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