Fuck you money (for a lot of people) isn't "go buy a Caribbean island" money. It's "I can finally build the company I WANTED to build" money.
(anticipating response of "Why not just build the company you're passionate about to begin with?") Some companies cannot practically be built without vast piles of money/power/connections/etc. As a previous commenter pointed out, you can't bootstrap the SpaceX prize. :-)
Also-- people change! A guy I know's wife just got diagnosed with breast cancer. If he sold his startup tomorrow to chase a different dream, could you blame him?
Diamandis used a small initial grant from the Ansari family and leveraged it via insurance.
And obviously FU money here has a very different meaning than to punt a nasty boss-- given that they people who made the decision to sell here WERE the boss.
But I think it's stuck because, for a lot of people, it is buying a Caribbean island money; it is their chance to say "fuck you" to everyone who still has to work for a living. Their ambition is to display their wealth conspicuously, and otherwise sit on their asses while other people envy them.
I can't imagine someone working because they want to saying "fuck you" to someone who works because they have to, and especially not to the degree that the perpetual vacationer would. In fact, I can imagine the Caribbean island owner being condescending to the willing, but rich, worker because they aren't projecting the image of a rich person. Rich people don't work; but this one does, so he's a misfit.
I think for the crowd that gathers here, "fuck you" money should really be called "next level" money. They likely have that ambition you refer to, where getting rich is just a means to even greater ends. It's hard to quell intrinsic ambition, even if one of the hopes of that ambition has been fulfilled. And it's hard to develop ambition, even when one has the means to become so, but didn't rely on ambition to get there (e.g., lottery winners, etc). This is why most people call it "fuck you" money; it's where they can stop faking ambition and show how little they actually had before getting lucky.
I think the post will end up being contrarian just to be contrarian. This site and YCombinator were created as a result of "fuck you" money.
If your mind is already made up then you don't need to read it.
What's kind of funny is the vast majority of the 37signals philosophy I agree with. Hell, we turned down VC funding in part because we really liked what you guys were able to do without it, and the fact that investor interests and founder interests often conflict. But to lambast someone for taking the payday of a lifetime without knowing all the circumstances surrounding not only their company, but their life, doesn't seem right.
I'm shocked at how arrogant your comment comes across. Different strokes for different folks.
And for what it's worth, I think YC is way cooler than ViaWeb.
Seriously though - you can never have too much money, but this doesn't change the fact that it is way better to have, say $10M in net worth vs. $100,000. Of course if you have $10M you're still going to want to be a billionaire, but now you can choose to either work hard to become a billionaire or do something entirely different. You're still going to have to find your place in the world---everyone deals with this---but now you have a huge amount of freedom you didn't have before.
This was a famous exchange between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said, "You know Ernest, the rich are different from you and me." Hemingway replied, "Yes, they have more money."
The phrase was lifted for the title of a book of anecdotes about rich people that I once saw a stack of on a coffee table at Restoration Hardware. I picked one up and it turned out to be freaking hilarious. I heartily recommend it: http://www.amazon.com/Rich-Are-Different-Priceless-Quotation...
For example, there was the English aristocrat who, when told he could no longer afford to keep three pastry chefs (French, Danish, and one other), said "What? Can't a man have a biscuit when he wants it?"
Then there was Christina Onassis' habit of sending her private jet out to get a twelve-pack of Diet Coke every time she ran out. The pilot was asked why he didn't just bring back a full load. His answer: "Because Madame does not want old Diet Coke."
I could quote another dozen stories from memory and this book has been sitting in storage for like 10 years. A seriously hilarious book.
Money is a tool, not an end in and of itself. So, yes, you can have too much money.
FU money is the worst reason to do startups. Most startups which are driven by FU money as the goal, dont really get anywhere. They destroy lives and drain the best years of some of the brightest young people. The ones we hear about going big are really a very very small fraction - you are better of buying lottery tickets if you really want FU money.
Do a startup by all means, but do it for the right reasons. There is no better life waiting for you after you get FU money. Do a startup only if running one is the best use you can think of your life.
What's valuable is the ability to create money, not the money itself. Investing is hard. You could probably ask pg about how hard it is. These guys had a really good investment, and these guys, bright as they are, may have very well killed their golden goose.
I'm not sure this has very much to do with whether the Mint guys would have done better to keep going independently rather than taking the $170M, though.
That's not to say Mint did any of us a favor by accepting Intuit's offer, but their decision may not have come as easily as you think.
Being able to stop working as an obligation and start working as an authentic contribution, passion and creation is an important and very, very satisfying lifestyle change.
You seem to assume that being a hugely profitable company is the right thing to be, and that anyone who isn't is bitter and requires a outlet to vent about how their failure isn't their own fault.
What I've seen 37Signals blog posts advocating is building a business such that it is enjoyable enough to run that it doesn't matter if it has a potential multi-million dollar exit. There is nothing wrong with them advocating such a philosophy, and nothing wrong with running a company that holds to such a policy provided no one involved was bullshitted about the terms.
The terms that Mint was running on are different, though, partly because there are investors and founders involved who entered into the deal expecting a profitable exit. Nailing them to a cross makes no sense, because their goals weren't the same, nor do I think they were ethically compelled to be.
But please, let's not make this conversation about flinging one line barbs at Jason and 37Signals so they can send one line barbs flying back. All that does is raise the heat level in the room.
No, I'm not some sort of Kool-aid drinking acolyte. But ultimately, I'm trying to do the same thing - to have fun and do what I find fulfilling, at the expense of considerably faster and more lucrative routes to making more money - so I can appreciate their general angle.
I'm not sure what's not to like about that. The real question is about what those 3 years were like. If they kind of enjoyed them, that's just gravy.
(Of course, I'm aware of Survivor's Bias here. Not everyone gets bought for $170m.)
No, they didn't. A substantial chunk of that money is undoubtedly going to their investors.
This notion that working on a fulfilling business can meet all of a person's needs is false.
Working on something fulfilling, for money is good. Having the option of doing something fulfilling that doesn't need to make money is better.
So, back to the OP's point: FU money is better than a happy income (depending on what you have to do to get to the FU stage).
Really, your question could be raised in response to virtually any person or entity with a clearly identifiable ideological stance of which they are frequent exponents. Just about anyone with a philosophical disposition and/or a discursive character - a tendency toward narration - is a candidate for, "Why do you keep saying what you think all the time?"
I guess it's because that's what intelligent people or groups of them who conceptualise themselves to have some sort of intellectually coherent purpose do.
Only nerds -- and people with no persuasive skills (or influence) -- think that saying something "the right way," once, is productive.
If you're not thinking about these things all the time when you're reading things, you're not getting maximum usefulness out of them.
It's not just what people say, or what people read, but WHY.