Unicorns vs. Horses – Why I want to be In-N-Out Burger, not McDonalds


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I’ve had a lot of people say similar things when I share the fact that we haven’t raised any money. Or that we don’t have a sales team. Or that we aren’t based in Silicon Valley

I don’t want to be McDonalds — I want to be In-N-Out Burger.

Started in 1948 by Harry and Esther Snyder, In-N-Out pioneered the drive-in fast food concept and quickly grew in popularity. Unlike some of their competitors, the Snyders focused on paying their employees well, serving high quality food, and growing slowly to maintain that high level of quality. Despite growing to over 300 stores over the past 67 years, In-N-Out hasn’t expanded much outside of the western United States, and their food, service, and values remain largely unchanged. Nothing is frozen, their fries are still hand-diced, and they never went public or took outside money. Today, it’s valued at over half a billion dollars, and the company is still privately held by the Snyder family.

instead of rapidly scaling up to compete with McDonalds, In-N-Out stuck to their values and today is ranked number 15, to McDonalds’ number 1. They grew their revenue slowly over 67 years, and even now, after decades it’s only worth a measly $625MM.

The siren call for many entrepreneurs isn’t money, it’s freedom. The freedom to chart your own path, the freedom to build what you want with the people you love. Taking money, building a board, and raising rounds takes away that freedom little by little. When you take venture money, you work for your investors, not yourself. You’re committing to grow fast to dominate your market and get your investors their cash back in the form of an exit or going public as soon as possible.

If you aren’t McDonalds, you better damn well be Burger King, or die trying. There’s nothing wrong with this, but this way of thinking — all or nothing moonshots to maximize shareholder value — has become pervasive dogma in tech

They answer to customers, not investors, and focus on making their employees, customers, and themselves happy. They’re thoroughbred horses, not unicorns, and it’s time we start paying attention to them.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t raise money, or that venture capital is inherently bad, just that there’s a big grey area between a lifestyle business and a venture backed moonshot. Raising venture money is a high risk commitment to go big or go home, and it isn’t for everyone.



Unicorns vs. Horses – Why I want to be In-N-Out Burger, not McDonalds


A little nicer than trying to manage a project over email or by stringing together a bunch of separate chat, file sharing, and task systems. Along the way it made for a comfortable business to own for my partner and me, and a great place to work for our employees.

That’s it.

It didn’t disrupt anything. It didn’t add any new members to the three-comma club. It was never a unicorn. Even worse: There are still, after all these years,less than fifty people working at Basecamp. We don’t even have a San Francisco satellite office!

Well, the reason I’m here is to remind you that maybe, just maybe, you too have a nagging, gagging sense that the current atmosphere of disrupt-o-mania isn’t the only air a startup can breathe. That perhaps this zeal for disruption is not only crowding out other motives for doing a startup, but also can be downright poisonous for everyone here and the rest of the world.

Part of the problem seems to be that nobody these days is content to merely put their dent in the universe. No, they have to fucking own the universe. It’s not enough to be in the market, they have to dominate it. It’s not enough to serve customers, they have to capture them.

 If you’re capable of stringing enough buzzwords about disruption and sufficient admiration for its holy verses, like software eating the world, and an appropriate yearning for the San Franciscan Mecca, you too can get to advance in this multi-level investment scheme.

I wanted to work for myself. Walk to my own beat. Chart my own path. Call it like I saw it, and not worry about what dudes in suits thought of that. All the cliches of independence that sound so quaint until you have a board meeting questioning why you aren’t raising more, burning faster, and growing at supersonic speeds yesterday?!



The steroid era of startups is over — here’s what 8 top VCs think will happen next

Essentially, too many companies have taken too much money at unsupportable valuations. A lot of the money they raised came with huge caveats that would protect late-stage investors.

The venture community has realized that a number of companies were funded at valuations that were far ahead of their fundamental progress as businesses, and that some of those companies are not actually that great fundamental businesses. —Alfred Lin, Sequoia



The steroid era of startups is over — here’s what 8 top VCs think will happen next