Be wary of «success stories» heavy on inspiration and lean on details

You may have heard of the origin story of FedEx: Fred Smith, while in Yale, wrote a paper for an economics class outlining an overnight delivery service. His professor was unimpressed and gave him a «C».

Nonetheless, due to his ingenuity and drive, he created FedEx and is now worth over $5 billion.

What a great story about the CAN-DO spirit of entrepreneurship, right?

The «inspirational» story misses that Fred Smith’s father was the founder of a chain of restaurants AND a bus line (which eventually merged into Greyhound Corporation).

This allowed Fred Smith to spend $150,000 on consulting companies to see how viable his «overnight delivery business» was.

This was in the early 1970s.

In today’s money, $150,000 is worth almost a million dollars.

And how did he get that capital? From his $4 million inheritance.

(Worth roughly $26,000,000 today).

I call this entrepeneurporn – this idea that as long as you have a great idea, you too can become mega-successful!

And while we should celebrate people who achieve the rags-to-riches dream, it behooves us to be a bit more honest about how MUCH a leg up can help things. And how MANY of the famous «plucky» entrepreneurs came from serious money.

This mythology of an entrepreneur is shit because it puts most of us — who don’t have the resources that many famous «rags to riches» entrepreneurs did (Phil Knight, Bezos, Trump, etc) — with unrealistic expectations. Which can lead to a lot of pain when you don’t achieve what they were able to.

And unsurprisingly, we tell ourselves this exact story, with a weird fetishization of meritocracy as some universal truth.

So I repeat: Don’t let guru sell you on survivorship bias.

I’ll leave you with this about Chamath:

Poverty fueled the young man’s ambition, but it also made him acutely aware of the importance of the country’s social safety net. “I went to one of the best schools in Canada, but it cost me $8,000 a year,” he says. (Palihapitiya earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo in 1999.) “I am a by-product of an enormous number of progressive ideals — universal health care, almost-free basic education, a social welfare policy to take care of the lowest rungs of society but give them a path of upward mobility.”

Sol Orwell


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