Challenging but achievable

Goktug Gedik, a colleague at Tazedirekt, recently wrote a post asking how a tech startup from Turkey could produce as many impactful people as PayPal did in the US. PayPal produced the likes of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, Keith Rabois, Max Levchin, Roelof Botha, Dave McClure, and David Sacks.

Here was my answer:

“The PayPal mafia is unique. Even in the US, I haven’t seen such a diverse group of impactful people originating from any other single company.

In Turkey, a fund with multiple startup investments rather than a single startup may be necessary to produce enough people with a similar impact.”

A while after writing this, I came across Peter Thiel’s view on why the PayPal mafia has been so impactful. Here’s Peter’s view:

“The big lesson people had coming out of PayPal was that ‘You can build a great business and it was neither easy, nor impossible’. That’s a very good mindset to have. To think it’s hard, but doable. The lesson people mostly learned in the 90’s (and still learn in Silicon Valley today) is that it’s easy. So if you’re at a fantastically successful company like Microsoft or Google, you will infer that starting a new business is easier than it is. You’ll learn a lot of wrong things. If, on the other hand, you’re at a company that fails, you tend to learn the lesson that it’s impossible. At PayPal we were sort of intermediate. We weren’t as successful as some of the great successes of Silicon Valley, but people calibrated it and learned the best lesson – that it’s hard, but doable.”

I think that Peter touches on an important point. You achieve the right balance between the confidence and the work ethic required to succeed when what you’re doing is challenging but achievable.

For the members of any organization (startup or fund) to produce a similar impact in Turkey as the PayPal mafia did in the US, the work of the organization needs to strike a similar balance between being both very challenging and achievable.

I think that that’s a better answer to Goktug’s question.