If you spend too much time in Silicon Valley, I guarantee that you will start to think that you are the only one who is not wildly successful overnight. Once you step foot here you are quickly surrounded by stories of easy success from your friends, peers and strangers you meet. It is almost impossible to escape.
For example, at a typical networking event you might meet these three people:
- Bob who just sold his company to Facebook after only 12 months.
- Carla whose new startup just launched, got featured on the AppStore and is growing by leaps and bounds.
- Phil who just got started in venture capital and has his first IPO in a few weeks.
Pretty soon, you wonder what is wrong with you since Bob, Carla and Phil found success so easily. You are struggling with your company, dealing with product bugs, fighting for every customer and working 14 hour days. You have been at this for two years and it isn’t getting easier. Where is the short cut, the easy street that they found?
The truth, of course, is that there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, most of what you heard was an illusion. Bob‘s company was acquired, but it had been running out of cash so it was a fire sale and the only upside was a small retention bonus for employees – no one got rich. Carla‘s company is growing but they only have a few months of cash left and are not having luck with fundraising so she’s looking at layoffs. Phil does have his first IPO coming up, but since he’s junior at the firm he has no carry and he won’t get more than a token bonus.
Of course they will never tell you that, despite the fact that they are very nice people. In Silicon Valley no one talks about bad news as if it is some kind of social more. The correct answer to “How are things going?” is always “We’re killing it” regardless of how things are really going. If someone ever answers “We’re struggling” to that question you would probably die of shock.
There are signs that this might be changing and bad news might become an acceptable topic of conversation. For example, a new conference called FailCon brings together entrepreneurs to share stories of mistakes and failures. I hope this trend continues and people who are working hard are not ashamed that they haven’t found easy success. Regardless, we have a long way to go: even at FailCon, NPR notes that most of the failure stories are told about successful companies by successful people.
Building companies is hard. Yes, some people get lucky and find success quickly and with minimal pain. However, that is more like winning the lottery than finding success, the chances are so small as to be virtually impossible. If you feel like building a company is hard, that is because it is hard. And it gets harder, the more progress you make. Start up companies are not for the faint of heart.
Lest you think this is all fiction, I have met Bob, Carla and Phil (not their real names) myself. They are real people with actual facts. The next time you feel that everyone else has it easy, consider that everyone might think the same thing of you.