It turns out that Burning Man is filled with startup founders streaming down from the Ramen-stocked futon-furnished studio apartments in San Francisco. This is shocking to me because it used to be that startup founders were obsessed with their companies. The founders thought of nothing but their product, their market, their competitors. There were no vacations, and there were no distractions.
Today startup founder is just another name for lucky rich kid who is probably a guy with no cares in the world except being able to say they are a founder. There is no urgency to scale. There is no self-imposed pressure to change the world. There is only the drive to impress friends. The most efficient way to impress lots of friends is to post photos of your this-is-so-fun life on Facebook. It’s why Gen Y spends so much money on their wedding photos and it’s why Facebook is full of unrealistic views of peoples’ lives.
You can’t publish photos of having a great life in a startup because there’s nothing to take a picture of. So you go to Burning Man – totally photogenic. And you go to SXSW, which used to be a place for early adapters to exchange ideas and now it’s a place for anyone who can pay for a ticket to say they are part of the tech sector.
I saved that picture up top of me because it’s what I feel like when I’m pushing myself to do something new. I felt this way when I was learning how to launch startups. And I feel this way now, when I’m trying to downshift my work to make room for homeschooling. Blurry, disoriented, wearing clothes that should to go in the laundry.
Okay. So startup founder is today’s version of the 1970s lawyer and the 1980s banker. It’s just what you do to show your college friends that you’re a success and they’re not. In fact, here’s a chart of the history of the non-risk takers of each decade. This is the sector the most noncreative people went into upon graduation:
1950s house in the suburbs
1970s doctor or lawyer
1980s investment banking
2000s online content and advertising
2010s startup founder
First of all, to be clear, I was in the Internet sector in 1994 and the reason I know it was not trendy until 2000 is that I had no way to explain to people what I was doing or why I was doing it.
You can bet that if you are in a job where people say “Wow, how studly of you. You are god’s gift to post-college success,” then you are not god’s gift to post-college success. In fact, you are god’s gift to rule-following, ego-driven, sheep-pasture grazing.
So the question is, where are the revolutionaries right now?
If you look at the chart, the risk takers are the people who experimented with what’s popular before it was popular. Most experiments fail, of course, but visionaries hit it right on the nose.
Just as the 1950s workplace experiment focused on creating a job environment that catered to suburban living. The 2010s revolutionaries create job environments that cater to homeschooling. It’s clear to me that homeschooling is inevitable for everyone who is not poor. And it’s clear to me that homeschooling is a logical extension of the current workplace revolution.
Given that, it’s easy to conclude that startup founders are no longer risk-takers or particularly interesting. It’s the homeschoolers who are pushing the envelope of what it means to work and what we ask from work. And I’m so excited to be part of this group.