The Scene Will Kill You
If you've taken a deep dive into tech startups, you know about the scene. The scene is the siren song of the innovation community. The scene will kill you. The scene is building sexy things that gain the approval of a certain (small) group of people. Sexy things get lauded, and celebrities coalesce out of the blogosphere's protoplasm. The scene builds and sells a dream. Skip to the beginning of the line; pass go; collect $200 and a DUMBO loft. Get in SAI 100, speak at conferences and spend your Friday nights at launch parties. The scene lends these things great importance. The scene assigns value to popular acknowledgement of value rather than actual value. The scene is all these things -- it is at once a state of mind as well as a loose community of people in any city with a large startup community.
I will spend this weekend's post on a warning: the scene will kill you. It will misdirect your efforts and focus your attention on the cool and the shiny rather than the substantive. Your product will be driven by the spotlight rather than the user or the dollar. It will inspire envy of your co-founders, your friends and your colleagues.
People in the scene don't say nice things about other people when they aren't around. They're too political, too strategic for that. Don't expect these people to watch your back. If you're in the trenches building a product or raising money, you must surround yourself with people you trust. You cannot tolerate politics and political people.
Building a startup requires blinders. Fred Wilson is right -- being agnostic to the zigs and zags of competitors is critical. But it's not just about ignoring competitors; it's about identifying fads and unproductive behaviors and mercilessly cutting them out of an organization. And if you don't do it, someone else will -- and they'll have a competitive advantage, whether for market share, talent or financing.
The scene provides a useful disguise for wannabes and dilettantes. The back-biting and politics of the scene enable B- and C-level players to skip from venture to venture, destroying value and poisoning relationships.
The scene is why I enjoy hanging out with developers. Developers/engineers tend to be grounded by a sense of the inherent usefulness and value of products. In a city like New York that is swimming with smart, non-technical entrepreneurs, it's surprisingly easy for an entire community to be distracted from building meaningful things that tackle real problems. The webutante is dying, but not quickly enough.
The scene will kill you and your company. That's as clear as I can make it. The scene is the antithesis of innovation and collaboration. Avoid political people and cut them out of your organization wherever you find them. This won't necessarily make you successful, but it will let you be happy with yourself regardless of how things turn out.