Schrödinger’s Startup

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You run into your friendly neighborhood startup founder. It’s been six months since the last time you saw her.

“How are things?”

“Great, couldn’t be better! Yourself?”

“Pretty darn good. Can’t complain.”

There’s been a lot of commotion about the “inauthenticity” of conversations like this. That they give misleading perspectives to enthusiastic, aspiring startupers.

I disagree. I’ve said my startup is “going great” plenty of times, and I stand by that. Sure, it’s a rollercoaster, but rollercoasters are fun. Right? It may not match your definition of great, but we are moving. Learning. Building. Seeing some things work and others not. Reacting. Getting to know about the world and of ourselves. I think most of us are in a similar boat. Who knows if we’ll have made it? They don’t. You don’t. I don’t. But I do think I am constantly in a state of making it.

Schrödinger said it best

Schrödinger stated that if you place a cat and a vial of poison in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was (in a sense) both “dead and alive.”

This applies to a lot more than cats. And not just small, three-person startups. Small ones like Gumroad all the way up to big ones like Square, Airbnb, Dropbox, and even Apple. Follow the debates, and The United States of America seems to be both the best and the worst place in the world.

Square’s past includes years of “they’re growing like crazy” followed by a lackluster IPO. Airbnb is blowing up around the world and struggling against legislation in its biggest cities. WhatsApp just got shut off in Brazil.

Dropbox has 300 million users, 15,000 businesses, and a few hundred million dollars in revenue a year. But now they’re not doing so hot.

Spoiler alert: They’re doing about the same as they’ve always been doing. The narrative is different, because the narrative got boring.

Things may work out great for us. And you. Or they may not. But for now, I’d prefer to assume and exude the best case outcome — and I apologize if that comes across as inauthentic.

The question leads to the answer

“sup?” “nm u?” “nm” — we’ve all had that conversation. I had one today. This is the same thing. “Bad” questions beget “bad” answers. If you’re going to ask someone how their startup is doing, you’re going to get an answer as unique as your question.

“What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned recently?” “What’s the hardest decision you’ve had to make?” “I noticed this interesting thing in your app — why did you guys decide to do that?” “Why’d you kill that feature?” “What are you reading currently?” These may lead to interesting answers and interesting conversations.

One more thing

I initially wrote this six months ago and I had to change all the company names. That’s how fast these things change.

Note: I think all of the above companies have and will continue to do great things. I used the (sometimes negative) perspective of others above, but I respect anyone that is trying to make the world better — and I think they all are.

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