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Zillow co-founder Rich Barton speaking at the University of Washington as part of Seattle Startup Week
Zillow co-founder Rich Barton speaking at the University of Washington as part of Seattle Startup Week

It’s a vexing dilemma for any parent. You just paid big money to send your kid through college, and now they are weighing their first serious career choice.

Big company or startup entrepreneur.

What’s a parent to advise?

Barton-DSC_2089That was the scenario facing one mom who showed up Wednesday night with her son to hear Zillow co-founder and former Expedia CEO Rich Barton deliver advice on starting companies as part of Seattle Startup Week. Barton covered a host of topics during the hour-long talk — hiring great people; the wonders of user-generated content models; and how Seattle has evolved as a startup hub.

But it was the mom’s question — the last one on the night — that really resonated. Here’s the funny exchange:

Mom: “As a parent, and as an entrepreneur, I am here with my son.”

Rich Barton: “Dude, way to show up with your mom, that is awesome.”

Mom: “He just graduated from college, and he is really wanting to be an entrepreneur. He has an idea. He wants to do it. And, I am of the frame of the mind that, hey, you should go work somewhere.”

Rich Barton: “That is what all parents say.” (Crowd laughs)

Mom: “Maybe get some skills, and things like that.”

Rich Barton: “He wants to start something.”

Mom: “As a parent and an entrepreneur, do you think that someone who wants to start something right out of college…”

Rich Barton: “Sure, go for it.” (Huge laughs from crowd)

Rich Barton: “If you are moved. He is the most risk-loving and capable of taking risk on in his career at this point … than at any point in the future. He’s got nothing but more responsibilities to gain, right? Some day he will have someone to look after, and then that person will have kids, hopefully. And he will have more responsibilities. And then he will slowly become more risk-averse. And it is harder and harder to pursue your dreams, if…”

Mom: What about working with other people?

Rich Barton: “He will work with other people if he starts something. He will work with other people. (Laughs) He absolutely will. Go to a company too, that is a great way to learn. There are a lot of ways to skin the cat, but here is the thing. Look, the whole idea of building a career these days is much different from say when my dad did. My dad graduated from Duke University with an engineering degree — I don’t know what the year was, it was probably like 1956 or something —and he went to work for a large chemical company, which was like the the computer company of his age. Plastics. Like in The Graduate. My dad always said: ‘What you are doing on the Internet, I was in plastics, and that was the thing.’

Anyway, he went to work for that company, and he retired from that company 34 years later. And he worked there the whole time, and that was his era’s idea of work. The company man. The gray suit, and the brief case. And the martini on Friday and the hat and whole thing. That is not what building a career is like now, at least from my perspective. From my perspective, building a career is trying something really interesting, getting some skills, putting tools into your tool kit, going to the next place and putting a few more tools in, until finally you have all of the tools that you can build your own house.”

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