The “Me, Too” Startup Syndrome
Twas the night before YC deadline, when all through the valley
Creatures were stirring with excitement for the big night in Cali
Thousands of applications were typed with care
In hopes that the golden ticket will soon be there
And a few girlfriends slept alone in their beds
While visions of exits danced in their boyfriends’ heads
when out of the blues my iPhone lets out a loud ring
It was an old friend I was meeting that night for a drink...
- “Sorry man, can’t make it tonight,” he said with an excited tone, “I am submitting my application to YCombinator and need to work on it a bit more.”
- Are you serious? You’re applying to YC?
- Yep. It would be awesome to get in. I can finally quit my job and focus on building my product.
- I didn’t know you were building a product.
- Well, I have a couple of idea I’ve been thinking about. But this year, you don’t even need an idea to apply. Dude, you should totally do it, too. It would be awesome if both of us would get in. We could be the next Sergey and Larry!
- But why do you want to get into YC?
- Are you kidding? It’s an awesome opportunity: you get to mingle with smart people, work on something exciting, get funding and mentorship, investors will chase you to give you money, and you’re much more likely get acquired in the future.
- That’s not what I meant. I know YC is a great place. But why do YOU want to get in?
- Listen. It’s never been easier to start a company. And right now, money is thrown left and right. In the past year alone, six of my colleagues left my company to start their own startups. I figured if they can do it, I can too.
- Building a company isn’t easy. YC probably makes it easier, but you’ll have to work your tail off like everyone else.
- I don’t mind it. The formula is simple: you work hard for a couple of years, you create a product and try to get as much traffic as possible, then you sell it to Google or Facebook. Haven’t you been reading TechCrunch?
- “I am familiar with that model,” I said laughingly. “But chances of that happening is like winning the lottery.”
- I’ll take my chances.
- Best of luck, man. Let’s get together for a drink on Friday instead.
We hung up and I let a long sigh: There goes another victim of the entrepreneurial “me, too” syndrome…
My friend wasn’t someone I’d call “entrepreneurial”: He’s always played it safe, avoided taking risks whenever possible, and he even tried to talk me out of leaving my job to launch my business five years ago.
He probably wasn’t applying to YC it because he wanted to spend the next several years building a valuable product, a long-term business, and a great team. He was doing it for the thrill of a billion dollar exit, the excitement of becoming the next hot star on startup blogs, and the delight of being courted by other entrepreneurs to advise and invest.
He wasn’t doing it because he enjoyed the process of starting and growing a company. He is a great engineer, and he would probably enjoy the coding part of the process. But building a company requires a lot more than writing code.
He wasn’t doing it because there was a problem he wanted to solve, or someone he wanted to help. He was doing it because a startup has become the cool things to do, and YC has earned its well-deserved reputation as the exclusive club for entrepreneurs. He’s lived in Silicon Valley long enough, and that’s what people around him are doing.
Social proof is strong, and he was just trying to fit in.
And that’s the biggest challenge with this syndrome: the “me” hiding in the “me,too”. The ego hiding in the work, hoping for a future reward that validates sacrifice, enhances self esteem, and upgrades social status.
And it’s very hard to do great work when so much ego is involved.
Ironically, those who forget about themselves and focus on delivering great value to others end up with the rewards. And they reinvest those rewards to deliver more value and help more people.
Those who follow their passions and do what they love will find the support to keep going. And even if success and riches never come, their work becomes its own reward.
When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind
He sees two targets, and he is out of his mind
His skill has not changed. But the prize divides him
He thinks more of winning than of shooting
And the need to win drains him of power
- Chuang Tzu (300 BC)
YCombinar starts with a Y, and this is the first question you need to answer: Y do you want to be an entrepreneur in the first place?
Note: This post is not about the value of YCombinator- its undeniably the best place to start a company. It’s about the motivations behind becoming an entrepreneur in recent years, irrespective of whether the new entrepreneur joins YC or starts a company on her/his own.
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