It’s less than three weeks since the new JOBS act opened the door to exciting new crowdfunding initiatives. This could be a sweeping change, an end to antiquated laws requiring startups to get investment mainly from so-called accredited investors. And it could be another deregulation causing a lot more problems than it solves.
For the curious, here’s a quick reading list I’ve compiled, full of excitement, eager anticipation, fears, contradictions, and contention.
For a scathing indictment of the whole idea, how it’s actually more of the deregulation that caused the great recession, try Why Obama’s JOBS Act Couldn’t Suck Worse, by Matt Taibbi on Rolling Stone. (Don’t you love the title? Nothing ambiguous about that.)
Bob Rice, New York venture capitalist, posted Forget Crowdfunding: Why JOBS Matters on the gust.com blog. A couple other posts on the subject on that blog — which is the major platform for angel investment — are Antone Johnson’s train wreck post, in which he fears the worst from crowdfunding before the bill passed; and then his somewhat-relieved revision in his back on track post a week later.
Last but not least (since we’re on my blog at the moment) is my What Worries Me About Crowdfunding on the Huffington Post. What worried me then, before the bill passed, still worries me now.
I could go on with the reading list, but it’s already too long.
So which is it? All hail the new era of startups let loose from the nasty bureaucratic constraints? Or the opposite, run for the hills because chaos is coming? Obviously somewhere in between the two. Also obviously, a lot will depend on who does what in crowdfunding, and how quickly, and how well. If this new world starts with some very visible unsuccessful but popular deals, for which a lot of people lose money, that’s one scenario. If the regulations manage to control the scams and somebody builds a good crowdfunding site with some reasonable precautions, then that’s another scenario.
I Don’t Believe in Work Life Balance as a Startup Person. Am I Wrong?
In the discussion on thefunded.com, the person who asks the question is co-founder and CEO of a startup, and is working 60 hours a week. But there are problems:
I wish we all would work like there’s no tomorrow, at least until we reach certain status where we can be confident that we have reached product market fit… However my co-founders have their families and they have to go home when work hours end … I am very dissatisfied because I feel like we can do much more if we tried harder.
If you get into that discussion, you’ll see that the startup community there is divided. There is no consensus.
Just yesterday blogging guru Chris Brogan posted an eloquent argument for balance in his Pay Yourself First:
But when you wonder how I’m getting as successful as I am, oddly, it’s because I’m doing the opposite of what you’d suspect. I’m working fewer hours now than I used to work last year. The trick of it all is that I’m working the right hours, and I’m managing my time and demands on my time much better.
Fire people who are not workaholics. Come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. Don’t work at a startup if you’re not into it. Go work at the post office or Starbucks if you want balance in your life.
Me? I’m not sure. I hope for that happy medium, the gray area that isn’t either black or white; a startup that people believe in enough to work like mad, but one that gives them meaningful work to do, and one that hopes they manage to preserve a life as well. As if that were possible.
I hate it when people push issues way too far, diluting their points by overextending them. Stretch your generalization net too far and you catch a lot of innocent fish along with the sharks. Do that and you kill your own argument.
For a great example of that, Jason Calacanis’ rant against startups having to pay to pitch investors. You can click here to read it. He’s very angry at businesses charging startups fees of thousand of dollars to pitch investor groups. I agree with him. I also dislike most (but not all) of the mostly-web-based listing services that charge startups hundreds of dollars to list themselves somewhere were investors will see them.
By the way, for a rant-free and more balanced discussion of the same problem, click here for Lora Kolodny’s summary on NYTimes. com.
But my beef with Jason’s rant is his total lack of distinction between thousands of dollars as a pay-to-pitch fee, charged by for-profit middle-men companies, and the normal fees of tens or hundreds of dollars charged by angel investment groups as part of the pitching process. That’s like apples and oranges. And the oranges are getting smeared with the bad apples.
I read, cringing, as Jason and his followers (in the comments) seethe with anger at entrepreneurs being forced to pay anything, in any context, to present to investors. And that’s way off base. You simply can’t lump these pitch predators and their big fees with the hundreds of angel investment groups and community organizations that charge tens or hundreds of dollars to cover real costs. He’s got so much sound and fury, without making some important distinctions. It’s scary.
Let’s take a real-world case, one that I know well. I’m a proud member of a local angel investor group that charges the startups who enter our annual business plan competition $199. We’re not exploiting anybody. Not one of us ever sees a dime of the entry money. It goes to support the costs of the event, including the location, coffee and such, collateral. It’s controlled entirely by the organization itself, a collection of non-profit civic groups trying to contribute to small business development in our local area. Where’s the harm in that?
While a few of Jason’s commenters hint at this kind of distinction, the general feel is about as friendly as an angry mob with torches and pitchforks.
So there’s the problem. Generalize that pay-to-pitch is exploiting startups, and you make the world harder for well-meaning groups of investors that are giving startups a pretty good deal. So why not make the distinction, apply some gray tones instead of all black and white, and make a better point? Oh dear, all those nerdy pointy-headed distinctions are so undramatic.
