Who is John Galt?

I have a different take on the New York Times front page fodder regarding Silicon Valley millionaires not feeling rich.

Most readers of this story see it as yet another example of the rampant greed prevalent throughout the Valley. Following suit, bloggers such as Nick O’Neil point out the danger in this type of mentality, ‘I truly hope that whenever I reach my goals I don’t fall victim to the same perspective that some of these other individuals have.’ It’s a good point.

Likewise, Jeremy Toeman states: ‘It’s these same people that are setting these terrible role models for recent college grads who think they can come out of school, go start some company with a friend or two, and make a few quick million.’ Should the young not aspire to such goals?

In my humble opinion the Times has it wrong. This is not a tale of greed. Money, in the sense of materialism, is not what motivates people like Hal Steger. No, it’s not the money per se, but rather what the money represents.

In Silicone Valley, money, specifically ‘valuation’ and ‘deal size’ are the primary indicators of success. Think of it like this’ in the field of management consulting you can make a lot of money at almost any firm. However, firms like McKinsey have a certain distinction and brand that make people aspire to work there. Same thing with trading at Goldman, or being a Professor at Harvard.

In similar fashion, who acquires you, and for how much, is really the ultimate justification for one’s efforts and ideas. Startups are a high-stakes game, much like gambling. Hal loves the deal. He loves innovation. He loves the chase. The truth is that Hal would probably most love to be a venture capitalist. However, Hal simply hasn’t struck it rich enough yet to become the investor rather than the investee. Startups are an addiction ‘“ just ask any serial entrepreneur. Why did Marc Andreessen start Ning? For an aging boomer like Hal, his startups are also an opportunity to work side by side with gen y’ers and keep himself ‘current.’ Remember with startups, unlike most jobs, there is often an ending. i.e. a liquidity event.

Thus, I disagree that people like Hal are just ‘greedy.’ Instead, I see Hal as sharing the same attributes of many aging, high-level professionals. Every major law firm has an older partner, or two who probably could have and should have quit ages ago. Same with major league baseball players like Julio Franco. What these professionals chase is not money, but rather the thrill of crowd, the pursuit of the ultimate deal, the strive for excellence and the gratification of an honest day’s work.

Why keep working? Is it really for the money? I say not.


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