you don't attain a result that puts you in the top-1% wealth bracket (for example) is an almost certain way to find yourself unhappy and discontented as you strive to meet your main life goals.

In the midst of the tech bubble, a prominent Valley newspaper ran a feature story in which it interviewed five couples who were each at varying degrees of financial success, from modest to rich. Ironically, it was the rich couple (net worth of approximately $200 million) that was quoted as saying, in response to a question about what they most wanted, "we want to know what it would be like to be worth a billion dollars."

To me, this sort of mindset can be problematic, and the problem becomes one of loss of perspective. When the accumulation of money becomes in itself an obsessive goal, it comes back to bite because, no matter how much one has, it will never be enough. I don't think this is really an issue about the money itself, either - it involves instead the idea that your very perception of your value as a human being somehow becomes defined by how the ciphers add up, and that ultimately represents a sad loss of perspective because you wind up forever measuring your wealth (and what it brings) with what everybody else has.

Money is great when rightly gained and used. So too is ambition and a desire to achieve the ultimate success. It is good to set your goals high. But it is never good to become obsessed about the accumulation of money as an end in itself. Such a goal, even if attained, will sap the life out of anyone who allows money to become his master.

This piece was thought-provoking along these lines, though I think flawed in tying to tie all this to feminist themes. The issue of avarice as a problem is a transcending one that is hardly shaped by gender.

Don't be silly. She wrote that her friend, "could easily bring in a low six-figure income"

If you save wisely, you can retire just fine after a career at a tech company making 2-3x the US median salary. And most companies have good health coverage for the cancer.

She is talking about the pressure to make $10M or more through a startup, not getting the money to retire comfortably.

> And most companies have good health coverage for the cancer.

Well... kinda. One of the dirty little secrets of employer-provided group health care is that when you have one person whose health care costs vastly exceed the average, there's enormous pressure to get that person out of the "group". I've know companies where someone got cancer and the premiums for the whole company doubled the next year.

This is a good economic explanation for why national health care systems should outperform employer based (or any other) systems. You can't get a larger pool of people to spread risk around, under a single legal framework, than an entire nation state.

It's not really about the overall performance or cost of coverage. The advantage, in this case, of national health care is that you can't be kicked out of the "group" (i.e. fired because you're raising the insurance premiums for the whole company), and there's no concept of "uninsurable".

Once you look at the numbers, you realize that beyond a certain size it doesn't matter much.

The standard deviation of health care costs for a company scales like 1/sqrt(# employees). Once (sigma cost) / sqrt(# of employees) << (mean cost), there is little advantage to having a bigger pool.

Geez. I never thought about that scenario, but it makes perfect sense. So much for the one possible advantage of employer-based health insurance.

Here's a disturbing tale of this scenario playing out: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/7/7/751100/-How-I-los...

"If you save wisely, you can retire just fine after a career at a tech company making 2-3x the US median salary."

This is a theory at this point...and it's not a well-tested theory. I don't know many people who have actually retired from a lifetime (i.e. 30+ year) career in tech. Considering that the software industry (as we know it) is only about 30 years old, it's hard to draw long-term conclusions.

The specific career is not relevant. Any person who has retired after making 3x the median US salary is evidence in this scenario.

If the median programmer leaves the industry after 10 years, career choice matters a great deal; making 3 times as much for 1/4th the time isn't a net win.

...the software industry (as we know it) is only about 30 years old...

Uh, what? The software industry is a lot older than that. The largest companies today by revenue are listed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_global_soft... and it is instructive to go down the list. Of the 10 listed, 2 have been selling software since the 50s (in the case of Accenture admittedly as part of another company), 1 in the 60s, and 3 in the 70s. So over half are over 30 years old.

Wikipedia claims that the first company founded to provide software products and services was Computer Usage Company in 1955. The software industry expanded in the 1960s. Since then it seems to me to have been growing exponentially since. By the early 70s there was already enough accumulated experience for veterans to write classics like The Mythical Man-Month and The Psychology of Computer Programming.

Incidentally I know multiple people who have retired from a lifetime career in tech. They seem to be in a similar position to other retired professionals.

