If Corporations are People, then Startups are Children

Everyone thinks their kid is awesome. Just the best. Regardless of how stupid or ugly their child is, all parents are convinced that their offspring are a wonderful new addition to the world, and they love telling everyone about their kids, showing them pictures and bragging about how early the kid started reading.

Startups are the same way. Everyone thinks their startup is awesome. You’re gonna love it, man, it’s insta-tumbler meets mysquare – for ornithologists!  They talk about user acquisition rates, investor valuations and which VC firm kicked in how much. Sometimes a startup is in stealth mode for a while, where the founders won’t talk about what it does. This is no different from parents who keep their child’s name and gender a secret.

Children are idealistic. they believe the world is a great place, and they want to make it better. They can do anything they put their minds to! When they get older they are expected to realize this is stupid, and that being motivated by feelings, caring and wanting to help the world makes far less sense than being motivated by a paycheck, a 401k, and wanting to retire before you die.

Startups are the same way. A startup is expected to have a huge vision, to change the world and make it a better place, to revolutionize the way we something or other, and totally change the way people think about stuff. When companies become older, they tend to get more conservative. You could say this is because they lose the childlike spark of wonder that comes from living in a world of possibility, or you could say this is because they have millions of people dependent on them.

Children don’t play by the rules. That’s ok, we tell ourselves, because the rules are too complicated for children to understand. It’s ok for kids to run around and shout and do inappropriate stuff. We find that cute and adorable – but we find it obnoxious and inappropriate when adults do the same thing. A kid who draws all over the walls with a sharpie is funny and adorable; an adult who does the same thing is a criminal.

Startups are the same way. we applaud startups for ‘disrupting’ established industries, which is the equivalent of applauding children for running around their parents’ workplaces and kicking the excecutives in the shins when they say things like ‘we need to leverage our core synergies to provide real value in our vertical’.    We love when companies like Uber and Airbnb get around the intent of law by finding loopholes. This isn’t too different from when a child says ‘yes, I ate my vegetables’ after consuming two french fries and hiding all of her vegetable medley under her booster seat. it’s arguably true, and we find it cute for a while, but eventually we expect children to grow up and play the game.

Startups also have a growing up phase . Adolescents like UberAirbnb, and Facebook have all started using lobbyists, just like the young adult Google started doing after decrying established businesses for doing so.  Google appears to be really good at this now, just like children eventually start beating their parents at the ‘care more about money than people’ game.  This trend is no different from children feeling that adults are too motivated by money, and not caring enough. Eventually we find ourselves getting older and doing the same stuff our parents did.

Sometimes the ‘growing up’ process runs in reverse, as lumbering old men try to be ‘cool’ by adopting the latest trends –  just as dinosaur businesses like chase try to catch on to the ‘listen to your customers’ trend, to hilarious consequences.

An IPO is a rite of passage, the entry to the adult world where you have to listen to authorities (the board) and work for a living (earn a profit). In the olden days, kids worked the coal mines when they were five, just as companies would IPO just a few years in. Startups can go years without a profit, just as it’s acceptable for children to spend money via an allowance without earning any through work.

If food is what people need to survive and sustain themselves, then money is what corporations need.  Just as we now have tons of food in the world, but most of it’s marginally nutritious crap that can be made cheaply. The same is true of money nowadays. There’s a lot more financial wealth in the world, but the systems we have for creating financial wealth seemed to be oriented towards creating as much wealth as possible, even if the quality is extremely questionable.  Quantitative easing, junk bonds and collateralized debt obligations are the new hydrogenation, processed carbs, and microwave burritos.

We’re seeing shifts in the modern world, away from the idea that children are stupid and should be beaten, gradually towards the idea that children should be protected from harm, and maybe even listened to. We’re seeing shifts towards the idea that paying more for high quality food is better for you than paying less for cheap food. It’s arguable that the surplus of cheap, unhealthy food was necessary to prevent starvation, and maybe it was – just like the surplus of cheap credit and funny money were perhaps necessary to get humanity to a post-scarcity economy before a nuclear holocaust. Now that we’ve got more food than we need, and so much capital nobody knows where to invest it, we’re shifting to healthier food and better money.  Bitcoin is the new paleo diet – adopted by cranks and weirdos with messed up beliefs, who appear to be ripped and wealthy only because they are crazy. Eventually, we’ll settle for dogecoin and natural foods, which are healthier, more relaxed, and you can have a goddamn croissant if you want one.

Ultimately i have hope for the future, that no child will be made to starve, and that no new business will die from lack of funds. Who knows, though – maybe killing off new businesses would help the business world from being overpopulated, just like killing off nascent children with diseases and deformations would help the human world from being overpopulated. I hear they tried that with some success a few decades back.

do you see any more similarities?

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