Name dropping! Now, what could go wrong with Silicon Valley

A lifetime ago, I went to Bombay and reported on Bollywood, India’s movie business. I met really cool people. I met really famous people. I met beautiful people. More importantly, I met people who did one thing that I have never encountered — name drop. They talked about who they are hanging with, the project they are working on, or who was directing them in what movie. I didn’t care, so I left.

Then, a decade ago, I went to Hollywood and encountered similar behavior. At lunch, in coffee shops, or at dinner parties — people talked about “projects” and dropped names. Not for me, so I left and go to LA only when I absolutely must for family reasons.

Fast forward to today, I see the same behavior happening in San Francisco. I am sitting at a coffee shop, and people around me are just busy dropping names. I have heard – Reid Hoffman, Jack, Kevin (Systrom), Marc (Andreessen) and Matt Cohler – being mentioned in conversations around me. The conversations are almost all about “investing” and how they introduce whom to whom.

Twitter…. blah! blah! …. Facebook… blah! blah!…. mobile…. blah! blah! Investing, terms sheets, buying your company… blah! blah!

When did we stop talking about ideas, technology and instead started focusing on you know… names and investing. Anyway, it is not a rant, just musing out loud.

Responses

  1. srinaga67 says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 12:23 pm Reply

    I don’t have names to drop..so I wrote a poem..

    Feelings of A True Innovator…

    You start with a dream to make a difference
    With a passion driven by a dream
    You struggle to breath your idea to life
    With a conviction no one else can share

    You indulge in it like none other
    and you nurture it like it’s your baby
    You draw inspiration from the smell of success
    and motivate yourself to work like crazy

    You want become the prime mover
    That propels the mankind forward
    You want to be the value creator
    That sustains the humanity

    You ignore the doom sayers
    who doubt your dream and your existence
    You fight the goliaths
    Who know to grow by crushing David’s like you

    You try convincing people
    To see the truth in your creation
    Alas, they are conditioned by
    The goliaths into think like them

    You spend countless hours burning the midnight oil
    Hoping to light up the minds that can embrace your idea
    You put your life into it over your loved ones
    Hoping the result of your hard work will make amends for it

    You live in your dream hoping to make it a reality
    And you suddenly get jolted from your dream
    And you wake up kicking yourself hard and screaming to yourself
    ‘Am I kidding myself..’ but you pull yourself together
    Never giving up on yourself and never giving up on your dream…

    Sri at Zahdoo dot com

  2. ranjanxroy says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 7:48 am Reply

    Up and downside…over-indulgence in the celebrity of the entrepreneur is counterproductive and we seem to be getting to that point, but it’s also vital in encouraging others to take the plunge into starting up a firm. When you’re immersed in Silicon Valley it’s easy to get annoyed, but remember all the developing startup ecosystems across the world that would kill to have a similar culture of celebrating successful entrepreneurs, where entrepreneurship is still shunned by society. I’ll take the annoying name-dropping to keep pushing the idea of celebrating entrepreneurs.

  3. Vijay Anand (@vijayanands) says:

    March 16th, 2012 at 12:10 am Reply

    I think there is a big shift in the way so called businesses are getting built. They tell us now that businesses can no longer be “built to last” and if that is the case, then its all a matter of who knows who, who can invest, who can help drum PR and find the biggest fool to buy your company off your hands, so that you can move onto the next project. And that is a play right off of the movie industry.

    Honestly, i am surprised it took this long for the habit to jump across. Angel investing as a model came in from hollywood, so the eventual leap to “project mode” was inevitable. Silicon valley, with most of its ventures addressing emotions and social networks, rather than take on the world’s problems, fits quite well with the hollywood culture and finally mingles in habits as well.

    Give it a few more months or years, it will go further than that.

  4. worldviewpr says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 6:49 pm Reply

    Celebritiy news is lazy journalism that gets eyeballs, but note another trend is for tech writers to focus moreso on the legacy players and M&A v new solutions that don’t require an army of sales engineers to make dead end solutions compatible with new tech and standards. A tryeprotection racket.

  5. Steven Kane (@stevenkane) says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 1:10 pm Reply

    Silicon Valley has become so like Hollywood. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe inevitable. But Hollywood.

    The barrier to entry is zilch. Just like Hollywood. Everyone is a producer, actor, writer, director. In the Valley now everyone is an investor, founder, director, mentor, visionary, entrepreneur.

    And just like in Hollywood, investors chase hits — mostly ineffectually, or unsuccessfully — and so try to look successful by association. Co-investing with name investors. Hanging out with name investors. Name dropping. etc.

    In Hollywood, the “talent” chase breaks. Jobs. Mostly ineffectually, or unsuccessfully — and so try to look successful by association. In Silicon Valley the “talent” — entrepreneurs — chase breaks. Seed startups. Mostly ineffectually, or unsuccessfully — and so try to look successful by association.

