If Shakespeare Started a Startup
All Things Venture #070
I’ve been mulling over what to write about this week, and I kept coming back to this old Shakespeare quote I love:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
Now I’m not some classical english literature buff, and I’m not a liberal arts major, but game recognizes game, and I absolutely have to tip my hat to Sir Shakespeare, our friendly, neighborhood,
spiderman 16th century savant.
In a world where there has been an indordinate proliferation of content, where every second, of every day can be filled with podcasts, with Spotify, with Twitter, with TikTok, with Quibi (RIP!!!!), with sound bites, and hot takes, and questionable relationship advice from more people than you could imagine, the world, the modern world, has never been more of a stage.
I think about it this way. There are nearly 8 billion people in the world, almost 7 billion people have a smartphone. 2.9 billion people are on Facebook. 2.6 billion people are on YouTube. 1 billion people are on TikTok.
What do these platforms have in common? They are digital stages for anyone in the world to share their beliefs, their perspectives, their world view. We have a whole class of job formalized as Shakespeare’s cannoical “players,” we just call them “creators.” And there is literally no barrier to entry to becoming one of them. All you need is two things, internet access and a camera. It’s a bit weird to see how prescient some guy, who would be shocked to see indoor plumbing, had a worldview that has stood the test of time for over 400 years.
In a way though, maybe it isn’t all that impressive. Yeah, life expectancy has probably increased 2 - 3x in that time period, and society has become more egalitarian, liberal, productive, etc. but how much have we changed? How much has (and I’m about to get reaaaal meta here), how much has humankind changed? We still start wars (bad), we still grapple with our collective purposes in life (maybe not bad, but ya know hard), we still are stubbornly tribal (mostly bad, but makes college gameday way more fun). For better or worse, people are just always going to do what people do and apparently through the test of time, what we do is - seek out a stage.
I think this thought has been my head for so long because I recently had the first one of my close college friends get married. It was a beautiful wedding in Miami back in February of this year. In one sense, we did that night what we had already done so many times. We met up at a location we’d never been to, we drank, we ate, we danced, and I Irish exited before it got too late.
Jokes aside, this was a couple I’ve known for the better part of a decade, a couple that I’ve seen celebrate, love, and grow together for years; and what was strange about it for me was that, through all of the pomp and circumstance - through the pagentry, the lighting, the stage of it all - I knew that the night itself, what we did that night wasn’t unique. We drank, we ate, we danced. Yeah, the attention was more focused on two people, but that happens in other parts of our lives as well. What was different about that night, what elevated it, what made it special, in reality, was exactly the pomp and circumstance. It was the tuxedoes and floor length gowns. It was the centerpieces of wildflowers spread throughout the room, and the slight buzz of anticipation in the air. In effect, it was the pagentry, the lighting, the stage.
I think what Shakespeare understood, and we all should, was just how powerful, how transformative a stage can be. It is the original reality distortion field that transforms the mundane into the awe-inspiring. The routine into the otherworldly. The stage allows David Bowie to become Ziggy Stardust, for Freddie Mercury to become Queen, and if the stage is good enough for them, if it can catapult and propel their careers for decades on end, I think that’s a good sign that it’s good enough for any of us.
What I love about All Things Venture is that most of the time, this stage we’ve created is meant for someone else. It’s meant to spotlight people I respect and admire (and think you all will as well), and often times are overlooked. It’s meant to give, primarily, founders that are at the earliest stages of their career - the opportunity to share their story in an authentic, meaninful way, with all of us - in a way we can relate, and in a way we can all learn from. Starting a company is an all consuming process. It’s a gut wrenching roller coaster of highs and lows that are frankly indescribable. There are nights where you feel on top of the world, and mornings where you will question every decision you’ve made. But, the opportunity to make an impact is second to none. The opportunity to effect change, meaningful change is unparalleled, and I think that we all have the capacity to be founders - we just have different starting points and experiences going in.
So find a stage.
Begin the series of your entrances and exits.
And if you can’t find a stage that will have you on, just make your own.