Monday, April 28, 2008

Why Startups Are Like Mashed Potatoes


Those of us who love mashed potatoes (and as this blog's author, I of course do :)) have inevitably had both good and bad batches of the glorious puffy starch. The common theme, though, in both the good and bad batches, is the mix of ingredients. Good batches are creamy, light, perfectly seasoned, and, depending on personal preference, may have unique spices, or vegetables mixed in. Bad batches, on the other hand, are usually ruined by too much, or too little, of one or more ingredients.

Now, those reading this may wonder when I'm going to get to the comparison of mashed potatoes to startups. Well, to illustrate my point, have a look at this recent blog post by one of the guys at 37signals, a cool and successful 'semi-startup' that focuses on collaboration and development tools.

The author's point is somehow missed in several of the comments, which lambast him for being 'reverse-ageist,' etc. Thankfully, some of the other comments are from folks who understand what he was trying to get at, which ties into my comparison. Any company (but especially a startup) is vulnerable to 'group think,' and it is beneficial to have a group of people from different background/perspectives when you form a team. The more politically correct among us would call this 'diversity,' but I believe it is much more important than any legally-mandated goal. Companies with too many 'young guns' are doomed to failure because of constantly shifting ideas of what to build, whereas companies with too many 'family folks' are usually too stodgy and conservative.

The best companies, and the best mashed potatoes, have a mix of young, ripe ingredients, combined with 'seasoned' components that provide just the right blend that makes the end product perfect for business, and your palate.

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