Recently, I ran into someone who I have met several times before and we both have a similar backgrounds in the financial markets. He told me he 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’ve 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 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 is no point in mentioning anyone else but I did, I asked him if you knew John Arnold, who left Enron in his early twenties and started what is now one of the larger energy trading firms in the world – Centaurus Advisors. It was pretty clear he was getting all defensive and said “he left Enron, 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 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 years old Barry left investment bank Houlihan Lokey and started selling illiquid assets using nothing more then some phones and an Excel sheet via a firm called Restricted Stock Partners. Now, his firm is one of the most recognized 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. SecondMarket has created a whole new market for startups that are making money but don’t want to IPO for whatever reasons they have.
Actually, I could give several more examples but there is a bigger picture here. For this young kid maybe being an entrepreneur is not for for him and sometimes I question is it meant for anyone. With all the ups and downs and the constant strain on your health, wealth, friends, etc. Most startups are usually doing 4 things: begging for business, tweaking their product, getting publicity or addressing customer issues. And, those 4 things are not very sexy but once you have achieved your goals all 4 of them make for a great story.
In most instances people feel they are above doing the “messy” work that I mentioned above, such as begging for business. Begging might be a strong word but in essence it means cold calling, going to events where customer might be or giving product demos. I know many people that are working for large companies and they are really good at their job but would absolutely die in a startup and vice versa. I need to realize it’s a choice and it’s not for everyone.
Article on Barry Silbert and SecondMarket in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (link)
The above article originally appeared on VCCircle.com.