Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #15
Learning from the founder of Friendster, fighting zombies, and winning pitch events
My favorite class to teach is my social marketing course. I’ve also been researching/studying/analyzing social media since back in grad school. So my guest on this week’s episode of Web Masters was a huge treat: it was Jonathan Abrams, founder of Friendster.
Friendster, for those of you who are too young to remember, is largely considered the first modern social network. It was the forerunner to (and inspiration for) MySpace and then Facebook. Even if you haven’t heard of it or used it, I think you’ll enjoy Jonathan’s story and learning what it’s like to launch an enormous industry.
And once you’re done with that, I think you’ll enjoy reading about founders battling zombies. You know… because zombies are always cool.
Pitch competitions aren’t the same as pitching investors. I’m pretty sure that’s why great fundraisers often loose pitch competitions. They know how to sell their company to a couple VCs on the other side of the table, but selling to a room full of strangers is a completely different skill.
Jonathan Abrams - The Programmer Who Invented Social Networking
Before Facebook became synonymous with “social media,” and even before MySpace was the coolest website on the planet, there was another startup that most people credit with inventing social networking as we know it. That website was called Friendster. And, on this episode of Web Masters, Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams tells the story of its rise and fall.
Listen now on:
…or just search “Web Masters” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Most people think failure is the worst startup outcome. But there's actually something much worse: Zombie Startups. I battled one for years, and, in retrospect, it was way worse than my failed companies.
Office Hours Q&A
Random question for you, but I want to get your take.
One of my co-founders bought some bitcoin a while back. As you’ve probably noticed, the price of bitcoin has gone crazy recently. Now we’re looking at how valuable his bitcoin is and how little work he did for it, and we’re wondering why the heck would anyone spend time doing a startup?
If we had just put the same money we’ve invested in our startup over the years into bitcoin, we’d have way more money than we have revenue and done tons less work getting it.
P.S. I realize this is kind of a false equivalency on a lot of levels. Obviously, you’d have to know bitcoin was going to go crazy. So I guess the question is more a broad question about how much easier it is to make money doing other things than startups.
For me, the most important part of this question is the postscript. Without that postscript, the answer would have to be something along the lines of: “Well… if you had a magic crystal ball that could let you see the future, then of course, you’d just buy a bunch of bitcoin if you wanted to become rich. But nobody has a magic crystal ball.” So I’m glad you’ve added your note about recognizing the false equivalency. That lets us get to the important point, which is that I disagree with the premise of your question.
Your question implies that the purpose of building startups is to make lots of money. If that’s what you truly think, I’ve got some terrible news for you: There are better ways to get rich than by building startups.
Too many people think entrepreneurship is about getting rich. True, some tiny sliver of people in the entrepreneurial community do create lots of wealth for themselves, and those are the ones that tend to get glorified in pop culture and the public imagination. However, that doesn’t make “getting rich” the norm by any means. Nor is entrepreneurship the best, easiest, or most likely way to get rich.
So if entrepreneurship isn’t about getting rich, what is it about?
Different people are going to give different answers, and I can only give you my perspective. For me, I’ve got two motivations. First, I personally enjoy the puzzles of entrepreneurial problem solving. In other words, I think entrepreneurial work is fun. It excites me. It gets me out of bed in the mornings. The fact I can also make a living while doing it is a bonus. But the money I earn isn’t the driving force.
The second reason I enjoy entrepreneurship is because, at its core, I believe the purpose of entrepreneurship is to help other people overcome their problems. I like knowing my work -- even something as simple as this weekly newsletter -- can provide value to others, and so I pursue entrepreneurial projects because it aligns with my personal beliefs about how to exist as a citizen of the world. That has no correlation with becoming rich. Heck... I know I’ll never get rich from this newsletter. But I still write it.
One final thought on this question: I realize my answer might seem a bit sanctimonious. That’s not my intention. I’m just sharing my personal reasons for pursuing startups. They don’t have to be yours.
It’s perfectly fine to want to make lots of money building startups. It’s also worth noting that making lots of money and helping people aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, making lots of money often puts people in the unique position of being able to help more people.
However, if you’re motivated by wealth, then it’s probably worth recognizing that startups aren’t the best option.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!