The Cult of ‘Killing It'

“I will create desolation - and call it peace!” - Megatron, Transformers IDW Collection, Megatron Origin, Issue #3

Last week, a friend of a friend in San Francisco had their startup burgled. The burglary happened while no one was in the office though it was captured on their in-office surveillance video. In the ensuing discussion, someone chimed in, “You know if you shared office space with us at [XX] that never would have happened. Because I’m in the office every single night. Even on Christmas.”

And I thought that was the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long time.

There’s an ethos in the tech community that wisdom is gained through suffering, and that if you can suffer more than everyone else, you’ll be the wisest.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t long ago that I had the same mentality. I thought that if I worked harder than everyone else that it would pay off in some ethereal way. That somehow my product would be better than my competitors. That we’d sign more customers. Or that investors would recognize the hustle. The crush. The grind. The indomitable will to succeed no matter the price.

For me personally, the red flags were when I started identifying with the villains in Transformers comics. In the Blurr origin comicbook, Starscream (a bad guy, in case you couldn’t tell by the name) says, “Power. It’s power you care about… You have a single-minded devotion to achieve. You have little time for those around you… others would have you believe these to be abhorrent qualities. Not us.”

And I think that’s what irks me about this mentality of sacrifice.

There is nothing noble about being willing to sacrifice everything for success. Your time, your energy, your youth; your spouse, your friends, your employees, your employees’ spouses, ad nauseum.

Consider this: the nature of being a startup means that most of your competitors are much larger than you. Sometimes, 10-, 100-, or 1000x larger. And, sure, you will be smarter and more nimble. But even if you work twice (or three-times? or four-times?) as hard as your competition, it’s unlikely that will be the silver bullet to your success.

Instead, I think it’s much more likely that you’ll become disconnected from your support network, burnt out from exhaustion and frustration, unable to inspire your best employees, and ultimately fail. Kinda like I did. :)

Even now, when I look for company’s to invest in, I want to know that they’re creating a sustainable culture across founders and employees. Everyone understands working hard – from product pushes, deadlines, customer demands, etc., but if you’re working nights, weekends, and holidays without any end in sight. That’s not going to work out for anybody.

Remember, the road is long and you’re going to be on that grind for a long time; like Ice Cube said, “Life ain’t a track meet, it’s a marathon.

The discussion on HackerNews is here.


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