Yesterday, I Went to the American Idol for Startups. It Made Me Want to Die.

Comments

1
Welcome to the 90's! It really sucks here. Nothing changed last decade because we had no name for it. So, here we still are, FUCKED.

2
I suggest that you stop doing this to yourself.
3
They're completely unoriginal, too. Even Microryza (ugghhh) has a competitor with a huge headstart and a much, much, *much* better and more clever name: Petri Dish ( http://www.petridish.org/ ).

It kills my soul a little every day that I work in this sphere. But, well, it not only pays the bills, it allows me to help pay the bills of various bartenders and baristas around town, so if I can take some money from big banks and give it to them, I guess I've done a tiny economic service.
4
Do you think they paid to use those songs? I don't.
5
You had me up until this being about phone apps. I like a good smartphone app. Yes it sits jittering in my pocket, but so does everything on your computer, just slightly larger and probably not jiggly. The problem is the fact that "mobile" is supposed to be some part of the idea, rather than just a platform. It's the business equivalent of some old Popular Science blurb about a blender IN YOUR CAR! People have to harp on it being MOBILE MOBILE MOBILE or SOCIAL SOCIAL or SOCIALLY MOBILE SPEARHEADING AND DRIVING SOLUTIONS or whatever vs. it just being a fucking good idea.
6
I'm sure Showbox pays the monthly ASCAP/EMI license fee for public venues that feature music.
7
Also, I enjoyed this very much, Mr. Constant. Like you, I hate cubicle-talk with a fiery passion. Unlike you, I frequently have to live immersed in it.
8
"BMI". Brain glitch thanking you.
9
hilarious
11
Like American Idol, nothing of real value will be discovered. It's only business is the framework for which it presents its content.
12
I'm sort of in this age group, probably a few years older, and I can't stand the lingo that's being used.

@5, I agree.
13
Nice post. I love HackerNews, but hate all the YC startups that post there. Not a single one has had an interesting idea.
14
Microryza is a great name! It's derived from 'mycorrhiza', which are symbiotic associations of between fungi and plant roots. That works as a neat metaphor for the kinds of connections the service is trying to make.
15
This is what happens when the business major is the "I only study ten hours a week if that" major and then those people graduate and realize they have no skills whatsoever.
16
So many of these startups' "product" is a smartphone app that sounds like one you'd build in chapter 7 of "Teach Yourself Smartphone Apps in 18/24/etc Hours." But then, this is a generation whose most notable achievement will turn out to be rendering the word "awesome" completely meaningless. When everything is awesome, nothing is; when everyone is special, no one is...
17
Something I read a bit ago:

http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012…
18
@16 And I'll remember baby boomers as the generation that squandered our country's greatness while loafing about during the good times then making the economy and government FUBAR just in time for all of us TERRIBLE YOUNG FOLKS to enter the job market.

19
Yeah. Fuck these people— and their out of fashion trousers— for taking huge risks trying to create businesses that will, in turn, create high paying jobs for your readers. Who the fuck do they think they are?
20
No, we coughed up the $40 bucks for the open bar afterwords.
You would think a Stranger writer would understand that.
21
I have a recurring nightmare in which a whole bunch of fashionably-dressed twentysomething yuppies show up in my childhood house (I'm back there, for some reason, and about to have sex with a friend-of-a-friend's girlfriend) and so I put my clothes back on and walk down to the kitchen, and there's this girl in a sundress printed with orange poppies and a wide tan-leather belt with a brass clasp, and a bunch of other ones, standing in my kitchen and talking but whenever I say anything their eyes kind of glide over me and I start shouting and that's when I wake up; they've stopped talking about whatever people like that talk about and they've turned to me and they're just staring, staring.
22
"Everybody knows the routine so well by now that you can practically ignore the whole thing." My guess based on your post is: you did.

