Dec 3 2013

Don’t Start a Company, Kid

The day before Thanksgiving, I read a post on Hacker News:

Started a stupid company. Failed.

Ran out of money. Ran out of credit. Losing house in two months (already foreclosed). Wife pregnant. Three kids all under 6. Pretty sure I am the opposite of everyone here. I am no man. Just a statistic. Everything is gone. Selling spare parts to keep the lights on. It was a nice fantasy, HN. To the rest of you: fight hard and good luck.

In January, I’m going to wander from college to college begging the soon-to-graduate to apply for jobs at Big Nerd Ranch. Several of the most promising will tell me something like, “I’m starting a company with a friend. It is like Instagram for pet owners.”

This post is about why starting a company is just dumb. And I know: I started a successful company.

You are more likely to fail than you think. Nearly every story that you read about the founding of a company is one that ends with a successful company. In reality, most companies fail. This survivor bias is well-known, and I would not belabor the point, except that it is exacerbated by the next point:

The role of luck in success or failure is underestimated. You have a good idea? You are the smartest guy you know? You have a mature business advisor? So you think, “The ‘most companies fail’ rule does not apply to my company.”

You have wildly underestimated the role of luck.

Let’s take me as an example: I was a smart guy with a lot of real-world experience. I decided to start a professional services company for Apple technologies when Apple’s stock was below $10 per share. I had worked in the professional services team at NeXT and Apple, and I thought there was an opportunity doing training and consulting on Objective-C and its related technologies. I ran around explaining the beauty of these technologies to anyone who would listen, and Big Nerd Ranch managed to grow to seven employees.

And then, in 2008, Apple released the iPhone SDK and the seven of us were suddenly the best programmers in the hottest technology that had ever existed. Today we are more than 100 employees and we are world-famous experts in iOS, Android, JavaScript and Ruby. We have offices in Europe and Latin America.

Being smart and hard-working got me to seven employees. Luck took me the rest of the way.

If you read interviews with successful entrepreneurs, some will tell you that having the right people is the most important part. Others will say that a carefully planned strategy is key. Or core values. Or passion. Or the right investors. Or failing fast and pivoting. Or a commitment to doing something great. Why so many opinions? I suspect that few people appreciate the role that luck played in their success.

Or, even more importantly, the role that luck played in other people’s failure.

The first few years of a company’s existence are a terrible awkward adolescence. You will work like a dog. You will spend a large percentage of your energy on stuff that will eventually be thrown away. You will live on the edge of poverty.

But here is the worst part: Every company that you are competing with has an advantage over you. They know the industry. They have customers and revenues. They have their payroll system set up. You know how “fresh eyes” and “the beginner’s mind” are often touted as advantages? Well, 99.4 percent of the time, they are a liability.

When you start a company, economies of scale are working against you: Having one employee introduces just as much overhead as having a hundred. The value of specialization is working against you: You will spend hours doing something that would have taken someone else 10 minutes. (I have done every job at Big Nerd Ranch, most of them poorly.)

When you have Enough, the extra money means very little. I’ve been broke, and being broke sucks balls. Having Enough is awesome. How would I define “Enough”? Enough means that you can take a friend out to a nice lunch and not have to worry about how much it costs. I have hung out with a couple of billionaires—my experiences indicate that being a billionaire is just incrementally better than Enough.

Thus, as you look at your future, the question should not be, “How can I become a billionaire?” You should ask, “Where can I get Enough?”

Very few entrepreneurs have Enough; most of them eventually go get jobs.

(And don’t even talk to me about retiring early. There are few things sadder than a smart person who retires early and spends a few decades playing golf and waiting to die. If I am really lucky, I’ll push a clever chunk of code to Github in the morning and die at the dinner table that night.)

You are guessing about problems. When you start a company, you look for a problem to solve. You hope the problem is real, that no one else is trying to solve it, and that someone will pay you for your solution. But you don’t really know.

When you work for a company, like our client Procter & Gamble, they will present you with a problem. “Here,” they will say, “is our problem and a big bucket of money. Please create a solution.” There is no need for guessing.

Here is a video about Procter & Gamble’s problems and solutions. Big Nerd Ranch created many of the solutions.

The point is, old companies are desperate for innovation and they have the resources to take your ideas to fruition. You will probably have thousands of customers the same day you ship. There is a deep satisfaction that comes from being genuinely useful in this world.

The best part of creating a company is defining a culture. If you can find a company that has a culture you like and will pay you Enough to solve problems, go work for that company. Don’t start your own.


  1. Keuril

    Totally agree with the golf and waiting-to-die comment.
    But I doubt your exhortations will dissuade any would-be entrepreneurs.
    Or golfers :)

    • JBWales

      Totally disagree with the golf and waiting to die comment. Retired at 55 twelve years ago and have never been happier. Hated having to run the company every day, dealing with all the problems (mainly created by people) and having to suck up to customers. Truthfully, I was working in an industry that I loved and learned to hate. Money was good but what a waste of time. What’s more, I don’t play golf.

      • wm

        With JBWales. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it :)

        Dealing with the people problems gets old really fast. I’m growing super tired of the tech industry personalities and the entrepreneur ‘get rich quick’ personalities emerging from gen Y.

  2. Heinrich Beck

    Yes, you WERE lucky… who could have predicted the birth of the iPhone? Remember when WWDC was hosted in San Jose and you could get tickets AT THE DOOR? Now WWDC is hosted at Moscone (a far larger venue) and sells out in less than 2 minutes.

    BUT, I would ask that you make ANOTHER post about the stuff you did RIGHT.

    Some examples:
    - You always treated your customers exceptionally well.
    - Even after the class, you maintained a great relationship with your customers.
    - You never forgot who you were, and never lost sight of what you wanted to do. You didn’t start the BNR thinking, “Man, I’m gonna make an internet start up and sell it to Google for a fat stack and retire to Tahiti.”

    P.S. If anyone doubts that Aaron hasn’t “…done every job at Big Nerd Ranch” I can assure you it’s true. When I came to my first class, do you know who was the driver who picked me up at the airport in a “church-bus-looking” van at 10 o’clock at night? Yes, it was our hero Aaron.

    • Heinrich, you are the best.

      You are right: I’m very proud of the quality of our work and the integrity with which we have undertaken it. And It is certainly true that these things had a lot to do with our success. I’ll have to write that heart-warming post another day.

      (BTW: We traded in the shuttle van, which has treated our family very well for many years, last month and bought a new minivan. If you come to town, let me know and I’ll pick you up at the airport.

      • Erik J. Barzeski

        That first class (was it your first ever class?) was a good one, and I second Heinrich’s comments. You let me attend for a discount because I was a student, and helped with coloring the buttons on my goofy little periodic table app, and were always upbeat (I think it was the massive amounts of coffee).

