The Stranger’s Paul Constant is clearly feeling a little cranky, and you might disagree with his perspective, but for anyone immersed in the startup world, his all-out rant about a startup event in Seattle this week is worth a read as an exercise in self-awareness.

Yes, the portrayal might feel like a caricature, but it also might have a ring of truth — particularly the parts about the language commonly used in the startup world. Here’s an excerpt from his summary of the presentations and discussions at this week’s Startup Riot event.

They praise the “cool ecosystem” between a traveler and a concierge. They assure each other that “Our retail metrics are cost-effective.” They use “input” as a verb, as in, “They turn to our app and input the selections.” “Mobile multitasking in real time” is a promised result. Nobody communicates, they “engage.” Everything is “curated.” They pronounce “integral” like “in-trickle.” They ask each other, “What’s the biggest challenge going forward?” and they decide together that “it’s a marketing challenge, at the end of the day.” They discuss how one app is “a purpose-built tool” with “added value.” There are no words, no photographs, no graphic design. It’s all “content,” which is “consumed.” The event’s website features a Twitter testimonial that reads, “Startup Riot was so good yesterday I couldn’t tweet. I was just deeply engaged in meaningful 1-on-1 conversations.” It’s linguistic nihilism, in which everything means nothing and nothing means anything at all.

And he’s just getting started. Read the full piece here. Unfair or on-the-mark?

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  • Guest

    I find it somewhat hypocritical that a writer for The Stranger, a weekly exercise in “linguistic nihilism,” is putting down the startup community because he doesn’t understand some of the words its members use.

    On behalf of all tech workers in Seattle, I’d like to suggest that we continue to ignore what Paul Constant has to say. Let him fall back on print journalism and his day job with the Elliott Bay Book Company, two pursuits that clearly show more economic benefit than the startups we’ve created.

  • TB

    I am a button-down-chino-wearing-tech-worker (though not at a start-up) and I have to agree with the author’s assessment of the almost comical use of cliches, extraneous words, and just plain nonsense. I was thinking something similar earlier this week when we were being “pitched” by a potential vendor.

    I do tuck my shirts in.

  • Guest

    developers refer to that as “buzzword BINGO”, aka… marketing

  • Matt Vegas

    that was fantastic.

  • Startup CEO

    Can we be a bit jingo-istic sometimes? sure. Should we be humble enough to be objective about our community? absolutely. Should we bow before the throne of cutting cynicism from which Constant reigns? Absolutely not. It’s always easier to be a critic from a bully pulpit instead of a creator in the trenches. I’m with ‘guest’ and am going to ignore his super-hip misanthropy.

  • MRR

    As someone who was actually at Startup Riot, I think he really missed the mark. The format of pitching is pretty standard in the tech industry, so not sure why he was so hung up on that. The judges were all well-respected, experienced members of the tech community who gave solid advice to the folks pitching, many of whom had never done it before. So yes, some of the pitches were rough and many of the ideas less than exciting, but that’s to be expected. As a writer, he would have been better served actually having conversations with attendees rather than making judgments about their clothes and skulking off alone to brood and stare at a mobile device filled with apps made by (former) start-up companies, some with funny names. Surely even Mr. Constant can appreciate the irony there.

    I’m sure the start-up teams and event organizers would welcome constructive criticism that would help improve a future event. But instead the article did a disserve to the tech community here, which is disheartening given how hard people are working to get things done (including creating new jobs and helping people find work: the author didn’t mention Startup Riot also held a job fair the day before.) One wonders what the goal of the article was beyond page views — certainly it did nothing to make Seattle look like a supportive place to be a start-up.

    Alas, as others have noted, it’s much easier to be a critic than a maker. As for me, I’ll be busy picking out my sundress for the next event.

  • Brian Lockhart

    While the author of the Stranger article may have failed to properly adjust expectations prior to attending the event, he has some valid points that all of the StartUpRiot attendees (myself included) should keep in mind as we try to grow our businesses. Namely, be very aware that your communication and delivery style needs to be tailored to match the audience. A pitch that works well in front of a bunch of like-minded entrepreneurs might not fly at all with people outside that bubble. Work on reading your audience and putting yourself in their shoes; what’s your elevator pitch for someone who knows *nothing* about your domain, vs. your pitch for someone who understands it to a degree they’re able to converse with you about it?

    Reading that article reminds me of going home to visit my (very nontechnical) extended family of Very Normal People over the holidays. I’m forced to step back and prepare to describe “what I’m up to lately” to people who need that message distilled down to the purest answer possible, without any hyperbole or “TechCrunchSpeak”. It’s a great way to make yourself think about how your product or idea would fly (or die) in the general market – if you can’t describe it to them, you can’t sell it to them.

  • Donovan Kliegg

    My comment to Paul Comment’s blog:

    Sadly, the anthropologist critiques a new culture without understanding it. Like a european explorer, he goggles wide-eyed at the bones in the nose, strange languages and naked dancing. Rushing back to his old world home, he writes, “How bizarre and horrible, these people are not civilized!”

    Weird names: All the good domains are taken. If you have zero money, you can’t afford to buy a good domain name. All boot strapping startups go through name searches for domains that have not been taken. It sucks. Once a startup has some amount of money, they buy a better name from a domain horder.

    Tiny apps: If you have no money, your window of opportunity to develop a new app is very small. The trick is to develop something interesting enough to elicit sales or additional investment in the short amount of time you have. Investors don’t fund big ideas that take years to develop.

    The short pitch: Most startup founders are selling their company for the first time. They need to get real world practice. Think of it as a beauty contest where no matter how cute the baby is, you still need to learn how to present it. Making fun of entrepreneurs at a pitch event is like making fund of children learning to ride a bike. It’s pretty cruel.

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