There is no official culture at StartupVille. It’s just a bunch of guys — yes, guys, exclusively, as there are literally zero females — working on software, testing, debugging, sales, and support.
People are cool. Nice, engaging, funny, well-rounded, mostly smart. I don’t spot a single Asshole Nerd or problem worker. There are two individuals that aren’t really pulling their weight but they’re totally domesticated and aren’t dragging the rest of the group down with them so nobody cares. By the end of my first year, I’m pretty good friends with most people and I feel like I’ve found myself a quality place to live out my years in captivity.
I remember one day in particular where I was fairly upset about an issue with our most important customer, and one of the engineers surprised me by noticing my distress and offering to help. (I must have been sweating bullets or twitching uncontrollably or something along those lines..) Next thing I knew, I was talking about the problem over lunch with this guy and my manager, and we worked together on how to move forward.
The point is, people generally wanted to support one another in StartupVille’s workplace environment, which was a welcome change of atmosphere after FinancialCompany’s toxic bog.
If there’s any vibe, it’s one of slight depression. Although the company is technically a startup, they’ve passed the early stages of discovery and validation, and instead have moved on to the third phase, which is ‘efficiency.’ This means that they already have a fully functional product, they have a pitch, there’s a market to sell into, and they’re trying to ramp up sales and actually drive growth.
But they’re having trouble making those sales. The space they’re trying to sell into (configuration management) isn’t well understood by the industry and it’s difficult to convince organizations to budget for a brand new tool. And they’ve been in this phase for a full year and a half already — most industry analysts expected growth to ramp up at a far faster rate than StartupVille was seeing.
A few key members of the original product’s engineering team had already left the company in search of The Next Great Idea, and the shift in leadership coupled with slow sales understandably bummed some people out. As a general rule, employees at startup companies are hoping to become loaded off of their stock, somewhere down the line, but in truth, the odds are only about one in ten that they’ll make anything at all. When it was becoming apparent that this particular company wasn’t going to pan out, a lot of dreams got dashed.
As for me, I didn’t particularly care whether StartupVille made it big or not. This is just another benefit of being on the road to FI — you don’t need miracles to get rich. When coworkers talked about how disappointed they were about contributing four years of their life to StartupVille without any stock payoff, I’d dutifully assume my sympathetic face and go through the social motions.
But privately, I could not care less, because when you’re on the FIRE path, your destiny is already assured due to your ridiculous savings rate. My stash continued to grow, making me a winner no matter how the company ended up doing. Of course I rooted for their success and did what I could within reason to enable this outcome — but it wasn’t the end of the world for me if things didn’t work out the way it was for other guys at StartupVille.
Putting yourself on the FIRE path is the gift that just keeps on giving.