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Watch a VC use my name to sell a con (jwz.org)
2376 points by jwwest on Nov 29, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 292 comments

Humans are not designed to:

1) Stay long hours sitted, immobile. It ruins your health.

2) To provide a steady high quality output in creative disciplines (writing code qualifies) for more than a 4/5 hours a day (add to this the time to do breaks, install your updates, check news sites, fix the email client, and you'll reach the 7/8 hours per day figure).

It makes sense in a startup to work hard in crucial weeks, you can sustain that for a few days both from the point of view of your body and your productivity, but making this the rule is just plain silly.

Also, remember that a startup has a small percentage of probabilities of making you rich, so better for you to also enjoy life while working at a startup. Try hard in your working hours (but it is more a matter of doing the right things than the wrong things for a lot of hours), but enjoy life when it's 6 pm.

What's silly is that also VCs are likely to don't really get more return from you by overworking you, but there is nothing than humanity has seen more often than a silly boss that feels more comfortable if you are overworking yourself.

It seems to me that Arrington does not realise that managing coders is not the same as managing journos on a blog. Maybe writers can churn and churn while working miserable hours for years on end. It does not work that way in coding. One hour of coding without thinking carefully can have a large negative contribution to your company's ability to meet its goals, by way of causing bad architectural decisions, bugs, and/or downtime.

I highly doubt writers can work the same way. Anyone doing any type of creative work needs these types of breaks. Similarly, one article published without adequate editing/fact-checking can do wonders to destroy the credibility of a blog...

Similarly, one article published without adequate editing/fact-checking can do wonders to destroy the credibility of a blog...

Try reading an article on anything you are an expert in, from any newspaper.

To be fair, newspapers aren't written for experts. That doesn't excuse a lot of crap from newspapers, but they're writing for an audience that isn't necessarily well-versed in all the subjects, for better or worse.

The point isn't that they should pander to experts. The point is that they're wrong more often than they're right; seriously, factually, inarguably incorrect.

I don't think he's referring to the fact that newspapers aren't written for an expert audience. I think he's referring to their routine inaccuracies and errors. That's what I get from it, being a expert who's cringed at quite a few press articles.

The errors aren't acceptable, but the inaccuracies are almost always because reporters try to dumb down a concept so much, that the concept loses all nuance. It's basically if Simple English Wikipedia were the norm.

aka the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

I agree, but maybe this would explain why most TechCrunch articles are so bad.

From experience creative writing (IE Fiction, journal-columns (life blogging), reviews, even a lot of non-fiction) are hard to force. It takes a lot of breaks and 'spur of the moment' events to the point I use my iPhone for writing so when I get that urge it doesn't matter if I'm on lunch at my day job or waiting at a bus stop, or as often the case, on the toilet.

Newspaper journalism I believe can be forced. IMO it's like high school essay writing, you find your source and you just learn to churn. With some newspapers this can be so bad that you notice the 'filler' attempts where about 2/3 of the way through they go into "summary" mode and simply pad the ending of the article with the exact same info they had in the first 1/3.

By 'from experience' I mean I've worked as a reviewer, I've got my own personal blog (one of my pieces actually hit the front page of HN back in the 1Q of 2011 IIRC, and a few have popped up other places) and I'm now pushing through for a novel - I've had one short story published and a lot of editor comments (which is great, I've never received a form rejection letter, even from places that are notorious for them; my problem is that with a short story I see little point of struggling to edit it on the chance someone might say yes, when I might as well learn my mistake and write something else because there's always the chance a story will grab an editor and they'll say 'hell, I can fix the mistakes' - and having worked as a reviewer I trust editors to fix problems I don't know are problems)

Like the guy who posted the automated sports writer, it's not difficult to take the stats and say "Campbell scored a last minute goal winning the game" when campbell was the last person to score and it happened in the last minute of play. It's merely filtering data and rewriting a standard comment.

It's not far from news of a house fire: did the house burn down? yes/no; if no make 'devastating' comment. was people caught inside? yes/no; if yes did they survive? yes/no; if no make 'tragedy' comment; if yes did they escape? yes/no; if yes make 'valiant escape' comment / if no make 'heroic rescue' comment.

It's quite different when you have to write 200 words from a basic formula with 20 keywords, compared to writing 80,000 words from a basic formula with 20 keywords. Yes Star Wars and Harry Potter might have same basic principles (orphan, living with aunt and uncle, special powers, special connection to main antagonist). However, I'm never failed to be amused when someone says it's unoriginal or a rip off, but those same people will read article after article on their sports teams and not think it's ripped off when the articles a probably written by an intern in a coat closet switching words on a template. But simply Vader being or not being Luke's father would have made a major story diversion (IE Luke wouldn't have gone to Endor to confront his father, Vader wouldn't have turned good and killed the emperor, etc.)

I respect your opinion Antirez, but I hear so much speculation about work habits that I have to ask you: Is this your opinion / experience, or is it based on some specific research / study you can point to?

As a fellow developer I'd love this to be true, however a meme / fad started during my working career in rich cultures stating that hard work isn't rewarding or is unnecessary. I question this.

My father taught me to work hard, as his father taught him, etc, and this basically states that my father was being scammed. Doesn't every generation at some point rebel against the previous generation's beliefs? Could it be that the whole work less theme (apparently based on science?) is simply rebellion?

All I know is that I plan to teach my kids that working hard for something is itself a reward. That you can't appreciate anything you didn't work for, and the harder you work for it, the more you appreciate it. I also expect this will help them survive in a hyper competitive global workplace.

Maybe if we consider maintaining physical fitness to be part of our daily work, then I'd be on board with these thoughts. I.e. 4-5 hours at a desk being creative, and 3+ hours of some sort of physical exertion.

This is my opinion and is based solely on my experience after 15 years of being in the industry, including one successful startup built by me and a friend of mine with a decent "exit" sold to Telecom Italia, and a successful open source software (Redis). Additionally I used to work in different places in the past with many programmers, so what I say is also based on how the success of programmers I know first hand correlates with the amount of work they do.

I also follow two companies here in Sicily that I built in the past, one has six programmers.

So all the above is my "data source", that is not statistically significant.

I don't really think a programmer working 8 hours is going to be less successful of one working 12 hours per day: it is either good enough to be outstanding with the 8 hours, or will fail even with the 12 hours, since the productivity gained by experience, skills, understanding of the problem is the kind of 10x or 100x gain, while from 8 to 12 hours the difference is little (and, again, not sustainable for long time IMHO).

Startups are built by programmers, so I think the same applies to them as well, mostly.

In other words I could say that the output of a programmer correlates more strongly with the work it did to learn writing code, than the work it does writing actual code.

Another important thing is that having fun is not lost time if you want to build a startup. Recently startups are a lot more about providing an "experience" to the user, and enriching yourself in your free time can be very useful to provide something that people want.

I'm fully aware of who you are, and at least some of your successes (I've used Redis in several projects now, and love it).

For me it's an age thing. I put in some extremely long hours in my youth, and I think it paid off. I'm not putting in as many hours these days, but then again I feel like I'm quite a bit more productive with my time than I used to be.

I think it's the experience itself that's the differentiator, and not the fewer hours. In fact it's the experience that enables me to work fewer hours. When I was younger I really had to bang away trying many more approaches to solve a problem, and that meant longer hours.

Yes I share this experience with you: when I was 18 or 20 I worked a lot of hours, but this was pure fun as I was learning to write code. This is probably a very good investment: it completely does not weight on you since you are having true fun, and of course 20 years old can do things that are impressive :) At least for me that I'm now 35.

However my father is like your father in this regard: he thought me to work long hours, and he still does even if it is 63 now. But I've the feeling that the work it does that has more to do with people, with moving from one place to the other to fix problems, and things like that, is much more "long hours compatible". The solve fact it does not sit all the day is different... In short I think that programming is exceptionally bad: too static, too focused, too stressing, too timelines, ...

I think you're confusing "hard work" with "working with reckless abandon."

I find I am most consistently productive if I work 8 - 10 hours on the weekdays, and 3 - 5 hours on the weekends. I can sustain this for several months without burnout, despite the fact that I work every day. This is more than an average work-week, but it's also not the crazyness of deadline crunch-times. It leaves enough time for workouts and some socializing. Eventually, though I need a few months where I take at least one day off during the weekends.

I suspect two differences:

First, "working hard" and working the sort of insane, body-destroying hours that Arrington & co are advocating are two different things. It's good to work hard, be diligent, and get things done, but balance is essential. Arrington doesn't agree.

Second, Work for our parents and grandparents involved physical labor in some degree - ours does not. Our work takes a huge toll on the body for what seems so sedentary, and requires (I'd suspect) much more demanding mental processes, which are also extremely draining.

So yes, work hard - as did your father and his father - but don't kill yourself, and don't spend it all in what my doctor calls the Chicken position.

IMO "working hard" constitutes working an 8-hour day and not being a slack ass in your duties.

My day job is construction, mainly because I'm good at it. I find it every bit as stressful and mentally draining as when I've been doing sedentary work (I worked as a reviewer). The main difference is that the stress can often be used (when you have to nail in a certain position and it just happens there's a 1/8th inch steel plate on the stud, stress makes it a lot easier, and you're not stressed when the nail is driven).

I've said elsewhere here that we get highschool educated guys who can't read tape measures and who can't do basic trigonometry, and it's sad that we get guys in who've failed highschool, but you give them a pencil, a tape and a pair of tin snips and they can do trig, but they've failed math in highschool.

So given I am college educated, it is offensive (not that you personally offended me, I've received enough derogatory comments from doctors and the likes to realize that many peoples hundred-thousand dollar educations simply served to make them very stupid; that said a retired economics professor was happy as shit - he'd been writing newspaper articles for years about the shortages of 'unskilled' and 'semi-skilled' labour is crippling the economy) when people assume physical labour jobs require little mental ability.

My father taught me to work hard. He was a coder; he's taught me electrical, plumbing, concrete/floor laying, drywall, plastering, brick laying, roofing, welding, etc. He never taught me programming, because he didn't want me working for someone else my whole life (he's owned 4 businesses, all successful and profitable in his lifetime). He was happy as shit when I called to cancel my trip to see him next year, because I told him I'm looking to buy property to rent and start a property management company (I literally have all the skills necessary to turn a $90,000 piece of shit into $180,000 in the local market, meaning turning 1 $900 a month house rental into two $1200-1500 month unit rentals).

Yeah, I wasn't sure of how to approach the mental aspect - I didn't mean to say construction or other physical labor required little mental ability, because I've done enough of it to know that's just not the case.

I think coding is different for two reasons - and please do excuse me, because while I've _done_ physical work, I don't do it for a living, so I'm coming at this slanted:

First, with physical work, you're doing, well, physical work. There's a correlation between physical activity and mental acuity, and, as you mention, you can take out some of your stress out on productive labor (if I do that, I have to buy a new mouse). You also have a balance between the physical and mental side - I'm not sure if there's a corresponding mental equivalent to muscle memory.

Second, you can 'outsource' some of the modeling to the actual physical object - the work you're doing has a tangible component, so you don't have to keep the entire thing in your head. That part, to me, is the most draining aspect of coding - I've gotten much better at structuring my code so I can compartmentalize most of that away, but when I'm working with older code or other people's code, I've basically got to have a very accurate representation of the entire program in mind the whole time. That gets really tiring really fast.

