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You're Not Allowed to Criticize Startups, You Stupid Hater

A couple weeks ago, Peach, a messaging app, was released on iOS. Not only did Peach trend on Twitter on the day of release, but there was also an unusual amount of media coverage for app, with both TechCrunch and BuzzFeed posting glowing reviews for it, noting that the app is “slick” and “blowing up” respectively (commenters in the BuzzFeed article thought it was paid advertising). Usually, reports for apps from both sites are more neutral, which made me curious.

There are already an absurd amount of messaging apps out there, and as a result, product differentiation is the primary value proposition. (e.g. security and Telegram Messenger) What is Peach’s differentiation? “Magic Words”, apparently, which let you perform contextual actions with words! These Magic Words are implemented in a manner similar to a command-line interface (CLI). NYMag goes into extreme detail about the feature. Nerds love CLIs, so you can tell the product was made by smart people!

The Hacker News thread about the NYMag article was interesting. One commenter (jobu) that the Magic Words are similar to those of Slack, which allow for “/” commands (again, messaging app differentiation). A HN user (pbreit) argued in response:

You’re missing the whole thing. For starters, Slack is for work and Peach is for personal. But I think before you dismiss something as “isn’t it just x plus y?” you need to take a little bit more time and thinking to try and figure out what the product designers are trying to achieve and how.

Wait, what? Are the users of Peach supposed to be mind readers? Are people stupid for not understanding the purpose of Peach?

Another user (thwarted) replied to that response with such:

Maybe the product designers and product providers should be more explicit about how their product should be used and who their target demographic is, if they want a successful product, rather than making everyone “figure out” what they are trying to achieve and how.

pbreit replied:

“Figuring it out” might be the point. You do realize that you are referring to some of the very few people who have actually already built an amazingly successful product.

I should have mentioned earlier that Peach was made by Byte, which is ran by Dom Hofmann, a founder of Vine which was purchased by Twitter before launch (it also appears Peach is a pivot from the failed Byte app; something left out by the blog articles). Yes, if a founder has had a previously successful startup, the previous success implies a higher probability for future startup success than for a startup run by an unknown founder. However, it’s still not a 100% guarantee, and startups should not be immune to criticism because of asymmetric information between the users and the startup itself. Peach is impeachable. (pun intended)

TechCrunch did a follow-up article three days after release stating (paraphrased) “Peach is #9 in the App Store in the Social Networking category, despite the haters! Now they will be a success! Haters gonna hate!” Social networking is a double-edged sword in terms of network effects: they can grow incredibly fast as friends-of-friends register, and they can die incredibly fast once they all realize the app is a fad. As of publishing, Peach is ranked #110 in the Social Networking category, and off-the-charts in Overall. And still dropping, with no apparent recovery.

I seriously wish the tech media would admit they were wrong, but they never will. The startup world is in dire need of cautionary tales as valuations inflate to absurd levels.

But hey, isn’t any startup ran by a previously-funded founder a sure thing? They know what it takes to create a company, even if it’s in a different and highly competitive environment years later than their first success! One success is all a founder needs.

A startup’s release is unpolished and buggy? It’s just an MVP, and startups are expected to have issues out of the gate, so you have to forgive them! They don’t need QA engineers.

A startup uses growth hacking to get early traction? It’s hustle, and they should be applauded for their creativity! Whoever complains is just in the minority, anyways.

A startup gets a lot of points on Product Hunt? That’s validation, especially since it was submitted by one of the friends/investors of the startup for all their network to see and upvote! A strong personal network is the only thing you need for business success.

A startup raises a Series A? That means venture capitalists did due diligence, and if the idea sucked, they would not have invested! Millions of dollars is a lot of money to those people.

A startup loses traction and buzz? It’s not dead, it can come back as long as it has money in the bank! Your lack of faith demotivates entrepreneurs.

A startup dies? They can just try again! It was bad luck anyways and they likely did nothing wrong.

A startup is mercy-killed through an acquisition/acquihire? Just another step in their incredible journey! The founders still win, and now they have the “exited” label to leverage for future employment.

Sarcastic rhetorical questions aside, it is very annoying that it is considered socially unacceptable in Silicon Valley to criticize a startup. Even though the majority of startups fail, actually saying so is sacrilegious. In Peach’s particular case, the fact that the app is from a previous exited founder should invite more scrutiny instead of giving it a free pass.

EDIT: Fixed joke so that it is funny.

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