Don’t Join A Startup If You Want To Get Rich: Baremetrics Case Study

When everybody seems to be getting rich but you, it's a disconcerting feeling. However, after 22 years of living in San Francisco, the startup capital of the world, I say that if you want to get rich, don't join a startup.

Instead, invest in startups through an open venture capital fund like the Fundrise Innovation Fund. This way, you've got private growth company exposure, but you're not wasting your time. The fund invests in artificial intelligence, fintech, proptech, and more. Unlike traditional venture funds that are invite only with $200,000+ minimums, you can invest in the Innovation Fund with as little as $10.

Only The Winning Startups Get All The Press And Exposure

We always hear about hugely successful startups in the news. Names such as DoorDash and Airbnb are the flavors of the month. With monster post-IPO share price performance, thousands of new millionaires will flood the San Francisco Bay Area. However, we seldom hear about the failures or the zombie startups that end up treading water for years.

Most startups either fail or have a mediocre exit. As a result, the below-average salaries employees earn to join a startup in exchange for equity often ends up being a bad trade. Employee shares are either diluted away or early investors have a ratchet clause that make them worthless.

When a startup does get bought out, it is the founder or founders who usually walk away with something meaningful. Sizable payouts typically aren't going to the employees who helped make the founders rich. Founders know this, and sadly, they often still don't try to take care of their employees once they receive their liquidity event. Don't join a startup if you want to get rich!

In my quest to prevent people from entering startup purgatory, here is a new case study of how the founder of Baremetrics, Josh Pigford, walked away with millions while his employees were left with peanuts.

Pigford was very transparent, which should help future startup employees make better employment decisions.

Don't Join A Startup: Baremetrics Case Study

First, I want to make it clear that I admire anybody who takes the risk to start a company. Without such entrepreneurs, there would not be as much innovation and opportunity for millions of employees.

Founders deserve to get rewarded. However, my goal is to help the majority of people who are not founders. Over the years, I've spoken to hundreds of startup employees, most of whom didn't have extraordinary gains.

Baremetrics, a business analytics software company, was founded in 2013 by Josh Pigford. Seven years later he sold it.

Here are the acquisition details from his blog post.

  • Purchase price of Baremetrics: $4,000,000 in cash
  • Josh walked away with: $3,700,000 in cash
  • Multiple: ~2.65x ARR (low multiple due to lack of growth and profitability)
  • Buyer: Xenon Partners (tech private equity firm)
  • Close Date: November 2020
  • Earnout: None
  • Payment Structure: 3 payments (at close, 12 months & 18 months)

Being able to eventually walk away with $3,700,000 in cash is a great achievement. I congratulate Josh on his sale.

After taxes, Josh will net somewhere between $2.22 – $2.59 million using a 30% to 40% effective tax rate. He is now one of the newly-minted millionaires in America.

Given ~90% of startups fail or fail to have a liquidity event, 99% of startups that have a liquidity event sell for less than $10 million.

The Baremetrics sale for $4 million is a common sales prices for companies that do sell. The $100 million+ or $1 billion+ exits you read about in the news, however, are rare and get all the attention.

Related reading: Joining Startups Will Probably Make You Poorer Rather Than Richer

How Did The Baremetrics' Employees Do?

If you are considering joining a startup, this is the section that should most interest you.

Given the purchase price was $4,000,000 and the founder received $3,700,000, his 10 employees were left with $300,000. In other words, the founder received 92.5% of the final sale and his 10 employees received 7.5%.

$300,000 divided by 10 employees equally ends up only being $30,000 per employee. It is my understand Baremetrics had 10 employees or had 10 employees at one point.

Don't Join A Startup If You Want To Get Rich: Baremetrics Case Study

After seven years of working at Baremetrics for below-market salaries plus equity, the average employee walked away with just $4,286 a year in stock compensation ($30,000 per employee / 7 years).

College interns make more than $4,286 a month at most tech companies. Clearly, receiving a payout of $30,000 per employee after seven years is disappointing. Even if there were only seven employees splitting the $300,000, that would still amount to only $42,857 each.

When you join a startup, you often have to take a 20% – 50% salary discount because you are receiving equity that will hopefully pay off big. Let's say the average salary was $120,000. That's a 30% discount to the $171,000 the average employee could have made working elsewhere.

This means after seven years, the employee missed out on $357,000 in wages ($51,000 X 7) and got back just $30,000 from the company sale. The net missed compensation is, therefore, $327,000 per employee.

$327,000 is a 20% down payment on a $1,635,000 house. $327,000 can pay for all expenses for four years at a private university. Missing out on more than $300,000 in compensation could result in delaying retirement for 10 more years!

Even if the missed compensation was only $100,000 or $200,000 over the seven-year stretch, that's still a lot of money for the average person. Remember, one of the original goals for joining a startup is to get rich, not lose money.

How The Founder Could Have Helped His Employees

Founders are under no obligation to compensate their employees more than what their contracts entail. Employees made their own decision to join the startup and should live with the consequences.

However, in Baremetrics' case, there was a special situation. In 2014, Baremetrics received $800,000 in seed money from two investors: General Catalyst and Bessemer. Both are venture capital firms.

Instead of asking for their seed money back due to the sale, General Catalyst and Bessemer inexplicably forgave the entire $800,000 amount upon sale. Great news! The founder didn't explain why the investment was forgiven. I've never heard of such a thing happening when the sale price is higher than the initial investment.

Forgiving the entire $800,000 seed investment is equivalent to giving up the investor's entire equity stake. Let's say back in 2014, the $800,000 bought a 20% stake in Baremetrics for a $4 million valuation back then. A 10% – 30% stake is usually the percentage stake seed investors get.

General Catalyst and Bessemer giving up their 20% stake now makes it more understandable how the founder was able to walk away with 92.5% of the sales price ($3.7 million out of the $4.0 million sale).

If General Catalyst and Bessemer hadn't given up their 20% stake, the CEO would have “only” walked away with around $2.9 million, or 72.5% of the sale. 72.5% is still an impressive amount owned by a founder.

Share The Wealth (Or Not)

Don't Join A Startup If You Want To Get Rich: Baremetrics Case Study
[Founder shared he's buying a $100K+ Tesla]

Given the 10 employees only received $300,000 on the sale in aggregate and given the CEO walked away with an extra $800,000 for free, what the founder could have done was distribute the seed investors’ 20% stake to the employees instead.

After all, why should the founder get to benefit 100% from the free $800,000 when his 10 employees spent years helping him build the company?

The CEO would still walk away with a handsome $2.9 million gross and each employee would walk away with a more reasonable $110,000. That would be a win all around.

Worst case, the CEO should have split the $800,000 based on a percentage ownership basis. Alas, no such thing occurred.

Employees Get Short-Changed

M people would agree that spreading the free $800,000 to employees would have been the right thing to do. This is especially true when each employee received so little after the sale.

However, it is human nature to try and maximize your own financial interests first. Self-interest is why politicians sometimes don't follow their own rules.

One hypothesis for why the free $800,000 wasn't share is that Pigford and his employees didn't get along. This may have been one of the reasons why he wasn't willing to stay for higher incentive bonuses as he wrote in his blog post. He wanted all cash and he wanted out immediately.

You can't fault Pigford for hoarding most of the spoils. This is America where it's every man and woman for him or herself. However, there's a growing dissatisfaction with this type of “winner-take-all” mentality.

Maybe The Employees Were Actually Saved

There is another way to look at the non-distribution of the $800,000 to employees. Maybe Baremetrics was about to go under, which would have meant laying off all employees.

In such a scenario, finding an acquirer who promised jobs for the employees would be the best option. Further, walking away with an average of $30,000 in equity is better than walking away with zero equity and a job loss during a pandemic.

