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Ask HN: What's the big deal with startups anyways...
154 points by magnusdeus123 2473 days ago | hide | past | web | 155 comments | favorite
My father is a custom's officer. My mom's a manager in a bank. Government employees. Middle-class.

Dad focused on his mutual funds, mom on her promotions. And both, on everything in between. We now own three houses and close to a millions-worth.

I wasn't taught to be egotistic, brash and adventurous. I was taught to be hard-working, loyal and obedient.

I was told to maximize my intellectual, professional and social value for a company. Not for a client (the former offered better security and were easier to deal with anyways)

Math and Chemistry, not Psychology and Political Science.

Fixed deposits, not stocks.

I started a local website development business recently. My goal? Have something to show at interviews.

I want to know why this is so wrong today.

I want to know why we fixate so much on the millionaire's presentation about some bread-crumb concept like,“Love your job”. Was anyone was not aware of that?

What about an opinion by the 90k-salaried .NET developer. The one who probably couldn't be happier that he payed off his 3-bedroom condo last week. Or am I wrong here?

Why do we continue to preach the greatness, the undisputed manifesto of startups and entrepreneurship in general.

Why are there half-a-million blog posts by some 28-year old on how having your own startup will result in you losing weight and gaining muscle, eating better, dating supermodels with PhDs while the startup simultaneously mows the lawn and cooks breakfast every morning for you.

Why, even when we know that 9 in 10 of us are doomed.

I want to know: Why the hype?




This is a bit like going to a Christian forum and asking "What's the big deal with Jesus anyways?", or an accounting forum and saying "What's the big deal with debits and credits anyways?". You're only seeing "hype" because you're looking for it where it's strongest. My parents never talk about startups. Nor do my siblings. My girlfriend doesn't other than curiousity about my own experience. My friends generally don't. My online friends from video games don't.

If you think you're in an echo chamber, step outside. It will likely do you some good, especially re: startups.


Speaking of echo chamber, stepping outside SV for a while would probably do many good.


Indeed, sad it is that the most up-voted comment is just begging the OP's question.

Why not just answer the question, what's the substance behind the hype?

I hardly think it's wrong to ask people to question their assumptions, especially when it's done in a thoughtful, non-confrontational way.


I thought I did, indirectly. My answer is that there is no prevailing "hype". This is a community of startup enthusiasts, so it should be fairly obvious that everything discussed here, and on the articles and blogs linked from here, will revolve around startups. If you want to learn about the values of working a jobby job, this is not a place where you're going to find a great conversation.


Or the United States for that matter.


This is so true. Everytime I visited outside of U.S, it reminded me of what complete different worlds many people lived outside of U.S. Different food, different languages, different people, different values, different ambition. It's an amazing feeling.


It's almost like it's a whole other country.


People say do what you love, I say do what pains you.

I find it painful to see an opportunity and not take it. I have always sold stuff. When I was 14, there was a civil war where I lived and the prices of everything shot up several hundred percent. The government intervened and subsidized food and gasoline. At the time, I was an A-student: I had the second highest grade in the state and was featured on both radio and television. A good kid by every measure .. BUT! I found a contact at a cigarette factory who would sell me cigarettes at 80% discount. He just meant to sell me a pack, because I was a "rich kid". I flipped him over to work for me.

At 14, I ran a cigarette cartel out of my grandmother's house supplying tens of shops and street vendors.

I didn't need the money. My father and all my older brothers and sisters were in America. I didn't do it for the money. I just did it because it was an opportunity.

With some of the money I made I bought a bicycle and decorated it at a carpet shop .. for some reason. I got that idea that, perhaps, draping the bicycle frame in velvet cloth would look more appealing than the bare metal. I took it to the carpet and curtains guy and told him what I wanted done. He was confused, but money is money, so he pimped out my bike in purple velvet; a pair of wheels befitting a dealer.

Every kid in town wanted my bike.

My second venture was bicycle upholstery. A cottage industry unheard of up to that point. I didn't make as much as I did in cigarettes, but to this day, you can go to my old hometown and see kids ride bikes draped in cloth.

You're just born with the bug, I guess.


Super story, I knew you had a 'checkered' history, but didn't realize just how checkered. A cigarette cartel out of your grandmothers house is really quite neat, I'm trying to imagine my (very straightlaced) grandmothers response if I had tried something like that.


Ah! A fellow traveler! Some of us are just born hustlers.

When I was 12, I funded my own computer in no small part by selling most of my stuffed animals and all of my My Little Ponies.

When I was 13, I used to make good money reselling brand new IKEA lamps and things on eBay. I had it down to a system -- selecting the ones that had the biggest multiple of going price over real price, never keeping stock on hand, having a real system to writing the listings, and spacing them out, etc.

Things just got more boring from there on out. And while the secondary IKEA market is funny, it's not as funny as yours.

Bicycle upholstery! Cracked me up. That's amazing.


I'm not nearly as much of a hustler as either of you, but I traded three pokemon cards I got for free from a friend into 400+ cards back in 4th grade. (Pokemon cards were as good as currency for us.) I would trade a pokemon to someone who didn't care about energy cards (and would give me 10:1), then traded 5:1 for better cards, traded those cards for some star cards, traded star cards with better stats for holos with worse stats, traded holos with worse stats for multiple non-holo star cards, and kept this up until somehow I had a lot of cards. Never ended up buying a pack of pokemon cards either. My parents thought I was crazy.

Yeah I ended up accidentally sticking most of my holos into the wash on one occasion though. :(


I don't know where you live, but here in the UK it's harder and harder for children of the post-Boomer generations to get the kind of "job for life" that gave such returns.

Your parents were lucky to have lived through a time of cheap/free education, steady growth in the economy, and relatively cheap house prices when they were starting out. With good luck they will get a good pension, paid (in your father's case) by earmarked taxpayer largesse.

For the rest of us, we'll start our employment mired in student debt, higher taxes from paying for Boomer retirees, property prices forever beyond our reach, and an economy so bad that young people regard un- or low-paid slavery as a privilege (sorry, "internships").

The government here is cutting back across the board, and banks and other big companies cutting staff. The "job for life" is gone for us, as a generation.

So, what's riskier - starting out on your own, with the chance to make it big, or struggle for years, or decades, on low-paid, short-term employment ?


I can totally second this adding that the UK and in general northern countries in Europe have even a better situation than southern ones. I come from Italy and there the situation is far direr. Unemployment is stellar, wages are the lowest in Europe, people are losing jobs like falling flies and those who get it usually do not have any stability in the long run.


Native English speaker tip -- 'stellar' means 'good' rather than 'high,' despite the star connotation.


Though, strangely enough, "astronomical" does mean what he was going for, with the same metaphor.


It's not the same metaphor. The idea of a large number being "astronomical" comes from astronomy being the science that uses the largest numbers and units.


Oh, thank you. We have the same word in italian, and we can use it with this meaning. Sometimes I make the mistake to assume that meta-meanings apply cross language as well.


Why is the employment short-term? Isn't the UK like most of Western Europe in that it's quite hard to fire someone (and then you have to give months and months of severance if you do)?


You have short-term (max 6 month) contracts. You don't need to fire someone when their contract ends.


It is harder to fire someone in Europe than in the US.

However, in the UK severance pay is tax free but the legal minimum that is required by your employer is quite low, some employment contracts may specify better redundancy terms but employers don't have to be that generous.


Wait you mean they have to pay severance? That's not required at all in the US. Unless your contract says so, when fired you get nothing.


Only when made redundant. There's no mandatory payment for dismissal. However, it's common for people to leave "by mutual consent" - the employer pays off the employee to leave quickly, rather than go through the formal procedure of establishing incompetence.


For what it's worth, it's the same in the US, except from what I understand about UK law, it's much easier to be fired in the US.


What's the big deal with startups anyways...

1. I write software: business applications. I love what I do. I love getting something to work right the first time. I love seeing people use the software I wrote to do their jobs and run their businesses. I can't imagine doing anything else.

2. The software I have inherited in all 88 companies I have worked at has sucked. I mean really sucked. Nothing to be proud of. Nothing to want to work on. I think it's because business software is now where medicine was 100 years ago.

So I have a choice. Work on other people's crap or write my own. I have done both, but I have to write my own to be happy in this industry. If I could only work on other people's software, I think I'd rather work in a grocery store.

Starting a software business is the most direct way to do what I really want to do.

I realize that other people have different reasons; this is just one answer to your question.


Other peoples' software will always be "crap" while software you wrote yourself will seem better. Joel Spolsky: "There's a subtle reason that programmers always want to throw away the code and start over. The reason is that they think the old code is a mess. And here is the interesting observation: they are probably wrong. The reason that they think the old code is a mess is because of a cardinal, fundamental law of programming: It’s harder to read code than to write it."

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html

(I do understand, though, that some software may legitimately be crap.)


That's true, of course, but not really relevant to this discussion. Even if your own code is crap, you're happy to work on it because it is your code. I think a large part of this, for me anyway, is that I have no one but myself to blame for the state of the code and so: 1) I have internalized all the reasons for why it looks the way it does and 2) I can't fall into the trap of blaming everything that's wrong on an external party.


