Reading PG may create the impression that building a successful company is an engineering-like process, deterministic and repeatable. It is not. It's a chaotic process that cannot be reliably planned. Thinking "Zuckerberg coded a PHP app, I can code a PHP app" is like thinking "That old lady bought a lottery ticket. I can buy a lottery ticket.."
Building a smaller business that supports a few people is a different story (and a worthy goal unto itself). But that's not "sitting on a goldmine".
EDIT: Just wanted to add I have huge respect for this guy, building a business while supporting a family. My beef, such as it is, is with simplistic picture of startups often painted in HN. The actual people giving it a go, you have to respect.
I am sure that there are people out there who can look at a mountain, see a molehill, and stomp it flat. I'm just not sure I am one of them. But I do think that if you want to start a business, you need the arrogance to at least act like you believe you are, because conventional wisdom says, to borrow your analogy, that you will lose at that lottery. So I think it does take some arrogance and self-delusion to believe that somehow you will beat that lottery and emerge a winner. If you don't, why the hell are you playing?
If you build something that solves a problem that people have (ie. is useful), and you arrange for people get to know about it somehow, then I think you can't help but be successful. But "successful" might not be a goldmine/lottery; it just might be making an adequate living, in a lifestyle business - like a fish n chip shop (as DHH denigrates). I think it's actually quite hard to fail at this, if you are aiming at creating something useful + communicating it.
You might see this as being an independent software vendor where the total value you produce is comparable to an ordinary employee - except that you are free to formulate your own projects etc (which has +'s and -'s.)
Another aspect is that if you create something useful... that's amazingly cool and valuable in itself. As for the lottery, win or lose, doesn't matter.
This is what I'm doing, with some success. Now, if you don't count the net worth growth implicit in how the company is growing, I'm not making what I would be working for other people, but I think I'm a success. I set my own hours, my baseline expenses are covered, and when I hustle, I can make a lot of money. when I don't, like the last few months, well, like I said, my baseline expenses are covered. Also, eh, I've probably grown my reputation enough that my credentials now look better than they would had I spent this effort on college.
I don't know if I agree with the "can't help but be successful" part, though. I poured most of my income and spare time into projects like this for many years before I hit upon a project that actually worked. Now, part of that might be because I'm no superman... my IQ barely makes it into the 98th percentile, which really is kinda dumb. I never went to college, and, uh, I'm pretty lazy. I got a 2.16GPA in one of the worst high schools in the state. I mean, yeah. no two ways about it, I'm lazy.
So yeah, uh, if you are a Paul Graham, maybe starting a lifestyle business is easy. Maybe. but for me, it was a lot of work. Now, it was work that I liked doing; I think I enjoyed building my company more than I would have enjoyed taking the money and buying a porsche (and I'd be able to buy one with the cash I dumped in before it became profitable... two or three if I got a reasonable rate for the time I spent before the company became profitable.)
On the other hand, maybe what you mean is that you can choose to run a lifestyle business in such a way that you don't really fail until you choose to fail. This is what I did. When I ran out of money, I'd do more contracting, or get a full time job. When I was flush, I'd work more on my business. Really, I could have continued spending 3/4th of my income and time on the business for the rest of my life; unlike a startup with investors, there isn't anyone around to say "give it up" - it's just me. as long as I'm willing to work, there will be money.
In my defence, I say that finding something to create that is useful enough to give a modest one-man income, is a lot easier than finding one giving a multi-billion dollar payout. The main way to make it easier is to specialize: a niche that is complex enough to require a lot of work, yet small enough to not be worth >1 person's time to serve. From there, you can grow to other segments if you want, or just enjoy your little place in the world. The key is to know about those specific problems, so it's invaluable to have worked/studied/played in a field. Hence the saying a problem is an opportunity.
Of course, we all have different motivations/passions and abilities, and that influences what niche will be doable and satisfying for each individual. Currently, I have a technical/academic idea about data integration and evolution that I really want to make work, which isn't specific to any industry (except the data integration and evolution industry, I guess). My last idea was about a specific problem I encountered in industry, and that was much easier to create and sell. Much easier.
