QVC for Millennials

Gaining and losing perspective; VC battles for hot startups; the average age of a successful founder; and introducing Mishti

🧠Top of mind: Perspective

Back when I was living in Minnesota, one of my friends got a job at Apple — which was the coolest news I had ever heard.

He was headed to one of the best companies in the entire world, and he was moving to California, specifically “San Fran,” the greatest tech hub in the history of the world.

Now that I live in SF (as insiders call the city), it’s hard to retain the same sense of wonder for the startup world.

Many of my friends work in “big tech” (e.g., Google), and hot startups (e.g. Lambda School). Roles at superlative companies are a dime a dozen, as are announcements of superlative startup outcomes. Just this week, autonomous delivery startup Nuro raised $500 million and it wasn’t that widely discussed. Just another week in Silicon Valley.

I can imagine a tech cynic looking at that reality as evidence of desensitization. Silicon Valley folks may seem to be trapped on a hedonic treadmill, prisoners to their own warped perceptions and doomed to be disappointed by $1 million, not $1 billion, paydays. But to me, the pessimistic story is incomplete.

One bright side: it’s normal out here to take wild, risky, atypical career bets. Driving into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge from Oakland reveals as much — as soon as you enter the city, you’re bombarded with billboards for startups. (Turns out that these billboards cost just a few thousand bucks per month, and tons of investors see them.)

Another bright side: resilience. One of my most distinct memories from Minneapolis was the day that Target laid off thousands of employees after its failed expansion into Canada. It was a dark day, complete with newly-unemployed folks heading straight from Target HQ to the local bars, where they were offered drinks on the house. In contrast, companies fail all the time in Silicon Valley, and folks are remarkably understanding of such news. One company that I desperately wanted to join — Atrium, a tech-empowered law firm — went out of business less than a year after they turned me down for a role. (I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if this timing was correlation or causation.)

The moral of the story is that perspectives aren’t simply right or wrong, good or bad. It’s better to think of them as adaptive or maladaptive.

As with fitness in biological evolution, what is considered “adaptive” depends on the environment. Silicon Valley isn’t the best place for a stable career. But, if you ask me, it is perfect for folks who want to change the world or fail gloriously trying.

What’s your perspective? Let me know by clicking “Share.”


If you do, more people will join our Outsider community. We’re nearing 100 members, a milestone that will demand a celebration! (Maybe a billboard?)

✨What’s (not-so) new in the Valley

  • Old Trends Made New: Now that podcasting is mainstream, with more than half of the United States listening to podcasts, we’re entering a new era of audio-storytelling innovation. Megaphone, a podcasting back-end tool, was bought by Spotify for $235 million this week; On Deck has announced a new podcasters fellowship; and startup Descript unveiled technology to edit podcasts like text documents, complete with cutting out “ums” and “likes,” and even editing words you misspoke (**highly recommended, ridiculously cool demo**)

  • VC Battles: A startup that I can only describe as QVC for Millennials raised a Series A this week at an $100 million valuation. That’s a ridiculously high valuation for a young company, and a number only explained by a tale as old as time in Silicon Valley: two VC firms one-upping each other to win a deal.

  • Safe Spaces: After continued flags from the fact-checking team at Twitter, conservative users have broken off to form a new social network: Parler, the new home for either free speech or conspiracy theorists, depending on who you ask. The app became the top app on both the Apple and Google app stores this week despite conspiracy theories that suggest it may be compromised by Russian influence. It will be interesting to see if the app can last — or whether its users come flocking back to Twitter. My money’s on the latter.

🧓 Narrative Violation: Founding Forties

The prominence of generation-defining, wunderkind founders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg has led many to incorrectly believe that all founders are early-twenties types who run on Mountain Dew and youthful verve. Not so, says a study published by the Harvard Business Review:

Our team analyzed the age of all business founders in the U.S. in recent years by leveraging confidential administrative data sets from the U.S. Census Bureau. We found that the average age of entrepreneurs at the time they founded their companies is 42…

But what about the most successful startups? Is it possible that companies started by younger entrepreneurs are particularly successful? Among the top 0.1% of startups based on growth in their first five years, we find that the founders started their companies, on average, when they were 45 years old.

🚀 Someone to know: Mishti

Vidushi “Mishti” Sharma is just a few years into her career as a smart generalist, and it’s already clear that’s she’s going places. Just look at her writing to see why — she’s thoughtful, creative, and genuine. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a number of virtual events with Mishti through the Renaissance Collective, and she is often the person whose questions give the rest of the group a genuine spark of intrigue, insight, and joy.

Mishti recently wrote an article about her search for a dream job, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone hoping to break into tech. It’s packed with useful tips and words of wisdom, like these:

In closing, if I think about what made this all work, it’s this: be bold, and be thoughtful. Never hesitate to pursue a connection with someone who strikes a chord once you’ve done the pre-work (consider areas of shared passion, write something up, and offer ways to collaborate). And once you’re around the right people, stay curious, leave room for serendipity, and trust the process.

You should follow Mishti on Twitter and check out her newsletter to learn more.

Catch you on the outside,