I’ll start with one of my favorite thoughts, by Alex Haley:
“Many a young person tells me he wants to be a writer. I always encourage such people, but I also explain that there’s a big difference between “being a writer” and writing. In most cases these individuals are dreaming of wealth and fame, not the long hours alone at the typewriter. “You’ve got to want to write,” I say to them, “not want to be a writer.”
The reality is that writing is a lonely, private and poor-paying affair. For every writer kissed by fortune, there are thousands more whose longing is never requited. Even those who succeed often know long periods of neglect and poverty. I did.”
When the startup market is hot, like it was in 1999/2000 and as it is now in 2014, many people suddenly discover they want to “be an entrepreneur.” They find a co-founder who also wants to join the “startup scene”, brainstorm a few ideas, pick one that is plausible, hack up a product, then buy a wheelbarrow they can use to take their money to the bank.
They almost never need that wheelbarrow. This is because starting a company is as Alex Haley described writing: the best companies are not started by people who want to “be an entrepreneur.” They are started by people who are knowledgeable and passionate about a very specific problem, feel they can solve it, and then get busy solving it, often not caring that much about how large of a company they can build as a side effect. They certainly don’t have “getting acquired” as their goal.
I’d highly recommend you read this essay by Paul Graham: How to Get Startup Ideas. A great line from it:
“The verb you want to be using with respect to startup ideas is not “think up” but “notice.” At YC we call ideas that grow naturally out of the founders’ own experiences “organic” startup ideas. The most successful startups almost all begin this way.”
The best entrepreneurs work on ideas that grow out of their personal interests and passions, and they start the company because it is the best way to bring their vision to market. Many also do want to get rich, but the getting rich happens during the years of toiling away, honing their ideas via trial and error and hard work.[Tweet “The best entrepreneurs work on ideas that grow out of their personal interests and passions”]
I think this leaves you with two options:
- Find a startup that is already up and going and needs someone with your skillset. If you join early enough, you may even become a co-founder.
- Pick an area of interest and passion and go very deep in it. Become more knowledgeable about it than anyone you know and see if you find an opportunity in that market that you just have to address: something that needs to exist in the world. And if you don’t find it, don’t start your company.
This piece is very apropos to my thinking on startups and entrepenuers in general. This is not a pleasurable sport that anyone should get into. When creating something your creating and it happens over a long haul in the specific vertical your in. You won’t start Whatsapp or Facebook, because it’s been invented already. What you will start is a collection of ideas, hopefully from your expertises, and run with it. You’ll motivate others to be passionate about the ideas and they will iterate on it. The product that was scribbled on a napkin with be fun to look at but not what the reality is willing to “pay” you for.[Tweet “One thing I tell every budding startups that the movie The Social Network didn’t happen.”]
One thing I tell every budding startups or engineers is that the movie The Social Network didn’t happen. It’s fake. It’s a movie. Godzilla didn’t happen. Transformers didn’t happen. It’s an invention to tell a story in broad terms, over the course of 2 hours to entertain the masses. The stuff they leave out is the 48-hour coding marathons you need to get a project out before a major client event. The travel you do from city to city to do the roadshow of your product. The time your bank account moved to zero then to negative 2k then back above water. These are the thing I think someone going into the startup game should measure first before thinking of getting acquired. These things help structure if this is what you want to do.
I agree fully with Michael Wolfe. Work for a startup or just create something. If you figure out how to grow it properly, you’ll get acquired.