        You treated a kid well and it’s never been forgotten. I’ve come and gone in software development – I teach golf a lot these days, ironically :D – but always look fondly on my trip to Asheville.

    • Nicholas

      Some of us were waiting for the iPhone for years! In fact I suggested that the one reason to create a mobile OS based on OS X was the NextStep tools. That was in 2000. Mobile is a long time coming, and has barely made the impact that is possible.

      I currently design corporate mobile products, and still consider returning to the grind of running the show. It is hard. It is a financial roller coaster. And, it is a lot of luck. Still…

  3. Sam

    Als someone with a company that is balancing between offering me barely enough and just plain failing I can’t agree more. I’m at a point where I’m not sure how long I should keep on trying, or if I should try again when things do fall apart. Need a rep in the Netherlands? ;)

  4. Trevor Gerzen

    Great perspective. I often think about and realize how important the hard working “no name” person that paints lines on our roads, stocks the milk on the shelves at the grocery store and manages the hardware at data centers are. For every Zuck who’s been thrown (about as much as he’s chosen to base jump) into the spotlight as some prodigy all should aspire to be, there are way more people that actually make the thing that people tout actually something to talk about.

    I’ve often thought that there should be more passionate worker bee types encourage others who would be awesome worker bees to be…well…worker bees. That’s awesome! Not everyone needs to create another thing that people don’t really need. Try helping an existing thing that does good already be even better. If at some point you have an awesome. Make the awesome.

  5. Z. Lou

    Being smart and hard-working got me to seven employees. Luck took me the rest of the way.

    That’s not entirely true. It is smart that make you pick the right thing to work on and hard-working to survive until the luck strikes.

    But is a world of capital. Don’t start a company without enough of them.

    • Austin Pontifex

      This makes no sense to me. How was it ‘smart’ to pick something Apple would explode several years later? And when did ‘smart’ and ‘hard working’ become synonymous?

      I really appreciate the honest perspective that a lot of successful companies just happened to be in the right position, at the right time, and that the events leading to their success wasn’t something anyone could have predicted or planned for.

  6. Hugh Whalen

    On June 30th I retired from teaching university business students. A lot of what you said could have come from my lectures…

  7. Eliot

    An alternative is to work freelance on other people’s projects some of the time and create the software you want to in between gigs.

    Not all software engineers work full time for other people.

    There are creators in other industries working like this; journalists, photographers, artists. A writer can do some less challenging work to pay the bills and then write a novel when they’re not working for the man.

  8. david

    Great article!

    You experience reminded me of a book I read a few years back called “Lucky Or Smart?” by Bo Peabody.

    Basically he founded a company during the boom, but realised near the end how much luck plays in success, especially when everyone at the time attributed their success completely to their business acumen!

    He ended up selling his company to AOL for many millions just before everything crashed!

  9. macbaum

    oh man, i wonder what richard branson would say to this article :D

  10. Rory O'Rourke

    I get that it’s hard, and I get that it might fail. I get that luck plays a huge part. But are those really reasons not to try? What is it worth to always wonder, and never try– to always take what someone else will give you, to leave no mark of your own on the world?

    Talk to someone who got laid off in their 50s from a company they liked, would they agree? Talked to someone that has pitched a thousand ideas to their boss and been summarily ignored by the corporate juggernaut. Old companies are not desperate for innovation, they are desperate for the status quo, only with better margins.

    This is just another version of survivor bias. You don’t know the other side.

    • Aristotle Pagaltzis

      If there’s something you want to make happen, that you badly want to make happen, and starting a company isn’t a stupid way to go about it – you should probably do it, and for the reasons you gave. I think the point here is, don’t start a company for the sake of starting a company. If starting a company is what it takes to do what you want, then start a company. If you want to start a company just because that’s the done or glamorous thing… don’t start a company, kid. (I think that Aaron would agree. “Instagram for pet owners” doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing to light a fire up its entrepreneur’s backside, and the quote “I want to be billionaire” doesn’t betray a burning desire to see something exist in the world, either.)

      Of course, you will still be subject to luck, and no more likely to succeed. (Though you will be less likely to pack up and go home at first encounter of hardship, which at least changes the odds, if not necessarily improves them.) But if you aren’t doing it for money/career reasons, then you’re at least not inherently making a stupid bet at very poor odds.

    • Kerry

      Rory- I agree with you whole hardheartedly. I’ve worked for big companies and I was only as great as my previous month’s numbers. As a visionary and innovator I can’t help but want to solve real problems. The only way I’ve found to do this successfully was to start the process myself and then enlist top talent to help bring my invention(s) to fruition.

      I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe in timing. You have to have a product or service that solves a problem or fills a need that consumers have now.

      Personally, I think the biggest challenge entrepreneurs have is what box the banks, angels and other investors feel you fit in. If you’re not IT, Medical Devices/Drugs or real estate, there’s no interest in investing. I believe that manufacturing start-ups deserve the federal and state funds allocated for start-ups that truly offer jobs, economic growth and revenue. When those who hold the purse strings finally understand the need for this country to ramp up innovation and manufacturing so that we can export more than we import then maybe we’ll hear more success stories about those who had the courage and determination to try and solve problems and make something better.

      Working for a company being “an awesome worker bee” is fine for most and agreeably needed. But when that company decides that your awesomeness is no longer needed and let’s say they give you a golden parachute at 55, then what?

      Being an entrepreneur and braving the challenge of starting a company is not for the faint of heart. I applaud everyone who tries, has failed or succeeded. Without that kind of spirit and determination, we wouldn’t have anything.

  11. jww

    Amen and amen. I co-founded a successful start-up in the first dot com boom of the late 1990s and made a bunch of money. I was, unreservedly and undoubtedly, lucky as hell. We were acquired and eventually I got out.

    And haven’t had any business success since. Nor have any of my partners. We are all smart, hard working, and creative. We have a History of Success (capital letters and all) and a Proven Track Record. We *still* are full of good ideas.

    Good ideas are easy. And cheap. And worth as much as what you paid for them: nothin’. Combine a good idea with hard work and you’ve got something. It’s something good, but probably not quite good enough. Good enough requires a good idea, and more hard work that you want to admit, and an ambiguous quantity of luck.

    You can’t buy luck, and you can’t even go looking for it. But you can, as Aaron mentions, go looking for existing good opportunities with others who have already found their luck.

    Aaron’s advice is the best business advice I have heard in ages.

  12. Valan Chan

    Great article.

    I have three points.
    Foolish people are normally defined as getting insanely rich from a hopeless idea.

