Perchance to Dream
This Is Not Investment Advice
There are only two rules for the “idea dinners” held by New York early-stage investment firm ff Venture Capital. No side conversations and a strict 8 p.m. end time. Every month, the company invites financiers, founders and other “influencers” to its Midtown headquarters for a catered get-together. The meal is served in a glass-walled conference room, situated just past the rows of adjustable standing desks, where it’s not unusual to see startup employees cranking out code well past dessert.
The conversation often focuses on tech-oriented subjects, but this February, as the group fired questions at veteran investor Esther Dyson, the discussion turned to the subconscious.
HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN
Last week, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss of Facebook and HarvardConnection fame appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box to talk about their new fund, Winklevoss Capital Partners. Like many investors, they’re interested in investing in the cloud. “We think the cloud is going to be huge, it already is,” Tyler said. It’s important to find a truly unique cloud startup because there are so many cloud startups already, Cameron added.
Here’s a prospective investment for the Winklevii: Josh Weinstein’s cloud. “Everyone is talking about clouds and how everyone wants to ‘invest in the cloud,'” Mr. Weinstein, founder of the flameout social network CollegeOnly.com and now the CEO of YouAreTV, told Betabeat over the weekend. So he created InvestInMyCloud.com, a cloud startup that accepts donations via a website with a picture of a cloud. He’s also submitted a campaign to Kickstarter and hopes to raise $20.
One week ago, Betabeat rolled out a story about the dangers of depression among young founders in the startup world: ‘U CAN’T HAZ SADZ: The Hushed Dangers of Startup Depression.’ We’d be lying if we wrote that we didn’t expect some kind of response to the story. That said: We didn’t even remotely expect the scale of the response to the story, in size or intensity.
Over the last week, we’ve seen everything from openly empathetic comments to blisteringly cynical retorts; founders and startup celebrities penning posts about their own experiences with the matter; nitpicks about everything from the cover to individual lines, and then some. It also, on the first day, became one of the most read stories on Betabeat since the blog’s inception.
As such—and without further ado—we thought we’d do a follow-up on the story: crash notes on everything from the reactions the participants received for coming out to speak on the matter, to the lines they felt were missing from the story, and of course, some of the behind-the-scenes editorial notes on how the story came together.
Alley vs. Valley
EARLIER THIS MONTH, ON A SUNDAY MORNING, the startup world woke up to that rare stripe of news which quietly sends shockwaves reverberating throughout an entire culture of people: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, 22 years old, had passed away. The cause of death “appears to be a suicide,” noted a San Francisco police officer who spoke with CNN. A forthcoming coroner’s report will make a final determination. Mr. Zhitomirskiy was one of the four co-founders of Diaspora*, once breathlessly hyped in a May 2010 New York Times article as a “cry to arms” against Facebook, in a story that employed a classic tech narrative: four brilliant young men, on the verge of changing the world, subsisting on ramen and pizza.
Y Combinator’s Hacker News link to the item racked up pages of comments, many devoted to shouting down those who wanted to have a discussion about depression in the technology and startup community, noting it as an inappropriate moment for that topic. One user noted that a breaking news thread announcing Mr. Zhitomirskiy’s death was “a terrible place to have a discussion about ‘the stresses of life … related to tech.’”
Another disagreed: “We don’t talk about suicide in society very well let alone within the startup community. Founders find themselves in extremely stressful situations and living lifestyles that exacerbate the effects of this stress.”
This second comment read in contrast to the first, whose final suggestion on the matter was to “have that discussion inside your head” for the time being, and then go talk about it some other time.
YouAre.TV founder and General Assembly alum Josh Weinstein is back in New York after an ill-fated adventure in Palo Alto, taking with him his hockey pads and leaving behind a flaky coder who was supposed to become YouAre.TV’s CTO.
