Archive for March 12th, 2007

Opportunity Cost

This coming summer will mark 7 years that Cheryl and I have lived in Seattle. We moved out here from St. Louis in July of 2000. I was a year out of grad school and enamored with the attention I was given by a fairly small startup called Avogadro. It was founded by a bunch of incredibly smart and charismatic ex-Microsoft executives, and they had built around them a high-energy and focused team to work on a cool problem. And when they decided they wanted to hire me, they poured on the love.

Despite the attention and the exciting opportunity, it was a tough decision. I myself had been born and raised in the midwest, and had never been west of the Rockies. I originally had considered my interview at Avogadro as a free trip to see Seattle. But after they flew both of us out here again so that Cheryl could meet them and see where we would be making our new home, it became pretty clear that this was where we were meant to be.

Part of our reasoning was that as a software developer, I would likely never be without interesting work in a town like Seattle. Despite its many charms, St. Louis wasn’t exactly a hotbed for cutting-edge software companies. But with institutions like Microsoft and Amazon making their headquarters here, there is a healthy talent pool being replenished all the time. As such, this town seems to have no shortage of interesting companies hiring software developers.

That reasoning seems to have paid off again. As the tenure at my current company soon expires, I am faced with a couple of very exciting job offers to choose between.

One is with a year-old company called iLike, which specializes in music recommendations for the myspace crowd. Their main competitor is last.fm, which I’ve been using for the past few months. A comparison of their traffic shows that while last.fm has about 3 times iLike’s traffic, iLike has seen far more significant growth over the past 6 months. One of the things that excites me about this company is that it feels a lot like Avogadro in many ways: smart, charismatic ex-Microsofties that have built a high energy team to solve a fascinating problem. And, again, they make candidates they want to hire feel loved. I know I would not be making a mistake by accepting this position.

The other offer, however, has plenty of its own appeal. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it much at the moment. I’ve been asked to join two others as part of an early-stage startup. They are just now wrapping up their angel investment round, and if all goes well, I should receive their final offer sometime this week. I would be the sole (initial) technical person on the team, which simultaneously scares and excites me. I would be responsible for nearly all major technical decisions on the product, and would carry with it all the rewards and risks inherent with such responsibility. If this venture succeeds, the payoff would be great. And even if it fails, I would have gained tremendous experience in building a company from scratch.

In college I took a few economics classes, but only a handful of concepts have really stuck with me since then. I do remember this, though: right now, I’m facing an “opportunity cost”. I can only accept one offer, and doing so means giving up on the benefits of the opportunity I leave behind.

We moved out to Seattle precisely so I would have the benefit of facing such “opportunity costs”. I just hope I’ve learned enough since those economics classes to assess the costs accurately.

I’ll keep you, dear reader, informed as to my decisions…

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