Social Proof Ain’t Due Diligence

Wow, everyone writes about that guy.

So Impressive, I’ve read that he has multiple exits.

OMG it says he runs a top Angel Network.

Hey, making a $2.5K investment isn’t an Angel Investment it’s aPR expense. Reading that someone is a successful entrepreneur in a tech rag means he said he was a successful entrepreneur to a tech rag writer (say tech rag writer 5 times fast). It makes good copy but it doesn’t make it true. A huckster will pass a lie detector test when claiming multiple exits because it’s true if each of them was his board or investors slamming the door behind him when they showed him the exit. Claiming multiple mega-contracts signings can be easily verified when you search DC Court records and find the boaster’s been sued for breach of contract 3 times in the last 2 years.

Folks the person up there on the stage wasn’t invited up there because of who he or she is.  They’re up there because they put butts in seats. They’re up there for their ability to pull radically disruptive jargon out of their radically bullet-proof butts faster than firing bullets from an AK47. Fame for a startup glitterati is more easily achieved by blowing smoke up the butts of promoters or publishers in the business of putting smoke craving butt monkeys in conference seats than doing what it takes to succeed.

For promoters or the “press,” too much research can dangerously kill a great show. While a real entrepreneur might not be so sexy when true business success is built on long hours, hard work, tedious repetition, trial and error, small steps and not snappy dialogue like the mythic Mark Zuckerberg character in The Social Network.

As I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with “Nationally Known and Celebrated” Startup Personalities, speak with them, debate with them, it has become apparent that for many, that distance and a narrow spotlight of publicity will often amplify the myth while obscuring mortal flaws. Yes, Virginia, familiarity breeds contempt. Yet in some cases, the more you know, the more you like. The lesson here is to get familiar.

Much of our views of startup life resembles romanticized theatre presented by modern day PT Barnum’s hiring actors to sit in cages with their wild man of Borneo costumes. These startup media stars make a better story than the ugly true life sausage making of building a company. We tend to make snap judgments based on first impressions, accept apparent social proof and forego the difficult work of typing a name into google, or making a phone call or just saying, “prove it.” We don’t want to be labeled cynics or detractors or worse yet, Cranky. We trust that someone has asked the question before us and we go with the flow.

Nothing replaces real due diligence.  Like, how about before you risk your own personal brand by co-branding with a charlatan, do a reasonably-priced, criminal background check. Anyone can supply 5 personal references, don’t use those 5 references as references, use them to find credible non-planted references. Check court records. Assume the story is embellished or false. Require real proof. Don’t just accept. Ask questions, think critically, have doubts, challenge.

PR is not a proxy for character. A castle built on bullshit will eventually crumble into a steaming, stinky pile of turds. Try not to be under that pile when the rent comes due.