Just to make sure, I asked a local entrepreneur, Nathan Lillegard, president of Floragenex, who describes himself as “as someone who has paid way too many fees to talk to people about my company.” He said:
“A truly dedicated entrepreneur finds just as much value in the experience of pitching as in the investment payoff. If an event, like the WAC can help startups improve their pitch, enhance their skills, and make at least one useful connection, then it’s worth a small fee to participate. If, on the other hand, all that the entrepreneur gets is a quiet crowd and no feedback nor chance to network, then I wouldn’t pay $1 for the privilege of talking to a room full of people with money. Caveat Emptor! It’s up to the entrepreneur to know that there is a cost to raising money and these types of events can be a very efficient way to meet lots of potential investors, just one of which can change their world as they know it.”
And if you’re a startup anywhere in Oregon, especially in the southern Willamette Valley, and you have an interesting business with a good chance to grow, and a real exit strategy, then pay no attention to that angry man behind the curtain, and please apply to pitch to the Willamette Angel Conference. And yes, it will cost you $199.
What delicious irony. The champion of the little guy has become big brother.
Remember the groundbreaking first Macintosh television commercial, in 1984, with the young woman throwing a hammer into the giant video screen on an evil big brother, smashing it into bits? There’s a role reversal going on.
Apple Computer has taken the establishment role in the booming new iPhone application market. First the iPhone, then well-publicized stories of trivial iPhone apps making thousands of dollars daily, and then the application review process got swamped. And now there’s Apple Computer, the gatekeeper, protector of the establishment, standing between all those developers with stars in their eyes, on one had, and admission into the app store, on the other.
The original idea of review was a combination of protecting the software from crashing, and protecting the Apple store from embarrassment. Ever since the stories of iPhone application fortunes first broke — I fear it was with a fart app making $10,000 a day — the software developers are flocking to iPhone apps. Of course I have no special knowledge, but from the outside looking in, it would seem like the crush of applicants makes long waits, unfair rejections, and inconsistencies inevitable. I’m guessing Apple’s private-sector resources to manage the tidal wave are completely overwhelmed. Mobclix, which tracks iPhone applications with analytics, is reporting that there are more than 85,000 applications approved by Apple so far, and the wait has gone from days to weeks, and is rising.
On a Mobclix blog about the iPhone applications market, iPhone app developer Max Zamkow says:
iPhone developers live in constant fear of receiving an email from Apple with what can only be termed the ‘Death Sentence’: “We’ve reviewed your application and we have determined that this application…will not be appropriate for the App Store.”
He’s developed an app called FruitShoot Lite that lets unhappy iPhone developers (or anybody else) vent their anger by mock shooting at mock apples on their iPhones. But the default fruit target is a banana. And it passed the review.
It’s a couple of months ago now that Jason Calacanis, celebrity entrepreneur and blogger with a known taste for controversy, lashed out against Apple in The Case Against Apple–in Five Parts, in which he complained not just about the “draconian policies” of the iPhone app review, but also four other sins including “anti-competitive” practices with MP3 players, “monopolistic” dealings with telecommunications (a reference to AT&T’s lock on the US iPhone), “hypocrisy” of blocking competing browsers on the iPhone, and blocking Google voice on the iPhone.
Let me just get this straight: A hilarious satirical app made by the Someecards guys cannot get approved because it contains cards that, for example, mock Hitler. But an upskirt app is just fine? That is so ridiculous.
Yes, ironic indeed. On first glance, I look at the rising tide of complaints and I think they’re all delusional: Apple is a business, not a public service, and it owns the iTunes store, so it can do what it likes. Developers waiting weeks to get into the market, living in fear of rejection after all that work? It’s Apple’s clubhouse, so Apple can admit whoever it wants. However, as the whole thing starts to sink in, I have to add that Apple Computer has made this bed for itself, so it deserves to lie in it.
Not that I don’t like Apple. I’ve been a serious Mac user twice, first for about 10 years from the beginning in 1984 until the middle 90s, and again for the last two years. I like the Mac, love the iPhone, love Apple’s products in general. However, I’ve never quite accepted the odd phenomenon of Macintosh and Apple as crusade. The whole phenomenon of some connection between operating systems and good (Apple) or evil (Windows) has always seemed a bit creepy to me. After all, they’re just products for sale. Apple, IBM, Microsoft … they are all big companies.
Apple Computer, however, has actively catered to this odd canonization of brand throughout its history. It wasn’t for nothing that the Macintosh anti-big-brother image is part of our cultural heritage. It wasn’t for nothing that IBM became “big blue” and Microsoft “the dark side” … Apple spent a lot of thinking time, effort, and money on building that anti-establishment tinge to its brand. And it’s not totally crazy to suggest that Apple managed to change brand to aura, or halo.
Live by the anti-establishment brand, die by the anti-establishment brand. What we’re seeing, I think, with the rising protest of developers against Apple, is something akin to a jilted lover, or the famous Shakespeare epithet about a woman scorned. It seems like the backlash is whipped to a frenzy with Apple in a way that it might not be if it were some other big company, or, say, the US Patent and Trademark Office. Companies move slowly, government agencies move slowly, but not Apple Computer. The woman with the hammer in that 1984 commercial, crashing big brother and all. Say it isn’t so. Disillusion.