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Tech Week round up: Start-up etiquette dos and dont’s

This week we look across the pond and ponder what has been a turbulent week for some of the most high profile US start-ups (or should that be up-starts), and make some suggestions as to what it may be best to avoid doing and saying once you have made it, or even before you have made it. Because you never know who’s watching. Or listening. Or keeping your emails.

First up, if you were ever a member of a rugby team, joined a fraternity, or sent any texts, emails, or pics, in the pre-Snapchat era, that you may not have sent when sober, or feeling well balanced, Evan Spiegel, its founder, knows how you feel.

Some rather salacious emails have surfaced from Spiegel’s time as a brother of Stanford University’s Kappa Sigma chapter. Although the brotherhood effectively acted as an incubator for what eventually became Snapchat, the founders were all in it together, it seems they did not spend all of their time discussing the finer points of HTML vs C#, although they certainly seemed to have pulled a few all-nighters.

The emails can be read at

Brace yourselves, and prepare to re-visit your uni/first job/yester days. Most of you probably don’t have a stripper pole in your house, and 6 does seem like an awfully big number in that context. At least it does to me, but then I didn’t run a 2bn dollar business at the age of 21.

Spiegel has already apologised for his misdemeanours, releasing a statement describing himself as “mortified and embarrassed that my idiotic emails were made public”. Evan, you are your own best customer. But who could have made the emails public. It couldn’t be the mystery third founder, who was allegedly betrayed and bounced out of the Company before it became monetised, could it?

To coin a phrase Spiegel apparently uses a great deal, “like, whatever!” One can forgive the fairly innocent peacocking of a millionaire freshman, but point 2 is perhaps a little more instructive.

If Mark Zuckerberg wants to meet you, you could, like Spiegel famously did, demand that he come to you. Let’s throw Warren Buffett, world’s richest man, the oracle of Omaha, into the mix too. Zuckerberg and Buffett both want to meet you. Probably best not to advise them to, how I can put this, “fellate” you.

Because that’s exactly what Rap Genius co-founder Mahbod Mohamad did, and his career has subsequently sank to its knees faster than a cheerleader at a Mark Spiegel “rager” bash. Excuse me. Moghadan has frequently courted controversy, openly admitting to using drugs to keep himself going, and, in one 17 minute ramble masquerading as an interview, describing Rap Genius as the “cocaine of websites”, and “a poem that God has written”. Hmm, sounds like you’ve made more a “hash” of it, Mahbod.

Moghadam’s final indiscretion was to decide to critique the manifesto of UC Santa Barbara gunman Elliot Rodger’s manifesto, at best unwise and misguided, at worst sinister and slightly creepy. CEO Tom Lehman has acted quickly, accepting his co-founder’s resignation immediately, apologising and explaining “I cannot let him compromise the Rap Genius mission”.

Rap Genius: and then there were 2

Rap Genius: and then there were 2

A website like RapGenius is inspiring, and will inevitably fly too close to the sun on occasion. Perhaps having its wings clipped like this will send a message. Drug induced or high on success, you may decide that you are a poet and the world needs to hear what you have to say. It works for Kanye. But sometimes it’s best to keep the lid on your red pen.

The US has a great deal to teach us about the culture of start-ups, securing investment, and how to turn a bright idea into a full blown, kick ass reality, but it’s not always stardust that it’s sprinkling. The approach in the UK is different; even if it is happening, you are not going to see or hear about it, and it’s not going to enhance your reputation, although it may damage it, in some cases beyond repair.

Beers after work are part of the lifeblood of any business community, and it doesn’t always have to be policed to the smallest detail. But equally, technology, media and investment companies are not get rich quick schemes, they don’t exist for the benefit of their founders. Brashness can work, it can mask feelings of insecurity, it can carry you and your business over the line. As with so many things PR related, it’s a fine line. Snakes and ladders. Ultimately, the good will out; it’s just another test of character.


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