08 December 2007


Startup no more

Last night was the Christmas party for Navarik, the company I've worked for since 2003, and for which I had the occasional contract in the three years before that. Several of my college colleagues founded it in 2000—a web software company started just as the web software bubble collapsed. It's about the same age as my younger daughter, or this blog.

Early on Navarik was the leanest of self-funded startup companies, with a tiny office where people were nearly stepping over each other and everyone could go for lunch around one table. Last night I looked around and realized that it is no longer a startup at all. The many employees who have been there nearly from the beginning are now seasoned veterans (with far more experience than, say, the folks who run Facebook; Navarik itself is several years older than Flickr and WordPress). We've brought in more seasoned veterans over the years to help run the place.

Pointedly, Navarik has hired more new people since I went on medical leave in February (and thus with whom I've never worked directly) than formed the entire company when I started. Some of them I'd never met until last night. Back in 2003 only a couple of us in the office had children; in the past two years there has been a substantial baby boom, enough that we're having another Christmas party next week, just for all the kids.

The business we do is not flashy or high-profile, though it requires considerable skill and intellectual effort. We help some very big companies move important, money-making information around. Our website needs updating to reflect what that means in 2007 (that's one thing that's not getting done while I'm away), but it is fundamentally the same vision that Bill, the company's founder, had while working in the marine bulk shipping industry in the late 1990s.

I'm itching to get well again and return to helping make that vision real. I joined Navarik more than four years ago not simply because my friends started it. Rather, I saw a company built on new technologies and ideas, created for the Internet, that could show important worldwide industries how to do better than the clumsier old world of traditional information technology.

That's not Web 2.0 hype, but a real business. And a strong one, I think.

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Startups are good as long as they are your own. Working for a start up is probably not a good idea, as what they can offer you as an employee is probably very limited.

Sure, getting a job in a start up is faster at least (because nobody wants to work there, unless they used to live in Alaska before or in Antartica or in another planet :) and they see all companies as if they are all the same. I worked for a start up and it was a freekish experience as I had to everything all on my own (research, training, software engineering, training, support, marketing and the story goes on, not to mention that the pay was mediocre).

Working for large company is a way much better solution. Alternatively, you can work for a medium sized company (i.e. more than 40 persons) in the morning and in the evening work in your own start up company.

In the last case scenario, don't hire other people, because it's like taking advantage of powerful employees (in a start up you will want Star employees, not average Joes) and besides that, sooner or later they will "wake up" anyway and they will leave (unless you want them only for a while, so you are fine with that).

Even one person can build quality and above all useful software. Be sure to build software that is truly useful though.
What's even worse is that governments often give grants to start up firms, to help them get up and run, so even the money that an employee at a start up earns is free governmental money. So that in facts makes the employee the "moron" and the start up owner the clever one.