Is a startup for you?

I always thought that startups are over glamorized. They are not for everyone. On the other hand, some people also over stress about the ‘risk’ of joining a startup, which I don’t by either. Check out: Alex Payne — Letter To A Young Programmer Considering A Startup:

Maybe a startup is the best way to meet a goal, and maybe it isn’t. If the goal of the young man described above is to run a business – any business! – then perhaps a startup is indeed his best path forward. For others, though, I often wonder if they’re fitting their goals into the format of a startup because it’s an approach that’s lauded, admired, and easily understood (if not easily accomplished).


Startup vs. Company

“Oh yeah, I’ve started 6 companies, and right now I have 3 startups going. I just love starting companies. I don’t know what’s wrong with me….”

Have you ever heard statements like that?

I hear them, fairly often, and I am never sure what to make of them. My immediate impulse is to call “Bullshit”, but I don’t because part of me admires that attitude. It’s just like the moniker “Serial Entrepreneur” seems to have become a status symbol. It doesn’t matter if the result of your seriality is that you are broke or forced the indignity of becoming a ‘salaryman’ at a regular company, oh, like Google. Being a serial Entrepreneur is cool.

I hope you realize that I am being ironic. I happen to think that Google is an amazing company and people who have a job there have it good and have reason to be proud.

So, I enjoyed reading “Startup vs. Company” a blog post by Spencer Fry, with the subtitle “Startups easy. Companies hard.”, in which he says, among other things:

“They tried to claim that they were currently working on a half dozen startups (what I’d term “projects”; a startup needs focused development), and as the dispute developed they also insisted that Facebook and Twitter were still startups and not companies. “You can’t use the term for everything,” I said, “just because it’s an online product.” Maybe it’s a New York vs. San Francisco thing, but in New York we’re building companies, not startups. Maybe it’s because it costs more to live here, but we’re trying to put food on the table, not be on the cover of Business Week.” (from Startup vs. Company)

(It will make Scott Kirsner’s heart beat faster when he realizes that the conversation being quoted above was between Spencer Fry, from New York, and ‘two guys from San Fransisco” about the meaning of the word ‘Startup’)

I take Spencer Fry’s side in this debate. The term ‘startup’ and ‘company’, at least in the mouths of our community, have experienced serious devaluation:

“What makes creating a company so difficult is that it’s no longer a couple of people sitting around their apartment fine-tuning an idea. Those were the days! It’s a team, all working together to solve a complex problem. Then if you’re lucky enough to solve it, you have to sell, market, and support it. It starts to get scary.

Building a business is mind numbing when you think about it. You have to be a little insane to venture down this path. Your chances of succeeding are slim, and even if you do succeed you have to continue to innovate or you’ll be obsolete in eighteen months.” (from Startup vs. Company)

Just something to keep in mind the next time you say or hear a statement like I began with.

XMarks is the only thing that will sync Safari with Firefox

And, it’s leaving us:

“The past four years have been a wild ride for us: growing something from nothing to substantial scale, providing a simple service that people love because it simplifies their lives. We’ve learned tons along the way, often by making big mistakes. We’re really sorry that this last lesson means that you’ll have to find an alternative to Xmarks, but the alternatives exist and you’ll have no problem finding them.” (from Xmarks Blog)

Again this shows how good ideas don’t always win.

This was an excellent idea, but perhaps it suffered from the classic-cliche-VC-quip “It’s a feature not a product”, or worse, “It’s a product not a company”. I don’t know how much money, not to mention blood, sweat and tears, was spent on trying to get it to achieve escape velocity but I can imagine that it was considerable.

Having built and attracted huge numbers of loyal users is a major accomplishment, even if it didn’t lead to a sustainable business. Kudos and all the best to the team.