We all know the “Silicon Valley” siren call:
- you quit your job, and start a company, AND
- you raise money (early & often), AND
- you prioritize the growth of your company over everything else in your life, AND
- you can hang onto the reins for 5-12 years…
- you’ll be rewarded with a Scrooge McDuck sized money vault, AND
- you’ll ultimately live a fulfilled, happy life!
I used to sip this Kool-aid…
- I devoured Hacker News.
- I obsessed over my startup ideas, and let them consume my every thought.
- I soaked up every rags-to-riches startup success story that I could get my hands on.
Thankfully, over the past year or two, I’ve started to recognize how silly all of this was, and ultimately how empty these promises are. Over time, I’ve come to realize that:
- I don’t really have any desire to be rich. I’m grateful for what I have. I live comfortably, and don’t really need anything more.
- When all is said and done, wealth will not bring you happiness. It just won’t. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect in many cases.
- Being the CEO of a growth startup sucks. It’s extremely stressful, and it comes with on-going sacrifices (mostly related to time) that I’m just not willing to make.
- Many people look to entrepreneurship as an escape from the rat race (i.e. a job they hate). It’s not an escape from the rat race, it’s merely a transition to an entirely different rat race – where instead of chasing money, and position, you’re now chasing money, fame, and head count. As the founder of a VC, or angel backed company, the sad reality is that you’ll be even more trapped than back when you were an employee. As an added bonus, your performance will be under a microscope until either you exit, or they kick you out.
- The joys felt after exiting a startup are short-lived. It’s common knowledge that most businesses are doomed to fail, but let’s say that luck is with you, and you do happen to strike it rich… What next? Now you have a bunch of money, but your business is no longer yours. If you’re acquired, you’ll be stuck as some boring enterprise for another 2-4 years. You’ll long for that rush you felt as a founder, and the emptiness will eat at you.
Unfortunately, this side of the startup founder equation is seldom talked about. Conveniently, you only hear about the unicorns, and the overnight success stories.
It’s been a long time coming, but…
I no longer have any desire to start a startup (Yay!)
Instead, I’ve selected a different path. I chose to stay micro (working on side-projects while still employed).
The formula is simple:
- Find a job you adore (where the compensation meets or exceeds your needs)
- Keep your job
- Build fun projects on the side (limiting yourself to an hour or two each weekday outside of work)
I consider myself extremely blessed to have stumbled into Help Scout. We’re treated well. We’re trusted to do our job. I work with super smart people on a product that thousands of people love. It’s my dream job really, and I plan to stay there for a very long time.
Giving up my startup obsession set me free
I no longer dream of quitting my job. I no longer fantasize about starting my own business. I no longer obsess about business ideas with every passing thought.
I feel more balanced. I feel happier. I feel healthier. And while I do plan to continue tinkering with projects on the side, money is no longer a primary driver. It’s so freeing to work on a side project, and know from the outset that it doesn’t need to turn into a business that will conquer the world! It can just be a fun little project.
Not every technology business needs to be a unicorn. Not every side project needs to be a business. For all of the hype around becoming a startup founder, it’s just not all that it’s cracked up to be.
I for one choose to stay micro.
Image by Will van Wingerden