It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about Musk. Objectively I, and most other writers have been. I cannot speak for others, but for me Musk is just an object lesson in the bad part of startup land.
I’ve been around startups since I was a teenager. I’ve seen so many gallons of toxic startup BS. Musk embodies all of it, in a neatly name-recognizable package. But he’s just a repeating story of the same old nonsense.
My digipal Ranee Soundara shared a draft of something she’d written about a particularly absurd requirement in many companies hiring processes. It’s an excellent article and she’s since published it on LinkedIn. Reading her draft caused me to rerun an article from October with my takeaways from a bad startupish job listing.
To sum the article up in bullet points:
- Founder/CEOs often scale way past their capacity to manage but stay super protective of the company.
- The skills and approach that allow founder’s to build, often complemented by delusional confidence and dumb luck, rarely scale with the organization.
- When someone doesn’t know what they don’t know, the human tendency is to develop irrational proxies to evaluate.
Last month I had a job interview with a startup that was so bad I’ve written three articles about how not to conduct a job interview. The articles will likely end up published on my own channels because startup media has basically vanished. It seems like most startup coverage now begins with $100 million and 200 employees.
In August I wrote that Musk’s flippant disregard for his contracts to acquire Twitter showed that smart contracts aren’t really possible. I didn’t have to search for an example of a startup that owed money to my company. I just used the example where A Twitter cofounder was an investor.
I have many other stories. I’m still pissed off about being stiffed on petty amounts of money from startups back when I was 17. My friend Cullen has his own stories of nonpayment as a teenager working with startups. We are not alone, Musk embodies the startup world.
In the context of a long and personal essay about how the behavior of those in entrepreneurship often mirror those with substance use disorders Musk’s name didn’t come up once. And yet, I shared this article with people because it explains much of Musk’s behavior.
The startup space overlaps with the fake guru space heavily. The personalities are often hard to differentiate. But small scale is uninteresting to readers, or worse institutional support is extended to pay the bills.
In that article from 2020, I talked about the Forbes 30 under 30 lists and Forbes Councils as shams.
“In 2017, the aforementioned Sam Ovens made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia: Industry, Manufacturing & Energy list. What does a man from New Zealand, selling the secrets to earning six figures, with offices in Dublin and New York City, have to do with manufacturing or Asia?
I’m not saying Ovens bought his way onto the list. But Forbes props up fake guru types with credibility. In fact, undeserved endowment of their trusted brand is built into the business model. Even now, Forbes takes money from people to become members of one of the Forbes Councils. With that nearly $2,000 membership, someone can write for the Forbes site and use the trusted logo on marketing material in perpetuity.”
My attack on Forbes was part of why that article ran in the independent Arc Digital, and not mainstream or quasi mainstream tech press.
At the moment I have three articles being pitched to editors about the startup world. All mention Elon Musk. Heck, I got a very polite rejection from one editor, because they had too many Musk stories.
Fair, Musk, Holmes, and SBF all generate a lot of think pieces, because mainstream news will cover them. The articles are often just a repeating story of the same old nonsense. Only this way, people will care.