Dear Silicon Valley, Unicorns Aren’t Real

white and gold ceramic unicorn figurine near coins

Has anyone told those Silicon Valley bros that unicorns aren’t real? Maybe if they knew unicorns were what some dude came up with when he was high and jokingly asked his friend what would happen if a horse hooked up with a narwhal they’d stop making asinine criticisms about how Trello only sold for FOUR.HUNDRED.MILLION.DOLLARS.

I’d venture (ha, look at that word play) that maybe 1 in 100,000 people can even fathom what four hundred million dollars even means. I know that I have zero comprehension of that figure, and I’m about to reach that nefarious five year mark that swallows up most small businesses.

If you’re completely lost I’m referring to a blog post that’s been circulating the net that refers to Trello selling to Atlassian for 400 million dollars a “failure” because it didn’t sell for a BILLION dollars. I’m not writing in defense of the folks who sold Trello. I imagine they don’t need me in their corner. Their beautifully gold-laced money-laden corner. Hell, they’ve probably got enough money to have five corners in a square room.

I’m writing in defense of everyone who ever built anything on the internet

How myopic do you have to be to look at a 400 million dollar exit and consider that anything but a true miracle? Sure, maybe a different strategy could have earned Trello even more money, but maybe before you fire up those Medium hot takes you could sell a business for at least a few hundred million? OK ok. 100 million?

It’s like me yelling at Tom Brady from my couch every Sunday about missed reads, even though I hardly sniffed the field in high school. Also, I never played Quarterback.

Everything is always so much more obvious from the outside. We all take so much comfort in pointing fingers and talking about how we would have done things differently. We would have used a different strategy. And we would have made better decisions all along. Honestly if I were running Trello it would have sold for a trillion easy. I can’t talk about how I would have done it without having you sign some privacy documents, but I totally could have created the first ever Narwhalicorn (the elusive trillion dollar exit).

Bringing it closer to home

Let’s take this one step further. Silicon Valley and multimillion dollar exits is pretty hard to relate to, so let’s drill down to the small business level.

I get messages all the time from people throwing shade because something that’s seemingly obvious to them isn’t being executed by the product or service owner.

“They’re charging way too much for that. No one is gonna pay that.”

“They only made 250K with their product? Why do they even bother?”

“Why are they partnering with THEM?”

I get caught up in it sometimes too. From the outside everything seems super clear.

It’s always messier in the trenches

But guess what? When you get inside things aren’t always as obvious. There are customer demands. There are internal issues. There are restraints on cash.

There are a billion (HA!) other things I could list here that muddy the waters. It’s why I’ve always had problems with platforms like Clarity. There’s never enough time to learn enough about challenges that have any kind of nuance or complexity. Not to say there’s no value at all there, but a great consultant isn’t afraid to get in and get their hands dirty. They understand that a $2.99 a minute fee should be reserved for other professions.

Why we Criticize

The reason we get caught in this trap of criticism is because building shit is hard. Anything that has any level of success on today’s internet should be celebrated and never ever taken for granted. For every minute we spend pointing the finger at someone else’s bad decision, we’re taking away our own time to create something good and helpful. Not to mention the garbage mindset that constantly looking outward and trying to spot mistakes creates.

It’s time to audit our own billion dollar misses.

Just getting people’s attention is a luxury in 2017. Getting their money? That’s something that should be cherished.

And if you’ve been online trying to make something work, and it’s been a hard trek so far. Hold your head up. Join me in the collective eyeroll in the direction of people trying to find the negative in a 400.MILLION.DOLLAR.EXIT.

I can guarantee the author who spent energy dissecting Trello’s “flaws” a year after their exit has dozens more holes in the front porch of his own house. That’s almost always how it goes.

And Trello? Props to you for getting that paper and taking care of your families. For everyone else who like me has no comprehension of these big numbers or success anywhere near that level, heads down. It’s time for us to get to work.

Notes: I intentionally didn’t link to the article I mentioned here. You can find it without too much work, but I’m not linking to that nonsense.

Thanks so much to @anniespratt for making that amazing pony photo available on Unsplash. She has a personal goal of sharing 1,000,000 photos with people that are free to use. No way she’s got time for criticism when she’s creating at that level.

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