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Jan 24 / Vivi

On being a founder vs. joining a small startup vs. a large company

I was talking to a friend recently about startups and about “working on things that matter”. I was trying to pitch him the idea of changing the world and how much I love doing what I am doing now.

Obviously not convinced, my friend asked me “have you considered doing this as part of a small already successful company”? They already have figured out the thing that matters and since they have traction you can make real impact. Why go through the motions of trying to figure it out by yourself, when you’re clearly not making an impact yet?

The question preoccupied me for a few days, until I found what I think is a good analogy.

Being the founder of a startup
Is like being a boxer fighting in the shittiest league. You fight it all yourself, you get punched in the face a lot, you lose a lot but you keep struggling. You have no money, no team, the competition is fierce and what most people tell you is that you’re not doing it right.

You maybe have a few friends that root for you, and a few others who’s car you borrow to go to the hospital when you break your jaw.

Joining a small startup that already has it figured out
Is like joining the team of a fighter in a professional league as the guy with the water bucket. You’re close to the action. You get in the ring in between rounds and you make a difference. You touch the fighter, you’re friends with him, you’re close to the spot light.

The crowd is cheering and you feel like you’re part of something important. When you win a fight you all drink together and it all feels fantastic.

But you’re not taking punches, and when the boxer is going to the hospital to get his eyebrow stitched, you go home to a warm bed. You’re safe. You’re close enough to know how it all works, but you tell yourself that only the naive few would try to do it themselves.

Joining a large company changing the world
Is like being a fan of a SuperBowl team.

You support them with all your heart. You laugh when they win and you cry when they lose. You’re clearly their number one fan and they would be nothing without you, or at least that’s what they say. You’re part of the team, you follow them around, you’re there for them, when they need you.

But most of the time you’re not even close to being on the field. You don’t know how the sausage is made, but they make it look pretty easy. You follow them closely enough that you bitch with your fan friends about what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. You can’t change anything though, you’re still one of the fans.

At the end of the day…
I know the analogy is not perfect and there are exceptions, but you get the point. I don’t think there is a right answer. We all chose our path the way we see fit.

Some like to take punches, some like to be there to help and some just love to cheer.

So why do I chose to be that guy in the Nth league that just keeps getting punched in the face? It sounds stupid, but I think that if you don’t know already you probably wouldn’t understand.

It’s not glorious, it’s just hard. It’s painful, it’s probably a road to failure. But it’s a failure from which you learn so much, you grow so much, and you live so much, that I am not going to give up until I absolutely have to.


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  1. dragos / Jan 24 2012

    Otoh why have the impression that a startup needs to change the world and should become as big as google or facebook?

    Yeah, a bigbang idea transformed into a long lasting company would be ideal (thats the SV/YC approach – they even teach it at Harvard) but one can be a successful entrepreneur even on a smaller scale.

    Consider the long tail approach – think about the chances of how many radio hits or hollywood movies get big versus lotta good music and movies out there.

    The chances to be the next big thing are very slim (twitter was an accident, btw) while there is plenty of niches and opportunities that can lead to a smallish company built around an interesting team and products as rewarding as building a big company hit.

    A different perspective, I know, but not as much personal pressure at the cost of the lack of glamour :-) It all boils down to the personal life philosophy I guess, I also thought that changing the world was my mission in my 20s. :D

    • Vivi / Jan 24 2012

      Maybe because once you’ve tasted the glory is hard to go back? Once you’ve worked at Google or others similar and touched tens and hundreds of millions of users is hard to say “you know what I’ll do next? i think it’s time to stop day dreaming.”. :-)

  2. Sorin / Jan 24 2012

    I share your thoughts from the last paragraph. Making mistakes is the best way of learning and growing.

    All the best !

  3. Vali / Jan 25 2012

    glad to see that others think the same…

    I like to do only what is very difficult to do, always. If I see a big hill I have no urge to climb it, but if I hear that climbing that hill is hard then that’s what I want to do. To find out why it is so hard to climb. However I have to control myself because with this attitude you only get a lot of unfinished projects :)

    But this path is not for everybody, so I’m not preaching it to anybody no more. Most people prefer a quiet life or, a quiet life provides enough excitement for them :)

    • kellogs / Feb 29 2012

      Spot on dude!

  4. SamiAsiguracasa / Jan 31 2012

    I agree some times it can be hard to star over from scratch .Especially when as you mention you worked for companies like Google or Facebook .But you need to start over somewhere.You just can sit there and do nothing.

  5. juddm / Mar 23 2012

    Awesome analogy. But hopefully there is a tag-team one where you and a co-founder share they glory and pain of being in the ring.

    • Vivi / Mar 23 2012

      Oh, absolutely. A partner / co-founder can make a huge difference and they take the punches just as you do, with the added benefit of cheering each other up when you’re both face down on the floor. “Come on, let’s get up, we can make it.” :-)

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