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Nobody Cares (2011) (a16z.com)
120 points by prostoalex 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

I think Ben's advice is really targeting founders and CEOs in order to get them to think in a certain way. Whether or not anybody cares isn't the point. The point is that the person best placed to save a company in trouble should focus on getting the company out of trouble, rather than replaying the reasons why the company is struggling in order to justify its current nadir. They should be thinking about solutions rather than justifications.

So really, Ben is saying: find a path to the future that you want, and stop making such a big deal about the past. That's what your investors and employees care about to: where you're going. Seize your own agency.

This falls under what I call "just" philosophies. They are quick summations ("A is just B") that can radically misrepresent the facts on the ground, and easily leave their adherents desperate for tools to solve a problem that they previously defined away with a hand wave.

In reality, it is the case that people often care deeply. Many of those hired by or paying for a business are in fact excited to be able to help write its story. Many aren't though, sure. Maybe they're just in it for superficial competitions or comparisons. But you'll never know who's who if you don't start an active dialogue and analysis process.

What's super helpful as an outcome of work in this area is to understand who cares about what, which incidentally helps you create a model for getting them to care more about what you care about.

If nobody really cares, we're all screwed. But that particular thought model only works on that darwinian level, the one that sadly operates as the kind of unspoken shadow of many who work in tech today. We get together and bash ideas together and somehow when our feelings come to a head we reach for a "just" philosophy.

People do care though, and that means we each need to find a way to work in that caring world and explore it just as well as the uncaring one.

Consider each one of these as important truths: 1) Nobody cares, 2) Some people care, and 3) All people care.

I’m not in agreement with you.

The original poster is saying that as founder, no one cares to the level you do, no one else has as much at stake, others care but to a point.

The original posts point is that as founder it’s really up to you and no one else.

If this fails, as founder you lose all the things you risked, possibly everything you have. No one else is likely to have as much at risk as you. This means you care in a way and to a depth no one else does.

Of course others care, of course your grandma cares, of course your momma cares, of course head of marketing cares and of course the investor cares, but none of these people have everything on the line.

Everyone else except you can walk away. No one else is going to relentlessly hit this problem till it’s solves except you.

That’s the point.

In my opinion, you're fundamentally mis-interpreting the original post. The author is NOT saying that you as a founder care more about your success than, say, your stakeholders. If you fail, they care, and a lot, because you made them lose money.

What the post is saying is that they don't care about you having a story about WHY you failed. Nobody else cares about that.

To stay in the metaphor, if you lose a game and your story is "well we have a lot of injuries", the only thing other people will hear is "yep, here's someone who's trying to find an excuse for why he failed".

They don't care you have a nice little theory about why you lost. They want you to win. So focus on finding a way to win, not to explain your loss.

Whether that's wise advice I don't know. I feel that knowing why you failed is important per se, even if other people don't care.

I agree it’s important to know individually why you failed, this goes along with self awareness which is critical in all facets of life.

That said, after working with a lot of people in problem solving careers you’ll tend to see that the excuse vs adjustment response is not purely situational; different personalities will tend to one or the other. There’s sometimes a thin line between honest analysis of failure and reflexive ego protection. Whether founder or not you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that line.

This is only true where the founder has the most risk relative to the rest, but I'd say that's often not so. Founders can have a career stream to fall back to, additional capital, Etc. Some people could risk being on the street if they lose their job.

There are also numerous ways the founder can walk away

It's very relative.

Isn’t the lack of equitable outcome a major driver in this? Of course head of marketing will not care as much - they will not be compensated as much if they solve your business problem’. Both in status and money.

As a counter example - we can look at organizations which have goals that are not only monetary in nature - spacex, nasa in the 50s, the red cross - organizations where there are plenty of people that care about the goal alongside the founders to a great extend. Plenty of people there outside of leadership also care a lot. A startup that picks a worthy goal like that can in fact attract those types and do so regularly. People do care.

>> but none of these people have everything on the line.

What everything exactly? I don’t know a single CEO who isn’t paid at least a good average wage of a high-level exec in a startup.

On top of that, they have 0 liability if anything goes south.

And then the golden chutes.

Founder != CEO

Individual founders that are most likely to be a current or past employees, and not someone that has climbed into the C-suite.

