Marc Andreesen’s written an excellent post about why you shouldn’t found a startup. It should be required reading for anyone considering creating or joining a startup. Those of us silly enough to do this again and again should have it tattooed in reverse on our foreheads!
However, Marc forgot my favorite drawback. Startups are addictive. Their a drug. And, if you’re genetically predisposed, like me, once you’ve tasted startup life there’s no going back.
Each time I start or join a new fledgling tech company, it’s almost as if nobody knows me anymore. Suddenly I’ve got no money to spend and email responses take weeks, if they come at all. The idea, if it’s any good, is outlandish and unheard of (In my case Rapid City : routing in silicon, Topspin : datacenter virtualization switch, 3tera : utility computing in a browser). Folks just aren’t ready to abandon the familiar and accept your ideas. They need convincing evidence, but all you’ve got is an idea. Everything has to be created from scratch, from names and logos, to slideware and datasheets, and all by you. There’s no product, no money and no employees. So you incorporate, create your slide deck, seek a few other startup addicts and spend months touring conference rooms in silicon valley explaining to anyone that’ll see you just what it is you’re doing. It’s a loooooooong process.
One day, though, you’re introducing yourself at a conference when someone says “I’ve heard of you.” That’s a moment that knocks your socks off. You’ve created a little bit of buzz. Next you get the thrill of the first bits passing through your system. Seeing your product on the shelf at a major retailer, or on the screen of a stranger’s laptop for the first time is electrifying. Walking into a datacenter and seeing a hundred of your systems is indescribable. Having a writer print (or post) a review declaring that your widget defines the future is a rush.
Of course, we can’t forget the potential monetary rewards. I’ve been involved in two succesful acquisitions, and though the cars I bought are long gone, the smell of cigars still seems fresh from the post acquisition parties. And I’ll never forget the look on the tellers face when depositing the check (yes, I did get her number).
Knowing all the obstacles you overcome to achieve these successes changes you. The words no and impossible lose their meaning.
So, why is this a negative. Because, as I mentioned before, it’s addictive. Knowing what you can accomplish, especially with little money and a small team, makes working inside a large company incredibly painful. Endless approval cycles, countless reviews, competing initiatives, legacy products to consider . . . and all you want to do is produce something. Anything.
Although I can’t find reference to it online, Ross Perot, who ended up on GMs board after they bought EDS, was reputed to have blown up during a board meeting yelling “pick anything and be the best at it, even if it’s the ashtray.” Shortly thereafter he left to found Perot Systems. Likewise, most of my friends who’ve started succesful companies and been acquired last no more than a year before branching out on their own again – looking for another fix.