I think Joel (as he often does) has oversimplified this massively. If you are a really good developer then the majority of 'other peoples' code will seem to be crap, likely because it is. It is a minority of coders who really and truly care about how they build software and an even smaller group of those who know how.

Crap software happens because most people don't care about how to write software. It would be like people publishing novels with only a cursory knowledge of the language (and style) they are writing with (not that this doesn't happen cough twilight cough).


Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? - George Carlin

If you have some free time, do watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac


Really? I see quite a bit of good code from other people. My dissatisfaction with it comes from shear stress when I try to use it from my own software; my expectations of what the code should do are usually subtly different from what the original author intended.


Bendmorris, Great response. Kudos!!


88, really?


Consultant?


Do you change job every week?


He is a regular HN poster. From what I gather of him is that he has been doing this for a while now. He is also a consultant which means that you are allowed to have multiple customers at the same time in various stages of development. If he is focusing his efforts in jobs that are similar he is able to reuse some of the utility routines and design patterns that he has accumulated over the years. I see 88 as a perfectly fair number.


Why fly to the moon when you can simply stay here on Earth and watch someone else do it on TV? Why run a marathon when you could drive instead? Why read a programming book when there's a perfectly good movie sitting in your DVD player?

Ambition. "Educated" risk taking. Non-complacency. A desire to push yourself farther than what society says you should be. To invent something new, world changing. To throw an economic monkey wrench into someones inefficient/crappy invention. To think on your own. To live and die on your own merits.

Many will have different answers as to what motivates them to do it. It's definately not for everyone. You usually "know" if you want to do a startup or not. It's extremely challenging. Not doing one is a perfectly fine choice. Live your life the way you please.


"Why fly to the moon when you can simply stay here on Earth and watch someone else do it on TV? Why run a marathon when you could drive instead? Why read a programming book when there's a perfectly good movie sitting in your DVD player?"

I get asked these sorts of questions about a lot of things I do, and honestly I often don't have a good answer. Why do I keep trying to start a business? Why do I climb mountains? Why do I go to the gym? The best I've come up with is to prove to myself that I can because it's certainly not fun all the time. In fact it's often quite painful, but once you've tasted the elation of success it's like a drug and keeps pulling you back in.


Why run a marathon when you could climb a mountain? Why climb a mountain when you can write a novel? Why write a novel when you can compose a symphony? Why compose a symphony when you can run a marathon?


Why run a marathon? Because if you try to climb a mountain, you'll get distracted by your novel, which you won't finish because of the symphony you've got in mind. At some point, you just have to pick something and do it. Do it until you are good enough that starting over with something else just seems like an unsatisfying waste of time. If you don't pick something, you won't ever do anything of note.


You can either experience fear of the unknown, or the pain of finding out. They both hurt, but fear diminishes you, while knowledge makes you powerful. You can wake up the morning of your local 5k Turkey Trot with a gut full of fear, or you can pop out of bed excited, knowing it'll be a walk in the park compared to the marathons you've run.


Climbing up that mountain isn't always fun but the sense of achievement when you get to the top is always good.


When the 90k .NET developer shares his opinion, and it's interesting, we listen to it. Just like we listen to anyone else.

But oddly enough, it's usually the entrepreneur that shares interesting things. It's the person who goes out and does new and interesting things that finds new things to talk about. Sometimes they're crap, sometimes they're brilliant... But they're almost always new and interesting.

The '90k dev', by definition, is happy simply to get through the workday and pay his debts. If he was reaching for more, he moves into the entrepreneur class. Sure, they sometimes find nuggets and share them, but more often they either find nothing or don't share it.


"The '90k dev', by definition, is happy simply to get through the workday and pay his debts. If he was reaching for more, he moves into the entrepreneur class."

That's not really true. There's tons of interesting work going on within large organizations, and they often let you work on problems that you can only dream about. The difference is that as an employee, you're usually contractually obligated to keep your mouth shut about your solutions and let others rediscover them on their own.


>Why the hype?

From 1980-2005, nearly all net job creation in the United States occurred in firms less than five years old. Your job security wouldn't exist without startups. The risk-takers are the exploratory outliers changing economic paradigms and promoting growth. If their business model bet succeeds, they have both predicted the future as well as created the future.

We pay them attention even\especially when they say bread-crumb concepts because humans have always been interested in the idea of prophets.


“When you meet an entrepreneur you are looking into the future. You are talking to a crystal ball. That is how I felt when I first spoke with Larry and Sergey.”

- Ron Conway


It's a separate question from what the OP asked, which is more about the individual motivation behind being an entrepreneur, but it is good for the OP to at least appreciate the fact that such people exist, for the sake of the economy.

Even putting job creation statistics aside, entrepreneurship is essential to any economy. There would be no such thing as your stable job if not for an entrepreneur 10 years ago. Job stability doesn't exist in nature. Somebody had to create it, and somebody has to be out there continuing to create new things or the stability will fall apart, or become a stagnant organization that doesn't exist for any good reason. Major improvements come in the form of entrepreneurs, or at least by established companies being checked by entrepreneurs.


I imagine your parents are pretty thrilled that you can pull down 90k so early in your career. It likely took them much longer to get to almost double the average household income of the US.

The thing is, for lots of programmers the peak is early. This is a young man's sector. By the time you are 30 you will need to start thinking about getting into management or some other non-programminng job. Otherwise when the cutbacks come and your get laid off, you will find it much harder to find a job.

It also gets harder to keep up with new technologies as you get older. Partly because your mind starts to slow a little, partly because your learning time gets replaced with family time as you have a wife and kids.

So, you decide to go into management. What are the odds of that? 1 in 10? Not great. Maybe you believe in yourself so much that you know you will be the one out of ten, and then the one out of ten that then make it to some sort of executive tech role. Likewise, I think a lot of people here feel that what about their odds at startups. Neither one is any more or less crazy than the other.

Last week I went into an office supply store to make some copies. The guy behind the counter was one of the first senior programmers I had ever worked with,


Your entire question seems to be predicated on the idea that if you're loyal and hard-working, you'll keep your job and be paid well for it. That was kind of true in your father's day, but nowadays it's patently false, so the question itself is wrong. There is no security.

What about an opinion by a 90k-salaried .NET developer who just bought a three-bedroom condo last week and came into work this morning to discover his job would now be performed by a 30k-salaried Indian?

My father tried going the route of hard-working company man three times, once at a large government contractor, once at a real estate company and once at a large consulting firm. He got screwed by incompetent management at the government contractor, by natural disasters at the real estate company and by greedy management at the consulting firm.


This cannot be said too strongly: there is no security anymore except in self-development. Continue to expand your skills and you'll be fine (at least, you'll have a decent chance). Allow yourself to stagnate and you'll find the economy passing you by.

And, as others have said, entrepreneurship is a tremendous way to stretch yourself, to learn a breadth of new skills that you might otherwise never acquire.


"Why the hype?"

You are asking this on HN, which is run by a startup funding company and started out as "Startup News" ( http://ycombinator.com/announcingnews.html )


What better place to ask: there is always room for introspection.

I can personally answer the OP: the opportunity to ROCK it, make huge differences in society, touch the lives of more people than you will ever meet in person, do what you love. Just the rush of conceiving an idea, and have it set your mind aflame in those few seconds you're running towards pen and paper is WORTH IT.


Funny you should say that. I'm currently at a mid sized (10k employees worldwide) consultancy, and one of the reasons I'm still there rather than having run with one of my startup ideas is that there I get a chance to "make huge differences in society, touch the lives of more people than you will ever meet in person". I get to be involved in huge projects with real visible impact on peoples lives. At a small company (my own or someone else's) I'd with all likelihood be working on much smaller problems with much smaller impact.


I got asked this twice, so I guess I'll answer. I see articles related to startup across other forums too but I frequent this i.e. I'm comfortable here, and being one of the largest forums dedicated to the concept, it made sense to ask it on HN. I knew that it would be defended by the most updated and committed audience.

Should I have asked it on Yahoo! Answers or something people reckon?

And no, it has nothing to do with going out and getting some sunlight.


Couldn't agree more.

Everyone where they belong. If you don't feel to be part of the internet startup world, why get involved in it if it won't fulfill your desires?


First, be who you want to be. It's your life and your decisions. As long as you feel in control and are happy, who are we to say what's better than what?

Second, you are asking a question with a false premise. It's not either "make a million and be a rock star" or "work a 9-5 job". There are lots of entrepreneurs on here, just like yourself, who are also working jobs. Lots more that are on their own and just barely Ramen profitable. Lots more that are quite happy with having a cottage business.

There is a business and a hype around startups, no doubt. You see a lot of that here, although its usually sub-rosa.

It's the risk-taking superman story. There's a lot of drama. It's the simple cool idea or magic formula that made the weakling into the giant. Business porn. People selling emotion instead of a reality. Some folks trying to help that don't know what they're talking about, they just got lucky once. Some unlucky people who drew the wrong conclusions. Way, way too much fanboyism and hero worship. But that's okay -- startups are all about making a difference, and that usually entails lots of work and risk. As long as folks know the odds going in, why not stay positive about the whole thing? Our enthusiasm for startups doesn't mean that other choices are bad or wrong. Why wouldn't you be excited about the choices you make in life, no matter what they were?


