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Late bloomer, not a loser. (I hope) (500hats.com)
604 points by moses1400 on July 8, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 191 comments

Well he's not a late bloomer to the vast majority of people.

I think no matter your lot in life, if you're competitive, you get the feeling that you missed out on a lot that you could have accomplished. Stories of kids learning programming at 6, or starting companies at 16, etc, feed into this.

Even I feel like I would be much farther "ahead" if I had only started programming before high school, if I had been more gung-ho about college, if I had gone to California in 2010 after graduation instead of remaining in New Hampshire. I don't even know any programmers in person outside of my work. My "network" isn't something to put on a pedestal.

And yet by all accounts I live an extremely comfortable life, I wrote enough to get noticed and get a book deal just two years out of college, my friends think I'm of superhuman intellect, I'm able to walk to work every day, etc.

I think the kind of worry in this post is a response to the world born out of hyper-competitiveness, and I don't think its a healthy one. It's not a positive message, and the events that could turn it into a positive message for this person, the qualifications for "not being a loser", should never involve anything five or six sigma from the norm.

Look around you and relax. You've probably already won.

For the type of competitive folks you talk about (of which I am definitely one), I think the Internet has really changed things - your 'scope' of competition is now 7 billion people, rather than the roughly 400-500 folks you could reasonably know in your 'home town'.

Now, even in New Hampshire (to steal your example), you can subconsciously see yourself competing against folks in NYC or San Francisco or Beijing, who have entirely different sets of circumstances, etc.

It's almost cliche that the 'hometown hero' will have a hard time in the 'real world' (subject of many movies, etc.), but the Internet makes this play out on a daily basis.

Like you say, it's all a matter of perspective. Can you really settle for 'winning' locally, knowing that you're barely competitive globally? I think that's a question many folks struggle with.

I think the message he's communicating is that he knows he hasn't fully committed himself ever. He's shied away from it, danced along the edges of it. But never done it.

I'm of a similar age, and a similar childhood. I get where he's coming from, even though he's far more successful than me. He's comparing himself to what he knows his potential to be. Or what he believes it to be, anyway, which might as well be the same thing in its effect.

That gets to be a complicated thing. It's delusional in part, of course. But it's also not, in part. He likely really could have achieved a lot more if he'd put more of himself into it.

Maybe not all he imagines, but he's clearly saying he knows there was more to do than he's done.

I don't think that's a bad standard to hold yourself to. I think a lot of progress depends on that kind of standard.

My senior year of high school I had this long running fight with one of my teachers. I'd cruised through school to that point, putting in just enough effort to pass everyone else, but no more than that. This teacher started grading me lower, writing "You can do better than this" on my papers. I was furious with him. Furious. I'd stay after school and we'd literally yell at each other about it for hours. I said he had no right to expect more from me, I was giving him more than anyone else was as things were. He had to grade me on the same scale. He completely refused to do it. Being a very stubborn boy, I refused to do more.

I "won" that argument by just not giving him what he wanted from me. But he was right to demand it, and I was wrong not to work harder. I paid for that attitude in college and for many years after.

I think in the end it's about not cheating yourself. I think that's that McClure is on about, and I think he's right.

I had a similar experience in school - though no yelling. I often achieved A4s; A for academic grade, 4 for effort (1 being putting in all you've got, 4 being the opposite end of the scale). I took pride in this saying it showed I could deliver effortlessly. In some subjects which weren't in my skillsets (e.g. French & English) where I was getting Bs my parents said they wouldn't mind if they didn't think I could do better, but I was bright enough to get As were I to put in the effort; I decided that if I were less bright I wouldn't be expected to put in the effort, so aimed at making myself thicker (I still don't know how I'd hoped to achieve that, I just left it to lazyness and hoped that was enough). I also argued when it came to revising for exams, saying that revising was cheating as it doesn't show what you've learnt / retained, so anything you crammed in leading up to the exam was just temporary knowledge which you'd lose the moment the exam was over, so would give you false exam results grading you on a momentary peak rather than a general state for that phase of your life.

I blame myself for this, but feel education could be delivered differently to cater for people like us. I had a great education, attending the same school as Terry Pratchett and Heston Blumenthal had, with a lot of teachers who knew their subjects well and cared about their pupils' development, beyond just league table ratings. However, the reason I got A4s is because I never failed - I kept getting what I needed to without putting in effort; I needed a challenge to force me to push myself. In those days this may not have been possible; the internet was still in its infancy so you only competed with those in your year group. Streaming helps here, but with the numbers involved the top set may be the top 30 / 120 or so, so still a very mixed bag.

There are now a number of projects to provide education on-line. As this grows and the school/education models adapt to take advantage of this, I suspect we'll see competition between larger groups of people, encouraging those of a certain attitude to push themselves further to meet their full potential. That said, for those towards the bottom will this force them to up their game, or leave them feeling failures with no motivation? Hopefully the systems will evolve to aid those at both ends by selecting appropriate methods for the various personalities involved, allowing everyone to meet their potential.

Yep. This resonates. AEs (the Australian A4) all the way through school.

I cruised through University getting a weighted mean of 75.1 because that was enough to receive first class honours, and the next step up the reward scale was the university medal, with a pre-req of 85.0 and competition from other people. If you missed out on being #1, you just got the same first class honours as everyone else. It didn't add up to me, so I took the lazy approach.

I have a few regrets about this, because now working for myself, I realize exactly how lazy I've made myself. I like working hard, but not on things I find difficult. Hacking and making stuff is fun; being the boss is hard. Taking a lean startup/Steve Blank approach is hard; giving up, making the product I want to make, and probably failing because I didn't put in the effort to make sure someone wanted it ahead of time seems easier. I'm beating myself up about this because ranting on the internet is easier than knuckling down and doing the hard work.

I need a wise and grumpy mentor to slap me around the head a few times. :-P

ps. for anyone interested there's some useful info on streaming in education here: http://www.teachingexpertise.com/articles/grouping-pupils-ab...

One option not mentioned there is getting the top pupils to assist in teaching the others; thus providing mutual benefit (since you learn where the gaps in your knowledge are when teaching, leading to you getting a much better understanding by plugging those gaps)

I agree. I've felt the same way for a long time, and still do occasionally. I guess I realized that I was only not committing myself fully because if I sabotaged myself (did work at the last minute etc) I provided myself with an excuse for failure. Because I'm moderately intelligent, I could get away with that all through high school and university, but eventually I had to radically change my outlook to actively embrace failure.

Putting everything into something and failing is better than succeeding without putting anything into it. Don't hold your passions at arm's length.

Absolutely true.

I find the same effect on HN to be even worse. HN now has over 100k uniques/day[1] .

That means that on any topic you'd ever like to comment on, odds are good there are many HN visitors who are better at that you are.

[1] traffic from last year: http://ycombinator.com/images/hntraffic-9feb11.png)

That's true, but there's also an advantage to that. It's possible to learn a lot simply by osmosis of reading this site. This does lead to some bizarre groupthink though.

I've also seen many people who learn things incorrectly and do harm to themselves from reading this site and others as well. It goes both ways and totally up to interpretation. As I once crossed a book in a bookstore which a cover which read "It's not what you say, its what they hear". Everyone interpret everything differently and sometimes this could be good and sometimes it could be bad. I think its all in perception.

I still have somehow trouble with these high numbers. By looking at the front page, the points for top stories are still staying relatively at the same level. These relatively low numbers of votes makes it still seem to be a relatively close community but maybe just many of the new visitors can't be bothered to participate.

I assure you these numbers are real. I have no inside knowledge, but I have submitted a few StackOverflow posts (with my username attached to them) that made it to the front page, and I watched how many of them were from my link on HN.

"Stuck due to “knowing too much”" (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4037794), 68 votes, about 15,000 visitors

"What's The Best Language For Safety Critical Software?" (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3943556), 108 votes, about 25,000 visitors

(there was another one with about 200 votes, but I didn't find it!)

Compare these to submissions like this one, that has 350+ upvotes already, and I think it's realistic to assume at least 60 or 70 thousand unique users (I mean users in the sense that they know HN and visit it consciously) visit HN every day.

Very interesting, thanks a lot for sharing! But this makes it only even more mysterious, why so few people vote or take part in the discussions.

"why so few people vote or take part in the discussions."

To vote or participate you have to be logged in.

Would be interesting if PG released some data on logged in visitors.

Also, isn't the amount of votes the amount of net votes? So you could have 100 upvotes and 60 downvotes to net 40? (Of course that still doesn't jive with his numbers which I agree were very interesting and unexpected I would have never guessed that.)

Not participating could be also a) a confidence issue or b) lack of ability to type or use of a particular keyboard (I never comment from mobile for example).

Still, it doesn't explain the discrepancy in the numbers.

I don't know about the reason behind low number of votes, but the relatively low number of comments could be because the general attitude on HN (for the most part) is to be silent unless you have something constructive to say :)

For example, I don't know anything about python for example, so anything I can possibly say would be completely un-constructive (except if it's a question), so I shut my mouth and don't say anything; even when I see a (provocative) comment saying Node.js, which I really like, is shit and we should all be using python.

I've done my share of posting useless things on this site, but in the paste few months I've tried to not waste other people's times with useless comments and have removed maybe 40 comments (I would write a comment, read it and see it's not important and don't press "reply").

"to be silent unless you have something constructive to say"

Interesting. I tend to read much more stuff that I find interesting and have something to say rather than stuff I know nothing about.

"removed maybe 40 comments "

I don't think I've ever done that. If I get moved enough to comment I feel what I've said is important enough and the only thing I don't like is a downvote w/o explanation which is inevitable.. Actually it's the thing that I find fun and addictive about HN. I can usually predict downvotes as well on things that I say.

Would be nice if there was a way to post (w/o logging out) anonymously from time to time. Say once someone gets to a certain karma level they have the ability to say what they really think w/o fear of downvotes which I believe does supress what people think.

