Gotta hand it to Microsoft, they’re taking this documentary stuff seriously.
I just finished a full-length sneak preview of the company’s new film. Yes, an honest-to-goodness Microsoft fim, called Ctrl+Alt+Compete. (We first told you about it in September.) It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the startup world, making its world premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival on Friday.
It’s a very good movie. In content and pacing, it actually felt to me more like a high-quality television documentary, telling the stories of five startups over the course an hour.
But most of all, Ctrl+Alt+Compete deserves credit for pulling no punches in its portrayal of the technology industry — even when it comes to Microsoft.
The most attention-grabbing line comes from Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, discussing Microsoft’s $265 million acquisition of his previous company, LinkExchange, in 1998.
“They never really took advantage of our ad network or any other things that we had going on in the company,” Hsieh says in the movie. “The whole thing just fizzled and eventually Microsoft shut down the service completely.”
The overall tone of Ctrl+Alt+Compete is optimistic and upbeat, conveying the excitement and risks that startup founders take, many of them hoping to change the world in some way, big or small.
Chris Shipley, the veteran technology conference producer, delivers this great analogy …
Building a business, being an entrepreneur, is a little bit like standing in line for Space Mountain. It’s getting exciting because you’re getting closer to the ride. And all the warning signs say Don’t Get on This Ride, but you still go, because you know it’s going to be exciting. You get on the ride and it’s exciting for a moment, it’s terrifying for some, you get off, you throw up, and then you get back in line and do it all over again. That’s what entrepreneurs do everyday. True entrepreneurs really focus on those moments of insight and breakthrough and excitement and all the rest is the price they pay to get that really great high.
Through interviews with notable tech journalists, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, Ctrl+Alt+Compete also coveys the harsh realities of the startup world — albeit the stereotypical ones — such as the inherent strings attached to venture capital and the tendency for entrepreneurs to think too much about that big exit.
The film’s biggest flaw is that it doesn’t delve as far as it could into the trenches, to the conference rooms and the coffee shops and the brainstorming sessions and the big blow-ups between the founders — a.k.a. the daily grind of the startup life.
Instead it mostly goes behind-the-scenes at conferences where startup execs are making high-stakes pitches: DEMO and SxSW Interactive — where one of the companies, Popvox, wins a Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator prize. (Yes, it’s a bit of a Microsoft plug, but it’s relatively subtle.)
Sure, conferences and pitches are important, but it would have been better to see the everyday highs and lows than to watch Guardly founder Josh Sookman fight off his flop sweat on the DEMO stage.
But overall, it’s a notable and interesting documentary, offering a candid and at times inspiring glimpse into the crazy startup world.
Now, can we finally get that Halo movie, please?
[I'm checking to see when and how Ctrl+Alt+Compete will be available more widely, and I'll report back when I find out.]