“I was walking to a team meeting where I was going to announce that we would likely have to lay off nearly all of our employees because we unexpectedly had almost no money left, and that it was all my fault. On the way, my co-founder and our CTO stopped me and said ‘I’m resigning. And I’m going to tell the team why.’ He then told me that he had lost trust in me as a CEO and as a person. And our third co-founder, a friend of mine for 11 years, was resigning too. Having slept only an hour the night before, I could barely process the news.”
This is the opening paragraph of the blog post titled Mistakes You Should Never Make, written by Seth Bannon, founder and CEO of Amicus. This blog post is hyperlinked in Gawker’s ValleyWag article about Bannon, How to Apologize Like a Silicon Valley Dirtbag. Without knowing much about the story, we do know that Bannon understands himself as a victim, seeing how by the end of his opening paragraph he pities himself for screwing everyone over and losing a lot of sleep while doing it.
But let’s take a few steps a back. Yes, Bannon is a “Silicon Valley dirtbag” in a lot of respects, but what about everything that happened before Bannon was exposed, and why he chose to expose himself at all.
Valleywag’s title choice is exactly why Bannon got as far as he did. Bannon’s startup, Amicus, made its debut as Blue Fusion at the New York Tech Meetup, which takes place in New York, NY. Despite Bannon’s east coast-born idea, he is still a product of, and belongs to, Silicon Valley. Rather than spewing up a title like New York Douchebag Takes Advantage of Rich People and Screws Over His Friends and Co-workers, Valleywag went with How to Apologize Like a Silicon Valley Dirtbag, which in my opinion, is a great choice.
Silicon Valley is no longer just a place in California. It’s expanded into an ideology, a belief system, a group, a name tag, an identity, etc. During Bannon’s presentation in New York, he brought attention to the lie that he dropped out of Harvard University, and even wrote it into his presentation slides. In actuality, Bannon attended a Harvard extension program that he dropped out of to pursue the startup full time, he says. Why did he lie? “Partly for convenience and partly to make for a good story, I would often say I dropped out of Harvard University,” Bannon said.
I imagine the logic being something like: Steve Jobs gave up college for a small garage where he created Apple and unknowingly set a huge precedent for style, culture, and people’s idea of what the non-corporate startup culture should look like, all while not wearing shoes. So, therefore, my choice to drop out of college not only likens me to Steve Jobs, but also reveals my imperfections and mistakes and ability to prevail outside the standard norm and mold, and we quirky Silicon Valley geniuses are humble enough to share our mishaps and stories with the aspiring public. So yes, I will take pride in dropping out, salt and pepper the truth a little and voila! I’m a Harvard drop out. Definitely keeping it on the slide.
Steve Jobs is an idol, a revolutionary, a visionary, a genius, and we all enjoyed realizing his funky ways and imperfections. Absolutely. And yes, we all like to hear Mark Cuban’s obstacles in business and how he overcame them, and there can be something learned out of hearing the trials faced by 20-somethings in Silicon Valley. There is value in hearing other people’s experiences. But revealing your mess-ups does not mean sainthood awaits you, as many Silicon Valley martyrs like Bannon, who wrote “entrepreneurs often write about what’s going right, but too rarely write about what’s gone wrong,”choose to assume. It’s great, sure, why not expose your journey? But is your intention to help your fellow business-hungry peers succeed, or is it to thicken the plot of your billion dollar dream come true?
Since Silicon Valley has been reborn, young entrepreneurs have showered us with their mistakes. From panels, to blog posts, to Google chats, to Skype sessions, it has been made very clear that mistakes can be good, you must learn from them, and even the best make them. Mistakes and obstacles are desired by young entrepreneurs who have a crush on San Francisco and wish they needed real prescription lenses. Bannon highlights the fact the he drops out of college and writes an entire blog about his mistakes, structuring it like a lesson plan for the less experienced, making him what…the teacher? Someone to learn from and look up to?
Part of the Silicon Valley success story is finding your big mistake, your big scary moment when everything almost (but didn’t) fall apart, but you survived, with only zeroes in your bank account, and now you’re here to tell all. To tell us about large sums of money sprouting from little ideas sparked in small garages, little ideas that will make millions and help those in need.
Which brings me back to Bannon, who raised over 4 million dollars by attracting over 20 investors who knew very little about him.
The desire to join a startup, whether as an investor, creator, or employee, is felt by even the richest among us because it’s not only about quickly cashing in high sums of money, it’s about joining the movement, supporting a ‘revolutionary’ company, one that will spark light bulbs in people’s hearts and call upon electronic quippy folk music to be the soundtrack of your life. It’s all driven by the desire to catch the startup train, to not miss the boat, and all the other cliches that boil down to FOMO.
But, forget all that nonsense, as Bannon so eloquently concluded in his blog post where he bares all, “Lesson Learned: ‘I should have had conversations with my co-founders about what rules they were comfortable breaking.’” So there you have it, next time you want to screw over your employees and investors, make sure your co-founders are on board. Communication is key and we all have to be on the same page.