And in general, there is a reply that say what you think better than you could express yourself ;)

My hypothesis is that the majority visit HN to learn from those that do participate. Of course, their learning would be most effective if they participated themselves.

It's the nature of web forums. I run a subreddit, we get 100 uniques a day, roughly. Generally they make about one submission per day, collectively.

I'm told that's a pretty normal rate on reddit, given our size. It's easier to consume than to produce. (nb. People may be producing more elsewhere while not participating here)

I found it difficult to relate to his position. By all accounts, he is already very successful and, more importantly, financially independent so he has the freedom to do anything he likes. Labeling that kind of lifestyle as either "late blooming" or "being a loser" is a gross insult to the majority of people who are still trying very hard to achieve his level.

By his standards, I'm worth less than a handful of dirt. While I have achieved some modest level of financial freedom, I didn't do anything as cool as that guy yet. And if I do some day, I'll remember to be thankful for it instead of whining publicly about not being Bill Gates.

For some people the realization that you're never done, that there is always something cooler to do, is apparently very depressing. Personally though, I'm glad it's that way. As long as you're healthy and capable the future is wide open. I find this much more inspiring than the idea that somewhere there is a big cosmic finish line waiting just for you to fall short of.

He doesn't feel successful because he doesn't identify with any of the stuff he's doing. He always feels like what he's doing is a product of his environment, or someone else's idea. If he had set out to become a lecturer at Stanford and definitively achieved it, then he would feel successful. But his experience is that he stumbled into it, he doesn't feel like that's who he is or even really what he wants to do. So it doesn't feel like a success, it feels like a passing accident.

Yeah,what I mainly got from his post is that the author suffers from low self-esteem.

And you shouldn't compare yourself to him. People are not born equal, he had his own unique upbringing and environment. He was surrounded by genius, the cool kids, thus his view are such. And you have your own unique situation, probably was far less lucky than his so what's the problem?

The author is already extremely successful, and not only in his career: " and at 40 hadn’t accomplished much other than finding a good woman who was foolish enough to marry me, and somehow managed to have two wonderful children that I was vastly unqualified to have fathered"

So all he needs to enjoy the spoils of his success is to change his point of view. It can be done. But if it is not done, then it may be impossible to truly enjoy life.

Finding a good woman is a very difficult task, NP Complete I would say, depending on how you optimise. If you've solved that problem in your life, everything else is just noise. Starting a startup is trivial by comparison.

I concur. It is a difficult task, and sometimes you just get very lucky as well. Either way you find Mr/Mrs Right, and when you recognize and appreciate the fact, you are well on your way.

Finding a good woman is certainly difficult enough. Vastly harder, however, is knowing that you found the right one and building a solid relationship with her.

I read through "Why I Will Never Have a Girlfriend". It's a self-defeating load of bollocks. His odds are VASTLY better, and he's not giving himself any credit.

So he's saying out of all of the women in developed countries aged 18-25: 65 399 083

And let's assume his claim that only 50% are single: 32 699 541 (rounded down)

According to his numbers, only this many of these women would be beautiful and available: 73 919

Only 2% of ALL single women aged 18 to 25 are beautiful enough for him? So if he walked into a room full of 100 single women (not too difficult at a typical bar or social gathering) only 2 of them would qualify? This is ludicrous. Unless this particular gathering was a Buttered Pork Rind Aficionado's Convention, it's safe to say that the most discerning man would find at the VERY least 8 of those 100 women desirable.

And the "also might like me" bit. He's saying just one measly percent of these women he's attracted to will desire him. Come on. Unless you are an absolute creep or raging puppy-kicking bastard, you are not going to only attract 1 out of 100 women that you ever talk to. Do you realize how many people that is? Go about your day and count how many people you talk to, ALL of them. Coworkers, cashiers, friends, family, everyone. The average person won't reach anywhere near 100. It would have to be a stunning amount of rejection.

The whole statistical assumption is flawed, regardless. Finding a mate is not Brownian motion. You are not two particles hoping to collide in the cold vacuum of space. Go to large gatherings of people and put the odds in your favor. More people in less time means greater opportunities. And if you have personality preferences, go to places that attract the personality type you want. Do you like artistic women? Go to art shows. The author is seeking smart women... that's fairly broad. Perhaps classical concerts, wine tastings? Those kinds of events tends to attract women with academic credentials.

Either way, he is vastly improving his odds. At a gathering like that, 30 of those 100 single women could easily catch his interest.

Then again, he lives in London...

The guy also obviously think of himself as intelligent but can't think of a better mate finding strategy than blind dating once a week.

No-one is qualified to have children. If the OP thinks of himself as "unqualified" probably it really means that he doesn't give them as much attention as he thinks he should.

The modesty, anyway, is false, because clearly the OP is proud of his children. However he is wrong not to consider it an accomplishment - it's easy to have children, but difficult to bring them up well. I have met so many people who put their career before their children, who are not prepared to give something up (e.g. money or career prospects) for their children.

Didn't the parents of Gandhi, for example, accomplish something for having brought up Gandhi?

"it would have been easy at any point in this journey to rationalize my limited success, and accept being a small cog in a bigger wheel, at likely much better pay and much less stress. but I was still hoping I had a little fire in the belly, and maybe a little gas left in the tank to make something more of myself, before I ended up with just a broken spirit and a comfortable life. and so here I am: still standing in the arena, in hand-to-hand combat with demons mostly of my own making, aiming to make a small dent in the universe."

I agree with you that it could have something to do with being born in a hyper-competitive world. But I agree with the authors standpoint and feel the same way. The above paragraph for me echoes my sentiments perfectly. It's about making something of your life.

Of course, as some of the others have pointed out. There is a certain amount of delusion in it. But that might as well just be passion.

I agree with @PeteThom on creating your own space. Competing with the world is never the right way to go. Everyday there is someone doing what you want to do, better than you. So, it is only distracting to worry about what others achieve, and leads to achieving even lesser.

Finally, I'm still in my mid twenties, with my only achievements being one of the best developers in any place I work. Did a brief stint as a freelancer, so I could have the financial means to support development of my own ideas, but found out Qt/C++ wasn't so hot in the freelance market. So, now i'm working a permanent position at a small and flexible company, leading a team, creating an enterprise solution on iOS, for some of the biggest companies in the world.

Interesting challenges help keep me occupied, but, ideally what I want is to work on my ideas on my terms and produce something amazing! And live my life having time to think about it, instead of having it mapped out to some mundane comfortable existence.

It's really hard to explain the viewpoint, so excuse me if it seems like i'm rambling.

@moses1400: I'm like you, twenty years ago and have always worried about being in your place and feeling that way. But, I think there is always hope. I hope too, that I find my way to the right path. Wish you luck. Keep fighting the good fight.

What struck me about that quote is that maybe he's approaching things from the wrong direction. Why make a dent in the universe? What explicitly do you hope to accomplish with that?

Not attacking personal philosophies here, but this seems to run along the same vein as the desire to be "famous for being famous". Focus on building something, on creation and life. All the dents you make will be relative anyway, because as many have said - there's always someone doing something better. First, know what you want to do, second, do it to the best of your abilities. The dent that makes on the world is dependent on a plethora of influences most of which will be beyond your control.

I have always found that it's much more interesting to try and create your own space than to compete with others.

This does not guarantee you success or that you ever find that space. But it does keep you on your toes on your own terms.

I emphatically agree — for me at least, "competitiveness" is more about elevating one's aim than about "winning" against anyone, let alone everyone.

Completely agree.

Besides it is so much more fun.

And you get to see more stuff you make come to life.

I don't see a lot of the child prodigies really keeping up the pace. How many of the companies started by 16-year-olds actually last? Maybe in the 80s when guys were genuinely making blockbuster video games by themselves in college (e.g. Jordan Mechner, Eric Chahi)... but they really only had one or two hits in them.

Wow, I sure do hope he finally does that one thing that nobody, absolutely nobody can deny is important -- something as big as, say, a Twitter knockoff for the enterprise. Then he'll never have any nagging doubts about himself ever again.

Hey, far be it from me to criticize someone who's trying to make a mark in the world. I myself am just past 40, a former child prodigy, not very successful in Silicon Valley, and still feel I have some creative works in me which are yet to be realized.

Where I have sincere worries for Dave is that he doesn't seem to have a specific idea of what would count as success -- other than, maybe, it would be big enough and impress enough people that it would silence his demons. I don't know Dave, but I have a strong suspicion that this is also what led him to slack off at university -- rebelling against this idea that if he isn't the smartest and most successful, he's nothing. Because it makes every minor setback a bitter failure, and even success turns to ashes in your mouth.

His mission statement shouldn't be that he wants a better epitaph. Other people get to write his epitaph, and by that time he'll be fucking dead. It's out of his control. What is in his control: whether his life was meaningful to himself. Did it express his unique talents, did it give him and others joy, did it help others? Did he make his own rules about how to evaluate his life or was he a slave to the caprices of fame and fortune? And this is about so much more than just a career.

I think I'll just leave this here. A clip from The Wire.

"The job will not save you."


> Wow, I sure do hope he finally does that one thing that nobody, absolutely nobody can deny is important -- something as big as, say, a Twitter knockoff for the enterprise. Then he'll never have any nagging doubts about himself ever again.

In my experience, the degree to which you're successful has no effect on those doubts. I've put out a number of highly successful pieces of software, had a ton of attention in the press (technical and not), etc; I still feel like I'm largely failing to live up to my abilities, and that I peaked when I was 17. Maybe I need something hyper-successful that makes me a ton of money, but I doubt even that will kill the doubts.

At the end of the day, it just comes down to saying "this is what I've done, and who cares if I could've maybe, possibly done better?" but that's not so easy.

This is really quite germane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA. While she talks about writing, I think it applies to the kind of thing you are talking about here.

> something as big as, say, a Twitter knockoff for the enterprise.

It's been done! http://www.salesforce.com/chatter/overview/

I think he was referring to Yammer, and their recent acquisition.

