Today I witnessed what is probably the world’s worst press release. It was a horrible move by, Cloudant, a company which provides some form of cloud-based analytics services, and more importantly, YCombinator, an investor in the company.
How To Make Yourself Hated
I don’t fully understand the business of Cloudant to be honest, but what they did today absolutely blew my mind. They sent out a press release touting the company’s acquisition of a massive client: Monsanto. For those of you who are not aware of Monsanto, it’s one of the world’s most hated companies. If you want to learn about why they are so hated, you can Google their name, but as Wikipedia states:> Monsanto’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation, political lobbying practices, seed commercialization practices and “strong-arming” of the seed industry have made the company controversial around the world and a primary target of the alter-globalization movement and environmental activists.
O.k., so now you know that Monsanto is hated. I mean deeply hated by people around the world.
Participating In Unethical Business Activities
I know you need to fund your company if you are startup. The fundamental desire to keep your business alive at all costs could possibly bring you to a point where you have to decide whether or not you want to accept money from someone you may not want to. For the longest time, many people have simply accepted it as fact that corporations will do whatever is necessary to survive. Yet some of the unethical exchanges that have taken place up until now are the exact source of many of the “99 percent’s” discontent.
While the “99 percent” don’t yet have a clear outline for how they’re going to change things, one thing is clear: they’re frustrated. One of the numerous reasons that they are frustrated is that up until now, many corporations have been held unaccountable for immoral and unethical actions. They feel as though the consumer has been taken advantage of.
Depending on where you fall in the political spectrum, and more importantly depending on the values you hold, you may differ from me on how a business should act. However I personally believe that it is possible to build an extremely successful business without sacrificing your values. However Paul Graham doesn’t appear to believe so based on the comments he made today in defense of this stupid press release.
In reply to a comment voicing hatred at Cloudant over their decision to do business with Monsanto, Paul Graham posted the following:
It’s an unfortunate sign for HN when the top comment on a thread is such a content-free rant.
If the rule is, if x sells something to Monsanto, fuck x, then what you’re saying is fuck the entire corporate world, because I’m sure Monsanto buys Apple computers and Chevrolets and Clorox too. It’s sort of ridiculous to hold Cloudant to a standard that essentially zero other companies meet.
There are frequently inane comments of this type at the bottom of HN threads. What’s alarming is to see them at the top.
What is alarming is not the comment by the angry user but instead Paul Graham’s support of this press release. Perhaps he doesn’t have a problem with Monsanto, but his comment suggests he does. Typically I wouldn’t care about such actions but Paul is one of the most visible leaders in Silicon Valley. He’s actively suggesting the idea that because other people are doing it (people with big brand names), it’s ok for a YCombinator company to do it as well.
Some people have suggested that disagreeing with Cloudant’s decision is anti-capitalist. It’s not. I’m a free market capitalist who also happens to believe that your company should have values. For too long we’ve allowed companies to sacrifice their values, or at least hold weak ones. The next set of great corporations will not shove their values in a closet. Instead they’ll use their values as a core part of their marketing efforts and wear them proudly. If you agree with them, you will do business with them. If you don’t, you won’t purchase their products.
If Cloudant is wearing this partnership as a badge of honor, congrats. It just means that percentage of the population that doesn’t agree with the company’s values won’t purchase their services. Additionally, if YCombinator is promoting a world where values don’t matter and economic transactions are the only thing that do, then they are truly part of the old guard.
The old guard valued the acquisition of capital no matter the cost. This is exactly what the 99 percent is angry about. The 99 percent may not have clear objectives, or even a leader, but I can tell you that this type of behavior is exactly what they don’t like. We deserve more from our leaders and people like Paul Graham should be leading the charge. It’s time that we let them know.
Here’s Paul Graham’s second comment:
I don’t think there are two separate crowds. I think HN’s initial population of smart, mostly apolitical nerds has been diluted by the arrival of a lot of new users who are not as smart, and are thus more excited by shallow controversies.
Politics happens to a big source of shallow controversies. But I don’t think most people who upvote comments saying “Fuck Monsanto” do it because they have a deep interest in politics, any more than most people who rail against “Obamacare” do it because they have a deep interest in politics. They do it because they’re dumb. It’s the shape of this sort of idea that excites them, not its content.
I’ll let the commenters, like Marcus and Jack who first pointed this out make their own judgement about it. Apparently he finds his own customers/supporters dumb.