Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Rise of the Startup Industrial Complex?

Note:  This post originally appeared on the Guidewire Labs blog.  I have moved it here to consolidate my selected writings. – CS

Running a startup is like riding a monster roller coaster. You push your way through line, excited and a little nervous, maybe even scared. You talk a good game to all your friends, while secretly stealing an envious glance at some of the seemingly safer rides. As you approach the ride, all the signs warn of the dangers. You must be so tall. Not advised for people with this condition or that. You press on, strap into the car, and go for the ride of your life, climbing up until the bottom drops out, then climbing again. In a split second, the ride is over. You stagger in to the daylight, throw up, smile, and get back in line again.

Which is to say that being an entrepreneurial leader is exciting, scary, relentless – and some days, the days when you don’t throw up, it’s an incredibly rewarding job.

It seems to me that it may have gotten a bit surreal these last few months. The global campaign for entrepreneurship has spiked a fever. Public and private programs champion the entrepreneur as the engine of the economy, yet the economy hardly supports a budding startup. Seed financing is abundant yet difficult to find. The magnetic north that is Silicon Valley drags foreign entrepreneurs to its center even as politicians and pundits promote new business as the catalyst for emerging markets and revitilized cities.

A sort of Startup Industrial Complex has quickly grown up to support the business of starting businesses. Meetups and camps, seed funds and inclubators, trade missions and partnerships, media and events – all there to “help” the entrepreneur.

But are they really helping? Has all the attention on entrepreneurship shifted, even a little bit, the odds of success to the favor of the startup. Surely, so-called super angels are making money and politicians are nailing their talking points. Lots of people have met, camped, communed. But are they really getting what they need? Are they now really able to build better, sustainable businesses?

My guess is that these programs do catalyze some businesses. My suspicion is that they are hugely inefficient, and waste as much entrepreneurial energy and resource as they hope to create in the form of new companies. My fear is that would-be entrepreneurs have become the fuel in a machine that creates status and capital returns for a few Startup Industrialists while leaving the entrepreneurs themselves to live in proverbial company towns working for a new digital age “Man.”

The irony here is that these mostly well-meaning folks really are just trying to help. Maybe, though, the best “help” is a little less help. Give entrepreneurs open, transparent access to the tools and information they need to build their business. Be candid and respectful with your feedback. Provide mentoring when they ask, and encouragement even if they don’t ask. Reach into new communities, sharing best practices and leaving some of your DNA there to encourage a new crop of entrepreneurs grow in place.

That’s what we’re trying to do at Guidewire Group: build an open platform and information exchange. We are by and for entrepreneurs, creating an alternative to the Startup Industrial Complex. We are looking for partners who share our values and commitment. If this sounds like your kind of monster roller coaster, drop me a line.