Monday, September 27, 2010

Evil Entrepreneur- The changing love-hate equation

As much as everybody loves Raymond, they seem to hate Mark Zuckerberg. He is the new cunning-conniving-arrogant-wicked punching bag of everyone involved in or following the tech industry.  Why? Well, because on October 1st, “The Social Network”, a movie based loosely on the life of the Facebook founder, will see the light of the day. And this movie does not project him in very good light. The film has acted as a catalyst for some serious Zuck bashing, with sections of the media reporting numerous slander stories- including inflammatory IM and email transcripts from his early days at Harvard. It seems as if everyone was waiting for that one right opportunity to pin him down and strip him naked. Mark is becoming too successful and too rich, and it was time to bring him down.  The poster boy of the startup world has suddenly turned evil.

The technology industry is not new to this changing love hate equation with successful entrepreneurs.  And no one has experienced this more than Bill Gates. Hating Bill Gates and Microsoft has been considered fashionable in the tech world for a very-very long time now - notwithstanding the tremendous contribution made by both the individual and his organization to computing.  Gates has been the original devil, who people love to hate, since his deposition in the 1998 United States vs. Microsoft antitrust litigation. The rise of Google, with its “Don’t be Evil” slogan around the same time frame further fuelled the tirades against him.

Ironically, even the duo of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, along with Eric Schmidt, the CEO, have not been spared. Once the blue-eyed boys of everyone and arguably the most respected trio in the technology industry, they have been at the receiving end of bad press for several years now. Thanks to multiple criticisms around intellectual property infringement, privacy, censorship, and energy consumption of its servers, along with an increasing influence of Apple, their entire core philosophy of Don’t be Evil has been undermined and become the butt of several jokes.

This trend of putting on a pedestal and then pulling down is a vicious cycle where most of the times we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Mark Zuckerberg has been caught in the same trap.  People forget that the guy is just 26 years old and has created one of the most disruptive online businesses. He had the balls to turn down a billion dollar acquisition bid from Yahoo. And he is one of the world’s youngest billionaires having surpassed Steve Jobs in the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. So, what if he screwed up a bit when he was 19? Genius occasionally breeds arrogance, especially when combined with youth. All of us have made mistakes in our adolescence and learnt from them. Then why not give the devil his due? 

Be it Zuck, Gates, Jobs, or Brin, all of them have created compelling products which have brought about a paradigm shift in the way we use technology. What needs to be understood is that in addition to doing good, these entrepreneurs have a business to run and profits to book. Entrepreneurship cannot always be philanthropic. Promising startups will someday grow into big organizations and start playing by the rules of the market. Underdogs will perpetually keep changing as new ventures, driven by fresh ideas and people, will emerge.

Criticism and feedback help entrepreneurs keep their feet on the ground and constantly innovate. However, turning a blind eye to all the good and focusing purely on the evil, surely isn’t fair on them.

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