I read an interesting article about Silicon Valley and its everlasting issue with founder bloodline/pedigree and their increased likelihood of success.
Indeed, the notion that anyone with smarts, drive and a great idea can raise money and start a company is a central tenet of the Valley’s ethos.
Yet on close inspection, the evidence suggests that the keys to success in the start-up world are not much different than those of many other elite professions. A prestigious degree, a proven track record and personal connections to power-brokers are at least as important as a great idea. Scrappy unknowns with a suitcase and a dream are the exceptions, not the rule.
Do I disagree with the general theme of the article? NOPE. Actually, it’s pretty much what I have been saying for quite some time now. In fact, one could point to my clear lack of “pedigree” as a reason why I wasn’t able to secure seed capital for my startup Seconds, leading to Startup Death Valley.
But that is not what want to cover here. There’s no reason to complain about the pedigree issue at hand – it makes logical sense just as breeders/gamblers look for strong bloodlines in horse racing. Venture Capitalists are basically gamblers, and they will indeed bet on the person who has a leg up on the competition. “He comes from money so he can support himself during the early times while they are working on the product.” “He’s more connected so he’ll have an easier time attracting talent.” He worked at Google!”
It all just makes sense.
Today I want to talk about what the other 95% of us out there need to do in the face of these realities.
Pedigree is BS. If you are sitting here today with a less-than-steller history, you cannot do anything about it now. What’s done is done and you drew the short end of the lucky sperm club stick (whatever that may be…)
So forget about it. Life is not fair and we all need to get used to it.
Yes, the pretty girls get asked out more often. The good looking guy with nice hair and muscles gets the girls. AND the Stanford grad that happened to get hired at Google has a better chance at raising money and attracting talented developers than you or me.
So what to do?
You need to get to work. You need to work harder than others. You need to work smarter than others. You need to GO AND DO SOMETHING so that you IMPROVE your pedigree.
The thing about “pedigree” is it’s fluid. It can change based on your performance in life. You are not a predetermined soul in this world, destined to one outcome or another. Existential and uber-religious arguments notwithstanding, you are free to make your own decisions and completely change your “pedigree” in life. You can climb up into other classes/pedigrees.
I am sure you think pretty highly of someone like JK Rowling, who is responsible for the Harry Potter series and now worth almost a $1 billion. But, you may or may not know she came from modest means and actually struggled mightily in adulthood. From wikipedia:
Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as “the biggest failure I knew”. Her marriage had failed, she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating:
Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
During this period Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and contemplated suicide. It was the feeling of her illness which brought her the idea of Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book. Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”
Surely you know the rest of her story.
Pedigree is BS. You simply must work harder and smarter than others if you want respect and the attention from important people. You need to be willing to do what others aren’t will to do or haven’t even thought of yet.
1) If you don’t know anyone, make it a habit to get out and meet people. Go to events, shake hands, book meetings often, and generally do good things for people. They will start to know you better.
2) If you aren’t known for anything, START SOMETHING. Also, start writing or creating media of some sort and start pushing it out on social platforms. Trust me, if it’s unique and good in any way people will pay attention and start recognizing you.
3) If you aren’t from family money, BE GLAD. The bulls-eye is not on your back. Use this to your advantage and be stealthy in what you do. And when YOU DO SOMETHING, you will come out of nowhere and surprise people. Then they will start looking you up on LinkedIn and want to connect with you. You will be the next “up and comer”.
4) Embrace a work ethic. Since you don’t have a solid “pedigree” behind you, you will need to instill a strong work ethic into your life which will pay dividends later in life. A strong work ethic is one of the best attributes you can have in life, and not being born into silver spoons allows you to develop it and take ownership of it as you mature into adulthood.
I recently read where Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList, said something to the extent of “build for the longterm, no one really understands what the compounding effects of 10-20-30 years will do to a business and a career.” Well said. I believe NOT coming from means plays into ones advantage because they are not part of the “rich and lazy” bunch and thus will continue to work hard once they summit the first big mountain of success in their life.
Now put your boots back on, grab your ice pick and keep working.Image courtesy of Flick chriscom.
Well said Nick. Many successful folks come from modest means. Passion with perseverance.