This would make for a nicer story. However, if it was the case, it would have been publicly shared. Therefore, Baremetrics going under probably wasn't an imminent scenario.

Percentage Ownership Of The Startup Matters

There is something else perplexing. Since you can't count on investors forgiving their investment, how do 10 employees who make up 91% of the company's headcount only end up with 7.5% of the company?

This is one of the most asymmetric risk/reward situations I've ever observed. In an intimate 11-person company, you would expect the employees to own 20% – 40%, not just 7.5%.

Don't join a startup - Founders like Josh Pigford will get all the spoils and brag about it on Twitter
[Founder paying off his house]

When you decide to join a startup, you are usually taking on too much risk for inadequate compensation. Your 0.5% – 2% equity stake is not going to do much to make up for your below-market salary.

Think about it. Even if you get a 2% stake in a company that sells for $100 million, you only walk away with $2 million before tax and likely dilution.

Just don't forget that less than 1% of startups ever sell for $100 million or more. Don't let your mind play tricks on you. Crunch the numbers.

While your startup founder may be busy telling everyone on social media he's buying a $100,000+ Tesla Model X with ash wood interior and paying off his mortgage, you will likely just be hoping the acquiring company doesn't lay you off.

Related: The Importance Of Stealth Wealth

What Employees Should Do Instead

If you insist on joining a startup, you must do the following:

  • Ask what percentage of the company you will own after receiving your equity offer. Don't just accept a random share count and be happy. Specifically, ask about your ownership percentage.
  • Pretend you are an investor and do the math regarding how much the startup could realistically sell for and to whom. The best measure is finding comparable companies that sold. Now take your equity stake and multiply it by the potential sales price. This is your maximum take because you may be diluted over time due to new investors.
  • Ask for so much more than you are being offered. Remember, most startups fail or go nowhere. Therefore, it's best you fight for a higher salary in addition to more equity.
  • Join as a co-founder for more aligned risk and reward. Or, join at the Series C or later stage where you can command a higher salary and have a much higher chance of a successful liquidity event.

The Better Way To Go

Instead of joining a startup, start your own business so you can own 100% of the equity. You don't have to quit your job, raise funding, and hire employees immediately. Instead, start a business on the side while you have a day job and slowly work your way up.

Once you've gained enough momentum, then consider working on your startup full-time. From there, you can hire people to take massive risk to get you rich instead. One of the greatest ironies is seeing so many well-educated MBA types take the safe route and do business development.

Once you start a business, you might as well look for investors who have a history of forgiving their investments in other businesses as well. After all, venture capitalists are investing other people's money, not their own. If you find such generous investors, court them, and make sure they provide the same treatment to you.

Keep Your Startup Expectations Low

So long as you set low expectations about getting rich, joining a startup is fine. You will probably receive more responsibility and do more things than if you join an established firm. This learning phase can be vital for you getting rich down the road at a new startup or established firm.

However, if you are getting paid peanuts, don't have much equity, and are getting worked like a dog, please find another job. If there is ever a liquidity event, you will likely become one bitter cookie.

Don't join a startup if you want to get rich. The ~6,000 employees at Airbnb and the ~3,300 employees at Doordash are the exception, rather than the rule. We will hear of more exceptions over time. However, just remember that most startups fail.

I’d rather be an investor in startups instead. This way, when the startup fails, all you lose is money instead of also your time.

Even better, for the average person, own real estate in a hot startup ecosystem. If you do, you will likely win with capital and rental appreciation, regardless of which startup hits it big!

Two More Downsides Of Joining A Startup

After publishing this post, I realized there are two more negatives of joining a startup.

The first is that a startup will unlikely offer a 401(k) match. Some startups don't even offer a 401(k) plan. An employer can technically contribute up to $43,500 to an employee's 401(k) for a total of $66,000 a year in 2022. When I left my employer in 2012, I was receiving over $20,000 in employer profit sharing that went to my 401(k).

