Let's Not Let Silicon Valley Become Just Like Hollywood

I came across a post written earlier this week by A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson titled I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. It’s worth a read because it is funny as hell. But I also can’t help thinking about how it all applies to our Silicon Valley community. Are we any different than Hollywood? Should we be?

Olson writes:

I will not read your fucking script…If that seems unfair, I’ll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living…Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you created this situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very definition of a dick move.

He goes on, giving a specific example of one time that he read someone’s script and how it all turned out badly anyway.

And, he’s right. Dead on right. Asking a writer to read your script is no different than asking a painter to paint your house for free. Except for one crucial thing – The person isn’t really asking Olson to read his script. What he was really asking for is access to the Hollywood power structure. A way in to a very closed off world.

There are direct analogies to Silicon Valley. In Hollywood everyone has a script. In Silicon Valley, everyone has a business plan. And when you don’t know many people here, you start networking to get people to read that business plan, and hopefully introduce you to a few venture capitalists or angel investors.

Sometimes those people start with me in their quest to break into Silicon Valley. They are way too early to have a story written about them, but they email in and ask me to look at their business plan and/or an early website and give them my feedback.

What they really want are introductions. To possible cofounders. Or investors. Sure, they listen to my opinion, but when they really have the fire in their eye, which all good entrepreneurs have, it doesn’t matter what I say. Nothing will stop them. They just want me to introduce them to the next person who can help them.

Usually I can’t take the time to look at these business plans, there is always too much to do in my day job. Sometimes, very rarely, I do. But, like Olson with his scripts, the result is the same whether I spend the time or not. If I don’t look at it I get called a jerk. If I do look at it but don’t help move the idea forward with the right introductions, I get called a jerk. It’s easiest just to ignore the requests.

We also see this with TechCrunch50 applications. Every year we get about 1,000 applications from bright eyed, hopeful entrepreneurs. Fifty get in. That’s 950 rejection emails we have to send out. Every year, a certain percentage of the rejected entrepreneurs go varying degrees of ballistic on us. Angry emails, trolling comments, etc. Very occasionally, worse.

But some of this is understandable frustration. As Silicon Valley gets bigger, with more strangers, it actually becomes harder to reach the power structure that can make your startup go from a business plan to reality (this is why I’ve written that periodic downturns, which weed out some of the fluffier parts of the startup scene, are such a good thing in our community).

Those of us in a position to help entrepreneurs need to do more of it. We need to take more time out of our day to read that business plan, and help make connections. Even when it comes at the cost of our day job, and even when there is nothing in it for us. In the past we’ve tried various projects to try to scale this. In the future, we’ll try new things until we get it right. One idea – a once-a-month open demo day at techcrunch where unknown startups can come and show their stuff, or just talk about their idea, to TechCrunch writers. It would be trivial to livestream and archive these events. And who knows, someone may make a crucial connection.

But this is a two way street. Budding entrepreneurs, trying to break down the walls that separate them from your angel funding, need to grow up. Most of the time people don’t have the time to help you, and you shouldn’t aim hate at them for it. Instead, try a different angle or a different person. A simple thing – learn to read body language and don’t approach people at the wrong time (like right after they leave a stage and are surrounded by a dozen other people). Choose your moment. If your strategies don’t work, try something new.

Dozens of startups have given up trying to get through my hated inbox and have instead reached out to other TechCrunch writers, and many of those have ended up with great connections to angel investors, potential partners, or future employees.

But don’t assume someone is a jerk just because they won’t paint your house for free. Or read your business plan.

Good luck, and remember that a lot of people want you to win, even when they don’t have the time to help you do it.

p.s. – I often find myself on the other side of this type of thing, trying to get someone’s attention for a story or to speak at one of our events or whatever. I try to never take offense at an unreturned phone call or email, or blame the person if they don’t have time to speak at one of our conferences. Instead, I try to think of ways to reverse the situation, so in the future it’s them calling me to write about their company, or to speak at our conference. It doesn’t always work, but it’s more productive than festering and spreading hate.