I think one of the other big differences, though, is that I can screw up an awful lot more than you can and get away with it - if I completely arse up a section of code, I can go back in and redo it at basically zero cost. If you arse up a floor, well, now we need to buy the raw materials for a new floor. The corollary between experts and amateurs mostly holds between construction and coding - give an idiot enough time and eventually you can have either a house or a program - the difference is he'll cost you an awful lot more trying to build the house. That breeds a level of patience and caution which, frankly, is probably better for one's outlook on life in general.

Anyway, again, sorry if I seemed to demean physical labor - I really didn't intend to. Like I said, I've seen enough experts in action to know the difference isn't in the hands.

You didn't offend me, and I could tell you weren't meaning to demean physical labour.

> I'm not sure if there's a corresponding mental equivalent to muscle memory.

Have you ever driven to walmart, or work, or your girlfriends (someones) house when you was slightly distracted when driving. You don't drive dangerously, you're not swerving of being stupid like if you was drunk or distracted, you're just not thinking and you end up going the wrong way or doing the wrong thing. There's been a couple of times in the morning when I've accidentally changed the time on the microwave, because I always used to have to hit the timer button before putting in the time. Now I don't, but on autopilot I can somehow manage to find 'time' on a different keypad layout and change the time to 1:30.

I agree with the second, having a tactile object to work with seems to free up a lot of the cognitive ability for the task at hand. Although, when I was doing electrical work you often needed that mental model to know where wires were running, so stepping into someone elses job (especially when it was done wrong or poorly) was a major head-job.

> I can go back in and redo it at basically zero cost

That's why I write fiction, because as a professional career it's only loss of time that matters. Thankfully in my job (vinyl siding) my materials are fairly cheap, so waste isn't a huge concern for us (but a good worker always minimizes it, like unless you're confident you use a piece that's already garbage to make a template rather than wing it on a new sheet) because our company gets paid for our reputation and how presentable our jobs are (there's a big aesthetic difference between done and done properly).

> Like I said, I've seen enough experts in action to know the difference isn't in the hands.

That's in all jobs, I've seen my fair share of talentless doctors, etc. (At 15 I called a doctor out wrong when I self diagnosed psoriasis, the hallmark is scaly skin that pin-prick bleeds when scraped and I had it and I had psoriasis, but that doctor couldn't admit he was wrong to a 15 year old)

I've had a couple of experiences where I've almost driven on the wrong side of the road in the UK after driving in Europe or the US for a while.

Note that I've never even got close to driving on the wrong side when abroad - only after I return home.

It's ridiculous, but I bet most of us associate construction with that summer job we had back in the day, holding the "slow" sign, sweeping dust off the street, making the trip to Tim's / Dunkin Donuts for the guys doing the real work, etc.

I wonder if I ended up in construction as a profession because my 'summer' (lasted 2 years) job at 16 was working as a movie/game reviewer.

Agreed. Admittedly I do spend a hell of a lot of time in the Chicken position. Even at play...

Nothing wrong with working hard. But do it for yourself. Don't do it because a VC tells you to. Don't do it because the owner of a publication that thrives off of startup news tells you to.

I wholeheartedly agree, and I think this is what jwz is getting at as well. Hard work can be rewarding, but only if you let it. Hard work which is pushed on you without your consent is rarely rewarding in any sense of the word.

"""My father taught me to work hard, as his father taught him, etc, and this basically states that my father was being scammed. """

He was. It's called the "protestant work ethic".

For one, you should work smart, not hard. Second, you should work hard only if you enjoy the task or you get a benefit from working harder.

Hard work in itself doesn't mean anything.

I always suspected it had more to do with being raised on a farm (a traditional farm where you have to work most of the day, not an industrial corn farm) then religious beliefs.

No doubt that's right about a great many people though.

Most people I know who work all day on a farm do it because they absolutely love it and would imagine living no other life.

Farming today is completely different than it was 60+ years ago (especially before WWII) for 90% of farmers. I'd wager a large sum that most farmer's do not actually enjoy their job these days. Small independent sustainable farmers sure, too bad they represent such a small percentage of farming compared to the industrial food complex.

Anyways, comparing farming today to what it was 60 years ago is apples to oranges. Many farmers at the time didn't have a choice in the matter. Many had limited options and were simply lucky enough to inherit farmland. Maybe they loved it, maybe they didn't. For most, loving it wasn't as pressing a need as supporting their family.

Small family farms represent 91% of all the farms in the US. 59% of food production in the US is in due thanks to large family farms. There are actually very few industrial food complexes in the US, although it is interesting to note that most of the food production is from these complexes.


Factor out the hobby farms and that number will tumble.

In 2003 it reports that small farms that have $10,000 - $249,999 in sales to be 34% of all farms (in 2003), which is still quite significant compared to the 4.8% that industrial complexes (1.7%) and very large family farms (3.1%) hold.

It's not about super large farms, it's about the industrial machine that has taken over small and large farms, in order to receive subsidies and remain competitive. "Small farmers are often absorbed into factory farm operations, acting as contract growers for the industrial facilities." (Wikipedia) These are still considered independent farms in the census I believe.

Corn and Soy Beans account for by far the majority of crops. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/cropmajor.html (a little outdated). Have you been to a corn / soy bean farm? Visit one and ask the farmer if he enjoys his job, and how much he makes (many are in the red). Small or large, the specific crops and tactics are pretty much identical and probably don't fit our picture of the ideal farm.

Livestock farming is even worse. Most of the farms are only briefly involved at the beginning of the animal's life then shipped off to a feedlot. "In 1967, there were one million pig farms in America; as of 2002, there were 114,000, with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) killed each year on factory farms as of 2002" (Wikipedia). It's the same story with beef and poultry.

I finally got around to reading Omnivore's Dilemma, and it's extremely depressing to say the least. Especially when it comes to factory farming. Sustainable / local farming is a small glimmer of hope though.

We're way off topic now and I have no idea what I was trying to say that relates in any way to the original discussion...

"Have you been to a corn / soy bean farm? Visit one and ask the farmer if he enjoys his job, and how much he makes (many are in the red)."

Have you done this yourself, or are you just trying to score rhetorical points?

I have: my parents are corn/soy/livestock farmers on a small farm they own in the Midwest. Their friends and neighbors are all small operations as well. It's not a job you make much money at, it's true--imagine if all of your income depended on good weather and timing the commodities markets right! They stick with it because it's a job with independence and pride in producing something the world needs. Heritage and tradition, too: many have ancestors who have been farming in the area for a century or more.

It's easy to vilify something if you don't understand it.

Rhetorical points? I have been, and very recently in fact (I've become sort of fascinated with the topic). I'm not even remotely vilifying the farmers. That would be like vilifying anyone who bought a house in 2006 only to lose their shirt. It's the system I take issue with. I'm starting to see most corn / soy farmers more as slave labourers if anything. I realize this may come across as offensive, but I honestly don't mean to offend, as I have absolutely no issue with corn farmers themselves. Rather I take issue with the corn subsidies, the CAFOs, the large meat processing firms, the genetically modified crops, and the fertilizer pushers.

More corn / soybean is about the last thing the world needs. It's also extremely dependent on oil prices due to the fact that most corn farmers requires heaps of fertilizer to produce corn / soy at such an unsustainable rate. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=that-burger...

I know some corn/soy bean farmers but not very well. All the farmers I know really well (and have to a point grown up with) are livestock farmers, and they live on a farm and do farm work because they love it. It is not their primary job, most of them do contracting, some are mechanics, some are auctioneers, and others are nurses.

Despite farming not being their primary job, they still make a few thousand dollars a year from sales, which I believe should classify them as a small scale farm.

Farmers don't make a lot of money at all, and they tend to get screwed a lot, this is why you always hear of the angry hillbillies taking over the city. It's kind of like musicians making a living. (Farmers are more important because they provide food, but that's not the point).

As far as industrial machines taking over the business, this is just the nature of needing a lot of food in the world. The morals of these industrial machines are questionable at times, but in the end we need food and most people aren't willing to vegetarian so I guess we are going to have to suck it up until we have better methods. Small scale farms also fill a niche market with local meat/produce and often end up trading/selling their products to other farms.

Back to the point of the main topic; your father wasn't scammed out of his life because he worked hard on a farm. I'm sure at some point he realized that he could sell the farm, move to the city, get a desk job and work less hours much like many other people did in rural areas.

I don't know your father, but I would go as far to say that he probably made a conscious decision to stay on the farm for probably a multitude of reasons. Maybe he liked the life, maybe he liked rural areas, maybe he felt a kid would be better raised on a farm doing lots of hard work, it could be anything really.

Farm work isn't smart work because it requires lot of hard hours with little benefit. Doesn't mean someone is wrong in choosing to do it because it is not only necessary for society, but some people really do like it.

We're just not on the same page. I'm not sure how to emphasize the massive difference between the types of farming you're outlining here. They're so completely different we need new words other than farming to describe them.

When I spoke of my grandfather, I'm referring to grass farming. Corn / soy / industrial livestock farming has almost nothing in common with grass farming so let's completely throw them out for the sake of this topic and reword my statement to this; "My grass farming ancestors believed in working hard and passed this belief onto their children. Their work ethic probably had more to do with what was necessary to survive than their religious beliefs (protestant or otherwise)".

I don't know where you live but I've never heard of angry hillbillies taking over a city. Where I live the farmers are all millionaires, work five months out of the year and spend the rest of the year in Tampa or Tucson.

I was just making a joke about some of the stereotypes people hold for hillbillies.

"My father taught me to work hard, as his father taught him, etc"

This is a very good lesson to learn. Make sure you take it to heart.

The thing to know, is: WHO are you working hard for? If the answer isn't yourself, then you have the wrong answer. Spending your effort and time working hard for the benefit of someone else is being scammed.

This may be slightly off topic, but for solving #1 a standing desk is a great idea. My energy levels have improved dramatically and I've also lost some weight since I got my standing desk.

If the human body isn't built for sitting 8 hours a day, I'm damn sure its not made for standing 8 hours a day (not mine at least!)

It's not made for being immobile. With a standing desk, I find I move around more.

Agreed. It's not simply a question of standing over sitting; it's about moving.

I have a motorised desk (essentially the GeekDesk v2) and shift two or three times a day from sitting to standing to standing while leaning on a sitting stool (which you can do even if you don't have a robo-desk). Plus I move around frequently (kitchen, bathroom, fetch water, etc) and - don't knock it till you've tried it - have a dartboard for when I'm taking screen breaks.

> kitchen, bathroom, fetch water, etc

& smoke! Anyone dares to admit?

Body isn't build for smoking too.

It's kind of funny that programmers don't want to sit, while waitresses and nurses and such would give anything to not have to stand all day.

I've found that by standing at my desk I walk around MUCH more when I stop to think about a problem. Instead of leaning back in my chair and staring into space, I'll pace around the room and return. It doesn't seem like much, but it adds up very quickly.

Then what is it built for doing 8 hours a day? Running? Swimming?

Ars Technica had an headline that standing desks are not as good as many think, but I didn't read it. Nevertheless, work to live, don't live to work.

If someone has to stay long hours on a regular basis someting is wrong...