"Uh, what? The software industry is a lot older than that. The largest companies today by revenue....of the 10 listed, 2 have been selling software since the 50s (in the case of Accenture admittedly as part of another company), 1 in the 60s, and 3 in the 70s. So over half are over 30 years old."

No, it isn't. A lot of companies that sell software now sold other things before they sold software. And of the companies listed on that wikipedia, page, only IBM, EDS, Lockheed Martin, CSC, Capgemini and SAP existed before the 1980s. Nearly all of those did other things before entering software.

In any case, the exception makes the rule: virtually nobody was a professional coder before the early 1980s. Of the few who were, many retired rich and young after two of the largest technology booms in world history. They don't make good examples of career longevity, for what should be obvious reasons.

No, it isn't. A lot of companies that sell software now sold other things before they sold software.

Many companies move into software, but of the companies listed on that Wikipedia page, only IBM, HP, Lockheed Martin and arguably Accenture did something else before going into the software business. (Accenture was spun out from an accounting firm, so in some sense they did accounting first, and in some sense they existed long before they actually were a company.)

And of the companies listed on that wikipedia, page, only IBM, EDS, Lockheed Martin, CSC, Capgemini and SAP existed before the 1980s.

Check again. Microsoft was founded in 1975. Oracle in 1977. And while Accenture did not exist as a separate company before 1989, it started as a department at Arthur Andersen that had been selling software consulting since 1953.

Nearly all of those did other things before entering software.

What exactly did EDS, Computer Sciences Corporation, Capgemini and SAP do before entering software? As far as I can tell, nothing.

In any case, the exception makes the rule: virtually nobody was a professional coder before the early 1980s. Of the few who were, many retired rich and young after two of the largest technology booms in world history. They don't make good examples of career longevity, for what should be obvious reasons.

Again false. There were a lot of professional coders before the early 1980s. Most worked in the mainframe world. Much of their code is still running today. And very, very few of them retired rich and young. (Certainly the ones that I know didn't.)

"Check again. Microsoft was founded in 1975. Oracle in 1977."

Fine. The software industry is 35 years old. You're picking nits.

"What exactly did EDS, Computer Sciences Corporation, Capgemini and SAP do before entering software? As far as I can tell, nothing."

The same thing as that Arthur Andersen group that you're classifying as part of the "software" industry. Mainframe hardware sales and consulting:

"GE asked Arthur Andersen to automate payroll processing and manufacturing at GE's Appliance Park facility near Louisville, Kentucky. Arthur Andersen recommended installation of a UNIVAC I computer and printer, which resulted in the first commercially owned computer installation in the United States in 1954."

I never said that there weren't any software developers before 1980 -- I said that there wasn't a software industry, as we know it. That mainframes were first sold in the 1950s is not evidence to the contrary.

I'm very emphatically not picking nits here. See http://www.softwarehistory.org/history/ec.html for an overview of the history. From there you can dive into the early history of the software industry, with names, companies, and more. (They have less detail than I'd like.) For example if you read http://www.softwarehistory.org/history/csc.html you'll find that Computer Sciences Corporation started with $100 and a contract from Honeywell to write a programming language called FACT. They were NEVER in the mainframe hardware sales business. As for consulting, guilty as charged. There was no idea of a market in software, so if your company wanted to get paid for writing software then consulting was your only chance. But that still happens in the software industry.

However despite there not being a recognized market, software that was produced for one client could and did get sold to others. And as the 60s progressed there came to be enough of these pieces of software out there that the first regular catalog of software products for sale got going early in 1967. By the end of the 60s there were hundreds of software packages for sale, and IBM declared that it would get into that business starting January 1, 1970 by unbundling some of its software from its hardware.

By that point there is no question that there was such a thing as a software industry. Small? Yes. But definitely present at a surprisingly early point.

You're still going to be hired for tech jobs at 50? Not from what I hear.

Wait. What tech company would hire you if you already have cancer ? Just ask Brian Reid.


