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Ask HN: How do you deal with missing out on the Facebook money train?
39 points by ithrowitforfree on May 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments
Like many folks on here, I've had opportunities over the years to join Facebook as an engineer. The first was ~3.5 years ago, and many times since.

Unfortunately for me, I declined each time. Instead, I chose to go the entrepreneurial route. I love what I do, and I've built something users love. It makes money, but nowhere near what it needs to for me to see a big payout. I draw a modest salary, and although I'm not struggling to pay bills I could obviously use more money.

Many friends I worked with ended up going to Facebook, and will see windfalls soon. Most won't need to work for the rest of their lives. Some will forget me and other friends who didn't 'make it'. Some will still remain friends. I wish only the best for them - they've worked hard and deserve every bit of their success. I hold no ill-will towards them.

But I will forever have to live with a "what if..." in my life. A few million dollars go a long way in changing around your life.

There are many ways to rationalize decisions of the past. I've read the post by the guy who didn't accept the offer from Instagram before their huge exit. I don't feel the same way, but then I don't know if I would've done things differently if I had a chance to go back. I learnt a lot, got a ton of experience and built skills I couldn't have at Facebook. I can't rationalize that being worth a few million bucks though. I'm conflicted, and I need to talk about it because it distracts me from what I need to get done.

I'm sure there are others like me. What do you guys think about when you think of such missed opportunities?




A few million dollars go a long way in changing around your life.

Knowing a few people with a few million dollars, one of the things they'll confide over drinks is how much less it changes your life than you would think. Unhappy families with a million dollars are unhappy families. Sick parents with a million dollars are sick parents. Seeing the Avengers with your kids with a million dollars is seeing the Avengers with your kids. (Flipside: Maybe it is just a reflection on the kind of people I'm likely to know, but four separate people have told me that the thing that really freaking rocks about being a millionaire is that you can easily swing a cleaning service coming by and doing the whole house every single week.)

I sometimes think about how things could have shaken out differently. I went to a fairly good school and many of my classmates went into management consulting or finance. A good deal of them wondered why I didn't. (Neither option was ever really on my radar screen. I think if you had asked me in college "Sketch out how you, Patrick, would get a job at McKinsey" I would have been literally incapable of answering that question even though the answer was probably "Put on your debater suit and talk to the recruiter from McKinsey.") They have fairly predictable career trajectories and are now hitting 30 right as I do. I was raised to never talk about money, so I don't, but if I were guessing I'd peg many of them for low seven digits millionaires.

This would have been mildly irksome to me if I were still a salaryman (less for envy over their conditions and more for still being a salaryman), but since life is pretty rocking right now I don't give it too much thought.


I think you slightly underestimate the degree to which that can change your life. When the average American lives paycheck to paycheck, having tens of thousands of dollars in checking account means that you simply don't have to worry about things like treating your kids and their friends to a movie and popcorn. You can buy things other people would see as a great luxury (e.g. transpacific plane tickets) without batting an eye. You don't need to worry about going to a job you hate because you ultimately don't need it.

What money buys you is freedom. If you've got a few million in the bank, provided you don't spend it recklessly, you've got yourself a middle-class lifestyle for the rest of your life. That's freedom from a lot of worries that the average American is perpetually troubled by. Sure, you can blow it and have one hell of a decade, but I respect the average HN'er enough to assume that's not what was meant.


But we're comparing a software engineer, who hopefully doesn't live paycheck to paycheck, to a Facebook engineer, who presumably will make a couple million dollars in 6 months.


Assuming both of those people are 30, one of them can retire comfortably for the rest of his life. The other will likely work for at least another ten years.

How much do you value ten years of your life?


The principal level takes a long time nowadays at MBB, and most also take a 1 or 2 year break for an MBA. So I would estimate their net worth at age 30 more at mid to high 6 figures.


Don't ever look backwards, it's a waste of time.

Learn the lessons of your misses and take them with you.

If you were recruited multiple times to join FB you are going to continue to have great opportunities.

If you're inspired by the idea of valuable stock go build a list of what you consider to be the top 5 start-ups with traction.

Then find a way to engage them.

Even if you missed on FB, you can still catch the crazy-money boomerang and pull out MILLIONS in the next 3 - 5 years.

Heck, write a blog post lamenting your FB miss and weave it to talk about your credentials.


"Don't ever look backwards, it's a waste of time. Learn the lessons of your misses and take them with you."

Sometimes, for me at least, it takes months or years of reflecting on the past to learn from a mistake. Looking backwards can be healthy too.


Ha, almost makes me feel bad that I made a throwaway a/c for this. Thanks!


>"I can't rationalize that being worth a few million bucks though."

The skills and experiences are worth more than a few million dollars.