It takes a lot of guts to get up on stage and pitch your idea. And it sounds like this crew knew their audience, people who expect to be spoken to in startup language. Language which has evolved (as language has a tendency to do...) into something the people in the community understand. A bit of shorthand, a way to be creative with words that might have meant something else in a different context. And these "apps" you deride may be the next big thing, might be the beginning of a new ecosystem, or could just be exploratory forays for a bigger idea. People are taught to pitch what can get them their ask, so if it's an app that people are willing to fund, but that gets you to your bigger mission, that's what you pitch. You can bet that if Facebook or Yelp or many of the major current Internet players launched today they'd start with an app.

I'd encourage you to consider skipping next year. This is clearly not your thing.
23
What was I doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? Was I just roaming around in a drug frenzy of some kind? Or had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a story? Who are these people, these faces? Where do they come from? They look like caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas, and sweet Jesus, there were a hell of a lot of them at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, still humping the American dream, that vision of the big winner somehow emerging from the last minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino.
24
This is an incredibly well written piece, regardless of your viewpoint. Hell I could disagree completely and still be wooed by the prose.
25
I understand that you're trying to be controversial and get attention (which you have achieved), but it's quite clear that you are judging an event that is not intended for you. As you said, during lunch (when everyone was meeting new people and socializing), you "hide my name tag (red, for the record) and head off to eat lunch alone."
26
I am a real believer in free speech.

Just so you know, I am a married lesbian who was the President of the The National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation. My partner is an Air Force Academy grad, former U-2 Pilot and now in medical school.

My mother in law just wrote- "Above All Things" about an Evangelical Christian and her journey accepting her daughter.

So, you are more than welcome to write whatever you want, but I like to put out there my outness.
27
You're a very good writer, Paul, but you didn't need all those paragraphs to say "These people are desperate."
28
Obligatory Peter Thiel:

"... I think it's because the government has outlawed technology. We're not allowed to develop new drugs with the FDA charging $1.3 billion per new drug. You're not allowed to fly supersonic jets, because they're too noisy. You're not allowed to build nuclear power plants, say nothing of fusion, or thorium, or any of these other new technologies that might really work.

So, I think we've basically outlawed everything having to do with the world of stuff, and the only thing you're allowed to do is in the world of bits. And that's why we've had a lot of progress in computers and finance. Those were the two areas where there was enormous innovation in the last 40 years. It looks like finance is in the process of getting outlawed. So, the only thing left at this point will be computers and if you're a computer that's good."

http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/07/17/t…
29
@28,

I wasn't aware that new drugs are no longer being developed nor that those new financial packages were "innovations" and not the industry getting previously illegal behavior deregulated so they could scam hardworking people out of their life savings.

Peter Thiel is an assclown.
30
@Drone, Thanks!

@cow, Microryza engages backers in the research process by capturing he magic of the research process in updates from the researcher and by giving backers acknowledgment. There are many other competitors out there many that may have a "head start", but all of our competitors require scientists to provide a tangible return which is not sustainable.

We know that research is not a linear process. And as scientists, the founding team at Microryza is committed to doing this right for the science community and for the people in our world that want to support researchers directly. We're committed to moving science forward faster--Keep watching the space, we'll come out ahead.

+1 on this article, btw. I pitched Microryza, and this is an pretty accurate painting of StartupRiot Seattle (including the comment on our name). I do really like Kouply and Personify.It!

I was expecting many more change the world start-ups! And... where were the other female founders? I think I was the only female presenter....
31
There's also a new group, Venture for America, a la Teach for America, that would take new grads, put them in startups in struggling cities, and voila! Economy saved. It all sounds funny and depressing at the same time.
32
Please tell me that "Appthwack" has something to do with the political apathy of these young minds.
33
You lost a lot of your credibility when your critique starts with picking apart the fashion attendees. What would have made more sense? A dress code? Wrong tone to start on, it shows that you were closed to the whole concept before you walked in.

Next, the names, have you even tried to get a domain name in this day and age? I bet not. The squatters have taken anything that resembles the English language. You what is an unfunded company to do when they can't afford to pay these pirates a few grand for a meaningful name? You get creative and make something up.