    We need the foolish people to capture the luck.

    As already said, one of the things about true success is retaining clients.


  13. Bryan

    I really enjoyed this post!

    I think one of the things driving people to work for themselves is the flaws in so many big organizations. But there are exceptions! No doubt BNR is an exception :)

  14. Dan Turner

    Thanks for the article and the perspective.

    Indeed, I’ve talked with so many startups and wannabe startups in the last two years since grad school, and they all know at some level that 90% fail, but they’re all convinced that rule doesn’t apply to them.

    More problematic is their lack of interest and/or concern about doing basic user research (related to what Steve Blank calls Customer Development, in part). Almost all of these would-be entrepreneurs come to me with their idea (ranging from a jitney system to a mercury switch that automatically rotates display so you can read ebooks while holding your laptop like a book on the subway) and say, “I just need you to implement it”. (I’m UX, not a coder, btw.)

    When I ask them, “What problem does this solve, for whom, and how do you know this?”, the answer was almost always, “Well, _I_ want it” or “We have funding”. That’s when I start looking for a graceful way to thank them for their time and leave; they’re not going to want to listen to data. It doesn’t take months to test your hypothesis — and that’s all these Ideas are — against the real world, and iterate or abandon based on data.

    This is to your “You’re guessing about the problems” section. Sure, it’s a hunch. As I said, you can make hypotheses. But the UX process (see Gothelf’s “Lean UX”, Hall’s “Just Enough Research”, Buxton’s “Sketching User Experiences”) can be lightweight, rapid, iterative, and make it NOT a guess. You hire me, I help set up the process to move a guess into some degree of confirmation or abandonment, which opens you up to finding a real problem for real people that you can help solve. But this seems to go against what’s being taught in MBA programs. Indeed, survivor bias: they look at FB, at Twitter, not at the million failures in between.

    Needless to say, I’m still looking for a good fit. That is to say, the right job.

    These people should read this column.

  15. Doctor Biobrain

    Worse than newbies starting their own business are people who got lucky with one successful business and imagine it means they have the Midas touch and can therefore replicate that success as fast as they can think of another business to open.

    And that’s because you can’t dissuade them from the notion that they’re a master of the universe, so they throw caution to the wind and refuse to listen to anyone else. After all, they’re a Successful Entrepreneur, so they obviously know what they’re doing. And then when success doesn’t come, they imagine it must be someone else’s fault, since they’re a Successful Entrepreneur with a track record to prove it…even if their “success” really wasn’t that big to begin with.

    Fact is that hard work, intelligence, and a good idea is just the minimum for being successful. Luck won’t get you anywhere without these things (though all three can be purchased or stolen), but you still need luck to really break through.

  16. Marko Pavlovic

    So true, in so many levels. Only 2 things:

    1. I think AAron it come to the point where succesful founders are speaking the reasons of their success (pivot, investors, product etc.) as a top enhancment of the base which is the luck. We all started to understand that luck is the base for it and what we are asking, or we should ask, is what are the enhancments to the luck that makes us different and how we can improve those focuses like “product” to push it to the next level. We can’t realy on luck, even if we know we need it, starting with opinion that it is all about the luck will lead us to having bunch of founders who sit back while waiting the light-of-luck to hit them. In fact, we need to believe how it was our little enchancments that lead us through fights up to the victory and we need to know that luck was somekind of a basic passport.

    2. Not every kid starts Instagram for pets, some kids really focus on real problems or believe something can be done better. Not speaking of myself, yet to prove that.

    Anyways, amazing post, right to the bone.

  17. azulum

    As the son of an entrepreneur in the least glamorous sense of the word, I have only ever experienced the failure part in my lifetime. My dad built a sign business from scratch in the mid-seventies and poured pretty much all of the earnings back into the company. But then he was given the run around by Bank One on a sizable business a loan for more than a year—on the board was one Dean White of Whiteco, now worth $1.8B, wanting to bring his business into the fold—violating just a few laws along the way for which he was never prosecuted.

    He said no out of disgust, taking everything to a different bank, but the damage had been done. The people that he was going to bring along with that money were no longer available to run the manufacturing operation, and the back-up plan turned out not to be so trustworthy. The little recession around 1990 decimated a company that for some reason was living off the free cash flow from new deposits—that some reason ended up being that some pretty large portion of the 30-odd people were selling his signs off the books and pocketing the money while bearing none of the costs. He found out when driving through Chicago seeing his crew putting up a sign he didn’t know existed.

    He folded the company, disregarding the lawyer’s advice to take initial deposits from new customers and then bail. Six grand in lawyer’s fees later, after the deed was done, the state wanted $100K in sales taxes on the goods sold from the one person who never saw any of that money. And because he wasn’t incorporated properly, that burden fell on his own personage.

    Who would expect that the reason funding wasn’t coming was because some big wig was stalling it? Who would expect that the people you see working the few moments you aren’t beating the streets would be building things and cutting you out? His one glaring mistake in all of this, besides being too nice of a guy not to scam and cheat and sue his way to the top, was that he couldn’t just walk away, because he was bearing the liability as an entity himself.

    So if you choose to start a business, because let’s be honest, no one really listens to advice dispensed on the internets, be careful who you trust, have checks to keep the honest honest, use a good lawyer to incorporate, AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, LIMIT YOUR LIABILITY BECAUSE SHIT HAPPENS.

    Your children’s lack of anxiety and depression will thank you.

  18. Ryan

    Your right, people who “want” to start businesses probably shouldn’t but some people “need” to. Some people can’t live their lives playing the safe route just because they may hit some bumps when they try. Some wont be satisfied until their reality matches their ambitions. This is good advice for the majority but true entrepreneurs at heart could care less about this article.

  19. Ted

    Aaron, luck surely plays a part. But planning and preparedness are key ingredients. Luck, good or bad, can definitely influence a company’s trajectory, but if the company is customer focused, nimble and tuned in to the needs of the market, luck is minimized as a factor for survival, let alone success.

  20. Phil Dhingra

    I ran Stanford’s BASES Entrepreneurial Leadership Talks one year, and the best talk I heard was from a guy (ran a billion dollar software company, forgot his name) and said that of all the single imperatives, like “hire great people” or “work hard,” the most important one is to be in a growing market. That is by far the easiest eliminator of the luck component. If you are in a growing market, even mediocrity will deliver “Enough.” I’ve made good apps for iOS and i’ve made meh ones, but because it has been a growing field, I’ve always made at least enough collectively from them (plus the iOS consulting on the side)

    So I would say don’t worry too much about the luck factor. Find a hedge.