DMC explicitly mentioned Yammer as one of the things that some of his former co-workers had done. (He neglects to consider all the things his other colleagues have done which failed, classic survivorship bias, but that's not my point.)

My point is, from a certain perspective, everything looks stupid, and everything has a limited impact, and everything could have been better. Maybe some people who work at Yammer feel they're doing something important, like democratizing information flows within big companies. But it's also a knockoff of various social networking tools for the enterprise. It's a matter of which perspective you choose.

DMC looks at Yammer wistfully because it seems like a big score that was within his grasp. But I bet that if DMC had worked at Yammer he'd be picking a narrative closer to this: I worked for a lame knockoff of innovative companies like Twitter and Facebook, and we failed to thrive independently, and in the end we had to be sold to a dying and clueless organization like Microsoft. And I made a little money, but I never achieved a higher executive rank - any idiot could have made the money I did, and it was barely enough to cover a small house in a not-so-great part of Palo Alto. But the real players made serious bank! People that I worked with who didn't seem much smarter than me! I wonder if I will ever do something worthy of the promise I had when I was a child....

Oh, rundmc is Dave McClure? I missed that on the first read. Even though I know he's behind 500Startups, I just didn't even think that he could consider himself a failure. I started to write a comment saying that "the author" was far from being that, but now that I realize who the author actually is, I'm thinking "what?! are you high?".

Anyway, I related a lot to the first few paragraphs (maybe until he was about the same age I am now actually, which makes me hopeful :) ): I was good in school, got accepted in the best French engineering school where I discovered as well that "hard work and regular, consistent effort was also required". I did not really produce that hard work and consistent effort.

The thing is that I hadn't really thought about what I wanted to do at that point: HS students that are good in Math and Physics go to Engineering schools and that's just what I did. Check. But now what?

So I went for Computer Science a bit after eliminating the other options. Then moved to the US still without thinking in terms of career and what I really wanted to do. This has lead to taking jobs in tech but without enough consideration to where it would lead me.

So now, after a few years of jobs as "not a developer but something else" and years doing programming as a hobby after work, I realize that maybe I should just find a job as a developer. Problem is that companies look at my resume and it doesn't quite "match" what they're expecting for someone who is that many years after his master.

Long story short: I, too, feel like a late bloomer that hasn't filled his expectations from earlier successes. However, I don't run a fund, haven't worked for successful startups and am not friend with Sean Parker. Does that make me a failure? No, but I know I can do better. The good news is that I have 15 years to catch up with you, Dave!

Always good to stumble upon fellow alums from the "best French engineering school" here on HN :)

I'll say that I tend to be self-conscious about saying "the best school", but it is what it is, right? And, looking at how little it's been serving me over here (in the Bay Area), I should at least be able to say it in a random HN comment… :)

Definitely. Wasn't being sarcastic in any way! ENS rules (joking)

No it's not what it is.

Care to elaborate? :)

At 33, I was single, penniless and back living with my parents. I had spent my twenties partying and getting drunk, somehow managing to carve out a career as a middling journalist during the sober bits. Journalism does not pay well and I was always teetering over the edge of my overdraft limit.

In my early thirties, I sobered up a little and noticed that my career was going nowhere. I decided to sack in my reasonably secure job in publishing and move from Manchester (a provincial city in the UK) to the capital London. Big mistake. I struggled to get a job, got into debt and, eventually, in desperation, asked to move in with my parents.

So there was I - a guy who had always valued his independence, who had on several occasions even mocked people who lived with mum and dad - staying in a tiny room in his parent's house. I was the epitome of a loser.

I am now nearly 40 and my life situation has improved immeasurably. I am married to a wonderful lady, I own a house, I have a couple of reasonably successful projects-cum-start-ups that pay the bills and free me - hopefully forever - from having to work for someone else. I am not a mega-success on the world stage but, compared with where I was at 33, I am in a very good position.

I suppose what I am saying here is that one can bloom at anytime, early in life or late in life. I would also add that being a programmer (I got a job as a web developer a couple of years after leaving my parents house) gives one a far greater chance of financial and business success than if you are involved in most other professions. Try doing a start-up if all you know is nursing or stacking shelves.

So we are lucky in that we have a skill that can turn-around our lives at potentially any time.

Are you back in Manchester then?

I personally wouldn't call it "a provincial city" (it's very sparse, but overall Greater Manchester is home to 3 million people, on par with Birmingham and Glasgow for the title of "most populous urban conglomerate in the UK" just behind London); of course it's nothing like the capital, but it does provide a fairly good lifestyle at a fraction of London prices. There is usually at least one good restaurant for almost any cuisine you'd care about (except maybe my beloved Erithrean), and any movie worth watching will be at the Cornerhouse at some point. Granada/ITV also attracts quite a few glamorous models, if that's your thing. The only real problem in Manchester is the depressing weather, but it's not like London is so much better in that regard.

My point is that London is on a scale shared with very few cities around the world, but that doesn't make all other British cities "provincial" -- some of them are, some of them are not.

Not back in Manchester. Still in London. But, yes, Manchester is a great city with a great culture. I have a fondness for the place that I will never have for London, and one day may return.

I did not intend to use 'provincial' in any derogatory way but to explain to non-UK readers that Manchester is in the UK's provinces.

Nice post. It serves as a good reminder that you can get more than one chance in life. It's not success or bust, the end. You get to pick up the pieces, reflect and learn, and continue successfully, however one defines success for oneself.

This is kind of inspiring. As someone who wrote their first line of code at 25 and won't be able to shed the "intern" title until I graduate at almost 28, it's really easy to feel like I screwed myself over by not being where I am now 5+ years ago. Especially so in an industry where the younger you are the better and there are stories of people in their 40s having a problem finding work.

The real kicker is that I actually consider myself a pretty good programmer, at least for my experience level. As stated, I've been programming for about 2 years and I'm the primary contributor on a project that is deemed to be the "number one priority" for our application. But how good of a programmer would I have been had my parents bought me a computer when I was a kid? Or even when I was a teenager? I didn't even really know I liked computers until I was around 21 and even if I knew what the hell programming was then, I definitely wouldn't have been able to afford college.

So I guess there's still a decent likelihood that I'll need to be transitioning out of programming less than 15 years into my career, but hopefully there's still plenty of other opportunities for me to do great things for the next 20 or so years after that.

To be honest, I wouldn't worry too much. Everyone is like "I was programming since I was 10!" Nobody ever asks what they were programming at 10, most people wrote relatively simple stuff until they grew up and got a professional job.

Now to wait for replies from people who designed OSes when they were 12 :)

When I was ~12 I wrote a 4000+ line monstrosity in Pascal. I had to learn about functions/procedures because the GOTO wouldn't jump far enough anymore.

I called it an OS, even though it was just a text-based visual shell running in DOS that let you do pretty much anything. Actually used it as my primary "OS" for a few months.

Another cool thing was a game I wrote in BGI graphics with Pascal. Was fun to play, but I didn't know about arrays so there were roughly 200 global variables.

Oh and all the code I wrote before I was ~15 tried to use as short variable/function names as possible for some reason. When I used up the alphabet I'd go to aa, ab ... I want to slap my young self for that.

PS: I started programming when I was 9, in Logo. That was fun too. But the real fun started when I "unlocked" Pascal at 11.

I've been programming since I was 12. I would say the only advantage it gave me was an unshakeable faith in my ability to figure things out - it really built up my problem-solving skills and gave me an attitude of "I'm going to figure this out somehow, even if I have to stay up all night" that I've noticed is missing in many new developers.

However, the idea that people who start this early have a 10 year head start on someone who starts at 22 is silly. Maybe for child prodigies this is true, but I was neither driven nor intelligent enough then to learn at the rate I do now. I distinctly remember being incredibly confused by the syntax of for loops, and being unable to solve trivial C++ compiler errors because I had no idea how to approach debugging them or where to find more information. I also had a casual hobbyist approach, where if something wasn't working, I would just give up and go play outside with my friends. Even with all the resources we have today, I don't think I had the mental faculty back then to design an OS. :)

Also, learning programming now is an order of magnitude more effective nowadays, with all the free online resources, new languages and frameworks, and public interest in the subject. Back in 2000, Arduino didn't exist, there were no decent web frameworks or JS libraries, and I remember sadly giving up on trying to build a robot because the only books I could find on the subject were university textbooks that required proprietary tech provided by the prof.

Your story rings true for me. I dabbled in programming in my teens, but like you I was a hobbyist at best. When things got tough I would just give up. Programming seemed really hard and I just couldn't figure out how people who did it knew all the stuff they did (this was the mid 90's and there was no stackOverflow if things went wrong).

I didn't really start taking it seriously until I was in my mid twenties by which time the quality and quantity of free educational material, languages and tools for programmers had exploded. Learning how to program has never been easier. It's really a great time to be in this field, beginner or otherwise.

I started when I was 8 using QBASIC. When I was around 11 I discovered Java, and from there C.

My first programs were text-based games written in QBASIC. I also wrote a program to help me with my math homework. Later on, one of the Java books had a 3D game engine so I dabbled in that.

After I discovered C from a Windows programming book (age 11-12) I quickly started experimenting with various lower-level things. I wrote a DOS-based 3d engine. I studied printouts of the Allegro source code. I used DJGPP (remember that?!). And I played around with BIOS interrupts, and real mode extenders, etc.

It was around this time (when I was 12, in 2000) that I was introduced to Linux (Red Hat), and I also got a printout of a shell/OS written by some guy in Obj-C, which had assembly code and stuff to do with context switching and registers. That lead me down the path of making my own OS. My first attempt was via a ASCII-HEX to binary conversion program. I wrote a HEX file that switched to mode 13h and filled the screen with blue, copied it to the boot sector of a floppy, and booted from it, and it worked. I was hooked.

My teen years were spent working on different versions of that OS, and also doing 3d graphics stuff.

A 12 year old found a vulnerability in Firefox.


I managed to build a game in BASIC when I was 10. ..and that's about it (other than BBSing and running up the phone bill.)