Further, if you join a startup and eventually want to leave, you will unlikely be able to get a severance of any significant value. This is especially true if the startup is unprofitable and under 100 people. In such a situation, this means you may not even get the mandatory 2-3 months of WARN Act pay that larger companies must pay to laid off employees.

Over a 5-10-year period, these two benefits could equal hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, be sure to read my post Should I Buy My Stock Options After Leaving A Startup?

Bottom line, don't join a startup if you want to get rich. Join a startup to learn. Or, join a startup if you are already rich and want to try new things.

Why I’ll Always Regret Selling My Business For Millions

Just Say No To Angel Investing

Invest In Entrepreneurs As Well

Joining a startup is tempting. However, you should diversify and invest in a fund that invests in startup. You may want to keep your day job and invest in startups as a hedge. This way, you get to have brilliant entrepreneurs work for you. Or you can do both! I am because I have enough passive income to be considered financially independent.

Companies are staying private for longer, as a result, more gains are accruing to private company investors. Finding the next Google or Apple before going public can be a life-changing investment. 

Check out the Innovation Fund, which invests in the following five sectors:

  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Modern Data Infrastructure
  • Development Operations (DevOps)
  • Financial Technology (FinTech)
  • Real Estate & Property Technology (PropTech)

Roughly 35% of the Innovation Fund is invested in artificial intelligence, which I'm extremely bullish about. In 20 years, I don't want my kids wondering why I didn't invest in AI or work in AI!

The investment minimum is also only $10 while most venture capital funds have a $250,000+ minimum. You can see what the Innovation Fund is holding before deciding to invest and how much. 

For more nuanced personal finance content, join 65,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. Everything is written based off firsthand experience. 

38 thoughts on “Don’t Join A Startup If You Want To Get Rich: Baremetrics Case Study”

  1. Silicon Beach

    The issue with the example in this article is that no sane person would work for a startup for 7 years with an estimated exit value of $4 million. That’s peanuts. By that point a startup should be bust or valued in the hundreds of millions or billions, everything else is a waste of time.

    Also, a lot of startups today pay market rate but not at the extreme. So you may get the same salary as you would at Cisco, but not what you would at FAANG. If you’re making $200k at a startup and having a great time, is FAANG necessarily better if the work life balance is worse and those companies actively PIP and churn through people?

    1. Most say work life balance at FAANG is the best, with a lot of people making multiple six figures working less than 40 hours a week.

      Highly profitable, lots of fat, not a grind.

      And yea, most startup employees get “peanuts” after 5-7 years.

  2. You are correct, Sam.

    You will not get rich joining a startup unless you are one of the founders. And even then, only if the startup is wildly successful, < 1%.

    Exit payoffs are determined by the 'market', AKA VCs (Venture Capitalists); not by the founders. There is a standard formula VCs, and angels before them, use to determine payouts. Founders generally end up with 20-30%. VCs take the lion's share because it's their money. The formula includes a share (10%, pre-money) to attract quality employees, but by the time all the dilution is included; it is <1% divided among ALL of them. Here's the two biggest examples of what Founders net; from my counsel to a startup team as an Angel:

    "The funding cycle of these companies is 'founder money', then 'friends and family', then angel phase A, then maybe angel phase B, then VC round 1, 2… This builds the valuation of the company as you go. Each step allowing the next. But each step, results in greater and greater dilution of the founders. By the time you get to the [end] VC round, the founders will be minority shareholders; rich, but less than 50% owners; usually much less. Page and Brin of Google "Together they own about [each] 14 percent of its shares". Zuckerberg: "The 27 year old CEO owns 28.2% of Facebook's B shares."" [Hyperlinks in the original.]

    LESSON LEARNED: You won't get rich joining a startup as an employee. Only founders get rich. And only very, very seldom.

    You are correct: Take the money up front or be a founder.

    Microsoft is a different situation. As far as I know, Gates and Allen never went to raise money other than maybe, 'friends and family'. The Microsoft growth was organic. Employees were given grants (?) or options. The stock went IPO in 1984 and rocketed. Now it is rocketing again. I was in a similar situation, three orders of magnitude less though, and totally missed it. A story for a different time.