Ever heard of Maslow's hierachy of needs? On the top of the hierarchy, above things such as family, love, wealth and self-esteem, there is self-actualization and self-expression. You have to express yourself somehow. Some people express themselves with music. Others write blogs. For many people, starting up your own business and do things they way you think they should be done is a way of self-expression. It's your thing. You have built it.


I think it's important to point out that "above", in Maslow's hierarchy, means that it assumes that you already have all the other stuff below, and even that you won't get benefit from moving up the pyramid until you've satisfied everything below.


It's because we couldn't imagine ourselves doing anything else. It's certainly not about the money. If I wanted money I'd be doing some tech/marketing consulting or would have continued on the God awful finance track that was so hot when I started undergrad.

It's pure love of the game when you get down to the heart of it. There's a certain love for creating something from nothing.

Sadly, there's too much hype out there from the press/blogging community because that's what gets them pageviews.

Nothing wrong being a salaried 90k .net developer either. This isn't for everyone. It isn't for most to be honest. Now is the best time ever to start something though. The costs to at least see if it will work are close to nothing and if it does work out, the tools to charge are there/raise money to scale are heavily available.


I agree, there seems to be much more startup advice on HN than people sharing experiences... So yes, there is too much hype.

That said, I am a gainfully employed scientist with money in the bank, and I am also a hard-working co-founder. It is not about money or promises of easy-living to me. It is about the challenge of building something that does not yet exist.

I don't read self-help books, and avoid blog posts about start-up strategy. I consider such things as a serious waste of time, and a dangerous distraction from free-thinking. However, some people share actual experiences on HN, and I find that to be valuable.

Also IMHO: 9 in 10 of us are not 'doomed'. I don't believe there is an 'us', and I do not perceive myself to be taking chances. Everyday I am doing something that makes me happy. Where's the chance in that?

If your goal is to accrue money, then for God sake's don't do a startup. As you point out, there are much better ways to do that.


Agreed. Good advice.


Clearly Grampa Simpson said it best for you:

"Oh, son, don’t overreach! Go for the dented car, the dead-end job, the less attractive girl!"


Posts like this are part of the problem (you wouldn't call Peter Norvig an under-achiever, would you?). There are plenty of great jobs at huge firms and there are shit jobs at startups.

Most of the enterprise people I know would hate it if they had to do some of the sysadmin/dba/support stuff most startup people have to do (look at Zed Shaw, he explicitly singled out the sysadmin aspects of his startup job as to why he left dropbox). It's a luxury to be able to have dedicated staff around for that stuff.

I get to write code all day and it keeps me pretty happy. Oh, and I get to leave at 5:00pm and not feel guilty about it. :)


Do you mean the post or my comment is part of the problem? I don't think you read the post. Why do you bring in Peter Norvig and his level of achievement, if he got where he is by leaving the office at 5pm everyday, I would love to hear the facts. The post asked why are startups that attempt to achieve greatness so celebrated? and also why are the opinions of those who dare greatness valued more that someone who is very happy in his averageness? And, why try if we know most will fail? I think someone can achieve greatness working 9-5, I think someone who works 9-5 can have great insight, knowledge, and be truly happy. But the post question was Why do people consider startups to be a big deal?, and the answer is, because they are.


"I was told to maximize my intellectual, professional and social value for a company."

I did too, and those same parents are now telling us not to bother after they went through layoffs and forced retirement. My dad worked ostensibly at one company his whole life, and it's more comfortable to watch him possibly fail at running his own business now than it is when I remembered him as a kid just working a day job I knew nothing about.

"Why do we continue to preach the greatness, the undisputed manifesto of startups and entrepreneurship in general."

I think you need a better BS filter. People in general are going to post their success before their failures, and that's naturally what gets on HN. But, there are posts about failure on here. Pay close attention to those. I've been in far worse entrepreneurship communities that were delusional on success and were less willing to reveal their rocks along the path. HN is one of the more down to earth ones I've found, as long as you can filter out some of the noise.

"I want to know: Why the hype?"

There's always a hype around startups after a recession. If the old business models are dying, what else is there to look forward to? If you're unemployed, already got tired of looking for jobs, what else are you going to do to make money? There's even more buzz around bootstrapping, and using minimal resources - my opinion lies in the data that there's signicantly less VC money thrown into tech (unless it's lab-intensive) compared to ten years ago.


Hacker News is a community of people who have what Dharmesh Shah calls a "genetic defect" that makes them crazy enough to start a startup. It's true. A subset of the people in the world are crazy enough to do something this high-risk high-yield, and that's us.

We preach the greatness of startups because we've put a lot of things on the line. The opportunity cost of doing a startup is great; the major aspect of this opportunity cost is time. With this time, we could do some consulting, or learn a new language, or go on dates. Instead, we're fixated on the idea of creating amazing products that change the landscape. We're attached to the concept of being the ones that enable the software your dad uses to trade mutual funds. We're enamored with the ideology of being an active contributor rather than a passive consumer of the world we call ours today.

I've questioned the strangeness of this enchantment of startups being the road to various levels of success in the past as well. Losing weight and all that stuff is all about discipline, and is an element of really any profession you can think of. At the bottom of it is just who we are and what we want to do: entrepreneurs and to create meaning, respectively.


Self employed people statistically have more job satisfaction. Full stop. Call it a startup or call it a small business-- that's the truth [1]. You're tossing around a lot of hyperbole in your question-- to the point where it gets pretty ridiculous. But happiness/satisfaction is one big reason.

Another is that we're all in the same casino here, and the house always wins. You choose the safe path, and you'll die in your 80s. I choose the risky path and I'll die in my 80s. So you can pay nickel slots. And I'll play poker. Or hell, maybe I'll take a few whacks at the roulette wheel. I'll probably get a few more thrills and have a greater sense of control of my destiny.

One note: 9 out of 10 of us are doomed? Small business failure statistics are suspect... But how doomed is a software entrepreneur who fails? The failure scenario is generally, "Oh well, I guess I have to fall back on a 6-figure job."

I haven't seen any articles that preach the "undisputed manifesto" of startups (what the hell does that even mean?).

[1] http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/apr2010/sb20100...


Software is the highest leverage profession in the world right now. Perhaps in the early 1900's it was wildcatting for oil in Southern California. It minted billionaires like Getty, but it was tough work that required guile and cunning. Anytime there is a societal and technological dislocation, there are times of high leverage for individuals to create a lot of value.

It just so happens software creates wealth right now. I think that's a great thing.


Like all hype, you need to take startup variety with a grain of salt. A lot of it is entrepreneurs encouraging others to overcome the fear and inertia that held them back. And for every blog post touting the all-singing-all-dancing power of startups, there is another one saying that it will be ferociously hard work and you may still fail. I'm a happily salaried developer myself, and if I do start a business it won't be a classic "startup". I still get a lot out of HN.


>>Why the hype?>>

So my goal for the last year while I have been doing startups my goal has been to get ramen profitable and we did that just a couple of months ago.

The reason this was so important to me is because now, I feel like I am "living off the land" or "surviving in the wild" and answering to literally no one. The amazing part about start-ups is that they make me feel truly alive and independent, while working for someone else makes me feel trapped and dependent. Right now, I'm really happy.

I'm also looking forward to the next part of our start-ups growth, which staying with the analogy, will be like growing a clan of like minded people who want to build on what we started.

Also, I read once in 'Stumbling on Happiness' that people are happy when they can actually have an impact on things. In less than a year, we have already significantly impacted the YouTube space and will be continually impacting the entertainment industry. The exciting part is in my opinion we have done this for the better and that as promised in the book that does makes me happy.

I guess in some ways, I'm some sort of new aged tech-hippy, but at least I'm not alone: http://www.paulgraham.com/boss.html


>I want to know: Why the hype?

"Startups" in the context of HackerNews and crew are glorified small businesses.

There is a lot of buzzy words that make the people here feel special, but it's nothing new. Individuals have been working long days, risking their homes and succeeding or failing at small businesses since the discovery of trade.

You want to be your own boss? You start a company. Maybe you pay the mortgage, maybe you fail, maybe you strike it rich.

You enjoy working 9-5 and taking two weeks vacation a year? Then be happy working for someone else.

I think the fact that it's easy to form a community of software developers compared to a community of masons has created a feedback loop of feeling special. A widget in my browser is no more special than a widget I spread cream cheese on. It's all small business until they strike it big and maybe become Dunkin Donuts or Facebook.

Edit: I just realized how great a choice masons was for an example, but for the wrong reason. HackerNews is an echo chamber for software small businesses. Masons and other craftsmen didn't have the internet and they formed their own guilds which served the exact same purpose.


For an awful long time the masons felt very special indeed, they're still the poster child of exclusive club to this day. That says a lot about the influence of highly-skilled, independent craftsmen.


Masons are not exclusive. All that's required to join is to ask.


The one Mason that I knew ten years or so said the membership fee was around 60EUR/month. So it's hardly I-have-a-yacht-exclusive, but you still have to be able to afford it.

You may realize that a membership at a slightly-better-than-average gym is at a similar price level. Many group-based activities (i.e., tennis clubs, geek clubs, creative anachronism) have both inclusive (meet people with similar interests) and exclusive (meet less of the other people) aspects.