I hope this signals the end of folks walking on egg shells around Arrington. He's no longer a "newsman". He's no longer going to make or break every startup that ends up on AOLCrunch. He's just an investor hoping for deal flow. An investor who's proven he's probably not the guy you'd want to work with, probably not the guy you'd want to partner with, probably not the guy who will ever be on anyone's side but his own. Kudos to Zawinski for calling him out.

people walk on eggshells around arrington? i thought he was pretty much universally reviled, people are constantly calling him out for various crap. maybe not startup people who want his money/coverage, but bloggers and other hangers-on.

i like this site: http://www.ismikearringtonadick.com/

jwz would have said this a year ago or three years ago. Timing has nothing to do with it, I think.


He made multiple temporal references.

"I hope this signals the end ..."

"He's no longer..."

Timing was definitely implied.

Or it just signals that jwz has nothing to gain/lose from Arrington.

I don't think he was ever able to "make or break" a startup.

see: quora, qwiki and I'm sure others. Constant fanning on a major tech site definitely can help.

"Those who work hard make good" is a profoundly American theme that dates back to Horatio Alger and before - it can hardly be said to originate from a cabal of VCs trying to "put one over" on hapless founders and startup employees in Silicon Valley. No doubt Mr. Arrington adds his peculiarly abrasive touch to the debate (toughen up, don't whine, and let's applaud Zynga for what it did to its employees), but he did something very similar not too long ago in chiding investors who were whining about being in the "middle of a terrible blubble" (http://techcrunch.com/2011/04/24/were-in-the-middle-of-a-ter...). Like it or not, this is his philosophy and outlook about what it takes to play the startup game. It is his expression of ideas and social commentary. One can disagree with it as much as one likes but it is unfair to say that this is nothing more than a con job. It is also unfair to take him to task for quoting from a publicly available source to support his idea of what the experiences of startup employees have been like in Silicon Valley - if the goal is to illustrate such experiences, then what better source to use than a diary whose purpose was precisely to document them. If the author of that diary wants to say, "no, that's not what I meant" in response, that is fine but that doesn't justify an ad hominem attack on the person using it to illustrate ideas he wants to espouse.

My point here is strictly about fair argumentation, not about the merits of the debate. Whether right or wrong on the merits, I think the author takes an unfair shot in the way he makes his points here. We all have ideas and core beliefs, even those who are VCs. We all should be free to express them without being accused of nefarious motives.

The "American dream" is a perfect example of what jwz is talking about.

The american dream is "designed to help a small predatory class dominate a larger prey class" - http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2011/11/16/the-evolution-of-the-am...

Weaving myths to manipulate underlings to your advantage is a tradition old as time.

But it is nefarious. Long hours do not equate to more money. Arrington is pushing a work philosophy that help him, not the people he's directing it at and he's using a big name to do it.

Everyone is free to express themselves, being accused is just a side effect of expression. Hell, Arrington took a stab at jwz in his response.

jwz's advice is extremely valid, it doesn't matter if it's about VCs or vending machines. You have to work hard, but you also have to work smart and be wary that there is always someone waiting to profit off of what you built, he never said it's always the VC.

Very well said. I wanted to comment along those lines but couldn't quite put it into words. As much as I dislike Arrington for being the dick that he is, I don't thing he's trying to "sell a con" or even to tell people to work hard. If anything, he's asking the whiners -- who's sole motivation is (supposedly) money -- to either stop whining or get out of the valley. His point is this: doing a startup is brutal; to survive you have to want building something more than anything, or you will not be able to stand the pain. It's a fair point.

> It is also unfair to take him to task for quoting from a publicly available source

Quotes which were already removed from their full context, taken further out of context by Arrington, with a shallow, incomplete understanding of the long-term consequences of the events being recounted.

Arrington has a Bachelor's in economics and a law degree, until 1999 he was a securities lawyer. He was still in law school when jwz was actually doing useful things and wrote those diary entries.

Arrington has never been an engineer of any kind. He has no concept of the kind of stress placed on engineers, little grasp of the work environments he wants people to put up with, and as a VC, has a massive conflict of interest.

Invoking a respected name through excerpts of a document that offered only a narrow, fuzzy window into what jwz went through in order to lure young hackers to an inevitable burnout for a likely reward of zilch is just scummy, and it is in no way unfair to call Arrington on his BS.

Amen brotha! Here's to a world where engineers are lead by engineers who lead by example, and not by VCs with law or business degrees.

This isn't some highschool debate wankery. The arrington/jwz/arrington exchange is exactly as jwz characterized it: Arrington plus vcs in general selling a story to engineers that is pretty damn unlikely (a lottery, in fact) in order to enrich primarily themselves. jwz doesn't stand to benefit from people following his advice, while Arrington certainly does.

Further, the fact that you don't include Arrington giving advice that is quite probably not in the targeted recipients' best interests in order to advance the interests of both himself in particular and vcs in general as a "nefarious motive" is stupid.


I really don't think name calling is necessary. I mostly try to read HN without reading names, but some people, like grellas, earn a reputation by repeatedly making insightful comments. Plus, I don't think any of us here deserve to have our opinions called "stupid." You've been here a bit longer than I have, so I know I don't have to remind you, but in case others are reading, let's try to be slightly more civil.

As an aside, this is the second post I've made in as many days defending the comments of HN regulars. It almost sounds like I'm trying to appeal to the local "cool kids" for some strange reason, but in reality I just don't want to see some of HN's valuable contributors chased off by lowering the level of discourse when things get tense.

This exchange between Arrington and jwz strikes at the heart of the mythos that drives the HN community, so I realize things can get heated. As a startup founder myself it made me think carefully about some of my goals. Let's not allow that to lower our standards.

I welcome calling stupid attitudes just that — stupid. Your comment reminds me this saying by Asimov:

  Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding
  its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured
  by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance
  is just as good as your knowledge.

"You're stupid." = name-calling, of course, but you consider "What you did there was stupid." to be name-calling? I don't think everyone would agree with that.

1 - you'll note I didn't call grellas stupid, so watch your accusations

2 - some opinions are stupid

3 - This has nothing to do w/ standards or whose side I'm on, except that running around looking after

4 - grellas believes everyone should be free to express his or her core beliefs "without being accused of nefarious motives". Sorry, bs. Some people are looking out for number one, are in a position to exploit others, and should be called on it.

5 - I have a sincerely held belief you all owe me $10k. Each. See? Stupid.

After quitting work and tussling with the dog, I'd like to emphasize that I don't think grellas is stupid, but I do think that opinion is. : shrug : Hopefully he won't take take it as an insult.

Also, some people -- and I don't know Arrington -- have a deep conviction in nothing more than whatever gets them ahead. Being sincerely self serving shouldn't get you a pass.

>I really don't think name calling is necessary.

And I don't think a whole paragraph of riding your high horse is necessary for what could have been a quick "lets keep it above board" tacked onto the end of a post.

I love that this is the top story on HN. I only wish that PG got as much flack for his startup economics hype piece[1] and proposition to compress a lifetime's worth of work effort into four years.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html

I've not seen eye to eye with PG on everything he has written. But this particular essay is one of my favourites of his. PG laid out an upper bound, which he later clarifies:

"If $3 million a year seems high, remember that we're talking about the limit case: the case where you not only have zero leisure time but indeed work so hard that you endanger your health."

And his upper limit for hours worked was 2x that of a corporate employee. Taken literally, this could be 80 hours per week, or 16 hour days. PG is not advocating this lifestyle in his essay. He's saying that it's theoretically possible but at the cost of your good health. Arrington says to hell with your health: quit the whining and work through the pain. This is not an upper bound but in fact an average that he's trying to push.

That's why I despise the Arrington article but don't take issue with PG's.

Overall, I loved the "Wealth" essay. I do wonder though if Paul ever considers that the same thing he says about Bill Gates' success could also be said about his own.

"Bill Gates is a smart, determined, and hardworking man, but you need more than that to make as much money as he has. You also need to be very lucky."

Or perhaps PG thinks his personal success is based purely off his own brilliance with no helpful outside factors needed (i.e. competitor blunders, etc)? :)

Or perhaps PG thinks his personal success is based purely off his own brilliance with no helpful outside factors needed

He doesn't think that. Though he claims to have made good decisions and benefited from competitor blunders, he frequently refers to incidents that nearly sank the company, and acknowledges the good fortune that saved them and helped them to their very happy exit.

One has to be a lot luckier to make fifty billion dollars than ten million dollars.

Yes, but I doubt it's, say, 50 times luckier. I'll wager it's a lot easier to go from 10 million to a billion than from zero to 10 million.

It's hard to come up with a good conditional probability, but just looking at the population ratios, the odds are close to the same: somewhere around 1 in 300 American households have net worth >$10m, and somewhere around 1 in 300 of those (close to 1 in 100,000 households) have net worth >$1b.

Just going by the fact that the wealth distribution is fat-tailed, the (stochastic) rate at which you obtain wealth must be roughly proportional to your current wealth. Otherwise, you'd expect an exponential decay in the wealth distribution.

Right. One has to factor into the assets that Microsoft had at the start the access to Bill Gates' dad, who was a highly successful lawyer active in technology.

Where would Microsoft's shrinkwrap sales strategy have been without legal advice?

His mother served on the same board of directors as the IBM CEO. Which is probably why the original licensing deal was even considered and why the they where not heavy handed in their contract negotiation.

Edit: In 1980, she discussed with John Opel, a fellow committee member who was the chairman of the International Business Machines Corporation," her son's company. "Mr. Opel, by some accounts, mentioned Mrs. Gates to other I.B.M. executives. A few weeks later, I.B.M. took a chance by hiring Microsoft, then a small software firm, to develop an operating system for its first personal computer." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Maxwell_Gates

> His mother served on the same board of directors as the IBM CEO. Which is probably why the original licensing deal was even considered and why the they where not heavy handed in their contract negotiation

The first is probably true, I agree atleast. Your second point about them not being heavy handed because they knew Bill's mother I just can't see having any shred of truth.

IBM also made a sweetheart deal with Intel with no mother's involved.

The reason they made those deals has been stated many times over.

IBM was in a huge rush to ship and they needed an OS and CPU in a very bad way. They made those deals because that's what allowed them to ship.

Thanks for posting that. These little things are often not mentioned in the success stories we hear. Was Mrs. Gates' chat with Mr. Opel the sole cause of Microsoft's success? Of course not! But opening a few doors so early on is definitely a huge stroke of good fortune.


I see it as an experiment in thinking about leverage. If you minimized all the corporate office bullshit, leveraged your work to the max, AND worked hard on top of that, how much could you earn? The baseline becomes your work earnings WITH corp-bullshit, poor leverage, and lackluster effort, and then he extrapolates from that.

Leverage analogy: think schwerpunkt in blitzkrieg. If you amass all your tanks on one sector of the front and crush the opposing line there, then you will have more of an impact than if you spread the same force out over a wider area.

I am not getting. You are going to end up being average in a large corporate. Your chances of succeeding in a start up are only 10%.

There doesn't seem to be an easy way out of this career problem.

There seems to be a problem with whatever you will do.

Is that 10% for "anyone who starts a startup" or is that 10% for me?

I imagine the success chance would go up quite a bit if one does basic things like being persistant and reading up on the wisdom of others.

I think it applies to you as well. You are taking a risk(settling down on a lower monthly salary and time) which you had no real need to. If the start up flops you end up loosing money and time.

If this happens with 2 or 3 start ups you would have lost a lot of money and time.

hm.. and I guess, if you're running in the wrong direction, you'll get there faster..

not sure if that's good or bad

Yeah if you amass your forces in the wrong place you will get slapped around like a cheap toy. Kursk salient.