And that's the attitude that she's pointing out. Just as women are constantly told and whispered (directly and indirectly) they're not pretty enough, men are constantly told and whispered (directly and indirectly) they're not rich enough.

So much so that a bunch of people agree with you and it's a defining norm.

Note that the article is talking about the obscenely rich, like the Facebooks and the Googles. There's no need to be obscenely rich to retire, afford healthcare, treat your lovely soon-to-be-cancerous wife. Above a certain point, having more money gives diminishing returns on quality of life. After that, it's just a scorecard as someone will almost always be more rich than you.

But we think we do need to be obscenely rich, and that it's our role, nay our purpose to do so. It's a story that's exulted, whispered, and told in our ear so often, we don't realize it anymore.

In the end, you should know yourself. The old masters weren't kidding when they said that the hardest thing to do is not mastery over others, but over yourself. You should know what you value in life and what you want out of it, and that the source of that inspiration comes from within.

Because when you buy into other people's values that aren't your own, you may find that when you finally get to the top of the hill at the expense of everything else, what you really wanted wasn't there at all. And that's what she's warning her friend about.

"Just as women are constantly told and whispered (directly and indirectly) they're not pretty enough, men are constantly told and whispered (directly and indirectly) they're not rich enough."

She seems to think people have these thoughts only because the media whispers it to them. Unfortunately, there is also a degree of truth to them, and the media merely exploits this truth. It does matter how pretty you are (especially as a woman), and it does matter how rich you are.

Yes, it does matter. But once again, it's a matter of degree.

She's talking about low six-figures vs empire rich billions.

She makes no claims if one makes below that.

I feel the author really meant that it's ok not to be obscenely rich.

Of course having a sizeable amount of savings is important for all the things you described. Yet the "low six-figures" income of her first example is probably largely sufficient to handle these.

I wish she had said that explicitly at the beginning, a low six-figures income is rich enough for me but making that money is almost as hard as becoming obscenely rich. After you reach 80-100k a year working for someone else it's a very large and all consuming step to make it to the next rung of the ladder.

In California, a family making low six-figures is upper-middle-class (my parents made ~$80k and we were generally considered lower-middle-class). So it makes sense to me not to call that "rich," though of course the value of money is a personal thing.

You're right that location changes the income levels quite a bit. I would need much more in California or New York to live as though I felt rich enough.

Being rich is a sufficient, but not necessary condition for relative economic security in a developed country. It's perfectly OK to pay for your retirement and provide for your lovely wife by taking a standard career path from one salaried job to another.

You don't need to start a company to have enough money to retire. And of course if you choose to start a company you're trading increased likelihood of being severely short of funds at some stage in the short term for the possibility of being rich later in life.

How many founders on here can honestly say their main motivation is maximising their chances of survival in old age?

There's a difference between "getting rich" enough to be able to retire and handle health issues and building an empire.

All of the possibilities you mention are much more likely to be handled by a) Good budgeting b) A solid career as an employee or an independent contractor

The reason to start your own business is because you want the challenge, and the satisfaction of building something important.

If you have a desperate need to have a few million in the bank, your best shot is to to get a good job, learn about investment, and start living cheaply.

Yeah, but you don't have to be a super rich billionaire for that.

Rich,middle,and poor is a false trichotomy.

Once you hit late 40s to 50s, people won't pay you a high salary for a typical line position.

So at that point, you either continue to work for low wages, possibly being shifted within the company to doing sales on commission, being a trainer, or moved to a low-wage country.

Or you are independently wealthy by then.

Morphine is not that expensive.

Without trying to sound like an absolute ass, this article shows EXACTLY why most of the founders of the biggest empires and hottest startups are in fact men. I say MOST as I'm sure there are many women as well, but clearly they are overshadowed by men in this case.

I wonder if it has more to do with culture. According to Forbes, about half of all female billionaires are from China.


Is Oprah the only self-made Billionaire in the US/Europe?

I know that there are several female billionaires but all the fortunes I can think of now are inherited

on the titanic, 46% of women in the 3rd class was saved whereas only 33% of men in the 1st class survived.

>Without trying to sound like an absolute ass...

