Ben Lerer: The Social Network Created Douchebag Entrepreneurs...and a Few Winners

By Michael Carney , written on August 16, 2012

From The News Desk

Thrillist founder and Lerer Ventures partner Ben Lerer is knee deep in the New York tech scene. While he admits that there may be a greater degree of sophistication “out west,” he feels that New Yorkers are hungrier than ever about starting businesses.

“You go and spend time with any college kid, they are so in love with the idea of starting a tech company,” he said to Sarah Lacy during tonight’s PandoMonthly fireside chat.

Lerer points to the interns who just spent their entire summers pitching him on ideas and trying to soak up as much entrepreneurial knowledge as possible. While he had internships earlier in life, Ben did it so that he could “check the box of ‘My parents are disappointed in me for being rich and getting drunk every night.’” He sees this new breed as hungrier than he ever was.

According to Lerer, it’s impossible to downplay the impact of the Oscar-nominated movie "The Social Network" in terms of this phenomenon. People want to be Mark Zuckerberg and they look at Neil from Warby Parker and think he’s a god, Lerer says. “I love Neil, but he’s not a god,” he laughs. “They’re the new celebrities though.”

Ben admits to falling in the same trap himself, thinking at one point, “Man, this is easy.”

For Lacy, the effect of "The Social Network" and the belief that anyone can be a billionaire entrepreneur was terrible for Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, many of the people that came out of the woodwork were douchebags.

“The people who are those guys reek of it,” says Lerer in agreement. “And by the way, the reason we are getting better at Lerer Ventures is that we have a bigger dataset and we see those kids coming.”

Attempting to define the tell tale signs of douchebaggery, Lerer said:

“They’re just too clever and they’re too smart for their own good. It’s the same douchebags from banking. You know when you’re talking to these guys. Some of them are really smart...and that’s the challenge. You know he’s going to win, but you don’t like him.

That’s one of the things that we had to learn at the fund, which was if you’re investing in somebody, you’re their business partner. It doesn’t matter how successful you think somebody is going to be. Don’t invest in them if you get a dirty feeling. You avoid a lot of future pain by doing that early. Generally speaking, there’s no science to it. It’s gut.”

Lerer hedged a bit, admitting that the phenomenon has also attracted some serious winners who would have otherwise gone the traditional route of attending business school and then working on Wall Street or at a consulting firm.

“For every sort of douchey person who’s graduating and thinks that they’re stupid clever and has this sort of evil plan, there’s a kid that...just rolls his sleeves up and says ‘Fuck it, let’s take a risk.'”

When he sits across the table from these later entrepreneurs, Lerer wants to be in business with them at all costs. “I don’t know why, but I know that he or she will walk through walls and will win here.”

Below is the video of Lerer talking about "How to spot a douchebag."

[Watch the entire fireside chat with Ben Lerer here.]

[View the playlist of all video from this fireside chat with Ben Lerer here.]