Op-Ed: Arrington Is Right: Quit Whining

By November 29, 2011

My friend and fellow writer at Tech.li, Jason Rowley, wrote an excellent editorial today on Michael Arrington’s recent article about people “whining” at startups.

Jason brings up the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy at Diaspora and quotes some other people talking about the importance of expressing your feelings and not getting burnt out.

Shut it.

Arrington included a passage written by an engineer in the early days of Netscape talking about how he should be out enjoying life, how working non-stop was wrecking his body and his soul. It was written in 1994.

Mike’s reply:

You can imagine the same words, the exact same words, being written by the guys that created the early Zynga games. Or Google. Or Facebook. Or some startup that failed miserably and was forgotten. Maybe some of those people think that they’ve been worked harder than anyone else has ever worked in Silicon Valley. That working so hard, working all the time, is an extraordinary demand on their soul.

They’re wrong. This is what startups are made of.

I respect Jason Rowley and his opinion very much. He is a brilliant guy and when his startup launches in January I predict great things for him and his team. (They are pretty damn smart as well). It should also be noted that Jason and his team are notthe whiner type. Maybe they are more in tune with their feelings…maybe not. They are made of the stuff that entrepreneurs need to have to succeed which makes me feel a little bad writing this op-ed. Just a little though.

Read this. Then quit complaining and get back to it

On this point, I think Jason is wrong and I’m with Arrington- all of you whiners out there need to shut the hell up and get back to work. Don’t like it? Go work for Big Mega Corp where HR will lecture you ad nauseam about what constitutes ‘Casual’ attire and you’ll spend half the year wondering if your raise will be 3% or 5%. (Assuming you get one.)

Now that the startup culture has matured and spread outside Silicon Valley to cities like my hometown of Chicago, it has also attracted a new generation of would-be startup founders and employees. Young people across the country now view working for a startup (or founding one) as a viable career option. I remember being in college obsessed with the startup culture and my friends looking at me like I had a 3rd eye on my forehead.

The people that got into startups in the 90s all read ‘The Nudist on the Late Shift’. Now most people in their twenties haven’t heard of it. In that marvelous book chronicling the tale of the rise of the dot-com boom, all the people in the book had the same mentality- strip your life down and work.

Your friends are out for sushi? Too fucking bad. Work. Your friends are asleep at night? Dating? Having sex? Having a life?

Too bad. Work.

I meet this new generation of startup workers and it becomes very apparent, very fast when I am talking to someone who is attracted to the sexy idea of a startup. Dress casual! Work whenever! Great Parties! Huge exits! These are people who have been told their whole life every idea and opinion they have is important and if they work hard, they will be rewarded.

What they don’t realize about the startup world is that you have to work even harder and second place is just the first loser. There are no trophies for ‘participant’

Jason quotes entrepreneur and Yudunu cofounder Jordan Philips who says, “We should definitely caution people against irrational exuberance, and make sure people’s expectations are appropriately anchored. But a machismo-driven position of ‘stop crying and work more’ does a disservice to the real human suffering that the entrepreneurial life creates for even the most industrious of people.”

No Jordan, it doesn’t. Stop crying and work more is what a startup is- there is no time for exploring feelings. Know before you get in it will be hard. A startup by its very nature requires the utmost sacrifice and willingness to do what ever needs to be done to make the company a success. If you are one of the ‘most industrious’ people, prove it. Build something. Succeed.

I have said before the best education I ever got was in the United States Army. As you might guess, there is no room for working ‘too much’. In the military, there is mission completion. Is the mission complete? No? Then keep going. It’s raining? It doesn’t rain in the Army, it rains on the Army. Keep going.

In the military people die when the mission isn’t complete. In a startup someone willing to work harder, longer and faster than you will beat you every time.

When I look for people to work with me, I look for the “whine less, work harder” crowd. When I was discussing plans with my colleague, Lindsay O’Neal, about the future of where I wanted to take Tech.li, she said, “I want to go 300% and build this.”

Name? David Filo. (Wikipedia it.) He thinks your work ethic sucks.

That was all I needed to hear. Lest anyone think I am generation bashing, Lindsay is a millenial and she has the fire in her belly and the passion to get shit done. We don’t have a debate when something needs to get done and we don’t talk about how late it is or how tired we are. We do it.

Do we look for ways to do things better, streamline processes? Yes we do. But we don’t start crying and complain that things are too hard. If we wanted a 9-5, we wouldn’t be in a startup.

In the Army, there is an old saying they used in commercials. “We do more by 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” That’s usually because you hadn’t slept or were up at 4a.m. and working- anyone that wants to work for a startup or found one needs to learn that line and internalize it.

Mike was right.