Why should I start a startup?
A lot of people ask themselves this question.
They often mull over one or more of the following facts:
1. The vast majority of startups are not successful
2. For talented technical people, it’s relatively easy to get a job and make a large salary
3. Large companies offer opportunities to work on very difficult problems that often only occur at scale
My answer to why you should start a startup is simple: there is a certain type of person who only works at their peak capacity when there is no predictable path to follow, the odds of success are low, and they have to take personal responsibility for failure (the opposite of most jobs at a large company).
Here is how I learned this about myself.
High School 中学
My public school from 6th to 12th grade was aggressively tracked. Early on students were placed in the gifted track or the regular track. Gifted kids got better teachers, more interesting coursework, and more often than not were accepted to the top universities. I was smart but not smart enough to be considered “gifted” so I was put into the regular track. What became clear to me by 8th grade was that once I was tracked regular there was no easy way to reverse the decision. That pissed me off and motivated me to break into the higher track. I worked hard to be the smartest kid in my regular classes, my parents and I had to lobby my teachers for recommendations to more advanced classes, and I needed to excel at the electives and clubs dominated by gifted students (constitutional law and model UN). By junior year I had succeeded but my motivation didn’t stop. Instead of wanting to be as good as the kids in the gifted track, I realized that I could be better. While everyone else practiced violin I became a varsity athlete. When others did community service half heartedly, I joined the rescue squad as a cadet riding ambulances and helping people in my town and spent a summer volunteering in my municipal court. By the end of high school all of this hard work paid off. I got great grades, took a bunch of AP classes, and got into every college I applied to except Harvard (Thank God – Go Yale!).
6〜12年级我在公立学校里的时候，学校密切跟踪学生的成绩。很早的时候，学生被分在天赋班或常规班。有天赋的孩子有更好的教师，更有趣的课程作业，通常进入顶尖大学深造。我很聪明，但还没聪明到被认为是“有天赋的”，所以我被放在正常的轨道上。 到了8年级我搞明白了，一旦我被追踪了，要扭转这个结果很困难。这让我生气，激励我进入更高的轨道。我努力成为常规班中最聪明的孩子，我的父母和我游说我的老师推荐我到更高级的课程，我还需要在资优学生主导的选修课和俱乐部中脱颖而出（如宪法和模拟联合国课程） 。到了初中，我已经成功了，但我的动力没有停止。不止是希望与天赋班的其他孩子一样好，我发现我可以更好。其他所有人都练习小提琴，但我成了一名大学运动员。当别人半心半意地做社区服务的时候，我作为实习生加入了救护队，坐在救护车上帮助我们镇上的人，并在市里的法院度过了暑假。到高中毕业的时候，这些辛苦的工作都得到了回报。我得到了很好的成绩，拿了一堆AP课程，被哈佛大学以外的每所大学都录取了（谢谢上帝 – 我去了耶鲁！）。
Then I got kicked out of Yale. Let me tell you what happened. Yale is the epitome of establishment and in its liberal arts environment I didn’t feel like I was learning anything of practical value (Political Science major). Over a couple years I lost all interest in classes, stopped attending, and low grades quickly followed. I didn’t want to be an academic and it felt like that was all Yale was preparing me to do. By senior year my poor grades resulted in me being kicked out of school. About 2 months after being kicked out of school I suddenly felt pissed off again. I realized that my school, some of my friends, and even some of my family members thought I would never graduate from college. My motivation came back instantly. I worked my way into great job at UPenn where I got to work on issues in government and politics and even help TA a constitutional law class and visit the supreme court in session (my friends found it funny that the Yale dropout got to TA at UPenn). When my year was through I went back to school, got A’s, made some great friends (Justin Kan was one of them), and graduated in the 2005 class.
然后，我被踢出耶鲁大学。让我告诉你发生了什么。耶鲁是成就的缩影，在文科环境中，我觉得我学习不到任何有实用价值的东西（政治学专业）。几年以后，我对课程失去了兴趣，不再去上课，很快坏成绩就来了。我不想成为一名学者，而我感觉耶鲁准备把我培养成这样的人。到了高年级，我的成绩不佳导致我被踢出学校。被踢出学校大概2个月后，我突然觉得很生气。我意识到我的学校，我的一些朋友，甚至我的一些家庭成员，以为我永远不会毕业。我的动力立刻回来了。我在宾夕法尼亚大学找到了一份很好的工作，研究解决关于政府和政治方面的问题，我甚至成为宪法课程的助教，并且访问了最高法院（我的朋友们发现这太有趣了，耶鲁的辍学生成了宾大的助教 ）。一年过后，我重新回到学校，得到了A，并交了一些好朋友（Justin Kan是其中之一），并于2005年毕业。（译者：我也要感谢Upenn当年接受我这个大龄青年:-) ）
Justin.tv / Twitch.tv
Doing startups was never my plan but looking at my history in high school and college I really needed to be an underdog in order to motivate myself to succeed. Startups are the classic underdog, 99% of the time – they fail. This was so motivating that I didn’t even need to believe in our first idea to stay excited (remember… we started as an online reality TV show). Throughout almost all of the history of Justin.tv and Twitch we were expected to lose. We were funded by YC in 2007 but it wasn’t nearly as well known as it is today and most investors ignored us. After demo day no matter how hard we tried we could only raise $180k in angel investment. As we built our business we couldn’t attract the highest ranked VCs, couldn’t hire the most sought after engineers, and were constantly fighting to just stay alive at a time when video startups were considered horrible cash combusting businesses with no ability to monetize. On 5 separate occasions over 5 years we almost died. Once receiving a bandwidth bill for more money than we had in our bank account, once needing a loan from Justin and Emmett, and once having less than 2 months of runway and $1m in monthly expenses. All of these adversities were exactly what we needed to stay hungry. We couldn’t be killed, we wouldn’t go away, and 8 years after we started we succeeded.
So for those of you who are interested in tech (especially folks who work at big companies or are applying to work big companies), you should ask yourself these questions:
Do I like being the underdog?
Do I seek the hard challenges that most people shy away from?
Do I thrive when I take personal responsibility for success or failure?
If you answer yes three times, then maybe starting a startup is for you. The many jobs at big companies cannot offer you this experience. For many people, the longer they work at a big company making a large salary, the higher their personal expenses rise, and the lower their chances will be of starting a startup, even if that is their eventual goal.
I cannot promise that doing a tech startup will make you rich (in fact the odds are against you becoming rich), but I can promise that it is one of the most challenging things you can choose to do. It will push you past your limits, force you to learn faster, and maybe show you that once in a while the impossible is possible.