To be an entrepreneur.
To be told “no” on a regular basis. To fight an uphill battle, to fall constantly.
I always joke with entrepreneurs I interview - I’d never want to step into their shoes.
Entrepreneurship is tough. There is constant failure.
Some of the greatest rewards come with the greatest risks, and often times those risks end in epic failure.
Not as many people talk about that. They don’t talk about the moments when you’re alone in your head, battling your worst enemy.
Often times we talk about huge wins, happy endings. Dark moments don’t always make it into print.
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs battle with the greatest demons. Having the ability to change the world, to disrupt the status quo, isn’t something to take lightly.
The people that do this are far from normal. It takes a thread of intensity that not everyone has and sometimes that intensity can do more harm than help.
I woke up to the news that internet entrepreneur Aaron Swartz committed suicide.
The word “tragedy” doesn’t do it justice.
To have all the ingredients to change the world, to have already made a huge dent, and to see the demons win, isn’t fair.
For those of us who live in extremes - extreme success, extreme failure, for those of us who are harder on ourselves than any critic and sometimes have trouble getting out of the dark, I say this - as dark as the world can be, it can be that light. As bad as it can be, it can be that good.
We aren’t always defined by our successes, it’s often our failures that makes us fight harder, see clearer.
Choosing to be an entrepreneur requires a respectful degree of insanity.
For those who are going through a tough time, I hope you know you’re not alone. The world is much better with your crazy ideas, your passion, and your ability to hack the status quo.
Don’t forget that.
To be an entrepreneur.
I recently got back from TechCrunch Disrupt, a conference where startups go to get their break, where people who’ve technically “made it” talk shop. It’s busy and loud and a bit exhausting, but there are always some interesting moments. One of my favorite parts of covering tech is getting a rare glimpse at the people behind the sites we use and the apps we hold dear. Behind every site, every app, every product, there’s a person who was told no countless times. Tech has always been an interesting mix of perseverance, failure, and humanity. Here’s my take on Mark Zuckerberg’s first talk post IPO.
The room is crowded. I am two seats from the front. Mark Zuckerberg will speak for the first time since the company he created went public, bringing with it a host of problems: tanking stock prices, angry investors, negative sentiment.
I had secured a seat earlier, next to a Greek journalist who smiled a bit too eagerly at me. It was a small price to pay, knowing I could safely walk away from my coveted seat and he’d protect it, in all his enthusiastic creepiness.
Bloggers lined the aisles. I could barely get to my seat. People were packed inside the auditorium, waiting for the young billionaire, the one that made “Facebook stalking” a thing, to take the stage.
We waited, the market waited. Twitter blew up with anticipation.
And then I caught a glimpse of Mark moments before he stepped on stage. There he was, 28 years old and addressing what most of us 28-year-olds don’t have to deal with: anticipation hanging on every word he would say, a company’s future lying on his shoulders.
I caught a glimpse, he breathed deeply, lifting his shoulders like he was pumping up for a ball game. It’s something you’d do in college before slamming the ping pong ball into the last beer pong cup and defeating your contenders. For me, it’s something I do before a live television segment. I shamelessly talk myself through it in the shower, in front of the mirror and right before “go time,” I take a deep breath and go.
Often not so smoothly.
Mark would understand.
The 28-year-old billionaire who has become an icon in the Valley, well I suppose in mainstream society since Aaron Sorkin took a liking to his story and wove it into a Hollywood blockbuster, walked on stage in jeans and a brown t-shirt.
“Ok, you ready?” Michael Arrington, notorious Silicon Valley figure, asked him.
I was close enough to see his face turn slightly pink, to see him tense in his chair.
He was going on message. Quickly, abruptly, he took the question bait— the much anticipated, “so what’s up with the falling stock price” question and he drove fast and furiously towards mobile. It was all about mobile. But he drove too fast, his words and sentences too quick and conjoining together — a student explaining to a teacher why the homework assignment wasn’t complete, a teenager recounting to his parents why he was entering the back door long passed curfew.
Mark Zuckerberg was nervous. He was 28 years old, sitting on a stage in front of Facebook’s 950 million monthly users, in front of journalists, in front of investors, in front of himself – explaining for the first time, why his widely hyped company – the holy grail of social networks, didn’t seem to be shining when thrown against a public market, against a corporate picture frame.
The hacker, who dropped out of Harvard, who was forced to grow up and grow into a position as CEO of the largest social network in history, seemed to me, an innocent bystander, more human in his quick robotic answers than we often give him credit for.
Because in this moment, a boy is forced into manhood, a startup into full-fledged company and here’s the thing us media folks don’t often cover – puberty is painful. Especially when you’re prom king.
— Great DM I just got from a friend who finally feels like pieces are beginning to fit. Nice way of putting it.
— thoughts on the 1 train on a late summer evening
I’m writing this as a response to one of TechCrunch’s latest articles about a girl named Shirley, who seemingly “tricked” Silicon Valley. I’m having a bit of a Jerry Maguire moment as you’ll soon read.
