The Boy Who Went Public

Our children, our startups

So, you are having your first son. Congratulations! Now think twenty years out. What is your KPI? How will you judge success? What does product market fit mean, when it comes to your children?

In startup land, we think about this month. This quarter. Next year. Maybe, if we are ambitious founders with vision we think about 2 to 3 years out. One of a kind visionaries see further. Jobs. Bezos. Musk. 5 years. Maybe even at times 10 years out. A million songs in ever pocket. The world’s largest bookstore. Amazing electric cars.

But your ten year old is still just 10. He is passionate and energetic and full of promise, but also awkward and annoying and inconsistent. Does he fit? Like a good product in the hands of a customer who really values what it offers? Does he generate the kind of measurable results that can be scaled with time, attention, and capital over the next years? Not really. He is still just ten. He will need another ten years, at least, to fully form into an independent self-sustaining active economic being with his own identity, ambition, capacity, capability, and unique history of performance. In the meantime, for the next ten long years, he will evolve slowly to the point where his own particular KPI emerges.

To each adult, I guess, there exists his own combination of qualities that determines his degree of fit with the world around him. Maybe this fit could be even more simply reduced to happiness. After all, what term better conveys one’s product market fit with the world than happiness?

If happiness is the terminal output, then the key factors driving it might be one’s interest, his drive towards it, how sustainable his behavior is in pursuing it, his ability to make choices in his life, the love that makes up his relationships, and his overall general health and energy levels.

In a vacuum, outer space or else in one’s dreams, there would be no impedance to these drivers of happiness. But alas there are substances. And Addictions. Devices. Screens. Notifications. Dopamine Loops. Triggers. Outrage. Overwhelm.

And so even after twenty years, PMF for the adult human being is tenuous, at least in the family I know, and those of my friends. The healthy, well-adjusted, positive energy-producing recent college grad. He who has bounced through Trump’s ungovernment, and Zoom campus during Covid, and now, soon, will be on a clear track of happy progress, and progressive happiness.

Some years back, around the turn of the new millennium, I wanted to write a children’s book. It was going to be called the Boy Who Went Public. It was about a young boy, around 5 years old, who was taken public by his venture capitalistic parents. Here was this marvelous prodigy, only 5 and yet so ready to turn his brilliant ideas into realities through the wonder of modern technology. Who wouldn’t want to capitalize on his future income streams, no doubt capital gains from inventions that he came up with and sold for shares in decacorns to be.

In the calculus of global economics, confidence over time equals investment return. And so for this 20 year old person, what we need as his parent, is for our faith in him to become his own. For him to learn how to self-sustain with confidence in his own capability to express himself, sustainably. Something of which even the greatest AI is still, thankfully, incapable.