Startup Skepticism

From Alex Payne's Letter To A Young Programmer Considering A Startup:

A startup is just a means to an end. Consider the end, and don’t seek to revel in the means. What do you care about? Who do you want to help? Does a startup make meeting your goals easier or harder? Where will it leave you when your goal is met? Where will it leave you if it isn’t? Alex Payne

A startup job is the new office job...Startups have been systematized, mythologized, culturally and socially de-risked; reduced down to formulas and recipes. Yet, there is no enduring formula for creativity and rebellion. When we attempt to factory farm innovation we breed out the very thing we’re trying raise: the creative destruction that stokes and re-stokes the fire of capitalism. Alex Payne

Startups are part of the system, not a rebellious wrench in the cogs....The startup system is just another system; an alternative to the corporate ladder with just as many rungs to climb...The now-perennial celebration of startup-driven disruption begs the question: if we accept that disruption is even happening, are we better off in the resulting disrupted market? Have we solved a problem, or have we shifted the problem elsewhere? Alex Payne

Startups have an ongoing interpersonal cost. Alex Payne

From Michael Church's Don't waste your time in crappy startup jobs:

7 misconceptions about startups:

  1. A startup will make you rich.

    Most engineers have the mistaken belief that the initial offering is only a teaser, and that it will be improved once they “prove themselves”, but it’s pretty rare that this actually happens. Moreover, raises and bonuses are very uncommon in startups. It’s typical for high performers to be making the same salary after 3 years as they earned when they started.

  2. The "actual" valuation is several times the official one.

    People love to think they’re smarter than markets. Usually, they aren’t. Moreover, the few who are capable of being smarter than markets are not taking (or trying to convince others to take) junior-level positions where the equity allotment is 0.05% of an unproven business.

  3. If you join a startup early, you're a shoe-in for executive positions.

    Startups often involve, for engineers, very long hours, rapidly changing requirements, and tight deadlines, which means the quality of the code they write is generally very poor in comparison to what they’d be able to produce in saner conditions...It may have been a heroic effort to build such a powerful system in so little time, but from an outside perspective, it becomes an embarrassment. It doesn’t make the case for a high-level position.

  4. In startups, there's no boss.

    [T]he truth is that almost everyone has a boss, even in startups. CEOs have the board, the VPs and C*Os have the CEO, and the rest have actual, you know, managers. The power relationship between a founder and investor is far more lopsided than that between a typical employee and manager.

  5. Engineers at startups will be "changing the world."

    What they are excellent at is finding ways to profit from inexorable, pre-existing trends by doing things that (a) have recently become possible, but that (b) no one had thought of doing (or been able to do) before. By doing so, they often improve the world incrementally: they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t provide value to someone. In other words, most of them are application-level concepts that fill out an existing world-changing trend (like the Internet) but not primary drivers.

  6. If you work at a startup, you can be founder next time around.

    The only thing that a job can offer that will set a person up with the access necessary to be a founder in the future is investor contact, and a software engineer who insists on investor contact when joining an already-funded startup is going to be laughed out the door as a “prima donna”.

  7. You'll learn more in a startup.

    This last one can be true; I disagree with the contention that it’s always true...There’s genuinely interesting work going on at startups, but there’s also a hell of a lot of grunt work, just like anywhere else. On the whole, I think startups invest less in career development than more established companies...Startups are generally too busy fighting fires, marketing themselves, and expanding to have time to worry about whether their employees are learning. Michael Church

In 2012, is there “a bubble” in internet startups? Yes and no. In terms of valuations, I don’t think there’s a bubble...Where there is undeniably a bubble is in the extremely high value that young talent is ascribing to subordinate positions at mediocre startups. Michael Church

From Aza Raskin's Psychological Pitfalls and Lessons of a Designer-Founder

If you love doing something, under no condition should you start a VC-backed company to do more of it. You won’t. You are going to spend all of your time recruiting, fundraising, recruiting, aligning team vision, recruiting, and figuring out which fires you can safely ignore. Aza Raskin

To maintain your psychological health, you’ll need to learn how to shift the fufillment you get from making to the fufillment of enabling a team to make. You’ll be making vicariously, not making directly. You’ll have to come to terms and internalize it or else your lack of emotional fufillment will trickle down to your team Aza Raskin

You’ll live with knowing that you are personally judged based upon your company’s performance. That your reputation is tied to your company’s reputation. You’ll no longer be judged on your own work, but your team’s work. It will make you want to get too directly involved in the design. And, as we know, that’s dangerous. Be aware that ego can and will get in the way and be ready to fight it. Aza Raskin


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