“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat.”
Picking a rocket ship isn’t as easy as the quote would make it seem. Sure, if a company raises a boatload of capital, it is at least going to have a good run at becoming an enduring company. But as we have seen recently and is becoming even more prevalent, venture-backed companies have to regress to progress. Team reductions among companies that appeared to be rocket ships once are now becoming commonplace. Ask the people who have gotten let go from one of these rocket ships if they made the right decision to pick a seat on it, and you might get an answer that doesn’t align with Sandberg’s quote and perspective.
Rocket ships aren’t as easy to identify, and the timing of when to get on and off of your own volition is even more challenging to determine. We wouldn’t need venture capital if it were easy to identify rocket ships. Traditional forms of financing and capitalization would suffice. The venture capital industry exists because identifying and betting on rocket ships is largely professional gambling. Make a couple of big bets that work out, and the returns can be massive and will make up for all of the losses. Most venture funds and firms don’t provide a positive return. It turns out betting on what companies will be rocket ships is hard, and assessing which one to be a part of is no different.
So how is someone supposed to know whether a company is, will be, and the right time to join a rocket ship? First, ignore Sandberg’s quote. The intent shouldn’t be to take a seat on a rocket ship. The goal should be to do interesting work with interesting people, working on a problem that interests you. These factors make it worth the time and energy for you to ply your craft at a company irrespective of its odds of being a rocket ship. If a company then turns out to be a rocket ship, cool, but joining a fast-growing company for the sake of the company’s rapid growth shouldn’t lead to the decision to join.
A ride on a rocket ship is invigorating. The ride’s intensity, work and demands will get anyone’s adrenaline flowing. The belief is that if you take a seat on a rocket ship, you will be challenged and learn more than you otherwise would. This might be true. The intensity…