I've worked at startups and large companies (post-acquisition). I have also done joint development projects, me at a startup and my counterpart at huge corporations. While my bias is in favor of startups, I have given the other side a shot.

So the big deal with startups is this: If you do love your craft (not your job primarily), then a startup is the best place to apply it. There are a few reasons for this. 1) You get a huge amount of responsibility, assuming you join early. You are working on one of maybe three major components of your company's product, and that's a great opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper and design and implement your ideas. If you really love what you do, that's a huge attraction. 2) There are politics everywhere, but a startup is really focused and politics are minimal. Idiot, empire-building managers aren't attracted to and don't thrive in startups, so that problem goes away too. (They tend to start showing up as the company matures.) 3) There is a real chance for a nice payout. You have to pick your startup wisely, and if you do it works out well. 4) If you stay on the boundary between far-out ideas and practical software, you will have an interesting, relevant resume, and keep yourself employable. I'm 53 and joined my 5th startup (pre-funding) last year.

The hype that you describe has nothing to do with startup life. There is a certain amount of aspirational nonsense here on HN, and self-actualization via startups tends to be part of it. But behind that, there is something of value. It isn't for everyone. I've interviewed software developers who are terrified by starting with a blank sheet of paper. I've worked with others who just aren't good at it. But if you happen to love what you do, writing software, and want to keep improving, learning, and taking on more, just because it's what you like to do -- if you don't look at it as just a paycheck -- then startups are a great place to work.


I think there are two separate issues.

First of all, some poeple, like me, prefer to shape their own product without serving obediently for years climbing some corporate ladder, executing orders handed down by superiors. That preference, for me, is independent of all economic considerations.

The economic issue seems like a question of risk tolerance at first sight, but actually it isn't. A startup may be high risk, high potential reward, but starting a startup and being an employee are not exclusive choices. You can always look for a job if your startup fails. If you never try to start a startup, you needlessly settle for the low reward without getting anything a startup founder doesn't get. You're just renouncing one of the opportunities that our society provides. Why would you do that?


Because the secure jobs are going to go away.

Customs officer? Governments will be facing increasing deficits in the future and will be looking for anything they can cut.

Manager in a bank? Automation is eating the jobs of bank tellers, and will also eat the jobs of people who manage bank tellers, and the jobs of people who manage them.

As for the $90k-salaried .NET developer, his company is about to be a victim of the recession, and the next job he gets is going to be $50k a year, no health insurance.

Pensions have disappeared for private sector workers in the past 30 years, and there's serious thinking about how to make them disappear for public sectors. And if anybody thinks they're going to retire comfortably on a defined-contribution plan, they've got a hole in their head.


Startups aren't for everyone, but I was an $85k a year salaried .NET developer and hated it. The money was nice, but the job was unfulfilling and the high paycheck really just left me feeling like I was prostituting myself.

I walked away, launched my startup, and was immediately happier. I wrote this post on my blog about my experience, which might help to clarify:

http://kohari.org/2010/08/24/looking-back/

Money and security isn't what everyone is after. I won't speak for others, but I'm an engineer and I want to build things. More specifically, I want to feel like the things I build have an immediate and significant impact on others, and there's nowhere better to feel that than at a startup.


Awesome read ... I know people don't like to disclose this, but how substantial was your exit compared to your $85k salary prior to that?


It was a nice exit, but not one that means we can retire at 27. :)


Happy to hear it. Thanks for the response!


For me, it's simply about what makes me happy.

I have worked both for startup companies and large corporate entities. While the corporate world does offer some sense of security and reliability (and that is tempting to me sometimes, even now), I have been most unhappy in my career during those times when I was assigned a cubicle and a task list.

Over the years, what I have learned about myself is that I enjoy creating things and applying myself to new challenges. I know this is not the case for everyone. If you were meant for the quiet world of work life, then I strongly agree with you -- it's a surer path to financial security. If you weren't meant for it, then financial security won't matter very much -- you'll be miserable.


* I choose what to build. I love chatting with my CEO about what will help our customers, what will make our site better, what's feasible, what's already out there that we can leverage, etc. It's much more satisfying than I found writing code at e.g. MSFT to be (not that that wasn't also fun).

* I choose how to build it. I doubt I'd be able to write production code in CoffeeScript at a big company (or even a medium-sized company).

* I think learning to be a CTO at 24, having to have employees and work with non-tech people, forces me to pick up more transferable life skills than being a software engineer at a big corp.

* I don't think I'm in that 90%. Of course, no one does, but even knowing that I still don't. :)


I see something that sucks, a process, education, something that could be better, faster cheaper through the use of computers and I want to improve it. I can't help it I want to improve it, being part of the "solution" not the "problem". "Make the world a little better" through the use of software. A startup allows me to keep doing that, while paying for my expenses in order to sustain my life. And hopefully if I create enough value, and with a little luck generate enough money so that I don't need to worry too much about the means to sustain my life and then find something else worth improving.


A lot of it is about more than the money, but even just considering the money issue entrepreneurship is often better. Let's face it -- if you're intelligent, then selling your time for money (salary) just isn't a very efficient way of making money. Sure, there is an element of risk, but there's risk in almost everything you do in life. Driving a car is "risky", but that doesn't mean YOU have to be a risky driver. Same for entrepreneurship.

To me, working the same job for 40 years hoping I'll save enough money to be able to retire in spite of unknown but probably increasing inflation is what is risky.


Because some of us believe that creating something innovative that people use is more rewarding than making small contributions towards an existing product/business at a 9-5 job.

More often than not, society rewards you in proportion to the value you create for it. And you can't create the amount of value that comes with a startup without taking on a lot of risk. (Look up "risk-reward" in economics).

That's why entrepreneurs are glorified. They are willing to take the necessary risks in order to create unusual amounts of value for society and, yes, for themselves.


This is a bit tangential to your point, but if my math is right and your $90K/yr .NET developer is spending no more than the typical 30% of income on housing, she's just paid off a $300,000 3-bedroom condo (approximately $2250/month payments, ignoring taxes, insurance, association fees and all that jazz). Even in this depressed market, that's a steal in many (possibly most) large markets. While the odds of hitting the startup jackpot may be low, you may be overestimating the benefits of the nose-to-the-grindstone approach.


You can gain significant leverage by having roommates in that 3br apartment. With 2 roommates paying market rates she could be making 4k per month mortgage payments. After 5 years of this she could refinance and pay less than market rate for a 1br apartment in the area, or rent the whole thing out can still pay it off early.

PS: A 90k/per year developer can easily have a family and 1/2 mill in the bank by their late 30’s.


> PS: A 90k/per year developer can easily have a family and 1/2 mill in the bank by their late 30’s.

I'm not sure that's true, but maybe your definition of "easily" is different than mine. Certainly that doesn't seem to be the case if you're working from salary alone.

Let's assume our developer enters the workforce at 24 and we're considering 38 to be "late 30s". Then she's worked 14 years, we'll assume at an average of $90K/yr, yielding 1.26 million in total income if you ignore interest, inflation, etc.

Various forms of tax will eat about 40% of that [1], so you're left with $756K out of the gate.

Suppose by shrewd living you're spending no more than 15% of your income on housing (which is half of the typical assumption), that's $189K over 14 years, leaving $567,000.

In 2005, the average cost of food at home for a family of 2 on a "moderate" plan was ~$475 (for a family of 4 that jumps to $675 to $810 depending upon the age of the children) [2]. Let's use $475 as an average. So that's another $79,000 for the 14 years (168 months), leaving you with $488,000 for a family of 2, or $453,600 for a family of 4.

So working from salary alone, you're under half a million just by taking into account quite frugal budgets for housing and food, and that's without accounting for costs of transportation, insurance, medical, entertainment, etc. let alone the costs of raising children.

I'm certain with the right decisions or investments it can be done, but I think if this were "easy" to do you'd see a lot more people with a lot more money in the bank.

[1] http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Taxes/Advice/YourRealTa... [2] http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2005/CostofF...


By "easy" I mean assuming no major issues or windfalls. Now, starting at 24 is really late IMO. By, 39 "She" should have 16 years of work experience, if "She" contributed the cap into her 401k (16,500$) each year and got a 5% return over inflation that works out to 390,348$ in 16 years. Granted that's pre tax, but some company matching is also fairly common so let's call it 300,000k and assume she contributed a little less when starting out. <I>Down to (90 - 16.5k) = 74.5k which needs to create 200k in assets.</I>

Now let's assume she bought a 2br condo @ 26 and had 1 roommate to reduce her rent. At 30 that becomes a BF and at 33 she had her first child etc. By 29 she is easily 13 years into a 30 year mortgage and after 13 years it is probably worth more than when you bought it so 150-200k of equity is reasonable as is someone living off of 73k having other assets to make up the difference. (The assumes the husband followed a similar path and maintained equivalent savings.)

As to having that much money earlier conceder what happens when two 24 year old 90k / year developers get married. Split a 1br apartment and they can each live off of 60k vary comfortably while each saving 30k pre tax in a mix of 401k and other investments. In 2 years they can save up a 60k down payment while maxing their 401k's. Once they have children saving money becomes far more difficult, but until then they can create a significant nest egg.

