I recently watched a 15 minute video of Simon Sinek absolutely destroying millennials and it certainly hit home for me. Not necessarily because I’m a millennial (I think I missed that mark by a solid 14 years if we’re being technical about it), but because I work with plenty of them, and most certainly exhibit some of their traits. For example – I am definitely addicted to my phone and social media. I find myself unable to keep from checking my phone when I’m at dinner with friends or in a meeting. Sometimes it’s an involuntary reflex – I just checked my phone and there were no notifications, and yet I find myself pressing that home button for no reason about 4 seconds later. This is not good, and in 2017, I need to try and slowly reduce my dependency on my phone. All of you probably should too. I have a new found respect for those people that managed to delete Facebook and Instagram off their phones, thereby greatly reducing the number of times they can check for updates. I don’t think I’m there yet.
But perhaps what was most interesting about Sinek’s talk was the idea that millennials have grown up being told that they can have anything in the world, if they simply want it. They get participation medals for coming in last. They expect their job to be nothing but rainbows and unicorns, and at the first sign of trouble, they quit by saying “this isn’t what I want to do with my life”. You’ve been here a week, pal. While this may seem like hyperbole at first, upon further reflection, I realized that he’s absolutely right. When did a ping pong table and beer on tap become a prerequisite for hiring talented people? How fucking ridiculous have we become as a working society? In the beginning it was simply something fun that could make office life more lively. Then we said that it would keep people in the office longer if they could all mingle after 6pm with a cold beer in their hands. Now recruiters just straight up tell me we’re not going to be able to hire that developer if there isn’t a pool table in the office. WTF!?
As an entrepreneur and a VC though, I immediately try and apply what Sinek is saying to what I see in the startup community. Entrepreneurship used to be about ramen noodles and late nights in a basement, trying to build the next big thing that changes the world. And while some of those stories still exist, somehow it became just as cool to fail too. The tech community seems to embraces failure just as much as they celebrate success. Don’t get me wrong – just because a startup fails, it doesn’t mean the founders should be hung in the city square. But this culture of constantly telling founders to fail fast, and that it’s totally fine if they do, because they can come be an EIR at a venture fund seems ridiculous to me. It isn’t okay to fail. It sucks. Startups used to be about succeeding at all costs. Now the path of least resistance seems to be to just give up and move on to something else, investor capital be damned.
We live in an on demand economy where we expect to everything to be instant. Including success. When we don’t get an Uber within 7 minutes, what do we do? We cancel and try Lyft. If Seamless doesn’t have the food choice we want, we immediately try Uber eats or Postmates. Shit, there are days when my flight lands and JFK, and I order delivery on an app during our descent. By the time I get home, there’s a hot pizza waiting for me. We have gotten so used to having everything instantly, we begin to think that our entire life should be automatic, and on demand. Then, when it turns out that nothing in life that is worth a damn, is ever easy or fast, we don’t know how to handle it, except to give up. There isn’t an app for life, and even if there was, it would take years for it to become an overnight success.
When I started Krossover in 2009, failure was simply not an option. I had no money to my name, and no skills with which I could convince any sane employer to hire me if things didn’t work out. I lived in NYC and the rent for my 500 sqft studio was $2400 a month. And yet, there were a thousand reasons to shut down the company and move on to something else. For starters, every VC on both coasts rejected us multiple times, either citing a lack of knowledge on the space, the fact that sports analytics would never be a thing, or that the market simply wasn’t big enough. We raised our first round of funding from 40 different people, passing the hat, and taking checks as small as $5K. At one point we had $1.87 in our bank account, and needed to make a $70K payroll in 3 days. These would all have been great times to “fail fast” and start calling VCs to see if they had any open analyst positions. But we didn’t, because it never once entered our mind that it was okay to fail. And thank God it didn’t, because otherwise we never would have met these 10,000+ amazing clients of ours, or the 100 team members that we have in our NYC office today.
Look, I get it. The whole point of the “fail fast” movement was to get entrepreneurs to put out an MVP, see if they can get product market fit, and if not, pivot. The whole point of continuously saying that it’s okay to fail is to keep entrepreneurs from being timid about taking big risks, swinging for the fence, and then being demoralized when things didn’t work out. Those are all good things. But we need to change our mindset about failure from being “okay” to “not an option”. There’s something to be said for perseverance and finding a way, against all odds. That’s what the Silicon Valley dream was supposed to be about – not a 3 month beta followed by a blog post about how hard it was to file your corporate dissolution papers.
Let’s make 2017 the year where we embrace winning, and tell failure to f*ck off, along with cancer (and Trump).