Mark Trapp

Armchair Entrepreneuring

This weekend, Louis Gray offered up his suggestions on what FriendFeed must do in order to continue to grow. It included imperatives on for FriendFeed in a variety of areas: from the need to appeal to the mainstream, to its need to better define its value. Several other bloggers and big names in tech jumped on this, laying charges from FriendFeed’s lack of big fish awareness to FriendFeed’s apparent lack of a business model.

This is all part of a phenomenon that occurs in the blogosphere on an almost daily basis, and something I call armchair entrepeneuring. Offering feedback is one thing: but the sheer hubris of tech bloggers that they know how to run a company better than the ones actually running it is entirely different. It’s never merely “I’ve used this product, and this is what’s good about it, and this is what stinks about it;” it’s always “you poor fools, you clearly dropped the ball, and let me show you exactly why.” Nevermind that very few of the people have actually been in a startup, executive, entrepreneurial, or product management position: if they don’t get it, you’re clearly doing it wrong.

But my issue isn’t on the credentials of those who lay these charges against entrepreneurs, but on how formulaic, and ultimately myopic, they are.

Consider the following:

  • If you upset a blogger who can claim at least one metric of over 10,000 (whether it’s followers, friends, pageviews, or cell count), your startup is going to fail.
  • If you don’t have at least 2 million people using your service within a year, your startup is going to fail.
  • If you don’t make your product easy enough that even a grand-mother can use it, your startup is going to fail.
  • If you don’t tell everyone your roadmap, your startup is going to fail.
  • If you don’t advertise on your product, or haven’t asked for VC in a while, your startup is going to fail.
  • If your product doesn’t appeal to early tech adopters, your startup is going to fail.
  • If your product appeals to early tech adopters, your startup is going to fail.
  • If your product doesn’t have X feature, your startup is going to fail.
  • If I can pull up a graph showing even the slightest dip in results, even if it’s based on the most spurious of data, your startup is going to fail.

In all fairness to Louis, I’ve seen him give startups and companies the benefit of the doubt even when everyone else wasn’t. Even with his post, he’s been on FriendFeed and Twitter discussing his confidence in FriendFeed. This isn’t about him, but acutely the reaction from the blogosphere to what he wrote, and in general, the bitchmeme that occurs every day.

When studying western philosophy, one of the things you learn is about a concept called the denial of akrasia. Socrates, as portrayed by Plato, uses this trope as the basis for knowledge of others. Akrasia, simply, is the weakness of will: the denial of akrasia is to assume that everyone commits to an action in a manner that they deem to be correct. That is, there’s a good reason behind every action.

What I’d love to see is for otherwise smart bloggers think about this when they offer feedback about startups: rather than start from a position of “they aren’t doing X, Y, and Z, they’re clearly dropping the ball,” start from a position of “why aren’t they doing X, Y, and Z? What’s the motivation behind taking a different path?” The conversation is more productive, and I’d bet the startup you’re trying to reach out to, not put on the defensive, would have a significantly different reaction.

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