Me, I focused on "what can I do" and "what would I buy" - I think a reasonable, though very limiting, starting point.
My first problem was that amazon radically changed the market for storage (I started by selling storage) - my second problem was that sharing pagecache? bad idea. My third problem was that I thought using obsolete hardware was somehow a good idea.
So, uh, yeah. of my major problems, only one, really, was external. the rest were me being stupid. I guess that could fall into the "finding something useful" category. But then, I am mostly filling unserved price niches in existing markets. When I started there were already VPS providers out there; linode was one. I do believe I was the first to switch to xen.
>I say that finding something to create that is useful enough to give a modest one-man income, is a lot easier than finding one giving a multi-billion dollar payout.
I assume it's harder to make the 'big exit' companies... not that I would know. It's certainly a very different game, one that would be /much/ harder for my particular skillset. most 'big exit' companies seem to be more focused on selling to investors than on day to day cashflow. In my industry, if I sold out tomorrow, I'd get the value of my servers, plus about a years revenue. Now, there's no way I'd sell at that price, but that's market for a ISP or hosting company. Compare that to the valuation MySpace got. They got a valuation that assumed myspace would be the dominant social networking site for a long time. The valuations for friendster and facebook both reflected that same assumption. To me, that assumption seems ridiculously irrational.
Now, if you are going for a 'big exit' usually you have more than one founder, and some startup cash from someone else. Certainly, more work is put in, but is any one person's contribution more than what they'd have to contribute to get their own lifestyle business off the ground? I don't know. Once you involve investors, though, and people depending on investor money, you are much more likely to get yourself in a situation where you have no choice but to close the company.
Of course, my negative tone is entirely sour grapes, because my skilset means that I'd be a very minor player in any "swing for the fences" venture, while I can handle my lifestyle business just fine.
I don't think the initial founder/s necessarily must have the right skillset, but someone, sometime must come on board with that skillset. Rather tragically, these people seem to quite often eject the founders. One book ("Crossing the Chasm") even claims that the initial founders don't deserve the big pay-out because they don't have the skillset (and they're more interested in making cool stuff and being their own boss than in making money). Ugh.
To be captain of your soul, master of your destiny is worth more than all the riches and fame in the world - they merely tighten the shackles of the worldly and the opinions of others, not freedom of any kind, only dominance (says me, sans riches and fame. actually, I think it would be great fun).
BTW your 98th percentile puts you squarely in the "smarter than average, but not a genius" camp, which is where I am, and where I think most entrepreneurs are. In business, extremely high intelligence seems to be liability. I think what really counts is something like boldness + quick recovery. I could certainly do with some more of that.
I agree with you about MySpace etc, it's too unpredictable; too easy to switch (mind you, I said that about Google too; I thought their massive PR efforts was one of their few competitive advantages, I wonder if they've become complacent recently.)
> MySpace employs 1,000 employees, after laying off 30 percent of its workforce in June 2009
> By late 2007 into 2008, Myspace was considered the leading social networking site, and consistently beat out main competitor Facebook in traffic. When Facebook launched new features in an effort to attract a variety of users, Myspace found itself in a continuing decline of membership. As of July 2010, the site was ranked 25th in Internet traffic, opposed to the 2nd position held by Facebook. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MySpace
Kids love cool stuff, which means they switch all the time. Maybe the sustainable business model is a business that generates (or promotes) social sites? (analogous to music publishers always touting the next cool band - most bands have limited lifespan, but the publishers live on)
The doesn't matter was paraphrasing a passage within a speech by Winston Churchill (which I got wrong), which ends: Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'
I mean, you need to be able to take some risks... but you also need to temper that with 'I might fail' because especially the first time? you probably will. Personally, my low point was around $15K that I was personally on the hook for. Considering my income potential, it's a reasonable number; I paid it off through contracting in a reasonable amount of time, and if worst came to worst, it wasn't tax debit; While I had to personally co-sign, I could have declared personal bankruptcy.
