What We Talk About When We Talk About Startups, Depression, and Michael Arrington’s Blinders

Were we drawing too much from one news story? There was always the possibility that maybe in the startup community, depression wasn’t discussed simply because it didn’t exist, and that the type of people to get into these endeavors were just, maybe, broadly immune to these issues. After one day of reporting the story, we were pretty sure we were on to an issue that was as endemic as it was unspoken for.

The Press: Reactions and Causality

Interestingly enough, most of the traffic for the story came through Twitter, Facebook, and Hacker News. That didn’t surprise us too much. What did surprise us was where the story didn’t appear. One paragraph that was deleted from the published draft was from the introduction, where we noted the rightfully but unusually subdued tones websites like TechCrunch and Silicon Alley Insider took when discussing the death of Ilya Zhitomirskiy (something Betabeat didn’t even initially report as breaking news; not because we didn’t think it was relevant, but because we were concerned—maybe overly—with the touchy issue of exploitation at that point, already).

The story, for what it’s worth, drew up exactly zero links on TechCrunch and Business Insider. All Things D linked it up on the front page. Which brings up something else that didn’t make the story, a moment in an interview with angel investor and TechStars managing director David Tisch, as he decried the lack of culture and personality-driven stories in the tech press at-large:

The human story in tech today is totally, totally erased by the rush to get news out.

YouAre.TV founder Josh Weinstein, who spoke with Betabeat about his own experiences with the issue, noted the effect a largely complimentary press might have on young founders:

“There are very few overnight successes. The problem is survivor bias. Those [successful startups] are the ones you see on TechCrunch.”

Another insight that didn’t make the original story—one we were especially sad to see go, but knew it’d come back here—was about the effect the tech press has on founders and depression. Big surprise: It’s palpable. From Jerry Colonna:

What about the media?

There’s a negative implication with the media, where there’s a fascination with this kind of culture. The United States lionizes entrepreneurs in a way in which a lot of other societies don’t.

Certainly, we’re guilty of it, the lionizing and the obsession.

Yeah it’s the Observer, Betabeat, but it’s the media in general. Look at what happened with Steve Jobs: he became the best CEO who ever walked the face of the earth, nevermind the fact that he left a trail of broken bones behind him

There’s that, too.

The Fallout

Making the rounds since the article appeared was another large piece about how volatile startup culture can be, specifically, Zynga’s, as they move to take their IPO on the road. Former employees noted how relentless both the work and the treatment of their colleagues could be.

Ousted TechCrunch founder, venture capitalist, and pirate UnCrunched publisher—or whatever he is now—Michael Arrington wrote a post vaguely alluding to the week’s recent discussions about the emotional toll working at a startup can take. To summarize, in his words:

Expect more articles soon about the woes of being asked to work hard at a startup. People are working so hard, they’re crying themselves to sleep!

Early Netscape engineer Jamie Zawinski—whose writing from years ago Arrington used to make his own point—struck back at Arrington:

He’s trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don’t do that, you’re a pussy. He’s using my words to try and back up that thesis. I hate this, because it’s not true, and it’s disingenuous.

Arrington returned fire , because, of course, how could he not? To briefly editorialize: Michael Arrington, you’re being an obtuse idiot, as either you’re tapped into what the discussion is ostensibly about as opposed to what it actually concerns—not the extent of the work, but a medical condition that can develop and metastasize into something more dangerous because of it—or you don’t believe depression can exist, which puts you in the same categorical camp of crazy as Tom Cruise.

Of all places, I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGUR blog network founder Ben Huh posted about his own experiences with depression and founding a startup. It was surprisingly and admirably candid:

I spent a week in my room with the lights off and cut off from the world, thinking of the best way to exit this failure. Death was a good option — and it got better by the day.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Startups, Depression, and Michael Arrington’s Blinders