Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jerks of Silicon Valley Startup Culture

One of the hottest memes running the distance between San Francisco and Silicon Valley right now isn't the latest round of LOLcat pics or celebrity nonsense.  It's the evolution of bro-grammer frat-boy culture into openly misogynistic attacks on women in tech.  The revelation that Uber's top dogs planned to smear female tech journalists who criticize their taxi service is the latest manifestation of this downward spiral in civility.

Immaturity is nothing new among San Francisco Bay Area tech startup founders.  The dot-com crash in the '90s left a lot of ruined amateurs wondering why their poor work ethic did not translate into market success.  Venture capitalists should have learned not to give millions of dollars to Gen-X clowns but they all wanted to find the next Netscape and Yahoo.  Everyone promptly forgot those lessons a few years later when Google and Facebook made it big.  Now VCs are funding jerks just for the sake of being cool all over again.

One of the most closely held secrets in Silicon Valley is that founding billionaires who still run the biggest tech companies will pay billions to acquire stupid startups just to protect their net worth.  Disruption threatens their wealth piles and they are willing to spend other shareholders' money - forgetting their fiduciary duties - to keep what they have.

The VC lament that "it wasn't always this way" reveals the Valley's short memories.  It has always been this way, through every boom and bust cycle in tech.  The arrival of jerks who are given a free pass on abuse is usually a market top signal.  It comes when VCs have run out of good ideas to fund and the founders of bad ideas realize they need to burn other peoples' money to get headlines.  This self-feeding ego frenzy always ends when the public equity markets crash and destroy both the IPO and acquisition exit strategies.

It will soon be time for a change of pace.  I suggest VCs look for the following traits among the startup teams they say they love to fund.  Integrity is number one, and is hard to judge without watching someone under stress resist the temptation to do something wrong.  Prior success in growing a small business is next, and it has a lot to do with building teams that operate on trust.  VCs who have been ignoring such things these past few years will have a hard time pulling back from rationalizations that jerks had what it took to build successful companies.  I assume that these misguided VCs will be out of business and not be able to pollute the Valley with funding for the next round of jerks.

Market cycles flush out failed businesses.  The jerks who could not build tech startups into profitable businesses will not find the exit events they expected.  They will instead exit the tech scene for entry-level jobs in sales or customer service.  We won't have to put up with bad-boy behavior for much longer.

Full disclosure:  Alfidi Capital routinely heaps tons of verbal abuse on stupid people and liars.  This qualifies as jerk behavior in the minds of morons who don't understand justice.  Our CEO also holds women in high regard, high enough at least to see up their skirts if they're willing exhibitionists.