I'd love to see you pitch a complicated idea or concept in a few dozen words, considering you seem to work in a business where more is more. Pay by the word, I’m guessing, is your lifestyle.

Finally, not everyone has the next billion-dollar idea. I've been to a couple Riots and some of the pitches and ideas are horrible. But what these people all have in common is a dream of their own business and passion. They enjoy being around people like themselves and gain strength from the community.

I'm guessing you would have much more enjoyed a cynical, pseudo-intellectual, half-in-the-bag, group of underpaid English majors with self-esteem issues. Stick to what you know.
34
cool story, bro
35
How original. A writer writing about how people are murdering the English language. Paul, could you write a review of teens texting next?

Is anyone going to jump in here and mention that the real reason everyone's hacking apart words to create new business names is because pretty much every word or combination of words in the English language has already been registered as a domain name?

So, Twifyliojimbo it is!

Not that I'm jumping to everyone's defense. These conferences are filled with buzzword-laden douchebaggery, but it's about a 50/50 mix between hack ideas and empty souls and people that are really trying to do something impactful.

IMPACTFUL. That's right.
36
Maybe you need to get a dictionary more recent than 1945. Spearhead and input are verbs also. I get the names they put together are stupid, but that's a relic of domain names and lawyers.
37
@32: Unfortunately our company deals with app (Note the extra 'P') quality, but I spend much of my free time taking subtle digs at the perceived apathy of my peers, so that has to count for something.

@cindywu123: I also agree, at least in that there was an obviously odd fashion mix going on, the wording people chose to use was jargon-filled ("DISRUPT!"), and many ideas seemed meaningless, at least at first. I think even your pitch was a bit over-the-top, no? Curing cancer? I understand why you said it, but really? We're all speaking to our perceived audience, so maybe that should be the discussion instead. Regarding female presenters, I agree that there's an alarming disparity. Much has been written about the lack of women in tech and engineering fields. I'm not bitter that you may think my company solves a non-world-changing problem. I know I have plans that are pretty grandiose, but there's a lot of steps between where we are today and where I see us going. I'm not going to pitch a grand vision in three minutes.

This article is definitely entertaining. It's vapid and catty and well written, and accurately portrays an event from an outsider's perspective. Of course there are lots of things that look like "bad ideas" on their face. On the other hand, there are lots of ideas that seem dumb at first that grow into interesting companies that end up solving legitimate problems.

Overall I think the event was very well run and I met a lot of great people. I was there with the goal of getting something out of it, though, and that something was connections, potential partners/customers, and some more pitch experience. Obviously the author got what he was looking for as well.

I think it's important that the "startup community" (I hate that that's a thing people say) gets kicked in the balls every now and then. For example, this look at TechCrunch Disrupt: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jackstuef/scenes…
38
@30, you're "capturing he magic"? I think The Stranger is your market!
39
@RRankin -- did you just read his article? He is sticking to what he knows -- and he's obviously good at it.

Thank you Paul.
40
"Spearhead" has been a verb since the late 1990s if not earlier. I've been using it on my resume since at least 2001. So sue me.

Language changes, and the youth are at the forefront of that change. Complaining about it reveals you as old and novelty-resistant -- if not physically, then mentally.

I'm not saying I wouldn't have been cringing at that event, though.
41
"Spearhead" has been a verb since the late 1990s if not earlier. I've been using it on my resume since at least 2001. So sue me.

Language changes, and the youth are at the forefront of that change. Complaining about it reveals you as old and novelty-resistant -- if not physically, then mentally.

I'm not saying I wouldn't have been cringing at that event, though.
42
I get that folks get frustrated that good domain names are taken but naming your company something stupid rather than spending a few grand on a great domain name basically tells me that your business doesn't have enough value to begin with. Compromising something as crucial as the name of your company and brand for a couple of grand is insane. It tells me that you have an idea and little else and you aren't willing to invest in it, you just want someone to give you money for your idea (definite shades of 1999). Think about the investment a traditional startup business has to make to get a great location and develop it. If you aren't willing to make the same investment in your "virtual" location why would I invest in your business model?
43
Work on this article a bit more and frankly I'd like to read it in something swank like the NYT Magazine.
You have a way of expressing this worry/frustration/fear/panic/disgust that I think a whole lotta folks will identify with.
44
As a decently successful YCS08 founder, you're totally on-spot. Poignant and hilarious.
45
> They use “input” as a verb, as in, “They turn to our app and input the selections.”

