Stop The Passion Porn, Startups!

A MUST READ letter for all the fresh grads out there!

I realized pretty soon in my career that people in startups are trying hard to create a closet for themselves, to run away from reality, and create a world where they live with happiness and satisfaction by telling themselves they’re following their passion. I started my first startup when I was in my second year of engineering. And my second one when I was in my fourth year. I did internship at a startup post engineering and have been working for around past 2 years at yet another one. Over time I have realized that startup — like a big corporate — is not just about passion or solving a problem. At the crux of it, it is a god damn business. If you don’t make money — or can’t show investors that you have the potential to make money — then I don’t see how you can keep your startup alive by just passion, motivation, and all those sound-good feel-good words.

A lot of youngsters are chasing a job in startup — or heck — are trying to start a startup maybe because it’s cool. Because they’d get to learn a zillion times more than working for boring big ass corporates. Because they could boast about how demanding their work is — but it doesn’t even matter because they’re super passionate about their job and they’re killing it #yolo #passion #mahlifemahrules.

Stop guys. Really. It may look attractive from outside, but you really need to understand the basics of this industry. More than that you need to understand everything else in life that surrounds your work life. Via this post, I’d try to throw light on these areas so that maybe you can get cues and take better decisions. Let me be clear — I’m not saying don’t join a startup — but join for the right reasons, and be clear on what’s really important for you in life. Don’t see every other thing related to startups like leaves, salaries, etc with the passion-filter. Here goes.

1. The Orgasm Vocab

I recently came around the following leave policy document of a startup:

Start-up culture sometimes could be demanding in order to fulfil business priorities and to win customers. We believe that employees should have opportunities to enjoy time away from work to help balance their professional and personal lives. Company encourages all employees to spend time with family for leisure, taking care of personal work, or rest due to medical reasons. All permanent employees are entitled for 6 days of Sick/Casual leave and 10 days of Earned leave in a year.

Are you fucking kidding me? You believe that employees should enjoy time away from work? You encourage them to spend time with family? How? By giving them 6 fucking days of sick leaves in a year (I bet even Superman would fall sick on more working days than that) and 10 days of earned leave in an entire year??

Umm.. if I say I believe in the company and hence I’m going to put 8 hours of work each day, weekends not included, half an hour of lunch breaks each working day — then I am not doing a favor to the company. I am hired to do this bare minimum. Cut the crap.

If I don’t show up on time and be there till at least during the office hours, I’d get fired, man! If I’m doing something that I’m bound to do by the contract — how does that even fall in something that I say I believe in. No one gives a fuck what you “believe” in. You NEED to do this regardless. Similarly, if the company doesn’t give 6 days of SL and 10 days of EL — which is the bare minimum possible — then employees can take legal action against the company for sucking blood. So you can keep your bullshit “believe” in your asshole, random company. Thanks, but no thanks. That’s not what “believe” is. That’s not what “encouragement” sounds like. If the government requires you to give minimum 6 SL and 10 EL, but you give say 10 SL and 20 EL — then, yes — you definitely believe in and encourage people to take breaks. Else, fuck your believe and encouragement terminologies. You should really be saying:

Guys, the fucking government requires us to give 6 SL and 10 EL at the minimum. We never wanted to give it to you — but we also don’t want legal actions against us — you know. So whether we like it or not, you are entitled for this. We hate you. Fuck you. Hope you die.

2. The Salary Negotiation

I gave an interview last year for a startup where the interviewer (the co-founder) wanted to just talk about the idea of the startup, my experience and expertise, how I could fit in, etc. The moment I brought up money in the conversation for the very first time, he said firmly:

Mayank, you’ve been told you will be paid more than your current job. We will not talk about money after this point. Let’s not be money minded.