  21. Steven Fisher

    I’d extend “enough” to include a few weeks of a really nice vacation a couple times a year, with enough spending money to have a little fun occasionally. Someone I know online (only) posted some photos he’d taken from a helicopter over Hawaii, and I thought to myself “I want that vacation!” I’m not talking every vacation, but sometimes, rarely… something *that* cool.

    I don’t want a billion dollars. I want to be ahead of my debt enough to have the occasional fun, so that I can go sit down and work my ass off again.

    • Wes Peters

      I have a friend who retired 3 times, the 3rd time at age 58. He told me “I’ll never be independently rich, but I’m independently middle-class, and that’s enough.” Aaron was right, enough is enough.

  22. Frank Rietta

    Aaron, though I enjoyed reading your point of view, I cannot help but think that someone with the entrepreneurial spirit who settles for just a job has left something on the table of life.

    In general, for those who do succeed, starting a company is a safer path because it can diversify income and has an upside. Employees in most companies have no upside. The most they will ever make is there salary and they can be fired at will because of the decision of one person for reasons outside of their control.

    For the kid who wants to start a company, is it not better to ask about the intended business model and how he or she intends to produce a minimal viable product to test if there is a product-market fit. You know, the standard startup coaching that everyone who “has an idea for a life changing app” needs to be walked through. And be sure to explain the concept of time boxing and methods for minimizing the downside risk. Then 3 or 6 months down the road, the young adult can come to work for Big Nerd or another company with a valuable experience that cannot be taught in school. He or she will have a story to tell that is different than the norm. And that can make all of the difference.

  23. Steve Weller

    Hand-in-hand with people underestimating the amount that luck plays in their business is their overestimation of the amount of control they have over key parts of it, especially in tech.

    The reality is that they struggle to control the (changing) 20% or so that is controllable and the rest is chaotic or has several minds of its own. I think one of the skills a successful business owner has is recognizing what that controllable piece is at any one moment and working like crazy to seize it to their advantage.

  24. Gainor Hillegass

    Well said, Aaron! You would be a good judge of entrepreneurial acumen on “Shark Tank”!
    Everyone is going to read this article because of it’s title, which is what you want – to warn others of pitfalls. You had all that it takes to be successful, and it looks like luck played a big part. But mostly what you have is an instinctive knack for knowing when your “ship came in”, or when your “train pulled into the station”. You recognized opportunity when it showed up, and you were ready to capitalize on it. I say to you, well done!

    Now you get to do new stuff that’s fun and exciting. Betcha you’ll land you another one, possibly to your own surprise!

  25. Oluseyi

    The best part of creating a company is defining a culture. If you can find a company that has a culture you like and will pay you Enough to solve problems, go work for that company.

    And if I can’t find that company, then I’m OK to start one?

    I think American/Western corporate culture is toxic. Literally toxic. I think it denigrates and exploits people and offers meaningless totems to disguise the fact that you’re being worked like a dog. I think that the IT industry, in particular, is life-hostile, which is why it lionizes responsibility-free twentysomethings, corporate hackathons (“write code for us for free on the weekends!”) and insane crunch.

    There are some things I’d like to do in technology. It’s also the skill I possess that can get me paid Enough most easily. But the sacrifices that are demanded in return are harder and harder to abide. I know I’m leaping off a cliff with a 35% reliable parachute. I know I might just not be lucky.

    Still. Geronimo!

  26. Hilary

    I have been ruminating on startup successes for a few days, mostly from a ux point of view, and only just read your blog today. Wholeheartdly agree, thanks for writing it.

    Btw I started a biz about 20 years ago that got flattened by a new tax law not long afterwards.

  27. Darren Miller

    So any “kids” who are the target audience of this post (which I confess I am not), please read it knowing it’s purpose is to recruit employees. This man wants to pay you for your talent as a path to growing his own business.

    It may be that suits you both down to the ground, but don’t let it put you off pursuing your own dream if you have one. Consider if Aaron would take a different path if he had his time again. I suspect not.

    There is a huge satisfaction to being your own boss. Of course it comes at a price and that is financial risk and hard work. You need money in the bank. Have some before you start and don’t let it run out. Other than that, if you believe in your idea, surround yourself with talented people, listen to their advice and go and make it happen.

  28. Johan

    Hi Aaron

    Thanks for the insightful article, you’ve articulated a lot of things that have been running through my mind. I agree with the premise of your article, but I think you missed out on two other incredibly important factors – wealth and influence.

    I run a small graphic design business in South Africa and have seen a big portion of small design businesses in my area struggle and fail. This is due to a few factors I won’t discuss in depth here, but can be summarised as being due to a changing landscape and recessionary conditions in the country. I look at some of the companies that have failed, and the only real difference between mine and theirs is that I had a network of wealthy and influential backers I could call on for help in the darker moments. This is also why the gap between the 1% and the 99% keeps growing – the wealthy can weather the storms (and even step out the other side healthier than before through cheap acquisitions etc), the 99% can’t and have to rely on luck alone to avoid the biggest storms.

    I hope I’ve given you something worthwhile to mull over, all the best!

  29. Ilya

    While the logic of this article is clear and absolutely correct, I still have one question for the Master.
    See, my bio-chemical levels rise when I think of a particular coding project I want to start and accomplish, and this feeling brings a lot of joy to my life, I feel great. On the other hand some other coding projects do not nearly have the same effect. I realize that in order to do the exciting project the way I see it I’ll have to venture out and start a small business, and this will most certainly result in a fail. Contrary, some other mundaine projects do not require any of that risk, and will even land me some extra funds. So, the question is: do you suggest I still take a chance and try doing the thing I can’t let go even if it doesn’t pay off, or I drag on with the ensured job for some time till the point I realize that I should have at least tried my luck at least once?
    Peace, and good luck!

  30. Ronald Stepp

    Thanks for the article. I agree that I would be happy making enough money doing something I like. Enough for me is being able to travel occasionally, visit relatives, help close family members financially when they are also out of luck, and covering health care.

    So I am trying to focus, build my skill-set in a field I like and feel like I can contribute a line of valuable quality products and enjoy myself while putting enough away for when I “retire” at the dinner table one evening in the far future.


  31. Paul Naro

    Great article Aaron! I’ve always loved your books and writing style, not to mention admiring your business from afar. As a small business owner, I find that perseverance also plays a huge role in success, probably as much as getting lucky in the marketplace. The hard work never ends, and for me that is not only the cost of running a company, but the privilege of working for myself. Like you, I wear many hats, form lead programmer, database administrator, server maintainer, tech support, etc.

    Through the years we’ve maintained a simple philosophy: Provide support the way we would like to have it and listen to and respect our customers. We aren’t in business to make something and then sell out for a ton of money, but rather for the joy (and aches) of working for ourselves and building something we can be proud of. “Enough” is great, but money isn’t the only reason.

