In fall 2007, Michael Arrington, then the editor-in-chief of TechCrunch, reached out to me with an idea to host an award show to celebrate startups, technology and entrepreneurship. He wanted all of us technology blogs — Gigaom, ReadWrite and VentureBeat — to join up to help figure out the awards, called the Crunchies. Yes, it was a TechCrunch show. But that didn’t matter to me. Michael had it right: Every industry had its own awards, so why not technology?
The first award ceremony was anything but polished. It was amateurish, raw and a whole lot of fun. There was genuine excitement in the air. Tesla was the cleantech startup of the year. Facebook won best company that year. Best startup founder? Mark Zuckerberg.
Last night, at the ninth annual Crunchies, it was the exact opposite. The ceremony was held at the San Francisco Opera House, and Chelsea Peretti was an amazing host. Many even dressed up. But what stood out to me? Many of the people who won the awards didn’t show up.
Mark won the CEO of the year award last night. He didn’t show up. Instead he sent David Marcus, who is a great executive in his own right. Meanwhile Travis Kalanick didnt show up to pick up the award for Uber. And neither did Elon Musk, whose SpaceX impressed us all.
“The honest to god truth is most of the winners don’t care about the Crunchies. Not one winner of the big categories showed up to accept their award,” writes Fred Wilson, whose wife, Joanne Wilson, aka Gotham Gal, was in the running for the Angel of the Year award. (Scott and Cyan Banister won the award, with Chris Sacca being the runner-up.) Fred is absolutely right.
Late yesterday evening, while catching up away from the opera house, I discussed the problem with Michael, who noticed this as well. I remember calling everyone on the list and making sure they were joining the festivities. I was faintly disappointed, not because I needed to see these people onstage but because their absence reflects a shifting reality of Silicon Valley. I think people who make it in Silicon Valley don’t care for awards because success now is less about being part of a larger ecosystem and more about living in their own universe.
Do we need awards, as Fred asks? I say absolutely. It is an occasion to celebrate the achievements of others. It is a recognition of one’s efforts. We need other people’s opinion and validation — whether it is in person or onstage. I love the Crunchies, warts and all, because I believe that we have an industry that is going to get bigger and more influential in the years to come. There will be interesting new ideas that will emerge, and they all need celebration — for at least two hours a year. And then people can go back to their hoodie-wearing, Soylent drinking, Uber-riding work/lives.
Update: A friend who was in attendance shared this in email. It is pretty much spot on and mirrors the opinions of others who wish to remain anonymous but sent me feedback.
“We debated not going at all. I don’t think people don’t want the awards or don’t care about them, it’s because last year was a tragedy. We though we would never participate again. Why did we change our mind? Ned changed my mind by trying to show me that they learned a lesson about what not to do and that they were going to take it more seriously. People do want an award show, but they want it to be more serious and honoring. It’s ok to have humor, but it can go too far and it can actually hurt – especially when you work so hard. What we need is an award ceremony with a real nomination board, real editorial oversight and class. People work so hard and nearly die for their companies, I think it is the least we could do.”
Photo by Gabe Rivera, Techmeme!