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Startup Journey, Part 1: Why a Startup?

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(This was originally posted by me on my tumblr, here.)

“An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” - Cobb, Inception

I want to found a startup.

Pretty simple idea, right? I wish. This thought, which began as a mere twinkling of a research idea over a year ago, has been a large blip on my radar all semester and has started consuming every precious cycle of my brain’s free processing time in the past two months. So in just over a year I have gone from thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” to considering transforming the entire charted course of my life.

Like a lot of people, I grew up with certain ingrained ideas about the proper and responsible path through life. Do well in high school. Go to college. Get a degree. Get married. Find a good job. Exceed expectations at said job, climbing the ladder while saving for retirement. Buy a house. Probably (definitely, if you ask my mother) have some kids along the way, and raise them right. Retire, possibly a few years earlier than the standard 65 years old, and buy an RV in which to tour the continent.

This paradigm has a lot going for it. It is stable, methodical, low risk if you set your mind to it, proven effective, and approved by wise elders everywhere as the “American Dream.” Above all, it’s fairly comfortable. But the standard paradigm also has some downsides.

I’m lucky enough to be engaged to the love of my life, and I plan to spend the rest of it with her. I’m a good student, mostly because I love learning. But the rest of it just seems so … stale. A nine-to-five job with a technology company or defense contractor? Frugality, saving, and some conservative investment? A mortgage in suburbia? All of it is palatable enough, but hardly gourmet fare.

Last summer, I interned for a large defense company. I was attracted to them because of the good pay, but also because they make some pretty cool stuff — radios, radars, and missiles, oh my! While the glamor mostly held up once I actually started working, a whole new facet of the business was revealed to me in short order. There was of course the office politics and bureaucratic nightmares that come with any large company. But much worse than that, coding for them was BORING.

Highly detailed specifications written and approved by non-coders and non-users. Standardized interfaces. Work orders. Design reviews. Code reviews. Nightly, weekly, and production builds. Meetings for meetings for meetings. Basically, it was everything from a software engineering class, but more institutionalized. Bleh.

I want to create. I want to find a big problem and fix it, or have a big idea and design, implement, and refine it. There was some of that at my “day job” last summer — I had a big hand in designing the user interface for some new windows — but it was mostly drowned in the muck and drudgery.

I want to be my own boss. I want to come into work at noon in shorts and a t-shirt and code my brains out until three o’clock in the morning. I want to build something users love, and make it even better by rapidly releasing new features based on their feedback. Though it is not unlikely that I will fail, I at least want a shot at solving the “money problem” early on in my life, so that I can do what I want for the rest of it instead of just doing what I have to. I want to work on something new, innovative, unique, and full of potential.

I want to found a startup.

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I want to found a startup.

They say the first step to recovery... just kidding. :)

"Found a startup" has a nice ring to it for those inclined to get bored with the norm, and that "ring" holds up, while at the same time bringing with it tons of work. Mostly, though, startups are exercises in patience. Especially with your connections to the military, the most stable employer of all, there will probably be times where you will second-guess your decision to take all risk of life on to your own shoulders. But that do-it-my-way desire, coupled with a solid amount of patience and perseverance (and cleverness and even-temperedness and cheerfullness and on and on), will sooner or later get you to realize your desires.

Good luck!

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