PS: You could also have long stretches of unemployment a crack habit and a husband with a gambling problem. I am simply suggesting that the “happy path” represents a significant opportunity cost when you’re looking to start a startup.


Note that from December 1999 to December 2009, the average annual compounded rate of return for the S&P 500 was -0.6%, and the average annual inflation rate in that same period is around 2.8%. A 5% return over inflation may be a little optimistic.

Also, "in the bank" has now become "net worth" and our family with a 3 BR condo has now become a couple with a 2 BR that has what, doubled their investment on the condo bought in 1997? I'm not sure that's a typical case. Even at the height of the housing bubble I think that represents a fairly exceptional return, e.g.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USA_home_appreciation_1998...

But you don't need to convince me. I agree with you: I'm 100% confident that there are many reasonable scenarios that lead to well over $500,000 in net worth by 39.

I'm just pushing back on the "easy" part: If this were easy more people would be doing that, but that fact is $0.5M is 10 times the net worth of the average American in the cohort we're talking about, and more than twice the net worth of the average American at the time of retirement. By living frugally and choosing investments wisely you can certainly do it, but those are easier choices to make in retrospect than working forward.

(Edit: I said $500,000 is 100 times the net worth of the typical American 40 year old, but it is really just 10 times.)


Edit: What you say is reasonable, while I understand your viewpoint I want to add a little food for thought.

First off, 401k contributions to the S&P 500 over that time period would significantly outperform that due to Dollar cost averaging. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar_cost_averaging. Even more so if you assume that they made smaller payments early on when they were making less money.

Also, for clarification I am assuming they leverage the roommate to rapidly pay down the mortgage, I know people in that situation making less than 65k that pay down an extra 600$-1000$ a month while trying to get out from PMI. EX: A 26 year old making ~52k decided to refinance to a 15 year mortgage when the rates dropped because he was paying significantly more than that anyway and with the new interest rate and he could pay it down even faster.

As to easy: In 2007, the "real" (adjusted for inflation) median annual household income rose 1.3% to $50,233.00. 10x the savings from 1.8x the average household income sounds works when the average savings rate is so low. There are rules of thumb that you pay X% of your income on specific category’s, but we are well into the ridicules stage so saving ridicules amounts of money is just as valid as having stupid bar tabs.

PS: I happened to put a fair amount into the stock market during the dip last year at the same time as my company’s annual 10% deposit so my 401k actually made over 40% ROI last year. Starting in 2002 I have made well over 5% plus inflation and I missed the dip right after the 2000 – 2001 crash.


Would it work out the same again if your parents started today? Also manager in a bank might already be quite well paid?

There might also be more involved than just making money. It's also about work satisfaction.


0) Hype comes from shock value. Startups can create shocks (innovation, disruption, fortunes made, fortunes lost etc). Perfect media material. No wonder there's hype.

1) Tech startuppers are tech savvy. They also tend to have strong opinions about stuff.They write/blog/tweet/comment a lot. Adds to the general noise around startups.

2) Possibly, noise about why startups rock helps reduce insecurities for some. It probably helps, given that startup life can be hard.

3) Nothing wrong with people trying to do their job well. Just that discipline, integrity, hard-work are less glamorous than a "brilliant idea that changed the world". Fact is, any successful startup needs discipline, integrity and hardwork - multiplied by two.

4) The opinion of a .NET programmer (irrespective of what he/she earns) matters. Especially, if its about .NET programming. Or about a product that I'm making. But I'd take his/her opinion on general startups less seriously.

5) I don't live in the US. Where I live, there isn't too much hype around startups. Indication that it might be a SV or US only thing.

6) I'm an accidental startupper. I landed here by simply moving away from jobs I didn't like. I haven't done very well (yet), but I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'd do it again. May be there's more to people starting up than hype. May be it has to do with (sic) the joy of creation. May be it has to do with the kick of having a large population use something you made. May be its a drug :) Who knows


Two things stand out to me:

1. Your goals and ideals seem far different from mine. You were taught obedience; while I was also taught to obey my parents and teachers growing up, I realized that everyone is fallible and authority figures aren't always right. It really grates me to just obey someone without a sensible reason. Additionally, you seem content with material happiness (three houses, millions-worth, 3-bedroom condo)... as long as I have enough money to serve my needs, I'm happy spending time with friends or hanging out on a beach somewhere or traveling to new places. I would be very happy to start a small website that I could charge $10 per month for and keep a steady 200-400 subscribers; then I could work from anywhere in the world and have enough to pay the bills. I prefer freedom over security.

2. In the vast majority of business transactions, one entity is making a profit while the other is receiving a good or service. In the case of employment, the employee is providing more value than he is getting paid for, while the employer is providing a steady paycheck (smoothing the ups and downs) and benefits. By maximizing your value for a company, you're putting extra money in someone else's pocket. I would much rather benefit myself with my hard work.


I haven't 'obeyed' as many people as I made it sound out to be previously. I like people to earn my respect but what I said above is the basic principle of culture in an Asian society; atleast in mine.


Conservative culture definitely makes a difference. It's hard to suggest to parents any slight deviation from the script of college degree (focal point being good grades, not necessarily the experience), stable job at established company (preferably close to home), wife (nice girl from nice family), house, kids, ...


Customs Officers and Bank Managers have (or had, we'll see in the "post recession era") predictable trajectories.

You could choose these jobs and get predictable returns. A certain amount of money and no more. A certain amount of impact on the world around you and no more.

You do a startup to take a ride off the rails. You'll probably get nowhere, but its not certain. You might make unimaginable money and change the entire world.

And changing the world is cool. That's the hype.


Well, personally, I absolutely hate being an employee. I have absolutely no respect for authority. I constantly question everything. I argue. It does not make me a good cog.

Employers in boring, put slot A into slot B jobs love me, because there's no power struggle. But anything where I have any sort of input though, and it all goes to hell.

I would be delighted if I could stand to work for other people; I would undoubtedly be much better off. But I am defective :).


Your clients must love working with you.


People are born with different skills. While I sense some hyperbole in the previous comment, there's no reason to attack him.

I'm also not a great team player -- I work very well in small teams, particularly when I'm in a leadership role, but I detest bureaucracy and fiefdoms, so I don't do well in larger organizations.


I'm just saying -- I've yet to hear about an entrepreneur who didn't have to accept client feedback, didn't have struggles with clients who wanted a pet functionality, didn't have to work for other people, constantly argued with their customers, didn't have to accept that the one who gives you money has "authority" over you whether he goes by the title of "parent", "boss", "supervisor", "client", "eyeball", or "VC".

Or one whose start-up made money, anyway.

It's perfectly okay that some people work differently, but let's quit with the glorification of start-up experience as the boss-less free-for-all nirvana.


Watch this vide: "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Most programmers prefer to work on a fun project even if it pays less. Hackers don't do startups because they want to get rich; they do it for the same reason they do open-source: they like having autonomy and mastery, and working towards a goal.

It's just that when you do a startup, there's a good chance of generating revenue, so that you can quit your day job (because it sucks) and focus on your own business.

If you have to choose between getting a job vs. working on an open source project, it's a tough call (developers need to eat). If you choose between a job and startup, it's easier, because you can get money by starting your own startup.

I don't agree with PG's idea of "getting paid more will motivate you more". What you get in a startup is not "more money", what you get is "more autonomy". In fact, in s a startup you probably "complete autonomy" and "complete mastery"; these are way more valuable for programmers than "getting paid 10 times more".


Different strokes for different folks.

The vast majority of people look for a stable job, and don't mind being a 90k .NET developer at Big Corp.

But there's a small section of the population that cannot stand to "grind" for a large organization, or even for someone else. They want to work towards something that they are passionate about, and ownership greatly increases passion.

They are the sorts of people who do not believe in the "divinity of repetition", to separate their work life from their personal life.

Some people want to spend time working on their own projects, instead of someone else's... even if that means forgoing buying a suburban home now and a nice car. The idea of grinding for them is much worse than being out of a job or not having a large disposable income.

I would not say that there is "startup hype", but that (thankfully) there will always be a section of the population that fits the breed that I described.

There is the "entrepreneurial fire" that some have, and most others do not. Don't knock them for it. They have a different value set than the Big Corp types, and there's nothing wrong with it.


Takes all kinds. Ok, there's not just a little pride/boasting going on - startup folk are the Tony Hawk of the business world. They want to grind and 360 their way to success, and talk about it.

I sense maybe a little defensiveness - what's the problem with the 90K .Net developer? Boring, that's what. We both know it, there's no denying it. And that's ok, whatever floats your boat.


"Why, even when we know that 9 in 10 of us are doomed."

Everyone thinks they're above average?

Or another possibility: startup founders tell themselves they can't question themselves because then they'll fail for sure. Kind of like how many Christians are reluctant to honestly question their religion because they're afraid they won't be saved.

I think for many people, just defying the norm and starting a startup uses up all their mental energy and they don't have much left to actually think about what they're doing in a clear rational way once they've made that decision. People tend to go funny in the head when they start startups. If they didn't go funny in the head, Paul Graham wouldn't have to tell them to build something people wanted.