Some things just come naturally to you I suppose.

"Some things just come naturally to you I suppose."

You just called him an ass. That's rude.

He(?) stated that "most of the founders of the biggest empires and hottest startups are in fact men" which is a fact. He's also speculating that the pressures put on men to get rich is the main cause of this. I see nothing offensive about what he said.

Actually, I implied that he sounded like an ass.

And it's disingenuous of you to pretend that the purpose of his comment was to purely, disinterestedly disseminate facts.

Instead of hearing the wisdom of the article writer, he demonstrates precisely the mentality with which she was finding fault, essentially generalizing her philosophy to all women, and painting it in the light of failure rather than moderation and internal peace.

Frankly, I find his comment chauvinistic and somewhat offensive, and I'm not even a woman.

Imagine you're in a big slot machine tournament with 150 competitors. Each player gets to pull one of two machines. One machine pays $1 every time. The other machine pays an average of $0 but has a variance of $50. Everyone gets 1 pull, the scores are tallied, and the bottom half of the players are out, and a new group is brought in to replace them.

Which machine would you pull? The evidence[1] is pretty clear that if the variance is high, the population will converge to people who go for the second one.

Not to sound sexist here, but women are not faced with having to pull the slot machine. From an evolutionary standpoint, they don't have (get?) to play in the tournament. Their goal is to minimize their own losses, since they only have a very small number of offspring they can create.

Men are forced into the arena, which creates the mentality that has the author baffled. We have to keep trying to hit it big, otherwise our lineage dies off as some other lucky guy comes along and forces us out.

That's what being an entrepreneur is all about. It's the diligent pulling of the slot machine with the lower mean.[2]

[1] Fogel, et. al., "Do Evolutionary Processes Minimize Expected Losses?" http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= [PDF]

[2] Everything after footnote 1 is pure opinion and based on only my own intuition. :)

Except, today, high levels of wealth is inversely correlated with the number of offspring.

Well the real world is a much more complex scenario than simple simulations. Two points though:

1. We have not had much time to evolve away from such a mentality, so it's still very much bred into us.

2. One could say that gaining wealth is actually playing a strategy designed to preserve more than just your immediate offspring. The wealthy have less risk of seeing their line disappear in future generations.

With the number of official offspring.

Sadly, many studies have shown that a surprisingly high percentage of children are not the biological children of their fathers. IIRC, around 5%. And it's well known that many high-profile/successful men have many affairs.

This is fits in with evolutionary pressures.

Not really. It looks like there is weak or no correlation between wealth and number of offspring.

No. In most countries, an increase in productivity / GDP / quality of life is strongly correlated with a lowering in fertility rate:



You should have read to the 4th paragraph:

"My girlfriends and I are certainly driven to be successful; we want to be high achievers in our fields, and we stress over everything we haven’t yet accomplished, but no one’s especially concerned with getting rich. We hardly ever talk about money."

I agree with you so much that I deleted my original comment, because I unjustly ignored a lot of what the author was saying.

Deleting the comment made the thread harder to understand.

I like the deletion. More people should delete their comments (if they turn out to be inapplicable or unfair).

How is that better than adding to the comment or replying to let people know of your change of heart? Deleting comments that have replies is in no way a good thing.

The comment I wrote was a pithy, uninformative comment that was misleading about the content of the article (I suggested that the author just didn't understand ambition very well, but she's clearly not talking about general ambition; she explicitly distinguishes people who are in it only for riches.) Worse, it had 7 upvotes almost immediately, meaning that people were reading it and getting a wrong and unfair impression. The reply added nothing except to correct me. I don't feel like anything was lost.

You could say that I should leave it in case someone else makes the same misinterpretation. Perhaps I should, but I would not anyway. I don't care to represent myself with incorrect or useless comments documenting my stupidity; I would prefer to remove them from the record and let people who know what they're talking about go ahead.

An interesting article that talks about an entire nation's views on marriage, status, and success is: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2010-06/25/content_1001855...

It is so ingrained that one of the women described her marital vision: "I'd rather be miserable sitting in a BMW than be happy riding a bicycle."