Somewhere in here lies a differential equation that includes the probability of destination being the right one and distance to it to evaluate that.

Its only 11.43 hours a day if you work on weekends.

I am not advocating this!

I think if you are passionate about your work and work 8 hours a day (5 days a week) at full capacity you are productive enough. I can work more for one or two weeks if necessary (with the adrenalin boost stemming from a near by deadline) but not for much longer.

This is a great point that is often overlooked in the startup work environment. In 8 years of working at Startups I have only ever been in one place where anyone actually worked a solid 8 hours (everyone happened to pair-program there, which was one of the biggest contributors to this IMO). In most places people spend somewhere between 25-50% of their time surfing the web, reading personal email, hanging out in IRC rooms, socializing, etc. At this particular startup we really did none of that during the day. We all just felt really strongly about what we were working on, as a team we worked with the business guys to set a strong direction for the near-short term, and for four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon we worked. That was it. At 6 pm we left basically feeling punch-drunk for the mental exhaustion, and we went and followed our respective personal pursuits. The result?

The first place I'd worked where we launched on schedule with no overtime worked, with all of the features that business wanted for the big 1.0 (well, web-app 1.0... Really just a euphemism here).

My point is that while Arrington goes on about working insane hours, everyone always seems to overlook how much time in the office isn't actually productive for the product. I've been at places where people "worked" 16 hour days, at least 6 of which were spent playing Starcraft LAN games.

I think PG's background as an actual programmer and having a computational paradigm versus Arrington's sophistry is an underlying factor here too.

There is a big difference between PG and Arrington: PG states that you should be working for yourself. YC is set up to allow entrepreneurs to make money if they work hard and a big part of that is allowing a company to grow before being required to take VC money - allowing for a better valuation.

Sleeping under your desk with .05% equity? Probably a bad investment.

Sleeping under your desk for 45% equity? Well, roll the dice. At least you will get paid if it works.

Yes, 5 basis points is complete and utter crap. If you're going to work crazy hours, you might as well benefit from it proportionally. Gone are the days in tech when early employees would be rewarded for taking pay cuts in exchange for a higher amount of equity only to be completely diluted by each round of funding and the greediness of the MBA holding business founders.

Sadly, those days aren't gone. But the days where those are the only option are gone.


Another one who should get some flack is Thiel.

He may just be the worst, suggesting kids should forgo a university education and going so far as to actually debate the "issue" whether an education is "worth it".

For some of these VC to make money, they have no need to see university degrees.

But they have their own interests in mind. And, lo and behold, most of them have university degrees.

I think you guys are being unduly cynical. Thiel recently debated this on NPR (http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/too-...) and I found him very convincing. He repeatedly talked about the concern of young people leaving college with 200k+ in debt -- which I think is very fair.

Thiel's also discussed elsewhere his frustration with the liberal politics of academia, which he sees as an impediment to libertarian policies gaining wider buy-in, so I think he might have motivations for attempting to undermine it besides pure concern for students' debt. (Though it's quite possible he earnestly dislikes academia for multiple, independent reasons.)

Nail on head. Common politician tactic.

He's a hardcore objectivist libertarian. He most certainly doesn't care the least bit about student loan debts.

But this is kind of an ad hominem. He's also correct.

>He repeatedly talked about the concern of young people leaving college with 200k+ in debt -- which I think is very fair.

But is that a real problem? The statistics I've seen show that the proportion of students with more than $100,000 in debt is tiny. Most students graduate with ~$25,000 in debt. At that debt level, a college education is still a no-brainer.

I'd be willing to argue that if you've managed to rack up $200,000 in debt financing a college education, you've either 1) had extraordinarily bad luck or 2) made extraordinarily poor choices. Neither case is an indictment of the system at large.

  At that debt level, a college education is still a no-brainer.
I would argue that depends heavily on which degree you're coming out with. I know a lot of communications and psychology majors who are working in food service 3-4 years after graduating, still living at home, and getting assistance from their regretful parents who cosigned on their student loans.

In the recent Thiel debate he said in fact that he supported undergrad education inclusive of non-technical degrees and was personally glad he did what he did. The larger question related to increasing price tag vs. decreasing value.

I'm sure some people might find Arrington very convincing as well (especially when he's recycling old jwz material). That may be why jwz has chosen to speak out.

Whether or not someone is convincing is moot if they're correct. That's what should be considered, not whether or not they're convincing. And every self-thinking analytical individual should be free to draw their own conclusions, after gathering as much data as possible.

Ahh if only the world and media worked that way. Sadly as if you look at most politicians, being right is way less critical then being convincing.

I did find it ironic that one of Thiel's major complaints about education was the exclusivity of universities like Harvard given that his solution was a program that admitted a mere 20 would-be entrepreneurs.

jwz is right: be alert to the agendas of those who would influence you.

jwz is saying "follow the money". Thiel's drop-out scholarships are offered by his non-profit foundation.

There is no relation between the discord between the self interest of a VC and a startup employee on the one hand, and the possibility that Thiel is giving bad advice to people who he has no financial interest in.

I helped vet applications for 20 Under 20 and I'm serving as a mentor for the program, and based on my observations there's nothing cynical about it. As currently structured, the program isn't scalable, but they're just getting started. Let's see what they can do given a few years to get the ball rolling.

Sorry, I don't understand the link to 20 under 20. My understanding is that it is purely philanthropic. And I'm not sure I've ever heard of Thiel advocating what Arrington is advocating.

And honestly, is a university education not being worth it such an evil idea? Many of the best and brightest are autodidacts. From Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison to Bill Gates. Is it so horrible for Thiel to subsidize self-teachers?

In fact, my guess is that some people actually learn better on their own or outside of a university environment. Thiel is providing an innovative alternative to elite universities. He's very experimental in his philanthropy, so let's just see where this goes before giving him "flack."

I haven't heard his whole pitch, but the summary version I've heard doesn't seem crazy to me.

There are some fields where what really matters is talent and practical experience, not book learning. A lot of the best techies I know either have no degree or have it in something unrelated. The same is true of entrepreneurs and musicians, and probably other fields.

Consider also the absurdly rising cost of education:

"Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13." -- http://www.economist.com/node/16960438

It's simple economics that if the cost of a good keeps increasing, it eventually won't be worth it for some purposes. It's not crazy to ask whether for certain people it's really worth it now. If your aim is entrepreneurship, you might be better off spending $150k and 4 years on starting businesses and learning on your own rather than giving that to Harvard.

Except those numbers simply are not true. Sticker price is nowhere close to actual price for college. No one leaves Harvard (or any Ivy League college) with $150K in debt. Either their families can easily afford to pay the price, or Harvard picks up almost all of the tab.

Also, um, not everyone is due to be an entrepreneur. Outside of the Twitter Bootstrap startup world, the entrepreneurs need well-educated professionals to do the work, and will pay for talent.

The difference is that PG actually did this stuff, while Arrington did not. PG is one of us, Arrington is not.

Mike (disclaimer: I know him) has done more startups than PG, and he did pretty much sleep under his desk for the first couple of years of Techcrunch (well, his desk was in his bedroom, and the Techcrunch "office" was the rest of his house) and has worked equally hard in the other startups he's done while I've known him. Including as a regular employee (that's how I met him - he worked at a startup I co-founded years ago).

So he's not a programmer. There are non-programmers that also work hard, you know.

He can't write code.

He publishes a blog to attempt to persuade an audience of those who can.

Before the blog, he worked with a company selling dropping domain names.

Again, he wrote no code.

I think jwz would agree that "hard working VC's" are not what makes a startup (nor the VC's) successful.

Techcrunch "office" was the rest of his house

nice definition of "under the desk"

His office was his bedroom. The rest of the people he worked with pretty much crowded the rest of the house.

So "under the desk" was pretty close to reality - he could pretty much reach his desk from his bed.

That's not true.

Paul worked very hard to grow Viaweb for several years, and eventually guided Viaweb to a lucrative exit via Yahoo.

Arrington worked very hard to grow TechCrunch for several years, and eventually guided it to a lucrative exit via AOL.

One of us what? Hes just some dude that manged to strike it big and is now a VC.

The most common linking factor I can see between the HN poster and PG is entrepreneurial- and tech-focus. Whats so "one of us" about that? Nothing. Or is it the "hacker" group, that weird banner created when pg massaged a term with a loose meaning and appealing connotation into the something divorced from its original meaning that people now want to identify as?

We're on this website playing in his playground, one built to serve the needs of YC with advertizing, finding talent, and indoctrination. That's it; everything else is ancillary.

>>Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.<<

This is just gold.

Been thinking a lot about this statement, but still not sure exactly what he means by it. I could interpret it a few different ways, and I'm probably over-thinking it. How do you interpret this?

You may think you're shaking hands with someone but he's actually picking your pocket. "Count your fingers after shaking hands with that guy" is an idiom suggesting that the guy will steal one.

It just means that the VC doesn't have your best interest in mind, they only care about making money.

It means that people pushing advice usually do so primarily for their own good. This is a universal truth that applies to many situations.

It struck me more as simple than gold. If a VC that invested in a company gives them advice then obviously his goal is to make more money... but that goal will, in turn make you more money too.

If you don't like the fact that a VC has the potential to make more money than you, the solution is to not take investment from one, not to ignore them after they take investment.

Also remember that yes, they're not putting in a lot of work to make the money - but you aren't putting in a lot of money that you might lose, which they did.

I'm not arguing for or against working crazy hours, just against the idea that you should be scared of any suggestion from a VC.

you aren't putting in a lot of money that you might lose, which they did.

VCs make money win or lose. Limited partners actually have capital risk.

People know this, right?

Afraid not (afraid I don't know, not you're wrong) - how does a VC make money if a company they invested in goes bust and shuts down?

VCs invest money from so-called limited partners: universities, pension funds, wealthy families, etc. They're partners in the VC firm by dint of providing money, but they don't get operational control of deals.

The fee structure of a VC firm is similar to that of a hedge fund: they take a management fee (based on the committed fund size) and a performance fee (based on the profits, if any, from investing). Typical numbers are 2% annually and 20%, respectively.

If a VC fund invests $100 million in a company and, after four years, the company goes kablooey, that actually cost the LPs about $110 million or so. The VCs made $10 million.

Of course, and I did know that had I been thinking straight, but I don't think it detracts from the point I was trying (badly) to make.

Obviously advice from a VC is given selfishly, as you doing well means he does well, but for them to do well (i.e. get the performance fee), that will mean that you have done well too.

A VCs risk profile does not look like yours, due to the fact that they're diversified and you're not. Imagine your company is doing well and there are two ways to proceed:

option 1: your company can be sold today for $75m.

option 2: you can try for $1,000m or zero, with an 85% chance that you'll fail.

The VC is likely to prefer option 2, whereas if you aren't already rich, you'd likely prefer option 1.

Many a VC funded company has died because the VCs needed you to make a ton of money very quickly, or die trying, in order for their model to work. When considering VC investment, one really needs to be certain that their business needs align closely with your own (and are likely to continue in alignment) if you want to avoid heartbreak.

True but maybe not so significant. Without hits the VC can't raise the next fund. Fees are real but I'm not sure they drive model or the viewpoint.

IMO the larger divergence of interest is investment of time. Financial risks can be diversified or hedged, but there is no protection against lost time.