But, my point is that yeah, you need to take risk... and taking risks where the downside means you have to work for a year or two for other people if you fail seems pretty reasonable to me. Taking risks where if you fail, you will never get to try again, ever, seems like a bad idea.
So yeah; confidence is great, and you need some of it. But cover your ass because the worst case does sometimes happen. Be /especially/ careful of debits you can't get rid of through bankruptcy- e.g. don't fuck around with your taxes, get someone who knows what they are doing. The system is complex and even when you make honest mistakes, often the assumption seems to be that you were trying to cheat.
If you can learn from your failures and try again, you have a much higher lifetime chance of success than if you only have one shot.
This is a false analogy because it simplifies too much, in favour of strengthening your point, as the parent points out. It's a nifty analogy by itself and I enjoyed it, but I don't agree that it comes close to covering the main features of the case.
Now, the vast majority of comments hold that same sort of "Well, it's more complicated than that, and I'm quite happy with my 9-5" view. Sometimes even my own.
I wonder if that's representative of the economy changing, or if it's representative of the site's audience changing. If it's the former, maybe it means that now is a good time to found a startup.
People tend to justify whatever it is they're doing at the moment. So you and me will talk up the entrepreneurial side of things and snoot down our noses at the "wage slaves". It's not that we actually know any better, but if we do this enough it'll seem like we're not so far out on a limb.
Back in the day, that was the only crowd here, so this sort of article (or comment) would get nothing but love. Now, HN is more or less evenly split between entrepreneurs and people who actually read those articles about programming languages. Those are guys with jobs. Good jobs, thank you very much, that pull in more each and every day than our little "startups" gross in a month. They have their own world view to justify, so now we get to listen to their story.
cheerleading -> group think -> counterexamples
-> lots of couterexamples -> not so much group think
These cycles seems to play out over 4 months IMO. Regular events like YC admission events create repeated waves.
Wild downvoting can occur if you try to give counter-examples in a cheerleading or group-think phase (yes I'm bitter ;))
Fewer rejects. :)
So long as my debit card keeps working and I keep building up savings, the quantity of compensation doesn't matter too much to me. What matters to me is how much I positively impact the world, and on that front improving a mature product with a ton of users has a much bigger bang for the buck than scratching small itches in small niches, no matter how profitable they might end up being.
"Every puzzle in Braid is unique. There is no filler. Braid treats your time and attention as precious. Braid does everything it can to give you a mind-bending experience."
ie, high supply. Lots of competition.
It's getting to be like writing novels. Lots of people do it. The barriers to entry are low. But few can make a living at it.
It all starts somewhere, and almost everything with any market visibility has hundreds if not thousands of everyone from Mom and Pops to multinationals gunning for the big ring.
This is why the corporations dominate: They know the "little guys" like us don't think it's worth it to disrupt their industries.
I'd say the only technology company that really takes alot of capital to start is product manufacturing business, and even then, aren't there whole industries catering to garage businesses like thomasnet or rapid prototyping firms? Or just bootstrap it like DODOCase.
Emphatically, NO!, it isn't. If the only thing worth being in your worldview is the equivalent of Jimi Hendrix, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, and you have a small view of your fellow man.
There are thousands of ways to make a living that are not as competitive or as risky as entrepreneurship--and far less zero-sum too.
The global impact of a job well-done is but one measure. Perhaps an even more important one is the attitude with which you approach your work and the meaning you make for yourself.
Also, huge advantages in terms of economies of scale, financing, lawyers, patent portfolios... and if you are successful, they buy you or you become a big corporation...
The fact is, if you can write code, you are a very small number of people in the world. If you are good at it, and enjoy it, even smaller.
This is the point the author it trying to make, you are an an amazing position in history, you can do great things, so much easier than anyone else. In the past, you would have had to have an army. Now, just with your skills, you can do something truly amazing and world changing.
