the fuel of founders: curiosity & impatience

“On a scale of 1-10 of impatience, the best entrepreneurs are an 11.” – Tom Stemberg, Founder of Staples

Curiosity and impatience make for great founder traits, but they often pull in different directions.

Curiosity compels you to sit and study a problem, to voraciously consume every article and reference you can find to wrap your head around a big idea or an imagined future (self-driving cars, space elevators, or self-destructing sexts).

Impatience gets you up out of your chair to do something about it: hire, fundraise, sell, and evangelize.

Curiosity is for academics, impatience for executives, but start-up founders need to be both dreamers and doers, straddling the world of ideas and realities.

Robert Oppenheimer, the American Prometheus behind the first atomic bomb, was a dreamer – but he was also impatient.  His colleague Murray Gellman said he lacked the ability to sit still:    

“Germans call it ‘Sitzfleisch’, ‘sitting flesh’ when you sit on a chair.  As far as I know, he never wrote a long paper or did a long calculation, anything of that kind.  He didn’t have the patience for that… [But] he inspired other people to do things, and his influence was fantastic." 

Impatience is the very opposite of Sitzfleisch, and without it, the Manhattan Project would have yielded nothing more than chalk dust.

Curiosity is what drew Steve Jobs to sit in on calligraphy classes at Reed; inspired Larry Ellison to study chip design at U. Chicago; compelled Bill Gates to cram for economics courses at Harvard; lured Larry and Sergey to pursue computer science Ph.D.s at Stanford.  

Impatience is what drove them all to drop out and start Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, and Google.

Silicon Valley’s cult of the drop-out pays homage to impatience – who has time for school when you’re building a billion-dollar business? – but gives short shrift to curiosity which is the heart of innovation.

Nothing fires a healthy impatience more than the desire to see a big idea, born of deep curiosity, brought to life.  As Steve Jobs said, "remembering that you are going to die” is a great motivator. 

Published by Michael Driscoll

Founder @RillData. Previously @Metamarkets. Investor @DCVC. Lapsed computational biologist.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: