How Silicon Valley startup narratives fool us

Soumitra Sharma
Jun 18 · 2 min read

One big realization I have had as a founder over last year or so — all Silicon Valley startup narrative is post-facto. Both founders and media conveniently don’t include the real “initial phases” of the company. These include things like the 2nd co-founder getting “recruited” much later, an old services biz revamped to appear like a fresh startup, an advisor/ angel joining & getting co-founder status, taking on a product that was in reality, built by other devs who didn’t see value in it etc. These inconvenient and scrappy realities are glossed over, to paint the narrative of a smooth curve — 2 co-founders, one engg. and one biz, met in Ivy league or top tech co., fell in love with same idea, launched, raised, scaled…done deal.

Till very recently, I had no idea that 1) Travis isn’t the original founder of Uber, but was an advisor to the original devs who created it and then later, saw the potential and hopped on, or 2) Elon Musk isn’t the original founder of Tesla, but had led the Series A round.

A bad side-effect of this managed PR is that new founders take all these narratives as playbooks. So, either they try and forcibly recreate it, or give up altogether once they don’t see a similar narrative coming together. Established founders & investors also don’t call this out.

Going forward, we should always try and peel the onion on startup PR narratives. Actively look for bias by asking critical questions like who is writing the story or Medium post, and what incentives are at play. Talk to operating people to get the real execution insights on these companies.

In today’s age of rapid news cycles, planted news, overzealous investors and internal PR teams, it’s foolish for founders to base our strategies and critical biz/ life decisions on what the media is telling us. In most cases (based on what I see), startup media stories are biased to tell the “curated truth”, with a specific end-objective in mind. As founders, let’s be smarter in digesting & acting on them.

Soumitra Sharma

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Building Workomo & Investing at Operators Studio, ex-VC, US-India-China Tripod expert