It's no surprise that an extension of this is that the most desirable man, and bachelor, in China is the founder of Baidu, the largest search engine in China, due to his wealth.

All bachelors are men.

For both wealth and (perceived) beauty, there is often a relatively easy solution: move!

For more beauty, move to a location with a greater ratio of the opposite sex.

For more wealth, move to a location with a lower cost of living.

I don't know how much longer these arbitrage opportunities will exist, but for now they probably represent the biggest 'lifehacks' one can make.

I can't speak for sex ratios, but generally the reason some places have a lower cost of living is generally because either no one wants to live there (often for good reason) or it's more difficult to earn money there.

If you're thinking of trying the sex ratios thing, I strongly suggest controlling for age, and preferably social class.

Do you have any data to do this? I think the results would be interesting.

Sadly, I was considering including just such an appeal with my original comment. If you find some, let me know?

"I don't know how much longer these arbitrage opportunities will exist"

Forever. Unless there would be a world where every city costs the same and has the exact same gender ratio. And, most people don't move, thus leaving the arbitrage intact.

Well, there's also the issue that the economy refuses to provide honest reliable jobs for honest reliable people...

If your dad or mom is a professor, maybe you can get a tenure track job, but if you're anybody else you've got take what's in the marketplace... And "playing it safe" means the odds are 100% that you'll get screwed...

The only career path that seems possible of providing any security of all is an "all in" bet on something that might make it big.

Seth Godin said it best: "Ironically, playing it safe is the most unsafe thing that you can do." His point is that you have to put yourself out there and take risks to be successful. Sitting back and being "safe" is akin to waiting for problems to occur. People just don't realize it... because they feel safe.

Not directly related, but as the child of a family that amounts to a dynastic succession of academics, I feel the need to disabuse anyone reading of the impression that there is any connection whatsoever, at all, between having professors for parents and getting a tenure-track position.

As it stands, it's nearly impossible for spouses to exert enough leverage to find academic employment at the same institution. If they're lucky, they'll spend a good deal of their career building up the karma to pull that one off; there isn't anything left over for little Billy.

Well, I'll just say that, when I was in grad school at an Ivy League school that 100% of the professors, for whom I knew anything about their parents, were also professors -- and that was a sample between 20 and 30 people.

Things might be different at other schools, but I do know that even the Chronicle of Higher Education is starting to recognize the 'dynastic succession' phenomenon after years of it going on under wraps.

That could have multiple causes. Often, if your parents have achieved a lot academically, you will palce more weight on that aspect of your life. You'll get better grades and you'll be more likely to become an academic yourself.

Since we're swapping anecdotes, as an academic, I have never known anyone to get a position just because their parent works in the field. Ever. The competition is ridiculous, to the point where many Americans opt to go elsewhere and leave the academic jobs to the people willing to work 14 hours a day, 6 days a week.

I would not be surprised if many modern academics would prefer that their offspring go into industry. The rewards are greater and the competition is less, given the level or reward on offer.

Don't forget the genetic aspect -- smart parents tend to have smart kids.

Tenure is not all it's cracked up to be. Today you are looking at being 40 before you acquire tenure. Sure, some people get it earlier, but I believe on average the numbers come out to roughly 40 or late 30's.

In those prime years before 40 will see very poor income given your education level and expenses, and a whole lot of stress and overtime spent in meeting all the requirements. Big publication list, talks, grants, scholarships, postdocs, teaching experience, taking on grad students, and perhaps even committees.

You really need to love the lifestyle, and not money, to stick it through to tenure.

Great article and really hits home. One thing that's overlooked, however, is the reasoning behind the need to earn money.

For some people, money doesn't matter. Yet they still have a burning need to get rich. This is because they have something to prove. And money is their scorecard.

