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500 Startups: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

If you’ve stumbled onto this article, it’s probably because you found us via the deluge of 500 Startups coverage on TechCrunch, The Next Web, Venture Beat, or TechCocktail, etc.

500 Pirate Map

The 500 Startups pirate map

 

Since we’re in the business of targeting web content to your audience (invite code), we’re smart enough to know you probably want some dirt on the 500 Startups experience. And there’s a lot of dirt to go around, honestly. 500 Startups is an incredible place, but it’s incredibly weird too.

So if you’ve ever thought of moving out to Silicon Valley and living the internet entrepreneur’s life, here’s the good, bad, and the ugly of the 500 Startups experience:

The Good

The View from 500

The view from Spinnakr HQ at 500 Startups

The Office is Paradise—Occupying the entire top floor of the only tall building in Mountain View, 500 Startups is possibly the nicest workspace in existence. The view is insane, infinity fresh fruit is delivered daily, and every cool gadget is at your fingertips. As a result, hiring has never been easier. Invite prospects to the office, show them around, after five minutes they’re ready to pay you to work here.

There are Infinity Opportunities—The most underrated part of taking seed funding or doing an accelerator is mentorship. Say you want to approach Google, or LivingSocial, the White House, or an entire room of your perfect customers. Your dream is a reality at 500, and mentors make sure you don’t look like an idiot when pitching your company. I can’t overemphasize the value of this.

The Events are Special —Internet celebrities love to come by and say hi. They’ll give you all their stuff for free (because they know they’ll make money off of a lot of you one day), and tell you about all the other internet celebrities they secretly hate.

The Bad

There’s one giant bad part of all this fun: saying no to events,  leaving parties in the common areas, and buckling down to do work is extra hard.

Dave McClure's Dart Gun

The central feature of Dave McClure’s desk is his unsecured dart gun.

And when you do work, there are multi-level distractions you can’t escape, like people playing beer pong 10 feet away from you, arguments in infinity languages, shouting at Stanford football games (I’m guilty), wild animals running around the office, and Dave McClure shooting you right in the head with a dart gun.

In other words, at 500, you’ve got to be comfortable with chaos.  There’s value in this, because chaos is a component of start-up life, and we have to deal with it all the time.

There’s a message too. Entrepreneurs have to be prepared to question boundaries and break them. If you come to 500, don’t bother asking permission to throw a party or use a whiteboard. Just do it with a spirit of goodwill and be ready to adapt. Good entrepreneurs need to be able to shape their world creatively and even disruptively. The quote on the wall by our desks,  “why join the navy if you can be a pirate,” is taken very seriously.

The Ugly

Finally, the tribalism of 500 is real, and it’s forged in our common experience with lots and lots of alcohol.

Our ice-breaker event consisted of drunkenly pitching each other’s companies based only on our names. By the end of the night, the pitches got ridiculous. For our company announcement, someone decided it would be smart to dance to Thriller, and within the day we were dressed like zombies and awkwardly improvising our movie.

Our dance to Thriller for our 500 Startups press announcement

After late nights of development, 500′s companies take to the streets of sleepy Mountain View, to dance and play in suburban bars and sketchy clubs. Getting drunk often means sleeping in the office and hiding from security.

Nights of revelry have resulted in investments, partnerships, and deals. It’s funny how effectively these raucous friendships create new ideas and opportunities.

The Lesson So Far

We’re only in our third week, but it’s clear that the central lesson and main attitude necessary to succeed at 500 is one that everyone in life can confront more starkly—we’re all on a controlled fall towards destruction, so work hard, learn quickly and have fun while you can.

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