I noticed that if you listen close, the ATM machine makes a specific kind of ‘clunk’ noise as it unlocks the secure storage for the money, just before it starts dispensing bills. If you don’t hear the clunk noise, the next thing that happens is that your withdrawal transaction is declined.

I remember the embarrassment of trying to cover for the fact I didn’t have enough money in my account to make a withdrawal, especially when there was someone waiting to use the ATM after me.

I’d improv something at stage volume about how the stupid ATM must not be working, or that the employer had messed up my salary deposit again, and walk away quickly, avoiding all eye contact.

I remember the frustration of learning the hard way that if you have less than a certain amount in the account, the ATM won’t let you withdraw anything at all. When the ATM only dispenses $20 and you have $20 in there, but it won’t let you have a zero balance in your account – that sucks.

And it sucks going ‘kilojoule shopping’ at the grocery store – not buying groceries based on my taste preferences or nutritional requirements, but trying to maximise the number of kilojoules I could buy, with whatever money I had left.

When I began working for my first tech startup I owned a king size waterbed I’d inherited from my parents, a vacuum cleaner that I’d bought to clean the shared apartment I moved into after my wife and I broke up, a music collection, and two guitars. I was earning a salary, but after rent and my car lease I was making no meaningful progress against my debts.

About two years later, I exercised and sold a portion of the first tranche of my employee stock options so that it equated to one million dollars when converted from USD and AUD. The bank manager called me to ask if I was expecting a large foreign currency transfer from a US account because prior to that my cheque account balance had never been over $5,000. I said yes, and they deposited the funds in my account.

I walked down to the bank the next day to see if it was really there. I stood in the queue to see a teller and asked him to print me out a statement including my current balance.

He tried to read what he’d printed out before handing it over, without me noticing, and as his eyes saw the current balance, he lost it and looked up at me, surprised. I smiled, shrugged, and told him it was a surprise to me too.

I wasn’t going to wait around and get it framed. I took that printed account balance to the nearest Kinkos, got it laminated, and stuck it on my wall with some Blu-Tack. Much later on I stuck it in my box of memories and haven’t pulled it out since.

But I know it’s in there. And I still remember all those feelings.

You’re not reading this because I want to prove how I grew up underprivileged (I’m a #tallwhitemale with middle-class parents). But as Hunter Walk says, “the money ball bounces around too randomly” to respect anybody in tech startups just because they’ve made money. I’m not the only dumb schmuck whose circumstances dramatically changed by being in the right place at the right time, working for the right company.

Flip that on its head, and no matter how unlikely you think it is right now, if you’re working on (or for) a tech startup right now, there is still a chance it could be you who’ll suddenly get a financial windfall in a relatively short time from now. Even if you know you could be smarter, or working harder. Even if your boss, their boss and the CEO are all B-grade players. You don’t control all the variables, I don’t know all the secrets.

And even if we did, the money ball bounces randomly. Don’t believe anybody who tells you otherwise.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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