Starting Toward Probable Failure Posted on 2007-05-20 by Dave Fowler
Disclaimer: Several people have complained that the following article is negative or pesemistic refering to my discussion that the probable fate of our dot com is failure. I would like any new or old readers to realize that I'm merely having fun with that fact and am nothing less than overly optimistic about ThingsILearned. The point of the article is to show that, the odds are slim, but the reward is great no matter what the outcome. It was meant to explain myself to people who are pesemistic about the startup. Instead it backfired as I have few pesemistic friends and family members and more amazingly supportive ones. So to them I say thank you, and I'm not going to lie, I'm probably going to be worth a few billion.
Free at last! Free at last! I'm officially done with the semester and ready to move to California and start my journey toward the probable fate of being yet another failed dot com! In the heart of Minnesota, especially around non technical people, I get a lot of curiosity and doubts about doing something like a startup. So I thought I'd answer the FAQ in a self interviewing form to quench some curiosities and alter the perception of startups.
Dave, what are you doing this summer? I'm moving to California to fail at a dot com. What about IBM? I caved and am starting there in the fall, but I'll be taking the summer off to do the .com. Ok... what's your .com going to do? No idea. Isn't that bad? Probably. Aren't the odds of success really low? Probably. Will you lose a lot of money? Probably. Why california? I had a dream that women there go nuts for mildly attractive nerdy guys with a few extra pounds. Who's going with you? Two or three of my friends. Do you have a place to live yet? Probably. Where? Probably somewhere around Berkeley. Do you have any school left? I need to take one more summer course to finish my masters, I'm excited at the chance to take it at Stanford this summer. What will you live off? I have some savings from my work at IBM and my patents. Wait, so you're not going to work 9 to 5, settle down and live the typical minnesota suburban life? Um, stop freaking me out. Are the people going out there with you crazy? Probably. Are you going to fail? ....
Probably, but lets look at the positives. I've got 2 or 3 of my friends moving out to Cali for the summer to have a good time, experience some new things, and hack out a ton of code. Worst case scenario, I'm down a few thousand dollars, had a great summer and an awesome chapter in my life I can be proud of. Sure the odds of anything working out and me becoming the next (insert weathy founder here) are slim, but how slim? I'm thinking (neiveley) that its one in ten. Its impossible to make a statistic like this because it totally depends on your ideas, the people involved, luck, hard work, and a million other things. But historically I've had success with all of those. So I give myself a one in ten chance of making it big, at the low cost of a few thousand dollars in living expenses for the summer. Those are odds I worked hard for, and deserve to cash in on. No better time to cache in on them than now. Until just a couple weeks ago I was actualy planning on just doing the startup and turning down IBM. I had already rejected a few places including Intel, an interview offer from Firefox, and other jobs at IBM. But my current manager and boss came to me with an awesome offer, not monitarily, some of the others would have definitely paid a LOT more as Josh Aas from Firefox regrettably informed me last night. But the offer is to take a huge role in a project I can't talk much about. Its some really amazing technology however, and I'd have a key role developing and making more patents. I was also asked to intern on the patent review board, which would give me amazing experience and generate that skill I'm seeking and slowly developing to be able to tell what ideas are novel and what aren't. Its really amazing learning that, to be able to recognize what ideas are new and unique and valuable. It totally expands the way you think and generate ideas. Anyway, the offer is only for stuff that I have to do now and couldn't come back to in a year or however long it will take for my dot com to probably fail, and it seriously just made me too physically sick to turn down.
For those of you still worried about me or interested in startups I suggest reading the Why to Not Not Start a Startup by Paul Graham. He's written a ton of essays on the subject of startups and is an incredible resource. Its almost cliche now but I have to give the man some due credit for his influence. It was 3 months ago, while deciding what I really wanted to do with my life after I graduated that my buddy Al Watson sent me a link to Graham's site, because it had a video of the first dynamically balancing biped robot. I'd read a few of his essays over a year before when Bryce Johnson and I first applied to Ycombinator but started taking another look. In one of the essays he said that the best time to start a startup is when you're 24 and just finishing grad school. I've always wanted to do some sort of a startup, and that's when it hit me. This is me now! Now is the time to go for it! And so I am.