>" I screwed myself over by not being where I am now 5+ years ago."

I think it's natural to think that way.

But how you need to look at it is: You didn't really miss anything. There are a whole bunch of new things you can get ahead on, right now. In 5 years you can be doing something that other people will look at and think, "I should have started on that 5 years ago".

There is no one good moment in life to get started. It's always now.

Civilian pilots log plenty of flight time, but their flying experience is nothing compared to fighter pilots'. Time is not a substitute for quality.

My code has significantly improved compared to what I wrote a decade ago (or even a few months for that matter), but it's due to better resources (GitHub, etc), and exposure to better programming practices (SCM, TDD, CI, etc).

Computer science and software engineering is a relatively young field, and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Dave's dilemma is far too familier to a lot of people in the tech scene in general, and bay area in particular. Bay area attracts the brightest minds from across the globe. All of them have been at the top of their high school classes. They have all been told from a very young age that they are destined to doing something great in life. They not only expect themselves to do better than themselves but pretty much demand it.

But when you have so many smart people trying to be more successful than their peers the definition of success changes. The bar rises and just building and selling a successful company doesn't seem good enough. You have to start the next Facebook, or the next Twitter.

IMHO, the best measure of success is not absolutes but a relative one. Compare your current self with your self from 2 years ago and ask if you are a better, more successful person.

By that measure Dave has done exceptionally well in the past few years.

Even comparing your present self to your past self is fraught with numerous biases. Humans have imperfect memories, so they only remember most interesting events from the past. Based on the few remembered details and a vague sensation of your self 2 years back, you would construct a full detailed description and compare it to your present self. But you forget that the past self that you have constructed is influenced a lot by your experiences in these past 2 years. Your past self really wasn't what you think it is.

You cannot accurately compare yourself over a time period. Moreover, on which dimensions are you going to compare? Say if I had a successful software company, but I give it up and move to Paris to become a mediocre painter, a vocation I'm currently enjoying a lot (but can't say if I keep enjoying it forever), have I made a good or a bad decision? Have I "progressed" in life or not?

Key should be to not overanalyze life, but rather simply live it as if it is not that important (in face of death, it isn't). Life should not be obsessively optimized. You can spend your whole life analyzing what you have done and still find yourself dissatisfied.

>Even comparing your present self to your past self is fraught with numerous biases.

This is definitely true. But you probably have a better idea of how successful/happy you were 2 years ago than your peers right now.

>Moreover, on which dimensions are you going to compare

Yes the dimensions have to be defined. If you wanted to be more creative or wanted to live abroad (assuming you are not from France), then you have progressed in life. But if you wanted to write more software than this is a regression.

>Key should be to not overanalyze life, but rather simply live it as if it is not that important.

Different strokes. You don't have to. But if you ever ask a question to yourself about whether you are successful or not, or happy or not you might want to measure somethings. I don't think it's a bad idea to look back once in a while and see where you have come to in life.


As I have been doing a lot more financial planning I have started to second-guess whether I want to look for funding in the Valley or bootstrap with a partner.

Yes, I think we can be a billion dollar company in 20 years or less with a couple million in investment. Yes, I think we could bring open source ERP into the mainstream.

However we aren't in the hot areas of the day. We are entering a market which is dominated by an increasingly small number of vendors (which we see as an opportunity). And according to my model, if we are willing to make a lot less on the first three years, we may be able to reach the billion dollar mark at most 10 years later, and we could do this without losing the freedom of operation--- without pressure to be acquired or go public.

So the delimma here is pitching ERP to VC's for money we might not really need that badly, in the hopes that taking money will get us there faster and build new connections, or going on our own.

We aren't going to be the next Facebook. We do however expect to become as big as RedHat, perhaps significantly bigger.

I don't know what we will do. It will depend on discussions with others on the team yet.

I do know though that the decision has become harder than it was before.

20 years - the world wide web was invented just 22 years ago. In 20 years the world could be completely different from today. How do you even try to predict being a billion dollar company in 20 years?

The world will always need business process management software. If you provide something flexible, you can adapt to new technologies and opportunities.

But the basic overview of business process management software hasn't really changed as much as we might want to think. Even mobile devices have been around this area for most, possibly even all, of the last twenty years though they used to be a lot simpler.

As far as maximum size, I look to the businesses that dominate today and figure on a significant fraction of that size. If most businesses are 2-4 billion dollars a year in this space, if we can compete we should be able to reach a billion dollars.

Moreover in your question I think you are assuming that with changes, old opportunities go away. So I am wondering: what economic opportunities have died off as a result of the rise in the web?

I just see that some billion dollar companies that got big through the web or computing are already going downhill again. For example Yahoo and Nokia (not sure about Microsoft).

For business management, off the top of the head I would ask: what devices will be used to run it in the future? Will desktop software still exist? Will everything be in the cloud? How will data enter the system?

One scary thing about the internet is that for a lot of things, a single company can cater to the whole world. That eliminates a lot of opportunities and competition.

One more thought about old layers.

It has only really been about five years ago that we could get rid of terminal-based access (as in a virtual tty) to point of sales. A lot of people demanded something simple, and highly optimised for rapid data entry. The nice thing about a text-mode display is there is no temptation to take your hands off the kb and move to a mouse. KB and barcode scanner are all you need.

Now we have a web-based interface with a fair bit of automation, but we have to have a trackball in retail environments. However we make sure there are keyboard shortcuts to all the right things and that people are trained on these.

Of other businesses I know of, the last ones moved from text-only POS programs to graphical ones really only two to three years ago.

So things change remarkably slowly. The challenge is to accommodate a flexible workplace.

The web works for many things but for POS software, it is rather sub-optimal. Controlling serial port pole displays from a web page is a bit kludgy....

There are changes coming. Nobody can dispute that. However, in a lot of cases, desktop software is not going to go away, at least for some definition of desktop software. A standard keyboard and screen interface is just too efficient for a lot of things. You aren't going to select, review, and adjust, and approve payment of 5000 invoices on your iPhone, and really, that's pushing the limit of stateless web interfaces too. You could have something like node.js or the like, but state really has to be handled or else you end up with major performance limitations.

Data entry devices however will become more diverse. There is no question about that. It used to be you had store-and-upload portable data terminals and desktop computers. Now you have both of those, plus the possibility of higher-end PDT's with real-time connectivity running embedded Windows, or the like (there is a real market here I think for Android-based PDTs but I haven't seen any on the market yet). These days, a PDT is kind of like a PDA, but typically more robust/rugged and often with additional industrial I/O capabilities, such as an RS-232 port which connects to undecoded laser barcode scanners. Doing this sort of thing on your phone isn't there yet. With a laser scanner, one can scan barcodes and take inventory fast, with barcode software on an android phone, your light limitations and low speed of processing make this problematic.

However, now we are seeing phones be used for some things. A worker may show up to a construction site and start entering time and material cards on his/her phone.

So what we see here is that each development is bringing diversity. The older layers don't really go away as much as one might think--- you can still buy PDT's which only store data to upload over a serial port and have digital LCD monochrome displays.....

Anyway our approach is to loosely couple the parts which will change only slowly (accounting logic) with the user interface which will be web- and desktop- based. Providing web-services and discoverable db interfaces makes integrating other devices easy.

We made these decisions for reasons other than being future-proof but that they help there is a nice bonus.

Life is not about winning or losing, life is simply an existence where we have to spend time without getting chronically bored. For some it may be startups, for others it may be spending happy times with the family. If you consider anyone else more "successful" than yourself (say a founder of a recently IPOed company), do you think s/he is happier or more satisfied than you are? How about if you get to know the founder recently went through a bitter divorce and also that his board doesn't have faith in him and is actively planning to fire him. Different levels of so called "success" are simply different modes of living, each mode bringing its own nuances or subtleties. From media or personal stories, all we hear about other "successful" people is better parts of their lives. The boring or bad events are seldom talked about.

Once you are beyond basic poverty, your basic self (and happiness levels) more or less remains the same (no matter what you do or where you go). It's a myth that "success" _should_ be had and a worthwhile life is the one in which something worthwhile (as defined by the society, and not you) was achieved.

Wired.com: How do you maintain your optimism?

Musk: Do I sound optimistic?

Wired.com: Yeah, you always do.

Musk: Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I’m hell-bent on making it work.

Whatever the odds you face, there is nothing in life you cannot achieve, if you have committed yourself wholeheartedly to the cause.

Old/Young. Experienced/Inexperienced. Adept/Inept. Knowledgeable/Ignoramus. Prodigy/Late Bloomer. Nothing matters in the end.

Cause when we are done and dusted and look back at our time, we will find that it was a journey that couldn't have been any other way. We made it what it was and it lies their for us to cherish.

So don't hold yourself back. Nothing in this world is to be done or not to be done. The conscious/unconscious/subconscious rules that we follow every day were not there to start with and they are neither eternal.

Go out there and change your world. Become the Newton. Become the Napoleon. Become the Buddha. Become the Gandhi.

Remember, there are no rules and there never will be.

What you sound is pleasing to me, but it also makes me anxious. As one of your listed role models might say, I don't know if it's really so helpful to pin such wild hopes to yourself. When I start feeling like a failure, it helps me to stop comparing myself to Napoleons, but rather to focus on exactly who I am now and what I want now, and to live according to my own personal life schedule.

On it.

This I think is a trap we arrive at when we compare ourselves to others. It's safer for one's emotions to compare and contrast yourself to yourself in years prior.

The least usable fuel in this industry is depression. Don't subject yourself to it and ignore everyone else. Support them in their endeavors, high-five them in their success but do not compare yourself to anyone else otherwise it won't take but a few days to arrive at the bottom of $some-random-vice and you'll be writing blog posts like this one second-guessing yourself.

(I second guess myself daily and often wonder what the hell I'm doing pretending to be a CEO of an IT firm of all things. Yet have managed to remain in business as long as I have -- and help all sorts of people pay their mortgages, support their families and challenge themselves daily in the work they do for me. That's something I derive sheer joy from.)

