How to avoid startup self-importance: keep it real

Inspired by an article at N+1, Remco writes about the importance of keeping it real. Australian startups, he argues, don’t need to recreate Silicon Valley.

In the north American spring of 2016, Anna Wiener, a writer for N+1, published a post, titled Uncanny Valley. The article was styled as a first-person account of life at a dying startup. You could call it a eulogy, or maybe it’s a wake up call.

It includes these ‘recollections’, looking back at her life:
“…we see now that we’ve been swimming in the Kool-Aid, and we’re coming up for air.

I skim recruit emails and in the perks it includes:, craft beer on tap, kombucha on tap, wine tastings, Whiskey Wednesdays, Open Bar Fridays, massage on-site, yoga on-site, pool table, Ping-Pong table, Ping-Pong robot, ball pit, game night, movie night, go-karts, zip line.”

Wikipedia describes The uncanny valley as a hypothesis in the field of aesthetics. It exists when features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings. It causes a response of revulsion among some observers.

It may be an overly dramatic characterisation. But applied to startups, the warning is that there’s an awful lot that are almost – but not exactly – like real businesses.

The latest phrase now gaining traction (to use that over-used word) in Silicon Valley is unicorpse. It was first used in a July 2015 Techcrunch article.

Remembering the 2001 dot-com crash

I was around in the 2001 dot-com crash. I was glad then that Australia had come late to the party and wasn’t (too) caught up in the over-hyped, over-funded, go-hard-or-go-home environment in the US. So when the crash came, while there were casualties here too, it wasn’t as bad.

Let’s not forget, it’s not just about the rich people that lost money. These are real people’s lives we’re dealing with. They are now out on the street trying to trade-in their slogan-ized startup t-shirts for business shirts, so they can look after their families.

Australian startups: Avoid self-importance and keep it real

Australians are known for not taking themselves too seriously, and for calling bullshit when it’s deserved. We’ve seen how companies born in Australia can successfully reach and grow US markets. Companies like Atlassian can list on Nasdaq. Our companies can even, heaven forbid, be unicorns. We don’t need inflated self-importance.

The founders of Atlassian are renowned for keeping it real. Their values are stated in a typically Aussie way:

  • Open company, no bullsh*t
  • Build with heart and balance
  • Don’t #@!% the customer
  • Play, as a team
  • Be the change you seek

We don’t need our own uncanny valley

Let’s end the talk about ‘Australia’s Silicon Valley’. Far from drinking kool-aid (can you even get that disgusting stuff here?) have a beer or wine with your mates. If we are going to talk about valleys in Australia, let’s talk about the Barossa, Hunter or Yarra Valleys.

As Australian startups, we can be successful without the bullshit. Instead, let’s drink to keeping it real.

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