Popularity of unpopular opinions

#UnpopularOpinion (Source)

At the beginning of this year I stopped using facebook and instagram and promised myself to never touch it again. Thus far, I kept my promise, but ever since, I‘m compensating by increased Twitter usage. On Twitter I noticed a growing trend within the global community of tech VCs of so called “unpopular opinion”-tweets, tweet storms and, sometimes, related blogposts. While these opinions are labeled as “unpopular”, they are usually exactly the opposite: They are meant to fuel the author‘s popularity by addressing our basic urges and are aimed to appear “provocative“. Most of these „unpopular opinion tweets“ follow a very similar and simple, but highly effective and, in my view, often hypocritical playbook:

1. The Problem: Create and point out an allegedly widespread problem among your peers (e.g. other VCs) that, in fact, does not or only very rarely occur. Usually, this is done by taking highly individual situations out of context or, examples that are mostly based on a) case-by-case situations (often occurred a long time ago), b) secondhand information i.e. hearsay or, c) on completely imaginary experiences. Those are subsequently anonymized, oversimplified, overgeneralized and often exaggerated to make them “tweet-able”, easy to understand for everyone and amplify their impact.

2. The Blaming & Shaming but no Naming: Blame every other investor or “competitor” i.e. basically anyone else in the ecosystem, for being part of the problem and for doing it “all the time”. Call it out publicly. Of course, without mentioning any names or concrete examples, because we all know, you always meet twice in life.

3. Taking Sides: By doing so you exclude yourself from the problem and create a situation of “us” vs. “them” whereas you automatically take the position of the entrepreneur and become their ally (“us”). Therefore, you must, of course, be entrepreneur-friendly and thus on the right side of the story.

4. Creating buzz: That’s an easy one – particularly in a highly people-driven, competitive environment nobody wants to be associated with the ugly and bad stuff: In an attempt to distance themselves and making clear that they are not part of the problem, a lot of your fellow “frenemy“ investors and entrepreneurs will like, retweet & repost you. Your tweet or blogpost will automatically attract a lot of likes and yes-men and be trending very quickly – et voilà, you‘ve managed to get the flywheel spinning; now lean back and enjoy watching the follows & retweets coming in!

I believe (and hope) that most people understand the obvious mechanics of these kind of provoking “outcries“. Hence, it’s relatively easy to mute them and not jump on the bandwagon. Though, what bothers me, is that there are quite a few investors and, sometimes, also founders tweeting obvious BS about VC / investing / startups. Usually, I try not to care and ignore it, but when I see people that have a lot of influence i.e. significant reach on social media, I am always inclined to answer and call out the BS. Why? – Because followers (and especially early stage founders among them) might listen to them and follow their (ill) advice or thinking. The reasons why I am often hesitating and refraining from answering in public are (and it’s probably fair to assume that I’m not the only one thinking this way):

A) By doing so and potentially starting a discussion, you’re just elevating them and fueling their awareness and therefore might drive even more people to the BS they are tweeting;

B) It might backfire and turn into a shitstorm against yourself as people could take more weight on their word vs. your own – simply because they have more reach and a higher “social status“;

C) By tweeting something critical or unfavorable, you might come across as too pessimistic or too destructive i.e. the one guy or gal that is always complaining and “against everything”. Nobody likes “negative Nancy“;

D) People may interpret criticism in a way that you are feeling attacked and, therefore you are actually part of the problem that the author is trying to create. Answering to it might actually be counter-productive.

Considering the above, there is usually not much to win in reacting to such tweets or posts. This leads to a situation where a lot of BS remains unchallenged and therefore, over time, becomes somewhat of a fact. It’s like a completely made-up or doctored wikipedia-article that was never corrected or flagged for missing facts and sources.

Unfortunately, in our ecosystem, these “unpopular opinions“ are many times aimed at straight forward “VC bashing“. To be clear, I’m not defending any bad behavior in our industry and I’m all for identifying the bad apples and denouncing their bad behavior in order to improve the ecosystem overall. But, if you’re serious about changing something for the better, you have to name names, accept your views to be publicly challenged and make yourself vulnerable. Especially as an investor, it’s quite sneaky and somewhat hypocritical to do a lot of “VC bashing” if you’re not wiling to go „all the way“: You’re suggesting that others are bad while you aren‘t. If you‘re not ready to tell the whole story, name names and share the full picture, you are, in fact, of no service to the ecosystem but only serving your own interest: You are misleading people, dividing and damaging the entire ecosystem in order to boost your own ego and awareness.

- rant mode: OFF -

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Mathias Ockenfels

Mathias Ockenfels

I ❤️ network effects @Speedinvest X | Alumni: @Uniplaces @PointNineCap @Naspers @ricardo_ch | Passion for startups, 🏍🥋🥊 ☕️🍫🏃 | VAMO