Don't be so sure. In a down economy, with a large fund, the fees can be so large as to be demotivating. What's 2% of a billion dollars? A fuckton by my standards.

VCs are (primarily) investing other people's money. The basic overview is this:

VC raises a $100m fund that is expected to last for 10 years. They charge a 2%/yr management fee, for their work as investors. Then, they also keep 20% of the gains from their investments.

So if the fund operates for 10 years and exits for $400m, my understanding is that they'd take $20m for managing the fund, plus $60m "carried interest", and return the rest to the limited parters (the investors whose money was actually at risk).

If the fund operates for 10 years and the companies sell for a combined total of $50m, they still charge the $20m management fee, and the investors have $30m returned to them.

Thus, VCs themselves have very limited downside.

That seems insane. Why would a wealthy (and presumably intelligent) investor hand over 20% of gains to someone with no skin in the game?

I guess if the VC had a track record from which to estimate expected returns, it could be a big deal, but no one has a track record, because these business cycles are so short.

If were a multi-millionaire, why wouldn't I say "Hey Mr. VC, if you think you can turn $100M into $400M, why don't you borrow it from me and pay 10% interest?"

You can usually get a 10% annual return by investing in regular stocks. The kind of investors who put their money in VC firms are looking for higher returns.

Let’s say I invest a million bucks in my local VC fund, and its investments earn back an annualized 15%/year over ten years. My million bucks has turned in to a little over four million. After paying the fees, I would still be about a million dollars ahead of someone who got a 10% return from a regular mutual fund.

It's not really 20%. It's 20% of whatever is left after the limited partner clears their hurdle rate. And to a degree, it is a bit insane, especially when you look at the historical returns of venture capital. But you'll find similar structures throughout the finance world - hedge funds, real estate, leveraged buyouts, etc.

To me, the crazier part is the 2%.

They make money on 1 out of 10 companies they invest in. If a company they invested in goes bust they make the money somewhere else.

EDIT: Sorry for this lame answer, I wasn't reading the question right. The real answer is that the people working with VC are managing someone else's money (the limited partners' money). They themselves get a salary which is a percentage of the amount of money the manage, only sometimes with a bonus correlating to how well they are doing their job.

But what is not obvious is that the VC might not care if _your_ company is the one that makes him money. Remember that VCs are managing a portfolio of companies, in order to spread their risk. The VC might decide that your company is in the part of their portfolio that won't go big, and so they won't give it any more but the bare minimum of attention.

Not giving much attention isn't the same as actively giving bad advice.


First, the goal of entrepreneurs is not just to make money. Unlike most VCs and all of their LPs.

Interests of VCs and entrepreneurs differ in a number of other ways. A key one being that VCs have a whole portfolio and are hits-driven, while entrepreneurs have exactly one company. That means VCs have an incentive to push for giant hits, even at with an increased risk of failure. That makes VCs more money, but means you're much more likely to be, e.g., that guy who had to shut down everything because you expanded too fast.

"It struck me more as simple than gold. If a VC that invested in a company gives them advice then obviously his goal is to make more money... but that goal will, in turn make you more money too."

Not necessarily. Especially when talking about funding, the VCs are NOT out to help you or your business. They are out to make money. Sometimes those goals can coincide, but not often.

And seriously, the rest of that post is just an excuse for their bullshit. They have money. So fucking what? Why should that enable them to take most of the company, when it was your hard work that actually made it successful? I understand they need a return, but there is no reason why they should get the lion's share of the reward.

"""It struck me more as simple than gold. If a VC that invested in a company gives them advice then obviously his goal is to make more money... but that goal will, in turn make you more money too."""

You'd be surprised...

I'm glad he finished with a note for the people who actually get something out of hard work on their personal project because I doubt I'm alone in getting a lot of personal satisfaction in performing like that. It's not all the time that I pull an all-nighter or a couple of weeks of hard slog, but I often feel better for them.

And I'd rather be doing that for myself on a side project or in the start-up lottery or within my own business than for someone else. If that isn't possible, then even for someone up the chain. If someone else (VC, client of mine, landlord, etc) also profits from this endeavour, so be it.

Sometimes you have to know the lows to fully appreciate the highs.

Further to that, I tend to enjoy weeks of fulfilling hard work with those glimpses of recreation more than I do the ones where I'm procrastinating, spinning my wheels or at a loss for something I can be bothered doing that day. Hard work, or hard holiday - that half-arsed stuff in the middle rarely satisfies.

That half-arsed stuff in the middle is called living, and it's the only way you can do this sustainably.

Startups are like going to Hollywood. Your goal might be to become as successful as Clooney, but that's not likely to work out. Still, if you're talented & dedicated, you can make a living in this industry and enjoy it.

I've been working for startups for the past 12 years. I won't be a millionaire even if my current company sells for $.5b - there are preferred stock, dilutions down the road, taxes etc. But I hope to be in startups for the rest of my career, simply because it's fun to create something from scratch, work in a small company with relatively little office politics etc.

It's not fun to sleep under a desk, though, or consistently work 12 hours/day. If your boss expects you to do that, he's a poor manager. If your VC tells you to do it, he's trying to exploit you, as JWZ correctly points out.

I'm talking about half-arsed work or time-wasting, not what I enjoy of my life - sorry if that wasn't clear. Living in a rut is little better, in my experience.

This year I have worked on more side projects than I can handle, I've worked through the night and had brutal weeks at my own business, I've done a lot of socialising and I've spent almost three months of the year overseas on holiday.

I hope to work harder and holiday more in 2012. That's not eating into what I value in life, I hope it will eat into those mindless hours on Xbox, checking Hacker News for the fourth time in 20 minutes, seeing if anything's been added to the fridge since my last check an hour ago, thinking about how I really should get the garden in order but not actually doing it, sitting through a TV show I don't really care for, etc.

Please don't take my comment as criticism - I used to do the same when I started out, and it was a lot of fun. Definitely an experience worth going through. I was just referring to the longer term, so that people new to this field won't get the impression we all sleep under our desks till retirement :) Good luck with your startup/s!

"I've been working for startups for the past 12 years. I won't be a millionaire even if my current company sells for $.5b"

I am the pot calling the kettle black here, but I'd like to point out that working in software for 12 years (or 15 or 20), whether for startups or not, would give most people a shot at being a millionaire, if that goal is chosen, tracked and executed on, and it has nothing to do with the exit lottery. The best use of money, after necessities and safety, is to make more money.

That's true - but admittedly I'm a complete idiot as far as investing is concerned.. If you have any recommendations for good intro texts, I'd love to hear.

I'm not a good source of investing advice (other than "do it"). In general you need to treat it like any other skill you need in your day job, including deciding which skill(s) to learn. Investment choices are going to depend on your life and interests.

There's been a lot of discussions here on HN, that should give you some ideas (not advice).

I understand you can invest in New York City taxi medallions, which have done nothing but go up in value. But that's not advice, just pointing out how wide your choices are.

I appreciated the final words too. I've noticed an increase in the number of people offering advice about how to do things "right", followed by comment streams about why that's wrong, and "right" would be doing things a different way. But what's right for one person is not for another. I too find myself working super hard on projects that may seem worthless to some, trading off my sleep once in a while. It makes me feel good.

Maybe, rather than give advice, authors should do more of simply describing their experiences, and let the readers make inferences for themselves.

Edit. Deleted the first word (Amen). Another growing practice, and one that I am guilty of in this case, is the overzealous use of showy phrases solely to draw attention.

> I appreciated the final words too. I've noticed an increase in the number of people offering advice about how to do things "right", followed by comment streams about why that's wrong, and "right" would be doing things a different way.

Yeah, amen for that. I also have at least 3 personal projects to which I dedicate as much time as possible. I don't want nor expect to make any money out of them, and when one of my co-workers asked me why didn't I spend my free-time on freelancing to gain even more money (like he does) I answered that what I was doing made me feel good and that was that :)

"And I'd rather be doing that for myself on a side project or in the start-up lottery or within my own business than for someone else. If that isn't possible, then even for someone up the chain. If someone else (VC, client of mine, landlord, etc) also profits from this endeavour, so be it."

Other people profiting off your work is fine. But if you did the bulk of the work, why shouldn't you get the bulk of the reward? Why should some VC doucebag get the most of the company simply because they had money?

Because I might not be able to do it without them?

I've lived through a programmer's career already. Everything was good until age 50 when my body punished me for punishing it for 25 years.

Seven heart surgeries. High blood pressure. Damaged kidneys. Removal of an inner ear (from flying while ill and not getting to a doc in some place or another).

Take care of your body, blokes. It's the only thing keeping your brain intact. The cummulative effect of stress over a number of years is to attempt to kill you.

Thanks for this

I would love to hear PG's comment / viewpoint on this whole issue.

I have done 3 startups so far (1 VC funded, 2 bootstrapped) and I work very hard because I love it BUT I never ever work at the expense of the time with my kids and anyone saying you have to give up your life to find success in the startup world is just misleading in a big way. There are tons of examples of highly successful people across many industries who have made a fortune without giving up their lives. And its wise to look beyond such myths which are made to seem like the "norm" sometimes.

PG's described startups as 'compressing working life into a few years' (http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html)

But Arrington and Zawinski aren't talking about founders and their startups. They're talking about working too hard on somebody else's startup. Totally different thing.

I was actually referring to PG's views on that issue that Arrington wrote about.

And the whole discussion definitely applies to founder and their startups too, imo. The issues are the same and so are the trade-offs. Would you give you your life for your startup but not for anyone else'?

Ah, I assumed the three startups you mentioned were your own.

jwz talked about working hard and enriching others. That's not an issue if it's your own startup.

It is an issue if there are VC's involved. One of the startups I co-founded and owned 25% on at outset ended up with a whopping 1% of the proceeds of the exit. I'm not bitter - in this case the exit recovered maybe 30% of the cash the VC's injected, after about 8 years - and so the dilution was understandable. But unless you bootstrap, you will increasingly be working to also enrich others, after VC's, options to other employees etc..

Exceedingly few VC-funded businesses end up with founders holding on to massive stakes all the way through to an acquisition or IPO. That is the tradeoff you make whenever you take VC money: You hope you accelerate your growth enough to more than offset the piece you give away. That is also why it is often more financially attractive for regular employees to join a VC funded startup: the growth rates are often similarly faster (but you often fail faster too, and more spectacularly; though failing faster is not necessarily a bad thing if you're first going to fail)

They were my own :-)

I'm sure any investor, including PG, would prefer entrepreneurs to work smarter though, it's not just about hours, but it may take that to succeed.

But, after reading this, I remembered this PG essay from a few years ago.

"Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four." - http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

Also: http://paulgraham.com/really.html

Yep, I remember that line.

But I believe it doesn't speak about "giving up your life" to do the startup. There is a big difference, I feel, between "low intensity work" and "working hard and smart" and "working hard and smart and giving up everything else".

And that "giving up your life" has to be explained with examples: cancel your long due family vacation because the a sales VP wants you to go to a customer site without having a solid reason, camp at a customer location in the carribean until you get a PO because thet want you to make it happen (though you know camping there is going to do nothing). Postpone a surgery because your travel schedule doesn't allow it. A lot of these can be clearly unreasonable which is why it sucks to do a blanket statement.