I'll bet you that fewer than 9 in 10 fail now that

a) starting a startup is more socially acceptable, leaving more founder mental energy to actually think about what they're doing

b) correct memes about startups, like the ideas that you should build something people want and release as soon as you've got a minimum viable product, have spread


Sounds like a loaded question to me. You know what the big deal with startups are: the potential to create something new and interesting, become independently wealthy, to not answer to a job or deal with the 9-5 daily grind working on other people's ideas, etc. Nobody here made the claim that working at a startup is the most direct path to happiness.


Sure, being the best in class and getting a well paid job and doing what you enjoy doing or might not but the money is worth it is an alternative. Indeed for many is the only options. People might however simply try and inform others that there is another option. Do you feel angry about this or that, or annoyed, or feel rage within yourself that someone higher said it must be so, or punished you for speaking what you know and he knows to be right?

Well, you do not have to put up with that. You do not have to sell your labour. Indeed, you do not have to have an authority. You can work for yourself instead. Those shiny grades, well, you can get the entire potential out of them yourself, rather than give someone else a cut, the prestige, you can gain it if you are so smart.

Basically, there are two people in this world. Actors and Spectators. The former creates his world, the latter partakes in the former's world. One has to choose and both choices are fine.


I was that same .NET dev... only I was making $110K. Why did I give it up? The fact that I was forced to work on CRAP every single day. I died a little bit inside every single time I looked at my work and realized it was basically fucking bullshit. I am much happier now as an entrepreneur... and in the end, isn't that all that matters?


The problem with coding for someone else (8 year vet here), is that you reach a point where you've seen a lot of hard problems and you start feeling like you are using the same concepts over and over and not really learning anything. So, you start looking for bigger, harder problems to solve, but in Big[NonSoftware]Co, its hard to find an interesting project to expand your horizons. And you can't really take risks, because the company typically hates risk (at least the kind of risk associated with letting some random software guy do something out-of-the-box). So, you stop seeking up within the company and start seeking more challenging problems outside.

It turns out that growing a great business is one of the hardest challenges ever, so naturally, people who are natural risk-takers that really want to challenge themselves will eventually look to create a startup.

Thats why.


In addition to the fact that I've always liked taking calculated risks and gaining greater reward, I also like working on things nobody else has done before. I'm the kind of guy who sees something that sucks and then promptly fixes it. Then I give it to my friends or check it back in.

I also dislike working for other people, I'm starting to realize more and more. I like the fruits of my labor going directly to me, and having a real effect on whether I have food in my tummy that night. When business sucks, I work harder; I know it is _because of me_ that it is failing, and I can fix it. When business is booming, I know that it is _because of me_ that business is booming, and I can continue on making it happen. Continue on being proud of what it was that I had accomplished. That feeling just doesn't happen to me at a big firm.


I give you an example. Let's say there are 2 mathematicians 'A' and 'B'.

'A' works on different problems each day. At the beginning of the day he receives a task from his boss and solves it during the day.

'B' is experimenting and thinking about really hard problems. There are months when he does not achieve anything, but he learns new things everytime. He develops his intuition further and further, and once in 3 years he proves a really-really hard theorem.

It's not that 'B' is innately smarter than 'A', it is just a different lifestyle, which is in my opinion is much more fun. But not for everybody. We are different.

Unfortunatelly I am doing the 'A' lifestyle by day, but at least I do the 'B' lifestyle by night. It is very tiring (especially because I have a family to support), so I hope one day I will be able to do the 'B' lifestlye all day.


There is nothing about 'A' and 'B' that necessarily correlates to startup vs mega corp. I'm sure there are plenty of people at IBM, Google, GE etc doing type 'B' work and I'm equally sure there are several people in startups doing type 'A' work. One major breakthrough every three years might be plenty for GE, but it won't pay the bills at a tiny web startup.


The kernel of my start-up came when I was working in that incredibly secure, decently rewarding corporate job. I lead a project to help our CEO incentivise the sales force to bring in more profitable clients. During that project, I saw a great opportunity, not just in my company, but in the industry in general. I was not able to work on this idea inside the company but the thought of it still consumed all of my time. So, I decided to start my own business to solve this problem. The reason was that I was going insane from thinking about this all of the time and not being able to act on it. I've got plenty of other problems now that I never had at my safe job, but at least I get to chart a course for my own life now.


For me it's simple, running my own business was the only way to break out of the 9-to-5 low wage situation that I was in, I wanted more freedom and enough funds to really make difference in the lives of those around me.

A day job would never give me that. So I took the plunge, and it worked out for me.

If it hadn't worked I would have gone back to working a 9-to-5 for a bit only to try again a bit later.

Some people like going to the same desk in the same cubicle every day for years on end, being slowly promoted up the hierarchy of a huge company with a relatively large amount of security.

I guess I'm just not one of those people. But I would never look down on someone that likes to live that way. Whatever floats your boat, this floats mine.


Instead of politics and bureaucracy, I'm generally free to pursue an idea. I may have to focus on the bottom dollar, but it's mine, it doesn't belong to some anonymous nobody in another city who doesn't even know my name.

I'm me, not employee #5239.

In an economy that can pretty much put me on the street tomorrow, I might as well take a gamble knowing that I put myself in that position, rather than some spreadsheet miscalculation in New York.

When offshoring is cheaper than retraining, I'm not a person in the company's eye anymore.

None of what your parents or you did is wrong. It's just not right for me anymore.

The main difference between my situation now and my situation then: less pay and less vacation. But at least the work is interesting for a change.


It's about the potential for greatness. It's not about dating supermodels with PHD's or buying the best stuff.

The most successful people in the world own their businesses, people work them, follow their vision, listen to their words.

Today's startup entrepreneur will support the middle class of tomorrow. The reason your mother has a job is because back in the day someone decided to start a financial institution and with a shit load of hard it has become a big business. The creator of that bank (most likely his/her children's children) enjoy the success of his and others hard work.

Taking your idea and turning into a strong business is the ultimate in success in my eyes. And you cant do that working for someone else.


You should read PGs essays if you haven't done so yet. He did write about the topic longer and better than I could in this post.

I'll just say that the difference in terms of what your lifestyle looks like is not as clear cut as you may think. Some "startups" are like owning a job and some jobs may give you extreme freedom. I've been in startups and in large organizations. Large organizations always need a few people who are on the side of the org chart.

On a lighter note, in my case, startups were never a factor in getting better health, quite the contrary in some cases. But its just a result of how I did things not about how I made a living.


Maybe you are lucky and have a great in-house job. No shame in that. But there does seem to be something amiss in your happy little world that sends you out gunning for startups. Why the inferiority complex?

I spent 25 years in the corporate world. The money was great but I got tired of the politics and wasted time. Now I have a startup. I am actually inventing new software (semantic web, evolutionary programming) rather than writing another business system. I spend 90% of my time on the meat of programming. I make a good deal less at this point (after 3 years of making even less!!) but I'm 10 times happier.


I think this question makes more sense if the implied question

"what does owning a startup have to do with being a hacker?"

is understood, and the original question is thus translated to

"Why do hackers find working at a 9 to 5 so unappealing?"

If I am wrong, I would appreciate correction.


If you want to know what's wrong with a government/big company job, go and try one. You could be suprised, just like I was, and start to aim for a high variance career.


Its easy: there is a market for this kind of adventure. If you are young and want to found a new startup, you're the best client for capitalists that want to risk money without doing the work.

You will be working for them, with the bonus of high upside but also with high risk of losing everything. If you are OK with the risks, it is a good bet, but these capitalists will try to make it glamorous and smart, even though you chances of getting rich are not that high.


Your questions are focused around money. Startups shouldn't be about money.

If you want to be comfortable, work hard and save and focus on promotions. If you want to be rich, go into finance. Startups aren't comfortable, and most of us don't get rich. If you're in it for the money, you're going to quit when things get tough - and they will get tough and stay tough for longer than you think.

Do it only if you can't imagine doing anything else.


I'm not really in a position to tout startups, but for me it's more about building and creating things that people use, find useful, and enjoy. It's about being artists and creatives at heart - and engineers and programmers by trade. Software is just one way of expressing creativity. I believe that for many people, the allure of money comes secondary. It's a motivating factor, but certainly not in and of itself.


I come from an entrepreneurial family: my mother, father, stepfather, and stepmother all run businesses of some kind, and their parents before them.

The recurring thread I see is this: its not about money, its about competing and winning. Money is just a side effect that comes from that level of competitiveness.

I have the same gift/curse. I expect to be rich, but I also don't really care about money. Its about the competition.


I think it's important to remember who runs this website. There's probably other websites out there for the 90k-salaried .NET developers.


I am one of those "90k-salaried .NET developer" and am currently working on my startup, because:

1. Working on something you are passionate about it is food for the soul, and

2. Working for a good salary has a cap, a startup that I own doesn't.

Additionally, since I am doing my startup on the side and building it to be profitable, then I don't have to give up my salary that pays my bills until my startup exceeds it.


Well, imagine playing chess. You can become a good player and the game is lot of fun, you can become a great player and game is even more fun. Now, imagine inventing--yes, inventing, not playing--a game like chess. That's the mother of fun. That's what entrepreneurs are after. Few succeed and that's the allure.


