25 Sep 2015

The Startup culture is weird. In one light, there is really no funner place to work than within a startup culture. With plenty of interesting characters and a lack of formal structure, a creative individual can thrive. With steady exposure, one sees the deeper motives of any startup company which began to melt away all the facades that the culture touts.

I have now worked for two startups and experimented briefly with starting my own. First, it must be said that a startup is no easy task. The notion that one can make billions of dollars off an app relatively easily is foolish. The amount of work it takes is gargantuan both from a technology and business perspective. I still get texts from friends, aquaintances, and strangers asking for help on their hip new app idea so that we can both make billions.

Working in a startup culture is quite nice, however. Because it is young in nature, there is a fluid structure that allows for a relaxed lifestyle. It also creates a situation where many roles can be played. I have learned more from the startup world than I have from working in a corporate office. I have had to play many different roles which has allowed me to work on different skill sets simultaneously.

A startup takes on a typical lifestyle. It starts by generating a seed round typically ranging from 500k to 1m dollars. This money is recovered from angel investors who see potential in your idea. The investment should last the company around 1 to 2 years. At this point the company should be generating some revenue or have a large network of users. The company will then try to raise its series A and receive a formal valuation. This process continues on for any number of rounds until it is either bought out or goes public.

This is where my discomfort with startups lies. Although it plays around with a relaxed Californiaesque culture there is a deep sense of urgency innate in any startup. This urgency is tied back to growth fetishism. There is a compulsive need to grow as quickly as possible and to gain as many users as possible. In other words, we must become the next Facebook, Google, Uber or face death. The middle ground of being a revenue generating company is detested and seen more as failure.

This is not to say that these massively successful companies do not provide value. Though I prefer smaller or medium sized companies, I am also well accustomed to using the products of large players. Smaller sized companies, in my view, seem to pay more attention to the rights and well being of their users. When all your attention is focused on capturing more of the market there is less concern for the user.

To me, the more peculiar issue is the dialogue around this new breed of company. There seems to be a disconnect between the persona of a startup and the underlying goals. It reminds me of Christian Bale’s character, Patrick Bateman, in the movie American Psycho. In preparing for the role Bale used Tom Cruise as inspiration. According to Bale, Cruise had this intense friendliness with nothing behind his eyes. Similarly, startups don playful masks that shroud its intention behind ping pong tables, free snacks, and endless beer. But when you look into those eyes, intention is made clear.

Published on 25 Sep 2015