Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks. – Karl Marx
Watch a VC use my name to sell a con.
Normally I just ignore navel-gazing tech-industry articles like this, but people keep sending it to me, so I guess this guy is famous or something. Michael Arrington posted this article, “Startups Are Hard. So Work More, Cry Less, And Quit All The Whining” which quotes extensively from my 1994 diary.
He’s trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don’t do that, you’re a pussy. He’s using my words to try and back up that thesis.
I hate this, because it’s not true, and it’s disingenuous.
What is true is that for a VC’s business model to work, it’s necessary for you to give up your life in order for him to become richer.
Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what’s good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.
He’s telling you the story of, “If you bust your ass and don’t sleep, you’ll get rich” because the only way that people in his line of work get richer is if young, poorly-socialized, naive geniuses believe that story! Without those coat-tails to ride, VCs might have to work for a living. Once that kid burns out, they’ll just slot a new one in.
I did make a bunch of money by winning the Netscape Startup Lottery, it’s true. So did most of the early engineers. But the people who made 100x as much as the engineers did? I can tell you for a fact that none of them slept under their desk. If you look at a list of financially successful people from the software industry, I’ll bet you get a very different view of what kind of sleep habits and office hours are successful than the one presented here.
So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.
Instead of that, I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic.
A few thoughts:
1. I’ve been a VC for four months.
2. “He’s trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don’t do that, you’re a pussy.” – No. I was making the point that people have been working crushingly hard in our industry for quite a while now, and that today’s hard workers shouldn’t assume this is something new.
3. “He’s telling you the story of, “If you bust your ass and don’t sleep, you’ll get rich”" No. I’m saying that working very hard is a necessary ingredient to being successful. Unless you are very, very lucky. But working hard doesn’t mean you’ll get rich. You’re chances are still abysmally, wonderfully slim.
4. “I did make a bunch of money by winning the Netscape Startup Lottery, it’s true. So did most of the early engineers. But the people who made 100x as much as the engineers did? I can tell you for a fact that none of them slept under their desk.” – Is the problem that the money you made wasn’t enough to compensate you for what you gave up? Or is the problem that other people at Netscape made far more money than you? Or, both?
5. The question I’d want to ask Jamie is, if he could go back and do it all over again, would he? He implies he would, but he never says it.
6. Lots of bitterness against venture capitalists and management. I get it. I was an entrepreneur for a lot longer than I’ve been a VC (10 years v. four months). I’ve been burned badly by VCs. Treated unfairly. But my response was simply to stop doing what I was doing and start doing something else.
7. Most VCs today that I know are a whole lot different than the VCs I knew a decade ago. Competition has driven them to behave much more civilly. In the process, many of them have learned that they can make a lot more money by simply chilling out, too.
8. I said this before, but I’ll say it again. Startup life isn’t for everyone. Do it with your eyes wide open. If you don’t like it, leave. If you do, don’t leave. If you like the life but hate the company, start your own company. Join, I guess, the dark side. And remember, being broke is no excuse. Move back with your parents and get free food and rent. Learn how to code if you don’t already. Just make it work. Or don’t. But don’t expect to get tons of equity and perks from a startup that someone else was willing to risk it all to start in exchange for average work. This isn’t the place for that.
I too have slept under desks, or wherever I fell. I too have at times worked so hard that there was nothing in my life except that work. The reason why I did this for all those years wasn’t because some VC was driving me to, or even because I thought I would get rich doing it. We never raised any venture capital at TechCrunch, and for the first several years I thought it was nothing more than a hobby, then a small business.
I did it because I was fascinated with the community around me. In love with it. There was nothing else I wanted to be doing. The courage and imagination I see every day from founders. And low level employees who struck out on their own to follow their own destiny.
Things are a lot different today than they were in Marx’s time. Today’s labor gets to nibble on organic food, be pampered with acupuncturists, and generally be coddled like no other employees on the planet. And when they get frustrated, or it’s just their time, they go out and start companies of their own, take venture capital or not, and see what they’re made of.
That’s the way I see Silicon Valley. It’s the same way I saw it as an employee being leveraged by bosses and venture capitalists who had far more equity than I did. It’s the same way I saw it when I started my own companies. And it’s the same way I see it as as an investor. Like an old, busted up ballplayer, I don’t have the stamina any more to start companies (maybe I will again in a couple years). But I can invest in, and cheer on, those that do.
I can’t think of anything more fun than continuing to be a part of the community that has fundamentally changed the world’s cultures and economies in just a few short years. A community that constantly creates somethings from nothings.
There is so much more to build. And, unlike the coal miners and child laborers in Marx’s time, we all get the chance to be a boss in this world. All you have to do, is do it. And maybe, when you’re the boss, you’ll see how hard it is to grow a company, with thousands of employees and their families relying on you to make the right decisions. And maybe, when those bosses aren’t perfect all the time, you’ll see why it’s just because they’re humans. Not soul sucking vampires.
So you see, Jamie, I wasn’t using your words as an argument to trick people into selling their souls. I just assume people will give them freely, drinking the same narcotic-spiked startup Kool Aid that I am. I was using your words to simply note that today’s hard workers were preceded by generations of other hard workers. Who sometimes also complained. In the end, we all know sausage making isn’t pretty. But sausage is, you know, delicious.