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The M8 blog

Why do we choose startups rather than a ‘normal job’?

We create more value

Every extra hour you put into a job with a big company is, at best, creating a tiny fraction of extra value for the company’s many shareholders.

Every hour you put into a small company makes a bigger difference but the odds are (it survives at all) the small company will remain small-to-medium-sized. Not that much will change.

Every extra hour we put into our startups has (if it doesn’t fail) the potential to add enormous value to the startup, its team, its customers and even the world. Oh yes, and sometimes shareholders too.

Everything about a startup is about massive and rapid change. Every decision we make can make a massive difference to the future: yours, ours, employees, customers, society and history.

We might fail but imagine if we succeed!

If we’re putting in the hours, it’s got to have more meaning

I see a lot of startup founders who have young children, nursing mothers and expecting parents.

It’s as if choosing startup life is an impulse which, if it doesn’t strike you in your early twenties, comes back to hit you hard around the same time you start planning a family. Why is that? I have a theory:

When I was born in 1965, Australia was still The Lucky Country and working hours were sacrosanct. No longer. Now it doesn’t matter whether you’re working for a corporate, government, medium or small enterprise, you’re likely to be working much more than 38 hours a week.

I was working for a large internet company when our son was born. I wanted to spend every waking hour with my infant son and my wife, but my job kept me away for most of his waking hours, often overseas.

When I was at home, I’d look at how much my family meant to me versus how little time I got to spend with them, and then how little my job meant to be and how much time I had to spend at work. That ratio was all wrong.

I had to go work in a startup. If I was working my arse off each day and not with my family, I was at least working on something which had more personal significance for me.

What about the young?

Younger people choose to work with startups because, well, it’s that or gig economy work which might pay the rent but provides no advancement, fulfilment or security.

Even working in a ‘career’ role, there’s no career path and no security of tenure any more. They and their entire corporate division could be laid off, outsourced or restructured away at any time.

They feel marginalised, without a safe career path, affordable housing, healthcare or education, in an Australian economy locked up in the grabbing, greedy hands of the Baby Boomers and Generation X.

For them, a safe economic future just doesn’t exist (not at least until more of us are dead).

Working in a startup challenges young people to work from first principles; to always challenge and test assumptions, to learn entrepreneurial and business skills that can be applied to any future business they join or create themselves. That’s much more useful than the Industrial Age job function which requires you to sit in a generic role and perform a narrow set of tasks that suit the organisation more than the individual.

Why do I keep working in startups?

I can’t not! Not any more. It’s not just that I’m a misfit. It’s not just that I can’t work for an employer that won’t let me choose my own tech tools or doesn’t trust me to work remotely.

Part of the reason is because I want it to be easier for everyone else just starting out than it was for me 20 years ago, but that’s only a small part of it.

The biggest part of why I work in startups is because this is bigger than all of us. Way bigger.

Bigger not in a “creating incremental additional shareholder value for foreign pension funds” sense, but in a “we are driving fundamental shifts in global economic, social, scientific and political systems” sense.

The output of Startup A isn’t additive to the work Startup B does, it’s a multiplying factor. It’s a network effect to the power of a network effect, to the power of a network effect, to the power of a network effect. It’s connectivity to the power of processing to the power of applications to the power of people to the power of experimentation to the power of creativity.

In a hundred years from now, historians (or the AIs that serve that role) will look back on 1980-2020, scratch their heads/chassis, and think WOW! That was a period of intense, dramatic, accelerated change.

Each day when you come home to rest, recharge and check in with the people you love, it’s possible that this was the day you did a good thing which will cascade and magnify and propagate in the weeks to come. Maybe enough to change the future of the world. You just don’t know it yet. That, for me, is why I work in startups.

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Thoughts and opinions from M8 Ventures

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Alan Jones

Alan Jones

I’m Alan Jones, coach for accelerators, partner at M8 Ventures, angel investor. Earlier: founder, early Yahoo product manager, tech reporter.

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