Nat Brown is one certified geek. He joined Microsoft in 1990 and worked there for nearly 10 years before catching the startup bug. And while Brown may be best known for serving as chief technology officer at iLike and selling his most recent company, rel8tion, to Facebook, his first two startup ventures hit the wall.
Brown — who split time between Silicon Valley and Alaska as a kid and earned a degree in computer science from Harvard — shared some of his entrepreneurial war stories in remarks last night at the Get a Real Job Fair in Seattle. Brown’s advice was directed at those in the crowd who were possibly feeling hesitant about leaving the comforts of a big company, which was certainly a theme of the night. (Did anyone count the number of jabs about commuting over the 520 bridge?)
Brown noted that there’s “a lot of things to learn at big companies,” but there’s also “a lot of things to unlearn.”
“Sometimes what you are learning at big companies is what not to do,” said Brown. “Like, boy, when I go work at a startup, here’s something I won’t do. Like, I won’t spend half an hour on memo about what’s going to go on at this meeting.”
Brown worked at Facebook for a short spell after the rel8tion acquisition, but he quickly discovered that the social networking powerhouse was too big for him. “There’s something special about working for little companies,” said Brown.
The 41-year-old continued with one of the more passionate comments about why startups are so gosh darn invigorating:
“I have a love of learning. And I have a love of technology. And, I hope, that anyone who is in this field understands just how cool software and computers are. And the reason they are cool, is because there’s no limit…. You don’t have to go into computers and say: ‘I am just going to design this widget for the next 15 years.’ That’s not what computers are like. In computers and technology, you are continuosly building on tools to get to the next level. So, the reason it is so exciting, and the reason why some people get so excited about small startups is because you are always building the next thing for yourself…. You are always staircasing yourself up to the next thing. You are always learning. So, if you have a love of learning and you are fed up with a big company, there are a lot of people here who have really interesting jobs.”
He admitted that the “secure paycheck” of a big company can be hard to leave behind. But he stressed that startups are the best place to go if you want to learn new things, noting that you “won’t get stuck in some backwater of technology” if you take the plunge.
“You have to be a smart person, you have to have a love of learning and you have to be willing to take some risk,” he said.
And, here’s the deal. If it doesn’t work out, “you can always ride The Connector back to Redmond,” said Brown, a reference to Microsoft’s bus system.
Here’s the full talk from last night’s event.
Editor’s note: GeekWire was a media sponsor of the Get a Real Job Fair.