First it was glitter and dicks. Then it was on-demand everything. Then it was breasts. Startups, please: stop.
2015 has been the year of the awful idea. It began early on this year with a number of services that wanted to send your enemies glitter and cardboard penises. They had all the trappings of a traditional startup – media blitzes, wild founders, and wacky ideas about social interactions. “Ever wonder what gummy dicks look like when they hit hot girls butts in slow motion?” asks one service, mostly tongue-in-cheek. Well, wonder no more because the founders of a site called Dicks By Mail proudly posted a video of it.
Most recently there has been a rash of “models will write stuff on their breasts” startups. One company, called Tittygram, even convinced the Russian minders of Burger King’s social media page to pony up a few dollars to have a model write “I love Burger King” on her chest. Burger King is a dark horse in the international burger race anyway, so it makes sense for them to be so stupid. It makes no sense for anyone else.
I then saw a Polish startup founder actively promoting a new site with the earnestness of someone proposing a cure for malaria. For some reason founders in Central Europe have had the worst ideas this year.
“Sign tits – help find home for dogs.” I think that came from Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech.
Look, startups, I know it’s hard. I really do. You toil in obscurity while stupider ideas – Clinkle, Magic, countless crab-pricing-on-demand services – get all the ink. You think the only way to get attention and cash is to act crazy. It’s a stupid strategy.
A long time ago it paid to act crazy. That window has closed. Thanks to the guys at Genius (nee Rapgenius) the opportunity to act like a jerk and raise big VC is over. Now you must have ideas to even get a callback and even then you probably won’t. But viral popularity is not the answer.
Viral popularity is just that – viral. It is pernicious, short-lived, and often results in the death of the host. Want to really understand how marketing and media work? Read this. It essentially describes the hype cycle in very clear terms. Most companies are born into obscurity and die there. With a little intelligence and some patience, that doesn’t always have to be the case.
There is something in the entrepreneurial mind that assumes everything is theatre. By focusing on the theatrical aspects, however, you lose out on the real goal: to change the world for the better. A startup, by definition, is a small company with global aspirations. Sending people dicks might be a good way to get your name on a bunch of websites but it’s also a great way to become the “guy who sends dicks” in a VC’s mind. In short, your theatricality begins to define you. Just as David Schwimmer is always Ross, you are always the guy obsessed with boobs.
Want to make a splash? Build a good B2B or B2C project that fills a niche. Learn how to describe it well on the phone and in person and network with people who can help you. Prepare an MVP and show it to everyone. Bootstrap as much as possible and produce a product that works and will make money. There is a place for racy startups out there – trust me, I’m the only guy who writes about them – but overtly sexist or silly ones are just stupid. Don’t be stupid.