English and Literature
Submitted By finleym4
I recently got an email from a founder that helped me understand something important: why it's safe for startup founders to be nice people.
I grew up with a cartoon idea of a very successful businessman (in the cartoon it was always a man): a rapacious, cigar-smoking, table-thumping guy in his fifties who wins by exercising power, and isn't too fussy about how. As I've written before, one of the things that has surprised me most about startups is how few of the most successful founders are like that. Maybe successful people in other industries are; I don't know; but not startup founders. 
I knew this empirically, but I never saw the math of why till I got this founder's email. In it he said he worried that he was fundamentally soft-hearted and tended to give away too much for free. He thought perhaps he needed "a little dose of sociopath-ness."
I told him not to worry about it, because so long as he built something good enough to spread by word of mouth, he'd have a hyperlinear growth curve. If he was bad at extracting money from people, at worst this curve would be some constant multiple less than 1 of what it might have been. But a constant multiple of any curve is exactly the same shape. The numbers on the Y axis are smaller, but the curve is just as steep, and when anything grows at the rate of a successful startup, the Y axis will take care of itself.
Some examples will make this clear. Suppose your company is making $1000 a month now, and you've made something so great that it's growing at 5% a week. Two years from now, you'll be making about $160k a month.
Now suppose you're so un-rapacious that you only extract half as much from your users as you could. That means two years later you'll be making $80k a month instead of $160k. How far behind are you? How long will it take to catch up with where you'd have been if you were extracting every penny? A mere 15 weeks. After two years, the un-rapacious founder is only 3.5 months behind the rapacious one. 
If you're going to optimize a number, the one to choose is your growth rate. Suppose as before that you only extract half as much from users as you could, but that you're able to grow 6% a week instead of 5%. Now how are you doing compared to the rapacious founder after two years? You're already ahead—$214k a month versus $160k—and pulling away fast. In another year you'll be making $4.4 million a month to the rapacious founder's $2 million.…...