>"I love what I do, and I've built something users love."

You have a success story, don't sit on it and just wish for the best things to happen to you. Keep shipping. Keep building side projects. Keep learning new things.

Following the IPO there will be many people who have cashed out and will look at the general investment market (equities/bonds/fx) and decide that they'd rather roll the dice and invest in what they know: startups. Keep networking, keep up past relationships, and don't burn bridges unnecessarily. When you're ready to raise funds for a project that needs outside capital, you want to have a black book full of names and numbers of people that have the wealth and connections to get you funded.

There will always be opportunity costs to every decision you make, stop thinking about the "what-ifs" of the past and start thinking about the "what-ifs" of the future, based on what you do today. Then get to work building that future.


Missed opportunities are a success indicator. For example, who has more missed opportunities, Peter Thiel or a homeless person?

You could have been born in Africa and lived your entire life surrounded by poverty. I promise this is better. Congratulate them. This is your opportunity to learn to overcome envy. Think of how much more powerful your network is about to become.

Many of the people who work at Facebook will never make money again. Which is actually a lot more depressing than your situation. They need to live with the fact that the most important thing they ever did in their lives was walk into the right job. They know full well that Facebook would have succeeded just the same with or without them.


They've worked hard for what they have - and I think it's good to give them that credit. But - well, sometimes I think you have to accept where you are and see the strength it holds.

When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me a story about a guy he knew in college who always got easy A's, and spent the rest of the time partying. He told me that for a long time he felt envious, but after a while he realized this was just who he was; he had to work for every bit of what he got, work to do well on every test, but that work he put in was part of its meaning to him. In some small way, it meant more to him because he worked so hard for it.

Somebody here said [1] that, if you'd been at Facebook for the IPO, you'd spend the rest of your life wondering "what if?" Your friends who are there worked hard for what they've got, I'm sure - but if I were in their position, it'd be very difficult for me not to wonder about it. I'd wonder if I just got lucky, if I just was in the right place at the right time, if it had anything to do with me or if it was just that I happened to join that one company with the hundred billion dollar IPO.

You don't have to wonder. You built it with your own hands, and you sweated for what you have. Sure, it would be fantastic to see a windfall like that, and your friends will see lots of benefits from it, but your prize is knowing that every single dollar you make and every great thing you build, you yourself worked to achieve.

There's an ancient Greek saying: "Great things are never easy." Even if they don't bring you big payouts, I don't think you have anything to regret if you can look back and know you worked hard to do great things.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3974928


> But I will forever have to live with a "what if..." in my life.

This is going to happen many more times in the future, with work and family and health. Sometimes it'll be about more important things than money. How you deal with it today will set the tone for how you'll deal with it in the future. You'll be one step ahead of those who haven't had to deal with this, and their millions won't help them then.


I worry less about the missed opportunities to join Facebook.

I worry more about the impact this sudden injection of cash into the local economy is going to have on the rest of us (a group most economists would call "the middle classes").

What we're about to see is going to be an example of micro-economy inflation.

Don't expect any deals when you go to buy a car next year - the dealership will have more than met their sales target and have a steady flow of Facebook stock holders coming through their door. House prices will shoot up too, although I'm not in the market to buy a house so that worries me less.

At a micro-economy level, local bars and restaurants in Soma, Mission, Pac Heights and other places popular with Facebook crowd (note how many FB busses their are in these areas at commute time) will no doubt try to charge more and probably get away with it.

I actually can't quantify how many people are getting made by the FB IPO but I reckon it's enough to have some local impacts on the rest of us.


Good thing I don't live in the SF Bay Area. I would be way more regretful if I lived there, 'coz it would be a double blow.


Despite how much money is glorified in our culture, its a relatively ho-hum thing after reaching a certain point. I am definitely not mega-wealthy but I've reached a point where I've realized how little potential it has to make me more happy than I already am.

Having money presents an opportunity to achieve more happiness but it has dramatically diminishing marginal returns in my experience. In fact you'd be amazed at how many people use it to do something that inevitably makes them less happy.

To put things into perspective, everyone has limited time here on earth. Money is a small component of how good that experience is.


I think about how awesome are the problems I get to solve every day, how much php sucks, and how much I really don't care about getting people to push the like button more times in a day. I do fine on a day-to-day basis, I'm paying off my debt. I value the time I enjoy at work much higher than a couple million that I'd probably just blow on nonsense anyway.


If you had joined them, you'd also be wondering "what if" you had stayed and worked on your startup, especially after seeing Instagram's sale: "what if that was my startup"? Now you know.


