The worst startup ever?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Homophobia, racism, classism, credential boasting, here is a startup that combines all the worst stereotypes about startups:

Ajay flashed a grin and we shook hands and sat down. He asked me to describe myself and I gave him a practiced elevator pitch of my background and experience. He nodded and quickly took over the conversation.

“So, as you might already know, I started this company while I was getting my MBA at Harvard. Before this, I worked for McKinsey & Company…” he paused to gauge my reaction, “which is one of the top business consulting firms in the world.” I smiled, feeling slightly small in comparison, with my bachelor’s from a cheap state school and less-than-glamorous work experience.

“The idea for Handybook occurred to me when I was studying at Harvard. It was so hard to find a reliable cleaning service to tidy my apartment! You know?” He smiled hard at me.

I gave a smile and nodded back, as if I was familiar with the difficulties of finding a good cleaner when I was a student. I’d actually worked retail part-time throughout school so I could afford to pay $200/month rent splitting a un-air conditioned house in Atlanta with three other people. Hiring a maid would have been laughable.

…After one phone call, Ashley announced, “Oh my god. That was the maid Mrs. Wong again. Crazy Chinese lady!”

A programmer giggled and called out, “Ashley, do your Chinese washer woman impression again!”

“My Chinese washa wo-men?” she pulled back the skin on the sides of her face. “I do you laund-wy! Own-wy ten dollah!” She laughed hysterically, “I clean you house!”

The programmers sniggered loudly. “Ching chong!” someone yelled out and collapsed into laughter. Dark-Circles guy peered at me out of the corner of his glasses to gauge my reaction.

I forced out a smile, but red flags were flying in my head.

There were also some stories on Hacker News that I liked:

I was on a team trying to setup a spinout company in Australia of all places. My corporate overlords built a team, boy band style, to go investigate the market with a minimum product, really experienced people who had seen and done a lot. About half the team was on their second career after retiring out of their first, but all were brilliant. I think we added it up and there was something like 170 years of experience in my small group (I was by far the junior person on the team).

During the sit down on the marketing meeting a new person was introduced to the team (not unusual). They came up to the group and was obviously another senior, experienced addition to the group, hopefully with a long and interesting career behind them.

They walked up to the front of the group and introduced themselves, “Hi I’m , I went to Yale” and sat down at the table and proceeded to offer nothing of any substance over the next 8 weeks until they were quietly asked to go “contribute” their Yale credentials somewhere else.

I’ve been hit with every kind of credential wagging since then, “When I was at McKinsey…”* or “When I went to Harvard…”+ are usually immediate signs of an immensely useless person and I go out of my way to avoid them. It’s actually kind of pathetic.

The best people I’ve ever met actually seemed a bit shy about notable credentials in their past and it wasn’t until after months of probing that I could finally learn about some cool job or notable place they went to school.

* I wrote this before reading the article

+ seriously, it’s like a cliche

and this:

Oh my god it is exactly like that. As though pushing spreadsheets at Goldman has anything to do with building a software product. But they know that, they just want you to know they worked at Goldman. Because Goldman.

I once worked under a CTO who remarked “it’s not like we’re going to hire a woman” after interviewing a female dev candidate, which would be horribly offensive even if he was just kidding (he wasn’t kidding, I was shocked he even took the time to interview her).

There’s definitely a sense of “startups are the new banking.” It’s frustrating because there are also a lot of good people, but man is there a glut of bros who fit all the worst stereotypes of old boys club business.

and this:

For me, it’s a huge signal when a founder or exec at a startup mentions an ivy league school or a “marquee” name. I’ve worked for big names in tech, I don’t go around bragging about it.

Only time to brag is if you were a cofounder of the company you’re referring to.

Who hasn’t worked for a Google/Amazon/Microsoft/Apple/Facebook/etc?

You worked at goldman? Ok, so I’m to take from that the assumption that you’re entitled and incompetent to be leading a tech startup? Good to know.

You went to Harvard? And you think this is relevant? So you care about pedigree more than competence? We can expect nepotism as you hire your friends? Good to know.

These are great services they are offering– you know not to take the job.

Source