Startup land can feel exclusionary and clique driven. Looking in from the outside it can seem as if all the power and money is concentrated into a few groups that only fund and hire their friends. Less charitably it looks like a circle jerk.
While this isn’t an incorrect perception, I believe why we think it is exclusionary is very different from the reality of why it is exclusionary.
Startups are tight knit because successful companies have high psychological safety. We all tend to work together again and again and back each other’s plays because we have built up a high trust environment in order to survive. Even if we don’t exactly see the vision someone else has we trust that they will find a way to make it into a reality.
We don’t trust that this is true for everyone. Ideas are like assholes in that everyone has got one. It’s the ability to turn a formless expanse of ideas and hopes into a company that makes a product it’s customers like. It’s extremely hard to make something new. Harder than you can ever imagine if you haven’t tried it. So people who make a living out of making something from nothing have developed a set of heuristics that let us determine if someone outside our circle is capable of making “a thing” to prove their ideas can become reality.
We tend to overweight people that build tangible things. Even though many of the most crucial skills in business are the less quantifiable ones. We tend to overweight people that have demonstrated any kind of success in zero-to-one work even if what they want to build isn’t remotely related to what was done in the past. This is how despite most of my experience being in advertising tech and e-commerce I was backed to make cosmetics. People had faith that I could flip the bit from off to on.
While this may make it seem hopeless if you are currently not inside the system that’s not what I hope you take away. Startup people love watching newbies make the leap. I cannot overstate the fondness we have for someone gathering up the courage to spring into the unknown. I used to hate the phrase “I’m rooting for you” till I realized everyone actually did want me to succeed. They just rightly realized I needed to learn the hard lessons in my own time. They could give me all the advice in the world (and believe me they did) and sometimes I just needed to make the mistake in order to learn the lesson. The mistakes allowed me to succeed.
Of course, we always hope people will learn from our advice and not require the pain of a fucked up cap table or a growth plan that missed target because we burned our cash position down to three months runway. But most people that are genuinely good at startup work appreciate that only the person actually “doing it” can make the choices that lead to success.
So startup folks will always be excited to give back and encourage those that want to try “doing it” too. If I have a clear ask I find I get an answer from even the most successful and prestigious. Literally CEOs and world famous developers of entire languages will just email you back. It’s honestly miraculous. I have invested in cold emails. Championed them to my nearest and dearest. Because we believe that the process of making something from thing doesn’t exclude anyone. You just have to show someone that you will try to make your vision a reality.