Thursday, August 2, 2007

POTW: Glenn Kelman on startups

Now that my temples are graying and teeth and lengthening in blogland, albeit only a few months and 60 or so posts deep, I’m starting to catch on. Several bloggers I enjoy (e.g., Perkins, Kawasaki, Andreessen) share posts or quotes of the week, self-selected morsels for your quick consumption. Not that they need the flattering, but I’m going to imitate … henceforth we’ll have a post of the week (POTW).

Our inaugural take: A How to Change the World (Kawasaki’s blog) post from Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin. He strikes a cord with his hard work mantra and creation-as-a-sensation take. Here’s an excerpt:

Last month, Guy called James Hong and Markus Frind heroes for running multi-million dollar websites like Hot or Not and Plenty of Fish in their underwear. Their stats are jaw-dropping: twelve billion page views, 380 hits per second, two hours of work a day.

Lately I've been thinking how hard, not how easy, it is to build a new company. Hard has gone out of fashion. Like college students bragging about how they barely studied, start-ups today take care to project a sense of ease. Wherever I’ve worked, we’ve secretly felt just the opposite. We’re assailed by doubts, mortified by our own shortcomings, surrounded by freaks, testy over silly details. Trying to be like James or Markus has only been counterproductive.

And now, having been through a few startups, I’m not even sure I’d want it to be that easy. Working two hours a day on my own wasn’t my goal when I came to Silicon Valley. Does anybody remember the old video of Steve Jobs launching the Mac? He had tears in his eyes. And even though Jobs is Jobs and I am nobody, I knew how he felt. I'd had the same reaction--absurdly--to portal software and more recently to a Redfin, a fledgling real estate website.

“The megalomaniac pleasure of creation,” the psychoanalyst Edmund Berger wrote, “produces a type of elation which cannot be compared with that experienced by other mortals.” Jobs wasn’t just crying from simple happiness but from all the tinkering, kvetching, nitpicking, wholesale reworking, and spasms of self-loathing that go into a beautiful product. It was all being paid back in a rush.

Like the souls in Dostoevsky who are admitted to heaven because they never thought themselves worthy of it, successful entrepreneurs can’t be convinced that any other startup has their troubles, because they constantly compare the triumphant launch parties and revisionist histories of successful companies to their own daily struggles.

Read further and you’ll unearth a cool top-10 list, including a thoughtful metaphor:
In the early days, start-ups focus on how great it’s going to be when they succeed; but the moment they do, they start talking about how great it was before they did. Whenever I get this way, I remember the Venerable Bede’s complaint that his eighth century contemporaries had lost the fervor of seventh century monks. Even in the darkest of the Dark Ages, people were nostalgic for...the Dark Ages. Start-ups are like medieval monasteries: always convinced that paradise is just ahead or that things only recently got worse. If you can begin to enjoy the process of building a start-up rather than the outcome, you'll be a better leader.

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