You're an entrepreneur whose job is to build things for people and you live a comfortable lifestyle.. do you have any idea how many people around this world would kill to be in a position like you? I don't see why anyone (including yourself) should feel sorry for you. Life doesn't owe you anything and here you are moaning about a little more money in the bank. If you keep living in regret and under the shadow of your past, you'll never live up to your full potential; then in the end you'll realize how much time you wasted getting hung up on money when you should have been enjoying life doing the things you love.


1. Any "friend" that forgets you because you didn't "make it" isn't a friend in the first place and isn't worth keeping around as one (as much as I hate to burn bridges altogether).

2. There is no point in regrets and asking "what if". Better to focus your energy in putting you best foot forward and figuring out what you want to do next base on what you feel is best for yourself. I'm confident many people, if not everyone, has had opportunities they've passed on in their lives but its not worth dwelling on. Easier said than done for many, however, but you should still try to move forward.


I'd be willing to bet that the average Facebook engineer isn't going to be stellar at putting those millions of dollars towards extra personal happiness. They will buy material possessions, not necessarily life experiences.

If you take a couple weeks to travel and meet young twentysomethings hopping from hostel to hostel, working for a week here and there to gather enough money to go to the next city, cleaning the bathrooms just for a free bed that night, you'll see that they are probably achieving greater happiness with a few thousand dollars than the average FB engineer will with millions. The happiness multiplier per dollar they spend is insanely high, I suspect, compared to what the average millionaire in the valley will get.

I'm not saying that the solution for everyone is to go hostel-hopping in Europe, but given that it is possible to be happy with thousands of dollars, you should look for the experiences that will make you most happy. Is going hiking on the weekend more fulfilling if you drive there in a fancy car? Is a board game with friends more fun in the living room of a $5 million dollar home?

There are folks who are far less fortunate than you having a lot of fun in life. I think that if you give it some thought and try to maximize your happiness per dollar spent, you will find yourself less envious and perhaps even envied.


I'm ruthlessly anti-nostalgic, so that helps.

I've had a few people ask me things like, "What do you think your life would be like if you had decided to pursue X instead?" I can't even process the question. How could I know? That type of thinking is pure fantasy to me. Every outcome in our lives, even the seemingly simple ones, have nearly infinite branching opportunities. To engage in the thought process of rewinding, changing one small detail, then fast forwarding to some imaginary reality is just... fantasy. I might as well spend the time imagining flying through the clouds in my hover car.


Wow.. I'm ignorant.. but if you joined 3.5 years ago, you'd have millions right now? Really? Is that the norm or exception? Geez... that's just 2008... I would understand 2005 when they were in a huge growth phase.

Either way, I know it's hard to emotionally know this, but I once had a phase in my life where I was making lots of money for a couple of years. To the point where I am sort of financially independent right now. But I was horribly depressed because I had very little friends, and no authentic relationships. It felt quite empty. So money really isn't everything.


About your first point: a friend who joined in April 2009 and is now Engineering Manager says he stands to make about $10M if the valuation of $100B persists when he gets to sell.

I do often think about the non-monetary aspects of my life, and feel better knowing I'm not in terrible shape socially or financially. Thing may or may not have been similar on the non-financial front had I worked at FB - obviously, I'll never know.


I turned down a job w/Microsoft in the early 90's with great options. Interestingly enough, they kept calling me back - I really got the impression it wasn't that they really wanted me, it was just that they were curious about someone turning down their job offer.

Anyhow, I gnawed on this for some years, calculating what the options would have been worth, but I finally let it go when it go to be around 5m.

Anyhow, cry in your beer a little bit and move on.


A dollar is not a dollar is not a dollar. It matters to me how I make my money. Getting lucky by winning the employee lottery at a hot startup is much less meaningful to me than making a large (but lesser) sum through a startup. If all you care about is racking up zeros in your bank account, then yes you missed out on FB. If you care about other things, then you're probably ok.


It sounds like you're dealing w/ the perceived loss of a potential significant amount of cash.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

> I need to talk about it because it distracts me from what I need to get done.

Therapists are available to help work out these kinds of issues.


There was a quote from someone, "Find something you enjoy doing and you'll never work another day in your life." ... maybe your friends are technically richer, but for them it might be just a job, whereas you actually enjoy what you do and get the sort of satisfaction from it that money can't buy.


Don't worry about it. It's not clean money. FB is not clean with its pedophilia, hate groups and soul destroying addictions and who knows what else goes on. You won't be on the street anyhow, will have sorted out your friends and have your conscience intact.


Who you are right now is a product of that decision.


Of course. That doesn't mean I can't regret or think about decisions of the past, right?


At that moment in time, did you know FB stock was going to be worth so much?

No. You didn't know.

Nobody knew.


Should we expect an Occupy Facebook gathering later this week?




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