  32. Faz

    When you are a small company (albeit the highly regarded BNR), its hard to get great talent.
    Aaron wants top quality people. Everyone does. For potential employees, the way it works is a bit like pension investing. At the beginning you place your funds in high risk investments, since if you lose money, there is plenty of time to catch up. Nearing retirement, you take low risks as you won’t be able to recover from them. So smart graduates go high risk (high equity reward) early by doing their own startup. If it does not work out, just take the next most rewarding option. That is a big name tech company (pay/perks/interesting work/prestige). Being smart, and working for a small company offers culture but otherwise won’t compete with big tech firms. You’re third option is working for a small company (without equity).

    If you’re not the top person everyone wants to hire (i.e. most people), you consider all firms (and maybe a startup of course). Its just that it is hard to get the attention of small companies because if you are small company, you only want top people because each employee has such a big impact on the overall business.

    Smaller companies do best to hire older (experienced staff) and provide a good quality environment, and stable/reasonable pay. This matches their needs/risk profile, and provides sensible reward to the employer (experience versus super-star ability).

  33. Eddie

    This is quasi-useful advice because a lot about getting entrepreneurship right is timing. Who could have predicted the iPhone? In hindsight it was quite predictable but the question is more about timing. Steve Jobs said the iPad was in R&D for about 10 years and then they shelved it and came out with the iPhone first. In other words, tablets were a work in progress for some time. Its not so much about being lucky in terms of blind luck, its more about positioning yourself with your skills in the timeline (also having some vision of where things are heading directionally). Aaron positioned himself to avail of the punctuated equilibrium of the iPhone SDK unveiling by having become a skilled Objective-C developer back in the days when people were poo pooing NeXT.

  34. Kent Massey

    I have started several companies. Some bombed; some succeeded. I agree wholeheartedly with Aaron’s point about the importance of luck. I would, however, elaborate along the lines of Phil Dhingra’s comment above — I believe the primary component of “luck” is actually “timing”. If your business is well run and you catch the timing of a market upswing just right, you can be very successful. The problem is, you can’t control timing. You can guess at when a market will take off, but those sorts of guesses are notoriously inaccurate. In a small business, being off by a year or two can easily be the difference between failure and success.

    Aaron clearly ran a great little business and paid attention to all the right things when he only had seven employees. When iOS was unveiled and his market suddenly exploded upwards, he was able to ride that wave. It also sounds like he has managed his ride upwards in a way that is compatible with his goal of “Enough”. In the last few years of iOS’s geometric expansion, he clearly could have grown larger than 100 or so employees. I knew many companies during the late 1990′s Internet boom that shot for the moon, only to crash and burn when reality came for a visit.

    As for the post on Hacker News that started this thread, I poured my heart and should into my first company for three years, building it to about a dozen employees. Then we hit a sales slump in one quarter that wiped us out. I lost the business. I lost my house. I still remember one day when I was trying to figure out what furniture or jewelry I could sell to get enough money for groceries to feed my one-year-old child, spouse, and myself. A consulting checking appeared in the mail that day. I drove to the issuing bank and cashed it. That moment seemed like my lowest point, except that my spouse eventually left, and that wasn’t a good day either.

    God knows why I went on to start other companies. Those ventures, fortunately, were more successful. My second marriage worked out wonderfully, plus I’m still on good terms with my first spouse. So life goes on.

    I guess that some of us simply don’t know how to live without doing our own thing. Those of us who are entrepreneurs, however, need to be realistic about the risks we are taking and the impact of our business aspirations on those we love. As Azulum noted above, entrepreneurs need to take sensible steps, such as forming an LLP, to protect their families from the risks of their ventures. After my first company, I was also very careful to manage overhead, cash flow, and control variable costs. I worked hard to use OPM (Other People’s Money) wherever possible. When success did happen, I grew as fast as possible, but I stayed within my existing cash flow rather than become overly leveraged.

    All of us learn. Failure is a powerful teacher. The lessons I learned through failure have proven far more enduring than those I gained through success. The single most important lesson I learned is that success is all about timing, and you can’t control timing.

  35. Kent Massey

    In the third paragraph, “I poured my heart and should” ought to be “I poured my heart and soul”.

  36. Jason Beaird

    Can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear this perspective. The “fail hard, fail fast” mentality of today’s startup culture encourages too many smart people to do truly stupid things. There are definitely rewards in chasing dreams and taking risks, but when enough talented people invest that energy in a company they believe in, amazing things happen.

  37. Charlie W Chen

    Being 25 years in entrepreneur and experienced in driving at least six tech start ups, I would share my two-cents:
    First time you need some luck to start with, (lucky being healthy, smart, and not buried in liabilities or worrying three meals) the rest you create luck with your gains, your experiences, your investment in time and efforts of doing valuable and meaningful things.

    Enterprise is a business that requires efforts. In other words, only speculation needs pure luck. Continuing investment is the key of success. No money to invest? Then invest in time and efforts, improving your skills, in offering help to others, doing something valuable to others, even just offering smiles to people! Luck will smile at you door.

    Just asked by my 31 years daughter, should we invest in “bit coin” (which is hot now and I’m still learning how)? My answer: that’s a speculation, not an investment. Especially for young people, either career jobs or creating jobs, you need focus on investing not speculating, otherwise eventually it will be lucky out!

    Good luck, every person needs some. And as a person (not born as animals), we all have some already!

  38. Ian

    Relatedly to the luck thing (and this is aimed at the younger/college set, here): Like getting laid, it’s not enough to “want it”, you have to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time, and arguably the most important one of those is being the right person. If you are not 100% self-motivated, you are probably not the right person. If you missed more than a handful of classes in college you are probably not the right person (there’s arguably an exception here for missing class to work on your startup, but I digress.) If you got drunk/high more than about once a month in college, you are probably not the right person. If you missed more than a handful of classes (there’s arguably an exception here for missing class to work on your startup, but I digress) you are probably not the right person. Here’s why: When it’s just you, or just you and couple other people, everyone involved has to wake up every morning ready and willing to piss excellence — do whatever needs to be done, and do it well — all while getting crapped on by everyone and everything around you. If you are the kind of person that needs their “down time”, or their “beauty sleep”, or to “cut loose” every weekend, you are probably not the right person. To be sure, people can change, but becoming “the right person” doesn’t seem like a change that’s likely to happen in the midst of the circumstances surrounding a start-up (i.e. scarcity, stress, etc).

  39. Rhett Soveran

    You are a rich, white male inside of a system that is built to catapult white men to success… and actively trying to persuade people to not attain your level of wealth, but be happy working for you… the wealthy, white man? This story sounds familiar.

