A few thoughts on creating a technology start-up, from a guy who understands that it takes discipline and humility to serve and nurture your company into maturity. Read more...
When I started Big Bang with Cameron I knew I was going to work hard, I knew I was going to challenge myself, and I knew I was going to go a bit crazy. I didn't know how much it would take to succeed, or what kind of existential crisis it was going to throw me into.
Working for someone else is easier than working for yourself. You get to concentrate on what you know how to do, you know what your purpose is. You have a role within the organization, and you fulfill that role to the best of your ability. If you do your job well, you get a raise. If you don't do your job well, you get fired, unless you're a damn fine bullshitter. Pretty simple.
But when you start a company, you become responsible for creating an environment, a culture, and carving a space in the world for you to occupy and grow out of. In other words, building a company from scratch is a long and terrifying journey, full of opportunities. Opportunities to fail, to succeed, to learn, and to create.
A corporation is both an abstract thought and a tangible entity. As an entity, a corporation is a legally sanctioned association of individuals, which exists independently of its members. But as a concept, I believe a corporation is a prism through which we can channel our creative energy thus producing artifacts which are greater than the sum of their parts.
A corporation isn't something you start to get rich. It's something you shape, nurture, and build. And if you build it well enough, and give it the strength and identity it needs, it will carry itself and its members through unbelievable paths and roads. A corporation has an identity all of its own, an identity that is created through the contributions of its members.
A corporation needs to be served in order to succeed. It demands discipline from its members, and it requires diligence from those who care for it. Discipline means that I get paid a little and work a lot. Diligence means that I have responsibilities to my company that require me to consistently sacrifice in its best interest.
How we're serving our corporation
- Minimize costs (aka pay yourself as little as possible): Corporations need money to become great. People that enrich themselves at the cost of their company leave their own hands tied. Financial independence (even if it's only enough to keep you going for a month or two) enables you to stand up for what you believe in, say no to bad clients, avoid developing banner ads, even let you build that product you've been dreaming of.
- Experiment and fail quickly: Building a corporation in this sense is like cultivating a garden. You nurture the good plants, and remove the weeds. Take your war chest, and put it towards many, small experiments. Let them fail, and let them fail quickly. The worst regrets are the risks you refuse to take.
- Invest in your environment: A corporation is nothing without a great environment to create in. Buy as few things as you can, but when you do buy a necessary item, buy the best. This includes designing the best workshop, hiring the best lawyers and accountants, and taking the time to eat right and exercise. Your environment feeds back into your practice, and defines what you create.
- Educate your members: Educating yourself is not a luxury left to established firms. Education gives you the power of knowing the practical and theoretical context you need to build something relevant. It could be reading books, going back to school, or talking to your mentors. Do it before work, after work, or during your lunch break. The day we believe that we are educated enough, is the day we fool ourselves into accepting mediocrity as an acceptable standard.
- Take care of your members: Whether it means taking out insurance, contributing to medical or educational expenses, allowing for time off, or simply being a good friend to the people you work with, always try and be a source of strength for your colleagues. The big secret is that nobody has all the answers, and we all feel the same stress.
- Push yourselves: The members of your company need to become better to survive. Whether you're a PM or a Coder, insist that everyone you work with become smarter. Force yourselves to accept the challenge of producing professional artifacts. Don't settle for doing the least acceptable amount of work, and don't be afraid to point out your colleagues' greatest weaknesses. Think about it, and acknowledge you have the opportunity to produce the most amazing work you've ever imagined every time you sit down at your desk.
The big point is, we don't think we'll ever become great if our attitude is "What can my company do for me." It's not about money, it's not about prestige, and it's not about only doing the work you want to do. It's about capitalizing on the fact that humans can accomplish marvelous feats. If we're going to build the company I know we can build, we're going to get our hands dirty. We're going to work for little pay, and we're going to ensure that we're strong enough to do what we know is right.