"Input" is a verb, a noun and even an adjective. That's a perfectly valid and ordinary sentence.
46
I work for a big MNC. Every time I hear someone say "impactful" I find myself looking for a blunt object to impact their skull...
47
Refreshing to read someone having the same feelings as I have. I blame MBA programs and the corporate world for leeching the originality out of people and turning them into sheep through the use of jargon.
48
@37: Vapid? This story is vapid? Are you sure it was the story that was vapid?
49

Yes - just this - on this reheated yawn of an outrage article - "And when all your ideas are small and boring...". Nothing new here. Bullshit bingo 2012.
50
I wonder how many products and services you patronize were born from environments like this? Why are you so hung up on language? Language is secondary to the ideas they communicate. Petty the ideas may be, but that's not to say they won't be. And to stifle them early on only puts limits on potential. I'd advise you to open your mind a bit and leave the negativity at your office, where it seems to thrive.
51
Haters gonna hate.
52
I put myself through arduous days so I can learn.

You put yourself through an arduous day so you could judge.

You can learn nothing while judging.

What did you produce?

Oh. Right.

"Content".
53
Heh, those people are not entrepreneurs. If they were they would be working on their business and not playing a humiliating lottery to get a remote possibility to maybe get some VC money and have their business taken away in the long run.
54
Thank you for this.
55
Seriously, the idiot ideas that actually get funding because some dude with an extra-gelled Supercuts hairstyle and a college vibe is gonna be the hot thing. The only hot thing he's going to be is hot in his parent's house without air conditioning. Too many people are still living out of their parent's basement on family money or off a working wife as they try to find themselves as something with a leader title. Their biggest ideas is to copy another company, basically like they copied their homework in school and called it brilliance or "a mashup".

There are some real brave people trying to create something. Actually stand out and be unique. To do the difficult thing. Unfortunately, they are in a river of douche and blowhard men trying to fit in with the kewl crowd.
56
@trentp, I want to sincerely apologize to you and all the presenters. There were many more great presentations on top of the two that I mentioned.

Any startup that has at least one user IS changing the world, but what many of the presenters failed to do is pitch a compelling story which is reflected in this article. What I am NOT okay with is what this author called "charisma-free pitches". The vision doesn't have to be grand, but I expect founders to pitch the startup showing how you're solving a huge pain point for your users while also convincing the audience that you're the perfect person to lead the company.

My apology to presenters and two cents on the event: http://goo.gl/h1ZBf
57
Wow, what an pile of invective. This article adds nothing constructive, and just dumps on people who are trying to create things. Why are you so angry at these people? Is it because of their clothes, their English, their ideas, all of the above? I sense that you're just being hyperbolic to advance your own career.

Not that I dispute some of the points you are making, but why don't you apply that same line of logic to your own work? This is small-minded journalism.
58
which startup talked about “cool ecosystem” between a traveler and a concierge?
59
This may well be the finest thing you have ever written.
60
@TVDinner: Yes. The story is a dull and generic rant that could be applied to just about any congregation of like-minded people. It's entertaining on a purely superficial level. Why not talk to people directly? Why not show without a doubt how deluded some people are? Instead he painted the entire thing with a big broad brush and cowardly hid away for lunch. If you're going to tear this thing apart, at least do it in a credible way and have the balls to call things out directly.

@cindywu123: Thanks! I agree there are many ways to make the event better and your blog post does a much better job of describing them.
61
Beautiful.
62
I find it ironic how the author comments "most of these ideas are for apps, for tiny little pretend squares less than an inch on any side that sit on jittery screens in people’s pockets" and named "mismatched meat of syllables" as he goes to lunch alone and checks the Twitter app on his phone.

