Message to Michael: Just Say, Well, No.
In what I can only describe as a sentimental-veering-toward-weepy riff on the ongoing saga of “Silicon Valley Bubble: The Sequel,” TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington waxes on about the need for a downturn to stop the madness.
“Times are good, money is flowing, and Silicon Valley sucks,” he writes in earnest about how all that was once beautiful and pure about the Web 2.0 culture has become a wee bit tawdry. Money quote:
I wasn’t writing a blog in the first bubble so I can’t compare now to then. But entrepreneurs are no longer talking to us just to get our opinion and hope for a blog post and a little discussion. These guys need press to stand out from the scores of start-ups just like them. Saying no to them isn’t really an option. They show up at our front door with a bottle of wine or flowers. They instruct their PR firms to do anything necessary to get a story. More than once I’ve had a CEO break down and cry on the phone when we said we weren’t covering them. And more than once, I folded and wrote about them after those conversations.”
Having actually been around in the first bubble, covering the sector for The Wall Street Journal as its Internet beat reporter, I can empathize with the relentless pitching and aggressive self-aggrandizing that start-ups and their minions engaged in (although no bawling CEOs ever called me!).
Back then, they wanted the press (and, presumably, the stamp of approval from The Journal on that passport to Richville) to either get funding from venture capitalists or to IPO their typically half-baked company, much to the detriment of the investing public.
Here’s my simple cure for the seemingly beleaguered blogger (who has, in fact, made his name writing about this new crop of wannabes, some of whom are worthy and some of whom are not): Flowers and wine and comely PR come-ons are pretty easy to resist, and saying no is actually an option.
Let’s practice: No. Nope. Sorry. Uh-uh. Zip. Zero. Nada. I’m sorry, what’s UGC? Wait, I have a call on the other line.
All kidding aside, having just gotten back into covering the sector, I find the landscape quantum levels higher than the mostly ridiculous roundelays of world-shaking claims by subpar start-ups that took place in the last bubble.
At that time, I recall one start-up exec tell me with a straight face that his company was “pre-revenue,” while another toddler entrepreneur bragged that he was considering making a run at The Wall Street Journal and that he might keep me on. Most of those kinds of fools and braggarts were flushed right out of the system, the result of speculation and excess that only unlimited funding and a lack of business plan can create.
Aside from financial ruin, the biggest damage these companies did was in obscuring the fact that the Web was still a profoundly transformative medium and that the true disruption was to come not via Wall Street machinations, but from rapidly shifting how information and content were created (and by whom) and distributed (and by whom).
Today, the new companies, for the most part, are actually useful and much more disciplined and with much less lofty goals. While most are built to flip, they offer features that improve the experience on the Web for consumers and businesses and are filling in areas that need improvement. In fact, while there are some mildly laughable ideas, it is hard to find any on the level of the party that was 1999.
How I long for a Boo.com, Webvan.com or Kozmo.com to mock, but those gems are exceedingly rare in the new environment. And there simply is no Pets.com to kick around anymore.
It’s enough to make a reporter–oops, newbie blogger–weep.