Start Up Services Snake Oil

I’ve been so well entrenched in the journalistic world of entrepreneurship that I haven’t lifted my head out of the mess of funding stories and launch posts to actually pay attention to what is happening in the world of startups. Here’s the rub: when you’re starting a company it’s almost impossible to get good people. You can ask your cousin to make a few PSDs for you, you can ask your friends to program, but in the end you depend on a network of service providers for all sorts of things from design to programming to marketing. Then you need to publicize your wares and you end up in a whole other world of strange attractors and messy connections.

The things that prevent entrepreneurs from getting good people are manifold but when you’re bootstrapping all you can offer is a little cash and some equity and too many designers and programmers have been burned on equity deals that died. I’m not saying that’s fair, I’m just saying that’s realistic. But there is also a crop of bargain basement services that are preying on these creators and I think it’s really unfortunate.

First, a word about TechCrunch: no one at TC ever takes payment for stories. Ever. Guest posts are hand-picked and every story is written independently of advertising. The same goes for the meet-ups and Disrupt. Folks might pay for a booth at our events but they don’t pay for stories. When I went to J-School back when papers and magazines still existed I learned that you take money from the paper, not the subject. The paper pays you for your words and, in the spirit of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, you think and write and publish the truth. That’s all that is asked of a journalist. You can call up all sorts of conspiracy theories but anyone I edited knew this, be they at Gizmodo or TC or anywhere else I’ve written.

Fast forward to today’s high speed content mills and we’re seeing a different story. I won’t name names — yet — but I’ve found multiple services that offer no support for products purchased and plenty of service providers who are non-responsive, offer boilerplate solutions to complex problems, and are otherwise making you pay for ads while offering “reviews.” I’ve often cited the idea of a theatre of entrepreneurship as a driving force encouraging but ultimately failing the average entrepreneuer. This theatre consists of three acts — ideation, connecting to others in the ecosystem, and success or failure based on various factors. In smaller cities it usually goes something like this: someone has an idea, they quit a corporation and join an incubator, fail, and go back to work at a corporation… and repeat. Sadly, now there is an entirely new layer preying on folks who are in the ecosystem stage.

If you’re paying for a post, you’re buying advertising. If you’re paying to pitch you’re not pitching, you’re renting a stage. If a VC asks for money then I don’t know where the hell you are but you’d better get out.

Further if you’re offering to help startups with marketing, programming, or design you’d best be responsive and offer full support. The ecosystem can dump bad actors fairly quickly and if you burn too many people someone will hear about it. There is no get-rich-quick scheme here, this is good people working together to build something cool. If you can’t help, don’t advertise yourself as someone who works with entrepreneuers.

I never knew how hard it was to find good people until I had to. It sucks and it’s difficult and it’s disheartening but the ecosystem is partially to blame. I’d like to see it change and it starts with us, the folks with dreams and teams. If we don’t expose snake oil salesmen for what they are we only hurt ourselves. All the world’s a startup stage and there is no room for bad actors.

Image by Kenny1.