Techstars on TV – Hit or Miss?
Like many members of the start-up ecosystem, I was excited to watch the Bloomberg TV show on Techstars NY last night. The opportunity to see our little subculture of whacky characters and idiosyncrasies playing out on television was so alluring that it was worth foregoing my usual nightly email binge.
Yet, when the show was over, I was strangely disappointed. I had that same feeling you get when you eat a bag of potato chips, which taste good going down, but then feels unfulfilling and unappealing after the last chip is gone. In short, I think the show was a huge wasted opportunity.
First, I should say that I’m a huge fan and supporter of Techstars. My partners and I are personal financial investors in Techstars Boston and we funded one of the first Techstars companies (oneforty) and have served as advisors to countless others in NYC and Boston. Finally, I am a huge fan of David Tisch, Katie Rae and the other Techstars managing directors. What they have created from nothing a few years ago, with the backing and support of Brad Feld and David Cohen, is nothing short of remarkable.
OK, caveats aside, here’s what I didn’t like about the show: the tone was all wrong. The edgy graphics, music and camera shots tried to bring a crass, reality TV feel to a serious and sophisticated business. The producers apparently wanted to create something akin to “the Bachelor metes The Apprentice” and, in doing, cheapened the whole endeavor. Get rich quick, kids, was the message, complete with hip sound track, sound bites and quirky camera angles.
I would submit that’s not the point of entrepreneurship or, for that matter, Techstars. I would have much preferred to see a more sophisticated show that brought out the “change the world” passions of the founders and provided a more nuanced view of the ups and downs of start-up life. I wanted to see more big picture thinking, for example an explanation about the game-changing (and, in many cases, life changing) impact start-ups are having in our society, transforming industries and households up and down the economic stack.
I’m not suggesting Bloomberg should try to emulate their own Charlie Rose, and risk putting the audience to sleep, but at least channel a bit of Jon Stewart (who, Bill Moyers recently put, is brilliant at taking “a critical view of the news and marinating it in humor”). I would have much preferred to see the producers treat the audience like adults, able to digest serious issues and trade off decisions that the founders were struggling with, rather than target hipsters that are looking for dramatic founder break-ups because they’re too busy to watch mid-day soaps.
Perhaps the start-up community needs a Jon Stewart-like figure to act as our guide through the Techstars process – more of an shrewd yet entertaining narrator than an MTV host. Some of the quick-hit interviewees on the pilot show would be great candidates for this (e.g., Fred Wilson, Roger Ehrenberg, Brad Feld). Start-up life has plenty of drama that doesn’t need fabrication or exaggeration. Hard problems are being faced by each team professionally and personally. The characters in most start-up dramas are fascinating people, with compelling stories – I know many of the folks depicted in the show and they are deserving of more than surface treatment, but rather real character development and dimensionality.
Sure, I enjoyed seeing so many friends and familiar faces on screen and seeing “my world” exposed to a broader audience. But, objectively, I thought the actual show kind of stunk. That said, I’ll be tuning in to the second episode. And hoping for the best.