Consequence and Risk

I sort of understand the programmer’s attraction to climbing, particularly structured climbing like bouldering. There’s a clear path to progression: you improve and you move to something harder or do something you’ve finished before in less time (sadly, you don’t unlock cheats).

But the extremes of the sport aren’t all that compelling to me. Unlike some people, I don’t post every insane climbing article and video I find.

I somehow found myself reading this New Yorker article about climbing a skyscrapertoday though. And something jumped out at me:

“I differentiate between risk and consequence,” Honnold told me. “Sure, falling from this building is high consequence, but, for me, it’s low risk.” Then he shrugged.

Startups can seem insane to people of certain other professions: why put everything on the line to run a job that will most likely fail? The common refrain in the media is that so-called “serial entrepreneurs” have some sort of unnatural risk-aversion thing turned on in their brain. The truth, I think, is actually much more banal.

For most folks in tech, Startups are actually the opposite of climbing. Incredible risk, but very little consequence. It’s unlikely you’ll actually reach your goal of getting rich or building a large company but if you fail, you have prospects in a ton of other startup jobs all looking to hire someone with your qualifications. The networking opportunities you need to attend to run a startup are practically a low-level job search with successful folks around your area.

This ties back to the idea that the single constistent indicator of startup success is how wealthy your family is.

There are two critical components of that indicator: first, because startups are inherently risky, more people will attempt to build a startup who have something comfortable to fall back on. So, people with plenty of money and/or job prospects.

Second is networks. Networks are significantly more critical to startups than even your idea. Every opportunity to talk about your startup is another dice roll that could give you a great new client, or a new partner organization. Before your natural flow of clients gets you new clients by itself, bootstraping this process is essentially a bunch of random rolls. You can optimize a little bit on how you pitch it, but your primary lever here is making more random rolls or more networking.

Having a well-connected family makes these connections easier. But it can be substituted out with have well-connected friends, or by spending time gaining more personal connections in that area.

Remember when this post was about climbing?