In Chapter 14 of 17 of his 2010 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, engineer and Salesforce.com Chief Technology Architect Marc Ferrentino reflects on why it is more difficult to walk away from a startup on one's own terms than it is to stay. Comparing the band of brothers experience to pledging a fraternity, emotional attachment happens easily, especially given how startups nearly always have world changing ambitions. Ferrentino compares the trap many fall into acknowledging losses with stock portfolios, namely a stock is not an official loss until you sell it. In the same way, a startup often is not perceived as a failure until you leave it.
Ferrentino holds a BS in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan. After leaving Goldman Sachs, he worked for several years in New York City based startups before joining Salesforce.com.
Erik Michielsen: Why is walking away from a start-up so difficult and what’s your own experience here?
Marc Ferrentino: So I’ve walked away from a couple of start-ups. It is very difficult. Start-ups are amazing, its one of the best experience you can possibly have, it’s the most fun you can possibly have. It really is. It is, it’s kind of like, it’s a little like pledging in that respect when you go through the process where you’re, you’re very band of brothers, its you against the world. You’re, you’re there till god knows what time of night you’re eating horribly, you’re you know but its amazing and its exciting.
So I think because of that you wind up getting, you, you can’t help yourself getting emotionally attached to the start up, to the idea, to the people around you and to the vision really that you have and some that’s vision of the product the vision of changing the world, which is typically what you’ll see when you, at a lot of start ups its that idea that you can somehow change the world and of course the vision of grandeur vision of greatness of some kind of exit that will put you on easy street. It becomes very hard to walk away, you’re, you’re basically saying goodbye to a dream you’re acknowledging, you’re also acknowledging a little bit failure, which is not easy to do.
It’s that idea that if I don’t stop, I don’t quit, I didn’t fail yet… its like, like you make a bad stock trade, you know, you didn’t, you didn’t really… until I sell it I haven’t really lost money yet. You know? And that’s kind of, that’s a, that’s a bit of it, a big piece of it and what winds up happening is you wind up staying there too long, you wind up dragging on your time there and then you become resentful in a lot of cases and it takes, its very hard for most people to walk away to say ‘Ok, you know what? I don’t think this is going to happen, I’m going to walk away’ cause it, it gets masked as ‘you’re quitting’ or ‘you’re a traitor’ or you’re something else, you know, you’re, you’re not you’re not a believer anymore and that makes you, you know, you’re a bad person because of it and a that’s just not a lot of case, a lot of times the case. So it’s a very, very difficult to do and it takes, you have to be a stronger to walk away from it than to stay.