from my perspective it all seems like one big circle jerk, especially considering the hive-mind mentality here on hackernews where working 80hours+ / week for some fun app startup seems like good guidance for young people and something to strive for.
the goal of a startup is to make money, not raising money. the SV scene seems to be concentrating on the latter since its influenced & guided completely by venture capitalists and their interests instead of market opportunities.
to be provocative: just throw thousands of teenagers at random things, give them some pocket money and hope something sticks. motivate them by giving them some grand illusion of being an independent entrepreuner. burnout is just something that comes with the game. give them lectures to clone them into perfect worker bees for VCs as traditional education would clone them into perfect big corp employees.
my advice to young people with drive is: go travel, see the world first. solve real problems. starting your typical SV startup is mostly an illusion and a bad proposition for you. young age is certainly good for coming up with disrupting ideas, but execution profits heavily from life experience - think of survivorship bias and don't be fooled by the few success stories.
I couldn't help but feel an extreme level of utter disgust at this. Somehow portraying that its heroic to work for a start up for the last 12 months of your life.
Really? Utterly fucking ridiculous.
A lot of the themes in this lecture related to motivation and employee qualities are what I'd lump in the category of "dog whistles." They're meant to send a certain signal to people. If that's not what they are, then somebody has done a thoroughly unimpressive job of communicating various ideas.
OK. Imagine I come to you with this offer: "Hey, relecler, I am starting this company that does X. Would you like to be its first employee? You'll be expected to work 100 hours a week for a salary below market rate, but you will have some equities. If we get big you will become millionaire, but you will lose your job if we run out of money." Would you take it?
Don't forget that for one airbnb that succeeds, you have hundreds startups that fail and whose employee have worked a lot for nothing.
A lot of the themes in this lecture related to motivation
and employee qualities are what I'd lump in the category
of "dog whistles."
I am sure some, perhaps even Sam himself, don't view it that way; that they really, honestly believe the rhetoric they're using is not negative or indicative of an exploitative relationship. That's just how dog whistles work, though: in some cases the audience and messenger are merely casual, unwitting participants in a larger, cultural narrative, but in others one or more parties "knows what they mean."
So the words about employees having to be passionate and believe in the mission are basically dog whistles indicating "it's culturally acceptable to target would-be employees who are easily exploited." These would-be employees don't have to think they're being exploited, by the way, in order for an exploitative relationship to exist.
At least that's how I read it.
It might be possible to calculate the pay per hour of extra work for employees in startups. But some of the parameters would be hard to get data on.
How many more hours of work per week?
For how many years?
For how much less pay?
With how much chance of a big win?
And the big win gets you how much?
However, its one type of entrepreneurship they teach in SV. Pity lectures don't discuss the fun part. Because no matter how difficult it is, and not only in SV, there is a lot of fun & happiness.
But I love to heard the actual pitch from the founder(s) with 1-10 employees with maybe limited tractions that can really successfully convince a potential employee to say 'yes' to that.
Maybe Steve Jobs..... But he is too famous now, can he do it if he is an unknown and just one of the thousands of founders in Silicon Valley?
IMHO the advice about not hiring before you have traction is far, far more important than the advice about what sort of person you want to hire. The former is strategy; the latter is tactics. You can swap out the latter based on what your needs are and what sort of company you want to build, but the former seems to be universal.
What's more painful than death is not getting a chance to discharge at least some of your ideas. Ignoring your dreams is the number one regret of the dying. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a man.
No. He set out looking for people who were crazy in a way he liked, and he hired them. If there's anything ridiculous about that it's the behavior of those first hires, not of the CEO.
What am I missing here? If people like that exist, what's wrong with looking for them?
You want dedicated employees. Not lunatics. And you certainly shouldn't do things that encourage people to be lunatics.
Would you demand that your employees egregiously break the law for your company? Now THAT is dedication, right? No, you wouldn't (god I hope not), because that's not ethical.
Because it could be a young kid and brainwashing techniques like that could be dangerous. The question implies that the right choice is "Yes, I would like to work for this God blessed startup for the last 12 months of my life because working here is not a job, it's a mission".
The point is that if you don't believe in your core that the startup's mission is worth spending the last year of your life on, you're not the kind of person who'll do what's necessary to make it happen.
Maybe you can't think of a cause you'd make that sacrifice for, but many founders and startup employees can. I don't think that's disgusting.
it's airbnb, you're not curing cancer!
Air B and B is about changing the global economy. Tearing down the walls that keep everybody from getting what they deserve in in life.
This application is like our first steps on the moon. It will launch the very future of human commerce...etc...etc
Your point now is that employees should be rewarded more. That's a fair point . But it's still separate to being dedicated to what you do.
There are several occupations people enter knowing there is little monetary reward. Schoolteachers don't make much but they are dedicated to building children's lives and can't imagine themselves doing anything else. So are artists and generally anyone who has found their calling.
If I had a only a year to live I probably would still be working on the things I'm working on now.
 - It's a fair hypothesis that the most valuable company would be the one where everyone involved is rewarded in proportion to the value they generate. You can't build some kinds of companies if you keep 100% of the equity as a founder btw. Look at Alibaba's $210b IPO and Alibaba's founder who has only 8.4%.
80 hours a week means 11 hours a day every single day. That means you wake up at 8am, roll into office at 9am (ya, show me a startup where everyone's there at 9am!), work straight until 8pm, and get home 9pm. Including Saturdays and Sundays.
