Monday, March 16, 2015

Google for Entrepreneurs"

Rough draft of a post I plan on making tomorrow on Google+.   Now that I have been blocked and censored by "Google for Entrepreneurs" I can be a little more free to write what I am really thinking.  This is still highly filtered - I am not saying some of the things I really suspect, but something smells funny and Google should investigate.  About the nicest thing I can say at this point is this program is not worthy of Google.

As I mentioned last week, I have been blocked and censored from commenting on the so called "Google for Entrepreneurs" page so have decided to look into it a little more.  This is still filtered writing - I am not saying everything I suspect here, but this since they expect only praise and cheer leading on their own profile I can speak a little more freely now - though I do understand I will likely be attacked by the many people trying to 'score points" with Google.

Pearls before Swine

"Google for Entrepreneurs" doesn't generally respond or even acknowledge comments from Google+ users and instead take a "pearls before swine" approach here and assume that everyone will think everything they do is awesome.  This approach actually seems to work for them - everything they do really is massively reshared and praised.   As I mentioned, one of the SUL (suggested users list) people takes this to absurd lengths and and will even praise their crappy videos before he could possibly have watched them.  Honestly, I wish they would just hire him and get it over with, because it is pretty nauseating to see such extreme ass kissing.  Be that as it may, but there is at least one person out there who thinks that with "Google for Entrepreneurs" maybe "the emperor has no clothes" and if anyone at Google cares, it should be investigated. . .  

I found this story from last April of last year that may shed some light on what is going on there.  It is about their first meeting and how billionaire Steve Case waltzed up and down the aisle plunking $100,000 checks on everyone there.    Naturally everyone there,- and maybe other people as well - thought this was awesome,, and that is certainly understandable.   Perhaps people imagined themselves getting one of those $100,000 checks - that is just human nature.   I was disturbed by this, however, though I really couldn't put my finger on why.  

Screwing up the System

Then it hit me - this story reminded me of something from my own past - a time long ago when on a vastly smaller scale I had behaved in a similar fashion.   It was when I lived in Egypt for a short while on an U.S. Agency for International Development project in a town about 200 miles south of Cairo.   I went to a cafe with a friend to have some of their great Turkish coffee and try the hookahs, and not being accustom to Americans the waiters fawned over us while several of their friends sat nearby so they could practice their English.  

When I went to leave, I apparently left a tip that was FAR too large.  The exchange rates between the dollar and Egypt's developing world currency at the time had made me a rich man and I was reckless with money.   I don't know how out of bounds I had gone, but the honest waiter chased me down the street to return the money even though it meant nothing to me.  I thanked him but let him keep most of it anyway. 

On reflection, I realized what had happened.  These people were barely eking out a living, and I had screwed up their system .  I had given one of the waiters an undeserved windfall in front of his friends and associates -  more the maybe more than the shop owner had made for that entire week.   I hadn't been "generous" with money, ,I had been an asshole. 

So why should this bother me?  Yes,  Steve Case was an asshole, as I had been, but no harm no foul right?  These people got immediately rich from their association with the "Google for Entrepreneurs" people  - why should I begrudge them that good luck?   Well, maybe it is because I have seen this movie before and this "generosity" might not be quite as harmless ass seem at first  

The failed "Startup America" Program

Steve Case was the person most responsible for the failed "Startup America" program - one of the worst things the Obama administration has ever done.   Ostensibly designed to help small American startups it was closed and exclusionary due to Case's infatuation with what he called "gazelles" - small, fast growing firms that venture capitalists could quickly cash in on.  While they used funding from the government, and even the Office of the President to promote it, they made it clear that unless you were already successful and growing fast you "need not apply".  From a public policy standpoint, it was absolutely abhorrent. 

I didn't really learn this until after I has attended every single one of their video conferences and read everything I could about the program,  that they wouldn't let me join because I didn't have "two full time employees or co-founders".   It was ridiculous - they wouldn't even let me register on their damn website, and it wasn't until I made lots of noise at the SBA that they relented and let me join just to keep me from causing them any trouble.   Lots of other people were pissed too.

