07 June 2013

Don't Be a Fucking Douchebag Part One

This is part one of a three part series. Yes... the issue really does demand it.
This part will cover role models for entrepreneurs. Part two will explore the difference between arrogance and confidence. Part three will discuss the ugliness of today’s San Francisco.


I’ve spent a decent chunk of my career working in agencies. Agencies are, of course, legendary for collecting difficult, annoying and often unpleasant personalities. But compared to what I’m seeing right now in the startup and entrepreneurial community, the vast majority of agency folks are deeply moral, highly sensitive and wonderfully considerate people who are a joy to be around.

Don’t get me wrong. I love working in startups. And for most of my career I’ve loved the kind of people that become entrepreneurs.

I’ve founded, run and/or worked at a half dozen startups over the last 20 years. And I live in San Francisco - in The Mission district in fact. So I’m surrounded by startup employees, entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs galore and have been so for the last two decades of my life.

For the first time since moving here in 1992, I’ve recently found myself considering getting out. Wanting out of The Mission. Wanting out of San Francisco. And wanting out of startups. Not because I’m getting old (though I am). Not because I’m burnt out (at least not yet). Not because I’m rich (don’t I wish).

I’m tempted to get out because of the people I have to deal with and because of the people I have to associate with and be associated with.

Times have changed and the behavior, attitudes and personalities within the startup scene are no longer acceptable, tolerable or supportable. To put it bluntly... the startup community has become overrun with fucking douchebags. And it’s got to stop.

I’ll give various examples of douchebaggery throughout this series - but to help you understand what I mean by Douchebag I’ll simply point you to the behavior of today’s best example - Sean Parker.





Selfish. Arrogant. Greedy. Self-centered. Entitled. Insufferable. These are the words that describe a douchebag.

Do you talk loudly on public transit about doing Adderall in Las Vegas and going to a strip club and throwing hundred dollar bills around? You’re a douchebag.
Do you drive your SUV to Valencia on the weekend and unload your brand new fixie for a cruise up and down the street? You’re a douchebag.
Do you describe yourself, publicly, as a guru or a superstar? Douchebag.
Do you retweet any and all compliments tweeted about you? Do you tweet things like, “After flying the Gulfstream G500 I don’t know how you go back to the G4”? You, sir, are a fucking douchebag.

And I’m going to help you become a human again.


Part One - Choose Your Role Models Correctly (and learn how to model behavior)

The tech world has a long history of hugely successful leaders who are assholes. But frankly few of us in the past saw Larry Ellison (for example) as someone to model our behaviors on. Sure - many of us respected his accomplishments and even admired what he built. But actually trying to be the kind of person he is? Hell no.

These days, however, it seems like many of us are choosing role models who are total douchebags. It seems like we’re looking for role models based not on the kind of person they are (and the kind of person we want to be) as well as their success but rather simply based on their success (fame / fortune) alone.

So I have to ask - do you want to be an asshole? Is that why you’re choosing a role model who is an asshole?
Or do you just want to be a success? And if so... what price are you willing to pay for your success?
Are you like the Wall Street fuckers who, if choosing between making $1M where everyone wins or making $1M where everyone else loses, will always chose the option where others lose?
Or do you want to be a success while still being a decent human being?

Because if you want to be a success while not becoming a fucking asshole... there are role models for you to choose from who are successful and are good people. Reid Hastings (Netflix) is a great example. Thor Muller (co-founder of Get Satisfaction and author of “Get Lucky” is an example. Or Lisa Gansky (co-founder of GNN and Ofoto). Or Oren Michels (Mashery, Feedster, Winebid.com). Or Joe Chung (ATG, Redstar). Joshua Schacter, Andy Baio, the list goes on and on.... If you want role models on the investment side, there are great people to model on there as well. Like Bryce Roberts and Andy Weissman and Rob Hayes.

To sum up... if you cannot find a role model who is not an asshole - that says that you probably just want to be an asshole and are looking for an excuse.

Perhaps more importantly even than choosing the right role model... you all really need to learn how to model behavior and what modeling behavior really means. And you all need to get much better at understanding causality.

Let me explain with a little story...

When I was younger I played in bands. In one of my bands the lead guitarist wanted to be a rock star more than anything in the world. In his mind the platonic ideal of “Rock Star” was Keith Richards. So he looked at Keith Richards and thought... “Keith Richards is a rock star. I want to be a rock star. If I become like Keith Richards I will be a rock star. Keith Richards wears a skull ring and is a heroin addict. So if I become a heroin addict and wear a skull ring I will be like Keith Richard and thus will be a rock star.”

I assume you see the flaw here.

But a lot of you seem to be following the same approach as entrepreneurs. “My role model lives in the Mission, wears button down shirts untucked over his $400 designer jeans and doesn’t give a fuck about other people. I’m going to move to the Mission, spend too much money on pants and become a douchebag and next thing you know I’m going to be a gazillionaire!”

