Paul Graham gives us excellent startup advice:
Time after time VCs invest in startups founded by eminent professors. This may work in biotech, where a lot of startups simply commercialize existing research, but in software you want to invest in students, not professors. Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google were all founded by people who dropped out of school to do it. What students lack in experience they more than make up in dedication.
What Paul is saying is that you may know a lot more than the other guy, you may have trained your brain a lot longer and a lot harder, but if you are not as dedicated, as desperate as the other fellow, you’ll lose.
This is why, a lot of eminent professors have what we called, when I was still a graduate student, the accident. What is “the accident”? That’s what happens when a brilliant guy becomes an academic success and he has 20 or 30 graduate students working for him and $2 millions in grant money. He becomes as brain dead as any CEO. He can’t think of new ideas. His students have to explain everything to him twice and he still doesn’t understand what they are talking about. He can’t write code anymore. He can’t build anything anymore.
(And no, becoming a big shot doesn’t imply you can’t build anything because you are out of time. Tim Berners-Lee still writes code. Paul Graham writes his own essays. Scott Adams draws his own cartoons.)
This is also why, when you see someone you know succeeding, you may think to yourself that such a person is a fraud. “I’m much smarter than he is, so he must be cheating his way to the top.” You might be smarter, but if you aren’t as desperate, as dedicated, forget it.