One could say a sperm is ambitious. It is competing against millions, and most likely it will die. If it wins however, it will fertilize the egg and stand a good chance of becoming a member of the dominant species on this planet.
A monkey is not that ambitious when he climbs a tree to eat bananas. But he will eat today.
Would you rather be the sperm or the monkey? Well, you don’t have that choice in real life but you do in the world of startups. You can pick a “Frighteningly Ambitious Idea” or a more conservative one. The important question is whether that matters in the long run, because unlike a sperm or a monkey ideas can mutate over the course of their lives. Some say that ideas don’t matter, it’s all about the people. When it comes to ambition, I tend to agree. Ideas are not ambitious, people are.
If you look at the most successful companies in the world, you will often find Frighteningly Ambitious People behind them. Frighteningly Ambitious People (FAP for short) are the entrepreneurs who won’t take the early exit, and will shoot for the stars. They are the ones VCs love to meet. They pass the test questions: “how will your company make $10M/year? how about 100M?” because they naturally have thought about such scenarios. Tiger Woods would stay on the practice green for hours because he wanted to win so badly. That’s what FAP are about. Mark Zuckerberg is certainly portrayed as FAP by the media.
The interesting question to me is: Do FAP always start with ambitious ideas? Bill Gates aimed to write a BASIC interpreter. He said “there’s nobody getting rich writing software that I know of.“ Serendipity, timing and ambition led him to become the richest man in the world. Ambition is key because he could have left Microsoft much earlier, and moved on to do anything else he wanted as extremely wealthy man. He was already a billionaire when he chose to stay, and turned Microsoft into an empire.
I’m sure there are many examples of extremely successful companies that started with simple ideas and became huge doing something else. I’m not ambitious enough to go on a Google quest for them on a Saturday morning, so I’ll pull the old textbook trick of leaving that as an exercise to the reader.
I’m not FAP and I don’t want to be. Most people are not. If I were an early-stage investor however, I’d be looking for FAP. If you ever pitch to a venture investor with a large portfolio, he/she will run the FAP test on you. If you are not FAP, the meeting probably won’t have a happy ending.
By the way, this post is not meant to criticize FAP. If that’s your personality, more power to you. As for me, If I ever start another company I’ll be looking for Normally Ambitious People, or NAP 🙂