Exactly. Reading a comment right next to yours, "Are lower expectations supposed to be a good thing?". It's become ingrained in Western and especially American culture that money is one of if not the most important measure for judging success. We don't all see each others paychecks and bank account balances, so this manifests in various ways from wanting prestige jobs to conspicuous consumption

People need to ask themselves - what do I want out of life? What are my personal measures for success, that I can explain and justify to myself based on my beliefs. Instead almost everyone simply avoids thinking on that level and instead absorbs and adopts the measurements promoted by society

It's not that making money is bad. It's that far too many people blindly focus on making and spending money without considering the amount of time and sanity and other opportunities for living that's being consumed by their consumerism

Thank you. This comment is a breath of fresh air amongst the cries of, "but, it's just evolution that makes us want to hoard money!" That sort of attitude strikes me as fatalistic. Success is what you want it to be, not what you're told it should be. Even if evolution has drilled into us the need to accumulate wealth, that doesn't mean you have to accept it. I want to make things, and make them well. That is success for me.

I abhor the dating scene, because it perpetuates the morally bankrupt power dynamics that make up shallow value assessments of individuals. People's identities are shattered and reduced to a 3-tuple of salary, IQ, and waistlines.

This is a misunderstanding of where the motivation comes from. It's not societal pressure that causes either men to want to be rich or women to look good. It's an evolutionary artifact.

There's also a popular misunderstanding as to why people can walk. It's not your legs that cause you to be able to walk. It's an evolutionary artifact.

I would love to be rich, but I'm starting to realize that it's not what I need to be happy. What I need, personally, is a life in which I can work on things which I think are fun and interesting, and which pay me enough to live, save a little, and spend time having fun with my girlfriend.

The definition of that changes. At one point I thought the only way to do that was to get a PhD and find my way into academia; later it was found a company and make an obscene amount of money. Both of those goals were great, but the first one chewed me up and the second is one I don't know how to do yet. Right now... the goal is to find a job where the I can work on fun data-based problems. A startup would be fun, but so would a big company, or a government agency like the CDC. I don't need to be rich, but I do need to find satisfaction in my work.

And we'll see what happens next.

See, the problem is, we don't want to hear that. We want to hear "do it for god's sake" or "stop dreaming, you're a looser". The latter would motivate even more. But not that it's okay. It's not. If it was, I'd be doing something else.

I feel as if this problem is exacerbated in the tech community because your credibility comes from having a big exit. For example, Chris Dixon is definitely an insightful guy but would he be as widely consumed if he hadn't sold a company for millions of dollars?

The commenters seem to agree that freedom and independence are the only things worth coveting. In VC-talk a tech founder can usually get financial independence for life with a "double" However, its the guys who hit the home runs that are respected and looked up to, and I imagine that drives a lot of tech founders.

she's neither male nor rich so her advice is bogus.

there are some things that are just true - all other things being equal women prefer men with money.

Even when all other things are not quite equal women prefer men with money.

here's a quick way to test it - list all the men she's ever dated/been in a relationship with and check on how many earned significantly less than her and how many earned significantly more.

This is the worst advice anyone could ever give anyone interested in doing a start-up. It's typical woman advice - they don't tell you what works - just something that'll make you feel it's OK to be a loser.

In my experience, there's much less pressure on men to get rich than there is to get a 'good' job or a 'real' job - something perceived as stable and not risky.

If/when we achieve negligible senescence, and the social order becomes frozen, it might become pretty important to find oneself at the top of the heap.

I don't actually think that would happen. Corporations are "immortal" today, and they can still rise and fall quickly.

Society places pressures on every one, male or female. It has been great for feminist movement to try to identify counter some of the pressure that has made women miserable, but there isn't really an outlet for men.

In fact, I think pressure on men are growing. Being smart, funny, successful and as good looking as Brad Pitt. Men are doing more cosmetics surgery and getting eating disorders now too.

We need the startup-founder version of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXf8fr0Kp3Q (Depicts what goes into transforming a woman into a billboard image)

Not to convince us to stop trying... but to convince us to use a more reasonable metric than the one in 10,000,000 founder that makes a ginormous exit.

Ever hear a business idea disparaged for being a "lifestyle business?" For one reason or another startup culture looks down on business models that provide modest wealth via ongoing profits, rather than a big exit. Maybe it's the influence of VCs, maybe it's something else, but it's definitely there.

