An(other) Millenial Open Letter To My CEO
When I was a kid, back in the 2000s when startups were cool, I dreamed of one day having an annual-college-expenses priced sexy electric vehicle, living in my own 2-bedroom apartment in the Mission and having an “I’m CEO bitch” card for my own social startup that would be transform communication to new levels of effortlessness. I told my 10-year old self, this is what it means to be an adult.
Now, 10 years later, I have some of those things. And boy I did not anticipate that running my own startup, owning my own apartment and having a Tesla would all be symbols of stress, not success.
I left college, having not completed my major in Computer Science, with a dream to be rich, CEO and a famous innovator in technology. It was either that or go work at a large tech company. But I didn’t want to be cliche or live in somebody else’s shadow. I was sick and tired of MIT, and the actual hard work I had to put into classes. I didn’t need to that, Peter Thiel told me. Just start a company, he said. So after my first semester, armed with my profound knowledge of Intro CS, I set out to build my startup, and moved to SF.
Dropping out of college without knowing much beyond a thorough knowledge of for loops in Python, I thought it was fair to merely target 2 billion users with my startup and not the entire world. I figured, I’d hit 2 bill in a year or so, and then I can go on and connect the world’s people. I starkly remember meeting Marc Andreesen at a Blue Bottle on University Ave, and the advice was crystal clear — to attract 2 billion users, all I needed was to impose a colonial marketing strategy on India with my VC money and give all of them free access to a subsection of the internet which only allowed them to use my app (but I could throw in some others to try and seem reasonable). The idea was simple — the cognitive load of social networks today is far too high. Today, the user has to think of a status to write, or choose the appropriate Snapchat filter and the correct Instagram hashtag to reinforce their delusion self-worth. But why? I knew I could use deep learning on TensorFlow on all the most liked pictures on Instagram, and use it on top of Google Glass to automatically capture the most like-able images you’ve seen in your day — complete with cropping out the ugliness and applying the correct filter. I spoke to Peter (Thiel, not Gregory haha) and he knew I was on to something. He retroactively gave me a Thiel Fellowship to turn my vision into a reality and built the world’s biggest community. But before you know it, the going got tough. Sure, I’d managed to pick up $25M in seed just like my buddy Lucas over at Clinkle, but after securing that hot all-glass property right beside Google’s SF office, I was a little lost. I knew my first hire had to be Thomas Keller. I told him about my idea and he was sold seconds through my elevator pitch, and he agreed to quit The French Laundry to cook up some fine three Michelin starred cuisine for all my other employees. How else was I supposed to attract my MIT seniors next door at Dropbox? Little known secret, I managed to undercut his current pay by promising him 0.5% equity. Honestly, that’s going to be a few billion dollars some day so he really shouldn’t be complaining.
We built out the Rails app in its entirety. I wanted to write it in Django, cause I knew Python, but then I asked myself — what’s the point of being in a startup if you aren’t constantly learning? We called ourselves Strangr. The investors loved the name. Things were going smoothly. Then we ran into our first pothole. The logo. All the other players were doing it. Google changed their logo. Facebook did too, and I didn’t even notice until somebody pointed it out. But after Uber jumped onto that ship, I knew we were falling behind. Travis was right — it seemed obvious. You can’t just represent your brand with a name. Names don’t travel across cultures. If I wanted to seem relatable, the logo just had to have no connection to the name. So we chose a black dot in a white background. What more relatable to the universe than this minimalist symbol for unity of all humanity. In the mostly empty (white) universe, we showed strength together (the black dot). It was a huge deliverable, and I ended up promoting Anais to Chief Design Officer. The humanities are truly under appreciated in technology. And having a talented woman on our board really helped us sell ourselves as a truly inclusive brand. I didn’t want to make the mistakes Palantir made. The change was an instant hit, and we’d hit a couple hundred million users daily. We had this. Then things started to get rough. I had to give away a few percentage points of equity to YC to get Paul to come help us. It was the end of 2015, and the investors wanted to see profit. Let me tell you — I had an ad-free vision from the very start. How else could I stand out from our competitors? I wanted to do deep learned 3D GIF stickers (which could also be 3D printed), but Parker over at Zenefits told me I had to go enterprise if I wanted to be stable. “Fuck regulations — just go do it”, he said. I called Travis, and he said he liked Parker’s quote so much he wanted to print out posters in big orange letters and stick it around the office. But it took a trip to Burning Man to truly clear my clouded vision. In an acid infused trip, Larry kept going on about ads. For every 7 color bubbles he saws, he’s see one with a little yellow banner which said “Ad”. It’s then when I knew — I could never do ads. Unfortunately, by the time I started ramping up my enterprise efforts, it was too late. Strangr at Work just wasn’t able to compete. Facebook and Slack had taken over the enterprise space with far inferior products, and we spent so much time hiring engineers that our Sales team ended up being pathetic. Fidelity wrote all of their stake in us down, and the company was broke. Late stage funding was dry too, and the investors just disappeared. On the bright side, I got to know Drew really well after the incident. We’d spend weeknights binge drinking at the Chieftain and he really just gets me like nobody else.