Mr. Weinstein penned a tell-all-blog post in which he explains how Palo Alto was fun at first, what with all the hanging out at Facebook and Google, and how he got to play hockey with Guy Kawasaki (more than once!) and had a stand-up desk. Of course, it was superangel Peter Thiel who convinced Mr. Weinstein to move to the Valley–Mr. Thiel regards the bright young founder as an accolyte–so Mr. Weinstein was able to be close to his mentor. “At first, we wondered if Mr. Thiel just wanted to have someone to play chess with. But YouAre.TV just recruited a new CTO, so we guess there are still plans to build a company,” Betabeat wrote in a rumor roundup at the time.
Sadly, things quickly went sour. Mr. Weinstein discovered Palo Alto was understimulating. “As a city kid, I started to feel the isolation of living in Palo Alto and not working in a coworking space,” he wrote. To make things worse, his CTO wasn’t working as much as promised–and kept pushing back his start date.
LOOKBACK. Turntable.fm continues to suck up all the air in the New York start-up scene–our top post this week was the news about the music site’s 140k users, but we liked this more rumorish postie better. We did hear some hand-wringing over the departure of young Josh Weinstein, Peter Thiel acolyte, rumored last week to be headed west–if General Assembly can’t keep ‘em, what can?
GAWKER CONSORTS WITH HACKERS. Gawker’s Adrian Chen has been tirelessly tracking the story of Lulz Security hack attacks. Mr. Chen spoke to a member of the collective via Skype, he claims, and although we’re not sure how Mr. Chen would know one way or another if he was Skyping with a Lulz hacker, the quotes are amazing.
“As an arrogant and violent sociopath driven to a frenzy by the sense of my own power, I can’t divulge the upcoming releases,” he said. (Earlier in our chat, Topiary had brought up a March Gawker article that he said portrayed him and his crew as “arrogant sociopaths.”)
After all this bluster, we asked if Topiary was worried at all about being caught. His response: “Worrying is for fools!”
LOOKBACK. And the most popular rumor item last week was… TechStars intelligence! Readers have been pinging the rumormonger trying to find out the names of the founders since we teased that 12 companies were on the shortlist. Sorry kids–we made a deal with the devil, a.k.a. Dave Tisch, who promised to give us the full scoop as soon as papers are all signed. You can always crash by Pivotal Labs, where some of the companies have already started working.
KNIGHT TO DISTRICT 14. At last, Peter Thiel has convinced CollegeOnly/YouAre.TV founder Josh Weinstein to move to Silicon Valley. “Peter Thiel loves Josh,” lean start-upper Trevor Owens told us. “They’re both chess grandmasters.” Mr. Thiel was a U.S. Chess Master; Mr. Weinstein was a “nationally-ranked” tournament chess player. Betabeat, sad to see one of the weirdest web products in New York go, pinged Mr. Weinstein to verify the news. “Was going to follow up with you individually so it didn’t make it to Betabeat… yes, I’m moving out to CA,” the founder said. “Leaving next week.” At first, we wondered if Mr. Thiel just wanted to have someone to play chess with. But YouAre.TV just recruited a new CTO, so we guess there are still plans to build a company. Godspeed, Game of Boxes.
Reddit/Hipmunk’s Alexis Ohanian with YouAre.TV’s Josh Weinstein and Ben Mack. Photo: blog.youare.tv
YouAre.TV is the reborn version of CollegeOnly, the social network, video roulette and Facebook alternative for which fresh-faced founder Josh Weinstein raised $1.15 million from Peter Thiel, David Tisch, David Kidder, FirstMark Capital and other funds in the summer of 2010.
College Hype failed to catch on due to a combination of overhype and errors with the product design, so Mr. Weinstein decided to switch tacks. He launched YouAre.TV, technology that enables a frenetic, wacky interactive version of web television, at the New York Tech Meetup. Betabeat rated it “delightful-unmarketable” In its current iteration.
Now the General Assembly-based start-up is looking for a chief technology officer or lead developer to complement the hustle of its young founder.
CollegeOnly, the Facebook for college students that kicks its users out once they graduate, is no more.
The idea had a ton of traction, especially among the generation that started school while Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard (we really thoughtFacebook would be about college forever). I was at the tech blog ReadWriteWeb at Read More