So why exactly are IT investors so utterly clueless?
I wash my hands of the whole matter
Something for the Weekend, Sir? Are you thick or what? No, really, how else can you explain why you invest vast sums of money on daft schemes that nobody wants?
Long-time readers of this column may remember my little Tech City adventure a while back, in which I managed 2,000 sq ft of chic hipster office floorspace in the heart of London’s so-called "silicon roundabout" – before growing profoundly bored of the whole thing and selling up 16 months later.
One of the things that used to drive me mad, and helped drive me out, was being surrounded by divs and flakes, with their embarrassingly daft app launches, misconceived proofs-of-concept, childishly incompetent business plans and – despite their frank incompetence – their six-figure salaries.
The office had its advantages too, of course, such as, oh I dunno, being surrounded by a dozen photographic studios specialising in lingerie model shots.
At first, I thought our office dogsbody, the Southern Comfort-drinking hormonal Vijay, was just being considerate over the summer months by constantly adjusting the open windows to suit the ambient temperature. It was only when I offered to help that I discovered that our south-facing windows overlooked those of the lingerie photo studio opposite ... along with its changing room.
I was appalled. I certainly couldn’t leave him standing there at the window all day, so I was forced to do what any honourable manager should: I fetched a couple of stools from the kitchen, popped open a tube of Pringles, and we settled down to enjoy the show.
Unfortunately, this one dubious advantage was bulldozered by the knowledge that I was surrounded by millions of pounds sloshing between dopey investors and every dipshit Bitcoin development wanker to knock on their doors with yet another brain-dead scheme to lose their money.
Jealous? Perhaps. However, it is difficult to hold anything against the entrepreneurs themselves: they’re trying it on, and if it works, good luck to them. What riles me is how thick the investors are.
Someone’s created a website that looks like a cup of tea? Give him £50,000! You’ve invented a wristwatch selfie stick? Have £100,000! What that, you say, you want to develop an app that launches apps for running apps? Sounds cool, take £1m!
Can they not see that they are pouring hard cash into products with all the substance of a dick-swinging hipster’s electronic cigarette exhalation? Don’t they realise they’re investing money into no-hope projects that are simply faking it?
Worse, in today’s crowdfunding climate, we’re all idiots with money to burn. And it’s funnier because private individuals like us don’t even understand the difference between an investment and a loan. We are shocked and get angry when told that the crowdfunding project we invested in has failed after spending all our money.
Well, duh? As the presenter of Kickstarter Crap points out, while genuine commercial products are sold with the safety net of a returns policy, crowdfunding operates with a fuck-you-dumbass policy.
Wise up, that’s what investment means: for every four failed startups, you hope that fifth one will keep going long enough for you to sell it off to an even stupider investor for even more money before they find out the truth.
The thing is, so many of these startups sound so plainly idiotic, I am beginning to suspect that their very idiocy is part of their appeal. It’s as if their utter pointlessness and overwhelming unlikelihood of success is what makes them so attractive.
Consider those nutty stories that pop up from time to time about no-frills airlines: charging money for tap water, making passengers stand up, removing the toilets, dispensing with the wings, etc. None of them is true but they get reported anyway and the net result is always the same: sales for those airlines goes up, not down.
In Fergus Byrne’s biography of publishing magnate Felix Dennis (More Lives Than One), the great man recalls a lesson he learned in the early days of his success. Shortly after launching a poster magazine about Bruce Lee in the early 1970s, he began selling a shitty little mail-order pack labelled The Bruce Lee Society Membership Kit, which sold quite well until – horror of horrors – it got named and shamed as a rip-off by Esther Rantzen on her consumer watchdog TV show That’s Life.
After the broadcast, it immediately stopped selling quite well and began selling shitloads instead. According to Felix, “the next day, you couldn’t get through the door for the mail sacks".
As most of us are well aware in the sophisticated 20-teens, there is no such thing as bad publicity. One shameless example that made its way into the news recently was a report that a California traffic officer pulled over a Google Autonomous Vehicle, supposedly for travelling too slowly.
Sure enough, the story was accompanied by a suspiciously clear photo of the incident, showing the little white car being served a ticket by the man from CHiPS who, it appears, has eaten way too many donuts since 1983.
Yeah right. If you believe that story, I have a Kickstarter project you might be interested in. All I can say is that the human occupying the driver’s seat in the vehicle was damn lucky it was one of Google’s little white cars. If it had been black, the policeman might have riddled it with bullets first.
This all comes to mind yet again when my inbox informs me that a British tech startup called imertec (the self-conscious lower-case ‘i’ at the beginning of the name already makes me want to commit an equally self-conscious act of violence) has launched a Crowdcube campaign to develop an app that shows health workers how to wash their hands. It wants £360,000.
Let me run that by you again. How to wash your hands. £360,000.
Obviously, I am being obtuse. The World Health Organisation and others have pointed out that lots of employees and volunteers in the health sector fail to wash their hands thoroughly or effectively, leading to the easily avoidable spread of infection.
My point is that you can write down the proper seven-step method of how to wash your hands in er ... seven steps. You can take photos or draw pictures of how to do it. You can demonstrate to someone how to do it. You can make a video of yourself showing how to do it.
You certainly do not need £360,000 of development cash to explain how to wash your hands, nor indeed another £520 to purchase the Epson Moverio BT-200 virtual reality glasses that are required to run imertec’s app.
The problem now is that, having slagged off this app, I have inadvertently given it the publicity it craves. Well good luck to it. The campaign has raised more than £100,00 already, so you’d better get in quick if you want to invest in the world’s most expensive alternative to remembering what your mum told you repeatedly ever since you were two fucking years old.