When Tech Bros Were Superheroes

Notes on the Demise of Pando — and the Startup Era It Chronicled

Ryder Kessler
Oct 29 · 3 min read
Sarah Lacy Interviewing Chris Sacca

Last week, tech news site Pando was sold for an undisclosed amount to an ad tech company. In its prime at the start of this now-closing decade, Pando (né PandoDaily) was the definitive home of tech industry adulation and analysis.

As Josh Benton wrote for Nieman Lab, “I really don’t intend for this to sound mean, but I’d forgotten the opinionated tech news site Pando was still around. Or maybe I do intend to sound mean — it would be fitting for a site that was really good at it.” When it wasn’t celebrating the game-changing brilliance of tech companies and their founders, it was ravaging the also-rans.

I remember Pando well, because the peak of its influence came at the same time I was launching my own startup and struggling to get on the VC hamster wheel. The guys (and they were mostly guys) who appeared at Pando’s monthly interview events with Pando founder Sarah Lacy were VCs and successful founders — the gatekeepers to tech Olympus and the ones who’d gotten in. And so I followed them closely.

There was one part of the monthly interviews I never forgot, even as my admiration for the tech bros faded (along with the valuations of many of their companies). At the conclusion of each interview, Lacy would ask her subject what “mediocre super power” they wish they could have. No flying or super-strength; more like “never being cold when you get out of the shower.”

Lacy’s favorite answer: “being able to temporarily detach my arm while spooning with a girl.”

It was always a little off-putting to me as a gay man who was thinking about trying to pass as straight in VC offices and tech meetups: Couldn’t we imagine spooning with someone other than a “girl”? Couldn’t we imagine a woman being the big spoon? But perhaps that woman would want another kind of superpower, if we ever got around to asking. (It’s worth noting that Lacy feels betrayed in her own way by startup bro-dom: she’s quitting tech journalism after what she describes as unbearable sexual harassment.)

To paraphrase a selection in this (mediocrely super) supercut, the men who made the stage (they’re all men in this video) imagined being gifted with the powers to…

  • Make my wife love when I go to bachelor parties
  • Beam between meetings
  • Always beat the traffic
  • Type at twice the speed
  • Function on full power with 2–3 hours of sleep
  • Get everybody to do what I ask
  • Teleport to the office when ten minutes late to a meeting

Lacy didn’t say the powers had to be self-serving, even though she said they had to be small. Remember when super heroes, even minor ones, were most concerned about how their power could help those with even less power than themselves?

But the themes in the supercut are common: they’re about making the men on stage marginally more “productive,” so they can work harder and faster. And they’re about making their own lives marginally better. Is there any better metaphor for the early 2010s tech circle jerk that we’ve now gotten wise to?

Benton writes that “Pando will go down as a symbol of a particular moment in 2010s digital journalism, when the old world was clearly on fire and the new one thought it had all the answers. Turned out it didn’t.” But the sale of Pando also marks the end of another era — an era when tech bros were mediocre super heroes, an era when their apps were their own minor powers.

We celebrated the fact that these founders were designing technology — to call cabs, get food deliveries, charter helicopters, suck up and monetize other people’s data — to help other mostly straight, mostly white, mostly upper-middle-class and upper-class folks have it a little bit easier. It was a moment when we kowtowed to the men could best prove their dedication to their #hustle.

Now, I hope, we know better. We can only use VC dollars to subsidize our convenience for so long. Perhaps we’ll now think more about how we can use even our mediocre powers for something like a greater good.

Urbane Sprawl

Ryder Kessler

Written by

Progressive political strategist and manager • Social impact technology entrepreneur • New Yorker

Urbane Sprawl

The disorganized spread of culture and cultivation

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