Getting Final Cut
If I had to identify a theme in my career thus far, it would probably be that I’m on a lifelong search for ways to build things I am passionate about, in ways I can be proud of, with people I respect and am respected by, without sacrificing my integrity. At this point I’ve been a large company employee (Apple and others), a bootstrapped indie developer (PodWorks, Birdfeed), and a part of both early stage and maturing startups (Square, Tumblr). Each of these phases in my career has held its own particular joys and frustrations, but looking back, the efforts that have brought me the most consistent personal satisfaction and produced the results I was most proud of have undoubtedly been the ones where I’ve had “final cut,” to borrow the filmmaking term.
As David Lynch explains in his book “Catching the Big Fish,” having final cut is very important in creative projects:
The filmmaker should decide on every single element, every single word, every single sound, every single thing going down that highway through time. Otherwise, it won’t hold together. The film may suck, but at least you made it suck on your own.
Lynch further explains how frustrating it can be not to have final cut on your work:
When I made Dune, I didn’t have final cut. It was a huge, huge sadness, because I felt I had sold out, and on top of that, the film was a failure at the box office. If you do what you believe in and have a failure, that’s one thing: you can still live with yourself. But if you don’t, it’s like dying twice. It’s very, very painful.
In the past few years, I’ve been lucky to be part of two exciting young companies, Square and Tumblr, during key times in their development. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the industry’s most talented people on products that have had a real impact on the world. I’ve learned a great deal in the process. But after several years as an employee, building other people’s products their way, I feel it’s high time to do my own thing—and have final cut—once again.
Optimizing for final cut isn’t an easy path, of course, as many a cinematic auteur has learned. Birdfeed, my last trip down this road, was, at times, enormously stressful and difficult. But I’ve learned a lot since those days, and this time around I’ll have more help.