Rich people can't build social networks.
Long live Deadspin.
I, like probably everyone else tangentially related to venture capital, got ahold of the “Column” pitch deck. If you’ve subscribed to my newsletter and you would like it too, sound off in the comments! I want to tear my eyes out after reading it, so this is really a “no liability assumed” kind of thing. If you want to read a happier thing, skip this section and go to the one about Deadspin.
You’re not rich enough to exercise free speech.
Fundamentally, rich people use social networks differently from the rest of us. Eugene Wei’s status-seeking monkeys post is a classic for understanding why social networks grow. Individuals use social networks to gain influence, rich people use them to maintain their influence, or at most, launder their image (Michael Milken makes an appearance in the deck). Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of sheep — you’re not going to get authentic human interaction from a network controlled by people who already have status.
The deck starts off by arguing that social networks lack diversity because they were all founded by “male 22-year olds in hoodies”and that instead, you should trust a guy who founded a social network when he was a 22 year old, but now wears suits and has a receding hairline.
He’s also one of the guys in this next photo, but for the life of me I cannot say which one. Getty Images says that one of the other white guys is Gavin McInnes, who I can’t describe more generously than as a “populist far-right guy who took Fight Club too seriously.” More to the point, he’s a Nazi and founder of a SPLC-designated Hate Group.
I have worked in Silicon Valley and been around business people for a while now and you hear so many pitches for startups, but rarely do you see one this dumb. Let’s make a Facebook group, but only for rich people — and the poor people who we deign to make fellowships available for. That’s how we’re going to solve the problem of diversity in social networks and connect people.
There is just so much cognitive dissonance in this deck - it’s founded by people who take pride in oppressing others and flaunting their cash, while also claiming to offer “diversity.” It will quantify social impact through “governance,” yet its founders consider themselves above the law.
Despite its elitism, naming so many random names throughout the deck reeks of desperation. One of my frat brothers went to school with the Obama daughters, so maybe I can be of help?
The rest of the deck is more of the same - a bunch of fancy names with hypothetical numbers, basically none of whom are confirmed (or were even contacted). I have written previously about countersignalling, which basically hypothesizes that people who have something don’t need to continuously talk about having “it.” If you actually have connections, you don’t publish slides like this while asking for money.
Here’s a particularly dumb example. You might also note that they claim, through their “viral adoption,” that Oxford will raise $545M through their platform per year. That’s, uh, 1.8 million funders at $25 per month. Oxford, like this social network, is an extremely elitist institution which accepts only around 8,800 students per year. So they’ll get 204 years of graduates to subscribe. Also, Oxford’s endowment was more than all but three Ivy Leagues in 2018, so maybe they don’t need $300?
They have a “potential revenue calculator” but it’s a password-protected Airtable sheet, because, surprise, you’re not rich enough to use it! So I made my own and you can have it for free (the numbers don’t match up, but I’m guessing I’m better at math than whoever did these slides).
There’s some other stupid “potential state experiments;” my favorite is probably the one where they think Violet Grey, a beauty brand, will go from $5M in yearly revenue to doing $3 BILLION ARR by being on this network. All they have to do is EMAIL their INSTAGRAM followers, all of whom are real people who Instagram will let you email. Yeah, that’s going to happen, and then they’re going to get 48 million paying subscribers to hit $3B ARR. Why didn’t anyone tell me that business was so easy?
Isn’t the point of this platform to be exclusive and invite only? Inviting a half-million (or 1 million, in Marc Benioff’s case) people isn’t really exclusive.
Let’s look at who the target audience for this “product” is, who is apparently a depressed and overworked individual who needs therapy more than anything else. 15 minutes to eat a salad at your desk? No phone on bathroom breaks? Taking 30 minutes to fall asleep? What is the point of having money if you can’t even eat a decent meal with others or check Twitter on the toilet.
The network prides itself on factual accuracy — the only confirmed board member calls this “an evidence based life”, and the poorly drawn app mockup features a “Truth” button instead of a like button — so again I have to call them out on the facts. The hypothetical individual is flying from New York (subway) to London — except there are absolutely no mid-afternoon flights to London from New York, and that a 10PM EST dinner in London would be 2AM local time (two probably correlated facts). Plot twist: the only major city I can find that fits this flight pattern would be flying from Moscow, which does have a lovely subway, and where 10PM would be a perfectly adequate 7PM UK dinner.
I’ll close this section with a final quote from Eugene Wei:
Another way to think of all these celebrity ventures is to measure the social capital and utility of the product or service if you remove all the social capital from the celebrity in question. A lot minus a lot equals zero.
Let’s do some blogging.
Who will be posting blogs on this site?
All of your favorite sports bloggers. Well, maybe not all of them, but at least the ones who are currently unemployed due to their recent decision to detonate their own careers. We’re all feeling great and ready to blog.
It’s the runup to the Super Bowl, and you’re excused for forgetting too, nobody watches it anymore. Personally, I’m going to show up at a house, drink six beers, and go home sometime in the 4th quarter because finding emotional attachment to a game which features a racist mascot, a “San Francisco” team which plays almost 2 hours away, and, oh let’s not forget, men physically eviscerating their brains to sell television ads for a racist plutocratic family.
In some ways, Column and the UTSB are the perfect thesis and anti-thesis. One, a platform for the rich and the elite to talk amongst each other without peasants, except for those precious few who they deign worthy of fellowships. One where you can pay $50 per month to be “connected” to Marc Benioff, if he considers you to be articulate enough and marginalized enough. And another where you can read free content from the best sportswriters, who are actually willing to speak truth to power, even at the cost of their financial stability. Comments are open and unmoderated.
I know which one I’m subscribing to.