Special relativity and the startup paradox

The laws of Newtonian physics work well to describe the motion of apples falling from trees and much of the world of business, like insurance sales and car manufacturing.  The motion of rocket ships and startups must be analyzed under a separate set of rules.

A result Einstein’s theory of special relativity is the twin paradox.  The twin paradox states that if one twin zips off into space, traveling near the speed of light, he will return to find that his earth bound brother has aged much more than he has.  The startup paradox works the same way.  Xobni might as well be traveling at 300,000,000 meters per second.  I fear we’ll step off this rocket ship five years from now and find that our world, friends, family will be at a different place than we left them.

We will get back and not only will we look at things differently, but our world will have genuinely changed.  College friends will be responsible adults and Bush will finally be out of office.

Dedicating so much of your life to one ambition (read startups) inevitably precludes you from giving as much attention to other aspects of life.  You must engross yourself in your work to accomplish something great.  However, what are you missing?

The scariest part of living a startup is that you are gambling with your time.  As PG would say, “you are trying to cram a 40 year career into 3 years.”  The hope is that you can create 40 years worth of value in 3 years, which will allow you to live the other 37 years with much more freedom.  Most people have the same ambitions for that free time: travel, art, music.  However, not everyone comes out with a win. You either have to try again or start putting in your 40 years.

4 Responses to “Special relativity and the startup paradox”

  1. 1 mark July 13, 2007 at 12:44 am

    Great blog, can’t wait for my Xobni killer app.

  2. 2 art July 13, 2007 at 1:33 pm


    Keep travelling at light speed till you expire. I am living the alternative: Mortgage, cubicle, mindless c/assembler coding at a defense contracto,…Hopefully I’ll get in the YC fall funding and end this waste…

  3. 3 E^2 July 21, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    bro, it’s a win-win situation: regardless of outcome, the experience gained and the lessons learned will be invaluable.

    afterwards, make sure to swing by and share some stories with me over a drink in redondo!


  4. 4 Dave July 24, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Yeah, about that twin paradox…it sounds nice in theory but has some holes. Specifically, special relativity only holds for constant velocities, but a return trip implies that there is acceleration involved to head back home.

    If the twin at home sends out regular flashes of light, it makes sense that the twin traveling away will perceive those flashes of light as happening at a lower frequency (doppler effect). However, upon return, those flashes are perceived at a higher frequency. The average flash rate for the trip is the same for both twins, and they will find that they are the same age.

    You could also look at it this way: the twin at home is on a planet speeding around a sun, which is in a galaxy moving at some speed, which itself is moving at some speed. Who is to say that the twin at home is the fixed frame of reference? If we consider the twin on the rocket to be on the fixed frame, then by all accounts the twin at home will have aged. Since neither can definitively have the fixed frame of reference, we can conclude that this paradox is merely an illogical extension of someone’s misconceptions regarding special relativity.

    On the bright side, you can relax and know that the world will not have changed much by the time you release Duke Nukem Forever….err…Spore…umm…I mean, Xobni… 🙂

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