The Massachusetts State House last night was the scene of a reception celebrating the three Massachusetts-based start-ups named in Inc. Magazine’s 2010 30 Under 30 list. The honorees were HerCampus.com, Millienial Branding, and The Second Glass.
This was a terrific party, and a good opportunity to network with entrepreneurs, would-be entrepreneurs, and their various attendants in the state and the media. On the way in, a trio of students queried me about what I did, and told me about the business concepts they were developing in class. Not really being a “start-up” myself, or even a particularly young entrepreneur, I felt a little out of place. I actually thought about bailing on it, but I went to reconnect with two of the honorees whom I’d met at previous entrepreneurially-themed events.
The last time I was here was for a similar celebration of home-grown entrepreneurs. I was one of about sixty graduates of a state-sponsored entrepreneurship program. While others had moved forward with their business concepts, I had shelved mine and joined the staff at a software startup, ostensibly to learn the business while progressing as a project manager. It all felt a bit familiar.
There was the usual boosterism about how Massachusetts loves small business, and is the best place for young entrepreneurs because of all the colleges, degree programs, R&D, technology, etc., etc. Added to this was the “you Gen Y/Millenials are the future!” story, which probably made even the people saying it feel feeble, like we already had our moment and did our middling best with the technology of our time (even if that technology was the Internet itself).
Though the honorees were gracious, they had nothing to say about the noble role of entrepreneur, what it takes to be one, and nothing to offer to those who would one day replace them in the media glare. Instead, two of the three honorees made plugs for their events; one seized her moment at the podium to tell us what hashtag to use in our tweets about this event. (Try doing that at your next party!) My hand went to my phone, but I quashed the urge. Are we really so self-involved (or is the generation being idolized at this event so self-involved) that businesses can create endless buzz from self-talk and chatter?
I’m not an avid Twitterer, and “micro-blogging” sounds a bit inflated for what it is. But some of my micro-blog posts might be:
#30under30boston Usual BS about entrepreneurship in Massachusetts
#30under30boston Using this hashtag bc @Morgan1rst told me to from the podium
#30under30boston Flash-in-pan companies lauded for being cool, making a market of their Gen-Y peers. Whatev.
#30under30boston These honorees have nothing to say other than to thank their hosts and plug themselves
#30under30boston Their moment has passed. They can’t stay cool forever.
Out of (admittedly grudging) respect for these honorees and defiant respect for myself, I’ve refrained from calling them “kids”. To this generation, Inc. Magazine is “traditional” media. Who will be relevant to whom? Who will need whom to survive, to stay visible, to be considered important?
Their moment has passed. They are literally yesterday’s news. Which of these three darlings will truly last and go on to produce sturdy results once the media fawning has stopped?
HerCampus.com – An appetizing story with way more than its fair share of haters. (Who doesn’t love women entrepreneurs? And who doesn’t hate Harvard MBAs?) Three women – three Harvard women – have found (or created) a market around college women. It’s a niche-based new media brand that will have to expand to include everything this demographic cares about or will ever care about. But for that reason, it will go the way of all empires – arrogance, over-reaching, rebellion, decline, irrelevance. Will it keep current with its audience by regenerating itself like a sorority? Or will the founders try to stay at its apex, and burnish their own reputations as media moguls? I think they’ll move on to other ventures, and at any rate will know when it’s time to get out of this one.
Millenial Branding (aka Dan Schawbel) – I’ve heard him present. He’s written a book. He’s worked his magic for some big name corporations. I hear he’s brilliant. But to me, it’s all self-referential. Like the HerCampus.com founders, he’s another extremely well-positioned guy. His timing was so singular that nobody can follow his exact recipe and get the same results. And he’s made his name (and a buck or two) by selling that recipe! Surprised? I’ve attended so many seminars like his where the first quarter or fifth of the time is chewed up by the presenter’s personal success story. He “created a market for personal branding” according to one of the speakers. “Personal Branding” has been co-opted and dumbed-down into simple mechanics: staking out the same string of characters on every social media outlet, policing them with Google, and propogating them with your noise. But these won’t get you anywhere if you have no substance or clarity. You can have an in-your-face brand with no substance.
The Second Glass – hailed for marketing a “mature” industry to a young audience. With their events (including the annual Wine Riot), tweet-happy founders, and cool swag, I think this company has the best shot at longevity beyond its media bubble.
But then again, the broader definition of media today could mean the name of the game (Personal Branding) is making sure that the fawning doesn’t stop.
Meanwhile, Halloween is coming up. It’s a season of self-invention, and I think I’ve got the perfect costume. I’m going as a hashtag. Let’s see who includes me in their tweets.