Dear interviewer,
Fuck you. Because what you’re saying is offensive. See, if I was this passionate about your startup idea, or would have considered myself capable enough, then I wouldn’t have waited for you to start it, and then join you like a puppy following its owner. I’m not saying I don’t feel you. I do connect with you on the idea and that’s why I had sent in my resume. But money is important to me at this stage of life. That is the core reason why I’m here. And that, for your kind information, doesn’t automatically make me money minded. In fact, your statement does make you a certified judgemental.

People may have different priorities in life. And we all need to respect that. Do you think Shah Rukh Khan wanted to be an actor? His parents had died in Delhi and he wanted to move to a different city and do something to engage himself. Sachin charges heavily for each match that he plays. Kalpana Chawla charged a fee to work for NASA.

Thanks you’re sending me to the moon — but you know you’re not doing me a favor. I am that talented to do this. So you need me as much as I need you. Get it?
- Kalpana Chawla (must have said)

Guys, showing interest in talking about your salary doesn’t make you money minded at all. Please understand this. Older HR people are emotionally intelligent than you and they’re fooling you by making you feel guilty about something that is your right. In fact, the very major reason you’re interviewing is because of the money. The world works on money. It is just an upgraded version of barter system — exchange of your services for things that you want. But since the company cannot necessarily directly give you all that — hence they give you money.

If your mother is in the hospital and you tell the doctor how dedicated you are, how great work ethics you posses, your company has a great culture and amazing work environment, then do you think the doctor would agree to operate on your mom? Fuck no. You give money, the doctor operates. Simple. That’s the equation.

You can start this change in your understanding and become more confident with your approach in the salary negotiation by knowing that the job is kind of a business in itself between you and the company. You are trading your time + your experience + your talent in return for the best price you’ll get from the market. If someone is going to value you more, why shouldn’t you go there? Of course I’m not saying you should just look at the money on the table. Consider all other things which are important for you. But I’m saying don’t ignore the money.

Extending the same point, I feel the HR round these days is becoming less relevant. When you enter the HR cabin, you already know the HR’s job is to make you agree to the least possible salary. Your job is to debate why you deserve more. This round is so predictable that we can probably replace the HRs with a computer to do the same repetitive work. Shouldn’t this be in opposite order? That makes much more sense, doesn’t it? HRs have bird’s eye view of the entire industry, and salary details for each employee in each role. If the candidate is demanding less, they should actually convince the candidate to take more so that the employee doesn’t feel cheated after joining and is able to work happily. On the other hand, with limited market research, candidate will know his/ her market value and his/ her priorities in life. He/ she shouldn’t let any company overpay him/ her. Because with more salary will come more expectations, which will bring more headache in the long run. So stick to a realistic figure.

3. The Full-Time Job

I think the single most deceiving word of the corporate world is “Full Time Job”. What does it actually mean? Does it mean my company owns me full time? They own 24x7 of my time? Does it mean I’m their bitch? Does it mean they are my new Dad and I’m answerable to them about whatever I do in my private life? Does it mean I owe them an explanation for everything? Jesus Fucking Christ No.

I see a lot of people not being open about their personal life choices to other officemates, specially their seniors in the corporate hierarchy. I meet my girlfriend, eat chips while watching Game of Thrones episodes back to back, play NFS Most Wanted — or watch porn. What’s your issue? That’s what I like. That is my choice. I am not answerable to my boss on what I do pre work, post work, on weekends, on vacations, on leave days. I will not apologize to my boss for taking lunch breaks or evening tea breaks. I will not explain myself if I have fallen sick. The boss doesn’t need to know the type of illness and the severity. The boss cannot demand an explanations in any way.

It is not a full time job. It is an 8 hours business on weekdays with CL and EL included. Bonus for hard work? Bring it in. Explanations for taking leave? Fuck you.

4. The Passion Illusion

All great people follow their passion. You need to figure out what you like the most in the world and follow that.

