Sat June 21 2014

Armchair Critics

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.
– Anton Ego, Ratatouille

It’s funny in hindsight which memories we remember most clearly.

One of those memories is from my first day at Hot Potato. Just the day before, I was a VC at RRE Ventures, and I naively thought I knew everything there was to building a product. I sat on the couch next to Justin Shaffer, and proceeded to list every single reason why I thought the iPhone app needed improvement.

As quickly as I had started, Justin stopped me and said, “Will, you can’t just complain without offering a solution.”

And he was right. It’s easy to be a critic. It’s easy to be an armchair product designer. It’s hard to actually build great products. People have become too focused on the hype, romanticizing running a startup.

I think part of why this has happened is because we are attracted to drama. People assume incorrectly that what we read on TechCrunch is a microcosm of what it’s like to work on a startup. Too many entrepreneurs are concerned with the hype and not enough entrepreneurs are concerned about building something, the unsexy work that goes into a great product. When I read that a startup is the new breakout success and people wonder how they came out of nowhere, if you look closely in the past, you’ll see brilliance and hard work combined with humbleness.

The entrepreneurs I respect the most are those who work tirelessly to make a difference rather than to appear on the front page of a widely-read tech blog or be invited to the most extravagant parties. These are entrepreneurs who do what they do because they want to solve a problem rather than try to achieve status.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
- Theodore Roosevelt

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