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> AirBnB spent 5 months hiring before they hired a person. Brian Chesky: "Would you take the job if you had a medical diagnosis that says you only have a year left to live?" - culture of extremely dedicated people

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.




It's not explicitly stated anywhere, but it hardly takes "reading between the lines" to see that the kind of "business" model being pushed is one that is exploitative of youth in some cases, and of the culture that has grown up around software engineering and computer programming in general.

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.


Not to make this just a conversation about money, but if working 100 hours a week as the first hire at Airbnb (even for below market salary) is exploitation, then please exploit me! If you can identify a growth engine, and not have to take on the founder neonatal pre-funding risk, then that's a huge opportunity, not exploitation. You're probably not going to make that kind of money working at Google.


> Not to make this just a conversation about money, but if working 100 hours a week as the first hire at Airbnb (even for below market salary) is exploitation, then please exploit me!

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.


Maybe I'm doomed to repeat mistakes until I've learned my lesson, but I made a similar pact when I did my PhD (Absent any promise of being a millionaire), as I did for the next company I worked for. And now at my own startup that is certainly the case.


Well, if you think what the startup join join does is really awesome and you're passionate about it, by all mean go for it, passion is something I do respect. And same for your PhD, I always respect people who have one because they were passionate about something enough to do research instead of going for a well paid job (I don't have a PhD but I seriously considered doing one in maths when I finished my Msc).


   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."
Really? It all seems candid to me. What do you think Sam is implying but leaving unsaid?


The kinds of workers he suggests to hire basically boil down to, "hire people who are willing to work harder for less compensation with a promise of a big equity cash out (which is about as likely as winning the lottery)." That is to say, hire workers who are exploitable.

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.


The deal, as I see it, is that in a start-up you work extra hard for moderate pay, and in return get a chance at a big payout if the company succeeds in a big way. There's nothing wrong about that, in principle. But I wonder how the math works out.

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?


Well it is this or grad school. At least startups raised salaries if you want to go big corp.


Indeed. If I had one year to live, I would tell my co-founders to leave me alone so I can be with my loved ones. Actually its even in our shareholder agreement as good leaver clauses.

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.


I too think it is ridiculous. Maybe I am too old.

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?


An earlier point in the lecture was that you shouldn't hire until you have traction and really, really need the employee to keep up with growth. So if you're following all the advice in the lecture, you will not be in the position of "1-10 employees with maybe limited traction", you'll be in the position of "2-3 founders with clear traction". This is a much more attractive proposition to the first employee, as they can at least be sure that their work won't be in vain, and probably will make out pretty well on stock options.

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.


I just heard that and can't really believe anyone would say yes. Why would anyone spend the last year of their life working, and working for someone else?


For the same reason trees bloom in a disproportionately high quantity the spring before they die. When they sense the end of their lifetime they want to bear fruits. This isn't uncommon in people. The closer you get to the end the more you worry about your legacy.

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.


Well, it's not like he said "if this was the last year of your life you should be honored to work here"

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?


CEO's have the ability and, moreover, responsibility to set the tone of how people approach work as well as life. Implying that employees should be so dedicated that they're firing off commits on their death bed is, um, ridiculous. That's not even considering this is AIRBNB. I love their product, but c'mon...people aren't growing up deeply impassioned by the injustice of how inconvenient it is to rent out one of their rooms.

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.


> What am I missing here? If people like that exist, what's wrong with looking for them?

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 isn't that working at a startup is heroic.

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.


how cynical is it to demand this of your employees when you are the founder with 10-100% of the equity? and how easily impressed (or young / stupid) do you have to be to buy into this as an employee?

it's airbnb, you're not curing cancer!


Depends how your frame it.

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


You slightly changed the problem here though.

Your point now is that employees should be rewarded more. That's a fair point [1]. 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.

[1] - 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%.




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