There’s no reason to hero-worship every aspect of a billionaire programmer.
Co-founder of Instagram and programmer, Kevin Systrom, taught me to get out of a project when I’ve made enough money. You don’t have to stay around in a startup until the cobwebs grow faster than your user base.
When I got to work with Stripe earlier in my career I met the Co-Founder and billionaire programmer, John Collison, who taught me you could be really successful and not be an ass. It was obvious from his example that he didn’t care about status. He just liked code and solving problems.
Tobias Lütke, who Co-founded Shopify and is a billionaire programmer too, changed how I thought about the number of hours needed to build something big like an eCommerce platform.
“The only times I worked more than 40 hours in a week was when I had the burning desire to do so. I need 8ish hours of sleep a night. Same with everybody else, whether we admit it or not.”
He goes on to say, “I’m home at 5:30 pm every evening. I don’t travel on the weekend. I play video games alone, with my friends, and increasingly with my kids. My job is incredible, but it’s also just a job. Family and personal health rank higher in my priority list.”
For every part worth admiring about billionaire programmers, there’s a list of things to ignore about them. While I can’t code, I could have been a billionaire founder of an app with my friend — with our Spotify-for-business (rather than consumer) idea. It didn’t happen. At least I still have my friend.
Here’s what to ignore about billionaire programmers.
They make it look easy.
I want real, not easy. Easy is B.S. Give us real if you want to teach others through your startup story.
The problem with all the billionaires and their apps is they make it look easy. You read their story and falsely believe you can do it in a short space of time. Anything is possible, but circumstances and good timing are often left out of their stories. These details don’t make for a good read.
Anything that makes you a billion dollars or more is hard. In fact, it’s probably going to cripple you several times. It’s going to be one giant pain in the ass. You’re going to wonder why the hell you had to have such big dreams and whether all the fame and attention is worth it when you can’t even go to the grocery store anymore in your t-shirt with cheese sauce spilled down the front of it which you can’t be assed washing.
I wish billionaire founders with their apps would document what they go through on a daily basis. I wish there was a place you could read the journal entries of billionaires and their tech creations, so you could see how soul-crushing parts of the process can be.
Many founders would give up their startup dreams if they had access to real stories — of how hard it’s going to be — to reference. There are tonnes of startups that exist because nobody told the founder the truth, so they quit their job for a startup that pays them nothing in the hope that they will get lucky with a viral story about their product and meet Mark Zuckerberg on the way out of a Y Combinator event.
The truth sets founders free.
They don’t tell you a lot about all the failed apps.
If you create a billion-dollar app, it’s not going to be your first app. There will be many more before it. The failed apps lead to the successful apps. You have to build a really terrible app to have any idea what’s involved in building a good app.
In a rare occurrence, the founders of billion-dollar startup Canva shared their story regularly about their first app. It’s key to the interviews they do and the Canva story. While their first app didn’t make them rich, it taught them a lot of what they needed to know to build Canva.
Both the founders, Melanie and Cliff, couldn’t code. They realized they had to give away some of the equity in their startup in order to hire a co-founder who could code, rather than outsource the app build to a third party who had no real vested interest in seeing them succeed. And that’s exactly what they did when they brought Cameron Adams onboard as a Technical Co-Founder.
Don’t let the one-hit-wonder app dream make you forget about all the terrible lines of code that came before it to get there.
They rarely talk about their boss (the VCs).
Billionaire programmers and their apps aren’t free… they have a boss too. The boss of a billionaire programmer is the VC firm who gave them the money to write the code and pay the developers. A VC firm acts like your boss.
They can tell you what to do. They can be cranky. They can threaten your billionaire programmer status. They can take away the startup you built, that’s tied to your self-worth, if they choose.
The relationship between VC firms is rarely spoken of. It’s not all roses and boxes of chocolates on pitch nights.
Billionaire programmers can’t talk about their boss. Even when they’re a billionaire they can be fired.
They don’t understand how ridiculous their billionaire status is.
How much money can one human being spend in a lifetime?
That’s what I’d like you to ignore about billionaire programmers. There comes a point where someone surpasses the amount of money they need. Rather than become a billionaire these successful programmers could give away some of their wealth to the people who helped build their empire, or to worthy causes that move the human race forward.
Bill Gates is a good example of this, even if you think he’s evil and wants to profit off vaccines. There’s no denying his pledge to give away most of his billions is the right way to go. I wish more billionaire programmers saw the same light Bill saw.
The meaning of life isn’t to build a billion-dollar app.
On my own quest to build a billion-dollar Spotify competitor this is what I realized. It wasn’t worth losing one of my best friends to build an app. That’s why I didn’t finish the app idea.
It’s nice to build something many users decide to install on their phones. But building a billion-dollar app isn’t the meaning of life.
There are less grandiose things like family, being helpful, humanity’s survival, and the subtle art of learning to love that carry far more meaning. I hope the “Forbes 30 Under 30” rich list is replaced with a more meaningful list of everyday people who found something greater than making a billion dollars.