Disgraced former Mashable blogger Ben Parr just announced a move into venture capital. When will this madness end?
Ben Parr was fired from Mashable, the blog that killed online journalism, for revealing details of his $300,000 salary offer and $250,000 cash bonus to another blog. He just couldn’t keep his mouth shut about such a windfall. And, I suppose, in a way, who can blame him? Very few journalists earn anything like so much, and with his hectic international travel schedule, it must have been easy for Parr to get carried away with his own celebrity.
It turned out, however, that he was not indispensible. And so, after being ejected by chisel-jawed executioner Pete Cashmore, and with typical Silicon Valley hubris, Parr installed himself as an “advisor” to several companies about whose business he had no direct experience or expertise. (Again, cut some slack: it’s important to a blogger’s ego to be seen to have some business creds.)
Since then, Parr has cut a rather tragic figure on the international conference circuit, his lanyards showing white space where the name of an employer ought to be. A year later almost to the day of his termination, however, Parr, who in a delicious slice of faint praise was described as “relentlessly nice” by waspish Valley journo Owen Thomas, is returning to the limelight with… yup, you guessed it. A venture capital firm.
Remember in college how every kid had his own band? And how the ones that didn’t either set up ”student-run think tanks” or their own student newspapers, which inevitably folded after a few disastrous semesters? Well, I think we can safely say that venture capital has entered the same territory, whereby every wally with an address book, a few rich mates and a laptop can call himself an “investor”.
I once considered dabbling in venture capital myself, after a group of friends offered to back me. Their thinking was: he can’t do any worse than any of the present crop of VCs, he’s probably better-connected, and, well, the marketing clout would be a great asset to the portfolio. But it didn’t take me long to realise how absurd and how stupendously arrogant such an idea was.
Because journalists, and bloggers in particular, may think they understand the companies they’re writing about. But, by and large, they haven’t the first clue what it takes to build a profitable business beyond the self-help maxims that gush from conference stages and over-hyped books. (That’s one of the reasons I chucked my savings into starting The Kernel: at least now when I come down hard on another start-up, I have some skin in the game myself.)
Maybe when Michael Arrington and his pet monkey did it, there was some sense to it. After all, Arrington really does have the sort of world-class reach and credentials that could yield the odd return – particularly when he writes about his investments, gets them on stage at TechCrunch conferences and in all sorts of other ways machinates to engineer them to success.
But this. Oh, this. Truly, our industry has become irrevocably debased when someone who proudly publishes the following sentence considers himself capable of returning a fund: ”I have the ability and thus the responsibility to change the world for the better. I want to find a way to empower every person on the planet, so they can pursue their dreams. Today begins the next stage of my journey to fulfill that purpose.”
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.