Admittedly the remainder results from my faith, but that's another post altogether.

One thing I've learnt is that we're all making it up as we go. So did our parents. I'm actually amazed that people actually listen to us when we clearly have this weird feeling that "Shit, I have no clue but fuck it let's do it live". You know you've had that feeling as well.

Silicon Valley is a funny place, a lot like Wall Street where the big winners are viewed to have the absolute qualities of success. In reality, even once you reach a threshold of competency and capability, its still a big gamble and the big winners are the lucky benefactors of Black Swan events. Of course, I'm referring to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's reflection of uncertainty and randomness as it applies to success in investing.

On the other hand, Silicon Valley creates a dynamic where things change rapidly and some of the smartest people in the world are constantly pushing the limits. This creates an opportunity where if you are honest with yourself you have to say "I need to get better" - and this self-perception is a gift to be cherished over and over again. No losers when you look at the game this way.. just people who will grow and grow and others who won't.

I think that part of the issue here (that I haven't really seen mentioned) is that when you're so close to others who've been successful but you aren't as successful as them, then it's easy to feel like a failure of some sort.

In short, it's easy to feel like an ugly girl when you're standing next to the prettiest girl in class.

Dave seemed like something of a child prodigy. Like he said he didn't get an advanced degree. He was around people at PayPal who went on to create $1B+ companies. He's worked with Sean Parker. Those are achievements in themselves. But when you keep that kind of company and you haven't done what they did, it's easy to feel like you're lagging.

My old manager from my first job was one of the founders (and current CTO) at Gilt. One of my old college buddies who was also a coworker (under that same manager) went with him early on to build Gilt. Today I consider both of them incredibly successful. In comparison to them, they've achieved way more than I have.


Pressure to succeed in ones youth is ubiquitous in certain industries.

I think this song about the music industry pretty much sums it up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca9GJ6mMxLw

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

-- Teddy R.

It's a totally different world these types of people live in to mine. I read the blog post, it was nicely written and a seemingly heartfelt reflection of a mans own position in life but I guess it's difficult to feel he's been anything other than a success already.

Perhaps it's all relative and compared to Sean Parker's bank balance he's a dismal failure but to reach 40 and have "a little under a million" in liquid assets and to have been able to dabble in angel investing for several years just doesn't seem that bad a life.

Agreed. I count myself fortunate to not live in that keeping up with the Jones mentality, because that is how I read it. A man must measure his worth by who he is, his character, respect given and received, and the love he gives and receives.

Shit, except for all the cool places he's worked in the tech industry and all the people he's met, and all the success he's had, and of course the fact he has a lot more money than I do, this guy is me.

I hope to God I'm a late bloomer, too.

he might not be as wealthy as you think: http://www.quora.com/How-much-is-Dave-McClure-worth

A week ago I had seven dollars in the bank. Granted, that was after moving the household to Europe again and I do have accounts receivable, but financially I'm at the point where when I'm not actually underwater I feel successful.

Having "a little less than a million" as a pad would reduce my stress considerably.

My wife and I went out for a celebratory dinner recently when our net worth finally turned positive after years of grad school.

The question is: did the dinner put you back into the red? If not, maybe it was warranted. :-)

Only briefly. :)

@Dave: You will never be the person you thought you could have been. You will only be wildly different. And often, wildly, differently . . . successful, as you've shown the world. The same is true for all of us - we're never what we thought we'd be but we dream up new stuffs along the way. Retrospect and all that. It's too easy to look back but all the action is in the future. Look forward and be there.

I find I have the same self-crisis about once a week and maybe more often now. Nobody on HN knows me. I haven't shaped anything in the industry. Even if I'm ultimately successful by my own standards, nobody will probably know. I don't care. My stealth agenda won't make me rich or famous or even worth noticing. I just want to fundamentally change the way we test software and the way we think about quality ("the 'q' word" - ugh). Nobody's gonna care about that until a change happens that nobody now thinks is worth pursuing. It doesn't mean that it's not worth accomplishing, though. But that's who I am.

You, sir, are not I. You are known and have accomplishments. You're already living the dream. Well . . . some dream. Not mine and I guess not yours. But the point is that you're already doing your thing. Damn the torpedoes! Go as fast and as hard and as broadly (and as whatever you like) as you can in the way you'd like to most. Nobody's going to lift a finger to stop you. People will likely complain one way or another after the fact but at the end of the day all you have left is your life and your loves and there's no other way to measure your success than those things you hold closest to you.

Don't give up!

We compare ourselves with our perceived peer-group. But we tend to self-select peer groups that are not too far from our own level. On the other hand, most of us looks to role models, which are pretty much by definition more successful than ourselves.

We rarely compare ourselves to the people we consider we've already firmly surpassed. We might hang out with existing friends that we feel we're more successful than, but we're trying to meet that new potential employer that's above where we think we'll go next; we're trying to hook that huge important client; we're more eager to network with people we see as hugely successful; we want to learn from the people we consider smarter than ourselves, and so on.

Not only that, but outside our own circle, the successful people are far more visible. For every successful founder there are hundreds that failed, gave up, never even got a company funded, and so on that we will never hear about.

I've been through several startups. Some I co-founded. Others where I was the first guy or first 2-3 people brought in, on substantial equity. Been involved in a number of VC deals. But no big exits. Nothing enough to retire on. Not paid of my mortgage.

It'd be easy for me to write a similar post about my career. Lots of companies that could've, should've made it big.

Yet, years ago I realized that the moment I founded my first company, I was more successful as a founder or "startup guy" than most people - most people who want to start a company never even try, and fewer succeed. Each subsequent one, I've left some mark or other. So I've not founded another Google. But I've done enough. I want to do more. Lots more. But I've still done enough that I have plenty to be proud of without feeling a need for everyone to know about it.

(though he things I'm the most proud of these days no longer have anything to do with my work at all)

The irony is that to 95% of Americans he's led a very successful life.

Not that I don't understand the point. It's all relative.

When you're in SF/Bay Area and trying to compete with the likes of LinkedIn, Yammer, etc, you're constantly bumping into that top 5%.

There's a tendency to overrate the talent at these well known companies. Remember, LinkedIn didn't salt its passwords...

I know plenty of people that salt their passwords, that doesn't mean they have the talent to build a LinkedIn or even realize that the need existed. There's a lot to be said for vision and execution. Attention to every detail has nothing to do with talent. Every single programmer in the history of the world, talented or not makes mistakes, that doesn't reduce their talent. Talent isn't just about technical perfection. While LinkedIn didn't salt their passwords, how many other big-deal innovations did they execute and accomplish?

And an even worse tendency to assume those with the most successful careers are the most talented.

So? they're worth billions.

What does that have to do with anything mentioned here?

I see a few knocks on Dave. What he should be valuing more, why he should(n't) consider himself successful, what other smart people think about what he said from their own perspective.

Well, he opened himself up. In a world where opinions about others are far more numerous than people standing up and saying "this is my story, from the heart. these are my faults and failures, and my dreams". I find that more valuable than 100 posts blowing their own horn. It's the most basic story of all, shared by many, and one of the hardest to write.

Dave McClure is a Get for Dustin Curtis' Svbtle network.

It's fun to watch this thing develop.

There is a signaling effect from using Svbtle (Their aim is to signal "you are going to be reading good content") but it's hard to understand why you wouldn't want to use your own design and brand for your site. You are ceding control of your online brand to their design framework.

I humbly disagree: As a writer, I'd like my design handled for me. I just want to be able to write the best piece within reach & present it to the world in a way that will gain mass distribution.

Besides that, as a reader, it's easy to detect the Svbtle "look" & know that this article will probably be worth my time.

This is exactly right. As soon as I see that blog theme, I recognize it as 'this is gonna be a good article.'

The only nitpick I have about the site is I think the font is 'too wide.' That's just a personal preference of course.

> This is exactly right. As soon as I see that blog theme, I recognize it as 'this is gonna be a good article.'


Such a signal is vulnerable to knockoffs.

It's going off-topic, but this is something that has impressed me a lot in the growth of the network: by being part of Svbtle, that means you're leaving the design of your blog and your homepage to Dustin Curtis's design, besides a color and a logo.

That he managed to convince that many high-calibre people so fast is very impressive. (especially since they have better things to do than thinking about joining a blog network. Most of them don't need that at all)

Who cares about design and brand for a text blog? svbtle isn't perfect, but fairly acceptable.

Sounds like the myspace vs. facebook argument.

someone needs a reality check.

if he considers that kind of life "failure", he is going to lead a very depressed life unless he wins a few lotteries

couldn't agree more. "i only made a little money" -- enough to have started angel investing in 2004 after exiting paypal.

enough money to live in one of the most expensive places on earth, probably without having to work too much? check. a family and (apparently) happy marital relationship? check. moderately successful times working at important companies? check.

Sure, it's good to be ambitious and set high goals. But the dude needs to get a grip. If he wants to achieve more, fine. But there's no universal standard by which he's a "failure". At the end of the day it's up to him and he'd do well to admit it.

A friend once took a 30 minute car ride with two successful people, both multimillionaires, back when that meant something. He asked them how much money they would need to feel financially secure. By the end of the trip they had bid each other up so far that they agreed that it would take a large multiple of their current net worths, just to feel truly safe and independent enough to retire.

In 2008, Gladwell wrote an excellent article on this same topic:


An excellent quote from the article:

"The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition."

Not sure this guy has much to complain about - wife, kids, money, intelligence, plenty of opportunities. Maybe he just enjoy his life instead of wishing he was some hot shot.

I'm only 30, and I feel like I've made a million wrong turns. There are many people, who at my age, have already created their own billion-dollar company. However, I only work on what I believe in (aside from the mundane work I do to pay the bills), which I readily acknowledge is probably the worst route to traditional (i.e. monetary) success. There are many ways to flip a worthless company for a profit in the software world, but history does not remember people for their wealth, or even (temporary) fame. If I die poor and unknown, I still consider myself a success, because I spent my life doing things that I perceived as meaningful. Find interesting, unsolved problems (not necessarily in software), and pursue them to the end. You will remain a "late bloomer" so long as you live life passively.

