Recently, I ran into someone whom I had met several times before and we both have a similar background in the financial markets. He told me he had recently left his job and was looking for another place to work. I casually asked him why not start something, instead of working for another corporate giant. His response was "he was too young." I almost fell out of my chair and had brain freeze for a couple of minutes. I believe I have heard all the excuses in the book, but this was the first time I heard that one.
I looked straight at him and said, "Really? Ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg?" I also named a couple more people and his response was: "In the financial markets, I'm too young to start something on my own." At this point, I figured there's no point in mentioning anyone else. But I did. I asked him if he knew John Arnold, who left Enron in his early 20s and started what is now one of the larger energy trading firms in the world Centaurus Advisors. It was pretty clear that he was getting all defensive and said, "He left Enronâ did he cause the collapse?" At this point, I just backed down and said, "Yeah, you are right. You are too young." Not because of his age, but because of his immaturity.
I didn't mention the other person I had in mind, Barry Silbert. I recently had a chance to listen to a speech he gave at Stanford (via a podcast) and he was really impressive. At 25, Barry left investment bank Houlihan Lokey and started selling illiquid assets using nothing more than some phones and an Excel sheet via a firm called Restricted Stock Partners. Now, his firm is one of the most recognised names because when you hear those crazy valuation numbers for Facebook, Barry's renamed company SecondMarket is behind those transactions.. SecondMarket has become the de-facto platform for Facebook employees to unload their restricted stock options on the partially open market. In fact, SecondMarket has created a whole new market for start-ups that are making money but don't want to go for IPO for whatever reasons they have.
Actually, I could give several more examples, but there is a bigger picture here. Maybe being an entrepreneur is not meant for this young person. But sometimes I question, is it meant for anyone? Especially with all the ups and downs, and the constant strain on your health, wealth, friends and so on. Most start-ups are usually doing four things begging for business, tweaking their products, getting publicity or addressing customer issues. And those four things are not very attractive either. But once you have achieved your goals, all four of them make for a great story.
In most cases, people feel they are above doing the 'messy' work that I have mentioned above, such as begging for business. Begging may be a strong word but in essence, it means cold calling, going to events where customer may be present or giving product demos. I know many people who are working for large companies and they are really good at their jobs, but will absolutely die in a start-up and vice versa. I need to realise that it's a choice and it's not meant for everyone.