Tim Bichara

“Tech Idol” – The New TV Talent Show?

Talent shows have killed kids' work ethic or so the media would have us believe. Who needs to knuckle down and slave over your schoolbooks when you can get on X Factor and become a star in an instant? A fast track elevator to fame and fortune.

For the one or two that make it that might be the truth. But we all know that the chances of being the new One Direction are pretty damn small. Let’s face it, the chances of being the new “One True Voice” (remember them) are pretty damn small. Infinitesimal to be precise.

There’s a lot of talk about the new tech bubble recently, and I begun to wonder the other day, are we seeing the same thing in technology? Does anybody want that job at Microsoft anymore? Doesn’t everybody have a disruptive idea for a startup…an ‘uber for x’…?

Don’t get me wrong. I have started five businesses in my life and I have nothing but admiration and encouragement for anyone that wants to do the same. Some have worked well, some less so, but it’s been an amazing ride…all of it.

But there are more than a few similarities between the tech scene in 2015 and a television talent show.

Just as the hopefuls are paraded in front of the judges on American Idol, the budding entrepreneurs are paraded in front of investors at endless pitch events, hoping to make it through to the next round – or in this case the next stage of investment. As seed turns to Series A, Series B etc the “weaker” ideas are whittled out and the “stronger” ones put to the market – kind of like the audience vote.

Stories abound in the press of multi million dollar exits and sky high valuations. It seems like anyone with a Macbook Air, a great idea and determination has a chance of making it.

But is the truth really that simple?

Just like the entertainment industry, the tech scene has its fair share of nepotism. The reality is that a good deal of institutional investment is secured through personal connections – it’s not quite the level playing field the media would have us believe.

And the brutal truth is that most start ups fail. Even 40% of VC backed companies will eventually bite the dust.

The other day I had lunch with one of my old CTOs – a real start up veteran. Matt has fought in the trenches with some of the highest growth tech companies of the last 15 years. And like a veteran he exudes the scars of battle.

I always thought he was addicted to the cut and thrust of start up life, so I was quite surprised to learn that he’d taken a corporate job, but he actually seemed pretty happy.

“The shares have gone up 20% since I started working here”, he said, “but who needs options? I could have just brought them on online?”.

And is that the brutal truth of it? Maybe for some people, the time spent chasing that elusive multi million dollar exit might be better off scaling the corporate ladder.

The life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone. The long hours, the emotional rollercoaster, the uncertainty – it all takes its toll. Behind most success stories is a familiar tale of hard work and dedication – and more than a little luck.

But that’s not the way it’s often portrayed. And as long as there’s a whole heap of starry eyed, aspiring entrepreneurs willing to work for free in the hope of impressing small group of men with money, the narrative is unlikely to change.

But there’s one question that remains of course. If it’s not long before we see “Tech Idol” on the TV Schedules, who will be the start up Simon Cowell?


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