Serial entrepreneurs in the NYT
June 6, 2005
What is up with that lame Gary Rivlin piece in the NYT Magazine today? Rivlin has the sharpest knife in Silicon Valley! People are genuinely afraid of the guy. Why would any editor waste that kind of god-given talent on what is essentially a lifestyle puff piece (“Get the silver Ferrari, the red is tacky”) mixed with some bad psychologizing and evidently some extremely leading questions?
I don’t get what’s so strange about people thinking they’re too young to retire in their 30’s, that it requires this level of creepy analysis of their motivations. There’s probably a whole bunch of partners at Goldman who don’t need to work either. Does anyone write articles like this about their reasons for continuing to show up at the office? Everyone in this society has a job. It’s isolating to stop having one, especially if all your friends still have them. There’s only so much travelling and golf-playing a healthy 30-something Type-A obsessive can stand to do before he starts to crave the grind again. No amount of money changes that, as far as I can tell.
Plus, Rivlin severely underestimates the motive power of doing things because you can and it looks like no one else will. I can’t believe how many hours of my life have been spent on tasks that I started basically because I realized no one else was going to step up. If you happen to be the type of person who has bleeding-edge technical needs, and you build something that you need… well, guess what, sometimes you end up giving birth to a company while you were scratching an itch.
The pecking order thing also doesn’t seem to jibe with my experiences — meaning I think there is (at least) one, but I don’t know that it’s as closely calibrated to net worth as the article suggests. I don’t have any freakin’ idea how much money Reid Hoffman has, to pick just one example from the article, but I know a lot of people who respect his judgment in evaluating consumer web companies over that of anyone else in the Valley. Conversely, I’ve met people here worth half a billion dollars who no one particularly looks up to.
And finally, at the risk of sounding like a total sap… these guys aren’t just serial entrepreneurs, almost all of them are also angel investors — and there’s an aspect of giving back or paying forward to their compulsive business-mindedness. I think a lot of people here, egomaniacal as they undoubtedly may be, have love for the unique ecosystem that helped create their success. Well, you can’t exactly write a check to Silicon Valley in the same way you can to Stanford or MIT. What you can do though is employ, train, mentor, fund, introduce, and advise those following in your footsteps. To say that these guys are just about starting companies to make more money or feed their egos or move up in the pecking order is to miss a lot of the special habitus of the place in favor of a one-dimensional portrait of wealth on the hoof.