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I worked at software startups in the Boston area from 1988 through 2013, so perhaps my comments are not relevant to this day and age. But what I read in that note sounded awfully familiar.

In the mid 90s, Microsoft was buying up talent left and right, in whatever area they wanted to go into. My field is databases, and I developed expertise in the integration of query languages with programming languages. I got an obscenely lucrative offer from Microsoft, and decided to turn it down. It was a dumb decision, financially, but actually worked out fine on that front. However, I'm sure that Microsoft enticed many promising software developers to work for them instead of startups. (A few names do come to mind.)

This problem was completely solvable then, and the same technique would work now. The problem is that VCs don't want to solve it. They want software developers cheap. They give miniscule amounts of equity, and bias the terms so that those tiny stock option grants almost never pay off very well, (e.g. liquidation preferences). Except, perhaps, for the chief architect, and one or two very senior developers, we are viewed as disposable, interchangeable cogs.

There are great reasons to work for a startup, other than equity. I am very happy with my 25 years doing just that. But equity is definitely a factor. Contrary to what they would have you believe, VCs are extremely risk-averse, certainly compared to the developers who are sacrificing the best years of their lives for their companies and the chance of a financial win.




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