So here I am, 20 years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. I started a GoFundMe because after the $6000 rent for my 2 bedroom penthouse, I couldn’t pay off the loans for my Model S. I had to then do the unthinkable. I joined the enemy and I started working at Facebook. Their pay was ridiculous. $100,000 for my sign on? Are you kidding? Do I look like an undergrad? Eventually I negotiated the stock up to compensate for it. $300,000 over a 4 year vesting cycle wasn’t ideal but Zuck was right — my startup had failed and I didn’t really have a choice but to take a substandard salary. At least I had it better than some of my colleagues. Anais had to move down to Cupertino and take up a job at Apple. She commuted from her villa in Marina for a while, but she moved down soon after. She told me the commute was too long, but let’s be real — the stock was taking such a hit that she couldn’t make mortgage any more.
Facebook life was unbearable. The move fast break things culture just didn’t gel with me. Fitbit was telling me I was getting less than 9 hours of sleep every day. Even at work, I had to commute all the way to the gym across the parking lot and all the way to the main buildings from 20 for food. And Harvest is really the only adequate vegan option they have. Sometimes, their dining options were beyond me. Come on Zuck, it’s the 21st century — no one needs the Sweet Shop, bring in an Oren’s or something. Honestly, even Philz isn’t free. And work from home Wednesdays? That’s a lie. Sure, some teams do it, but not mine. We had to struggle it out, five days a week. Can you imagine? And sure, you pay my phone bill and laundry, but you’re not going to subsidize my Tesla? And I still can’t wrap my head around four months of paternity leave. The baby takes nine months to even happen, screw the 3 years of toddlerhood. I can’t just freeze my wife’s eggs until I make enough to quit, alright. And they have the gall of calling themselves a tech company.
I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because Thomas Keller decided to stay on and cook for me at home.But he’s not cheap. And sometimes I can’t afford organics all the time. The free range chickens with names from the farmer’s market and $80 Mamuka honey at whole foods don’t are sometimes a luxury I have to do without. On Sunday evenings, to cut costs, sometimes I resort to UberEats. But shh, that’s my little secret. I occasionally have to switch it up because my Instagram followers have been getting curious as to why no dinner pics go up on Sundays, and “church went on late” wasn’t really working.
Did I tell you that sometimes the electric car chargers at work all get used by the time I show up just before lunch? Did I tell you that I once took public transport back home from the office? Did I tell you about the one time they didn’t have organic bananas at work? Did I tell you that it would take two whole years until I have enough saved up to even put a downpayment on a new house? The other day, for the first time, I even tipped the Philz barista a record low of 15%. I’m not sure it was worth it, because I spent the entire walk back to my desk thinking about the 10% more she deserved. That Jamaican Blue Mountain was excellent.
