It’s all anyone in the world of tech-entrepreneurship and especially entrepreneurship media can talk about.
Because it’s sexy. It’s where the stories and legends are created. A couple of people in a garage giving birth to a multibillion dollar company with a giant exit. Or, more likely these days, a dozen founder teams working day and night for 3 months in a seed accelerator in the quest to crush it on demo day, land serious funding and buzz and create something people can’t shut up about.
Interviews with VCs, founders and employees number 3 bristle with stories of hyper-focused, maniacal devotion on the quest. Everything, every thought, every desire, every waking minute, every heartbeat utterly devoted to launching, rapid scaling, exiting and doing it all again.
Having a life outside the quest to build the next yaddayadda.com is considered the mark of a weeny.
The company IS your life. Relationships, a distraction, unless they happen within the context of the big push, and even then they only complicate things. Lip-service is occasionally given to need to “take care of yourself” or keep hold of life outside the blinders. But behind closed doors, sleep, love, stillness, wellness are for those who can’t handle the push, while the “real” founders and entrepreneurs are off building newsworthy behemoths.
And, anyone who’s not looking to build something mega, to scale to maximal exit value in minimum time, well, they’re just amateurs.
In a fabulous (though very NSFW) post entitled, “Dear Startup World: Chill the F*ck Out” software developer and entrepreneur, Amy Hoy, wrote about this phenomenon and the tech-media’s insatiable quest to cover it, coining the delicious term “entreporn.”
In the tech world, that message is “startups.” And the concept of “startups” almost without fail comes part & parcel with some kind of funding. Pitching, seeking, signing contracts, giving out shares, building a board, having to please them as well as your customers, giving away part of your baby and part of your control — if not much of it.
But all that? It’s not the option. It’s only one of many options for making your own stuff & helping people.
One colossally, epically over-represented, and often incredibly miserable option.
Question is–what drives this? And is there another way?
The quest is generally driven on three levels: Ego, interest and impact.
The desire to solve a big problem, serve a great delight, breath life into a specific idea or serve a community you feel deeply connected to is one piece of it. Worthy motivation, for sure.
And then, there’s straight-up ego.
You want to be known as the person who conceived and built THAT!
And you want the toys, prestige and power that keep you smiling until someone else comes along with a bigger, faster growing X or a bigger liquidity event and becomes the shiny new entrepreneur du-jour.
At which point, your brain, which you’ve programmed to derive happiness in no small part from wealth and notoriety “relative” to others, goes spiraling down the “oh hell no, I’m not done yet!” rabbit hole and starts the entire cycle over. Only this time, even more maniacally.
The all-in intensity of a start-up is an amazing place to be. I’ve gone there a number of times with the launch of my own companies, albeit not at the breakneck pace demanded by tech. And I’m wading back into that arena now as I work behind the scenes to build a much more substantial venture around the public tip of the iceberg that is Good Life Project.
Being breathless in the name of greatness is a wild, fun ride. For a bit.
But, as Hoy offers, it’s not the only way to create something that matters, both to you and to the world. And, as you get a bit further into life, it’s likely not the best way. Ego, interest and impact are not strong enough drivers to blow apart your health, mood and relationships with family and quality of life.
Scaling as big and fast as your sanity and bank account allows (especially with other peoples’ money) may be where the stories and legends the media likes to tell lie.
But, the stories I love to tell, the ones that make my life richer in ways beyond compare, are the ones I make up in the early evening. Lying in bed with my little girl as she drifts off to the characters and worlds we’ve created together over months and years. Pulled from thin air, never to be repeated or written about in techcrunch or beyond.
The stories I love to tell are the ones where I play with my wife in the middle of the day, where we work on building businesses, experiences and life together, where each of our 15 years of marriage have brought us closer, deepened our connection, where simply looking at her from across the room makes my entire body smile. The ones where we’re around each other all the time, and still can’t enough of each other.
The stories I love to tell are the ones where I build meaningful ventures, in service to communities, create art, music, craft language, speak to people, illuminate (still working on that one) and inspire not because of the size of what I’ve built or what people have paid when the companies were sold, but the way I’ve exalted relationships, services and the humanity of the process along the way.
I’m not any better than anyone else. I don’t live anywhere near a charmed existence. I have bills to pay, struggles, emotions and challenges on many levels. I work hard. Really hard. But I work even harder to align my time and energy with what I claim to hold dear in life.
Because I can always start a new company, but I can never relive moments in the lives of my wife and daughter.
We’re all here to do great work, to live good lives and leave a lasting legacy. And, yes, I still harbor a desire to build something very big and very cool. But…
Great work, great lives and great legacies are about depth first, and reach second.
I’d rather touch 100 or 1,000 people on the level of soul than a million on the level of interest or 100 million on the level of passing delight.
Can you simultaneously scale depth and reach on a massive, accelerated level without blowing up everything outside that quest?
Maybe. It’s a question I dance with every day. There are certain simplicity-based approaches to scaling that can inform and accelerate the process. Thought, truth be told, I’ve rarely seen it done well.
And, before you even get to that question, there’s another we all need to answer…
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