    In Hollywood one huge hit makes or breaks a studio — look at Titanic’s effects on Fox (even News Corp.) Ditto Or Avatar. Harry Potter on Warner Bros/Time Warner. Or Modern Family on ABC/Disney. Etc. But the vast majority of investments/projects are nominal success or failure.

    Ditto Silicon Valley. The Valley used to believe 2-3 of 10 venture investments would be big successes, and make the portfolio of 10 be an overall success. No more. Now every fund desperately prays for a MEGA success — a Facebook, or Zynga — to make up for 20-30 mediocre or failed investments. But the MEGAs are exceedingly rare — how many have we had in the last 10 years? So anyone involved with a MEGA is a superstar. Even if their track record is in every other way unremarkable. Or even if they are an unlikable boor.

    Just like Hollywood

    Maybe someday Silicon Valley will go back to primarily making risky, hefty investments in risky, meaningful, large endeavors. But as long as the hype and glory are on an infinite supply of digital media clones, created in a few weeks and launched at hip music festivals, the User Manual won’t be The HP Way, but instead, What Makes Sammy Run…

  6. Francis Pedraza (@francispedraza) says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 10:31 am Reply

    Most conferences and events are shamelessly superficial and poorly designed. Was just at Jason Calcanis’ LAUNCH last week. 2 days of 700 people watching big names trounce around on stage. “Networking” breaks of people flitting from booth to booth. Such a show. So much noise.

    It would have been more productive if it was 2 straight days of completely unstructured time for people to just meet each other. No booths. No stage. Just people.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 15th, 2012 at 11:12 am Reply

      I would say events and conferences (we organize them as well) are designed around the idea of meeting others. We try to match that need with a lot of good editorial. My rant was all about random conversations everywhere else being investment centric and not about what a company does.

  7. stat30fbliss says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 7:29 am Reply

    Great points. If people could generate ideas of value on their own, they wouldn’t be victims of coat-tail surfing. They start generating their internal value by the people they are associated with, rather than the things they have accomplished…

  8. JonWeisblatt (@JonWeisblatt) says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 6:38 am Reply

    Would be interested to hear what you saw/heard along these lines at SXSW this week in Austin. I live here and this phenomenon is real common.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 15th, 2012 at 7:51 am Reply

      I wasn’t at SxSw. I don’t like to go to massive events like that. Less one-on-one with smart people and more people-spotting!

  9. Aakrit Vaish (@aakuvaish) says:

    March 15th, 2012 at 4:29 am Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. I am a technologist who recently moved from Silicon Valley to Bombay, and same thing here. In fact, not surprisingly, more of it here given that, you know, its India. There’s a Bollywood element attached to whatever we do.

  10. sridh says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:46 pm Reply

    Om’s observation is a comment on state of things. When someone breaks the mold and thinks up an epic film or use tech to save an old person from the agony of stumbling, the same investors will be ready. Perhaps the ideas that should be the buzz at coffee shops are indeed boring and predictable, so name dropping seems more fun and really what coffee shops are about – catching up. There is always the water cooler in case ideas and passion take over coffee tables.

  11. NEERAJ MISHRA (@iNeeraj_Mishra) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:17 pm Reply

    Name Dropping! comes to people quite naturally as they feel it will make an impact on other person, not amazed to know it happens across the globe.

  12. nik cubrilovic (@nikcub) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:05 pm Reply

    This is why I have given all angel investors and VC’s code names

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 15th, 2012 at 4:26 am Reply

      Nice one @nik

  13. Elizabeth Gebhardt (@egebhardt) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 10:19 pm Reply

    Excellent piece Om. Very truthful. I fear that as the “name dropping increases” the “people helping each other” is decreasing.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 15th, 2012 at 4:27 am Reply

      I never thought of it that way, Elizabeth. Good point.

  14. Angad Bhatia says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 10:04 pm Reply

    Awesome post Om. Name dropping is a universal phenomenon. We’re based out of Delhi, and at times it feels that an easy way to crack decent business in digital ad sales, is if you can name drop at agency meetings.

    Much like yourself, entrepreneurs that have focused their energies at creating companies of real value, are the one’s that would completely understand your perspective.

  15. Matthew Hooper (@heyhoop) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 8:18 pm Reply

    I was just telling Scoble the same thing reminded me of when I was with McClure and we are all… Suster is so, you know. Anyway, Wilson, Destin Bussgang.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 8:47 pm Reply

      Lol. Matthew that was funny!

  16. Allyson Stinchfield (@allybluefence) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 6:37 pm Reply

    Thanks for the out loud musing. I’ve done PR for Silicon Valley technology companies for years. The name dropping, who-you-know-thing has really become worse over the years for sure, esp. as celebrities have gotten more involved on the investment side and technologists have become famous celebrities. I miss the days of humbler entrepreneurs who were indeed most focused on great ideas and technology. Entrepreneurs like Ken Oshman. Shoot, I just named dropped. Anyway, my faith is back though, for they still abound (undiscovered!) in other fields. Surely some are still in San Francisco too. Kinda like diamonds in the rough.

