Tuesday, October 09, 2007

what reddit taught me about startups: "because it's your damn job"

WARNING: I've learned everything I know from 16 months at a startup and HBO miniseries. Trust nothing.

Why do I look back so fondly on startup life? Selective memory? Nah, then I wouldn't be able to write an entire blog entry on it -- there must be more to it.

Don't get me wrong, life at Condé Nast has been extremely accommodating, but there's something special about a small team in a cramped apartment living room. Then again, my previous job was manning the booth in a parking garage, so even the smells-like-dude living room was an upgrade.

It's not the body odor I miss, but the startup mentality. No salary? No insurance? No weekends off? No problem.

At a startup, no one needs motivational posters*. You work because it's your damn job and you don't want to let down the person at the desk beside you.

There was never an instance where the site went down or a bug turned up, that Steve said "You know what, it's late and Friends** is on, so I'll get around to it tomorrow." He fixed it. He may have cursed a lot while doing it, but it got done.

If we needed some stats from Chris to send off to a potential partner, you could always count on him to say yes -- and actually do it. Still working on his PhD during the day and pounding the keyboard for reddit at night, he basically just made us feel guilty for needing to sleep.

That's not to say it's radically changed since joining CN (and this isn't a passive-aggressive rant against some of my co-workers) it's just inherently different. In fact, Jeremy didn't even get the chance to share an intimate workspace with us, he joined us after we got our airy Wired office. But he hasn't had any trouble fitting in -- even if Steve has had to shovel him a bunch of grunt work while this rewrite gets pushed online (really, it's happening this week). It just gets done.

Yes, I think I've nailed the root of my nostalgia: There's something special about being in that always-sinking-boat of a startup and being able to count on all the folks sinking with you. I'm purposefully avoiding the "like a squad at war" analogy because I'm not audacious (or stupid) enough to directly compare startup life to combat; sinking boats are much more appropriate for a lifelong civilian like me.

But if Band of Brothers has shown me anything about real warfare, it's the remarkable camaraderie -- something that even the very metaphorical "life & death" nature of a startup faintly echoes.

And hopefully it'll be the closest any of us ever get to the battlefield variety.

*We now have this poster on the wall of our Wired office. Heh.
**Fact-check: Friends was no longer on television when we started reddit in June 2005. This quote is obviously fake.