So you think it would be great to be Sean Parker or to launch a new company with him? Your startup would have all the advantages in the world, right? Would you trade in a role in a lower-profile venture to have a stake in Parker’s latest project, Airtime.com? Here are a few reasons to relish anonymity before we all learn your little-known startup’s name – which is bound to happen before too long, of course.
Pressure to be the next Napster, Spotify, Facebook
Only four months old, Airtime is making the New York Times headlines for being tested. How many companies realistically are prepared for such scrutiny so close to the starting gate? Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning need to have a mammoth hit to satisfy all onlookers. Not all companies will succeed on the same scale as Facebook. Sorry if this news bursts your bubble.
Such expectations are absurd–for founders, for customers, for investors. No sane person would choose rivaling a Microsoft as the measurement of minimum success. There’s no shortage of goals to meet in any startup. Who wants to be positioned to disappoint from the beginning?
Unless you’re the Yankees
Yes, the Yankees have a huge fan base, but if you’re not a Yankee fan, chances are you’re rooting against them. I don’t hear a loud chorus coming to A-Rod’s defense after the latest postseason debacle. When launching is supposed to signal the beginning of a coronation, there’s no surprise in victory, and heaps of wrath when you falter.
Expectation and scrutiny distort perspective. For example, lay offs happen as companies adjust and fight for survival. It’s part of the game unfortunately. Parting ways might be smart business, but if your Airtime, it’s clearly a sign that the company is already failing. What? Too soon to be true.
Mega stars aside, despite the fierce competition, the startup community is extremely supportive. As with the Oakland A’s, people love to cheer the overmatched, scrappy, hard working, Joe. Wouldn’t you rather have an enormous, receptive audience over a finicky, over-demanding patronage?
But look at the funding…
If given the choice, most entrepreneurs probably wouldn’t say no to the $33.5 million Airtime has brought in from the all star cast including Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and SV Angel (not to mention, celebrity backing from the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Alicia Keys). However, staying lean, limiting outside funding as long as it’s possible, means more control of your company should you become a smash hit.
Money can hide problems a bootstrapped company can’t afford to put off fixing, which ultimately makes the cash-limited company more viable. Money also leaves little room for maneuvering at times–if you move your company to Manhattan and stage a lavish entrance to grab attention, well you’re back to battling the same Yankee image problems. The public perceives you as being extravagant. You hang your brand out there before critics like a piñata.
None of this is to knock Airtime or other thoroughbred startups. An easy, two way video chat and video messaging service would be a delight for separated friends and families everywhere. But while the titans duel–Airtime, Apple (FaceTime), Google (Hangouts), Skype–might there be a little-known challenger quietly developing the best product of them all?
Which shoes do you prefer to walk in? Let us know in the comments section below.