Julie Fredrickson is a three-time founder whose current startup is PlayAPI.
I have a confession to make. I’ve recently become obsessed with being liked by a certain crowd: “Tech.”
As a woman generally unconcerned with being palatable to others, making this admission is really painful for me.
I’ve always been contrarian, sometimes deliberately, even going so far as naming my first blog after the premise that I was always “almost” appropriate for a given situation. But the truth is that I have always been a profoundly non normative person.
But for some reason over the last 6 months or so I started caring about being liked. Liked by the Silicon Valley set. Liked by venture capitalists. Liked by the kind of men that determine who is or is not “one of us” in tech. I’d say women but there aren’t enough to warrant being concerned about. I wanted to be one of those founders, you know, the type that gets silly valuations and love from the name brand ventures firms, the type that gets written up by the tech press, the sort that powerful angels vouch for and send around glowing intros for as being “the next big thing,” and the sort that jets around to conferences. In other words, I got wrapped up in the idea of having myself and my business being hyped instead being a genuinely successful business.
I was making justifications to myself at night about how they “should” love my startup. We had all the pattern matching basics down pat. We are second time founders that have worked together for the better part of a decade. We had a successful exit. We are solving a major problem for a growing market. We’ve experienced the problem personally and are building for the pain points we know. We have A-list clients. Celebrity (well in tech at least) advisors. We are even in the “hot” enterprise space. We have a female co-founder! Don’t you want to show that you aren’t biased? LIKE US GOD DAMN IT.
Now as someone who has manufactured desire and cool for a living let me tell you the first thing you can do to kill being “it” is by trying to get the people who set those standards to apply and judge you by them. Being cool has never been about begging to be liked. But I started doing all the things that a “poser” does. We did the functional equivalent of changing our hair, our wardrobe and even our personalities to be liked.
And of course it didn’t work. We weren’t being ourselves. But I kept taking advice on how to be more appealing. And then I wondered why I was miserable. I was floundering in the tech world’s Mean Girl clique and like Lindsay Lohan I was starting to hate myself for it.
I got caught up in the perception market and lost sight of the fact that I’m supposed to be serving an actual market. And I was doing pretty well at it. Because ironically, while we were floundering at being liked by tech, our business was great. All the objective signs of a successful business abounded. It turns out I’ve got a startup that happens to be a business. You know what that means? We make money. In the reality markets people pay us. And they pay us more for the product than it costs to create it. By a great margin. And more and more people are going to have a need for this product in the future, aiding our margins even further. I have real clients that believe my product is serving a genuine need and are willing to pay to have us solve their problem. Maybe it isn’t the glamor that the men in tech seek but not for nothing I’m a Weberian Protestant and I’m happy to serve with an unwavering work ethic. I actually like my clients. I believe in my product. Serving our market makes me happy. You know what doesn’t make me happy?
Serving tech’s capricious standards does not make me happy.
Because as it turns out the market for being an “it” founder and a flavor of the week startup isn’t the reality market. It is the perception market. Plenty of successes in the perception market fail at being real businesses which is ostensibly what all of us are trying to achieve. Hell, the jury is even out on whether venture capital itself is even a decent asset class.
So you know what? Fuck you guys. I don’t really bear you any malice but since this is a personal exorcism of a ridiculous ego driven emotional burden I hope you don’t mind if I curse you a little bit. I need to get you off my mind, you see. So, I don’t need your approval. I don’t need your hype. And I have no idea why I was even seeking it. I need the approval of the markets. I need the approval of my clients. And so far I’ve got it. But if I spend too much time changing who I am (aka our product) to please you then I might lose that. So I’m going to stop caring and go back to working. And I will be patient and diligent. And if the “IT” crowd ever comes calling I’ll wait a few days to return their calls.