Paul loses all credibility when he begins his rant with a critique of the attendees' dress as if it's a god damn fashion show. What a douche.
63
Please tell me @30 was a troll.
64
Sadly, the anthropologist critiques a new culture without understanding it. Like a european explorer, he googles wide-eyed at the bones in the nose, strange languages and naked dancing. Rushing home to his old world home, he writes, "How bizarre and horrible, these people are not civilized!"

Weird names: All the good domains are taken. If you have zero money, you can't afford to buy a good domain name. All boot strapping startups go through name searches for domains that have not been taken. It sucks. Once a startup has some amount of money, they buy a better name from a domain horder.

Tiny apps: If you have no money, your window of opportunity to develop a new app is very small. The trick is to develop something interesting enough to elicit sales or additional investment in the short amount of time you have. Investors don't fund big ideas that take years to develop.

The short pitch: Most startup founders are selling their company for the first time. They need to get real world practice. Think of it as a beauty contest where no matter how cute the baby is, you still need to learn how to present it. Making fun of entrepreneurs at a pitch event is like making fund of children learning to ride a bike. It's pretty cruel.
65
Sadly, the anthropologist critiques a new culture without understanding it. Like a european explorer, he googles wide-eyed at the bones in the nose, strange languages and naked dancing. Rushing home to his old world home, he writes, "How bizarre and horrible, these people are not civilized!"

Weird names: All the good domains are taken. If you have zero money, you can't afford to buy a good domain name. All boot strapping startups go through name searches for domains that have not been taken. It sucks. Once a startup has some amount of money, they buy a better name from a domain horder.

Tiny apps: If you have no money, your window of opportunity to develop a new app is very small. The trick is to develop something interesting enough to elicit sales or additional investment in the short amount of time you have. Investors don't fund big ideas that take years to develop.

The short pitch: Most startup founders are selling their company for the first time. They need to get real world practice. Think of it as a beauty contest where no matter how cute the baby is, you still need to learn how to present it. Making fun of entrepreneurs at a pitch event is like making fund of children learning to ride a bike. It's pretty cruel.
66
Good post, Donovan Kliegg.

Also, exactly what shade of purple is Constant's prose?

These women and men have come together to do brutal violence to the English language, to leave the spoken and written word bloodied and victimized on a cold cement floor, wishing for the sweet relief of death.


...while Constant merely date rapes the English language. He's much better.
67
Try AgoraStartupIdol.com, it is virtual so people pitched from all over the world and that brought in some fresh ideas. It was also geared toward gaining traction for the startups, something that they need to survive.
68
Not sure what I was expecting when I clicked the link, but I've seen the English language abused far, (far!) worse in conversations on the internet, than anything I read in this article.

Another thing that people seem to abuse is their ability to exaggerate.
69
I get annoyed by the vacuous biz-talk, the corporate fads, and the kill-me powerpoints, too. I mean, I *live* this crap.

But, Christ Almighty, you decide to make your incredibly principled stand against all cant by bravely pissing all over some young people getting together and trying to build something for themselves?!? Fuck, really, this is your subject for your big, hard-ass Mencken moment?!? Did we run out of really bad things to complain about or something?

There one's particularly smug section that really struck me as third-rate English major wisdom: "When the language you employ to communicate your ideas is small and boring, your ideas are going to be small and boring." To test this hypothesis, I think you should go read some IETF documents. My God, they're boring. Eyeball-flattening boring. Boring beyond my ability to convey boring. But you know, some of the coolest shit in the world comes out of those things. Like TCP, which powers the Intertubes with which we are now speaking.

