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Sometimes people reach out to me for advice on whether or not to start a company, and almost always, my underwhelming response is “it depends, what kind of company do you want to start?”
I’m always surprised to find that the answer is often “I don’t know,” which should answer their original question. No, definitely no.
But these days it is fashionable to start a company. People read about the seemingly common billion dollar valuations for young startups and think to themselves, “what the hell am I doing in this cushy desk job?” After their epiphany, sometimes they’ll quit and start working on that game changing idea they should have started years ago. But most of the time, probably 90% of the time, they’ll stay put, idealess and frustrated with their status quo. “I know I’m destined to start a company, I just don’t know what that company is yet!”
My advice for most of you in the second category is to join someone else’s startup. While it may not be exactly what you had in mind, whether you are motivated by the money, or the fulfillment that comes with building something of your own, there is something to be said about working for someone else’s baby.
If it is money that motivates you, consider that the first 50 employees of Facebook or Google made more money than the majority of what startup founders will ever make. Joining a startup that already has traction and funding will give you significantly better odds at getting rich than an idea you just came up with because you wanted to be an entrepreneur. Obviously, it is a lottery whether the company you join will be the next Facebook or Google. But if you are thinking about a startup in the first place, then clearly you are someone who is willing to gamble to some extent.
On the other hand, if building something of your own is your primary goal, then joining someone else’s startup is a stepping stone. It gives you an opportunity to learn from someone else’s mistakes, and buys you time to figure out what kind of company you want to build. If you join a startup with a mission you believe in and smart people you can learn from, you will be much better prepared for when your idea finally comes to you.
Of course, this is all assuming that you should even be doing a startup. The moment you have family to support, your decision is no longer just about you. Others’ lives are literally at stake, and your risk is by default theirs too. So make sure that if the ship sinks, you’ll still be able to care for the people that depend on you.
You should also ask yourself if entrepreneurship is for you in the first place. For most people, it is definitely not. The dreadful hours, the constant uncertainty, and the pressure from the risk of failing in front of your colleagues, friends, and family is not exactly a walk in the park. Plus, hearing 100 “no’s” before you ever hear a “yes” fills even the most confident minds with doubt. It takes a certain kind of person with a healthy amount of crazy to keep going without cracking under the pressure.
All that said, if you do have a healthy amount of crazy and are convinced that you should start a company, then go ahead and swing for the fences. But before you do, consider trying out in the startup trenches before striking out on your own.