More tech drama, please

It makes for better startups

As the startup game has matured around the world, it’s become less fun. Building companies from nothing to something is hardly supposed to be laugh-a-minute, but I think we’ve lost sight of how much fun new tech used to be.

An example that comes to mind is Meerkat. Let me explain: Back in 2015, Meerkat brought a simple livestreaming app to the market. If you had a phone, you could post live video and people thought it was the coolest damn thing.

TechCrunch wrote about the app in early March of that year, and we used Meerkat around the office as a neat, experimental tool to do our job. It was a silly time, but good fun. If you were in the writer’s area of 410 Townsend, our erstwhile HQ, you might have wound up on stream by sheer dint of sitting at your desk. We loved it.

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In fact, we liked it so much that the anti-Meerkat backlash was pretty quick. Josh Constine wrote at the time that he was drowning in new livestreams. Natasha Lomas wrote that “live video is the new clickbait.” Soon Meerkat raised capital, launched a platformย and came to Disrupt. The app pulled itself from the market in 2016.

It was a moment when the comparatively small startup world was seemingly united behind a single new idea or trend. There was once a time when new social apps would gear up for SXSW, hoping to become a breakout hit among the digerati who were busy pounding tequila and breakfast tacos.

Since then, things have gotten really boring, yeah? More money flooded the zone, B2B SaaS became the de facto startup business model, and platform companies became ever broader and richer, limiting greenfield space for new companies to build and experiment. Sure, the crypto boom has brought some of the fun back, but not more than a fraction. It’s hard to have fun when lots of the new fun space is a grift.

Enter a good old-fashioned Twitter rant from Ryan Breslow, founder and CEO of Bolt. Bolt is a digital payments startup focused on providing online checkout solutions to other companies. It just raised $335 million at an $11 billion valuation. And Breslow, now flush with a mountain of cash and a decacorn valuation, took to Twitter to settle some scores.

In a thread he titled “Stripe and YCombinator, the Mob Bosses of Silicon Valley,” the CEO went back through a sheaf of perceived slights that he endured from a collection of powerful players in the startup industry. A Sequoia partner fired back, saying that the real issue that Breslow had when he was struggling to raise and attract attention to his company was poor metrics. Shots fired.

The thread brought back drama for a short while.

Since the thread and arguments against the thread took over the startup conversation yesterday, Breslow has largely doubled down on his core thesis, sharing that founders are reaching out to him about similar experiences. Regardless of who you think came out better in the settling detritus of the spat, it was a useful exercise.

Yes, Stripe is incredibly powerful and protective of its perch in the tech industry. And, yes, the fact that Hacker News is a Y Combinator property is something we should keep in mind. Even more, we should be skeptical of Silicon Valley’s self-proclaimed vibe that world-changing is more core to the tech ethos than profit.ย (If that’s the case, then let workers unionize and stop treating junior talent like tissues, but, hey, that’s just me.)

Is all this drama fun? Yes; pass the popcorn. But these Twitter beefs really matter because we can often find the seeds of change or clarity.