2012-10-01

The Startup Kids

Saturday was the premier of the Startup Kids, a documentary about young entrepreneurs in Europe and America.

I enjoyed the film and thought it was a pretty decent introduction to the world of Internet startups. I spent the rest of the evening all fired up about my own little project.

That said, I'm going to point out a few limitations to the reality it presents. It's interesting to watch a film like this and think about how the film maker's personal views and goals influence the choice of material and presentation, and this film was actually quite biased.

First off, the film reinforces the probably false idea that startups are only for young people. Obviously, considering my age and my choice of profession, I'm not going to just nod and agree.

This bias was to be expected given the title of the film and the fact that it was in part sponsored by a youth grant. So that's fine, they did a good job telling the story that young people can start meaningful companies.

Another thing they did, was find a nice mix of men and women, and a decent mix of Americans and Europeans to talk to. Also no big surprise, as the film makers were two European (Icelandic) women. But the ratios presented in the film, sadly, have little to do with reality. The world of startups is still very much dominated by American boys. Again, this doesn't detract from the film in my opinion, because I would like the startup and tech worlds to become more balanced. Providing all sorts of role models as this film does is an important part of making that happen.

(Now, if they'd also had a black founder, a really old founder and a handicapped founder, we'd really be talking...)

I guess my biggest beef with the film, was that it and the people interviewed, did nothing to counter the common claim that startups have to be work, work, work and more work.

The American idea that if you want to succeed, you should work 16 hour days and never take a holiday wasn't questioned even once, and the people being interviewed were eager to justify spending all their time at work by talking about how much fun it was and how they loved living with their coworkers, and so on.

The more I read about startups, the more I've become bothered by this, and when combined with an emphasis on youth (read: inexperience and insecurity), it actually takes on a slightly sinister tone.

It's well known that productivity drops off pretty rapidly after 8 hours on the job. It's also well known that working too hard will lead to health problems. I've suffered my own minor break-downs after working too much, and it seems this is a common problem in the startup world.

So I worry a little that the film fell into the trap of glorifying a slightly unhealthy system where dreams and VC money drive young people to work themselves to death creating companies others make a profit selling. The VCs don't want older, more demanding founders who will stick up for themselves and focus on building something sustainable - merely sustainable companies are a failure by VC standards. They want a shiny, hyped up company they can sell for a profit. So they glorify youth and glorify the ideas that overwork and aiming for the moon are the only way to succeed.

And unfortunately, that was a core theme of the film.

But... all that aside, I still left the cinema feeling inspired and motivated to get back to work. It seems that even though I'm 36 years old and should know better, I still just want to be a Startup Kid. :-)

Tags: life, startups


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