For someone who never called himself a writer, I’ve written a lot. Between regular slots in ExitEvent, News & Observer, and WRAL Techwire, plus a dozen or so guest shots, I’ve penned over 200 articles about Startup in just the last two years. A lot of those articles have been about the Triangle scene, some on founders, some on startups, some on approaches and the general startup community.
Although a lot of it is a blur, I’d like to think that in all that time I’ve never once deliberately slammed somebody, some product, or some initiative here locally as being inadequate, delinquent or misguided. I’ve yet to call anyone or anything out as being “the problem” with our startup environment and, at least on the outside anyway, I’ve never been a hater.
THAT CHANGES NOW!
No. I’m kidding.
In all seriousness, I want you to understand that not every person, place or thing that comes into my frame of reference is made out of awesome. I know plenty of founders who aren’t brilliant, plenty of startups that won’t make it, and if you get enough drinks in me—or put me in a context where criticism becomes constructive —I’ve got plenty to say about the ills and issues with the Triangle Startup Scene.
What I don’t do is get on my soapbox to call out the evil. For example, I’ve long been of the mind that we’re not reaching enough women in the startup scene—be that nationally, locally or within the circles I have influence over. But instead of sitting down and furiously mashing out a rage piece calling out everyone (everyone but me, of course) who might be the cause (or, more likely, the symptom), I wrote a piece promoting Triangle Startup Weekend Women. And I went to TSW Women. And I took my twin daughters (who, truth be told, are the impetus of the ratcheting up of my awareness/concern, call me selfish).
Don’t get me wrong. I understand when the rage/shame/sunlight needs to be dropped, I’m just saying you’ve not only got to choose your battles, you’ve got to choose your weapons.
We’re all a part of this Triangle startup community, whether we agree with it, love it, hate it, think its full of posers and wannabes, or whatever. In that sense, the Triangle is also our startup.
Think about it. How much of your time would you spend railing publicly against the shortcomings of your own startup? How many tweets would you spit calling out your first guess as to why your product wasn’t selling to everyone’s expectations? How many blog posts would you author titled, “The Real Reason My Company is Failing is Because I Don’t Have My Shit Together.”
Or when someone, maybe someone with no prior knowledge of your startup, maybe someone who has a bias for one of your competitors, the one that’s already a known quantity, when that someone writes a scathing piece on how far behind said competitor you are, ignoring all your wins and focusing on all your gaps—are you hitting the +1 and piling on because it’s tough love and/or good medicine? Or are you feverishly working to fix whatever it is that person found, including firing up the PR machine to boost public perception that has now been dragged into the muck – rightly or wrongly?
I don’t understand teardown-from-within methodology, especially when it concerns the Triangle, because this place, for everything that’s wrong with it, is just as much mine as it is anyone else's.
I’m not saying I want to cover all our blemishes and ignore our ills and pave over our mistakes. I’m just saying I’d rather roll up my sleeves before I start tossing blame like gasoline and lit matches. Find the lowest-hanging fruit and start fixing.
I can’t imagine there are too many people locally who know anything about the state of startup in the Triangle who need a refresher course on what our issues are. And the ones that are blissfully ignorant? I’ll let them cheerlead. What harm are they doing?
Furthermore, I’m not sold on what we should be comparing ourselves to. I don’t know of a perfect or approaching-perfect startup ecosystem. Anywhere. If things are easier in Silicon Valley, then I’ll go there and compete with everyone who can accurately type “Go Cardinal!” with trillion-dollar ideas that will compete for that make-no-mistake limited capital at a good-luck-reaching-it billion-dollar valuation.
I’m not down.
Silicon Valley is big enough and established enough to support its haters. The Triangle is not. It’s nothing short of amazing that this place got this far this fast with this little.
I wasn’t born here. I didn’t grow up here. And frankly, I have no great loyalty for this place that doesn’t emanate from my own story here. But when I ask anyone from any similarly-sized town if they’d trade their burg for Durham or Raleigh, if they tell me they wouldn’t, I feel like they’re either lying or they’re trying harder than me to prop up the city they love.
Again, I’m not calling anyone out, even with this piece. I remain amazed at how we who are building here always seem to build. We get involved. We pitch in. As we grow, as we evolve, and as the haters emerge from the woodwork, I just want to make sure we keep banging on that positive vibe. Because just like with my startup, if I’m not 100% sold into what I’m doing, then I’ve already failed.