The Stay-Inners

For the last two years, in addition to the other work I do, I have been a part of a “start-up.” The word “start-up” seems to be Silicon Valley speak for unprofitable company, or maybe technology based company but I don’t really know what is not technology based anymore. I have a friend who works for a “start-up” but they have been around for close to ten years and have over 100 employees so I’m not sure what they are “starting-up.” They have not yet been profitable and get their money from private investors so maybe that’s part of the definition. I don’ t really know.

My co-founder “had a dream” one night, and because he is also my life partner and business partner in our other work I said, “okay let’s hear it.” Seemed like an interesting idea and we had an early sense of a way of doing something that was a little different than how it was being done. Two years later we have two apps that can be downloaded in the itunes store or google play. We have a patent pending and a couple of trademarks. Something but no profit so a start-up I guess.

It’s been an interesting couple of years on the creator side of something in Silicon Valley (or at least adjacent to and having to deal with the people of Silicon Valley). There are a lot of rules about how you have to be in order to be successful which I find ironic given that we are generally talking about a world that prides itself on being “disruptive” and “different.” Me pointing that out to venture capitalists has not proved profitable (intentional play on words in case you missed it).

One of the things I’ve learned, is that strangely, learning itself is not terribly valuable. Confidence, bravado, egotism – these are all apparently good things. Perseverance, patience, humility these are not what get you funding. One of the most confounding tropes is that you should be a college drop-out in order to be really successful – somehow dropping out is now equated with enhanced creativity, genius, and good ideas. Look at Mr. X –he dropped out and look what he did. I’m not sure you can prove causality with this, because there seems to be plenty of stay-in success too. Also plenty of drop-out mistakes so maybe we can err on the side of education is not a bad thing?

I’ve ben reading a lot of articles lately about start-ups that are having some trouble. Regulatory issues, reporting issues, wage issues, performance. A lot of things that when you boil it down are about an ability to jump through hoops, to be a little patient, to be willing to put the time in to make something happen and not cut corners. Saying it’s so doesn’t just make it so, you actually have to do the work.

I’m not suggesting that the folks in the recent headlines who are having spots of trouble aren’t working hard, I’m sure they are, it’s a badge of honor to say you never sleep and work an hundred hours a week. I am saying that sometimes the structure of having to complete something a certain way can teach us about how to get through mistakes, frustrations, and hard spots. It’s possible that sticking with a program that seems like a waste of time in the moment will actually give you, if not knowledge, at least perspective for when you need to solve a problem, get through a tough spot, believe that you can make it. To run a marathon you have to run 26.2 miles, not invent a way to teleport from one spot to another. That might be cool but it’s not a marathon.

It’s easier to skip the classes and just start practicing medicine, but then maybe there is something valuable about medical school that informs the process of healing. Philosophy or math or physics or literature may feel like a waste of time when there are exciting ideas you want to pursue, but maybe a line, a note, a view will change with that information. You can beat the competition when you don’t play by the rules, skipping wage law, not paying taxes, not worrying about lab testing performance but then again all you learned how to do was cheat better than someone else, you didn’t really do it better.

I’m a stay-inner, I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m proud of my degrees, my experience, the hard-work and the perseverance. I hope my start-up succeeds, I really do think it is a good idea. And I’m going to be a little disruptive and continue to insist that there is more than one way to succeed, that education is a good thing, that finishing something and playing by the rules, that this matters. Maybe not in Silicon Valley, but maybe there is also more to the world than that one narrow view.

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