The golden ticket is in the "this is a perfect perfect storm; don't waste it" sense
("market demands" + "you can code" + "cheapest time to start" = golden ticket).
Not in the "quit your sorry job NOW and get RICH" sense.
I don't think few people make a living at writing novels because of competition; if more people wrote better novels I imagine novel sales would be much higher.
- Past Imperative, Present Tense, and Future Imperfect by Dave Duncan. (Trilogy.)
- Foreigner, Invader, Inheritor, by C.J. Cherryh. (First three books of an ongoing series; rereads.)
- Babylon Babies, by Maurice Dantec. This doesn't really count, since I gave up halfway through--the translation is horrible.
I'm currently reading Vellum, by Hal Duncan.
I have, I think, about 5-6 more books on my to-read pile at the moment, and I could triple that with a visit to the bookstore. (I'm avoiding visiting the bookstore because my budget would not appreciate the experience.)
As you can see, I mostly read SF. This list is a bit unusual, in that it includes a number of books from the same series; I usually mix things up more than this.
It's true that I read books that many wouldn't take the time to read. I don't think that's because those books are less interesting; I think it's because most people have much less interest in reading than I do, and therefore are satisfied with fewer books.
It seems to me that you're formulating an argument where I have lower standards than people who read less--that people who read few books stick to the cream of the crop, while people like myself who read more are willing to read inferior works as well. As a counterargument, I submit Dan Brown, an author who produces (from my perspective) works of such execrable quality that only a person with little awareness of how good books can be would waste their time on him.
To shift arenas: Consider two people. One of them eats nothing but steak and potatoes. The other is Anthony Bourdain, the host of the Travel channel's "No Reservations". Would it be correct to say that the reason the former eats such a smaller variety of food is that there's a lack of truly good food that lives up to the standards of the almighty steak and potatoes?
Of course not. We'd say that Mr. Steak & Potatoes just doesn't like food as much as Bourdain. (In general; he likes his steak just fine, and there's nothing wrong with that.)
Or to take myself as an example: I don't watch much television. Is the problem that there's just a lack of really good television out there, and I'd watch more if someone started producing more good shows like The Wire? Well, no. The problem is that I just don't like television all that much, and would rather spend my leisure time on other activities like books, video games, and programming. There are already plenty of TV shows that I'm certain I'd enjoy...if I had time to watch them.
So, no, I don't think that people in general would read more if only there were more good novels being written. There are plenty of good novels out there.
It's true that I read books that many wouldn't take the time to read. I don't think that's because those books are less interesting; I think it's because most people have much less interest in reading than I do, and therefore are satisfied with fewer books.
I totally agree with that. A point of clarification for what I meant in terms of "interesting" is in order. I agree that any of those titles you listed are very likely highly interesting, but exactly what is "interesting" is subjective. In no way did I mean to suggest books you enjoy to be inferior. Let me provide a supporting example of my own. I doubt many people would consider Beethoven's 5th symphony inferior music, yet no one would consider it to make Billboard Music's top 20 list anytime soon, or more youths than you can count on one hand blasting it from their cars. In this way you can see what I mean is not inferiority, but rather a broader appeal to the overall market. To put it another way, operas make plenty of money, I'm sure, but I doubt their revenues compare with even low grossing movies. Would I like more people to be into reading, or operas? Yes, but that's not how things are. To appeal to a larger audience, any work of art (especially a novel) would do well to be more than just good; it needs to be really great, so that even those with a passing interest in the medium will take the time to enjoy it.
I guess you work in an environment where that's kept to a minimum.
I presently work for http://iconfactory.com, and we try to keep meetings to a minimum as a matter of principal. Artists need flow to do their thing just as us programmers do, and the company is run by artists. I'm also remote so the only random co-worker interruptions I have are via iChat.
Contrast that with a startup where you wear many hats at once, including spouting incomprehensible requirements yourself, and I think that's where I'd tend to agree with the parent poster.