And investors and business owners like smart work but I believe they eventually like hard work also - they just don't want you to work smart and not work more because you worked smart. They want you to work smart and work even more for the time you saved by working smart. I DO NOT want to generalize this but as people building businesses we are all (including myself) are too focused on growing and more of everything. And sometimes we and everyone with us loose a lot of what won't come back - youth, family time and more. I have been guilty of this myself as a founder and I remind myself to refrain from this as much as I can.

Eventually its a personal decision though. Do what you think is right for yourself and learn from your "own" experiences.

Wow. I didn't expect this one bit from Arrington. I'm surprised he is choosing to mine Internet archives for blog fodder over putting that much more time into guiding his portfolio to fewer mistakes and possibly 1% more potential.

Startups, hard? Yes. We ALL know this. Are his opinions skewed towards his agenda? Also yes. There is no hiding the fact that he's in the money. The problem is that the "thought-leader" portion of his rant was lacking. And it's a bit of unfair baseball to bring up a random blog post from some guy nearly 20 years ago. My bets are that he didn't even bother doing follow up on this guy after the fact.

Some people may not enjoy the green-on-black text, so this might be of use:


The color scheme is not random. He is probably an old timer like me remembering old green/black monochrome 14" monitors.


Use the phosphor screensaver (written by jwz) in the xscreensaver distribution together with Lynx/Elinks, as it can function as a terminal emulator: /usr/lib/xscreensaver/phosphor -scale 1 -program "lynx -dump http://www.jwz.org/blog/2011/11/watch-a-vc-use-my-name-to-se... | less"

Oh, of course - I own one myself! But it's rather hard on the eyes, so I keep the Readability bookmarklet around :-)

Green and black monitors didn't rip my retinas to shreds. This does. I think he just does it because he can, part of the whole jwz f-bomber persona.

What could possibly be more readable than the phosphorous CRT look? :p

I find this Chrome extension pretty handy for that:


i've been using Gleebox for chrome and Firefox to get readibility links for any article.

just type "g !read"

and it saves history so next time it's just "g !" !

And don't forget the people who worked hard, slept under their desks etc and then got ripped off and ended up with no lottery win at all.

While reading this post I was thinking of a few funny things about life and money:

Money makes money. An example is Kim Kardasian. What does she produce? Nothing. Does she actually make anything better than others? No. She has money. Using that money she was able to be part of a TV show, which she used as an oportunity to make herself a character people liked, used that to up-sell whatever crap she made, used that to make shittons of cash on her wedding.

How is that relevant?

Well, same happens here. If you have money, you can invest, money that is much needed for business to get off the ground. Now you may argue that "don't get investment money, start small, then make a bigger business when you can affort it" which is actually quite valid. However if that is not what you want then you are basically asking people for money. They made the money, and are reaping the benefits of that money.

So basically you get rich, they get rich. You did the work though. However once you get rich, you can now make the bigger business that you wanted to, this time bootstrapped.

Some good advice and wisdom in this post. Getting rich from a startup is a lottery, I've personally worked for many over the last ten years (most fail). What isn't a lottery is your time and how you use it. If you do something that makes you happy every day, you don't need to win the lottery to be successful. Nice article.

> What _is_ true is that for a VC's business model to work, it's necessary for _you_ to give up _your_ life in order for _him_ to become richer.

Isn't this more or less the case for any profits-go-to-owners business model? Or rather, any business model where employees are viewed as calculated costs and not owners worthy of a commiserate portion of the profit?

I've often wondered how a different ownership model would work for a company. One where the owners still make more money than the VPs, who still make more money than the engineers, who still make more money than the techs, who still make more money than the CSRs, who still make more money than the cleaning staff, but everyone is seeing a salary that is at least XX.X percent higher than it was before. Or perhaps a function of CPI, per Capita GDP, and a few other variables. Honestly, company ownership just seems like one big game of who can grab the most power in a given time metric. Rather than money being a means to an end, it is the end. But that's just my inexperienced, undereducated take on the whole thing thus far.

At the last startup I worked for, the VCs sold the company for a loss, so I am just as well pleased that I took five years’ worth of salary instead of a commensurate portion of their loss.

Then again, my salary was somewhat below market rates, and the VCs would have collected a management fee in proportion to what they invested, so maybe the VCs did come out ahead.

"instead of a commensurate portion"


...I'm an idiot. Today I learned how to spell commensurate!

> Isn't this more or less the case for any profits-go-to-owners business model?

Almost every industry out there manages to make good profits without their employees having to give up their lives.

I should have clarified. I was trying to make an observation on "employment" in general, whether you're treated with dignity as an employee or not. Even if you love your job, work <= 40 hours a week, have every weekend and holiday off, see your family every day, and life is going just swell, you're still probably never going to see _profits_ going to you, precisely because you're not considered an owner. You're a cost. And that deal may work out nicely. A six figure salary is nothing to sneeze at. But you're still not an owner. And in all likelyhood, you will never see past 7 figures.

I suppose I think there might be a model out there that better reflects ownership and the concepts of who earned what. More than anything, I don't believe the owner "earns" all of the profits of a company. The [owner + every last other employee in the organization] "earned" the profits. But while every other employee is more or less capped in their earnings, the owner gets the profit.

I understand the concept: take on a big risk, be rewarded for said risk with big gains. I suppose I just don't think anyone should be rewarded for winning a lottery of circumstance. If I owned a company, I don't think I'd see myself as having "earned" tens of millions of dollars and I don't think I'd be OK with taking home millions while the hundreds of staff beneath me did all of the brute work.

But then again, I've never owned a company. Maybe if I did I'd feel a whole lot differently about the whole thing.

"Almost every industry out there manages to make good profits without their employees having to give up their lives."

Medicine and law being two exceptions.

Note the pattern: medicine, law, and engineering are 3 industries where the employees carry significant human capital with them (finance is another one, and i-bankers also give up their lives).

I suspect the reason for this is because human capital makes the payoff for additional hours worked non-linear. One cashier working 80 hours a week should be just about as productive as two cashiers working 40 hours a week (a bit more even, because of fatigue). However, one engineer working 80 hours a week is significantly more productive than two engineers working 40 hours a week, because of the overhead required to get the second engineer up to speed and then the communication delays needed to make sure any information makes its way to both engineers.

Note that these professions are paid more as a result, too, because they're not fungible laborers. If that one engineer quits, you are a lot more hosed than if one of your cashiers quits.

The effect of both of this is that professional jobs tend to work longer hours, both because the worker himself is more productive doing so, and because they reap a greater percentage of the rewards for doing so. They have the option of deliberately short-circuiting these incentives, by eg. quitting and traveling the world for a year using savings. I know folks who've done this, and greatly enjoyed it. But it runs counter to societal expectations, so many don't.

> However, one engineer working 80 hours a week is significantly more productive than two engineers working 40 hours a week

Disagree! An engineer working 80 hours a week will make worse decisions, understand things more slowly, get more confused by bugs, and make poorer decisions overall. The net productivity will be lower. Some of the best programmers I know turn into terrible programmers after one long day. If you make that long day Friday, you might be able to squeeze 45 high-quality hours out of them in a week.

> However, one engineer working 80 hours a week is significantly more productive than two engineers working 40 hours a week

Only for short periods of time.

Every single piece of research on working hours for knowledge workers show that longer periods of overtime decrease productivity. These people work longer hours because the people that pay them are unable to measure productivity properly and instead pay them by hours worked. Good for your salary. Crap for your company's productivity.

Well, yes. I was mostly using the numbers for illustration's sake; substitute 1 40 hr/week employee vs. 2 20 hr/week employees if it makes the point clearer. (And it should make the point clearer: if you've ever had to manage volunteers, I bet you'd take one dedicated full-timer over a team of 10 half-time volunteers.)

I suspect there's an equilibrium point where the gains of human capital are offset by the losses of fatigue. My point is that you get declining efficiency in both directions; if you try to speed up work by adding more people, you incur costs in communication & learning overhead.

If I have the choice I want a rested doctor working less than 48 hours per week, even if that's "less productive" than the same doctor working 70 hour weeks.

Anyone working an 80 week is absolutely less productive than two people working 40 hour weeks, even taking "communication overhead" into account.

The reason an employer prefers a single "80 hour" employee is because either (a) an 80-hour employee costs less than 2 40-hour employees (worker willing to be abused), or (b) there is a labor shortage (either natural or artificial (lawyers, doctors, dealmakers with connections) so there are not enough qualified/capable staff.

"one engineer working 80 hours a week is significantly more productive than two engineers working 40 hours a week"

Similar in medicine doctors (hospitalists in particular) will work 12 hour shifts because of "continuity of care" which is better for the patient - to not be passed between two doctors.

>> What _is_ true is that for a VC's business model to work, it's necessary for _you_ to give up _your_ life in order for _him_ to become richer. > Isn't this more or less the case for any profits-go-to-owners business model?

Not necessarily. There are plenty of businesses where the principal owners are working just as hard as the "regular" employees, and don't just sit in on a board meeting once a month.

There's a difference between putting in 40 hr work-weeks doing solid work and putting in 80 hr work-weeks giving your entire life over to a project for years at a time. If you aren't compensated for the latter with the ability to retire or move up the salary ladder quite a few steps then you probably got screwed.

This might be applicable. A software co-operative:


The biggest problem with the model is financing. You need capital to build something big, and the easiest way to raise a lot of capital is to sell partial ownership of your company.

We http://www.atomised.coop are a worker's co-operative too and a startup. There are ways to raise finance in the UK certainly because co-ops can have almost any legal structure. e.g we are a limited company with the ability to issue Class B shares (the class A ones are the worker/owner equity). You also get multi-stakeholder co-ops where equity can be divided between investors, workers, customers even. It's called the 'somerset rules' or more commonly multi-stakeholder co-operatives. See http://somerset.coop/somersetrules A firsthand example I know is a train company startup. They divided equity between investors 25%, workers 50% and consumers 25%. I've always thought co-ops could really marry well with open-source & startups but startups know nothing about coops and coops know little about startups.

wait, does jwz really expect us to believe that he doesn't know who arrington is? I mean, the techcrunch conference afterparty two years ago was at his night club .. and I am pretty sure i saw both of them there.

In this instance, identification of the individual VC responsible for this specific instance of The Lie is not important. Leaving him unnamed helps us abstract out the pattern to its most condensed brown residue, so we can recognize it on our feet should walk at night in the park, or frequent certain scene sites.

Also, it's not that jwz doesn't know the dude, it's that jwz just doesn't give a fuck.


Just asked jwz, turns out he really doesn't know the guy.

  Increment jwz-man-crush
https://twitter.com/#!/jwz/status/141359337401626624 ]

when I re-read it I can see that is it more that he doesn't give a fuck. and thanks for clarifying with him.

I would have been surprised and disappointed if Zawinski knew who Arrington was. Why would he? Zawinski is past the valley tech scene.

I've booked/had people book the DNA and it's not uncommon to go through someone other than Jamie. So, yes, it's possible.

He didn't imply that. What he did imply is that he underestimated Arrington's level of fame. Merely saying "this guy" doesn't imply not knowing who he is.

As far as the nightclub thing...it could have been just a transaction from jwz's perspective.

jwz sells beer for a living now (he said so).

To succeed, one must work hard and smart. Overwork is rarely smart and, if done regularly, practically a guarantee of failure.

