At an event the other night, someone asked me how I steeled myself for the enormous risk of starting a company. There’s this prevailing narrative that entrepreneurs are risk-takers of the highest order, that we put everything on the line to manifest our companies into existence through sheer force of will, but, as with most of the myths of Startup World, I’ve always thought this was bullshit.
Sure, I have a risk-taking personality (just ask my parents what I was like at nineteen). But for most people, starting a startup isn’t much of a risk.
If you come from a background where you don’t have your parents’ couch as a fallback, or if you have a medical condition that makes it tough to leave an employer-sponsored health plan, then sure: you might be taking a real risk by starting something.
But the vast majority of the time someone gives me this line about startups being risky, they’re not talking about those kinds of stories.
They’re talking about well-off, well-educated kids who’ve bought into the self-aggrandizing folklore around startups, or who’ve been conditioned to believe that every career path outside the four or five most common is a feat of Philippe Petit-level precariousness.
What am I actually risking?
Money? Sure, I’m making less than I could be, but it’s a bit rich to complain about your salary when you’re the one who sets it. And if the company doesn’t make it, the story of its failure likely involves my moving on to a higher-paying job.
My career? It’s hard to come up with any scenario where this journey ends with my career worse off than if I hadn’t taken it. Besides, having a failed startup on your résumé is practically a badge of honor at this point.
Embarrassment? I guess it’d be a little embarrassing if the company doesn’t make it. But I probably did something more embarrassing the last time I got drunk. If you aren’t willing to risk a little embarrassment, you’re never going to do much of anything.
We’re pursuing our dreams with other people’s money, and even failing would still leave us better off than if we’d never started. So stop giving me credit for risk-taking.
There’s nothing risky about it.