Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not entirely antagonistic to the silver-spoon sort, except when upon interacting with said silver spoon said spooner waves it haphazardly in my face. But there's just some type of FIRE in the belly of a person who has worked their way through the myriad of challenges in startupdom and either made it or didn't make it. I see it in their eyes, on their faces. Even in failure, they still want to storm the castle; even though the war might be over, they can't help but press on...
But it seems to me, at least from a character perspective, that it takes a special type of silver-spooner to have the chutzpa to even "get it on" in this realm. Or maybe (uh, yeah) because of my own extreme situation I'm ever-so-slightly biased... okay, well a lot biased. Having not had anything to fall back on but myself, I don't see things like others might. In my own small world, I've been spoiled -
- My first car was a Datsun (yes, the company before Nissan) 310GX Hatchback that my Mom had practically beat to death on her paper route (it was a nice faded pink/red/orange color). Special thanks to my uncle for replacing the motor with one they found at an auto yard. I didn't have to pay for the car and ran it pretty much until the wheels fell off.
- My 2nd car was a used Ford Ranger truck my Grandpa paid for me to get. It was awesome... especially once I spent all my summer work money to put the speaker boxes in.
- I worked some in college, but it was mostly for spending money (=food). My parents somehow managed to cover the tuition and keep the other kids fed.
I have to quote Wil's blog because he states it so plainly: Commitment = Sacrifice.
But for Pete's sake, I'm not Jim Braddock, and most of us aren't. But there's a big difference when it's your ass on the line, your money, your family. Rands in Managing Humans has an interesting model that relates this to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (sheesh, if I'm the billionth blog to mention Maslow someone should give me a prize) that compares it to the startup life cycle. You put everything you have into getting your product to 1.0, hoping that the business and market will follow.
And thus, I call this The Convergence of Passion and Reason.
This is that very point, the penultimate moment, the razor's edge - you're right there between giving it all a heave-ho and "thanks for the lessons" and continuing to deal with the marital issues, late mortgage payments, creditors, and all that miserable self-debasing goodness. There's something powerful in finding yourself the "last man standing"... strangely.
It's at this point you see the limits of your sacrifice. People start saying they're coming to pick up your automobiles and your wife says she's had it up to there. And you check the online banking and you say to yourself, "something has to change", when you have $4.38 to last you until God knows when. You owe more people than you've ever met. And for all intents and purposes, you're bankrupt. You've sold everything you could sell (that wasn't already in hock) and you've leveraged every family member as much as you could possibly deal with (sometimes getting the money from family is worse than not having the money). It's when you're hungry but you don't eat because you figure you're saving that can of soup for the kids. It's when you eat the crumbs out of the bag of chips (and fuss at your wife when she tries to throw them out). (On a strange side note - if you mix the leftover chips with the dip, you can make your own nacho soup.) You're fed up with being fed up. You're just plain done and you wonder how in the world you could continue. This is reason.
It's at this same point, almost ironically, that something in startupdom "twinges". It creaks, it moans, it moves. I mean, you have a product and a client, there are 8 pilots to get started, and your brain has just come up with a way to merge the social graph with SAP in 2 months. You're the only developer left (also the CTO, part-time legal assistant, and demo prop), but somehow, you're still motivated. I mean, hell, you and your partner do own 95% of this thing still and most of your prospects aren't saying "no" - they're taking appointments and committing to next steps. You hit the venture forum and people follow you because you're so damn real they can't help but do it. They call you back. So you still check the online banking and... after an unknown number of tequila shots later (bottle not quite empty), you pick yourself up (wobble a bit), brush yourself off, and head back into the fray. This is passion.
Let's face it: the limit of your sacrifice is the extent of your passion. That is some severe psychobabble, but it's the point. When you can't sacrifice anymore, Maslow says it will be over for you. It's like Rands says, "who cares about falling in love when you can't breathe?"
I know I'm winded and I don't really care, heck, it's my blog. But I gotta get this point out:
There is a big problem with startup founders or executives that won't sacrifice at a level that is commensurate with their position or compensation.
I have a huge problem with "fake commitments". A soldier who wants to call himself a soldier, but won't get in the fray, afraid to be shot at (read: won't change their lifestyle). Everybody wants a piece of the action, but they don't want any risk.
I'm finished ranting here, but wait for a post on "Everybody wants a piece of the pie, without doing any baking".