500 Startups’ Dave McClure: How to Make Friends & Influence People

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Here was an industry superstar cursing and ripping a powerful industry in the GeekWire article: “Dave McClure is ripping VCs again: They’re f***ing arrogant and stupid a**holes.”

What’s wrong with that picture? Three things:

  1. Cussing – Cursing is so 15 minutes ago. It’s not shocking. It’s not clever. It’s overdone and boring. Okay, I get it, you’re a maverick! You’re the prototypical startup guy. This, however, is the least of Mr. McClure’s transgressions.
  2. Generalizations – Using sweeping generalities and ripping a group of people? Name calling – that’s the kind of talk you’d expect from a hate group. Some VCs suck, some VCs are just okay, some VCs are great folks, the only thing all VCs are is VCs.
  3. Again – The word “Again” means this isn’t a one-off, speaking-out-at-school thing. This is a repeated, most likely calculated pattern. It’s not a slip of the tongue; it’s his party line. He’s done it before, he’ll do it again.
  4. Strategy – And then there is the question of his judgment. Here’s a guy who’s been a key member of great companies, including PayPal. He’s a Tech Startup Superstar. But in building his brand of brash over class, is he alienating the ecosystem on which he is dependent?

Look, Dave McClure is on top of the world. He’s had great exits, he runs 500 Startups, one of the nation’s top-rated accelerators. He’s got the world by the ……. nope, I’m not going to go there. Not in this article anyway.

Why would McClure want to alienate an established proven industry like Venture Capital? Maybe because venture returns as of late have been less than awesome. Industry returns are like our economy right now: they’re down. Hurt by the last two bubbles. Yet the venture industry has provided strong returns in the past, and they will likely again. But the accelerator model, like that of McClure’s 500 Startups, has yet to be proven as a sustainable business model.

For accelerators to thrive, they require access to deal-flow, access to great companies. Many of those companies will graduate from that program and require venture capital to expand. They’ll require venture capital from those same f***ing arrogant and stupid a**holes that McClure constantly offends. They’ll be asking those very VCs to partner and sit on boards with a venture-capital-hating bigot.

When startup companies have a choice, will they chose an accelerator led by a person of class? Someone like Brad Feld, or David Cohen, who have equally impressive credentials and comport themselves in a civil and professional manner? Would it be better to sign with an accelerator run by a team with strong ties to venture capital?

A read of the comments from the GeekWire article shows that there’s a lot of support from startup geeks for McClure’s damming comments of VCs. Well, there are three kinds of startup execs that hate VCs:

  1. The Good – The small portion of people who have been legitimately mistreated by a VC or two.
  2. The Bad – a) A larger portion that would kill to be funded by anyone and therefore are sucking up to the leader of 500 Startups, or b) the groupies who are hoping that some of his fame and success will rub off on them.
  3. The Ugly – The largest portion of execs whose product and teams are so crappy that they can’t find a VC dumb enough to pay attention to them. The guys who can’t understand why those stupid venture capitalists don’t see how their “fur-lined sinks,” are going to be the “next big thing.”

Some would argue that Dave’s talk is all bluster. Part of his public brand. After all, Dave’s a former VC and pals around with the very VCs he damns as a group. Is his talk mere ill-advised branding or is it authentic? Either way – whether he’s authentically damning part of the ecosystem that he and his portfolio companies depend on, or he’s talking out of both sides of his mouth – it is difficult to determine a strategic gain from his behavior.

“Watch who you offend on the way up because you will likely meet them on the way down.”

Someday Dave McClure may need money, references, or a hand from these very “f***ing arrogant and stupid a**holes” that he’s offended. That’s when you learn the meaning of schadenfeude.  That’s when you understand that class trumps crass.