At this very minute, there are lots of little startups dotting Silicon Valley and beyond, going about their frat style living except with less money, more caffeine and zero socials. Average age: 24. That is the stereotypical picture of a startup that the public has grown to know and love.
However, startups do have many faces and are as diverse as the different communities that reside in the valley. Let me share with you what I’ve seen in my time:
Startup that hires interns to do all the dirty work
I worked as an intern at this place where the gurus and head honchos comprised the top half of the corporate hierarchy. The bottom half of the corporate structure was made up of cheaply paid highly skilled interns from a top university in the college town they were headquartered at. They recycled interns every semester to keep fresh wits and low salaries in that office. One interesting point: the CEO ended up canoodling with one of the female interns in my batch and my intern “friend” is now Mrs. Fricken I Own This Place.
Average Age: 25
My Take: $2,000/month and not a penny more; and my name in some old tech manuals, now obsolete
Outcome: Went public, did well at one point and was worth several hundred million in the NASDAQ.
Startup that meandered for 10 years but barely made it by the seat of its pants
Here’s one that took 5 years to get venture capital. That was because the founders worked on their idea part-time for that first 5 years before they got noticed. Yes folks, you CAN end up working for a long time and not get any money nor recognition and you MAY possibly end up in oblivion despite all your hard work. But if you’re a true entrepreneur, you will keep working on the product and that exit strategy. Eventually, someone bigger may come along and offer you a pittance but you’ll take it, happy you got a bit of a consolation prize.
Average Age: 30
My Take: Standard contractor’s wages of $75/hour
Outcome: Acquisition price was not too exciting but acquiring company was (it had a great reputation).
Startup that took hundreds of millions in venture capital and blew it all
This was a fun one. I loved this startup where I spent the final years of the past century. This was the classic dot-com story that truly represented the epitome of the internet bubble. Money was no object then, for this company with a burgeoning engineering team of 100 strong and another 150 in corporate roles of unknown nature or significance. In 2 years, we had a revolving door of CEOs (3 to be exact) and a vision that remained muddied and unclear. Yet, I had a great time, made great friends and continue to be awed by the brilliance of some of the PhDs they brought into the company to comprise the R & D team. That was a time when patents = gold. The more patents you churned out, the more respected and rewarded you became. Today, many members from that elite engineering team are now real estate agents.
Average Age: 32
My Take: $90,000 annually to start; $125,000 by the time I was laid off; 100,000 stock options worth squat
Outcome: There were 3 rounds of lay offs and I am proud to say I was kept till the very end; the place eventually imploded
Startup that knows not what it is doing but is raking it in big time
Here’s a private company where under the covers, nobody knows what’s going on; purchase orders are misplaced; employees bicker and finger-point. Yet….their profit is sky-high. This company does something very specialized so it makes gobs of money. What gives? The answer: the company is small and they’re in a niche space. So you see, you don’t have to know what you’re doing to make it, you just have to be the only one doing it.
Average Age: 50
My Take: Very good pay at $100/hr especially after the dot-com bust, but hours were erratic
Outcome: Will continue its chaotic path until the founders retire or as they themselves say: “drop dead”.
So what did these companies teach me? That talent, genius and hard work in the region where I work is common-place, and what separates a company from the rest of the pack is innovation, the demand in the space it finds itself in, timing, and loads of luck.
Copyright © 2006 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.