    Keep up the great posts. -Jim

  3. “This is one of the most asymmetric risk/reward situations I’ve ever observed.”

    Well, how about this one? From 2000 to 2002 I worked for a UK startup which had 30 engineers. A month after I joined we were given a presentation by one of the VCs after which we were each given 25 stock options – not many, but we were told that they were “big” options, i.e. each company share was currently valued at 1000 GBP. All the engineers, myself included, were given a load of utter BS by the CEO to make us think we were all going to get rich from the options (e.g. “So how do you feel about being a millionaire?”, or “Stick with us, you may be buying a mansion yet”, or “You don’t want to be just earning a salary when the other guys are out buying their Ferraris”).

    At the end of 2002 the company went bust when the CEO failed to secure another funding round, and all the staff were made redundant. At this point we discovered that there were 75,000 shares in the company, and the CEO owned 32% of them. So the engineers had 30 x 25 = 750 = 1% of the stock.

    So if the company had exited for £100 million the CEO would have had £32 million, less whatever tax he paid. The engineers, after buying the shares and paying all the taxes incurred, would have had about £4,000 each. One can’t buy much of a mansion with that. Of course, that’s not taking the investors’ preferences (which we never found out) into account: the CEO would probably have got less than £32 million, and the engineers might well have ended up with nothing at all, if the options were “underwater”.

  4. You could add to your title – “And don’t be a founder.”
    The vast majority get bupkus and many lose everything invested, which sometimes is literally everything.

    Personally, been down that path 3 times. From two, I received zero on equity and much smaller than market salary. Once the founders loans were factored in, my gross income was less than most employees. (loans were not paid back)

    The 3rd, the company was sold – got a small percentage at closing (all equity holders got same percentage of their equity) and within months nothing but lawsuits and lawyers. Net result, paid more in legal fees than received in equity. Even though we ‘won’ the lawsuit (dismissed by the other side and they paid us a small settlement), the costs and grief over several years were ‘un-fun’.

    But, I did get some cap losses to carry forward and I have useless stock certificates to remind me of what not to do.

    After 3, I opted for a small equity position in an on-going concern in a totally different industry. Equity is great, liability is not and rolling the dice with my family’s financial future as I approached 50 became more of a challenge. Yet, should the right opportunity present, I would still consider it, but be more judicious in the risk- because, there is nothing quite like it.

  5. Greed Is Everywhere

    The VCs should have forgiven the $800K on condition the $800K was distributed to the employees.

    Left up to Pigford, of course he hogged it all instead of shared it with the employees who helped build the company.

    VC reputation and Pigford’s reputation is tarnished. Sad. But all least they are rich.

  6. David @ Filled With Money

    I still remember when you wrote in one of your articles “it’s better to be a price dictator than a price taker”. Being an employee at a large company while having a side start up that’s undetected by the employer is the best way to go. When employees leave a company, they say “that’s fine, we got other employees” but when employees are fired, very few employees can say “that’s fine, i got other money sources”. Have to diversify revenue to avoid dependency just as companies diversify employee count to avoid dependency.

  7. My son’s college roommate was hired at Zoom six years ago as his first job out of college. He still works there and his net worth has sky rocketed with the pandemic. I never understood how startups worked, that was a very interesting and informative read!

  8. Dr. Remoulak

    Good article Sam. Was an early employee (VP level) for a startup that eventually sold to a PE firm for $400M. Was a reasonably good outcome for me, but also learned about another ‘wrinkle’ in the startup cap table, i.e. a preferred class of stock for the founders and early VC investors, which came with a liquidation preference that ate into the proceeds for us lowly common stockholders, so I’d just suggest people also inquire about whether there are different classes of stock (there often are) and how they are treated in the event of an exit (which can change depending on a private sale or IPO).