For the argument that "my father taught me to work hard...":

If I get more done in an hour than you do, should I continue to work as many hours as physically possible just to get ahead? What if the experience I've gained over a decade of doing this allows me to do twice the work that you do in an hour?

Simply working more hours is just a race to the bottom. There's nothing there. In fact I'd argue that it stifles the mind from seeing the bigger picture. A good mind built for solving problems doesn't try to exhaust itself with repetitive, menial tasks. You may work 16 hours a day but I argue that you will get less and less done per hour. And in the end whether you get rich or not all you'll have to show for it is diabetes, some form of erectile dysfunction (if you happen to have those bits), coronary disease, and an amphetamine addiction.

Instead cultivate your mind and aim higher.

Perseverance does pay off. That should be the lessons of your fathers/mentors/etc who "worked hard."

Working hard isn't simply working more hours.

Working consistent long hours does not mean you're getting more done. I believe RescueTime has data showing the average person at work 8-hours a day is only working 2-4 hours. The people I know who are consistently first in and last out are not getting more done - in fact they're usually doing it to make up for something. One theory on productivity says procrastinators and workaholics have the same core issue - but respond to it in opposite ways.

This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when George Castanza leaves his car at work so his boss thinks he's always there.

We need to stop measuring productivity by hours worked. Instead, productivity should be about finishing what you set out to do. If that only takes 4 hours, GO HOME. Plan the next day. Get some rest. Your output will be higher, and you'll be healthier and happier.

Makes total sense, enjoy your work and don't buy into you have to kill yourself to make it big in a startup. And the payout might not be worth it in the end unless your in a lucky percentage.

Oh, C'mon.

So I'm not supposed to work hard and get rich because as a side effect that some one else also is?

My dad is a cab driver. He really works his life off. Under absolutely dismal financial conditions he and may mom have given their whole lives to bring us out of poverty. They got me and my sister decent education. They did what every poor family in India does. They worked hard, saved money, invested it and got their kids good education so that we could now stand on our own legs.

He still pushes a 12-16 hours schedule everyday. You know what? Compared to most of his cab driver peers we are like 1000x better. He has achieved what none of them have ever or will ever achieved.

He pays a lot of commission to the travel office which gives him rentals. And sure they are getting rich too. He is using them and they are using him. That's how it all works. But he would not exist without them and vice versa.

He can of course sit back at home, he is old too(like he is nearing 65) and tell the travel office is getting rich because of his work so he won't go to work. But, he doesn't do that. He works hard for everything he has every earned.

Of course most of his friends and peers call him merely lucky. And that he is also a fool to be working hard not smart.

I really want people to define smart work. Its like people try to say there is some magical way to produce wealth and value out of nothing and that only smart alecs are capable of that.

It's not about working hard or getting rich. It's about working until you've put your health in danger. It's about coding until you're hallucinating. It might be necessary. But it's not laudable.

Likewise, with your dad, what's laudable is the result. What's not laudable is the process. I'm sure that your dad would have jumped at the opportunity to make the same amount of money for fewer hours worked every day.

In life, you don't get credit for trying. You get credits for results. Yes, working hard is necessary. It's not sufficient, though. You need a lot of luck to strike it rich like jwz did. That's the point he's trying to make. Sometimes, you work 16, 20 hour days, and you just go home bankrupt because the market just isn't there, the investors aren't willing to believe, and the customers don't give a damn. Then what do you have? You've ruined your health, you've alienated your family, you've isolated yourself for what? A dream. An illusion.

I'm not trying to take anything away from your dad. Those 16 hour days had value. But let's not pretend that there was zero luck involved. What if the travel agency hadn't given him rentals? What if his taxi had broken down and he'd been forced into debt in order to secure repairs? What if he'd come down with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or any number of ailments that could have ended his career? All those things (and many many more) would have prevented him from being able to provide you with that college education.

So yeah, definitely celebrate hard work. But don't pretend that pure hard work and saving money gives you the ability to stand on your own two legs. Those are the prerequisites, but there's a whole lot of other things that have to go right for everything to turn out well.

My dad has hypertension. He has a weak digestion(Because of stress). His legs are weak. He wears glasses(Because he battled the glare from vehicles all this life). He also has bad moods all the time(Because of the frustration battling traffic all day).

Yet he doesn't give up. That's what it really boils down to. Diseases are a part of life. You have to learn to live beyond and with them. He was lucky that every time he got an opportunity he used it, which opened up more opportunities. And he worked on those opportunities.

And by the way, No one that truly got rich and sustained his riches for a long time ever did it without working hard. The fact that not every body can work hard. The fact that most consider hard work 'not worth it'. The fact that most don't work hard is what has what has given hardworking people edge throughout history. And makes them a minority.

But I agree, Hard work may not always lead to results. But it increases your chances of success.

I consider my dad a personal hero because he demonstrated what focus and true hard work can achieve over time. Had he settled down for mediocrity like everybody else, he would be nothing more than a cab driver to me.

EDIT: Common folks why would you downvote this? Is not giving up beyond all odds, so bad?

Because our dad was paid for every hour of work he put in. He invested his time by the hour and his risk was minimal. For a startup coder he or she is investing by the month or year, and to walk away from that with not much to show for it can be awful.

These coders arent paid extra for all nighters, they aren't compensated for losing relationships, they aren't covered when they burnout, all for a realistically very slim chance of striking it rich.

I already mentioned in one of the threads below. Our work as software professionals today is more dependent on productivity not intelligence.

We are quickly assimilating in to normal crowd. We may even be judged by the same metrics they are.

For all those people who are not getting it. Today success of most software shops is about business innovation not technology innovation. Yes there are instances of Google and other big web giants innovating greatly in the technology area. But they amount to less than 1% of the software crowd.

We are all writing software to solve business problems. We are not writing software for Software innovation.

Unless you are doing something special. Most software today is written in IDE's. You don't have to remember syntax at all these days. The IDE will do it for you. It knows what libraries you want, it knows how many exceptions your code can run into. It knows how to compile, build and package your code. I can give you your code coverage. It can even do documentation for you. There is hardly anything IDE's can't do these days.

All you need is a little semantic awareness. And there are solutions to nearly every problem you are likely to run into a software shop. There are libraries, API's and frameworks that have understood and defined your problems as a generic case and solved them. There are forums to help you out on edge cases.

All you do these days is know a solution to a generic pattern of problems. You fundamentally pull out those logical solutions from your brain and parameterize them for the solution need at hand. And remaining is simply IDE play.

Very little or really a non quantifiable of highly intellectual work is happening in business based software shops today. Google, Facebook are exceptions, not the normal.

And this isn't surprising. We need armies of programmers to do all the bulk of the business job out there. If you are still thinking that as a software guy you are going to work with math theorems, then you have got it wrong.

Given all these, my success depends on only two things. How much aware of the reusable solutions. How quickly and how many problems can I solve using them. Which is productivity.

This is drag and drop programming demystified.

I am not sure whether you have ever worked at a startup or not. Your understanding of current software development is what big software service companies do with mediocre programmers. Startups never have army of programmers but few intelligent programmers. And there is nothing bad in using IDE, innovation does not mean to write a solution from scratch. There will always be need of abstraction based on current libraries and programming environment.

> All you need is a little semantic awareness. And there are solutions to nearly every problem you are likely to run into a software shop. There are libraries, API's and frameworks that have understood and defined your problems as a generic case and solved them. There are forums to help you out on edge cases.

Wow, I'm glad I do more interesting work than that drek.

You're being downvoted because you don't seem to be discussing anything remotely relevant to JWZ's or Arrington's posts. Your father's driving a taxi has absolutely nothing to do with VCs and the startup lottery, the economics aren't even remotely similar. Your father's compensation is tied to the results of his work in a very direct and inseparable way, and it does little to create long-term value for another person -- the cab company (if there really is one, often it's just a dispatch service) can't keep packaging up and selling your father's trips to the airport after he's quit/retired/died/etc..

No one is getting rich off your father's efforts to a massively disproportionate degree. That is not the case for the people JWZ is speaking to.

"But let's not pretend that there was zero luck involved"

What in his comment gives you the impression that he is claiming that luck did not play a role?

He talks only about how hard his dad worked and draws a direct line from his dad's hard work to the results. I'm trying to make the point that the line isn't so direct. There are a lot of things that could have happened to upset that trajectory and I don't think the OP is acknowledging them.

In other words, I've got the impression that OP thinks that life is fair - that if you work hard, you're guaranteed to get ahead. I'm arguing the opposite. Sometimes you do everything right and it all goes to hell anyway, due to forces outside your control.

I'll tread softly here, because obviously this is a sensitive issue to you, as it is family.

To me, working "smarter" has always been about recognizing where the "leverage" is in your business and taking advantage of it.

At the end of the day, there are some businesses that simply don't have an obvious or easy "leverage" point. Lawyers and dentists and doctors can only bill so many hours in the day. They are fundamentally limited in their earning potential by the clock. The "leverage" point becomes a practice, where they build a book of business and take off the top from the billing hours of employees.

A taxi driver has very little "leverage" to speak of.

Software, on the other hand, has an incredible amount of leverage: distribution is cheap; the marginal cost of customer acquisition and maintenance tends to be much, much lower than other businesses; initial capital costs are much lower than other businesses. That's why you get rags-to-riches stories in software more than other places: home-runs are cheaper to swing for.

In the taxi-driver business, it is hard to define "smarter." Points of leverage probably include discovering the optimal locations and times for maximize fares-per-hour. Ultimately, you're bound by the number of hours in the day, and that is a tough business to leverage. When there is no leverage, it is tough to work smarter; often, you have to resort to working harder.

Think about Coca-Cola. What is the core asset? Certainly they have developed a brand, but they protect their formula as trade-secret. Coke could theoretically be run as a pretty small organization, maybe just an IP holding company, and leverage bottling and distribution companies to take advantage of their already existing infrastructure. To me, that is working "smarter." That is what a lot of software companies do. Look at all the "bottlers" and "distributors" that are coming out of the wood-work for software. For a start-up, I can pretty much out-source (from open-source, nonetheless) the majority of my components, IT infrastructure, and IT maintenance. That is leverage. That is working "smarter."

A cab driver has a leverage too. There are hours in a day(24 hour day) where he can bill his customers double and sometimes even three times. The reason a cab driver doesn't earn much is because he can't really scale his business linearly.

I get your point. And I definitely agree, we enjoy a position where we can use our 'time' non linearly to make money. I guess this is what you call leverage.

But how much 'time'? listen, unless I'm working on a new algorithm or something. These days I'm nothing more than a Henry Ford era factory guy. Eclipse does the auto complete for me. There are libraries and API's that have solved most of my problems. There are forums that have answers to questions I don't know. There are design patters that handle architecture use cases.

I don't write code. These days I assemble logical parameterizable templates from my brain, which translate to syntax on Eclipse, which again gets auto completed. We really are in drap and drop era.

Considering all this, winning is boiling down to productivity not intelligence.

I am helpless, the only way I can win as day to day programmer is to do more work in available time.

Working smart is getting someone or something else to do your work for you. That's one definition, and in the case of VCs, it's how they work.

VCs don't invest in a company. They invest in a functioning system. They invest in individuals whom they trust to build and maintain a functioning system. The nature of the system is largely irrelevant to them, as long as it produces what they desire: money, prestige among peers, hope, relief from boredom, etc.

