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Optimism beat Paranoia

Andy Grove once famously said “Only the paranoid survive”. He was one of the great tech leaders of all time, but when he said this he had been running Intel for 14 years. It was a big company by then, and this sentiment is a big company sentiment.

When a company is public it’s all about make the month, make the quarter, make the year. As a result, CEOs have to be paranoid. They have to think about everything that can go wrong so that they can guard against those risks. They become pessimists

For a startup, statistically, the most likely outcome is failure. Almost everything can go wrong. With big incumbents, uncertain market sizes, unproven technology and a small team, failure modes lie all around. The only through path to success requires a bunch of things to go right. That requires a single minded focus on the through line towards the promised land. Success is about getting that one thing right that makes up for all the disadvantages that startups face.

Andy Grove may be right to say that only the paranoid survive when it comes to big companies. But for startups, only the optimists succeed.

Look to the horizon. Look to the sky. Go for the big prize. If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you will never see the path to success.

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