I used to be a bit afraid of using the term, "entrepreneur," or "founder," because I didn't know that just declaring something a company and marching forth was really doing any of these things. I'm now more comfortable with the term, because I do feel I am starting something here. I've spent quite a bit of time fleshing out the product, receiving feedback and minimizing risks through product decisions. I was lucky enough to have been doing the groundwork research for this product for the past year, even though I guess at that point I didn't really know that this is what I would be doing.
But perhaps the part that has really cemented it has been this: I'm not gonna lie, it's been a lonely couple of months. I don't think anything would have gotten me through this less than feeling compelled by an amazing vision and the belief that there is a huge opportunity in this space that no one understands. Some days I completely lost it. More than a few days I felt like the thing had grabbed hold of me and just dragged me through whatever I needed to get done. I've had great supporters for this project, and I appreciate them very much. But there's nothing like finding other people who see that vision and say, yes, absolutely, I get this and I want to dedicate some part of my life to making it happen. And it did seem hopeless for a while, like I would never find these people.
And that aspect of recruiting is perhaps the most soul-sucking part of the whole process: the number of mercenaries who simply want to move towards where they think the next pot of gold will be (but not actually take a risk on where that will be), the people who were engineers and technical people, but didn't seem to have much passion for what they did (as if the best thing they could aspire to would be to never have to write a line of code again), or, worse, the large number of people working in consumer internet, yet not being huge users of the internet - just because you use Facebook doesn't mean you love the internet. When I talk about vision, what I mean is, I believe in the internet as a whole, and particularly this product, as a vehicle for making people's lives better. I'm not building a hack, I wouldn't expend so much energy and emotion if I didn't think this product was important.
The advice I kept getting was, "You've got to create a developer culture," or, "You've got to treat your developers like gold - they are the company." Let me say this now: I am not here to create a developer culture. I am here to create a meaningful, excellent product for my (eventual)* users.* Anyone in the company should be valued because whatever their skill set, they should be working towards this end and having impact on it. If you're hiring people who should or can be discriminated against, then they shouldn't be there. When I talk to people I think, "Can this person have impact?" first, and second, "Can this person have an impact doing the thing they love to do?" I have spent the last few months being offended and critiqued by plenty of people who don't understand the skill set I possess, the value of what I do. And it's incredibly personal, because I love what I do. I can't imagine all the developers out there who feel unappreciated and ignored in their work. I'm sorry, I truly am. But creating an environment that attempts to compensate for that by discriminating against other disciplines and skill sets does nothing for this company: we are building a social product. There are many needs for this product, and I need to respect every one of them. The way to build the right culture, in my mind, is to build a team that has this same respect for everyone they work with - from the guy who keeps the checkbook balanced to the developers to designers to sales people. And I believe the way to get respect is to give it. If you're not prepared to do that, you aren't prepared to contribute to the end goal of getting a great product into user's hands. Period.
What's more, I think this attitude across a team sets up an even better situation for all parties involved: everyone is in a position to learn. And if you've got a team made up of the best, there's a real opportunity to grow and learn more about the disciplines you never really understood but wanted to learn more about. I look forward to working with my team to learn more about various technical problems and challenges, user acquisition, and all those things I know nothing about.
Another thing: a lot of people talk about building a team. I don't think that word is quite strong enough. This is just the beginning of a series of challenges to realizing this vision, and it's going to be a battle out there (better bring a battle axe and all that). I'm recruiting an army for a war, and I have just felt like I would need to find people who were going to fight for a vision they believed in. I don't believe this will be pretty or easy. So, if the entire team is bought into a vision and comes alive at the thought of bringing that to the world, I believe we will be more ready to conquer adversity, we'll be ready to fight the hard, hopeless battles. And there may be quite a few of those.
For awhile, I thought these expectations were too high - too much to ask anybody to fulfill. But, as I look towards the New Years, I've met some really great people who are ready to jump on board with this project, and I can't help but feel unbelievably lucky. Passionate, thoughtful, and curious. Pushing for excellence. A deep love and respect for online communities. These are just a few of the things that inspire me about these people, and I just feel a sense of relief that the beginning pieces for the company are there, a great start to (hopefully) an amazing thing, filled with more amazing people and experiences.
This isn't just a start up to me, this is an opportunity to make the world a better place. As I look around and see the state of the internet and its people today, I realize this product is a chance not just to ride that wave, but redirect it to something more powerful, something more meaningful. I believe we can create a product that creates a fresh set of opportunities for users that makes their life and their world a better place. And to have a team who believes that, who believes that they're fighting for this opportunity and vision, is the highest expectation I could have possibly had.
So here's to start uppin', armies, visions and the crusade we're waging.