I'm guessing very few people have actually created a billion dollar company by the time they're 30. Just sayin.

I'm a fan of exaggeration ;)

Boy I felt like reading my own story, except I hadn't had brilliant parents that would give me good genes for a start and force me to be productive instead of lazy (so I wasn't working for huge corps like OP).

But regardless this post made me think that if you treat your body well (healthy food, gym, as little stress as possible) and you hadn't had some genetical disadvantages then your brain stay quite young forever, and you are like a fine wine: you age well and gather wisdom all the time. Truly, the only thing stopping OP from learning from his mistakes and trying again, learning and trying again and again is his approach that I may be too old. You are not! How old you are only matters whether you will personally make a big deal out of it or not. Don't let it stop you from trying again.

I really like this post, it resonates with me as well. I have parallels with Dave's story -- mostly figuratively, but still felt like I've been along the same ride with him.

The fact that Dave is still going strong at 46 and trying to make a difference shows there is much more substance to him than many others I know in this business. If there is one thing I've observed, it's how the perceived "lack" of success in those who expected great things of themselves have knocked so many people off their perch.

Good job, Dave. In my book, the very fact you recognize this in yourself qualifies you as successful.

Sounds to me like he is suffering from a social comparison bias. A few peers may have done better than he, but I am sure there are those out there that would say he has done pretty good.

I've heard that grad students go through something very similar when they go to grad school: feelings of inferiority and fears of being "exposed" as fake when surrounded by so many other intelligent people.

I've never worked for a start-up but imagine the start-up scene works the same given the common stereotypes: success stories of 20-year-olds, hyper intelligent ivy-league drop-outs, etc. I don't know whether they're the rule or the exception to it.

Feeling like a (comparative) failure can help one to sympathize with people who really are less fortunate --- you start to realize that maybe it's not entirely their fault.

Great post Dave, and somewhat inspiring for someone nearing the end of their twenties who feels like he's only just hitting his straps now.

Mid 20, same shit.

Doc Searls (who enjoyed a lot of success in the late 90s) once said that nobody knew him for anything he did before he was 50.

I'm confused. In my mind Dave is already a success.

I guess he's just in a rut. I read a great book called "How High can You Bounce?" It's all about if you've taken a downturn how can you spin it to your advantage so you rebound better off than where you were before the fall. Knowing this is possible is simply the first step.

Think Dave just needs some bounce.

"I'm confused. In my mind Dave is already a success."

Virtually everyone is a failure depending upon who or what they compare themselves to.

The odds against being a pro basketball player are astronomical -- everyone in the NBA is a huge success relative to those who didn't make it, but if they aren't Kobe Bryan, Lebron James or Dwyane Wade they may consider themselves failures. And even the top active guys live in the shadows of Jordan, et al.

I'm pretty sure this is the root of dmc's problems. The nature of his work has him surrounded by insane statistical outliers (some of whom are probably more lucky than 'good', though I'm sure there are both). His feeling like less than a success in this situation is unfortunate, but probably a perfectly normal human response.

I'll also add an "Eskimo saying" I learned from West Wing:

The best place to store extra food is in someone else's stomach.

Dave has built an incredible network in the valley. He's helped 100s of people form companies. Those are a lot of great bonds.

Is that not success?

So you're a loser now when you have a bachelor degree, a job and good health? Times have changed.

I'm almost 19 and I feel like I'm not moving fast enough sometimes. I've already worked for two successful startups and am in an accelerator program as a designer cofounder. I love what I do and I can honestly say I have one of the best jobs in the world and the people I've met are amazing, I'm just scared of losing out on time.

This really made me see that I don't have just a few year window to do well, but it's a life long thing. I would have never guessed I'd be doing what I'm doing now a year ago, and I have no idea what I'll be doing a year from now, but I figure if I just keep doing what I love and building awesome products, I'll always be happy.

Exactly how I feel. 21 years old and feel like I am running out of time. Always been the "smart" computer kid that is destined to do something great but after graduating from high school I slacked off for about a year or two and didn't really get much done. At age 19 I decided to start studying computer science while working in tech positions on the side. Now I can't decide if I want to continue with school or just go work full-time since I have a decent amount of experience to land a job. I will probably graduate in about 3 years if I continue at this rate and that just seems like way too long.

It's funny though, I read your story and in my mind you are way ahead of your time at age 19. I guess that kind of shows how you never think you are moving fast enough.

Hell yeah you have time! You're only 19 and you seem to know what you want to do for the foreseeable future, have co-founded a company, worked at two successful startups… I have yet to do any of these. (well, maybe I do know what I want to do? Maybe…)

You're so ahead of most people, it's almost tempting to downvote you for humblebrag. It's like people who complain because they do only [good measurement of self in a domain] in [said domain]. (I would give a sport example, but I couldn't give you a realistic one)

Yes, like the gorgeous girls that call themselves fat, it pisses me off. I feel like though I've done this, but I'm still not financially secure, I worry about a paycheck, and people still don't respect what I do and think I should be in college. So it just makes me wonder, ya know?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not blaming you. I think a lot of people, if not most, are insecure or at least unsure about their accomplishments.

I feel that it's not really discussed: you might receive kudos from the family, but they're often outside your domain, so "it doesn't count". You might have some kind of role model: "I want to be like that guy", but that guy rarely looks back to acknowledge your accomplishments. (and he's probably looking up to somebody else too) If anybody does, it's mostly people "lower than or equal to" you that do: at best your peers, at worst people who don't really know what they're talking about.

So it's hard to see yourself in the proper referential…

I'm not quite sure what the point of this blog post is. I guess it's to re-start his blog, and restarting a blog often lacks a good hook, and may be heavy on the backstory. Hopefully this is a starting point, not a destination.

Clearly, this individual's problem isn't that he hasn't found Shangri-La, it's that he needs a new compass. Dave, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was just hallucinating. Kublai Khan's pleasure dome is right next to you every morning, and she's [presumably] gorgeous. The sun still rises on the bankrupt, and many of them do absolutely fulfilling things with those days, even if it's beating an old game or learning to catch more fish.

Or to speak more plainly, cash is but one axis on the graph of success, and often it is the very worst of them. Winning is having the strength to disregard it.


As in "holy shit that was inspiring."

Wow... late to this article but can only add one thing. The OP is me... (not literally but figuratively in every way). 42 in a week... a whole lot of 'shoulda/coulda' behind me and feeling like an unaccomplished elder in a field of successful kids. His article hit me pretty hard. At the minimum it makes me feel a little less alone in my thoughts. If the OP reads this please feel free to touch base if you would like a fellow late bloomer to chat with.

Love the optimism and ambition. It hurts to read how hard you are on yourself, but I hope you achieve your goals and relax a little :). Good luck with your incubator.

Read this article about people who made a bit of money in the first dotcom boom, lost it, and were seeking more again in 2005:


Interesting to note how many of them have become billionaires in just a few short years. Peter Thiel, Mark Pincus, Reid Hoffman, ...

For all the self-deprecation in the post, I think we can all empathise, at the very least with:

> and so here I am: still standing in the arena, in hand-to-hand combat with demons mostly of my own > making, aiming to make a small dent in the universe. nowhere near a great success story, yet > fighting the good fight and perhaps helping others to achieve greatness as I attempt a bit of my > own.

See also "The importance of being prolific" [1], also posted here yesterday [2].

[1] http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-ae-0624-proli...

[2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4212680

things can sometimes feel so daunting as we toil away night and day for years without end on our hopes and dreams, reading his honesty and admission helps (at least me) put it in perspective that we still have time to keep going relentlessly while we force our dreams to come true (i hope).

as long as we are so lucky to be here another day to keep going.

You sound like a man who has found his centre - even if you still Want to go find it somewhere else. I, and many others here appreciate the honesty, and I certainly feel the same way on a daily basis.

I wish you good luck with the business, but much much better luck with your family.

I was with you when I read the title, I was with you upto the point you mentioned that you weren't ready for the consistency & hardwork college requires, and then you went from "someone like me" to "someone who hasn't done as well as the people around him".

Is not capitalizing the first word in a sentence the thing to do now?

But maybe self permanence is not so important. Perhaps it would be more accurate not to associate yourself with your past so much.

I'm 19 yet I feel I can relate in some way.

You're 19, you have so much ahead of your life ahead of you rather than behind. Go look in the mirror and smile...You can start from scratch today, and in a decade still be ahead of 99.999% of your age group, and even people twice that age as well.

I actually see this as Dave's backwards way of saying:

"Whatever your situation right now - its okay. Keep working."

Fellow failure here. Anyone want to kick off a #failaholics hashtag on twitter?

"[...] before I ended up with just a broken spirit and a comfortable life."

Loved this quote.

Compare and despair. Gotta watch out for that!

Good luck!

A modern Robert Frost....

So @Dave isn't Marc Andreesen or Larry Page. So f-ing what. The only tragic thing is that he hasn't figured out yet that work != life.

I'm in a similar demographic as @Dave, live in palo alto, near his age. Had some really good successes 10-15 years ago, and nothing since then.

My big activities for the past decade have been climbing, skiing and raising my kids. Some of my friends kept working and now have vineyards and foundations. And sometimes it stings that I don't fly private jets or have anything really impressive to brag about.

But I had years of board-meetings, soaking up the one-upmanship. Once you become conscious of the non-stop compulsive attention seeking, there is a certain emptiness to it. So I stepped away from that, and I wouldn't trade a vineyard for the experiences I've had.

Now I'm starting on a new company, working very hard with high confidence. But if this company doesn't see a monster outcome, I won't feel like a loser. My prime motivation is the products, the people, and the competition, all of which I love.