Do all these points only apply to software then?

If startups are so great then what are the civil engineers, accountants, financial analysts, lawyers, botanists and other top-tier professions in the world doing with the idea? Surely they are bored and uninterested in their jobs too right. I'm sure that among the million employed in those professions, some might have budged and become interested in the idea right?

Does that happen?

And if it doesn't, then is everyone in a profession other than software just that? Boring, lackluster and exhausted, slaves to 'the man'?

Or are we, the 'computer guys', so self-centered in our approach to believe that everything a workplace offers us is boring in lieu of our own pursuits. Are the workplaces genuinely boring, or have we just gotten used to path of least tolerance?

When we talk about the social security dilemma, super inflated housing rates and no health benefits, here's something to chew on:

I'm guessing at least some may have realized that I am not speaking with the perspective of an American. I was born and raised in Bombay, India.

Now this is where it's interesting. Messed up real-estate rates, bad workplace benefits, long hours and the like have been the accepted norm here for quite a while now - almost longer than my parents time.

I'd like to make apparent that neither I nor my parents grew up with the expectations that our employer would provide for health and dental, that housing would be affordable(especially in one of the most expensive cities on the planet) and that 40 years down the line if we still weren't able to be a productive employee the company would still muster up the decency to keep us employed.

If any of that happened, it was a bonus. We live amongst unimaginable competition where getting a job is not a given; it's a privilege that you earn. And creating a job i.e. entrepreneurship - good luck.

We live in those conditions. We thrive in those conditions.

Conditions that I'm sure many other parts of the world have mirrored. The same conditions that have just recently hit the shores of America, after a century of undisputed security.

My parents took the safe approach and they succeed. Even with the inflated housing and no health benefits and all that. I'm sure numerous other people from around the world had similar parents: ones who learned to save effectively, be frugal when required, and not bite off more than they could chew.


"If startups are so great then what are the civil engineers, accountants, financial analysts, lawyers, botanists and other top-tier professions in the world doing with the idea? Surely they are bored and uninterested in their jobs too right. I'm sure that among the million employed in those professions, some might have budged and become interested in the idea right?"

That is far from true. Civil engineers set out on their own and form small partnerships and own a niche. I am related to two civil engineers, one specials in airport runways and the other in environmental remediation. They travel all over and make a bunch of money. They both have PhDs and do novel stuff. Their work is probably more variable than the various RoR startups being founded now, and takes a whole lot more capital to start. Some people wouldn't call them startups in the snotty valley sense of the word, but they are equivalent to your average bootstrapped software startup.

Accountants, lawyers, architects, and doctors are always stepping out to be their own boss. That is one of the allures of those professions. (I know nothing of botanists). More of them work in solo offices or partnerships than for big companies.

A lot of them require just as much capital as a startup, if not more. They all need offices. They need paralegals or medical equipment or CAD software or nurses. They all advertise for customers. They are fraught with risk too. But scores of people do it, because it does have its rewards.


If startups are so great then what are the civil engineers, accountants, financial analysts, lawyers, botanists and other top-tier professions in the world doing with the idea?

Those are pretty bad examples to prove your point. I don't know any civil engineers, but lawyers, financial analysts and accountants are always going off to do their own thing.


"Remember what a startup is, economically: a way of saying, I want to work faster. Instead of accumulating money slowly by being paid a regular wage for fifty years, I want to get it over with as soon as possible. "

http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html


I never agreed with that statement. It makes it seem like startups are a way to get rich quick -- and more often than not, they aren't.


Exactly, the "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" video is a great rebuttal of this idea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc


For me, because I already know how to get a job and do it. I've grown personally and in my skill set than I did working at the research lab I was working at. And while startup world is one of the many places with a collection of smart and ambitious people, I found that I like them better.


It seems reading the comments here that entrepreneurs are the only group that make society get better. Was Einstein an entrepreneur? Probably the future will be shaped by people with a lot of knowledge and intelligence that are hard working, but probably they are not entrepreneurs.


have you heard of Mazlow's Heirachy? [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslows_hierarchy_of_needs]

You don't get the top need fulfilled by being obedient ...


A lot of the hype comes from uncertainty and lack of real confidence in the whole idea.

If entrepreneurship had a predictable recipe to follow and we didn't have to give it a second thought, we wouldn't spend so much time on the matter.


I think it's analogous to property rental vs. ownership. If you don't want to deal with all the hassle and risk of owning or if you don't have the capital to get started, rent. Spoken as a homeowning employee.


Because when your dead your dead. I will know that I created something greater than myself or died trying. Some might retort "what about happiness?" Driving my Porsche makes me pretty freaking happy!


That was the 60s, this is the 10s. The long-term, stable employment with increasing wages that your parents enjoyed is no longer the same. But yes, the hype is exaggerated as well.


    Why the hype?
Economic mobility != http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_mobility


What's the big deal with startups anyways... in the words of homer simpson: "this is our ticket out of this hell hole." :-)


I thought it was funny you said "We now own three houses and close to a millions-worth".

Your parents worked for and own the houses, not you.


My parents assets are merged with my own. It's 'family' assets if you understand what I mean. Where I come from, we don't talk about money in the family. And I don't plan to work any less harder and earn any less than them over my life time either.


Fair enough.

I guess it really depends on what you get out of your job. For me, I can't feel productive if I'm not working on a business project.


I'd rather be making $65k working for myself, on my own terms, than 90k as a .NET developer. I think.


I don't think 9 out of 10 are doomed. I mean, yes may be 9 out of 10 startups fail but the founders do not. They add so much to their skills that they are easily hired by good companies (or may be successful startups) for good work. For founders I believe it is a win-win situation !!!


There is always going to be hype around high variance career paths, because so little is understood about was factors are causal for success.

In low variance career paths, things are pretty straightforward so there is little blog about.


Why the hype?

For me: it's not the hype, it's the hope. I have serious doubts that there will be much left of the middle class in a few years. We're seeing salaried jobs disappear, replaced by contract gigs that can be terminated at any moment without prejudice (and therefore with no need for severance pkgs), and that come with no benefits. As you age it's going to be much more difficult to get health insurance (even if you're rich, actually).

That leaves you needing to completely fend for yourself. You get rich or you may well be in sheer poverty.

That's my reasoning.

9 in 10 of us are doomed

I don't know that the odds are that bad, but even if they were, I'd say that there are equal odds of being impoverished before I'm 60 -- someone in my family will get sick, or the economy will tumble even harder, and I'll lose everything I have. I have no choice but to try and fight that.


We live in a world thats becoming more self-centric every day. We are told everyone is special and everyone can achieve. Just to be clear, I agree half-way with your points of view. Not everyone can be an achiever, not every startup is a good one. The fact is - a 90k job doesn't cover all of our costs anymore. The price of housing has tripled over the last 40 years but salaries have gone done on average (inflation adjusted). We have a great unbalance in our system - yes its flawed.

Each and every day you're becoming less significant. Literally. As world population increase, an individuals worth, his identity, his very core will become less and less visible. We stride to stand out, to achieve - to be visible, appreciated, spoken of. Entrepreneurship is a channel through which we can break out of our shell. As for the models, gaining muscle and eating better... what's wrong with eating better?


Because we are the people pushing the bubble to the point of busting. Entrepreneurs with all their faults are a necessary evil, if you consider us such.

We chart the newest frontiers.Taking risks with our lives, our finances and our futures in the vain hope we will make the world an ever-so-slightly better place in which to live.

Yes most of us fail, but does that mean we don't deserve our own spotlight, voice or recognition for - at the very least - trying?


Nit pick: we don't really take risks with our lives.

Guys doing construction, fishing, oil drilling, mining, they are taking risks with their lives.

What is the worst possible outcome from a startup? Bankruptcy? Gaining some weight and not sleeping enough?

What is the worst thing that can happen? It isn't climbing a mountain or sailing across the ocean. It doesn't help to inflate the "startup" bravado by claiming it is harder than it is. The fears your average startup has (oh no, we're out of money, our business if failing, and we're going bankrupt!) is felt by a lot of small business owners, not just cutting edge startups.


Actually it can mean that you alienate your friends and family, harm your health, fail to provide for yourself in retirement, miss out on other opportunities and miss out on a life in general.

These are pretty big sacrifices.


Your parents are lucky: Apparently they have been able to continue for decades in salaried jobs. Here is a bold, blunt fact of life for salaried jobs in the US economy: Only a small fraction of such jobs can last for the 45 or so years of a working career.

Then, here's another problem: A marriage with a working wife is not a very stable situation: Apparently about 1/3rd of marriages end in divorce. So, with the 2/3rds, the situation is already bad. But there is more that is worse: It is politically incorrect to note that a large fraction of women really are house mice and find anything in work outside a home surrounded with a white picket fence too stressful. So, they need to be in a one income marriage (maybe do some volunteer work to save the world, whales, poor people in Africa, or some such), not a two income marriage. Next, for a large fraction of women successful in the world of work, they conclude that they no longer need a man to take care of them and leave. That your parents have two incomes and stayed married is also unusual.

Then there is another fact: Quite broadly in the US economy, and nearly without exception for technical positions, the subordinate needs to be younger than the supervisor. So, by age 45 or so, a large fraction of people have to be CEO or be unemployable.