I completely reject the notion that even in the most dedicated startup, you will find a large number of people who do this for any sustained period of time.
People have limits. After a few days of 11-hour shifts, anyone will say "fuck, I need a break." Even the fabled CEO, who will be on email and essentially on call 24/7, will take breaks that bring the number down from 80 hours sustained.
People who are convinced they have an idea for a billon dollar startup idea(no matter how unrealistic) are far more willing to sign lopsided deals, and destroy themselves trying to make it happen. They are so tunnel vision that they just refuse to acknowledge what a 90% failure rate means.
Start-ups are frequently on the cutting edge of business practices - the ideas that are generated here often have impact for people working in big business as well.
The one implicit assumption that I find the most difficult to grasp is the "change the world" attitude, especially when you see that as soon as they try to make money at the same scale they are valuated, startups do "wrong" things. Take FB or Twitter; I guess that connecting people is a noble goal. But trying all the time to get me to click on promoted content, is that good ?
Y-Combinator is designed to build $1B+ companies, however, it is not designed to not build $1B companies at all. So if you don't want to do that, yes do not work 80h/week. However, this way, you are also very unlikely to build a company of that size.
If you want to build a huge tech-company like Uber, Twitter, AirBnB, you will need to spend all your brain capacity for what you are doing in order to make a company like that happen, you will simply need to sacrifice a lot, friends, sports, having a girlfriend, sometimes even sanity. Most people would never do that and that is fine, however, there are some people can't imagine doing something else, because they really, really want to change the world and there is nothing else that would give them more satisfaction. This is not possible as a side-project and the evidence is that the huge companies we have these days were not built part-time. They were built full-time, probably double full-time.
Hope the other point of view makes a bit more sense to you now.
So I'd modify your first sentence to make it more accurate: "It might be you do not want to build a company with a $1B value that is largely paper-money based on investor provided funding."
The main takeaway from the last lecture was identify a good problem and a good idea that resonates with you personally - or as you phrased it "solve real problems".
The key difference between a start-up and a normal small business is that a start-up's main aim is to grow very quickly to benefit from the economies of the business model. Unfortunately in that environment raising venture capital and working 80 hour weeks is a bit of a fact of life - I hope some people take away from this course that there are other options to this. Specifically a slower self-financing growth phase, bank loans or family/friends etc.
I see it as a protocol to reduce uncertainty and expect more protocols (appcoins? kickstarters?) to arise. You know that the next carrot in front of you is going to an accelerator, then raise more money (repeat), then get acquired, get profitable, go public, or simply die.
Or perhaps you are speaking against the SV startup culture in general, with this video as a catalyst for touching off those thoughts? In that case, perhaps there's just a difference of values.
(recommendation: listen to Porcupine Tree - The Sound of Muzak)
i respect everyone who starts a business, it's tough (and success is heavily influenced by luck & personal connections).
i just want to make the point that from an outside perspective this doesnt look like a building a business, its more like big corp work disguised as entrepreneurship.
(1) > my advice to young people with drive is ... solve real problems.
You say burnout is intrinsic to startups but ignore that hard work is needed for other things that aren't startups. What makes you think solving real problems doesn't require dedication?
(2) > the goal of a startup is to make money
No. It's a goal, but not the only goal. Another goal is to make the world a better place.
(3) Can you be precise about what "hurts you to see" those lectures? Is it because what they say is true and the truth is uncomfortable? Or do the lectures say something that's false? Can you point to a specific sentence that's false?
If you can't boil something down to a single sentence then you don't know what you are saying and judging from the length of your comment you don't.
Being able to turn a complicated idea into a sentence does generally mean you get the concept, but you can still get the concept with out expressing it at a 5th grade language level.
It can't be a total accident there's a high correlation between being a good communicator and being a successful founder.
It is more political then technical. It is about connection.
Highlighting that I think helps people to focus on a completely different skill set. I know I got bogged up in the joy of my technical development and needed to remind myself to be an evangelist which is fundamentally an application of rhetoric.
It also means skilfully using cognitive short cuts that already cluster information in order to simplify.
It is not that the public cannot understand, it is just that it is hard to not use domain specific vocabulary and still communicate the concept.
Take search engine. It is a perfect example of this process.
Words start to break once you push them too far.
This is because new ideas/concepts may require new words or words outside the scope of the 5th grade rule. An idiom is a cognitive miser of sorts.
Example - search engine
search - familiar vocabulary
engine - cognitive short cut
- related to car
- transports from point A to B (car)
- requires steering (car)
- most are comfortable with operating (car etc)
It is a hack to communicate when the available vocabulary does not convey the true intention of the speaker.
And/or the existing level of vocabulary is inefficient.
Star Trek Example: http://youtu.be/ukMNfTnI5M8
Archer Example: http://youtu.be/GzHhgPgO7wA
You are saying to communicate complex ideas one tends to need words a 5th grader wouldn't know.
I was saying to communicate an idea one should fit it an a single sentence.
Unless I missed something, we are not in disagreement. You are arguing for word quality, I'm arguing for word quantity. You don't disagree that boiling an idea to a single sentence is good, and I learned something new from you. The cognitive miser theory is fascinating.
Thank you for having put the effort to follow up.
It is the framing 'You do not UNDERSTAND your app unless you can simplify it in a single sentence' that I disagree with.
It is more 'You do not UNDERSTAND your market unless you can simply in a single sentence'.