  17. David Repas (@DavidRepas) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 6:13 pm Reply

    A related concern that I’ve been seeing is the focus by both entrepreneurs and the media on fundraising success. Somewhere along the line, raising capital became equated to being a success, when in fact it is not. Building a real and valuable business should be celebrated more often, not raising an angel/seed/A/B/C or whatever round.

  18. Alicia Nieva-Woodgate says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 4:50 pm Reply

    There’s an attitude that has permeated since the dotcom era that if you don’t “know” someone, you are a nobody. It’s become worse in the past few years, naming dropping is at an all time high – you see it everywhere, and sadly I find myself falling prey to it when cowed by the digerati posers. To Gurbaksh’s point – (My PR profession aside) I think Dan Lyons had a very good point when he recently discussed how the digital media and reality era has created a new generation/breed of journalists blinded by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and Hollywood celebrity – which has taken its toll on things like journalistic integrity and ethics.

  19. bombaywire says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 4:45 pm Reply

    Had no idea you once covered Bollywood, Om! Maybe it’s time to come full circle and head back to Bombay :-)

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 4:54 pm Reply

      Lol. Not likely bombay wire. I like my life :-)

  20. Sachin Panemangalore says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 4:27 pm Reply

    Om, I do think it happens when the ecosystem has a few big players succeeding exponentially in one direction and investors think its too risky to invest in small ones heading in any other direction. As an example , look at hollywood…where are the writers , where is the creativity , its all about money now , no one wants to make an epic movie ..come halloween the monsters have to come out of the closets come what may we have to watch it . I would relate this to the valley , the social networking scene is huge, google, yahoo, facebook , so is the smart-phone and cloud computing market. This is a great fertile ground for creativity , but the need to come up with something very fast so that it can be quickly monetized is huge , Atleast for investors , the focus has moved to ” we know what we want- just tell me who is making this stuff “

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 4:57 pm Reply

      Sachin,

      I appreciate you running with my analogy. Those are excellent and thoughtful points – and something for me to think about.

  21. Alex Osterwalder (@AlexOsterwalder) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 4:03 pm Reply

    That’s why I like your blog so much. It’s all about ideas, technology, and change!

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 5:06 pm Reply

      Alex

      That is because we got an awesome team writing about stuff they care about and what matters to them.

  22. Startup Dispatch (@startupdispatch) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:55 pm Reply

    Om, I would love it if you could use your pedestal to focus on smaller bootstrapped companies run by founders with big dreams who are working really, really hard at being successful than these media darlings like Milk that offer nothing but vaporware.

    You know it as much as I do – the real innovation comes from guys who are in it for the long haul, who aren’t afraid to bet their own money on their projects, and who won’t stop until they succeed in bringing their vision to reality. Stop focusing on parasites that are leeching the life blood from the tech industry and turning it into a by-product of Hollywood.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 5:07 pm Reply

      Good point Startup Dispatch. A good reminder, though we try to include as many as possible.

  23. Joti Basi says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:53 pm Reply

    Shareholder value? What is that? Speaking of Milk, since when startups are allowed to run “experiments”?

  24. Richard L Burton III (@rburton) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:50 pm Reply

    The start-up community is really full of artificial entrepreneurs who really aren’t interested in building companies, focusing on business value or creating value. I think a great comparison would be to look at the musical talent of today compared to the artists that came before them.

    Older musicians made music that expressed purpose, created with passion and provided social value. Artists of today are trying to replicate the success of other successful artists before them. No originality, sense of passion or even a decent sense of self respect.

    In short, today’s entrepreneur is very much like a porno star. They just want to hear people say their name.

  25. cliff says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:45 pm Reply

    In unrelated news, Jack met with Nicolas today: https://twitter.com/#!/jack/status/179964666523561985

  26. Michael S Galpert (@msg) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:43 pm Reply

    does this mean you are moving to nyc? or just gonna find another coffee shop :)

  27. Jason Adriaan (@jasonadriaan) says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Let the vanity founders enjoy their tea and sushi in the valley whilst the rest of the world build products that have real value.

  28. Chris Coughlan says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:37 pm Reply

    Talking sense Om!

  29. Robin Wolaner says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:24 pm Reply

    Reminds me of 1998. Just saying.

    1. Om Malik says:

      March 14th, 2012 at 3:29 pm Reply

      I don’t know what you are talking about ;-)

  30. Gurbaksh Chahal says:

    March 14th, 2012 at 3:14 pm Reply

    Excellent post. I also think tech journalism has taken a nose dive recently. We spend too much time hyping companies up that have no reason to be even hyped (Milk), vs. actually talking about real businesses that create shareholder value.

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