There is no golden parachute for a new private company. If it fails, the founder will likely have to go back to regular employment (much more difficult if he exited stable employment to work full time on his project). Whatever money is used up (usually personal) is lost forever and any plans of retirement must be pushed back.

> If this fails, as founder you lose all the things you risked, possibly everything you have. No one else is likely to have as much at risk as you.

> Everyone else except you can walk away.

Tell that to Adam Neumann.

I agree that the post is simplistic. A charitable interpretation might be that it's a naive version of the approach advocated by some existential philosophers where you consider that everything that happens to you is "your fault", so you're constantly figuring out ways to make your situation better rather than just giving up, or thinking of ways in which you could have made a situation in the past better so the next time it happens you make a better fist of it. The difficulty is not to think any less of yourself if you fail despite continuing to try. I think the thing that's lacking in this post is that clearly people do care, and if you recognise that you can ask for their help. Even if you approach things as if everything is "your fault", doesn't mean that you can't collaborate with other people to improve your situation.

"Just" is one of the most dangerous words in the English language. I used to work with a guy who used that all the damn time. "It's just X" he'd say.

He was never right. Things are never just that simple

Yeah, some of these VC blogs are terrible. At least Stratechery tries to provide some actual quantitative analysis. A16Z looks like so much blog spam. Disappointing.

Disagree. You may listen to all this advice and follow through with engaging with your people productively only to find you’ve used up your budget or runway and have to lay them off. As you move up the ladder, reasons matter less and less. But outcome always does.

A nice side effect of thinking that nobody cares is that you don't feel guilty about taking most of the rewards when you come through with success at the far end. After all, nobody else cared enough.

Reminds me of a famous prayer... I think it's basically the same idea.

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

I am not religious whatsoever, but I do like this passage from the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament:

  I have seen something else under the sun:
  The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
  nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
  but time and chance happen to them all.

Famously commented on by Damon Runyan:

> The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

But dressing up obvious statistical anomalies in fancy wording does seem to convince the careless reader that that it is indeed some very deep and meaningful thought.

Too many wisdoms come down to this simple formula, but without ever drawing any real conclusion, or adding any real phylosophical value to what is, to the scientific mind a no-brainer.

> There's nothing "fancy" about the wording in Ecclesiastes. It's plain and simple language that anyone can understand. (Many Bible translations use somewhat formal or old fashioned English, but that's an artifact of the translation.)

It's worth noting that Ecclesiastes (or Qohelet or Qoheleth in the original Hebrew) was written well over 2000 years ago, by an anonymous author or set of authors (probably scribes?). Their understanding of statistics, science, math, etc., would have been pretty minimal.

It is indeed quite amazing that the basic message holds up so well over the centuries. Once you start looking, a lot of other disparate sources of wisdom line up with it pretty well. Taoism and Buddhism surely. Kansas' "Dust in the Wind"? Paul Simon's "Slip Sliding Away"? Ecclesiastes, too, whether inspired directly or not.

Also quite amazing that this rather pessimistic/nihilistic/quietist message made it into the Bible.

If you want to read a modern (though imperfect) paraphrase, highly recommend this one by Adam S. Miller as a start:


Ecclesiastes is poetry. The point is that there's a lot of chance involved in one's fortunes in life, not that a fast person will win a race randomly.

You're being a little hard on the Bible.
Psyladine 8 days ago [flagged]

I bet you were always angry the hare didn't win when he is clearly much faster than the turtle.

Could you please stop posting unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN? You've been doing it a lot, and we ban accounts that do that. We have to, because we're trying for something different here—curious conversation—which those things either choke out or destroy.


Denigrating aphorisms that have survived both millenia & civilizations 'obvious statistical anomalies in fancy wording' is to my eyes as baiting a comment as you could write...maybe I am out of tone with this community then.

HN would do far better to ban viral spreading behaviors than to ban the fever, as snark is reactively to smarm.


Just a friendly reminder that verbatim blocks are not well-suited for block quoting.

Er, are there any alternatives on HN?

Most people italicize quotes here.

Yes but no at the same time. It is much more likely to become wealthy if you are brilliant than not (assuming the starting point is the same) and that is precisely why acquiring skills increases your odds of success, and while on an individual level luck plays a big role on aggregate we can see that trends emerge very clearly.

