Entrepreneurs sleep under their desks, live Clif Bar to Clif Bar, and face a lot of pressure. Should they just deal or is something seriously wrong?
There's something rotten in the start-up industry.
That's the sentiment coursing through a series of soul-searching posts and discussions over the past two weeks, spurred by the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the co-founders of Diaspora, at age 22. The particularities of Zhitomirskiy's death are the terrain of his family's private grief, but the generalities of the effects of start-up culture -- the pressure to always put on a happy face, the hours, and the feeling of always being on the brink of failure -- on the health of its actors are more widely relevant.
But is it worth it? Are those pressures an inherent part of the beauty of building something entirely new? Are the critics just whiners?
Answering yes to those questions is Michael Arrington, formerly of TechCrunch, now of uncrunched.com. Arrington writes:
You might be sad that you work long hours and that sometimes your boss yells at you when tensions run high. But you also know that there is nowhere on earth like Silicon Valley. Nowhere else that is structurally designed to help you make whatever you can imagine into reality. Nowhere else where there are so many like minded people who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to create something new.
There's so much money in Silicon Valley now that a lot of non-like minded people have rolled in. Looking for easy stock options at a hot startup. They start whining when they realize that they have to give so much to make it all work. This happens periodically, and I wrote about it back in 2007. Then a downturn happens and suddenly everyone left is just thankful they're still here.
But if too many people like this roll into town, a tipping point will be reached. And the magic will be gone.
It feels like we're getting there. That not too long from now people will be talking about maximum working hours, minimum numbers of engineers assigned to complete a given task. And, shudder, unionization of startup workers.
I really hope that doesn't happen. If it does, all the really necessary people will just leave and do their thing somewhere else.
Work hard. Cry less. And realize you're part of history.
That's a grand vision of the start-up dream, and, indeed, having a dream that big -- you're part of history -- would be worth a lot of personal sacrifice. (How much? not as much as Zhitomirskiy sacrificed, certainly, but a lot nevertheless). But is that an honest picture of what start-ups are working toward? In many cases, no.