It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Actually, when you consider the current state of the networking industry, in which optical start-ups without a single product are sold for more money than the Gross National Product of some countries, it's more of a dog-buy-dog world.
The point is that there's never been a better time to be at a start-up. If a Lucent Technologies or Nortel Networks isn't throwing billions of dollars at you to join their team through acquisition, you can always earn your billions by offering up shares to the public.
While times have never been more lucrative, they've never been more volatile either. With the competitive landscape changing almost daily through acquisitions and new start-ups, it's imperative to avoid hitting roadblocks on your way to fame and fortune.
So, it is with the same grab-it-with-both-hands spirit that made the 1980s such a wonderful time in which to live - for about 10 percent of the population, anyway - that I offer this unofficial survival guide for the high-tech start-up professional:
Never burn bridges. It's probably a smart idea to fight off that urge to throw your boss the bird as you make your way out of the building for the last time. Ditto with regard to pressing your uncovered posterior against his or her office window. The sad truth is that the company you exit today could be the company that buys your new firm tomorrow. You'll probably be worth a lot more than your old boss at this point, but it might be a lot more comfortable to settle into your new/old surroundings if you kept your pants on during the exit interview.
Also, never destroy those incriminating photos of the CEO of your former company. You never know when you might need them.
Never admit you're in it for the money. The No. 1 rule of interviewing with a prospective start-up company is to never speak the truth about your motivation for leaving your 20-year post to join a start-up. Sure, the money's an issue, you tell them, but it's the opportunity to contribute to something from the ground up, to have a bigger voice in the creation of new technology that has brought you down this career path. You might even want to throw something in about a profound confidence in the management team. To avoid tipping your hand, though, think of something unpleasant - like the long hours and communal office space - when your new boss starts talking stock options.
Never denigrate the competition. Even if you know the engineers at the networking giants don't know an algorithm from a biorhythm, don't go around mouthing off about the superiority of your product. You might have a difficult time explaining the word "morons" attributed to you in a trade magazine to your new co-workers following the buyout.
Never underestimate the generosity of venture capitalists. This one is aimed more at the start-up management team. The days of scraping by on a few million dollars are over. So you already raised $100 million in the first two rounds of funding. Big deal. The start-up down the road is brimming with twice that amount. Who says a new company with no revenue has to operate on a shoestring? Ask for more cash. Buy bigger shoestrings.
Never get creative with a name. Stick with traditional, network-sounding words when it comes to christening your new baby with a name. The best formula is some meaningless word that sounds like ancient Latin or Greek - Xron, Kybros, Solsus - followed by Technologies or Solutions. Avoid vanity titles, such as your nickname in college. Nobody wants to buy gear from Flounder Technologies. Besides, you need to save something for the license plate on your Lamborghini.