Venture Weekly Editor’s Note – 5/17/2016

Is the Tech Press Hunting Unicorns?

Startups had another tough week in the tech press. William Alden wrote a damning expose on Palantir, one of the Valley’s most secretive companies up to this point, to which co-founder Joe Lonsdale replied on Quora. Former VP of Engineering at uBeam Paul Reynolds published a blog post this past week basically saying that the technology can’t work as advertised (which was picked up by many, many outlets). Mark Suster, VC at Upfront Ventures and uBeam board member, responded here.


These are different stories in many ways, but there is a consistent thread – what is the role of the tech press? In his response, Lonsdale essentially claims that the Buzzfeed article is a piece of clickbait garbage, written because the “media” are jealous of successful tech companies and want to “hunt unicorns” with hit pieces. That’s one (hyperbolic) take.

I think there’s a more measured response: the tech press ought to report on and question tech companies, because that pressure makes tech companies, and the world, better.

Say what you will about the Theranos debacle, but I think we should all be glad that the pieces in the Wall Street Journal which first uncovered the inconsistencies with the technology were published. Just because you’re “innovating,” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be held to a standard of truth.

Indeed, in light of these questions about uBeam‘s technology, can we agree, at least, that unquestioning pieces like this in the New York Times are a net negative for the startup community?

The flip side of this is that invention is hard. And the questioning of a company in the media has real implications. Productivity goes down, recruiting gets harder. But as an entrepreneur, that’s part of the game. As Suster writes, “if you are afraid of failure and if you never take risks and if you never try to push the boundaries of what is possible — then you certainly will never succeed in break-through innovation.”

-David Peterson, Contributing Editor