Cockroaches, Unicorns, Startups. Enough Already!

An article on the UK-version of BusinessInsider got me a little worked up and I made a post on my Facebook page. An intense conversation followed and Dave Winer suggested that this would make a good blog post. He was right – as always!

“Everything is about resiliency now to weather the storm,” says Tim McSweeney, a director at technology-focused merchant bank Restoration Partners. “Unicorn, it’s a mythical beast, whereas a cockroach, it can survive a nuclear war.”

I was annoyed by this comment mostly because I get really annoyed by these dumb labels that are put on startups. I hated the label unicorn, and have not been shy about pointing that out:

“A unicorn is a mythical thing which doesn’t exist. It’s a big fat lie. If you’re calling yourself a unicorn as a company, you’re a big fat lie. Why don’t you just say what you are, that you’re a startup with some valuation?”

I have been investing for a few years now, as an investor I have never looked for a “unicorn” or a “cockroach” startup. I have always looked for a good startup. I have looked for passionate founders, full of convinction, who are okay to be first and are comfortable with a future that others don’t see just yet. I like ideas and solutions for real problems. I like technology startups. As my partner Jon Callaghan often says, venture capital is for creating brave new markets. It is about creating entire new industries. It is about inventing new way of solving problems. Some ideas are small. Others radical.

But none of them are a unicorn, donkey, horse, ox or a cockroach. These made up words represent a limited grasp on vocabulary of those who are seeking cheap attention. As an investor, what I don’t look for is startups that come with dumb labels, popularized by reporters who don’t know what the hell they are talking about and are looking for cheap slogans to put on their click bait bullshit headlines. 

The so called technology/business media is doing as much damage as  wannabe investors and wantrenpreuers. Story tellers have forgotten in their race for page views – words have a meaning and words can shape narratives. 

April 4, 2016, San Francisco

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