Startups and Nihilism don’t go together

Note: if meaning of life and startups don’t excite you, it is recommended that you skip this post. You will find it boring.

I know this is a weird title. But I have finally convinced myself that you cannot afford to be too philosophical if you are doing a startup. Doing a startup could turn out to be a terrible experience for those who especially adhere to philosophy of Nihilism. For those who aren’t aware of Nihilism, it says that life has no meaning or purpose and is in fact pointless. This philosophy was popularized by the German philosopher Nietzsche and became popular with atheists. After all, if there is no God, what’s the point of life?

Back to startups. Working on a new venture takes an incredible amount of hard work and things go wrong time to time. If you want to make your startup successful, you will need to focus relentlessly for years and show a great deal of perseverance. Now if you are a kind of person who thinks too much about meaning of life and purpose of all that effort (especially during the bad times), you cannot be successful with your startup. How can you possibly justify all the hard work you are putting 24×7 into your baby when you are questioning the purpose of all this in back of your mind?

Unlike religions, Nihilism provides no inherent meaning of life. In fact, it says life is pointless and futile. This is a direct punch-in-the-face on your startup philosophy where you are required a wake up every single day full of energy and enthusiasm to work on yet another 18 hour marathon. If you believe in Nihilism and are doing a startup, you have to answer this question: why are you doing this? Is it to change the world or to make more money? Even when you achieve the goals (hello, million dollar exit) what’s the point of all that money when you are not even sure what’s the point of life?

In nutshell, you can’t afford to start questioning purpose of life when you are doing a startup. Those two are simply not compatible concepts which can co-exist in a single, worry-free brain. So, drop either Nihilism or your startup. (I recommend the former. See below).

PS: In case you are wondering which school of Philosophy I adhere to, it is Absurdism. Like Nihilism it says that there is no meaning of life, but it also further states that the purposelessness of life is what makes it exciting and that one has to keep doing things one feels like doing (hey, startups!) precisely because there is no grand purpose you should be working towards. Makes sense?


  1. Hi Paras

    Kick ass article. I was discussing exactly this topic with someone else today. Am not sure if other startup founders think like this sometimes. Thankfully it’s a passing thought.


  2. Excellent article. This article has made me realise the problem I’m facing now on committing myself to something.

    Now I know its these “Nihilism” philosophical thoughts that are obstructing my way.

    Thank you Paras.


  3. Hi

    Intriguing piece, so I went to your website to see what you’ve read. Liked that Taleb was on top and Coelho at bottom.


  4. Paras, yes I can’t stand “Paulo Coelho” too.

    Picked up his book “the monk who sold his ferrari” with great expectations of reading something about making money upto the point to own a ferrari and then finding the spiritual peace of a monk in that success.
    But I was greatly dissapointed.

    However, these kind of things do amuse me like the “wealthsure tv ad” being aired nowadays !!

  5. major correction:

    i can’t stand “Robin Sharma” and his book “the monk who sold his ferrari”

    will surely want to know paras why can’t you stand “Paulo Coelho”??

  6. Completely flawed argument.

    Nihilism states that there is no inherit meaning to life.

    Life is a blank canvas, not empty.
    If creating a successful start up becomes meaningful to you as a person, then you will still put in the effort.

    Nihilists, just like any other enjoy money.

  7. How about doing a startup simply for the fun/joy/drama/action of doing one… and for no other reason because this is more fun than alternatives, for you?

    Don’t put in 60 hours a week, if that’s not fun for you. Put in only 30 if that seems better. Or none. Whatever works for you.

    Nihilism doesn’t prevent from doing anything as long as you are doing it because it seems to fun. (And any action in life could give you “fun” depending on who you are)

  8. Nihilism , in addition to being bad for startups, rejects itself on its own presuppositions. Hence, it is self-refuting.

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