In praise of one thing

Though start-up culture is a delusional, discriminatory bro-fest in many was, one aspect that I like about it is that there is little to no concept of “paying your dues.”

I know this first-hand — I worked for a start-up briefly in the late 90s.

I saw a promising job ad online and applied with no real hope of getting a call-back. But I did get that call and according to them, “blew them away” with my writing sample — so much so that they didn’t believe someone could compose something so polished so quickly. They had me draft another sample in person right in front of them, which luckily for me turned out even better than the first.

I was hired on the spot with the title “lead writer.” I had just turned twenty-three years old. I had no college degree, and though I had been a photojournalist for five years already I’d never been lead writer anywhere.

This was a fairly well-capitalized startup and my compensation was large. It wasn’t one of those “make crap for pay and it’ll be all in stock later, *wink, wink*” deals. They were not exploiting me; I would not equal my earnings there for another 15 years in my workaday career.

And of course here is no chance at all that I’d’ve been hired at any other “established” company for a similar role or with similar pay, no matter how great my writing skills. I had not paid my dues, you see, so no matter how good I am (and I was and am very good), my merit means nothing to most companies.

Though start-ups aren’t actually a meritocracy, at least the idea of that makes a difference sometimes.

But alas the start-up wanted me to move to Minneapolis (not stated when I accepted the job), which I had absolutely no intention of doing so I left after less than six months.

The whole idea of “paying your dues” means that the mediocre leverage time in place to advance, while the better people are shunted to the side (or self-shunt out of frustration).

This leads to “bozo explosion” in many companies.

No, start-ups aren’t perfect. But only a start-up would’ve (and did) hire someone fresh out of the army with no college degree in a lead writer role. I was great in the role, too, but certainly was not moving to Minneapolis for any amount of money or fancy title.

As for the start-up, it had a poor grasp on the direction the fast-changing internet was heading and went out of business two years later.