Old lessons can come back and be relevant again. Sharing a personal story from 2010.
In 2010 I was a soldier in the IDF, a junior field-level commander, in charge of 15 soldiers. I wasn’t very good at that and was removed from my position after a short period of 3 months. I was transferred around a couple of times and spent a few months as a support staff member for a field platoon. Not great but not bad. I was eager to get back to just being a field soldier, re-unite with my friends, do the work. I worked for it, talked to everyone who agreed to listen. Eventually, the right people got tired of my nagging and sent me back to my own platoon. I was thrilled.
Just 3 days into my deployment, I got into an argument with the wrong man and was sentenced to 28 days of landscaping work. It was humiliating: walking around with a garbage bag picking up litter, getting looks from younger soldiers, up until recently my subordinates. Looking back at it today I can see why this is not the end of the world but for a 20 years old kid, it’s not easy. I learned a lot from this episode but one thing stayed with me in particular.
During those 28 days, I was assigned to the technical commander of the battalion (for Israeli readers, “Rasar”), the most veteran position holder in the battalion who owes nothing to no one. These position holders are known to be strict. Depressed and ashamed I was shocked to find out that of all people, this position holder, named Avi Ben Ezra, was the nicest person around. He had absolutely no reason to, but he was just kind and generous, Simple as that. He could mock me or even just ignore me, and he had way bigger fish to fry. In spite of all that, he chose to be the nicest person ever and actually made an effort to help.
My lesson is that people are measured in their attitude towards people they have no reason to be kind to. People less powerful than them. This virtue is growing in importance as our world is becoming more and more alienated. I hope to never forget this. If someone related to Avi Ben Ezra is reading this, please let him know I am forever grateful.
Taking this lesson to my world today, it’s important to face that the tech startup ecosystem is hyper-competitive and can even be ruthless and most startups fail, that’s a given. But the more personal aspect of it is that most founders are not good enough to build a big successful company.
I talk to ~10 founders a week and the vast majority of them will never make money building a company, will never raise money, will never build a hot product. Perhaps this is not voiced enough and quite often sugar-coated. Building a company is hard, and most people do not have sufficient mental and intellectual resources to do so, not to mention underperforming public education systems that leave many talented people behind. You probably “most startups fail because of….” in a thousand different versions, and my thinking is most startups fail because the founders are not good enough.
This isn’t to say people shouldn’t try their best and I admire every person making an effort to create something new. But it does mean many investors or more successful founders will meet failing founders or just struggling founders with a slim chance of success. In those encounters, it is important to remember being kind is free. It is as relevant for struggling founders as it is to service workers or just random people on the street. I’m risking coming off cheap or shallow but I wanted to put this thread of thought on paper. Be kind.