Before college the two main things I worked on, outside of school, were writing and programming. I didn’t write essays. I wrote what beginning writers were supposed to write then, and probably still are: short stories. My stories were awful. They had hardly any plot, just characters with strong feelings, which I imagined made them deep.
The first programs I tried writing were on the IBM 1401 that our school district used for what was then called “data processing.” This was in 9th grade, so I was 13 or 14. The school district’s 1401 happened to be in the basement of our junior high school, and my friend Rich Draves and I got permission to use it. It was like a mini Bond villain’s lair down there, with all these alien-looking machines — CPU, disk drives, printer, card reader — sitting up on a raised floor under bright fluorescent lights.
The language we used was an early version of Fortran. You had to type programs on punch cards, then stack them in the card reader and press a button to load the program into memory and run it. The result would ordinarily be to print something on the spectacularly loud printer.
Despite the fact that the global startup economy is driving more innovation than ever, founders from Chile to India to Nigeria are compelled to incorporate their companies in Delaware, if they seek sizable capital for growth. Incorporating in Delaware may seem like a dramatic imposition on a startup’s identity — doing so is often to its legal and financial detriment —but most founders accept it as a necessary step to achieving international success. The Delaware path to incorporation has become so baked into the global technology market that, rather than try to supplant it, companies are building products to help navigate the state’s complicated corporate restructuring procedure, now virtually required of foreign companies by both local and American funders.
Jessica and I have certain words that have special significance when we’re talking about startups. The highest compliment we can pay to founders is to describe them as “earnest.” This is not by itself a guarantee of success. You could be earnest but incapable. But when founders are both formidable (another of our words) and earnest, they’re as close to unstoppable as you get.
Earnestness sounds like a boring, even Victorian virtue. It seems a bit of an anachronism that people in Silicon Valley would care about it. Why does this matter so much?
One of the biggest things holding people back from doing great work is the fear of making something lame. And this fear is not an irrational one. Many great projects go through a stage early on where they don’t seem very impressive, even to their creators. You have to push through this stage to reach the great work that lies beyond. But many people don’t. Most people don’t even reach the stage of making something they’re embarrassed by, let alone continue past it. They’re too frightened even to start.
Long but good read.