Yes, there are a few entrepreneurs who actually want to create and run a stable, sane, small company. And a few of these are smart enough, hard-working enough and, let’s face it, lucky enough to do it. I’m lucky enough to have worked for one of them and, as long as it lasted, had a great job at more-than-decent money.
But they often find out our tech economy has become, increasingly, an up-or-out proposition.
Key employees will see a growth-oriented start-up as a rare chance to earn sweat equity, and will forgo salary and time for a chance to grab that brass ring. Customers and partners want a vendor who’s going places, whose robust health will ensure the evolution of a platform they’ve invested in, far more in time and management than in actual cash. Often they buy only on the condition that the company wants to be acquired, and has a board member and a business plan to prove it. When a commercial bank will not extend a normal line of credit, a starry-eyed investor might throw down millions at his own risk for what he sees as a potential unicorn.
At a time of true innovation, there was room for competitors in the same market space. But ours is a time of consolidation. Remember the original word processing market? There was WordPerfect, Volkswriter, XyWrite, and so on. Now that market is a zillion time bigger, so large it’s not even a market anymore but a simply a muscle-bound extension of the Microsoft franchise. It’s that way all over. Nowadays I consult for entrepreneurship development programs in Southeast Asia, and a typical startup affords little vision beyond the hope its narrow solution will be bought by an entity that just can’t bother (that is, pay) to build it on their own.
Customers can be surprisingly cynical about this. Many of ours recognized our platform offered a superior pathway to future profits, but were vetoed by board members who wanted us to be acquired by a legacy systems vendor who would simply fire the people and keep the code. That’s a far from unusual scenario, and it matters a lot in a world where there are larger but fewer corporate customers.