Not all meetings are meaningful, of course, but communicating with your coworkers and customers is an essential part of the practice of producing software.
I prefer market being my immediate boss than anyone else.
There is nothing wrong with that if that is what is important to you. But I also value friendships, exercise, reading, relaxing, cooking, etc. A nice balanced life is crucial for good health and well being. I would argue for most people, the cost of completely throwing away all balance in your life would not match the reward that your product would bring once launched.
Sometimes it feels like entrepreneurship is really only viable for the young and single.
All the requirements were met and the hard problems were solved (lots of UI work remained). When it came to decision time, they decided to develop in house instead of licensing my product for $50k. How much did they spend in house? $1 million plus (and counting). Plus, they missed their launch date so have to use the old solution for another year. I could have made the deadline easily.
The point is, the risk of failure is not just that your product is not good enough, it is that the people that make the decisions are often, if not usually, simply not qualified to be serving in the positions they hold.
Targeting individual consumers vs privately owned businesses vs publicly traded corporations are three entirely different situations. If I had to recommend one, I would target the privately owned business sector - there are less developers targeting this market (as it requires domain knowledge), and they actually care about ROI, whereas with a corporation, they are often more concerned about the appearance of ROI.
By learning I meant learning every aspect of launching a startup, including customer development, sales, marketing, SEO, etc. If your role in the startup was limited to programming, then I'd take a very jaundiced view of the state of affairs.
And by no means would sacrificing relationships and health compensate for even this.
And there is no magic balance. There is no magic allotment of time you have to spend relaxing to be mentally well. It is all about how hard you push yourself, and how slack you are.
Nobody is saying cut out the important things, but cut out the stupid things. But hey, it is not for everybody.
Things that are stupid relaxation to someone, are the actual goal of someone else.
(yeah I can still cut on reading hn of course :)
A shame I can't find the article now.
If you read it again, it isn't necessarily all about "screw employment". It deals with the reality of trying to build something while necessarily employed in several places.
I start to lose my energy. (Having a boring day job for years is not fun.) Of course I build something again on the side. I think it is a better idea than the previous ones. I cannot stop. But I will never ever will have the optimism like the OP.
There are a host of language learning tools, but a lot of them are simplistic, or very poor, or very expensive and only support a few languages (e.g. as you're hungarian, I've yet to find a good one supporting your language).
Language learning is not a solved problem, afaict :)
Since 2 years I'm switching between consulting and doing own stuff every several months - it didn't generated big income but I build few non-profit things which is also very good and gave me lots of experience. By non-profit I don't mean open source - I mean organizations or users who behave like real customers but aren't businesses. I didn't get rich but it was fun and gave me some insights for the future.
Good luck !!
Yes, very true!
"I guess the best we can do is to risk build something ourselves when the right moment comes"
I agree. I hope I've learnt from my previous failures. My newest project is something quite close to pg's #22 on this list:
It is something like a very intuitive web based user interface for databases. Something like hybrid of Excel, Access and Wiki, but still different from all of them.
Thanks for the encouraging words, and also good luck to you!
Maybe it is also my sleeping patterns just don't align with jobs. Today I simply had to sleep around 9pm (home from the job at 8). Slept till perhaps 11pm. Now I feel reasonably fit, but to be at the office in time, it is time to go to bed.
I experience this kind of pattern frequently.
In fact I sometimes wonder if the biggest mistake of my life was trying to adapt to other people's schedules (also girl-friends who want to go to bed "early" etc). Thereby I wasted most of my productive hours.
My typical work day at the office is painful because I tend to be tired...
So, I quit my job and moved to a non-programming job. The pay as of now, is not that high, but I am happier. The job is fairly easy on the brain. That means less stress and I have more time to think while I am at home coding my personal project.
Maybe my programming job sucked or it was something else. I could go on like this until I finish my personal project.
If you think this is a myth, you need to re-examine what you want from life. Everyone needs time to relax. Playing games, surfing the web, going to the gym... Everyone does it differently, but everyone needs it.