Yes, it's true: people who you don't approve of and dress unappealingly and who aren't the ghost of Dorothy Parker can get together and try to build something. Mo' power to them.
70
I applaud your insights. From Silicone Valley it looks and sounds very much the same. I can't go to a coffee shop anywhere from SF to SJ and not overhear some startup member advising some newer startup members in sea of nuances regarding marketing logic. They talk too loud and usually they throw mention of FB or Twitter every other sentence. I wish someone would make something real, that they didn't need to talk about in public places, because it was THAT valuable.
71
I also applaud Entrepreneurship and I believe laughing often buys sanity. If you can't laugh at yourself and the "game" how can one really make it through in good form? And while startup's do have a certain "culture" many could stand to gain by learning how to apply real world critiques to their ideas. If you are going to be market tested or even garner VC financing, you would know critique can be essential. I'm startled at how much crying has been done due to a slog article. You will need to be tougher than that.
72
Go ahead and hate away, but you lose all credibility when you start the article with "The younger ones are in hoodies, their slouches cribbed thoughtfully from Jesse Eisenberg, who cribbed his slouch thoughtfully from Mark Zuckerberg".

a) I was there, didn't see Hoodies, just t-shirts.
b) Jessie Eisenberg never met Zuckerberg, was instructed by Fincher not to.
c) Zuckerberg doesn't slouch, Eisenberg slouches, watch his other movies.
d) Stop making up stuff just so you can try and sound like Hunter S. Thompson.

There were significant of errors made in the planning this event, and I was not the biggest fan. It would be great to read a valid rant, but unfortunately you've failed here. Learn how to do your job, get your own voice.

By the way, I presented, my Startup is DecideOnline and we've built an embeddable arguing app. Go to DecideOnline and sign up for the beta ;-)
73
My god, what an ignorant article. Who CARES what people wear? Get to know someone before you judge them! And who CARES what industry lingo is used? Learn the industry before you criticize every aspect of it! Paul Constant thinks SO HIGHLY of himself, that he's SO MUCH BETTER than the people that attended this event, that he's SO MUCH BETTER at linguistics than everyone else, and that he's basically SO MUCH COOLER than other human beings that he can't even be bothered to talk to ... his entire article is verbose vomit, without a single important point about anything other than he thinks he's better than other human beings, and I already can't stand this guy.

If you want to die, go commit suicide. Idiot.
74
My god, what an ignorant article. Who CARES what people wear? Get to know someone before you judge them! And who CARES what industry lingo is used? Learn the industry before you criticize every aspect of it! Paul Constant thinks SO HIGHLY of himself, that he's SO MUCH BETTER than the people that attended this event, that he's SO MUCH BETTER at linguistics than everyone else, and that he's basically SO MUCH COOLER than other human beings that he can't even be bothered to talk to, that he had to say that the event made him want to go home and DIE ... his entire article is verbose vomit, without a single important point about anything other than he thinks he's better than other human beings, and I already can't stand this guy.

And please, next time before you vomit ignorance all over a reputable paper like The Stranger, do a little more REAL research so you know even at least 1% about what you're talking about. I mean, really, you said NOTHING substantial about the event. You're a journalist, and you couldn't be bothered to even talk to the people that attended the event ... wow. You're awesome. What a great, insightful article about Start-up Riot and the Seattle Start-up community. I feel so much more informed.

Your article is garbage. If you want to die, go commit suicide. You are a pretentious, conceited idiot. You only write to try to show off how good you think you are at word-play. I hated self-important people like you in highschool and college. You could have made this article so much better if you really tried, and dealt with real issues instead of your need to say how cool you think you are. Grow up.
75
It sounds like at least half of the commenters see themselves clearly in the jargon-blathering attendees who like to have lunch with "thought leaders" in the "social media space", and aren't willing to admit how much bullshit they've devoted their lives to.

You forgot to mention that it's going to be "agile!" and they're going to expect a laundry list of skills when they hire, despite the fact that they have absolutely no idea what the job actually entails. Great post - I needed that.
76
It sounds like at least half of the commenters see themselves clearly in the jargon-blathering attendees who like to have lunch with "thought leaders" in the "social media space", and aren't willing to admit how much bullshit they've devoted their lives to.

You forgot to mention that it's going to be "agile!" and they're going to expect a laundry list of skills when they hire, despite the fact that they have absolutely no idea what the job actually entails. Great post - I needed that.