IMHO we are in a golden age of software. To me it feels like being in the major leagues where everyone who participates is lucky as can be.

I like the original post by @Dave and the honesty that comes through. I also like this reply. Life can feel so frenetic and short on time sometimes, and yet very, very long - too long even - at other times. Time is really a very elastic perception.

The bottom line is you need to figure out what you want in life and how you define success. Hopefully at some point we all come to realize that while wealth, power or fame/recognition, etc. are excellent motivators, as an end such goals are rather hollow and empty. If and when one finally realizes that, then it really doesn't matter at what age you realize that, just as long as you've enjoyed what you've spent your time doing, and have picked up some good friends and family along the way. That's when you throw out the self-induced angst and hurry to "achieve something" and just do your thing, living in the moment. Of course, life is much easier the earlier one clues in on this. :)

Scientists have already done great work in this area. "Success" doesn't bring happiness:


Here's the money quote:

"In the book, Deci talks about a study which discovered that humans have six basic aspirations. The first three, the extrinsic aspirations, are to be rich, famous, and good-looking. (Actually, rich/powerful and famous/well-liked, but why ruin a euphonious phrase?) Sound familiar?

The second three, the intrinsic aspirations, are to have good relationships with the ones you care about, to achieve personal growth, and to feel like you contribute to your community.

Deci's work showed that people who focused on extrinsic aspirations (regardless of whether or not they achieved them) tended to display narcissism, anxiety, and depression, while the people who focused on instrinsic aspirations displayed a strong sense of well-being."

I was looking for a citation for this study and found a good overview on Wikipedia (with citations), in case others are interested.


Great quote. It sums it up really well, especially the distinction it draws between extrinsic and intrinsic aspirations. Going to follow up on Deci. Thanks.

Are these things the compass to success? That's rather depressing.

I can relate a little. I dropped out in grade 11. Built N. America's first fully graphical ecommmerce site (1992), Canada's first Windows IIS webserver (sorry), country's first 56K internet access, $10M IPO in 1998, client list includes Eckhart Tolle and Oprah.

So what.

I recommend you learn success from those that who mastered it over the eons, and they don't live anywhere near Silicon Valley.

Here's one example;

"For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" -- Jesus Christ

What graphical ecommerce site was that? Given it predates Mosaic and the commercial use of the web I'm surprised its not more well known.

Before the interweb was popular they had this little thing called a BBS and RoboBOARD/FX



Here is San Diego at the height of BBS'ing with about 1,100 boards very few used RoboBoard. Must have been much more popular in Canada.

I've come to the conclusion that success in business is like the game Rochambeau (Rock, Paper, Scissors). People will argue to death whether it's a game of luck or skill, and often it gets very emotional, with people who've had success attributing it to skill and the rest attributing their lack of success to bad luck. In reality, it's neither. It's a game of strategy in the academic, game-design sense (interaction rather than individual skill as the driver of outcome) but often with very little information that would indicate what the good strategies are. Rochambeau has no randomizer (no dice or shuffled cards) and is a skill game if you can predict the other guy's moves. Iterated, it becomes somewhat of a skill game. Same with business. Iterated, both become games of making choices, often with no idea what good and bad choices are, because useful information is so thin on the ground. Business is obviously not "random" in a true sense, but it's obviously not a pure-skill game because so many idiots get lucky and a lot of really talented people (like DMC) don't. It's a game of making iterated choices, often with little or no information that would inform them, and the luck factor comes out of the opacity.

How does this relate to OP? DMC is a highly talented person, but he's in his mid-40s, he's worked in the supposedly meritocratic startup sector (and, as with trading, the definition of success in VC-istan is making money; if you've been in VC-istan for 2 decades and haven't made fuck-you money, you haven't won) and his net worth (as he admitted on Quora) is less than $1m. Given that, it's fair to say that he probably hasn't played his cards right. That doesn't make him unskillful or weak or "a loser"-- far from it, and I'm sure that none of those are true. It doesn't make him any less of a person, or any less smart, than the more successful people. It just makes it a good bet that if he could rewind to 20 and play from there again, he'd have a lot more success.

And ultimately, the reason why many of us are sitting here not being rich and outlandishly successful when people of similar or inferior talent smash $500m+ exits is that, when faced with a thousand identical-looking doors, one with a pot of gold behind it, they had the "insight" to pick door #467 while we picked #822 or #134 or #915. Some of us pick #467 at the next opportunity but, of course, the next time the pot of gold is behind #719.

I think the best thing to do is to back away from the VC-istan insanity, and pretend all that garbage doesn't exist. As long as I'm growing my skillset by 20 to 25% per year (which is not hard to do, because returns from increasing skill in technology are exponential) I feel like I ought to be happy with that. It can be difficult to be satisfied with this (first world problems) when you see unqualified idiots getting funded in enormous amounts, and then getting acquisitions and EIR gigs as welfare checks because they have powerful friends... so it takes some discipline and maturity not to be annoyed... but sanity is worth it.

People have been arguing the same thing about investing for a long time: is it a game of luck or skill?

On one hand, there are academics saying it's always mostly luck, and their typical argument goes roughly like this: Say 100,000 orangutans enter a coin-flipping contest in which 'heads' wins and 'tails' loses; so around 50,000 orangutans will win on the first throw; of those orangutans, around 25,000 will also win on the second throw; and of those, around 12,500 will also win on the third row; and so on, until after ten throws, there will be close to 100 orangutans who will have won every throw in a row due only to pure luck -- just like investors who have only a string of hits in their track record.

On the other hand, there are successful investors like Warren Buffett who say that luck is a factor in the short run, but skill becomes the more important factor over long periods of time. You can read his detailed response to the 'orangutan argument' in this article he wrote for Columbia Business School's magazine in 1984: http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/null?&exclusive=filemgr.dow...

Edit: corrected typo.

I've worked in game design. I once built a card game (Ambition) with the express purpose of taking card-luck out of the game as much as possible. (To make a long story short, I was in Budapest and left all my German board games at home, so I had to make do with a deck of cards.) Bridge solves this problem by duplication. (Bridge is an immensely deep and skillful game, but there's a lot of card-luck when the players are skilled, so when it's played in tournaments where outcomes are taken seriously, they duplicate it; each team plays the same sets of hands and is scored on its relative performance.) Poker solves it by changing the definition (it is a skill game, over hundreds of hours; people have enough patience to play for long enough for it to converge). However, for an obscure recently-invented game that no one had heard of at the time, and even now might have a few hundred players worldwide, neither of these (duplication or the "it converges over time" argument) is a credible option. Taking card-luck out of a trick-taking game is very hard to do, and this led down a rabbit hole of analyzing game designs for the "luck/skill" question. The conclusion I came to is that the mere concept of such as a continuum is a massive oversimplification. What I found with Ambition is that, while the card-luck was largely taken out of this 4-player trick-taking game, there was a lot of unpredictable strategic influence that doesn't always have to do with a player's individual skill (which, in my mind, is an asset of the game.)

In any game of more than 2 players, there's a third element: strategy. That's a mix of both. People are pursuing their own interests and sometimes it affects other players disproportionately. Or, we might be sitting together at a 3-player game and I win, even though you're a better player, because that 3rd player is either lousy or unpredictable and does things that hand me advantages. (The most extreme example of this is the "king-maker scenario" where a player can't win but gets to choose the winner.) Puerto Rico, although very skillful and deep, is notorious for its table-position effect.

For an aside, part of what makes German-style board games is this strategic "interaction term" resulting neither from chance nor from individual skill alone. Pure skill games like Chess are a bit dry, in the sense that if the skill levels are different by much, the outcome is predictable: the more skillful player will win pretty much every time. German-style games leverage this third "strategic" factor to make games that aren't very luck-driven (you never feel "screwed by the dice") but that also don't have the same winner every time.

This is why most of the "serious" mind-sport games are two-party games. In Chess, if your opponent's strategy hurts you, then he (by definition) had a better strategy and therefore played more skillfully. In Bridge, any player's strategic affect on your outcome is likewise indicative: if your teammate hurt you through a strategic interaction, then you're not as good a team. In luckless 2-player games, the party that wins is the party that played better. In 3+ player games, this isn't always true.

Economic and business games are like that. They're massively multiplayer, which means that there are a lot of strategic-interaction teams that can't be attributed to skill or luck, and the quality of information most people have isn't very high. This is especially true in technology where, by definition, we're trying to do things that haven't been done before. That makes it fun, but also really, really noisy.

Almost every multiplayer strategy game becomes more about the players involved than the specific game rules, once at least some of the players have a bit of the strategy figured out. And pretty much any 3 or 4 player game can be thrown by a player who decides he doesn’t care to try to win himself (this is even often true in 6 player games, though it usually takes a bit of skill and cooperation from the to whom the game is being handed).

One way to make multiplayer games interesting is to have enough variance so that with 3 players left, the balance between a player who pulls some lucky breaks and the other two players working together is just barely in favor of the two players. If the game is well designed and the players act strategically, this shifting balance of alliances can last quite a while without either handing one of the players the game or getting boring, and winning is about figuring out how to hold your ally past the time its in his best interest to turn on you, or turning on him at just the right moment to maximize impact.

The most educational post per byte I ever read on HN.

Is it this Ambition: http://www.pagat.com/invented/Ambition221.pdf? [PDF]

Yeah, although those rules are a bit out of date. I've made some changes for balancing on some of the Slam/Nil corner cases.

Unfortunately, I get so little time to play games these days that perfecting it isn't something I've had time to do.

Thank you for this post. I'm in nearly the same boat (41 years old, < 1M net worth, on my fifth startup with < 100k to show for those efforts) and watching seemingly complete idiots pass me by. I'm too old to be infuriated by the vagaries of chance, however, it does make me wonder if I've done something wrong. I suspect that the numbers are slightly skewed - that there are far fewer people having wild success than the media would have us believe.

The odds are always against entrepreneurs:


"Let me reiterate--you have a less than 50/50 chance of founding a successful startup, even if you manage to raise VC every time (which is not a forgone conclusion) and even if you devote essentially your entire professional life to it."