>increases your odds of success,

Exactly. Odds.

Both Fortune and misfortune can happen in the middle. This doesn't mean to stop practicing/learning/improving, it's just life. Be aware of these things, and look for opportunities. Also, remenber that because of this, some very skillful person might be underperforming just because of a bad day, be nice to them.

I heard somewhere, don’t remember where, but the easiest route to wealth, I heard, was simply to be born with it.

What exactly is a body suppose to do with this revelatory revelation?

Wallow, maybe? Is wallowing being suggested here? Maybe with a side of anger at the unjustness of it all?

If only somebody would pay me a living wage for my great wallowing ability...

> What exactly is a body suppose to do with this revelatory revelation? Wallow, maybe? Is wallowing being suggested here? Maybe with a side of anger at the unjustness of it all?

There's plenty that can be done to equalize advantages based on inherited wealth. A wealth tax would be simple, an estate tax is another. I don't think anyone would agree that "wallowing" would help.

Notice that it is basically impossible to extract a significant amount of additional wealth from the 0.1%. It is both well-defended (politically and legally) and tied up in complicated structures that are difficult to liquidate by force. Notice also that the middle class have no such protections.

I'm assuming by wealth tax you mean some sort of magical system where Zuckerberg is forced to pay off your student loans. However what will actually happen is the wholesale liquidation of the middle class to fill the twin bottomless pits of medicare and social security, while the billionares skip the country and/or hide behind arcane tax rules, and the Valley they leave behind gets turned into a jobs program for the homeless.

The other fundamental problem with giving a big additional slice of the national wealth to the poor is that they will spend it on consumer services (not goods, which are cheap), for which they have great pent-up demand. And then it'll be gone. At which point you no longer have a middle class to extract from.

> it is basically impossible to extract a significant amount of additional wealth from the 0.1%.

I'm not sure I buy this. If the IRS can measure income, they can also measure wealth. Sure rich folks will try to hide wealth, but they've also tried to hide income and the IRS when well funded is decently competent at finding it.

> The other fundamental problem with giving a big additional slice of the national wealth to the poor is that they will spend it on consumer services

That's no what anyone is advocating. They are advocating basic healthcare and education, not exactly consumer services.

> At which point you no longer have a middle class to extract from.

Even super leftist democrats are not advocating taxing the middle class. They are focusing on the super rich. The somewhat nice thing about this type of taxation is that even though it'll effect the absolute money you have, it won't affect your wealth rank. Sure, maybe Bezos' or Gates' net worth will go down, but they will still be the richest in the US. Your low-millionaire friends may be slightly less rich, but they will still be just as rich rank-wise as they were before.

Folks generally get less upset about taxes if it keeps their existing rank and standing in society

On a tangent on giving medical subsidy to the poor: this likely gets lumped into Medicare, yes? And Medicare is close to insolvency. The only way to prop it up is, of ocurse, taxpayer dollars.

The difference between goods and services is in the elasticity of supply. Double the demand for iphones? Apple will have it sorted in six months. Double demand for doctors? First be prepared for expensive doctors for the next ten years. Those doctors will get paid more, but there are only eight hours in a workday, so they treat the same number of patients. New doctors take a long time to train and have to contend with predicting economic conditions several years into the future. Net result: transfer of wealth from tax payers to doctors, little economic gain, worse average doctoring experience.

Tax payers including those with expertise in setting up production of goods. Who could have used the marginal money to set up new businesses and produce physical stuff. Opportunity cost is high, as always.

Everybody is focused on the superrich, it's a convenient target. But how many Zuckerbergean fortunes does it take to balance the books on medicare? What's to stop him from migrating to the EU if it saves a few billion dollars?

The real extractable money is in the middle class, whose wealth passes through government-controlled bank accounts. Of course, when the time comes the lefties will be all "well actually anyone making above 80k is superrich - have you seen the homeless lately? CYP!"

>They are advocating basic healthcare and education, not exactly consumer services.

You could either give them the money directly, in which case it'll go to consumer services. Or you can subsidize their healthcare, in which case they will use the money they save on consumer services. The difference is that the government has a long track record of inefficiency and waste when it comes to subsidies.

