I try to keep up with startup-related forums & newsfeeds, I really do: but I have to say it’s a challenge that’s getting harder and harder. It’s not simply the continued absence of any genuinely good news that makes it painful, but the overwhelming preponderance of ‘startup theatre’ – the pouty cheeks and defiant jaw of the face nearly every startup seems to want to present to the world.
As far as I can see, there is basically zero genuine startup journalism going on out there, nothing that manages to stop itself from tumbling into the self-pleasing techno-vacuity of Wired, whose love affair with technology shows no signs of abating – still gadget PR-crazy after these years, still delighted to “go gonzo” by fetishizing some ultra-obscure MIT-style spin-out in a cool-sounding field. At some point, Wired became practically a paean to the putrid pagan altar of VC – and as such has everything to do with the vanity of hyper-money, and nothing to do with the real 99.9% of startups actually building the future.
All the while Wired-style startup journalism continues to suffer from narcissistic personality disorder and budding companies continue to feed journalists willfully optimistic semi-spinned bilkage, there probably is no answer. As a result, we appear to be stuck in a situation where
- all available information on starting companies is largely outdated and irrelevant
- startups operate within a financing segment that is barely alive
- startups have no effective information channel to/from their financing markets
- ultimately, nobody believes anything any startup has to say about anything
Though I’m mainly talking about UK print media here (when was the last time The Economist genuinely looked at startups? Or the Financial Times?), I think the same is – perhaps surprisingly – no less true online. Despite occasionally hosting dissenting guest columnists (such as me here), TechCrunch Europe as a rule rarely reaches the level of what anyone else would term ‘journalism’. And for all Sara Rizk’s hard work at Startups.co.uk to get interviews with UK ministers, nobody right now is (for example) currently flagging the 100x disparity between the government’s notion that startups’ growth will revitalize the economy (as long as they can start up without needing any money or support, presumably) and the actual size of the macroeconomic hole we’re all stuck in.
Startups themselves do bear some of the blame here, because – as I mentioned – most seem trapped in a spin-heavy broadcast-only PR loop, unable to open any kind of realistic two-way dialogue with the financing community. So, I say, DEATH TO STARTUP THEATRE! – if it reads like a piece in Wired, you’re doing it wrong.
In some ways, this blog functions as a kind of “startup anti-theatre” – saying the kind of things hardly anybody else wants to say, particularly about financing – but that’s not really proving a terrifically helpful exercise either, as it doesn’t seem to be provoking any middle ground into existence… it’s all antithesis and no synthesis, if you’ll forgive me this Hegelianisticism.
So here’s today’s startup challenge for you. The specific innovation that I think is missing here is an effective and credible information channel between startups and financiers, a place out in the open where funding-related dialogue can take place. The question is: what could achieve this? Should startups (for example) press B.I.S. to sponsor the FT to include a weekly / daily startup column, containing a mix of interviews (with startups, angels, Prisk/Cable, etc) and op-ed-style pieces? Alternatively, might The Guardian, The Telegraph, or perhaps even City AM be an effective host?