On the other hand, if you enjoy entrepreneurship, don't let the lack of success get to you. After all, there's always the next company!

The conclusion that I've come to is that VC-istan isn't actually technology, at least not in this current social-media fueled bubble. It's old-fashioned social climbing and self-promotion with a bit of technology in the back end.

Do startups actually succeed based on technical merits, or on how well they market themselves? In this social media bubble, it's the latter. I'm not going to claim that technical skill doesn't matter. I just don't think it matters as much. You can back-fill the technical stuff by hiring the right people (contrary to our overblown claim that non-technical CEOs have no hope of finding technical talent because they can't individually judge it) but if you build great technology and can't sell it, you never get off the ground.

It's exceptionalism that leads people to think that the VC ecosystem is in some way (or should be) morally superior to Wall Street, Hollywood, the fashion industry, or Madison Avenue. Sure, what we do is cerebral, but so was advertising in the Mad Man era. VC-istan isn't worse than these other industries, but it's not better. When you have a "creative" industry, there are a lot of opportunities to do great work and profit by doing so. But there are also smiling-idiot narcissists who pile in and fuck everything up because they think they're "creative"... and of course, what gives them this opportunity is that there are other idiots in power who will put them ahead of the people of substance like us because they don't know any better.

It's the expectation of meritocracy that makes us unhappy, but human organizations and ecosystems and societies all turn to shit over time no matter what so this is an unreasonable expectation.

There is a place for people like us, the virtuous soldiers who get rich slowly, building our skillset until we're just really good at a few things... but there's also a place for smiling idiots. And smiling idiots are always going to be the "cool kids", and it's the cool kids (not people of substance) who get those stupid TechCrunch articles written about their 7-Couric products. It's the expectation of fairness in human structures, which is just unreasonable at scale, that creates the unhappiness.

What I've seen for the most part isn't that people make the wrong strategic decisions. It's that they don't realize there are decisions to be made.

For example, there's a major correlation between your career success and how visible your role is. Maintaining internal systems will almost never pay off as well as working on the flagship product. This, and many other considerations, matter as much or more than your individual performance/talent. But the majority of people never consider them.

(A quick sampling of major strategic decisions: your elevator pitch, the elevator pitch other people use when introducing you, how visible your role/projects are, making sure your day-to-day responsibilities don't take up much time, refusing to work on projects that will pull your career in the wrong direction, working at successful companies/projects, and perhaps most importantly, understanding how connections are really formed).

Excellent post.

Still, how do you advise one go about "making sure your day-to-day responsibilities don't take up much time, refusing to work on projects that will pull your career in the wrong direction"?

On the first, it seems that the solution a lot of people take is to have short job tenures, because (in the absence of mentorship or high-level interest in career development) responsibilities accumulate while learning opportunities tend to get rarer, so a lot of people leave once the responsibility/learning balance tilts out of their favor. The problem with this strategy is that, at some point, having a string of 6- to 18-month job tenures starts to look really bad.

The second is even more tricky. Most people aren't in the position of being able to "refuse to work on" bad projects, especially since it's obvious what the person's doing. It seems like this is a recipe for getting fired (which may help a person's career in the long run by preventing a rut, but is something most people would rather avoid).

On top of that, there's the even harder question of how to know that the direction a project will pull a person's career in the first place. It's rarely obvious. Sometimes, doing the grunt work makes a person more trusted and puts him in line for the best projects. Sometimes, it leads to more grunt work and otherwise goes nowhere. These depend on the individuals involved and it can't easily be broken down into simple if-then rules.

The strategy that most people seem to follow is to change jobs frequently until they find a fit. The problem with that is that, although the "job hopper" stigma is much less severe than it was 20 years ago, it still exists.

"[P]erhaps most importantly, understanding how connections are really formed"

How are they really formed? There are a lot of pet theories on this one, but it's not clear which of them (if any) is right. And people tend to be different enough that I'm skeptical that there is a general-purpose answer to the social engineering problem.

I'm not going to pepper my advice with caveats, but note that none of the below applies 100% of the time.

> making sure your day-to-day responsibilities don't take up much time

What do you do when you've finished a reasonable amount of work for the day? The average person will ask for more work or do more grunt work. Instead, don't. You'll get much further in your career if you have an amazing side project and produce 20% less other work, than if you produce more day-to-day work but don't have any highly visible projects.

> refusing to work on projects that will pull your career in the wrong direction

You can't really outright refuse if your boss asks you to do something-but projects are frequently assigned on a semi-volunteer basis.

> On top of that, there's the even harder question of how to know that the direction a project will pull a person's career in the first place. It's rarely obvious.

I agree, it's not obvious. As a general rule, try to work on projects that give you the opportunity to be in contact with a greater number of people, especially people in senior positions.

> How are they really formed? There are a lot of pet theories on this one, but it's not clear which of them (if any) is right.

This is difficult, but the good news is that you don't have to be perfect-even a little effort here yields significant returns. The average programmer could benefit massively from an hour a week of studying psychology or practicing meeting people.

For a 20-something the goal is to get powerful, successful, competent people interested in your career. This is hard and there's no silver bullet. A major part of that is to give off the impression that you'll be successful no matter what, while at the same time benefiting from their advice and replicating their ideas. There's also a massive element of luck at play. I've spent a lot of time working on this, and I still wouldn't be able to come up with any sort of consistent method-just things that increase your chances, bit by bit.

Finally, I'd like to note that despite my claims of how difficult some of the above goals are, making good strategic decisions saves you huge amounts of time. Allocating your time in a job wisely will quickly mark you as someone "up-and-coming", and help you rise to interesting work quickly. 100 hours invested in networking will save you years over your lifetime, in terms of advancing your career. A great mentor can keep you from accidentally committing career suicide. And so on.

"Business is obviously not "random" in a true sense, but it's obviously not a pure-skill game because so many idiots get lucky and a lot of really talented people (like DMC) don't."

DMC had choices to make and his talent didn't extend to making the right choices.

Forgetting luck for a second which is obviously important, talent could be thought of as a collection of features that all come together to create success.

So simply saying that DMC has "talent" and that someone else who has made it has "inferior talent" ignores that you need varying degrees of talent and quality in many areas which also depends on what you are doing. Not a jack of all trades, master of none but a proper balance (just like you would want in a product). Stylish, good gas mileage and plenty of headroom say for a car.

In addition to luck then DMC was lacking talent in a few areas that would be required to be successful (to the degree he or anyone thinks is success).

As only one example consider the ability to have attention to detail and product quality. That might be super important when selling an expensive luxury product but an impediment if creating products for dollar stores.

Take any super successful person (by whatever definition) and put them in the wrong field. Do you think Bill Gates would be teacher of the year? Do you think pre-presidential Obama would be good running an incubator?

I agree with many of your points. But I think DMC made it pretty clear the extent to which he slacked off and didn't take things as seriously as he should have. So there were actually many things he could have done to achieve (by his words of what success is) greater success than just picking the right door.

So, we have a bunch of identical-looking options and cannot know which pays out better beforehand. It sounds to me like we should apply the Multi-Armed Bandit algorithm to the problem.

I think the truth of it is just that (and few people will admit to this) it's better to be a VC. They're diversified. Some fail out and never get rich, but they get to play more chances.

There's nothing generally wrong with not getting rich, but there are certain things people only do in order to get rich, and VC-istan startup life is one of them. If you're a writer and you make $100,000 per year mid-career, you're kicking ass, because most people never get anywhere near that point. If you're a stock trader or VC-istan denizen (whether engineer or founder) and that's where you are mid-career, you're a fuckup.

Actually, I'm simplifying quite a bit. Most people in VC-istan don't necessarily want to get rich personally in the same way that traders do, but they want to become the social equals of the VCs and established founders. They want their ideas to be taken seriously, and that unfortunately requires social status. So there is a bit of difference. A derivatives trader who makes $25 million and retires could give fuck-all about social status, whereas most VC-istan types would rather have a mediocre financial outcome if it got them access and status. They'd rather be at $2 million net worth with the contacts to try another "game changer" startup than $25m without it. Still, though few people will admit this, VC is a better life. You already have status and access, and if you want to start a company as a Real Founder, you can do that any time you wish.

> if you've been in VC-istan for 2 decades and haven't made fuck-you money, you haven't won

Dave has only been a VC for a few years, in a game that takes a few rounds to go either way. In terms of "late bloomer" my guess is he's talking about life, not VC.

Why are none of the sentences capitalized? It makes it difficult to read (so I didn't finish it).

What I did read wasn't very interesting anyway, so no big loss.

I'm probably the opposite of Dave in some ways. I was never held back, but while people always said I was "smart" I was far from a prodigy. I never skipped a grade, though I was never held back either but it came close a few times. I did the military and didn't go to college until I was 26. I also never programmed or did web development until I was closer to 30. I'm a huge failure in that regard, I'll never, ever be the top 5%.

That said, at least I can follow 5th grade English conventions.

I find that people who don't capitalize, especially their names, tend to lack confidence in themselves. So in a way the lack of capitalization actually makes a point.

The other reason may be that he sees capitalization as unnecessary as punctuation already performs the same task (akin to the JS semi colon debate.)

Personally, I find it a bit arrogant to ignore such a basic grammar rule, but it does not bother me so much as to not read it.

I would like to know his reasoning behind it.


The downvoters obviously don't know Dave.

Would he really say 12 words where one of them isn't "fuck", though?


Dave McClure doesn't care about effective communication. Maybe his ideas are shit? I'll never know.


I for one agree with OP. The lack of capitalization made the article more difficult to read.

For the record, I am not a brogrammer. Just a regular dude who's used to regular ol' English style standards.

How exactly does his position equate to being a "late bloomer"? Even if he hadn't done everything he did in the last 10 years, he would still have achieved more than 99.99999% of the world population. Think about that to get some perspective. I think he's being ridiculously harsh on himself.

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