I had lunch with an old friend the other day and he shared with me a great story. I liked it so much, I asked if I could blog about it, and he said “yes” but asked me not to attribute it to him, lest his investors get worried.
The preamble to the conversation was that we were discussing his current life as a startup CEO, and my former life as a startup CEO. I was sharing some story about how it felt like I knew all of these amazing people who had achieved amazing success, and that by most any measure I am a success, and yet I feel like a mid-level achiever at best. The relativity of success can really be a pain, and I work really hard to not forget that.
He thought about what I said for a bit, and he then started telling me about a guy he met who was still at Microsoft, and was going on and on about how much he loved my friend’s app. LOVED it. And that he was so jealous that “he was out there making it happen” and “working on such a cool app” and “how [he] wish[ed he] could be doing that.” To which my friend replied (and this is the part I love):
So I tell him – Hey dude…you’re inside under a blanket. It’s warm under that blanket. Food is on the stove. Someone’s cooking it for you. And paying for the heat. You want to pull back the curtains a bit? See me outside? Alone? It’s cold out there. In fact, it’s freezing. Look at that. I have no shoes on. And it’s snowing. Wait, what’s that? I’m naked. And hungry. And being chased by a wolf. No, wait, I didn’t hear them right. A wolf pack is howling on the hill. Did I mention I was bleeding? And the only place for me to hide is in that lake over there. It’s freezing out, so, you know, it’s iced over. To survive, I have to break through the ice with my bare hands before the wolves get me. And sharks are swimming in the lake. I hope they’re sleeping. Man it must be warm in there under that blanket.
One could not be faulted for confusing this with a “grass is always greener” parable. It’s more than that. This isn’t about longing for something new, nor a scare tactic from a whinging CEO. Ultimately, it’s a vivid picture of what it is like to be in a small company, when you aren’t sure if your last pivot was your last one because you have no more pivots to make, or because you need make no more pivots. It’s great because it speaks to the fear of being out there on your own. It highlights that even when you know that what you have to do will lead you to a bad outcome, you choose it because it appears to be a lesser of two evils outcome, and what you are trying to do is live to fight another day.
UPDATE: I love good old fashioned marketing and gumption. A friend of mine with a presentation builder app said this story would make a great deck using his app. I was skeptical, but he proved me wrong.