So, net, for a stable career, need to be a CEO. Exceptions? Sure, MD, LLB, tenure in academics, and a few more. DDS? Typically they do own their own business. MD? Commonly they own their own business or are a partner in a partnership that owns a clinic. Academic tenure? They don't have to have their salary keep up with inflation.

Put more simply, the main path to financial security in the US economy is for someone to own their own business. Mostly those are Main Street businesses; these businesses typically have a great advantage, a geographical barrier to entry which means if do well against competition in a radius of 100 miles then can do quite well. Commonly another advantage is not just a few, niche customers but many customers drawn from quite broadly in the community so that, in economic ups and downs, if the community is not devastated, then the business still can continue. In bad times, sure, roughly, first-cut, get less revenue but also pay less for supplies including labor and need less money for yourself. Also, with many customers, usually one unhappy customer does not seriously hurt the business. For owning your own business, technology might help; still, it is next to crucial to OWN your own business.

If get started owning your own business early in life, then that's an advantage. If then can also use technology to become independently wealthy, even better. Whatever, it's from important up to essential to own your own business.

Is this situation new? Actually, yes: Big businesses mostly don't have good geographical barriers to entry and, thus, in the US, growing over the past 40 years or so, have faced devastating competition from globalization. So, maybe someone had a good career with GE before GE discovered that competitive products from Japan were selling in US retail for less than the cost of production at GE. Similarly for autos, steel, really most of old manufacturing, and more.

So, due to such global competition, we get some curious situations: A Ph.D. in electronic engineering is essentially for a career with global competition while a licensed electrician in Poughkeepsie has no such competition. So, a Ph.D. in electronic engineering can wish they could swap their Ph.D. for an electrician's license.


"It is politically incorrect to note that a large fraction of women really are house mice and find anything in work outside a home surrounded with a white picket fence too stressful."

Well, it's certainly politically incorrect to note that, but is it true? [citation needed]. It's been very much contrary to my observations.

"Quite broadly in the US economy, and nearly without exception for technical positions, the subordinate needs to be younger than the supervisor."

I know literally dozens of exceptions. Hell, Larry and Sergey are only in their late 30s, quite a few people who work for them are older than that.


On your first question, you have some examples, and I have some examples, and some rock solid data and even science would be great, but I have none to give you.

For your first question, I have some horrendous examples, head splitting, back breaking, life threatening, totally overwhelming and convincing.

As I was growing up, next door neighbor: Get married, have one child, gain 100 pounds, and watch TV for the rest of her life, only a house mouse.

Wife of a friend of a business associate of mine: Man had a good business as a designer of process plants and traveled a lot. His wife fell in love with Jack Daniels, and whenever he got home she was passed out on the floor surrounded by empties, only a house mouse.

Mother of cousin of a girlfriend of mine: Get married, have one child and retire to her bedroom with several large dogs, only a house mouse.

Mother of another girlfriend of mine: Have one more child, an accident, retire to a back room with beer and cigarettes for the rest of her life, only a house mouse.

Mother of a girlfriend of my brother: Have one child and spend rest of her life working in her garden and getting a suntan, happy only as a house mouse.

Pure form and worst example, mother and three daughters I knew: Hate men, marriage, motherhood, and money, be fantastic actresses and manipulators, be from excellent up to world-class brilliant at academics, get married, have minimum number of babies husband would tolerate, be just terrified to the point of clinical depression and worse from stress of social phobia in any job that paid above minimum wage, be desperate to devote life to saving the world but never do much in this direction, feel stronger from having affairs, compete with husband and try to win by sabotaging his efforts, and dump husband at first financial opportunity, for each of the four of them, only a house mouse.

One women in the neighborhood: Hated everything, husband, children, home, work, car, waistline, etc. except efforts at social climbing, only a house mouse.

Hollywood gets it and commonly portrays women as so emotionally wacko that they are from helpless down to self-destructive at anything but being a house mouse. E.g., recently on TCM, the 1953 movie Mogambo showed at least one of the two main women characters (I didn't watch the whole thing) helpless and even destructive outside of a house.

For advising young men, I wouldn't tell them that all women can be just house mice or that the average woman mostly wanted to be just a house mouse. I would say that among women there is shockingly large range on several important criteria for a happy, productive life, and that a shockingly large fraction of women are happy only as house mice. Also I can say that there is a significant pattern of young women looking really stable and capable from 16-20 but going to helpless mice starting at about 22. In particular, Nervous Nellie is nearly a redundancy. For the single most important cause of that range I would repeat some words from an expert on women, "Of COURSE women are MUCH more emotional than men. That is the cause of all the problems [between men and women].".

I would advise young men looking for a wife: Under no circumstances take what a young women says at face value: She is likely a magnificent actress and manipulator and may be lying or may actually not know in any serious sense what she wants, may aspire not to be a house mouse but not be able to do anything else, or may too soon change so that she is only a house mouse.

I would also warn young men: Eventually you may conclude that Mother Nature and Darwin were there long before you were and that, net, what counts with them is a woman's position on the tree and for that what counts is her success having babies as a house mouse and that all other women are likely weak, sick, or dead limbs on the tree.

Yes, in K-12 and college, commonly in everything except technical subjects, the girls easily knock the socks off the boys and, thus, show high ability: Still don't be fooled because Mother Nature has a trump card up her sleeve -- emotions which starting at about 16 and rising to overwhelming intensity block all ability except at being a house mouse. Some women are still able to apply their abilities; many are not, and for that Mother Nature and Darwin just smile but their husbands, unless moderately wealthy, will not.

There is some old wisdom on these points, and women themselves have changed not at all since then: One of the points was, "A woman's place is in the home.". Another was, "Idle hands do devil's work." which warns men to keep their wives BUSY. A traditional marriage vow was that she would "obey": So, men, considering what you know about you and her, map out, in your own mind, what you want her to do by the week, quarter, year, and the rest of her life, break the work down into small steps, suggest such steps at appropriate times, have the steps keep her BUSY, and shower her with praise and approval (emotional security) when she does well. For a more modern view, there is the remark by Dr. Carol Nadelson (yes, likely NOT a house mouse) that "Traditional marriage is about off-spring, security, and caretaking" from the preface of:

Maggie Scarf, Intimate Partners: Patterns in Love and Marriage, Random House, New York, ISBN 0-394-5585-X, 1987.

Next, there was a reason I Love Lucy was so funny, around the world: Lucy is too much like too many women.

Curiously, there is support in the chick flicks in the series Legally Blond: So, in the first movie, she got a new boyfriend and promptly got him fired from a promising position in a high end Boston law firm. In the second movie, he had started his own law firm in Boston, and she went all a-flutter at her job, quit, went to DC to save the world, and dragged him down there and stopped his career a second time. The woman outside a house was a one-person, walking financial disaster area. She wasn't a mouse but she was safe from her own nonsense only in a house.

From the same actress, in Sweet Home Alabama, she wrecks her marriage to actually quite a good guy, runs off to NY and is financially successful only in a way that can work in a chick flick fantasy, gets a limp wristed boyfriend, goes back to Alabama for a day or so, wrecks everything, with her husband, her family, her friends, and also her planned marriage with her NY boyfriend, and finally decides to return to her husband as a house mouse.

My core advice to young men: Mother Nature and Darwin want her to be a MOMMY. Being a MOMMY plus anything else is at best as good as being a MOMMY (Mother Nature and Darwin have not yet caught on that if she will have even a $20 an hour job for a few years that will help buy a house and help her be a mommy).

For being a MOMMY, Mother Nature and Darwin have some chemicals, STRONG chemicals: Some of the chemicals apply to make her a mommy if she is not; e.g., she will create disasters to create dependency to lead to pregnancy and/or get terribly unhappy and have romantic dreams, as in the Kindle ads, of a man having her "fly away" with him. Or she will be like the woman in Titanic, whose big problem was really just silly and an excuse, be so eager to get pregnant she would hook up with a third class passenger and ditch her marriage to a wealthy guy. And there are chemicals to keep her happy in a house if she is a mommy (with children under 4).

Don't try to compete with those chemicals. Instead, get her pregnant and keep her that way until she has about eight of her own children and, finally, has her whole life totally devoted to just her children and her home. If you can't afford that yet, then wait, be successful in business, and try again. Under no circumstances expect anything stable, effective, or predictable with a wife not solidly on the mommy track, "It's not nice to try to fool Mother Nature.".

There are some traditional, partial exceptions: Basically, have her right there beside her husband 24 x 7, say, as a farm housewife, customer service leader in a family business, office manager for a dentist, etc.

For your second question, and your exception of Page and Brin, a founder, on the Board, with a LOT of stock is easily able to be an exception: Due to their position of power, they can without threat or concern hire nearly anyone. But I would expect that in the middle and lower ranks of Google, my rule still applies or mostly so. At at least one major technology company, the personnel policy is up into management or out by age 35; a side effect is essentially just the rule I gave. In the officer corps of the US military, the rule is keep getting promoted or leave, and this rule makes my rule hold.

For a young person considering their career, they better just accept my rule as a rock solid fact and not look for or count on exceptions.




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