Brad Hargreaves | Building Things

Brad Hargreaves on entrepreneurship, community and life

The Scene Will Kill You

with 38 comments

If you’ve taken a deep dive into tech startups, you know about the scene. The scene is the siren song of the innovation community. The scene will kill you.

The scene is building sexy things that gain the approval of a certain (small) group of people. Sexy things get lauded, and celebrities coalesce out of the blogosphere’s protoplasm. The scene builds and sells a dream. Skip to the beginning of the line; pass go; collect $200 and a DUMBO loft. Get in SAI 100, speak at conferences and spend your Friday nights at launch parties. The scene lends these things great importance. The scene assigns value to popular acknowledgement of value rather than actual value. The scene is all these things – it is at once a state of mind as well as a loose community of people in any city with a large startup community.

I will spend this weekend’s post on a warning: the scene will kill you. It will misdirect your efforts and focus your attention on the cool and the shiny rather than the substantive. Your product will be driven by the spotlight rather than the user or the dollar. It will inspire envy of your co-founders, your friends and your colleagues.

People in the scene don’t say nice things about other people when they aren’t around. They’re too political, too strategic for that. Don’t expect these people to watch your back. If you’re in the trenches building a product or raising money, you must surround yourself with people you trust. You cannot tolerate politics and political people.

Building a startup requires blinders. Fred Wilson is right — being agnostic to the zigs and zags of competitors is critical. But it’s not just about ignoring competitors; it’s about identifying fads and unproductive behaviors and mercilessly cutting them out of an organization. And if you don’t do it, someone else will — and they’ll have a competitive advantage, whether for market share, talent or financing.

The scene provides a useful disguise for wannabes and dilettantes. The back-biting and politics of the scene enable B- and C-level players to skip from venture to venture, destroying value and poisoning relationships.

The scene is why I enjoy hanging out with developers. Developers/engineers tend to be grounded by a sense of the inherent usefulness and value of products. In a city like New York that is swimming with smart, non-technical entrepreneurs, it’s surprisingly easy for an entire community to be distracted from building meaningful things that tackle real problems. The webutante is dying, but not quickly enough.

The scene will kill you and your company. That’s as clear as I can make it. The scene is the antithesis of innovation and collaboration. Avoid political people and cut them out of your organization wherever you find them. This won’t necessarily make you successful, but it will let you be happy with yourself regardless of how things turn out.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

November 7th, 2010 at 9:54 am

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    Amen, brotha. Amen. nn

  • http://www.metamorphblog.com Matt Mireles

    Amen, brotha. Amen. nn

  • Lina

    Reminds me of my very first warnings when I moved to Hollywood!n

  • Lina

    Reminds me of my very first warnings when I moved to Hollywood!n

  • Lina

    Reminds me of my very first warnings when I moved to Hollywood!n

  • Lina

    Reminds me of my very first warnings when I moved to Hollywood!n

  • Codyvbrown

    I had a draft of this post saved in TextEdit. This is more elegant.

  • Codyvbrown

    I had a draft of this post saved in TextEdit. This is more elegant.

  • Codyvbrown

    I had a draft of this post saved in TextEdit. This is more elegant.

  • Codyvbrown

    I had a draft of this post saved in TextEdit. This is more elegant.

  • http://iamnotaprogrammer.com/ Colin Nederkoorn

    There’s an anti-scene party this friday at Tom & Jerry’s. First 50 people to check-in and tweet about it get alpha invites to a stealth startup – think hyperlocal deal-of-the-day instagram meets angry birds. See you there!

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  • Chris McCann

    Even Mark Zuckerberg goes to events and represents his company. These face to face physical events is where you find employees, acquirers, investors, etc.nnIf all entrepreneurs just sat in their room coding, innovation would not happen either. You should be careful of you time and you should not hang out in the “scene” for the sake of hanging out but the community is important.

  • http://bhargreaves.com/ Brad Hargreaves

    Totally agree. This isn’t an anti-networking post. That would be highlyrnhypocritical of me.rnrnThis is about getting so buried in a particular insidery community that yournforget what you’re doing.

  • http://bhargreaves.com/ Brad Hargreaves

    Totally agree. This isn’t an anti-networking post. That would be highlyrnhypocritical of me.rnrnThis is about getting so buried in a particular insidery community that yournforget what you’re doing.

  • http://bhargreaves.com/ Brad Hargreaves

    all the cool kids are leaving the scene, you should too

  • http://twitter.com/to2 Trevor Owens

    There’s some truth in Brad’s post but it’s not this black and white. There are clearly benefits from being involved in the scene – access to new talent, biz dev opportunities, feedback & early evangelists. I think people who will be successful entrepreneurs are smart enough to discern the benefits and drawbacks. The scene won’t kill anyone who otherwise would have succeeded.

