A few weeks ago I bumped into a former associate on Facebook and LinkedIn. He's a technologist and serial entrepreneur who has had some significant successes, but whose latest company, even after raising two solid rounds of venture funding, didn't make it. I read the press when it happened and heard a lot of speculation about VC interference, competitors using unethical tactics, pushing a product to market too fast, quality issues, and improperly-set customer expectations. Most of the industry analysts at the time thought the company could survive or even thrive, but that the VCs had pulled out too fast. All or some may be true, but knowing my former associate and his technological prowess, I suspect management of VC expectations may have been at least a part of the problem. I'll get the full story when we meet for lunch in a week or so.
Once we'd reconnected on the social networks and set up our catch up meeting (he's out of the country on a well-deserved vacation), he asked me a very pointed question: Am I DONE?
I suspect he's nearing the same place I was when I decided to pursue writing for a while. While it may look glamorous from the outside, the Silicon Valley can be a cutthroat place. The best technologies don't always win; the hardest working don't always get rewarded; and you can do everything right and still end up down and out - or at the very least, viscerally discouraged.
When I stepped out, most of my former team as well as executive level friends and other entrepreneurs predicted I wouldn't last six months. My dream of writing, staying in great shape, and pursuing the sports I love wouldn't stand up to the excitement of developing new technologies and getting them to market.
To some degree, they were right. I do miss the technology and my team. I stay current on what's going on, but I rarely design a new system or see it solve a customer problem. Managing my team, doing my best to encourage their professional growth, and seeing them accomplish things together that would have been impossible alone, inspired me. And, writing is a solitary pursuit. I spend a lot of time alone. Still, I don't miss the stress, the long hours, being available 24x7, or seeing world-changing technologies crushed by the big guys who feel threatened. But am I really DONE?
Not long ago, I came up with an idea that would take advantage of new systems which collect medical records electronically to predict outcomes of treatments based on history, genetics, environment, etc. It seemed particularly fortuitous because not long after formulating the idea, while waiting for an EV charging station, I met the head of strategic partnerships for a major medical manufacturer. They were interested in predictive outcomes based on analysis of application of their equipment in treating cancers - what an amazing coincidence - it must be fate! He seemed to think he could raise sufficient funding to build a prototype. Maybe I wasn't DONE after all.
I discussed the idea with my wife as well as with a couple members of my former team. My wife was shocked. She'd been working hard to get her business to a place where she could exit to join me in retirement and now I was going back into startup mode with all the stress. And I was going to abandon her?
Of course my team members were enthusiastic. I started laying out a business plan. Then I had a second thought. Did I really want to do this? Maybe I could just get it started, build the prototype, line up at least the first major customer, raise some funding, and step out.
I contacted a VC friend who convinced me that the medical industry was a mess I didn't want to step into. He urged me to enjoy my 'retirement': pursue my sports write, relax. Sadly, it didn't take much to talk me out of it. So maybe I was DONE. Of course I've since learned that he had just retired when he gave me the advice that he was following himself.
So, am I DONE?
Well, I am meeting with this former associate. He's a brilliant guy and a great technologist. I'm pretty sure he's looking for ideas for his next startup. On the other hand, maybe he just wants to know what it's like to be DONE. But ultimately, who knows what will happen when two technologists who are both former entrepreneurs decide to brainstorm over lunch?