  40. Andy M

    Saw this article posted elsewhere, just wanted make a comment directly to the author. Specifically, I’m calling BS.

    In 2007 I’d call this article inspirational, after 2008-20012, I’d call it delusional. I was a happy pawn right out of college, and for a while, in early 2007, I felt the safety of getting a steady paycheck. After four years of seeing other people get laid off I can’t stand it any longer when people say, “Find a good company, work for them.” The fragility of Corporate America is unnerving. I’m sure there are some full of great cultures, benefits, and honest owners. But most, heck, almost all, like Procter & Gamble, are full of timesheets, limited vacation, and politics. You’ll be laid off to save the profits of the top, and while I’m sure failing on your own is crippling, at least you did it on your terms. Seeing someone get blindsided and sent home, that long car ride home not knowing what to do next, seems far worse.

    The way I read your article is that you’re far better aiding someone else in their success than trying to achieve it on your own. Of course luck plays a role, that isn’t a eureka moment. Luck plays a role in me not getting cancer after eating too many hotdogs, luck certainly plays a role in entrepreneurship. I don’t understand why you’re solution to the game is to avoid playing it; why try to win if you might fail. For me, I’m in year seven of working for a general contractor, and I’m at the point where failing miserably on my own seems more appealing than living miserably for someone else. What am I going to do, hell, I don’t know, but I’m going to try to succeed even at the risk of failure.

    I wonder, Mr. Hillegass, how a younger you would have reacted to reading this article a decade or two ago. Would the risk of being unlucky scare you away? The price of success is the risk of failure, and failure is always an option.

    • Brent

      Yes! Agree completely. We can’t let FEAR be the driver that keeps us in the SIX FIGURE COMA working for the MAN. Someone has to do something new. Is it you? Bootstrap it and try!

      or be scared, stay in the coma & maybe you’ll do something in the next life

  41. Dan Turner

    One thing I’d add, as one personal data point: the “what” matters.

    There have been opportunities lately at startups and I can’t tell you that though I could likely do a good job for these companies, I’d probably shoot myself if I was exerting myself just to help someone figure out how to send out more marketing spam, or sell more luxury items, or upsell more in-game purchases. Maybe it’s the background in journalism, but contributing to the public good (solving real problems, etc.) is more important to me than an extra cash bonus, or an in-office tiki bar, or team hoodies.

  42. Jerry Ballard

    I’ll keep this as non judgmental as I can politically, but this is a really important article for the following reason.
    What we shall, for lack of a better descriptor, call ‘the Right’ in this country puts forward as their solution for everything from unemployment, to poverty to health care, is the ‘entrepreneurial ethic’. By this, I think they mean that everyone should go out and just start up their own business. No need for a social safety net… just come up with that great idea and become the next Bill Gates.

    Being an entrepreneur is not something that everyone (or even most) are suited for.

    Thanks for a great article.

  43. Bill (not THAT Bill)

    1) Most people I know that have started a successful business do not take a vacation for the first eight years.

    2) Most people I know that have started a successful business DO work 80 or more hours a week for at least the first six years of their business.

    3) Most people I know that have started a successful business are married and one of the couple runs the business side of the business and the other the “production” side of the business. Neither tell the other how to do their part of the job but do keep the other informed.

    4) Both agreed BEFORE they started the business that their marriage or friendship will probably fall apart and that the business (money) was ultimately their goal and that for the benefit of both of them they would see it through. If they are LUCKY they will have both the company AND friendship but chances are they won’t end up with both.

    5) It doesn’t hurt to be a sociopath. The next time you think I’m not serious about this, think about the person that runs the company you work for. It might be yourself. Does that person who may be use care, really, really, really care about the rest of the employees as much as themselves? No? Didn’t think so. Because if they did, they would be too worried about them and not about the business. I’m not joking about this. Aaron might be a great guy but if for some reason his business hits hard times, is he going to worry about every employee or himself and his business?

    6) Every successful business person I know admit that luck had as much to do with their success as hard work did.

    7) Always hire a great lawyer. Great lawyers are expensive. Cheap lawyers are a dime a dozen and not worth a dime.

    8) It’s better to be born into a rich family which can absorb your many failures without batting an eye or causing any wrinkles of worry before you eventually learn to be successful (meaning you are finally finding luck to go with your really hard work and that of people who are working for you) and make as much money as you cost your family.

    9) Assume your employees will steal from you and try to cheat you but do not accuse them of this unless you have proof. You could be lucky with the first 10 or 100 employees but eventually one or more will try to make money off of in in ways that aren’t good for your business. Do your best to make sure you will recognize this when it happens. Don’t find out the hard way, like in the case with the above post about the father with the sign business, that your employees have started another company you don’t know about using your tools, your money, your contacts, etc.

    10) Assume that the economy will not be your friend. Take measures to protect yourself financially. If you bet the “farm” one too many times, the house will win and you will lose. The house always wins if you don’t know when to stem your losses.

    11) Assume that you will have to re-invent yourself and your business multiple times. Assume that the business that you started out with won’t last you for the next 20, 30, 40 years because the world ten years from now won’t be like it is now. It will be that much different 20, 30, 40 years from now than it will be in 10 years. Stay nimble. If Aaron had started his business assuming that he would be programming Next programs or Mac OS X only, he would have lost out on iOS and his business would be a lot smaller than it is now.

    12) Last but not least. JOB = Just Over Broke. Your employer doesn’t want you making enough money to quit your job. It’s too expensive to replace you so they will pay you only what they absolutely have to pay you so that you won’t leave and take a job that is, from a company view, barely more than what you are making now.

    To YOU it may seem significant but unless you are very very lucky (notice the word “lucky”, just as in you have to be very lucky to be successfully run your own business for a long time) you will actually make a whole lot of money working for someone else. Most people, the very big vast majority of people don’t.

    And if you are that lucky, consider this. You weren’t chosen by the gods to be lucky. You aren’t a chosen person. You were just damn lucky. Try not to let it go to your head. Just ask the “lucky” people in Vegas or Monaco how fast luck can change. Wasn’t I lucky and rich a minute ago? How come I’m suddenly poor again? Wasn’t I chosen by the gods? No. Just lucky.

  44. Markus

    So in summary you say, don’t found a random company for all the wrong reasons. What a revelation… oh wait…

  45. George Coghill

    So hard work got you to the point where you had “Enough” to makes you happy, consider yourself a success, and on top of that was your “lottery ticket” for luck, which you received.

    I’m missing the point where one shouldn’t do the exact same thing? Or at least try if that is what is within them? I know I needed to start my own business so that I could at the least know that I really did try, and have zero regrets about it. That kind of regret can be toxic.

