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James Surowiecki: The Startup Mass Extinction : The New Yorker


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Starting a company may be easier, but making it a success isn’t:

Competition is fierce, profits are scarce, and venture capitalists aren’t generous when it comes to later stages of funding. As Gideon Lewis-Kraus shows in “No Exit,” a new Kindle Single about startup culture, the life of a new company is often brutish and short. Though we may be seeing a “Cambrian explosion” of new companies, as The Economist recently put it, there’s a mass extinction going on, too.

The fundamental characteristic of entrepreneurs isn’t risk-seeking; it’s self-confidence.

You might suppose that entrepreneurs would be better off curbing their optimism. But we’ve built a whole system on unrealistic expectations:

Because we don’t know how to identify good companies in advance, investors end up funding lots of them in the hope that a few will hit it big. As a character on the new HBO series “Silicon Valley” says of a V.C., “You know how sea turtles have, like, a shit ton of babies because most of them die on the way down to the water? Peter just wants to make sure his money makes it to the ocean.” The economy has come to rely on this Darwinian process to drive innovation. “Overconfidence means that many more companies start up than will ever succeed,” Brian Wu, a professor of strategy at the University of Michigan, told me. “That’s unfortunate for individual companies. The paradox is that it’s really beneficial for society.” In the delusions of entrepreneurs are the seeds of technological progress.

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