Sure... some of you are just fucking assholes and sociopaths who are attracted to the scene because it gives you an excuse to be what you are. And you’ve followed the money, figuring you can always jump back to working at Goldman Sachs or Bain when the bubble bursts. But we know who you are and we hate you and you’re not actually entrepreneurs and all the above is obvious to all of us. We’ll either force you out or wait you out. We’ve done it before.

It’s the rest of you - the true startup folks - who just need to stop being fucking douchebags. It’s creating a toxic environment, it’s making the whole world hate us, and it’s bad for everyone.

There is a brilliant line from a recent Alexis Madrigal piece in the Atlantic that sums all of this up.
“But, of course, that's also part of the new Silicon Valley parable: dream big, privatize the previously public, pay no attention to the rules, build recklessly, enjoy shamelessly, invoke magic, and then pay everybody off.”
It’s time to start being a decent human being first - and a successful entrepreneur second.

Because you all are managing to make even folks like me hate you and the entire scene and community. So just imagine how the rest of the world thinks about you - and me.

Read Next - Part 2, “Confidence” doesn’t mean what you think it means

7 Comments:

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Tim Rosenblatt said...

Your Keith Richards example is why I feel like the Steve Jobs bio might be the worst book for business people.

It's always more interesting to read about the person who yells and screams, and instead of being ostracized, produces great work. No one is impressed by headlines saying "Tough but caring business leader guides talented team to produce great work"

On re-reading that, it sounds like an Onion headline.

 
At 8:31 PM, Blogger Mark Schraad said...

But it's not just startups. It's lawyers, mba's, wall street, authors, consultants... any one making money seems susceptible. Great rant... btw, there are other tech centers building momentum.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger monkchips said...

Mark - yes there are. and the douchebag behaviours are migrating there.

 
At 5:25 PM, Blogger Erin Owes said...

Could I please add, "look for a model who who is gracefully affluent"? So much of the tech business has been built on meritocracy, which is awesome. But it creates a lot of libertarian types who don't really believe in social programs. They believe that their tech can save all of the world's problems. But part of being gracefully wealthy means humility and philanthropy. San Francisco has an amazing history of philanthropy-look at our hospitals, our parks, our art venues. And yet, for all of the new money floating around, there isn't much being put back into the community. I don't think wealth in SF is the problem, rather it is the city becoming full of affluent takers.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger chris said...

Erin - that's very, very true and I feel a bit stupid for not saying something like that.

There are some GREAT examples of that sort of "graceful affluence" in San Francisco's history - and it very much is something that we should continue.

And "affluent takers" might well be my new favorite description. Thank you.

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Tom Stieber said...

So glad I'm not alone! But it's not just in the tech/startup world; it's simply a younger adult's version of the "keeping up with the Joneses" phenomenon that has traditionally been the realm of the middle aged. Now, when young people get their hands on a bunch of money, they flaunt how much better and smarter and more superior they are to their peers (although I do know humbler exceptions). And those who don't have the money try to act like they do. It's a sad cycle of insecurity, envy, and egotism, which for this demographic manifests itself in a desperate status-seeking douchebaginess that essentially mocks a young Hollywood celeb lifestyle. For many of the most ruthless douchebags, innate sociopathy surely plays a role (given that as much as 5% of all people are sociopathic), even if they proclaim to be philanthropic (which in itself is part of the showmanship and buildup, but who cares as long as they bring in donations). So there really is no point in wishing that they would change. Sociopaths look up to sociopaths. And they will always care more about showing off than being caring people. I would actually pity these people if I thought they had feelings, but since they don't, I just carry on and ignore them. Although on occasion, I enjoy rolling my eyes when I overhear them embrassing themselves, or when they're buying tiny $7 muffins at boutique bakeries and complain about them anyway, just to be whiny. In the end, I think it's more important for us normal people to enjoy and focus on what makes life so rich and worthwhile, rather than worry too much about annoying people. The Joneses will just follow us to other neighborhoods anyway.

 
At 7:05 PM, Blogger Susan Harrison said...

LOVING THIS! BTW: I've known a lot of both the gracious and the D-bag types. There are portfolio managers out there that are driving around in 12 yr old Hondas, and analysts who have hearts of gold, remember the manners their mom taught 'em, and are genuine.

I've worked with those d-s that have their Yale/Harvard MBA and don't know how to tie shoes, so they blame others for their own inadequacy.

The worst moment was when I confronted a boss and told him that I was not 'the dog to be kicked'. He then turned and told me that 'Indeed, you are just that, and will never be anything more.'

To these sociopathic egomaniacs, I give them a wide berth (can't stand the whining, nor am I their shrink or marriage therapist) and when dealing with them, treat them accordingly, as though they are 10 years old.

 

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