Sunday, October 31, 2010

I am a Start-Up Pirate.

This article posted by Arrington at TechCrunch, and the link to Glenn's blog maybe the best writing I've come across this year.

The timing of this article is almost perfect.

For the past week, I've been begging some very talented Waterloo undergraduate "Co-op Students" (Canadian term for interns) to join Kontagent. Our very own pirate ship. (Read the above linked article to understand the statement - but if you don't read it, here it is: Pirates = Risk Taking Entrepreneurs)

Begging. Yes. Begging.


Because these are the very best of the brightest students.

Almost in every case in this upcoming term, these students have multiple offers from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Mozilla, [insert elite brand name here].


Often paying WAY more than we could ever afford.

I personally fly+drive to Waterloo. Waterloo is 1.5 hours drive away from the closest international airport in Toronto.


Because students, Canadian students especially, and most people in general don't know what its like to be a Pirate.

That and because these students are f'ing amazingly talented -- and worth every hour that I volenteer to speak at Waterloo to hopefully (selfishly) inspire these students to do a startup, and hopefully join Kontagent one day.

But a pirate's life is a hard life. It means making sacrifices like less pay, longer hours, more stress.

But so many of us are condition in school to take the straight and narrow, easy way out -- of hard-work to guaranteed success.

But for Pirates, its about the risk -- and the love of risk. As Michael said in his article in TechCrunch -- the RISK IS THE REWARD. Its knowing that everything you do makes an immediate impact. Its the thrill of uncertainty of not knowing if you're going to crash and burn or if you'll change the world.

Everytime I go into battle for top co-op student talent at Waterloo, I sell the adventure. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose to the security blanket of working at Google.

But its worth it.

Because every student I rescue from the pits of the guaranteed "success" of working at a good big firm. I (selfishly) create an opportunity for a student to become an entrepreneur (that may one day graduate and come work for our company and not some generic super successful brand name tech company).

That and I often get some amazing talent that makes a huge difference in the company.

So there you have it. This is why I love my life. Its because I get to be a modern day pirate -- every single day.

If there was ever a formula to my "success" its this:

My Life = Pirates Life = A Hard Life = A Awesome Life = Eternal Happiness.

And this is why I think my life is awesome, and why I love every day of my life since I started being a baseball card pirate when I was 13 years old selling baseball cards to my friends in the school yard. :)


Posted via email from Albert Lai's Quick Blog


  1. I agree that many Waterloo students are overly risk-averse, and I appreciate the effects that increasingly aggressive startup recruiting (including your own efforts) have had on changing the perception of startups to students. Kudos.

    However, I don't think risk aversion is the whole problem. Unlike full-time employees, students rarely get options or equity in exchange for taking a job at a startup. They're not making a gamble on a future reward, they're taking lower compensation. That's a hard sell.

    That's not to say that compensation is the most important thing; for a large portion of students, impact is the priority. But impact doesn't necessarily mean a small company. I've known students who have spent terms at startups working on something that never shipped, and I've known students at big dot-coms who have worked on major features seen by millions of people every day. In the uncertainty of impact, compensation can be a tie-breaker.

  2. While I'm only hitting the tip of the iceberg in the startup world.. I was talking some Xtreme Labs co-ops late last Friday (Waterloo Software Engineering co-ops) about what really motivates them in the choice of what companies they worked for during the co-op terms. What came out of it had a lot to do with their being challenged and ultimately the impact they would have through the apps that they helped created, not just compensation.

    In the end, I had admitted I was envious about their being in engineering, creating some cool shit and how my background (Accounting) isn't serving me at all.

    Funnily enough, they were saying the exact opposite in they think I'm "ahead of the game"... if they only knew.. I have to backtrack and actually learn the shit myself now..haha.

    It's friggin' tough, but DAMN I love startup life :)

  3. @Paul,
    agreed -- that said we have started to grant exceptional co-ops bonuses/equity upon a returning term or upon graduation -- as incentive.

    You are also right, the upside/reward isn't just compensation as a co-op in a startup, but what you get to experience and learn to prepare yourself upon graduation for one.

    Startups often like to recruit folks with startup experience (a mix of multi-national and startup experience is often attractive as well).

  4. @Will -- You're on the right track doing XtremeU having studied accounting. That said, its never too late to pick up some skills on your own that can improve your ability to "build" stuff. You don't need to be an engineer to have engineering skills, or be able to add value -- but having a good grasp of the tech, even at a high level certainly doesn't hurt.

  5. As a Waterloo Alum, I was greatly encouraged by the energy and information demonstrated by the students in a recent trip back. So far ahead of the situation when I was there. As for being risk averse, multiple offers from Facebook, Google, Microsoft (ok, I make an exception here), Amazon, Mozilla, etc. sounds a lot more edgy and enticing than working for the big six banks or retail giants that dominated co-op and graduate positions in my day. Perhaps you should spread the word by mounting a Kontagent sign on a building facing the campus - like RIM does.

  6. @Alan F. You're right -- many of the students still end up at some huge bank like Royal Bank or CIBC. Which is of course even further from a pirate ship than the Amazon's of the world (heck, those banks probably make Microsoft look like a startup). As far as get getting a sign on a building -- happy to if someone gave us a building to mount it on. :)