Understanding a system is essential to working smart, but even more essential is having the balls to exploit and manipulate the system - to add value to them system and to remove waste and inefficiency from the system. Functioning systems are often highly inert; they resist change. That's why I say you need balls to change it.

Your father sits in a cab all day driving people from point to point. He functions in a transportation system. But what did he do to exploit it? Maybe he didn't have the balls to exploit a system he understood. However, you can bet he hopes that, one day, you will.

You are talking of a totally tangential point. The point of the debate is about people who don't cheat(that's the short form of exploiting the loop hole in the system).

VC's aren't exploiting the system. They bet their money on stuff which they can loose. How many of such bets turn out to be successful. You work hard on your one start up. Remember they are betting on many start up's at one time.

That risk deserves some reward. Eventually considering the research and decisions they need to take over time to stay alive. VC's need to work hard too.

When they make 100x more than you in an IPO, they are basically getting compensated only as much you because they lost money somewhere else.

They may get 100x more from your start up but remember they are loosing elsewhere. So in principle you both earn the same.

Exploit doesn't always have a negative connotation, and neither does manipulate. Cheating is irrelevant to the discussion. If you think exploitation is only about cheating, then you will be a software developer your whole life, as your father was a cab driver for his.

VCs are exploiting a system. In fact, that is their sole purpose. If they win more than they lose, they continue to be VCs, otherwise they slip into irrelevance and are put out to pasture as a senior executive at some stagnant, but stable company.

Winning more than loosing is called profit, not exploiting.

Everybody here, is for profits. That's more of goes without saying kind of thing.

Warren Buffett has said “In business, I look for economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats’.” Where the castle is a metaphor for the business and the moat its competitive advantage against competitors. The wider the moat the better.

My definition of “smart work” is work that simultaneously earns income and widens the moat between you and your competitors by extending your skillset in areas of demand.

With every respect for your father’s impressive work-ethic, if you worked as hard as he did to become, say, an expert geophysicist specialising in deep-sea oil extraction, where do you think your income would be at the same point of your life with the same amount of work effort applied? That’s the difference between “hard” and “smart” work.

My dad's initial investment to afford a car was nothing. He drove some ones else's car before he got himself one.

My initial investment is college education and daily learnings.

In order to make money/profit you need to apply seed investment and then work over it in time. Either way you will end up working. Its the seed investment that makes the difference here.

In order to work in the petrochemical industry, you really need to account for what seed investment got you there. Once that is in place. Its back to your plain old hard work to grow from there.

It impossible to generate value without working for it.

I agree completely. But the point of working smart is to pick a profession where continuous refinement of your skill-set will put you in both higher demand and rarer company.

This is hard to do as a taxi driver. It's hard to do in IT too when you pick the wrong technology stack to specialize in (eg. Flash or VB6) and have to start again back in the pack at some point.

edit - just to expand a little. In my experience, most people get to a point in their career where they think their 'moat' is wide enough. They stop learning or extending their skillset. Now it's important to note that this doesn't necessarily mean they've stopped working hard. They might be pulling 80+ hour weeks. But if it's the same work they've done before, their career is now a cash-cow. In IT this is especially dangerous because the industry evolves so fast, that you can be overtaken by skilled competitors using more efficient technologies.

jwz and Arrington are talking about engineers in Silicon Valley. Those guys are relatively well off and have a lot of opportunities. The point is that they shouldn't be fooled into working hard for no extra gain compared to their other opportunities.

Was he working 12-16 hours when you were a kid? So did you use to see him only the weekends?

Are your father's cab driver peers also working 12-16 hour schedules?

"So I'm not supposed to work hard and get rich because as a side effect that some one else also is?"

Way to not read the article. That's not what's being said at all. Nothing wrong with working hard, however, the person that should reap the primary benefit of that hard work should be YOU, not some VC or an employer. Furthermore, hard work does NOT mean spending every waking minute slaving away at something.

"And sure they are getting rich too. He is using them and they are using him. That's how it all works. But he would not exist without them and vice versa."

Your dad understands the "pecking order"and so do you. This is a good trait but not understood by everyone. You're lucky he has instilled this in you. Many people in this country don't understand this unfortunately and have a loser attitude.

Reason for down votes?

Massive respect for jwz.org for disregarding popular opinion and dropping truth.

I think just talking about only hard work being a means to success is a over-simplification of working of this complex world. Working smart as opposed to working hard is also important if you want to benefit financially.

Lets say a kid works hard in his college days and gets to be a dentist or a lawyer or somebody like that. Lets say another kid in similar circumstances chooses not to work that hard or makes a bad judgement and ends up in a not so rewarding area- rank and file job. It is totally fathomable that the dentist kid could end up making twice as much by working half as hard as the rank and file kid for the rest of their lives.

All in all, the idea that working harder will reward you in the future seem fair or karmic. The real world probably is not that simple. I would think there are many other equally important factors like opportunities, luck, judgement etc.

It's worth pointing out that while Arrington is a VC now, he also started his own company (TechCrunch), worked very hard to grow it for years, and guided it to a nice exit to AOL. So this is not necessarily a case of "do as I say, not as I do." He was famously hard working when he was growing TechCrunch.

Somehow I fail to equate Zynga with "dent in the universe". Netscape did make a dent. Google did make a dent. If you have the choice of where you'll work, and you want to work that hard, you might want to pay attention to how what actual value will come out of your work for the rest of us...

I would argue that some of the best code I've ever written didn't take long to write. If Arrington understood both the physical and mental nature of bug-quashing, he'd have a more nuanced view of the slavish work sessions he's advocating.

Sometimes it makes sense to pull overnighters and sometimes it simply burns a coder out and drives him to poor productivity and an infectious bad attitude. It takes an expert to know the difference.

I don't think Mike is writing in the spirit you suggest; he's just arguing that you have to work hard to achieve something great. Is there something wrong with that argument? Of course, VCs want the people they invest in to work hard....does that surprise anyone? No one has to take VC money.....know what you're signing up for.

This is the comment I left on Uncrunched:

(PS: if you feel inclined to downvote, cool -- but I would like to know the reason. Maybe you can reply and tell me why you seem to disagree.)

LOL Mike. Our company gets things done without having to live like slaves.

There is a reason http://qbix.com/about has pictures of all of us in nature. It’s subtle but it all fits together with our company’s vision. We want to have fun and enjoy LIVING LIFE as we enjoy creating the tools that improve other people’s lives.

Yes, we work hard. And we create things together. But with the internet, 3G, and Wifi we are able to work from anywhere! This is more than can be said for any other industry, and we are lucky to be around in this time when we can travel and still get things done. Not only that, but the geographical constraints are now loosened. Not too long ago you could only choose among engineers that live nearby. Today you can hire engineers that do great work even if they live halfway around the world, and you can connect over the internet, Skype, and a host of other tools that just work.

We are building more of these tools. We believe in liberating people from their computers and focusing on just living their lives and getting things done. We love freedom. We want it for others, and we want it for ourselves.

It takes a careful system and a focus on process, but it can be done. With the right tools, the right guidelines and habits, we can be productive without sleeping under desks.

After all, you have one life, and work is a part of it. We have a motto: people live lives, companies create products.

Nice plug.

Not really a plug - just proud of what we are doing. Actually from a strictly selfish point of view I'd rather have kept it a secret and not said anything, because the more people realize how much talent is out there without geographical boundaries, the harder it'll be for us to hire. But at the same time we really do like our freedom, including freedom of information, and we want to lead by example.

Think of it this way ... the guys at 37signals always have their own vision and culture that they are pushing. We have the culture of freedom, enjoying life, getting things done, and making smart tools that empower people to get things done better, have control over their data and liberate them from having to waste their time on the computer. We are proud to be a company that is able to take advantage of the latest opportunity that is out there ... to get work done without all the nonsense, and to still have time to enjoy our lives!

I think being able to work from anywhere is actually less liberating, because it means you're always battling internally about whether you should be working or not.

- Having a boss is liberating because otherwise you are always battling internally about whether you should be working or not

- Having no money is liberating because otherwise you are always battling internally about whether you should buy something or not

- Being in prison is liberating because otherwise you are always battling internally about what to do with your life

If you love what you do, then you will be thinking about doing it. In fact, the problem is often that you are thinking about it when you are expected to be having fun - because you're out with people.

That's when you know you love your work.

But anyway -- I mean it when I say: people live lives, companies create products. A person can devote only 10-20 hours and still be productive. If you write documentation in a common framework, and you have a common process for everyone, then the developers have an easier time picking up whether others left off, and working together. In a word: better encapsulation. I think Google had this back in the day with their interchangeable desks/developers :P

COMPLETELY unrelated, but I do wonder - is this the most upmodded submission here on HN? I know reddit has the /top/ modifier you can add to links (e.g. http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/top/), but I was unable to find anything similar here.

I find that I really connect with about 1 in 4 of jwz's rants.

It is a general rule that anytime there is someone above you in the hierarchy, they are going to make $2 for every $1.50 you make. Of COURSE the VC's will make more money than you. And the people who put the actual money into the funds should make even more than THEM.

The startup world, and economy in general has changed dramatically from the last time jwz was heavily involved, IMO. It's good that he made what qualifies as his own fuck you money and can now look in on things from the outside and comment thoughtfully. For a lot of people though, working 80 hour weeks grinding out a startup or 3 is still the most probable way of banking a decent retirement fund AND still having some life left to enjoy. I don't think that I'd advise many people to do a 30 year career of crazy startups, but it's kind of a geek lottery and worth the gamble for lots of people.

I don't really see where this is using his name to sell a con. If that were the case, I would think Arrington would pick someone who hadn't dropped out of the game a decade ago to sell his 'con'.

> working 80 hour weeks grinding out a startup or 3 is still the most probable way of banking a decent retirement fund

Seems doubtful to me. Does anyone have statistics on how many non-founder VC funded engineers have made even $1 million off of equity? I'm going to guess it's less than 1:20,000 employees, a suckers bet. If you're willing to work hard you have a much better chance by starting your own boot-strapped non-pie-in-the-sky business that just sells something at a profit.

Depends on what time period we are talking about - if over 4 years, then $1 million is a handsome return for an early stage (non founding, first 10) engineer at a successful startup. If over 8 years, then $1 million equity return works out to be $125K/year - not as exciting. I'd suggest the odds for a $1million equity return over eight years is closer to 1/20. Still lousy odds, but a great engineer can shift them by making the company successful.

I know engineers that have made over $250k/yr total compensation (including salary, bonus, and stock options) over the last 2 years alone. And this is for a well established post-IPO company (not Google). I think their take home just from monthly vesting stock was roughly $150k over 2 years.

I still remember the thread where someone asked about how much people made out on an exit, and it seemed like firmly 80% of the people who responded said that they got screwed by the founders or VC, and only one said that he made enough for a downpayment on a house. So to me, 5% odds to make $1MM over 8 years seems really high.

It would be an interesting statistic to see how many startups have been started since 2008 and what their success rate has been.

"I don't think that I'd advise many people to do a 30 year career of crazy startups"

And that's at least what _I_ took away from jwz's rant - doing it to get rich is a mug's game, choose to do "crazy startup" type things because you love doing it. You may get rich, you may not - truth is most of us can't tell from the inside whether we're "improving our chances" or not by slogging through as something we hate, it's ~90% likely to fail anyway. In the long run your chances of "happiness" are probably significantly improved by doing what you love now (instead of what you think might be outrageously lucrative).

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