Speaking of bananas though, do you know how bananas the average retention rate of your engineers? Because I’ve been here for very very long and every day the faces change. On some days, it’s because the free food is edible. On others, it’s because they had to settle for Soylent. Do you actually think your company offers is designed to attract top talent from top schools? Let me tell you something Zuck, is Facebook solving the world’s terrorism like Palantir? Google has 7 one billion monthly active users, and how many do you have — closing in on 4 (Instagram, Facebook, Messenger and Whatsapp). And they can play better Go. You know Groups doesn’t really count. And you know what Zuck, 90% of my Facebook friends are people I’ve met less than twice. Hell, you don’t even have the photo editing capabilities of Snapchat. While, I’m criticizing the product, I might add that your selective use of machine learning techniques to grow your bottom line is downright outrageous. If you actually cared for your users, why don’t you write some AI to automatically suggest which friends I should not have to follow any more. I totally wouldn’t mind Facebook asking me “Hey, we think John Doe supports Donald Trump. Unfollow him?” You’re optimizing on metrics that impact your bottomline, not the users happiness. I came into this company thinking I would make an impact on lives, but all I’m really doing is showing them more shitty content. Do you think I enjoy it when my Uber driver reports random bugs to me? Or when my friends in finance still ask me why the Messenger app is not a part of the Facebook app any more? Do you know the number of times I get asked whether I can login as them and read their messages? Do you think I’d even be asked questions if I worked at Twitter?
Let’s talk about the commute. Do you not realize I simply cannot spend the entirety of my 20s going to basically the Old Pro every single day? Do you not realize the only reason people are leaving the company to go to Uber is because Twitter and Zynga don’t really matter, and that their logo design is more radical than yours. Also, given that the company is so big on A/B testing, why didn’t you A/B test the horrendous new building. Just cause you have a private elevator to your office doesn’t mean everyone does, alright. Why did you have to cheap out on the walls? I don’t think you know what it’s like to sometimes forget your noise cancelling Bose headphones at home. The ones in the vending machine suck. Do you know what it’s like to be writing code, and being able to hear everyone else typing away at their keyboards to? Do you know what it’s like to know the closest microkitchen is more than 50 feet away from you? Have you ever needed to take a dump and known the closest bathroom takes over a minute to get to? Sometimes I just clench hard, and get by with a silent fart.
Look, I’ll make you a deal. The microkitchens can stay far away. I won’t eat yoghurt covered pretzels. In fact, I’ll keep farting away too. Should I sell my suit too? It’s not mine, it’s actually my dad’s. But he told me he wanted me to wear it on my first day of professional life. It was day he’s been dreaming of ever since I went to college. But I couldn’t. I’d be shunned. I had to leave my father disappointed. What about my ties? You think one holiday party is justification enough to keep my formalwear? Just because you want to wear a grey shirt everyday, doesn’t mean I do. Even when I wear a suit outside the office, I get panic attacks knowing somebody from work might just see me.
How about this: instead of telling you about all the ways I’m withering away from putting my all into a company that doesn’t have my back, I offer some solutions. How about, you let Facebook the product be stagnant for a bit, and tell all the employees to all spawn crappy social network replicas and messaging apps with gimmicky concepts like “only video sharing”, “live video sharing”, “only photo sharing”, “only emojis”, “only voice sharing”, “only pictures of you”, “only selfies”, “only photos that don’t make you seem like a douchebag”, “only smart people” and then hope 10% of them take off. That way, you won’t have to spend $19B acquiring a messaging app because they took some precious third-world users. Hey, wanna get India’s market? Instead of spending boatloads of money on internet.org, why don’t you just make a Facebook app which isn’t 100MB so people can download it on a data plan? And use that saved money to let more engineers afford a house. I hear your net worth is like $35 billion. That’s a whole lot of houses.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I know they’re not worth your time — did you ever stop to think about the number of likes we get on our statuses and how that affects our ideas of self-importance. I count every like I can get, even if I don’t really know the person, and it definitely means something to me, even though it doesn’t to you.
Your soon-to-be-fired employee,
P.S. Also, Zuck, stop using the word “community”- it creeps people out.
UPDATE: As of whenever you read this, I will have been officially let go from the company. This will not be entirely unplanned (and I guess completely reasonably so) but any help until I find new employment would be extremely appreciated. I’ll have you know that I’m a code ninja and people call me a 100x-er. Please don’t bore me with your 6 figure salaries. My PayPal is paypal.me/fartyfarts, my Venmo is fartyfarts (no hyphen). Square Cash is cash.me/$FartyFarts. Thank you so much for helping my story be heard.