What I finally was able to join, what I found shocked me - their membership website was essentially a giant "coupon book" - the corporations "sponsoring" this program saw it as an opportunity to exploit small business and sell them their crap at a discount, not help them.   Google, for example, offered half off on Adwords as long as you paid them at least a $1,000.

Everybody - and I mean everybody (except those directly profiting from it) absolutely hated Startup America.  It was an unmitigated disaster and eventually they shut it down, but not before it had done a huge amount of damage. Supposedly set up as a "public private partnership" they would tout their government status while at the same time saying "we are the private sector guys".   This provided them the justification for using the program to try to implement Steve Case's vision of a system that would allow them to cherry pick the "gazelles".   

The government got blamed for their failure, as always happens and it will be many, many years before the United States does anything to try to help small startups again - if ever.  These guys poisoned the well..    I know what I am talking about with this one - a similar situation happened in California with the old "California Trade and Commerce Agency" - greedy and selfish people tried to take over this program for their own advantage, and to this day, California still doesn't have an effective economic development program. 

Those who can't learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it.

Finally, they shut it down - one of the supporters - the Kauffman foundation, apparently realizing their mistake, withdrew funding.  The government realizing that public policy objectives - like actually helping small business entrepreneurs, weren't being met also withdrew their support.  After that, there almost seemed to be some kind of agreement to pretend it never happened.  I always thought there should have been some kind of objective "post mortem" on it -  I could have written it myself, but why?  Many of the people who exploited the system profited greatly from it, so I am hardly inspired to be the good citizen - no percentages in that.    Still,we have to remember:  "those who can't learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it'.

That should have been it - a sad chapter in American business history had come to a close - except unfortunately it isn't quite over.  Without even any apparent soul searching about all the hurt and damage they had caused, Steve Case simple rebranded "Startup America' as "Up Global' - and made it even more about him -  same crappy values, same exclusionary attitude and apparently still set up to funnel money to venture capitalists, from 'gazelles" while throwing everyone else under the bus.

At a time when entrepreneurs desperately need help, and innovative creative thinking was desperately needed, Google could have played an amazing role and really helped.  What "Google for Entrepreneurs" decided to do instead was to take the lazy way out "partner ad "co-brand" with" UP Global - to use Google's money and influence to shore up a program that had failed for very good reasonsThe same old crap, on a different day.  

The Greatest Good for the Smallest Number

I spent two years of my life trying to get involved with Startup America - never successfully, because I wasn't "a gazelle" but at least they would talk to me and a few times even listen.  I have also spent two years trying to communicate with "Google for Entrepreneurs" - not with the same level effort because it was obvious the they consider themselves to be too important. to talk to someone as lowly as me.   Still, even with referrals from other Google employees, I was never able to get them to respond to a single question I had about the program or for that matter even acknowledge my existence - except for being blocked for not being sufficiently fawning over them.    

Since being blocked and censored by "Google for Entrepreneurs" I can't even see what they are up to without logging off of Google, but I will give my raw opinion.  Yes, my experience with the "Google for Entrepreneurs" program is that it is run by rude and arrogant people, but that is not really the important point - there are lots of rude and arrogant people in the world but they are not all using the resources of one of the world's most powerful corporations to limit our opportunities.  Somebody had to say something.

Money used intelligently can do wonders - it can save peoples lives - and livelihoods, and even change the world.    Money used foolishly can be harmful and destructive.   Steve Case bouncing around the country giving $100,000 checks to people he likes isn't helping, and Google supporting this "cult of personality" isn't helping either.  They are once again taking the "greatest good for the smallest number" approach that proved to be so disastrous with Startup America and that many of us had hoped was gone for good.  
Years ago in a cafe El Fayoum Egypt I was an asshole with money - but at least I learned from it.   Now "Google for Entrepreneurs" and Steve Case are doing much the same thing, but they apparently have learned nothing from earlier disasters.  These people aren't helping to build an entrepreneurial community, they may be helping to destroy it.