Startups and Motorcycles

The other day, I noticed a peculiar thing: a disproportionate number of startup founders ride motorcycles. On the surface, it’s pretty odd. In fact, you probably don’t even believe me. You’re probably thinking of all your friends who ride motorcycles and all your friends who are in startups, and intersecting the two.

But anecdotal evidence seems to show that startup founders are much more likely to ride motorcylces than the average person. According to a US Census report, only 0.2% of people commute via motorcycles [1]. That means you’d only expect one person in a startup of five hundred people to ride a motorcycle to work. I personally know enough people at startups to believe that the ratio is much higher than 1 in 500. I don’t have any hard statistics, but if you work in Silicon Valley, then I think my point is self-evident.

This motorcycle-loving phenomenon puzzled me for a bit, until I thought about it more. The traits that lead someone to found a startup are the same traits that push people to ride motorcycles. The most prominent of these traits is a high tolerance for risk. Both startup founders and motorcyclists can endure highly risky ventures — they crave the intoxicating highs and can tolerate the agonizing lows. But, there are other parallels that go deeper than just doing things for thrills.

Startups founders embrace and catalyze change. They seek to drive new ideas and take control of the world — just as motorcyclists crave control of their experiences. There’s a difference between being a spectator and being in the driver’s seat. In a car, you’re shielded from everything around you. You’re safe, but your senses are dulled. In a motorcycle, the world passes by in the most visceral sort of way. The experience on a motorcycle is real — unadulterated by windows or air conditioning or filtered air. It’s pure. And it’s filled with adrenaline.

Startups, of course, have plenty of adrenaline. They’re emotional roller coasters. They’re for the crazy people who want to do something that most people wouldn’t dream of. Startups are hunks of steel, hurtling down the highway at 100 mph. Founders pour time, money, and health into their startups and become completely exposed to the vagaries of their work. Much like on a motorcycle, founders expose themselves to the elements at high speeds. Any tiny bump might cause a crash.

Both startups and motorcycles are ways of controlling life — they push you to the breaking point. They both expose you completely to your core, and give you a chance to speed by the world. Founders love motorcycles for the thrilling ride into the unknown.

P.S. If you’re thinking about founding a company, please don’t buy a motorcycle because of all the founders you see riding motorcycles [2].