Really? That statement is untrue. I really like day dreaming, is it okay? Should I follow that? I thoroughly enjoy watching the full moon every fortnight like nothing else, cool? I have never gotten that pleasure which I get when I go on a beach and just watch the evening waves, wonderful? Should I go chase my dreams?

The honest statement is

Follow your passion as long as you can earn enough money to support yourself and your family, and as long as that is legal to do.

A lot of people who start taking health and fitness seriously, often think of going into full time bodybuilding. But bodybuilding isn’t even considered a real sport. People have to do other jobs to support their passion for bodybuilding. Most end up either giving up on it or living miserable lives. Passion has less meaning without basic money.

See what I’m really trying to say here is that passion is good. No doubt. But it is hyped as well. Do you think you can wake up every single day for the rest of your life and just do one thing? Maybe there are people like that in the world. But majority aren’t. I love a host of things. I switch to different things from time to time as well. Heck, I won’t even know if I like something else more unless I try. There are a million things in the world that I can explore and do. I’ve got so less exposure till now. Maybe I’d love to be a cameraman shooting the next episode of the The Green Arrow. Who knows?

5. The I’m Busy Game

When we say we’re busy, we’re really saying that our priority at the moment is different. In startups, there will be busy days. But if that occurs every week, there is something wrong. You need to reconsider.

The point is — think about why are you doing all this? To scale? To get successful? To be rich? What after that? You would need to come back to the basics. Hang out with family, go out with your friends, buy gifts, visit a new country.

First thing, that future vision of success is a probability and not surety. Second thing, what is stopping you from living your dream life right now at least on a smaller scale?

Balance is really very important. Don’t remain busy. Being tired isn’t a badge of honor. If you had a billion dollars, would you still ignore your wife on the dinner table, your friends waiting for you outside the movie theatre, you mom waiting for your one call?

Define your happiness and make sure you’re attaining that in the long run rather than just more active fucking users.

6. The It’s Urgents

Let’s be realistic. There are no defined boundaries. Yes there will be emergencies. I’m up for that. But if emergencies occur every weekend, then fuck you. Nothing is important. Your urgent work (which will take 2 days to complete) on a Friday night is just an illusion.

Do you think you’re a superhero on Earth? No? But look at you — you’ve got power to see, power to hear, power to smell, power to think, power to speak, power to touch. Still don’t feel like a superhero? Why? Because everybody else has got these powers as well. You’re only a superhero if you’ve got at least 1 extra power that is not possessed by any other person.

Similarly if every week there’s something important — then fuck you — nothing is really important and it’s probably regular work than not — and can wait till fucking Monday. And when really important or urgent work will come one day — then I won’t show up — you know why? Because you fucking created this culture. So deal with it.

7. The Constraint Advantage

So startup peeps, don’t sleep on desk. Don’t eat on desk. Don’t leave late. Don’t work on weekends. Get a balanced life. Actually, it would work in your favor. One of the crucial things in startups shouldn’t be to do more work, but to prioritize work. So, don’t do the donkey work. Analyze, prioritize, reason and filter rather than do and filter. Take better decisions without executions. If putting more hours was the ultimate solution, then all new things would come up only from big corporates with unlimited head counts. But the reality is WhatsApp, a company of 50 people, disrupted instant messaging. Think about a new product launch. Does Google have all the metrics before hand? Fucking no. They reason it out on white boards. They figure out the right questions to ask. And their most products are successful. Apple’s are. No one did it before them. How did they get it right in a short time? Food for thought.

8. The Why

Why do we go through all this at all specially in India? I think maybe because of population. As long as you’ll remain at the bottom level, part of crowd, you would not be in a position to demand anything. The first step should be to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Make yourself more able. Become deserving before demanding.

Hope this will help you look at things as they really are instead of convincing yourself otherwise by hiding behind the P word (ie, passion). You all should really read the book ReWork. Sooner, you will automatically go to the organization you deserve and have matching thoughts with. Trust me more money cannot replace peace of mind. Nothing is an alternative.