Earlier this week, RockMelt, a Facebook browser launched to massive press coverage from most major publications including GigaOM.
I was as fascinated by the story of RockMelt cofounders Eric Vishria and Tim Howes as I was by their belief that they had a product (and technology) that would be able to find a solid footing in the crowded and hyper-competitive browser marketplace. To me, the story was the audaciousness of their ambition and why they started — of all things — a browser company.
Frankly, my last question to them was “who invested in the company.” It happened to be Marc Andreessen who is credited for creating the first viable and web-scale browser, which is a nice story hook, but it’s not the story. Unfortunately, many in the media reported the hook and stopped there. The focus of the news went from the browser, technology and the founders immediately to the investors.
Lately, it has become commonplace in the Valley to shift focus away from founders and put it on the investors. Some might argue that in case of RockMelt, it was the investor connection that made the story worthy of attention. (I would disagree with them.) To me those are the wrong reasons to pay attention to a company and its technology.
I have been writing about startups for a very long time — so long, that I can remember when Marc Andreessen was still in Illinois and long way from becoming the newest King of the Valley. And in the years that have passed I have written about some of the most memorable startups –- Ciena, Juniper, Cerent, Infinera, Google, Twitter, and Facebook –- and I have written about the forgettable ones.
Like most reporters during the bubble, in my early startup-focused writing, I lavished too much attention on the investors. My then-editor David Churbuck would call me into his office, sit me down and tell me that investors are a good way to judge if a company is worthy of a story. He would tell me that investment dollars and investors help you define a story, but they are never the story.
The more I paid attention to that advice, the better I became at choosing startups to write about. The technology was always the primary criteria, but in the late 1990s, David’s approach prevented me from getting too hopped up about here-today-gone-tomorrow Internet names such as Kozmo.com and Pets.com. At that time, investors had became the focus of attention (media and otherwise), and we all know how that ended.
While David’s lessons brought discipline when it came to evaluating startups, my deep appreciation for founders, I admit, came only after I started GigaOM. It is a tough life, where sacrifices and relentlessness are par for the course, no matter how big or how successful a startup becomes.
While investors are great counselors, one must never forget that it is founders and their team who build businesses. Jim Barksdale, CEO of Netscape and the founder of The Barksdale Group venture fund, once said, “The Main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” When it comes to technology startups, it is the founders and the technology — that’s the main thing.
Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):
30 thoughts on “Repeat After Me: Investors Are Never the Story”
I’ve been a fan of gigaom for quite some time, and I just wanted to say that this article really hit home with me. When it’s time to actually butter the bread, “It’s the product, stupid!”
Thanks. Appreciate the kind words.
Here in India,it all about funding and founders and never about technology.People talk big about big companies,funding and big guys.Even the success of the product gets the last attention in blogs and even the main stream media.How ever pls note(this point is important)if an american blogger talks good about an Indian product,then it get all the attetion that it deserves from Indian bloggers and media.
Om, you make some interesting points. It’s more work to dig deeper to find the story and take a bit of a risk to give a start-up “ink,” and as you say, the investors do lend cache and credibility, but in the end, the newly launched product either has a story to tell or it doesn’t.
That JB quote was “The Main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” and it was said many times.
PS – good luck to Tim and the RockMelt team.
Thanks for pointing that omission out. I think i accidentally deleted on extra bit 🙂
Like Ammiel says… I agree with both the JB quote and the good wishes to Tim and the team!
A great post! it brings back some sanity to hyped up reporting.
GREAT post. Thanks for pointing it out!
Om – loved this blog post! This is why I love GigaOm network more than any blog network.
And that is why you are a much more credible site than TechCrunch. Keep up the good work.
Good perspective Om.
When you say “It is a tough life, where sacrifices and relentlessness are par for the course, no matter how big or how successful a startup becomes.” – I would think “or doesn’t?”
I had only read the GigaOm post about RockMelt and must of just read past the Andreessen-Horowitz part therefore had no idea that it was funded by them. It was interesting how the product lost a lot of focus because of that one investor. Maybe something to think about even when looking for investors and how it factors into expectations of your company? Great post.
Great post. but there is a whole school of VCs who would disagree with you. Kleiner, Accel, DFJ, KhoslaVentures…
John Chen at one time had a better product than Larry Ellison. Xerox PARC at one time had a better product than Apple. Notable start-ups experience notable product iterations and inflection points. The author is a journalist not a founder. Start-ups are the founders.
There are times when I read posts written by you years ago, and wonder how does he sustain such a high level of writing.
Kudos to you Om- for years of intelligent tech reporting, keeping the gossip mags in their place, and help filter the hype for your readers.
It could be that when the technology is not all that “big”, better promotions could be done using “big” investor names. And when all the noise has died down, it is the technology that ultimately sells! Thanks for reminding us all to bring back the focus to where it should belong.
And, most of all, where’s the business? I’m using RockMelt since a couple of days and I find it useful… a bit. Nice to have, ok, so what?
I’ve read some articles about it but didn’t get a line about the business idea. Advertisement? Is it google-backed to big-brotherly catcha our user data? 😉 Or thinking as a client-side Twitter app? (How many of those will survive, though?)
I mean: I was in Mountain View back in the ’90s, exactly at the press conference where Netscape announced that Navigator was going free. We did a q&a with Marc Andreessen about that. From that moment I always kept thinking that browser’s business model was To Conquer The World
Can RockMelt do that?
Well said! thanks for bringing this to more people’s attention.
I completely agree, I had seen/heard of RockMelt when they first released like 2 years back. I find it weird that people are noticing it now because of the “investors”.
I cant comment on the venture, but the publicity is just stupid
excellent post. well said.
Maybe it’s time to put the focus on investors who pick the losers or “walking dead”. It’s a story that is seldom highlighted.
I think people were pointing out Rockmelt’s investors at launch because of the disproportionate amount of attention it received compared to something like Flock, which is an almost identical product. The only difference in the equation many of us can see is the investors. Therefore, many of us concluded it was the investors that made the difference. That’s how I read the response, anyway.