    Seems to me you would have been happy had the luck of the iPhone situation not come about. Where is the downside here?

    Sure, you may fail. But you will never even have the chance of winning that lottery if you don’t buy the ticket, as the old saying goes.

  46. Tom

    Two things. First, you ignore the fact that most software projects fail — even now in 2013, and even big internal ones where The Company hands you a mountain of cash and a problem they wish to see solved. It’s certainly great that The Company will pay you a regular paycheck even if they keep putting you on projects that they cancel (or mismanage into failure). But if you’re looking to “have thousands of customers the same day you ship”, a big company seems no more likely to help you here. I’ve made a lot of money from big companies, and they are great at that, but I’ve worked at a P&G-big company for a few years and never saw any program I worked on ship to any customers. Months and then years of scope-creep, team turnover, changing requirements, and finally merciful cancellation.

    In my experience, the bigger the company, the more money you’ll make, and the less likely you’ll ship any software to anybody. Also, the bigger the company, the less likely that their problems are at all interesting, but that’s a personal opinion.

    Second, you say that hard work got you to 7 employees, and luck got you to 100+. Would you say, then, that for somebody whose goal is to work at a small company (say, of fewer than 20 people) that starting a company is a reasonable tack?

  47. Jayden

    Great article. But here’s a missing point: luck is created by hard work. To use a Golfing analogy – one of the greatest Golfers in history stated that:

    “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

    If you have one crack at one business, chances are you’ll fail. If you have 100 shots at 100 seemingly good ideas, chances are a few of them are going to get you “Enough”.

    My advice, listen to this because it has some truth. But keep going.

  48. Abe

    Have you folks heard the old proverb “Luck happens when Preparation and Opportunity meet”?

  49. John Abbe

    We need to get to the era in which getting to seven employees is a success, not a failure. Someone starts a company and they manage to provide a livelihood for themselves and six other people, by together delivering something of value. This is a good thing, right?

  50. Walter Overby

    Hey Aaron,

    Great post. It definitely resonated with me. I moved to ATL for a startup that had absolutely everything going for it, except that one unlucky thing that killed it. It doesn’t make me sorry I had tried it (and put so much of my life into it), but it sure gives me pause about ever trying it again. When I hear people talk about their great new startup, I hear myself in their voices, then I think about Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park: The Lost World: “Oh yeah, ooh, ah, that’s how it always starts, but then later there’s running, then screaming.”

    Hope to see you around!


  51. Dan Turner

    Well, for Batman, victory lies in the preparation.

    Though I’d say that in the case of starting up a company, doing basic user research is part of the vital preparation. (Again, see my comment on how to reduce the “you are guessing about problems”.)

  52. Ben Ku

    Nice article, Aaron. It’s much better to start with a product or solution and then grow into a company than to try starting one from scratch with only an idea.

  53. First, I was really touched by the stories of failure that were posted here. It is really honest and bold thing to be willing to share them.

    Now, for the haters who question my sincerity: Imagine for a moment a world where lottery winners are treated like heroes. They talk about their strategies for winning the lottery in books and magazines and websites. People seldom talk about the people who lost the lottery, and when they do it is to explain why they lost: “He played WAY too many even numbers.”

    Now, imagine that you are someone who has spent a career on the lottery. You won once, but mostly you’ve watched people lose. You’ve seen huge amounts of human capital squandered on the game.

    Let’s say you post a essay that says, “There is a lot of luck involved in playing the lottery. Most people lose. Maybe you should do something else with your life.”

    And someone replies with “You just want us to work for you for a pittance while you make the big bucks playing the lottery!” What is the appropriate response? I’m a bit flummoxed.

    Several of the people here made comments that were essentially “I hear what you are saying, but I LOVE TO PLAY THE LOTTERY!” To all of you, I say, “Rock on. I have enjoyed playing the lottery and, heck, you might win.”

    Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, I appreciate that you took the time to read my essay and comment on it. Peace to you all.

    • Chris

      This is an extremely poor analogy. Lottery is inherently a game of chance, of probability (commonly known as luck). “Luck” in business is entirely different. It is the intersection of circumstance (something you should to identify as part of a business plan) with your abilities and offering. Business “luck” may not be predictable, but it is not random or simply a matter of playing often enough. You can never get better at playing the lottery, but you can certainly prepare, plan, and execute on a business plan in a way that make it more likely to succeed. This is what I wished you had written about, rather than dissuade “kids” (do you really not see how condescending that is?) from attempting what you did.

    • Will

      I can’t say how refreshing it is to hear someone who is successful that understands what you are trying to express. Too often, I see the “lottery” winners that think they are truly special (some are, but not as many that believe to be), but they don’t take into account the myriad of factors contributing to their success. I appreciate your realistic perspective.
      After playing the lottery in a few different industries, I’m learning to do programming so I can have enough. I’m new to the programming world (i.e. young grasshopper that barely understands HTML and CSS enough to think about JavaScript now), but I can see the need for good problem solvers and I do find it relatively fun. Also, at least in the programming world, even when you play the lottery, you can fail with marketable skills that pay pretty well.
      Thanks for your time. I’ll be coming back here.

  54. Rosencrans

    I got to see some of the code you’ve shipped firsthand and I agree, luck is the single biggest factor in your success.

  55. Matthew

    There seems to be two themes at work in your piece. Greed and risk-taking. I hold deep appreciation for the concept “Enough”, and I couldn’t agree more with that view. But in regard to your advice, Don’t start a company, I say as politely as possible, Thank you, but no thank you.

    “Ran out of money”, he’s an outlier. Many of us adjust our entrepreneurial wagers based on our position in life. Then again, some, like Ran, will bet the farm…and lose. This is human nature in all things, not just business. Twas ever thus.

    Now, I read this post through a couple of times just to make sure I got your message correct. I think I have, and after both readings I came away with the same feeling: I’ve seen this in a movie before. This is a test, right?

    I mean, a success in business certainly wouldn’t urge the _rest of us_ take a different path, would he? I was convinced that somewhere in the comments you would confess your slight of hand…but you haven’t.

    Do you recall the climax* of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? It goes down in Wonka’s office. Dreams are smashed, then a great twist of plot. Choice stuff. (Dahl’s so good, isn’t he?)

    No. Chapeau to the rule-breakers. Without these risk-takers life for the rest of us would not be as rich, and without the ups-and-downs of our business adventures an entrepreneur’s life would be far less interesting.