> Everybody is focused on the superrich, it's a convenient target.

It's a convenient target because the super-rich have never had as much wealth and power in the entire history of the U.S. as they do now. Inequality is worse now than it has ever been.

Consider an extreme hypothetical, where one person in a country has all the wealth, and everyone else has zero. That obviously cannot sustain a functional democracy. Now consider the other extreme, where everyone is mandated to have exactly the same amount as everyone else. Both are distpoian, but we are far closer to the former than the latter.

Have you done the math, though? Consider the not so extreme nonhypothetical of how many Zuks it would take to make Medicare/Social Security solvent.

The only way to make an amount of extra taxmonies actually worth getting up for is to tax the middle class. Alas, economics is not a zero-sum game, some people have invest their wealth to actually produce stuff to make it all work, and this mostly comes from the wealth of the middle class.

> Have you done the math, though?

I haven't but others have (e.g. Warren). A 2% wealth tax on assets over $50M will generate $3.75T over 10 years. Even if the actual number is half of that, it's still plenty to pay for many progressive programs.

Source: https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/ultra-millionaire-tax

The total number of billionaires in the US will drop to zero a week before this is passed into law (or maybe one or two, the remaining being people who have decided that ultra-virtue-signalling-slash-conspicuous-consumption is worth 6%/yr and who have nevertheless squirreled away most of their wealth into various nonprofits and the like), and the number of people with assets over $100m will dropped to maybe 5%. Unless they plan to retroactively tax people fleeing before the law passes, I doubt it will generate one-twentieth that amount. A person with asset of $100m will be paying $1m/year under that system. Uprooting yourself from the US is painful, but $1m/year soothes a whole lot of pain. Even more so for billionaires.

If it does become law, though, I fully expect that $50m ceiling to come down year by year as the economic situation worsens until sub-$1m. Or maybe they keep it the same and hyperinflation will meet it on the way up for the same net result.

I mean, how could that possibly not be true?

The easiest way to obtain an apple is to have one materialize in your hand.

LOL. I literally just gave a talk last night to a group of church friends about being a tech worker, going to bootcamp vs cs degree, work in startups vs FAANG, and long term career as a tech worker.

I put this verse in the end of the talk.

Could add "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.", and on and on.

I won't quote at length, but after decades in tech, I feel like much of this book speaks directly to us.

This story is also covered in Hard Thing About Hard Things, chapter 4.

I wonder if it’s always the case where founding a company seems like a mess. How many founders find themselves in the situation where they need to find that one impossible solution that’ll get them out of the mess. Is it always like this?

> How many founders find themselves in the situation where they need to find that one impossible solution that’ll get them out of the mess. Is it always like this?

I did found a company, and I feel like the daily job description was "get me out of this impossible mess". Every day it's something different, and very likely something that you've never experienced before. Often, the reasonable answer is that overcoming the issue is impossible, and shutting down is the right course of action. Many startups fail this way, and it's not because they aren't clever enough, just that there really is an impossible obstacle.

However, the ones that succeed generally find ways of getting around one obstacle after the next. Maybe they're super clever, maybe it's dumb luck, most of the time, it's impossible to know. However, having the mentality of taking a setback as a challenge can definitely help.

Small personal anecdote about this: when I first started my company, I relied heavily on getting Google traffic. Using best practices SEO, it kept building. But one day, Google traffic tanked around 10X. In literally 24 hours, I thought that would spell the end of my company.

But then I thought, it's ridiculous that I'm relying on Google (a third-party company that I have no control over) to send me potential customers. I should be more proactive and find them myself any way I can. I built email marketing campaigns, spent days on the phone, went to conferences, advertised... literally anything I could think of.

The google traffic tank hurt badly, but I eventually got over it. And as a result, I now have a far more robust company. Google traffic is now a nice plus for leads, but by no means necessary to keep the company growing.

The trick is to mentally transform "wholly crap, this is the end" to "okay, how do we get over this".

Right, excuses carry no weight. Got it. Agreed! But fuck football coaches and sports analogies for business. Sports is a zero-sum game. Business sometimes is,sometimes isn’t. Depends on agility, creativity, and the market you’re in. If your boss quotes football coaches just quit on the spot (unless of course you are in sales).

