The idea of starting a company is like a beautiful flower. It smells great. You can’t stop thinking about it. The problem is, it’s not real yet.
We started on the same day, four of us sitting around a table in the middle of the day, talking about what we wanted to do with our lives.
Our friend Patrick told us that he knew how to build mobile apps, and he had an idea for one that he thought would be fun to build. He needed some help, though.
I knew how to design apps and websites, so I said I could help him build it. Our friend Tom had worked at Google and said he could help us market it once we built it. And John was going to put up money for us and help us manage everything on the business side of things.
That’s why we started our company: to make something fun, with people we enjoyed working with. That’s why most businesses start: because a small group of people want to work together towards something they find meaningful, and they want the freedom to do it their own way.
Why did you guys decide to start your startup? STEVE: Well, we were all bored at our jobs. We’d been working for a year and just didn’t want to do it anymore. And we thought, why not start a business? DRAKE: We wanted to prove that we could take an idea and make it happen. JEFF: Our parents always said we could be anything we wanted to be. So we decided to work for ourselves. MARK: I had an interesting opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. STEVE: Actually, he was going to get fired from his job. MARK: No, I wasn’t! DRAKE: Yes, you were! JEFF: C’mon, Mark, tell them the truth!
We started our startup because of the three standard reasons:
1. We wanted to make money.
2. We thought we could do a better job than the guys who were running things.
3. We wanted to do it ourselves so that no one could tell us what to do.
We knew that to get rich you had to be in business for yourself, and that only startups offered any chance of getting rich. And we knew that it would be hard for even a successful startup to get bought for more than a few million dollars, too little for anyone to get rich on. So our first goal was just to start a company with the best chance of being worth a lot.
We didn’t realize this at the time, but it’s pretty obvious looking back: we were all trying to start companies where the founders would be able to run things after they were started, and this is much easier if the founders are programmers. Even now most people seem not to realize this fact about startups: founders who are programmers will be able to keep control longer, because they won’t need investors’ money as soon as non-programmers will, and they’ll give up less control when they do need it, because they’ll have more leverage with investors.
John: So why did you start a company?
Mary: I got fired from my last job and decided I didn’t want to work for anyone else.
Jane: I was looking for a new challenge.
Jack: I wanted to make the world a better place.
John: But why start your own company? Why not just go get another job?
Mary: When you’re working for someone else, your salary is capped, your hours are capped, and your vacation time is capped. I wanted to be able to control my own destiny.
Jane: Working on something that was mine felt more meaningful than working on something that belonged to someone else.
Jack: At a big company, it’s hard to be an individual contributor or to see the results of your work in the product. Here, we can all move fast and make our own decisions on what to build and how to build it — and you can see the results of your work in the product every day!
The four of us met in college. We were all Computer Science majors, and we were more or less friends by the end of college.
After graduation, we got jobs at a big tech company. It was a good company to work for, with good benefits, flexible working hours, and fun office culture. We worked on interesting projects in a cool office building with a pool table and an espresso machine. But after a few years, we were starting to feel restless. We felt like we could do better work than the work we were doing, but no one seemed to care much about that. The important thing was delivering software to spec on time.
And then there was the problem of what we’d do next. After many years at this job we’d get promoted through the ranks until eventually we managed people ourselves. But none of us wanted to be managers or bureaucrats; we just wanted to build things.
We talked about finding other jobs at other companies, but it didn’t seem much better there either. Or maybe it would be better for a while, until after many years at this new job we’d get promoted through the ranks until eventually we managed people ourselves again. And so on and so forth until retirement or death (whichever comes first).
A: I’ve been thinking about starting a tech company for a while, but I’d never had a good idea.
B: That’s the hardest part. You need an idea that’s both important and doable.
C: How can you tell if an idea is important?
A: You try to figure out how big the market is. Like, how many people would pay for it? And how much would they pay?
B: But with a start-up, you don’t know until later whether most people will want what you’re making. So you have to guess which ideas will be important based on your own taste. Which isn’t always right.
C: Yeah, I’m not sure I have good enough taste to do that.
D: Me either.
A: Mm, me too. It’s hard to judge whether something is going to be interesting to other people.
D: So maybe we should do something that’s just interesting to us. Or something we know other people will want, because they already use something similar and complain about it a lot.
C: Yeah, or like a game or something – like Angry Birds – where people who see it are like “Dang, that looks so fun.”
I think we all had a long term desire to start something of our own for a while, but it took us some time to get the feeling that we were in a position to do so. One of the things that all of us felt was really important, and I think it still is today, is to have the freedom to work together, use each other’s talents and abilities to help each other out where you can. And we thought that would be much easier to do if we were working together on a project. So we knew that starting something was on the cards at some point.
For me personally, I think the main reason I wanted to start my own business was because I’m very interested in the idea of being able to control your own destiny. We set our minds on trying to solve a problem that’s interesting and relevant with the aim of building something really great and worthwhile along the way. The fact that you can only achieve those things by creating something sustainable, profitable and scalable is what appeals to me as an entrepreneur.