I met Shirley Hornstein the same way many folks in the tech world met her – she somehow infiltrated the inner circles of Silicon Valley through white lies, through name dropping, through invites to homes in the mountains, or flattering tweets and instagram photos.
In speaking to her, I got the feeling something was a bit off. In the Valley full of people who make the apps you use on your phone, who fund what become big or bust ventures, people who know the big names don’t often flaunt their connections.
But you see, Shirley was a nice girl. If anything, she struck me as determined to fit in a world where geeks who may have shunned high school have recreated the campus and the cliques all over again. I never realized how far she’d stretched some of those lies and contacts, often mentioning working for a company when she hadn’t or being friends with celebrities when she wasn’t.
I’m pretty sure most people in the Valley have at some point before their coding careers struggled to fit and finally came to terms and embraced the fact that they don’t fit – it’s what makes Silicon Valley special. It’s what I was initially drawn to years ago, when America was struggling to climb out of the recession and I had stumbled on a bright spot full of vibrancy and energy – the tech realm. It’s why I committed to covering startups at CNN.
On Tuesday night, TechCrunch “dropped a bomb,” revealing what many people deep in the Valley knew – Hornstein wasn’t exactly who she made herself out to be. There were burned connections and broken promises. The stories started coming in and immediately, the viral backlash began.
Blogs picked up the story. Twitter took to tweeting at @Shirls. All of a sudden, she became the girl that “hookwinked” Silicon Valley. Finally! She was exposed. One twitter user called her a “sociopathic savage.” Hundreds of tweets poured in. Users with no connection to Hornstein sent tweets about her.
To those who’d been burned, it was the “I told you so” moment they’d been waiting for. To me, it felt wrong. It was an online attack against someone who of course should be called out, especially if it put companies at risk, but the article (citing anonymous sources) felt more like a “gotcha” piece than anything with true value.
Shirley Hornstein has a problem. It is clear from her “web of lies” that she is far from the hoodwink bloggers make her out to be, rather she’s a bit of a troubled girl who is now being harassed online by many of same people who may have known she was lying but still ate the cake, went to the benefits, and shared the mountain house with her.
It seems if anything, unproductive.
We are at a crucial time where technology and startups can change the world. Years ago, the little guys had to prove it. Now many of them have and they’ve paved the path for a number of startups who followed in their footsteps — many startups, who in my opinion, were funded without having to fight hard enough, to break through enough barriers. Many of these startups were committed to an idea until a different one came along. This isn’t the environment I knew years ago when I took days off to attend tech conferences and listen to crazy young people who truly believed they could change the world.
Those young people are still out there and their startups are still infants that may one day grow to change the status quo – to disrupt education, healthcare, transportation, to break down barriers and make people’s lives better. Many are already doing this.
But the parking lot is crowded. In the years I’ve covered startups, the space is saturated and while it hasn’t vanished, some of that hustle and hunger has seemingly waned.
It hit me when I watched the tech community roast Shirley Hornstein. “What a scoop!” people exclaimed. But really if you take a step back, there’s a troubled girl and a lot of work to do.
One of the top tech CEOs who shall remain unnamed once told me he had a love for aspects of Silicon Valley but a disdain for the often petty side of the industry. “It’s just distracting,” he said. Two years later, I have a better understanding of that line.
Of course what Shirley Hornstein did was far from alright, but someone (maybe one of those anonymous sources cited in the article) should sit down and talk with her, tell her we all don’t have to fit nicely or play in the in crowd. And for god’s sake, the people who are waging an online war against this girl should find another distraction in the crowded world of startups and ideas.
And this is what happiness is.
— One of my favorite reporters at CNN told me this
I was heading home from a useful day of running errands…
10th and 2nd I told my cabbie. My credit card machine doesn’t work he said as he pulled over the cab in the West Village. I had 10 dollars. I got in.
We drove through the village. A red light turned green. He didn’t budge. I noticed him looking out the window.
Excuse me, sir? It’s green, I said.
Sorry, he said, driving through.
Moments later, another red light turned green. We were at Astor Place.
We sat still.
Green again, I said, hoping to beat the impatient cabs behind us into the inevitable honking that would occur in moments.
There was something more going on with this cab driver, this man.
Something on your mind? I asked.
My mom is very sick, he said. Tomorrow he would leave for Haiti to see her.
He was going to lose her. She already had complications before the earthquake he told me. There was the asthma, the lungs were weak. He would lose her like he lost so many when the earthquake shook his hometown, taking with it the lives of his sisters, his friends, the home he knew before he left for New York to make a better life for himself.
He came to this city to drive the ambitious streets paved with the promise of success.
But success, the drive - it didn’t matter. His mind was back in Haiti, the cracked streets, the hungry mouths and the roofs patched with inevitable memories that haunted him from across the world on this chilly New York evening on our path towards the East Village.