Sports aren’t zero-sum. When two teams play each other, they’re both enriched whether they win or lose. They both get practice, they both make money.

If it’s zero-sum, how can a team with a losing record continue to operate indefinitely?

I think this depends if you view a game or league purely as a compition (per definition if one team wins, another one has to lose), or as a "brand": very exciting games can increase the popularity of a league/sport, increasing revenue/attention even for the losing team.

I think most sports fans only look at the first part.

How can you have fans in a zero-sum game?

Teams A and B play each other, and everything gained by A is lost by B and vice versa. A zero-sum game. But somehow we have a fan X. But why are they interested? It seems like some extra value is created by the interaction of A and B (entertainment). This means it’s not a zero-sum game.

It’s not some games that increase the popularity of a sport. It’s all games. A lot more people show up to a stadium on game day than an off day.

Not to mention dysfunctional teams do not shut down at some performance threshold, there are no referees (or there are many), and I don't know about you, but I don't shower with my coworkers.

Er, go team?

Sport is a zero-sum game only if you ignore all the things that sport is about.

Example from this weekend - Shaqueem and Shaquill Griffin sack Aaron Rodgers in the final minutes of a game that ended the Seahawks season with a loss: https://twitter.com/ucf_problems/status/1216547670233358337?...

That was Shaqueem’s first NFL sack. That’s his second season with the Seahawks.

I suspect your example is only meaningful to people who already share your view. Knowing nothing about the NFL I barely know what you're talking about here and have no idea what point it's supposed to be making.

Basically: A player on the losing team made a good play.

I don't think it's a particularly good example; despite the fact that his team lost, that play significantly improved his team's chance for a win. If he doesn't make that play, then players on the other team would have better numbers.

Yes that. But basically not that at all, unless you ignore all the things that make those players who they are.

You're not really clarifying yourself here.

All competitive sports are zero-sum. For one team to win, the other has to lose. That's what "zero-sum" means.

Competitive sports are zero-sum only if you ignore all the things that competitive sports are about. Winners and losers are a side effect of the competition not the essence of it.

This is the third time you have reiterated your point without clarifying what any of "all the things" actually are, for us that don't seem to get it.

There are few conclusions to draw here other than that you either don't know, or don't want to share your insight.

You’ve mentioned things that are ignored three times. Could you say what those things are?

I’m not the person you’re responding to but I’ll give it a go.

The progress angle:

When two competitors clash they motivate each other to advance the state of human potential.

Today’s elite high school track athlete would have set world records decades ago.

The narrative angle:

When there is a clash of wills, narratives and stories emerge. When Michael Jordan had the flu and led a comeback in the NBA finals, he helped write a compelling story about fighting through adversity. Google “flu game”.

Sometimes it’s a little of both:

When Steph Curry overcame a series of chronic ankle injuries through a specialized regiment of training, he wrote a story into the culture about problem solving, and helped advance the state of sports medicine.

My example is only meaningful to people who know the story, or will research it as a result of that comment.

The view? They’ll form that themselves.

What's there to research? I'm familiar with football and familiar enough with the idea that new players made "winning" plays in the process of losing the game and ending their season. When you post three times and still have most respondents scratching their heads about your point, maybe it's your communication that's the problem.

What you don’t know can’t inspire you.

Applies to life too, but easier said than done.

> Applies to life too

That seems somehow wrong.

Part of deeply loving someone is really knowing them, and you can't really know someone if they don't share their deepest fears, frustrations, and angers with you.

And part of a life is, hopefully, deeply loving someone.

(Of course, the advice in the article still holds -- your investors and customers don't and shouldn't deeply love you.)

People who love you care, to a point. In the limit case if you abuse alcohol and can't get your act together, your line of credit with your loved ones will run out (with parents being the one exception)

People have definitely run out their line of credit with their parents.

> And part of a life is, hopefully, deeply loving someone.

Hopefully is the key word here. One may or may not find a partner in life that shares their aspirations. The only person you're guaranteed is yourself.

Same is true of your own personal life.

It’s up to you to try to make it better through adversity.

this isn't really about care but effective responsibility

“And one time, at Loudcloud”

Edit: enjoy - https://youtu.be/MH619vxtNdo

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