When it was a straight choice between staying in bed with her, and going to the meeting I was being paid a lot of money to attend, I wondered what I did it all for. I was swapping something pure for something mechanical, calculated, though somewhat future-facing. And so I laid there with her slim body laying on top of me, only my sticky underwear between us. I squeezed her tanned skin and bit my lip. She told me to get up and shower. Half asleep and exhausted, she asked me to critique her website. I put my adult brain in gear and told her getting traffic was the easy part, getting people to connect with her idea is harder. I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her goodbye. She told me she was glad we met. I nodded and thought about my upcoming trip to America. At times in the meeting that day I'd be thinking about her. It's rare I think about anyone the next day. Then I'd nod my way back into the conversation. This was reality now.
How can so many people be running startups, but so few failing, if so few are successfully exiting? Is it a slow death from a thousand app uninstalls? Is the culture of embarrassment greater than the strange culture of "failure is good"? Where do the startup losers go? Everybody thinks they have the key to beating the thing. Most see the writing on the wall early but hope their luck will change. When it comes to odds, all of us who run company are old ladies in Florida with scratch cards: they play the lottery or read horoscopes, we start companies. Same odds. Writing this on a train, a pretty girl has just come and sat opposite me. Strapped sandal shoes, short black and white dress, dark, shoulder length hair, big eyes and lips. She notes me with a wry smile then goes back to her phone. I look away, as is the custom. One could spend their whole life chasing the perfect woman and be no closer to finding her. As any relationship unwinds, the madness comes out, from both sides. Much like startups, though they have an entirely different sort of madness. A madness informed by other peoples' dogma, smoke and mirrors, rank dishonesty from the losers, even more so from the winners. No one reveals their secret sauce, leading the others that follow them on a merry dance that leads to nowhere. They're under no obligation to reveal their competitive advantages, obviously, but in any case most imitators copy the surface idea, make a minor change, and expect investment money to come flying in. Some people may end up alone in life, which sucks, but almost all startups lose. At best they lose years in time, at worst they lose time and all their money (with the most unlucky of all being those who take out personal loans to fund first-time ideas which collapse).
I had come into the world of startups, just as I had the world of music before it, seeking something out of the ordinary. In music, I found artists operating on an entirely new plane to the people I grew up in my small hometown of Kingston, Surrey. In startups, I saw people bucking the long-held belief that everyone has to work for someone else. I came into both industries awestruck, naive, and under the influence. Having spent three years in both, I find musicians. the music industry, and startup people sharing fixed egos- tenaciously hapless with a surprisingly limited worldview. I get speaking to the girl sitting opposite me on the train. "Where are you from?" I ask. "Does it matter?" she replies. I guess not. One of my favourite and most infuriating paradoxes: "The problem with punk rock is that there are too many damn rules." Wherever innovation should be sprouting, self-imposed rules stagnate growth. We mouth the words Steve Jobs said, but we don't know what they mean. Most people are in an unconscious war with their own emotions. Then layer on the incompetence, arrogance, and defensiveness any external data points or advice have to pierce through on the average person, and you have a near-guarantee of arrested development for anyone running a company. Relationships lack the clear "doing well" and "doing badly" markers a business does, so the unhappiness in those can last years, sometimes lifetimes. Meanwhile, we neglect our relationships for our careers and our careers for our relationships. So much time wasted, so little time spent on sober self-reflection. Constant entertainment needed from all angles with no end in sight. I tell people to stay out of their Facebook feeds then visit it 99 out of 100 days myself. Almost no-one escapes.
Right now when we absorb the information we seek we're pirouetting down a periscope of sadness as we watch a world we don't understand do things we can't comprehend. Meanwhile if we stop the alcohol, the distraction, the relentless pursuit of entertainment, we'd have to face the relationships (or lack of relationships) and careers in our lives, of comparing ourselves to the successes we see all around us, the illusions we stopped questioning a long time ago. It's hard to tell which route is more harrowing to the modern person in the year 2016. I've arrived home now. Thinking about turning the wifi off and reading a book tonight. A mental peace shattered by knowing my inbox, career, and social media will be waiting for me and will all absorb me all day tomorrow, but I smile remembering the purity of intimacy this morning. Mornings like this are moments of calm in a lifetime of noise, holidays for anyone enduring the modern world. God knows we need them.
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