    On an unrelated note, wondering if you’re observing the SPAC craze with a sense of bewilderment as I am. From the reading I’ve done and speaking with old contacts from b-school who are in the finance world it seems to me like it’s just the latest Wall Street “creativity” to dupe the average investor, and as with most crazes won’t end well. Might be an interesting post along with other stories you’ve seen from your years in the business.

  9. My girlfriend was the 10th employee at a startup that is about to IPO. She’s getting a nice bonus, but it’s nothing life changing. And after all of this, we both concluded that startups are the biggest scam in silicon valley. This article is yet another example of this. She joked that the biggest asset a founder can have is convincing smart people of the fallacy of the startup dream.

      1. Unfortunately no. It’s going to end up being <$1M. Like I said, silicon valley is turning out to be a scam.

        1. Sam, perhaps the next post can be: “So if you shouldn’t join a startup to get rich, what should you join?”

          And I think the answer will be (for the tech-oriented crowd) late-stage pre-IPO startups. Think Robinhood, Stripe, Roblox, Bytedance…

          Airbnb and DoorDash got a lot of mainstream press because they’re consumer-facing companies. But Snowflake and also minted a TON of new (and often young – in their twenties) millionaires. The power of equity and RSU grants at late-stage private companies can be life-changing. These companies can also provide competitive salaries (Airbnb pre-IPO was already known for top-notch comp), for those who are less inclined to take risks with paper equity that may never materialize.

          Obviously, these valuations may come down as the lockup expires (as many Lyft/Uber employees discovered in 2019), but that’s a risk with all equity ownership.

          I myself work in the public service sector, but will be joining tech next year. I did the numbers and it just didn’t make sense to live in the Bay Area, paying Bay Area prices, while missing out on all the fun! :-)

          1. I hear you being in the Bay Area and feel like you are missing out by NOT being at a tech co or startup!

            From 2001 – 2012 I was in banking, helping take public rocket ships. I made a healthy salary, but no RSU/option glory. But I had to choose and I chose the more assured route and invested all I could in SF real estate.

            It’s worked out fine. GL!

            1. Preach! I also love your tip on buying the stocks of companies you’d dream to work at. Thanks always for your timely, relevant, and timeless content, Sam. Always a joy to read.

  10. I used to fantasize about joining a startup myself until I started talking to people who worked at some. None of them were happy. They were all overworked and felt shortchanged. I felt the same way at my own regular non-startup day job so I started a plan to escape. It took time to build some side hustles, save more aggressively, and negotiate my exit but it was so worth it. I coasted my last few months, helped hire my replacements, got a severance, and now I work for myself on my own terms.

    Owning equity is wonderful when you have full control. It’s sad to see startup employees get the short end of the stick but it happens all the time.

    Definitely a lot to consider before going the startup route!

  11. Great write-up.

    Joining a startup for the equity should be analyzed like any other investment. And like any other investment opportunity, don’t invest in anything that you don’t completely understand.

    1. The issue is often the opaqueness of the company’s valuations, shares, and financials. Good management will be open to such details if they want to hire the best employees.

      1. Agreed. Caveat emptor.

        The temptation for us employee types to join a startup is always there. Would like to see an article on expanding on the “What to do instead” section of this post: what to look for/ask about if you intend to join one, what different types of shares mean, how to confirm or deny the company value they’re providing you if the intention is to sellout, etc.

      2. Seconding what Sam is saying here. Every startup that I’ve received offers from knows exactly how to cherry-pick the numbers in order to give the illusion of richest. They all give you a “good”, “better”, and “best” outcome based on absurdly impossible exits and then try to push the “best” outcome heavily. And this is always done knowing that the shares will be diluted enormously before any kind of exit happens.

  12. A close friend of mine was the head software engineer at a startup that sold for $100M. At the time of the sale the company had around 120 employees.

    He was always bitter that the CEO, who held non-dilutable shares, kept diluting the employee’s shares with unnecessary rounds of funding in order to boost the resale value by increasing cash on-hand.