  56. Eric

    I worked 14 years at a giant of a company in Silicon Valley and was laid off last July. I got a bit of severance and 14 years of varied experience at that single company. Working for someone else had its benefits. Less worry of future work was one. But the downside was not being aware or in control of how the company chose its future. Sometimes an all or nothing attitude towards one’s income is nothing but pride boasting itself.
    Working for someone is good but planting other seeds to feed one self is also good. Like mutual funds sometimes the smaller investments hold one through the bigger ones taking a dive.
    Start a company in your off time. Work for someone else to pay your core needs. If your own company fills your financial needs then you are lucky. Or maybe you were right! There is a need for innovation and new companies to spring from garages everywhere. And yes, there are no guarantees. So diversify jet a little. Take one less vacation this year.

  57. Josh Brown

    I like this line a lot:

    Being smart and hard-working got me to seven employees.

    But I wonder about this one:

    Luck took me the rest of the way.

    I guess this may be true for you, but as I’ve read in Great by Choice, luck has less to do with the success of great businesses than setting a pace, doing the “20 Mile March,” continually making progress. Collins states that being prepared (for bad luck) and setting a pace contributes more to greatness than getting good luck.

    • azulum

      To Josh Brown—

      Luck favors the prepared. You can choose to be prepared, put yourself in a position to be great, but it’s the Goddess Fortuna that make the call. To paraphrase Nassim Taleb: mild success is due to skill, wild success is variance.

  58. Tailwagger

    Having co-founded a modestly successful startup that ran for three years, no VC, before being acquired, I’d second that notion that there is absolutely no question that luck plays a huge role in the outcome. But experience, wisdom, determination, competency, team building and passion have a lot to do with it as well. We were successful because we understood a piece of the industry better than anyone else, we had been hardened by many years of real world successes and failures while in the employ of others and we knew that those very same people just simply wouldn’t do what we saw needed doing. In the end, we were right and paid pretty handsomely for our efforts.

    IMO, if your starting a technology company to get rich you’re either a fool or an egomaniac. If you start it because you see the world differently and have something you simply must see come to fruition, something that you’re convinced others will rally to if only it was available, then you have a shot. But only a shot, because there’s a hell of a lot of luck involved.

  59. Tom

    Cogently argued, but people do not have universal makeup. Many are not cut out for risk and exploration; many others are just as ill-suited to spending their life at P&G.

    Lewis and Clark were enormously lucky; so was Steve. How grateful the rest of us.

    “Luck is the residue of design” – John Milton.

  60. Joey Omaita

    Nice perspective, will work for some but not for me. I’m only just beginning, but I know that I have in my mind several startups lined in in the next 3 years. Most companies fail, but mine won’t. But even if one of them ends up a failure, several others will succeed.

    But I would never see I’m “unlucky” for any failure or “lucky” for any success. Being in the right business and working hard and smart isn’t about luck. Luck is overrated.

  61. Gareth Elms

    Being in the right place at the right time is not luck.

  62. Robert Haag

    A buddy of mine once said “to start a company you’ve got to be smart enough to make it work and dumb enough to think it will.”

  63. EkoostikMartin

    Or you could start a company smartly, not be afraid to fail but not be too surprised if you do.

    Limit your liability (no reasonable person should lose a house or go bankrupt after a business fails). Develop your business plan, prototype and idea as far as you can BEFORE quitting your “day job”. Get funded so you don’t have to work for $0 salary once you go full time.

    Common sense?

  64. Neev (@neevgoldkin)

    This is some excellent food for thought. I’ve been surrounded by many individuals lately, all with great backgrounds and awesome ideas. I find it interesting that each one of these people wishes to work independently under their own company title.

    Right now I’m more about finding people I believe in and their product as far as a company goes. Then I provide my services under the banner of their company. However, I’ve realized lately that it puts me in a situation where I am dependent upon them to generate an income for me. So I have branched out a little bit as far as marketing my services directly. I’d like to be focused on selling those services rather than having some brand idea for a company that I market as a whole.

    I must say though that despite all this evidence to the contrary, I don’t seen entrepreneurs jumping ship anytime soon.

  65. Chris

    I’ll tell you one thing: I don’t care about becoming a billionaire, but ‘working for someone else’ sucks!

    The flipside of the coin here is that ‘finding a culture that you like’ is complete pie in the sky. If you don’t create it yourself, you’ll be someone else’s bitch, because that’s what it means to be an employee. No amount of foozball tables can hide that fact.

    I’d rather be a poor, struggling entrepreneur, clear-eyed about my chances of actually hitting it big (which stops me from drinking too much of my own kool-aid), than be someone’s bitch in a company that actually requires just as much of me than being an entrpreneur does because they still have to compete remember, and probably more because they want to become billionaires on the backs of their employees.

  66. Wakjob

    I can assure you there is no such thing as luck. You got to 7 employees by working working working all those years. But then when iPhone came out you were simply being rewarded for all those years of hard work.

    The universe rewards those who are willing to prove they want to go all the way and beyond. You worked and worked and worked for decades like crazy and has SOME success. But then the universe saw just how much effort you HAD put in in the PAST and you got the big reward.

    What people fail to understand is that he who wants it the most and works tirelessly to get IS the one who gets the big reward.

    You also LOVED what you were doing.

    No one can be successful who doesn’t WANT to do what they are doing.

    Most people fail because they are not 110% totally and completely committed to go all the way.

    They put in 1/2-hearted efforts, try a little and fail and give up.

    Instead TOTALLY dedicate to your goal. Then work and fail, work and fail, work and fail. If you keep persisting hard and long enough you WILL succeed.

    Too many people give up after a little failure.

    Are you TOTALLY committed to make something work? Have you DECIDED this is what you’re going to do no matter what?

    Thomas Edison tried 10,000 combinations of light bulb filaments before he stumbled onto the tungsten combination that we now use today.

    Edison said “I FAILED my way to success”.

    NO ONE can have success without trying and failing many times.

    There is no quick win. There is no easy path. The path to success is ALWAYS hard.

    The real problem is that people don’t want to take the hard path. Everyone wants the easy path and instant success.

    The universe doesn’t work that way. Success is hard and that’s the way it is.

    You didn’t just stumble into wild success with BNR. Your current success is the result of decades of hard work and dedication.

    Learn the Immutable Laws of the Universe and the prize is yours.

  67. Don Guernsey

    I am one of the guys who’s been coming to big nerd a long time. I think Aaron’s success is not luck.
    Money is not the indicator of success. I know a lot of rich people consumed by money and miserable.
    Aaron makes a high quality product.
    Aaron filled a market need.
    Aaron did/does what he loves.
    Aaron is very good to customers.
    Aaron pays attention to detail–very important to success!
    iPhone made his lucky money, but Aaron was a success before that.
    Want to be a success, do what you love, and follow the steps above. If you do you’ll have never worked and will have enough.

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