In a widely circulated blog post, Fred Wilson elaborated on a handful of trends, the largest of which was the move towards enterprise software investments at the expense of later-stage consumer plays.
And while consumer investments are not dead per se, it is sobering to have someone like Fred Wilson acknowledge these changing times.
So, unless there is a generation of dorm room geeks out there coding the next great “enterprise procurement solutions platform” or two hipsters are sitting in Philz Coffee trying to bring “activity-based cost accounting” into the cloud… This might be the beginning of the end for the “tech rock star.”
A few years ago, when Digg was breathing its last, I told Sarah that her cover story on Kevin Rose back in August 2006 was a critical moment for me. Because that picture of him on BusinessWeek gave me the same feeling that I had as a kid seeing Eddie Vedder in Rolling Stone, only Kevin was richer than a musician could ever hope to be. (At least on paper.)
No, I’m not going to say that it inspired me. But what it actually did was put a very clear set of goals in my 23-year old head.
Reading that story made me want to achieve three things:
- Build a company that was worth $200 million or so.
- Do it before the age of 30.
- Get “mobbed by fans” on a regular basis and asked to “sign a pretty brunette’s cleavage” — yes, those are direct quotes from the article. There’s a picture on Flickr of the latter.
Do some of these goals sound just a little bit shallow and superficial? Well, I had just gotten out of college and wanted to learn more, so you bet your ass they were. But the point of this article is not to apologize for my immature dreams. In fact, the point of this article is specifically not to apologize for them.
Rather, I want to spell out a few things that happened to my co-founders and me during the six years that came between the BusinessWeek cover and the acquisition of our company this summer…
(And if you were at the August Capital Party, then you should read this list twice)
- We realized that starting a company was way harder than we thought.
- We attended a handful of “networking events” and “tech parties” in San Francisco, only to realize that they weren’t cool at all. They were, in fact, a huge waste of time.
- Each co-founder of our company grew resentful of any other co-founder who dared attend such a party, because we knew that they were wasting their time — and my co-founder’s time is my property.
- Shortly after closing our Series A, an investment bank called Lehman Brothers decided to collapse, and Sequoia Capital distributed a terrifying presentation that made our balls shrivel into raisins.
- The $45,000/year salaries that we paid ourselves meant that we had to stop doing the cool shit that was possible when we had real jobs. Like go to restaurants.
- We had to wake up at 5 am about once per week due to server issues.
- Our girlfriends got frustrated with how little attention we paid to them, and broke up with us. Now, none of us got laid anymore.
- Our business, which was only a year away from making a lot of money, proved to be several years away from making a lot of money.
- Vacations stopped. Altogether.
- Google decided to adjust their algorithm three dozen times, instantaneously decimating companies like Mixx, Mahalo, Demand Media, and countless others. Our raisin-sized balls now shrunk to the size of apple seeds.
- CPMs imploded.
- We achieved 1 million unique visitors…only to find out that it wasn’t very cool. Do you know what was cool? 10 million unique visitors. So we got right back to work.
- The founders hired a grownup CEO, because it was the right decision for the business.
- “The Social Network” came out. It’s a bad sign when a screenwriter has to make up complete horseshit to portray Silicon Valley as fun…and he still can’t make it seem fun.
And that is only a partial list of the cold-water events that helped me to quickly realize that there is no such thing as a “tech rock star.”
Towards the very end of our experience, we did have some fun moments. There was a company trip to Las Vegas and some memorable happy hours. But by that point, we had grown up. It was three-parts kitsch, one part reality.
Just recently, I came across an interview with Kevin Rose in which he claims that a lot of his BusinessWeek persona, including the stuff he wore in the cover photo, was staged. (Editor’s Note: In all likelihood, that’s some damage control talking. Indeed, according to Sarah, who was at that shoot, the clothes were pulled by a stylist from his closet. The headphones were his as well. Some staging.)
But having been through the process of starting a company and interacting with the media, my reaction was, “Yeah, no shit.” We’re never exactly as we come across in the press.
And it’s also worth noting that many of Kevin’s hardest moments — the ones that he would have probably traded 10,000 autographed boobies to prevent — had yet to arrive in August 2006.
But the 23-year-old me realized none of this.
And the 23-year-olds who are quitting their jobs without a product idea, going to mixers that are sponsored by reputable venture capital funds, and referring to another game of “Plants Vs. Zombies” as “competitive diligence.” They probably don’t realize it either.
But I don’t want the specter of a “tech rock star” to go away. We need that illusion to continue seducing dreamy-eyed youngsters. I like the idea of Silicon Valley having its own version of a Siren or Maenad or whatever those other classical Greek temptresses were that killed stupid young men who thought they were hot shit but turned out to be huge tools. I think that we could find a use for those.
So no matter who or what is sounding the alarm — be it the WSJ and Fred Wilson, disastrous IPOs, rents that force you into Visitation Valley, or the image of Kevin Rose flipping his startup, taking a corporate job at Google, getting married, and being happy…
Let’s hope that the illusion of a “tech rock star” lingers about for another few decades, and separates the men from the boys.