Got 15 minutes?
Tuesday, April 24, 2001 by Dave Winer.
If you have 15 minutes this morning, please read these two accounts of the same story.
First, here's a Boston Globe article describing a dispute between an enterpreneur and the venture capitalists he made a deal with.
It's a well-written, balanced piece, covering both sides of a controversy, but it's short on detail, and in achieving its balance and brevity, omits the passion and personality. It ends with a judgment that you might believe if you skip the next step, but please don't, you'll miss the point.
Now read the riveting first-hand personal account of the entrepreneur, Philip Greenspun.
I can tell from reading this piece that Greenspun gets the software business. Yeah I think I'd like to do a programming retreat at the Cape Cod beach house he describes in the piece. I had heard about it before from the VC side, and it sounded like a foolish extravagance. When Greenspun describes it, however, it sounds like a perk to balance the 80-hour weeks that dedicated software engineers put in to get the momentum needed to make competitive products.
I also recognize the foibles of the venture capital industry in Greenspun's story. They tend to cut corners, make huge decisions without enough information, and care little about the values of the company, its relations with customers or the future of its products. You might say it's crass capitalism, but I think of it as reckless management. He describes his VCs as a "group of nursery school children who've stolen a Boeing 747 and are now flipping all the switches trying to get it to take off." Yeah, I think I've seen VCs try to do that. (Not any who read this column of course.)
Now I understand that I've just heard one side of the story, and I admit to a bias, I tend to see things from the entrepreneur's point of view. I would love to read a similar account from the venture capitalists. If they post their side of the story, I promise to run it through this column.
To encourage them, know that I've met Greenspun, we sparred in public on the keynote stage of Seybold in Boston last February. I enjoyed it because I like being challenged by smart people, it raises my senses and intellect, and I promise you, no one in the room fell asleep. I know he can be demanding, but business isn't about hurt feelings or lost prestige, it's about success and profits and if you're competitive, as all good business people are, it's about winning. These are my values, and I think many VCs share those values. (I hope so.)
Anyway, I think we're really onto something here. The people are doing their own press, and doing it damned well. Thanks to Philip Greenspun for showing us how it's done, and thanks for the courage to state your case so clearly. Amateur journalism at its best.