The title of this blog post comes from one of the best movies ever made, “The Princess Bride”. I won’t even try to describe it, for those who are still unfortunate enough not to have seen it. Take two hours out of your impossibly busy day, gather the family around and watch a marvelous and enchanting fantasy.
One of the key characters in the movie is named Inigo Montoya. He has spent his adult life seeking vengeance for his father’s murder. I’m not ruining the movie by letting you know that he succeeds. But after he has done so, he is asked what he plans to do. And he states that revenge does not include much of a long-term life plan.
There are many people who are extremely passionate about something in their lives, but I hope it is rarely vengeance. These days, such people stand out from the crowd when they apply that passion to technology, fashion, apparently mundane things and so much more. Some of these individuals create startups, comprised of a few key people who share a love for the basic idea behind the startup and a vision of a better future.
The initial phases in most startups are very similar. There is a lot of excitement and a lot of a feeling of brotherhood. It is almost as if people are sitting around a digital campfire basking in the heat and the glow from a common/shared feeling. I emphasize the word “feeling” because many if not nearly all startups are made up of people who feel the concept. Sometimes, the very first people who begin a startup are so excited by their idea that they make simple mistakes, similar to a young man who has just seen his true love across the room.
Even after many startups succeed, they look back and remember “a simpler time”, when their lives were pizza and Jolt Cola. They remember being up until three in the morning trying to complete a program, presentation, circuit board or whatever. There really is something very magical about this time, despite the very real difficulties associated with it.
Years ago, at a conference called AllThingsD, both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were interviewed together. This was an extremely rare event, and over time has probably been one of the most viewed tech related videos. At one point, while Bill Gates was beginning to tell a story about the very first version of the Basic language that was loaded onto one of the first Apple machines, Steve Jobs interrupts him in a very sweet fashion and basically says “you’re telling it wrong, let me do it”.
At that moment, the two people on the stage were not giants of industry, who together had revolutionized the entire world. At that moment, the two people on the stage were two young kids who believed. They were excited, they were driven, they were full of hope and vision. The conversation ended with a quote by Steve Jobs that came from a Beatles song. By the end of the quote, Steve Jobs was crying. He wasn’t crying because of money or power or influence or fame. He was crying because he was remembering a time and a way of life that he clearly still treasured but would never see again.
At this moment, I just finished reading an article about a very successful individual in the Pharma industry. This was an article in Forbes magazine of February 2015. One of the lines in this article really struck me. It said “the idea that to play in the big leagues you have to do drug discovery is really a fallacy”.
A “fallacy”? Advances in pharmaceuticals change the world. Somewhere right now, in some lab, there is a researcher who is discovering a valuable piece of the puzzle to curing some dreaded illness. Can you imagine saying to such a person that their life’s work and vision are a “fallacy”? Tell such a person that no matter what he or she does, the “real money” will be in trading stocks. In fact, the research that is being done might be shut down during some business re-organization after a merger. Then watch as that researcher’s eyes lose their light. Really? A “fallacy”?
The article goes on to describe how brilliant business management allowed a particular businessman to create billions of dollars of value from various drug companies, without new drug discovery. At a later point in the article, there is a quote which is intended to calm those who fear such massive business practices. It states “We are not the borg. We don’t go in and assimilate companies”. The simple fact that such a statement needs to be made already speaks to the feeling in the air around these business events. Somehow I don’t think these business people are eating pizza and drinking Cola while they reshape other people’s lifetimes of work.
There is something very important to learn from these stories. I have read about so many startups that became very successful and then suddenly underwent massive changes. Investors started to pressure them as to their business practices. CEOs were hired. Changes in the management structure rapidly occurred. And then, all of a sudden, the people who stayed up until 3 AM, start to feel marginalized. They go from being key top people, who make decisions about the company’s direction, to being head of R&D, which can sometimes almost be a waste basket for talent. It’s a place to put people who can do amazing things but are not wanted anywhere near the decision-making of the company.
I have experienced such an event intimately. No details. I share this only to make the point that I know the pain. And this brings me to my final comments in this blog post.
Follow your dream. Stay up until 3 AM, and enjoy those moments of pizza and Cola. Hopefully, you are building something that will truly make a difference. And it is a wonderful thing to be able to say that during your life, you made a difference. Of course, you want to achieve a certain level of financial stability in order to pay for your children’s needs and take your spouse out to dinner to a fancy restaurant from time to time. But just realize that if you chase the big cash out, you might lose a great deal along the way.
The quote by Steve Jobs was from a Beatles song and it goes ““you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead”. To all of you who will one day gaze over the magnificence of your billion dollar startup, I say to you “always remember”.
Thanks for listening