Business Intelligence

Rant: Silicon Svengalis and Startup Exploitation

There are long established channels for exploiting the millions of people who have convinced themselves they can ‘go global’ with their product.

Whatever your chosen vehicle for stardom, whether it’s a blockbuster novel, a boy band or just being on TV, there are hundreds of agencies out there who will take your money. Even pop stars are ready to hand over money to people they don’t know on the promise of getting a part in a film, recent court cases suggest.

How unlike the world of information technology, where everyone has their feet firmly planted on the ground and their eyes on a manual. People in this industry are naturally more mature and realistic. People in IT are much less likely to spend their lives in nightclubs and shopping malls but, perversely, that seems to have made them more streetwise than those whose think processes are guided by style magazines.

But can we afford to be too smug? Something seems to have happened to the IT industry. I may have missed this meeting, but someone somewhere has decided that IT is fashionable. There’s nothing worse that can happen to a cult than being colonised by the demi monde. Look what it did to football! 

Maybe it’s influence of the cloud, or something, but there’s a definite suspension of reality taking place in the IT industry. As ever, the spreaders of this malice are using a tactic so sinister and cynical it would make a bishop kick in a stained glass window. They’re targeting the kids! In IT industry terms, that means they’re going for the startups.

We’re starting to see evidence of this in the startup scene now. Everyone thinks they’ve got a killer idea. That’s no bad thing and it would be a bad idea to crush people’s creativity because, for all the mad and bad mutations that are presented, a few very strong specimens will emerge to take us to the next stage of evolution.

But those wannabes are ripe for exploitation.

There seems to be something on an X Factor culture springing up, which makes entertainment out of public humiliation and takes great relish in crushing the human spirit. I can’t help feeling that TV programmes like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice appeal to our basest instincts. It’s the same primeval behavior that once made public executions a mass entertainment spectacle.

It’s heartbreaking watching some people outline their ludicrously unrealistic plans to a mass audience. (It’s especially embarrassing if these events bring back awful memories our own failed auditions. You can almost hear many of your fellow audience members thinking “Oh god, please tell me my presentation wasn’t this painful”).

My worst fear though is the type of behaviour we’ve come to expect from traditional pop culture industries – TV, film, books, music, football – is being exhibited in IT start up culture. You know the types: they take huge amounts of money upfront from gullible victims who they’ve convinced will be star material.

The new breed of Silicon Svengali isn’t that bad yet, but certain characters are starting to emerge. Next time you attend an event inviting inventors to pitch their ideas, see if you can spot any of the following types.

The Expert Commentator who regularly appears on TV but has never seemed to launch a company of any substance.

The Serial Entrepreneur who, it transpires, got lucky with one company because he was selling the right product at the right time. In effect, he bought the right lottery ticket. None of his other companies has ever repeated that success.

Then there’s The Banker, who speaks with enormous authority on the subject of startup culture, but since he’s spent his whole career in banking, all the experiences he is passing on are secondhand.

All the above types take a lot more out of startup culture than they put in. They might not take money off you, but they are taking a much more precious resource – your time.  They do very well out of public appearances and getting their name out there, which encourages TV stations to pay them to appear on their programmes. Whether they have any knowledge, or contacts, that will help you, is questionable.

Still, if they managed to convince a TV company to pay them some money, you have to take your hat off to them in some respects. (That sounds like exploiting the exploiters!) Whether they can help you is another matter.


Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology.


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Nick Booth

Nick Booth worked in IT in the UK’s National Health Service, financial services and The Met Police, witnessing at first hand the disruptive effects of new technology. As a journalist and analyst, his mission is to stop history repeating itself.

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