The path to starting a successful business is littered with advice like this. It's certainly not easy, and the price is typically high (relationships, time, health...) especially when starting from nothing. But from observation, it's obvious that for those who do make it, failure is not "okay."

I could careless about money. I'm actually horrible with it. I build things and break a lot of stuff. One thing I have become obsessed about is reaching my goals. Not sure if i'm the only one, but I am terrified of myself. For example, has anyone set a goal in the beginning of the year and then on December 31 reviewed how far they got? A new years resolution? I have gotten very serious about my routines and where they take me. I have been surprised by how hard it is to keep a goal in sight and develop routines that help me reach it. But, so far, my new routine has become my happiness. I wish for all of you the same.

Why do I get 20 odd javascript dialog popups from that page?

Answer: Twitter is broken.

The richest man in the cemetery is rolling in his grave.

Nope, decomposing like everyone else.

The unusually high number of comments and upvotes on this post might suggest that a lot of HN readers want to know it's okay if they don't get rich.

I’ve watched him lose his health, sanity, credit and girlfriends again and again for this obsession. “This is literally killing you,” I tell him. “It has to stop.”

If she can see he's doing something wrong, she should help him get on track, not discourage him. I would avoid this lady like plague.

If this would be OK then HN would lose most of its users. :)))

Hardly, if HN attracts its intended audience--people that are intellectually curious about everything.

I'm not sure that's the HN audience. I came here looking to get away from the childishness of reddit, yet have found a new (and, hitherto to me, unknown) brand of childishness: the entitled startup programmer. Reddit was primarily populated by high school/college kids, but it definitely had a significant population besides that.

As far as I can tell, HN is much more of an extreme monoculture; and one I have to confess I'm rather disappointed in. Instead of thoughtful discourses and commentary from those looking to expand their worldview, it's a strong current of close-mindedness and superiority.

I'm sure that my brief glimpse into the culture of HN is woefully inaccurate and I may certainly have just unluckily gotten the wrong impression from the threads I've read; but I doubt it.

startup programmer is so fiercely defended here because it's not in many other places, especially in the day to day work life.

What one may call close-mindedness may be what a community strong identifies as its values.

Regardless, welcome to HN. 12 days is but a blink. Keep participating. If it doesn't jive with you, perhaps you can find it in other communities or one that you start on your own.

If the voting on your post is any indication, HNers are also eager to demonstrate their willingness to self-deprecate, even in total anonymity. Reddit also has this to a very high degree, but samples are rarer on HN so it is difficult to compare that aspect directly.

Don't think that's the intended audience, buddy. It was started as a ruse to recruit companies for a venture capital firm to invest in.

...unless you're not okay with it.

"No man is rich whose expenditure exceeds his means; and no one is poor whose income exceeds his outgoings." Thomas Chandler Haliburton

... "as long as I do"


This is overly simplistic. Feminism argues for different expectations, not necessarily higher ones. Feminists have (largely) come around to accepting that whatever women want to do is fine: have a full-time career, raise kids full-time, somewhere in-between, something completely different, etc. But there's been no analogous movement to promote the same for men.

And I have no idea what could possibly be dumb or dangerous about not prioritizing wealth over everything else.

One of the indirect benefits of feminism is that more men are more involved with their families, and more men are choosing to be primary caregivers. There are many, many fewer men who go this route than women, but it's slowly becoming more acceptable.

The point of the article is not that men should not be ambitious, but that their self-image should not rely on how much money they make.

You might consider it "ambitious" if a woman spends a significant amount of time, money, and effort on her appearance in order to look like a celebrity or supermodel, but others would call it "dumb and dangerous."

A man's self-image should not rely on how much money he has.

But a woman's image of that man will often depend a great deal on how much money he has. Not all the time, and it's not the only factor, of course, but to say it's not a big or frequent factor in the real world is to deny reality. (Not assuming you think that, more that the OA's message came close to making this mistake.)

...if you born poor and in a wrong place (environment).

The cake is a lie


Bullshit. It's OK not to get rich, but it's not OK not to try.

Why do you think that?

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