Startup Social Contract?

I whine on twitter a lot about how vapid much of what’s posted as “tech news” is. Normally I’m bitching about “articles” that are just glorified press releases. There’s always quite a bit of meta junk on “startup life” and being an entrepreneur or just life in the valley as well though and recently the amount of it seems to be on the uptick.

This particular editorial on PandoDaily drove me more nuts than usual though. Below I’ll take down the pieces that bothered me the most.

Only startups “change the world”

Employees need to pick which one they want: A messy mission that could fail or change the world or a predictable, polite place to go from nine to five.

I have limited work experience having only worked at 3 companies over the span of my 5ish years of work and internships, but it has been varied. I’ve worked at a multi-national food company, a large (6000+ employee) software company, and now a start-up (25 people). All of them think they’re changing the world. They all have lofty ways of describing themselves and they’re actually rooted at least somewhat in reality.

More importantly the employees who enjoy their job (which is the majority of them at any decent company, small or large) believe they’re changing the world too. They buy into the large company’s mission at a rate comparable to those working at startups. They don’t believe it’s a “polite place to go from nine to five.” They enjoy their work and are often working long hours. In my own experience I can tell you I worked way more long nights at the large software company than my current startup. I’d be shocked if I was alone in this.

OMG Start-Up Employees Haz Needs!?!

I was recently talking to someone at a young company looking to hire a candidate who wanted competitive compensation from his last job and also more equity than the company wanted to give. I made the point that that should really be an either/or, and if the cash-constrained startup were being asked to pay a huge salary, more equity should be off the table. In other words, allow the candidate to pick one: Money now or upside later. This person actually said, “I don’t think the amount of equity offered should have anything to do with the level of compensation.”

Why is a journalist essentially advocating for the investors / exec staff of companies? If the company doesn’t want to pay up then they have the option to not hire this individual. No one’s forcing them to hire this person. However, if they want this person to work at their company then they should meet his/her demands.

It makes sense for the potential employee to ask for what they think they deserve. The company doesn’t need to agree with it but they should be reminded and are probably quite well aware that there are plenty of larger, more established companies and “large start-ups” that are quite willing to meet or come closer to meeting the potential employee’s expectations and they’re always looking to hire.

If this start-up’s founder or exec team wants to build a great company and great products they may need to shell out the dough for a team capable of doing so. Those employees they’re hiring have their own needs, their own priorities, and their own families. This shouldn’t be surprising, and from what I can tell it’s not given the facts on the ground by which the writer of this editorial is so outraged.

Being professional shouldn’t just be a big company thing

Companies grow quickly and CEOs grow with them. In the best of cases, things break and tempers flare. Unlike being the custodian of a large pre-existing brand, this is very personal.

Again, people at large companies take things personally in their jobs as well so this is just ridiculous. They don’t view it as a custodian-ship. They care deeply and sometimes they act unprofessionally. The difference seems to be that at large companies they’re reprimanded. At start-ups it’s apparently ok. Look, no one’s perfect – I’m not suggesting people be fired for having an outburst but to act like it’s acceptable and not something that needs to be fixed is stupid.


I love living in Silicon Valley and working on software. I love working at a start-up. There are plenty of reasons for this that maybe I’ll get into in another post but the content of this editorial in particular but also in plenty of others has increasingly bothered me.

The constant denigrating of large companies and particularly the good, honest, hard-working people at them is ill informed and insulting. Arguing clearly for the interests of the capital as opposed to the labor is odd although not unexpected for “tech journalism” and it’s myriad investment interests. Lastly, the expectations of teenage angst and accompanying outbursts in start-up employees is something that should be called out as opposed to embraced as long as you’re “not just being a dick.”

I can’t possibly be alone in thinking these things. Am I? Let me know with a comment.