It’s last Tuesday night and I’m at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square for a special TechDay reception. The microphone is now in my hand. The room is room packed with several dozen startup founders from a a number of different industries. I’m about to begin introducing myself and our “TechDay Techie” awards which will be presented to five startups. The Techies are a nice way to honor some of the over 450 startups that were about to spend a long, crazy and fun day on their feet two days later at NY TechDay. This year, we had five awards. The award finalists are pared down and then ultimately they select a winner all by a group of NYC ecosystem startup friends & mentors. I’m about to hand out the first award, the fintech award. I know already this award is not going to a household name startup. It’s not even an NYC based company. It’s actually a pre-launch Vancouver VC backed startup (they’re actually seriously cool). Earlier in the evening I’d even met the founder and liked him a lot. But something happened when I looked into the crowd. Seeing lots of my friends with startups many from marquee local startups, something unexpected came out out of my mouth. The first thing I said was “We all know awards are bullshit…”
— Jesse Podell (@Jessepod) April 22, 2015
Luckily, our hosts, the awesome team at Nasdaq Private Market were completely cool and laughed, too, and we went on to give awards out to very excited and very community centric startups after all. The truth is, everyone in that room was a winner (as are you since you’re reading my blog).
I think every hard working and worthy early stage startup should have a moment where something extremely cool happens that entitles them to put a cool ceremonial wreath on their website and tweet a bunch about it. Maybe just once they can get an exhale of a moment to be shared with their team that says “hey, someone else actually gets what we’re trying to do here.” Also I know that at some conferences like HBO’s TechCrunch Disrupt there’s a decent amount of money involved in winning. And those funds might just be the bridge to get their F&F round finally moving. That’s great. But it’s still not actual validation. It’s not a customer. It’s not getting accepted to a great accelerator program. It’s just something cool for marketing.
I know exactly how f-cking great it feels to win. I won the first ever fintech startup weekend and thought I landed on the moon (to be fair, I was still pretty green.) Years later, it was an incredible surprise to be featured on alocal fintech list. To this day, when people from out of town or just new to the space connect me to others, they’ll brag for me in the intro that I was blah blah blah in NYC… and I don’t particularly mind. Although I do feel like there were a several dozen other worthy folks who could have made that list instead of me. And the SEO doesn’t suck either. OK- so I’m not telling them to retract it or anything, but…
There’s a bit of a trend, particularly across the pond, that I’m getting slightly queasy about, and that’s the over-listification of startup founders and influencers in the press & blogosphere, particularly in fintech.
To be clear, I am the last person who wants to step into the “NYC vs. London Fintech Domination” fray- it’s ridiculous. So it’s not a shot at London, but, I really hope this trend doesn’t make it across the pond the way it has there.
On my twitter feed almost daily I’ll see informed and uninformed lists, downloadable and purchasable publications of lists, rankings that update people’s standings weekly, dinners / conferences that give honor to the lists.
And I’m also not taking a shot at the people who work hard to create these things. You’re all amazing. Especially those of you that actually find women to include in your lists. Thank you for bringing attention to people who are doing the great work to help move our industry forward. But the whole thing gets tired fast. Buzzfeed, BusinessInsider, they’re worth zillions because of the whole list thing. And I guess lists gets clicks. But it’s played out and I don’t like the message it sends or their ultimate fruition. Let’s give more respect to the readers. Let’s let them in on ways they can help out. Let’s talk about the things influencers and founders doing right and wrong. Even infographics (which also now feel more abundant than need be) can tell a story- if there’s some real commentary to them. Let’s take the time to let these influencers share their stories personally.
There are so many things we can do together with content. Now we can have people like my friend Greg from Valuestream using tools periscope and meerkat to include everyone in great talks, conferences, etc. Let’s get creative about it. I won’t roll my eyes at the fintech lists soon to be published in The States. I know they’re coming.
For the community, I’d love to see us keep our eyes on the prize- supporting not ranking. Ultimately, their funding levels will do all that and we’re not seeing those rankings or platforms slow down any time soon. Whether or not amount raised is just as subjective is a blog for another, more qualified, person altogether.