    In the end the employees received a lot less than expected. He now sticks with established companies that are willing to pay a high wage without stock, and he is certain he earns more this way than he could in another startup.

        1. He ain’t gonna see it. But damn, only $300K for head of engineering is not a lot. Perhaps he joined in the later funding rounds and got a much higher salary of $250K – $300K or something, hopefully

          1. Matt Phillips

            He was one of the first 10 employees. The ceo has admitted some regret for the way he treated the employees who got left out.

    1. Great post. I agree 100% with this post. I have always gravitated towards public companies that offer fair base salary with real RSU shares. I have always been afraid of wasting my youth at start-ups that have no real business plan to profitability.

  13. “Josh will net somewhere between $2.22 – $2.59 million using a 30% to 40% effective tax rate”

    Aside from the $800,000, that would be treated for tax purposes as though it were a gift (since apparently that is what it was, so very odd) wouldn’t his proceeds from the sale be taxed primarily as long term capital gains? So 20% plus 3.8% for Obamacare?

    Whoops, 12.3% marginal state income tax rate for anything past the first 591k. Yep, that’s a whole lot of tax right at 36.1%. Would have been less taxes, of course, if a little more of the money had trickled down to the employees.

      1. The capital Gains tax rate for a closely held Corp. being sold can be reduced by 50%… I think schedule J is applicable.

      2. A non-corporate taxpayer who has held small business stock that qualifies under IRC §1202 for more than 5 years can exclude at least 50% of any gain from the disposition of the stock. More can be excluded if the stock was issued by a corporation in an Empowerment Zone or if it was issued within certain dates.

  14. Although it’s great sold his company for millions, it’s bad form to brag about buying an extremely expensive SUV and paying off your mortgage on social. I guess at least he’s being consistent with his transparency.

    But if I was one of his employees, I would be pissed off that he is now flaunting his wealth while I got very little after seven years.

    Is this a white male tech thing or startup culture thing where humility is lacking?

    I would have definitely split at least half of the $800,000 forgiveness by the two seed investors.

    1. Not sure. When lots of money is dangling in front of your eyes, it’s often hard to share the wealth.

      It’s also easy to convince yourself that you deserve everything and to discredit the help that brought you to success.

      Human nature is one reason why I’m so much happier just doing my own thing and not having any direct reports.

    2. Male and white don’t enter into it. I’ve seen startups by a diverse group of folks and many, perhaps most, have had so much ego they would make a fighter pilot look bashful. It may be a major selective factor in becoming a founder. Most extreme, in my experience, would be a three way tie, all men, of which only one was white.

      But neither male nor white have anything close to a monopoly.

      Although, at least so far, I haven’t personally witnessed any founders that were Eskimos, Pacific Islanders, Australian Aborigines, or Native Americans (of either gender).

      1. The Alchemist

        Yes, what Snazster said. People are individuals, NOT their immutable characteristics. So tired of that focus. People of all stripes can be wonderful or awful, and each one is far more complex than his/her color or gender.

        I actually DO suspect it’s “a startup culture thing, where humility is lacking.” I believe you almost HAVE to be an obsessive asshole to be crazy enough to launch a startup. It’s freakin’ HARD, so you almost certainly need to have a screw loose to pursue it. It would be fascinating to find out if there’s ever been a study on successful startup founders…. how many of them are likely “on the spectrum”, where they’re incredibly talented in some particular direction, but their social skills aren’t the greatest?

  15. Great article Sam, and couldn’t agree more. I joined a start-up a few years ago and left after a year. Private equity got involved, and my equity shares got severely diluted. On top of that, the company wanted me to sign a 12-month non-compete in exchange for the new shares issued after private equity came on board. Recently, the company was purchased for a handsome sum. I asked one of my former colleagues who is still there how she is going to make out, and it’s not good. The company is cancelling half of their shares because they had not reached “maturity.” The founders are walking away with several hundred million, and everyone else is getting very little. So glad I decided “F*** you” was the right path to take.

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