The big-risk-big-reward ethos of startups is fuelled by venture capitalists who know that they won’t be the ones to go broke.
For a certain sort of nineteenth-century person—the sort with high risk tolerance and little revulsion to brutality—a natural career lay in whaling. The odds of success here were, by almost every measure, poor. An expedition first needed to find whales in the vastness of the oceans. If it succeeded, it had to approach the whales in silence, with a small craft; strike with a harpoon; stay afloat, intact, engaged, and oriented as the poor creatures thrashed about, sometimes for miles through iceberg-laden water; row back to the main ship with the carcasses; harvest the baleen and render the oil; and survive the journey home. “On the eve of a Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me,” Ishmael says, in “Moby-Dick.” “Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then?”Nathan Heller