HOW IT ALL WENT DOWN
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.
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.
The stench of burning gasoline hung in the air at the first-ever Pivot Party inside party promoter Todd P’s Old Firehouse on Lafeyette. It was 10 o’clock on a Tuesday night, and the engine room had been converted—or pivoted—into a event space. A lone couple danced on the floor to a Jackson 5 song. One half of the duo was Bartek Ringwelski, founder of SkillSlate, who wore a white T-shirt emblazoned with his company logo and was throwing this party.
SkillSlate, which raised $1.1 million in seed funding back in October 2010, had burned through more than half its capital before deciding its original idea—to be a user-generated review system, like Yelp, but for freelancers—wasn’t going to work. “It was a really tough discussion to have with our backers, but we just knew it was time to pivot,” said Mr. Ringwelski.