From my experience, I’ll say it seems by no means a silver bullet to be a high-impact player at a company that the C-levels and investors believe will have a multi-billion dollar valuation, either. In both cases, it’s hard and most likely improbable that you’ll be “super successful” monetarily.
Starting a startup feels like a much more proactive and rewarding approach than joining a company with aspirations to make an impact there. In the case of joining a company, you have to find ways to innovate within the parameters of the company’s overall goals and trajectory which could, in many ways, be harder than just figuring out how to make an impact on your own based on a problem you see in the world. Only one person prototyped the Like button, only one person prototyped Google Maps. In fact, it’s likely he’s the only person that was even able to do those things, because he had unique, intuitive insight into the product and direction.
In either case, the deck is probably stacked against you. In either case, you have to be a very hard working, alert person with a lot of luck and intuition. The hard part of your talk for me wasn’t that it was improbable to start a successful startup, or that it is extremely hard to do so, it was that it’s in some way easier to find success by joining another company when the truth is they’re probably either A) way closer to equally hard, or B) joining the right startup where you’ll have big impact is way harder.
Also, from firsthand experience, you know it won’t take 10 years to realize your company’s potential — you knew 3 years in at Facebook you were working on a billion dollar idea. What new entrepreneur do you know that would give up and totally regret their decisions to start a company even if they knew they were leading a company worth only $20m 2–3 years in? Your same approach applies. If you’re 3 years in and you’re valued at $100k and you’re not satisfied with that, then move on to another idea or company and you’re in the same position. All you missed out on was maybe more salary, because in all likelihood you weren’t any more likely to have found multi-million dollar success as an employee at a $20bn company either.