  • Cody Brown

    Interesting. So it would be like daily deals for vintage pictures of dead birds. I’d like to invest.

  • Cody Brown

    Interesting. So it would be like daily deals for vintage pictures of dead birds. I’d like to invest.

  • Cody Brown

    Interesting. So it would be like daily deals for vintage pictures of dead birds. I’d like to invest.

  • http://www.twitter.com/justglew Geoffrey Lewis

    Brad. This is bang on. Your blog has become a weekly must read for me. When there is an entire Company dedicated to party-planning for the startup community [as there is in NYC], you know the “scene” is getting out of hand

  • Ev

    Can’t read your text: it’s way too small on high-res display and way too light. No offense, just a data point for you to consider.

  • http://bhargreaves.com/ Brad Hargreaves

    Thanks, I’ve thought about changing this. I agree.

  • Chris McCann

    Totally agree that their are some “entrepreneurs” who spend way much time in the scene and idolizing certain people. It’s all about balance, physical events and individual focus are both important.

  • Sven

    This seems to be the day posts speak out of my heart. The scene is trolling up itself. Get a life with non-techies in the first place and then do something practical for your non-nerd peer group. All my wishes for good luck and nerves like steel wire.

  • http://www.leftbraintorightbrain.com/ Scott Carleton

    Very very true

  • O.K.

    Trevor, he’s directing this post at you and other noobs of your ilk. Stop this “lean startup machine” BS,GTF away from Eric Ries and Peter Flint and CEONYC and go build something.

  • http://www.scottbelsky.com Scott Belsky

    Thank you Brad for a solid post. I agree. The “scene” has a tendency to distract us from the problems we’re actually trying to solve. Obsessing over the trends causes us to lose touch with the products we create and the users we serve. If you’re doing what you love, it should be a bit easier to obsess over the right things – namely your team, your plan, and “getting it right.” nnI’ve always loved the grounded mentality of NYC entrepreneurship (for the most part) – it seems like “technology” companies here are more about the mission than the medium.

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  • Zephrin Lasker

    Thank you so much for writing this. Saves me the time and effort of having to try to do it myself. What will be interesting to see is how many of the startup darlings without business models will survive once they’ve exhausted the limited fuel of the sceneosphere.

  • Zephrin Lasker

    Thank you so much for writing this. Saves me the time and effort of having to try to do it myself. What will be interesting to see is how many of the startup darlings without business models will survive once they’ve exhausted the limited fuel of the sceneosphere.

  • http://twitter.com/richarddjordan Richard David Jordan

    Love this post. I think this current obsession with “social proof” is an unhealthy way of saying if you hang with the cool kids we’ll introduce you to some angels. I do wonder some times if these investments are going to be about as good as the 2002/3 era VC obsession with funding their MBA buddies in the post dot.com funding winter, which didn’t exactly work out well.

  • http://twitter.com/SammyDwyer Sam Dwyer

    Hi. This is satan. I just want you to know that I want you to join my scene. PS: I love you.

  • http://twitter.com/to2 Trevor Owens

    lol

  • Johnhaden

    I was a rep in the apparel (specifically *aaahhemm* the action sports apparel industry (hate those words))nnAnyway… I liken the startup scene to the “cool” brands…. everyone wants to wear the latest and great label and/or artist… no one wants to wear yester years played out designs or color palletes. nnIt’s kinda crazy how similar they are….. but at the end of the day…. the stalwarts… just kind of march to their own beat…. and don’t concern themselves with keeping up with what the hipsters say they should be doing. nnAnd hey…. pretty rad post that gets Chris McCann to reply !

  • Johnhaden

    I was a rep in the apparel (specifically *aaahhemm* the action sports apparel industry (hate those words))nnAnyway… I liken the startup scene to the “cool” brands…. everyone wants to wear the latest and great label and/or artist… no one wants to wear yester years played out designs or color palletes. nnIt’s kinda crazy how similar they are….. but at the end of the day…. the stalwarts… just kind of march to their own beat…. and don’t concern themselves with keeping up with what the hipsters say they should be doing. nnAnd hey…. pretty rad post that gets Chris McCann to reply !

  • http://www.orianmarx.com/ Orian Marx

    A few weeks ago I decided I needed to stop worrying about a lot of the scene that I had been a part of for a long time. It was driving me nuts. I was feeling a bit anxious about the decision, but it’s definitely been the right one, and the timing of your post felt like fate :)

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