You can give up your 'free time' for a while and work on something, but it will eventually crash in on you and you will start hating your life.
I have too many hobbies. Every once in a while, my hobbies will start to run my life and I'll start getting depressed. When that happens, I stop and decide which of them are things I really want to do, and which aren't. I prioritize my hobbies. That relieves the stress again and I can relax.
If you can really relax while working on a programming project, then go ahead. But when it starts to stress you out due to a deadline or other outside influence, it stops being fun and starts stressing you out.
Being stressed out will affect everything you do and it will all go down in flames.
I have a few programming projects that I'm working on in my spare time. Nobody knows about them, so there's no pressure to finish them. I just have fun with them and work on them at my leisure. As soon as I release them to the world, they are going to get very stressful. Yes, someone else might think of the same ideas first and beat me to it, but I'm taking my time, doing it right, and I'll release when it's convenient for me. If that turns into something big, I can quit my day job. If not, not.
Also, my employer has a quite significant sales and client management staff. I don't enjoy sales or client management much, and consequently I'm not good at it (or maybe it's the other way around), so I'm happier when other people do that for me.
I might do a start-up one day. But until then, this is a pretty sweet deal.
We're all different. Some can see all aspects of a project, others can beautifully manage the startup, some can hone a roughly-hewn project to perfection, and still others can document a project beautifully. They're all useful.
Not everyone can do everything well, nor is it necessary. Man is a social animal for a reason: groups can do things that no single man could do.
1) You need a decent idea. This is the "cheapest" bit, and actually even this is quite hard. what businesses or consumers want (and how they want it) is usually quite different to what you'd naively think.
2) Can you really execute it well? Most ideas will require more than the skill set of one developer.
3) Do you have a route to market? This is the hardest. You can have the best executed product in the world, if you've got no way of selling it it's worthless. And this doesn't just mean oh I'm going to sell it to telcos - it means which telcos, and WHO at these telcos? Are you going to be cold-calling a massive company trying to find the right person to speak to about your product? (if so, good luck!)
4) Are you prepared to work ridiculous hours for sod-all pay, and go through all the stresses, uncertainties and ups-and-downs that starting a business involves? There's a lot to be said for a regular, essentially risk-free check every month.
Yes: you can start a software-based business with little more than a PC and an internet connection. But so can everyone else: there's no advantage here.
"You’re an entrepreneurial developer, so why do you work for someone else?"
"You're a mechanic, so why don't you start your own garage?"
"You're a retail manager, so why don't you start your own store?"
Ad absurdum. But yes, add "entrepreneurial" to any of those and they become perfectly valid questions.
But then it really just comes down to "You're entrepreneurially inclined, so why don't you start your own business?"
I think money is an especially a bad motivation for starting your own product.
So if its about being creative, doing lots of different projects, having an influence on what your working on and where the product is going: you can do this working for the right company as well.
Of course the level of control is higher when you're running your own company, but so are the risks.
Isn't the important question: is the process important, i.e programming & working on interesting ideas, or is it the end result that counts, i.e having a successful product that is generating an income for you and where you have total control over?
2. Development and business/marketing skills are very very different.
Is it really that hard to understand?
"Diligence is the mother of good luck." - Benjamin Franklin
To the startup side of HN, this article is just another "me too" piled on top of dozens of copies of itself every month. There's nothing particularly insightful about it, so there's no need to jump into the comments and dump a ton of praise onto it. A simple upvote will suffice, which explains why it has 120 of them.
To the startup side of HN, this article is just another "me too" piled on top of dozens of copies of itself every month
True. I liked it, though. I thought it was well-worded and somewhat inspiring. Certainly I'd thought of a lot of this stuff before, and seen it here. With the current economic tornado, though, some of us were unconsciously beginning to lose hope and faith -- myself, at least. Reading about how this guy keeps at it after his kids had gone to bed: that was encouraging and inspiring. I have one kid. If he can do it ...