This column is my 100th for TechCrunch. Although I write weekly, I like to think that each post ages me roughly one year, or at least doubles Uber’s valuation (you’re welcome – you may send my equity check in the mail). No one ever told me that I would get grey hair from this job not from deadlines, but from writing about an industry that is at best, completely insane. Of course, my biology professor told me grey hairs come from aging, but as Peter Thiel would say, stop thinking too highly of higher ed.
I digress. 100 is by no means a large number in the annals of tech journalism – that woman in our comments who wants people to work from home has at least that many posts per day. And like those phantom Uber equity checks in the mail, I have never once received a check from her. I am starting to think it’s a scam, but I’ll wait one more month before I call her out on it.
I continue to digress. Like Square, I have to take a moment to ponder how exactly I ended up here and reached such a large numeric milestone despite my commodity product. And also ponder how 100 posts is more intellectual property than some $1 billion startups own.
I started writing in a baptism by fire, right in the heart of the Emerald City of Technology that is San Francisco. And when I say baptism by fire, I mean, people were walking in front of chauffeured coach buses and demanding better pay. And kicking Dropbox engineers off soccer fields. Like I said, this job is completely bonkers some days.
In my very first post, I called Silicon Valley “Public Enemy Number One,” which was my first bad prediction, since ISIS rose up just a couple of months later and took the mantle of Pure Evil pretty quickly. This discussion of enemy number one leads to lesson #1: just because you lead today in market share, doesn’t mean some startup isn’t going to demolish it very, very soon.
Talking about market share, how is Flappy Bird doing? How’s that Secret app going? Bitcoin, where art thou, and when will Mt. Gox return my money? MOOCs we hardly knew ye, before you seemed to disappear from the world. Google+ you were so beautiful, and your life was cut so short by users not using you. Meerkat, you… ok, I’ll give you another week. I do like Periscoping my Meerkating still.
Some days I wonder if my superpower is killing trends, although that doesn’t explain why selfie sticks continue to exist. Looking over the startup feeding frenzies I have written about, it’s fascinating just how quickly the creative destruction occurs these days. Media cycles have gotten even shorter than before, partly because mainstream publications have large tech bureaus. We don’t even have spring and fall tech media fashions, but rather the fashion for the second week of April.
Of course, what is not being creatively destructed are any of the large Silicon Valley incumbent firms. I personally feel this is the one story that people won’t accept, and yet, remains the key to understanding the startup ecosystem today. This is my secret in Peter Thiel’s parlance, not to be confused with The Secret, a book that completely transformed my life. We are the most powerful force in the universe, but that force is concentrated in a handful of corporate headquarters.
That’s why I am not going to call crazy valuations for startups crazy, although I just did that there. This is no longer a question of two people in a garage, but rather experienced people with massive teams and capital trying to knock one mature company off of its perch. Jet has already raised $220 million to take on Amazon – that’s not crazy, that’s necessity. Many of these startups will fail, which will cost some firms their balance sheets, but that is what disruption takes in 2015.
When we think about equity, we often think about venture capitalists, but the other side of the Coin is the employees (where are you Coin!). “The Problem With Founders” remains my favorite column, not just because it discussed the growing inequality between founders and early employees on issues like equity compensation, but because it also identified one of the lurking threats to Silicon Valley.
Given the challenge of fighting incumbents, teams are ever more important to the success of a startup, and yet, our industry has put ever more glare on the singular leader. We need to spread that glare around, lest it coalesce into a single beam and vaporizes our founders like a Death Star of Anti-Disruption +1/+3 Against Melee (my D&D sessions mix universes, deal with it).
I have covered few stories as often as the rise of the algorithmic economy, which I still believe has the potential to be one of the most important developments in recent human history, outside of Box’s IPO and the hiring of AOL’s Digital Prophet, Shingy.
We should always fear the future at least a little bit, if only because it focuses our attention on producing the future we want, and well, California is out of water. Algorithms may replace the labor union, but we have the ability to ensure that those algorithms are written the way we want, which if labor unions of the past are any indication, will run in O(n5) time.
Now, Asia. I spent the first eight months writing for TechCrunch traveling through Asia, the land that gave us Final Fantasy, Gangnam Style, and fortune cookies (sorry, that was probably California). Asia is slowly enveloping the world in its products, whether it be Xiaomi’s or Samsung’s phones, Line’s chatting app, or Cookie Run. Silicon Valley is often accused of insularity (there’s a world outside the 7×7?), but these companies are real, thriving, and a serious competitive challenge. Plus, they work in cities with functioning mass transit, so you know they can move.
It’s been a blast writing, and of course, reading our thoughtful commenters, whose inspired rhetoric makes me strive to improve my own writing. Along that line, I also want to thank all of the people behind-the-scenes at TechCrunch who make these columns possible, most notably Catherine Pickavet, who has edited more columns than any person really should. Catherine finally convinced me to stop writing startup as start-up, despite all evidence that hyphenation is required by the Oxford English Dictionary. She is truly the Death Star of Anti-Disruption of English +30.