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Startups are hard.We do our best not to kick them when they’re down — especially the very small, lesser known operations. There are plenty of ways for startups to die without us dragging them through the mud.
The bigger and buzzier a company gets, the more we look at it under a microscope. For that, we sometimes get criticised. Never by readers, but often by people who have financial stakes in the companies.
We do regularly kick big companies like Google when they make poor decisions, have executive conflict, or release products that flop. Readers deserve to know, and big companies can usually handle it. At the very least, they can survive the public criticism.
Should startups, which are much more fragile and likely to fail, be treated differently in the press? Should the stories be all fluff until the startups are either big enough to handle some heat or blow up on their own?
Should honest startup stories not be written at all?
Inc spent three months trailing an old startup flame, Turntable.fm, and the story it published sparked a debate.
Last summer, music company Turntable.fm was all the media and investors could talk about. It went from a failed idea, Stickybits, to a startup with 360,000 users in three months.
The startup is no longer the darling of tech. Users have dwindled, and the co-founders are facing conflict.
Titled, “Where Did Our Love Go,” the Inc story is probably not what the founders hoped for when the reporter approached them. It’s probably not even the story the reporter had in mind when he originally pitched them. But after three months of witnessing a startup’s struggles first hands, it was the story that was written.
Yipit’s Vin Vacanti, Hunch’s Chris Dixon and AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka are debating the article on Twitter. They’re not debating the author’s credibility or questioning anything factual within the story.
They’re debating whether or not it should have been written.
Vacanti notes that the Turntable article is a rare glimpse behind the scenes of discordant cofounders.
Dixon thinks it’s the problem with letting a journalist — who must have been deceitful — get too close. No one wants their problems aired to the world.
But if these types of stories don’t get told, then everyone continues to think overnight startup successes are real. They’ll think OMGPOP sold for $200 million after two months of work, without ever knowing about the multiple near-death experiences it faced over its 5 year history.
The stories of impossible struggles founders overcome before they reach success are what makes entrepreneurs so amazing.
Here’s the debate: