Anatomy of a Startup Meetup – the 5 major startup stereotypes


Our resident startup commentator Adam Fletcher, author of smash hit How to be German has teamed up with Berlin’s über-talented illustrator Josh Bauman (hire him already!) from Caffeinated Toothpaste. Together they’ll satirise some of the startup scene’s most notable characters… Recognise anyone?


I know there’s a special place in hell reserved for stereotypers. In a dark corner playing Risk with Stalin and the Shining Star of Paektu Mountain Kim Jong-Il. But sometimes it’s really hard to resist and, while barely half the truth, stereotyping is just too much fun. As a regular attendee of startup meetups, I notice there are distinct types of people who attend them. Clear, divisible tribes of people so, with no further pointless extensions to this tedious long introduction, I present you Startup Satire:

#1 The Programmer


There was a time in which the humble programmer was just happy to have been allowed out the basement, where he could get within 50 metres of a girl without reducing her to fear, pity or a restraining order. Then something happened and that something was The Internet. Programmers went from being the custodians of hangar-sized, punch-card operated fat calculators to the gatekeepers of the internet, the greatest tool for self-education and human betterment since language itself.

Now, not only are they allowed to the ball, it turns out they’ve been the bespectacled Cinderella all along! It’s no surprise a little of this power may have gone to their heads and, consequentially, their day rates.

I feel it’s probably also important to distinguish between programmers and those Justin Bieber, gem-activating, god-raking, code-by-numbers, ponzi schemers known as Ruby on Rails programmers. Drunk on the power and fame of their chosen language’s famous 15 minutes, RoR programmers view real programmers like Mickey Mouse views Goofy, technically a member of the family but still an uncommercial embarrassment.

What they say:

“No, we can’t use WordPress for that.”

What they mean:

“You are beneath my superior intellect and every moment you waste my time by talking to me is a poignant reminder of my mortality. I consider informing you of that fact to be billable consulting time and you can expect an invoice from me for €500. In fact I’ll make it right now with this little portable Invoice-o-matic machine I’ve created myself, which I built very easily because of my almost limitless intelligence.”

#2 The Groupie


You know those free pens and keyrings startups put out with their boring logo on and then some vague tagline “Moopr – innovation through cooperation”. You don’t take one, because you already have a million startup pens and every time you open your bag four fall out, yet you don’t remember putting any in and then you start wondering if maybe your bag is actually manufacturing startup pens.

Then you wonder who keeps taking those free pens then? The Groupies. While you might think “Oh great, another shitty free pen”, the Groupie thinks “Jesus motherflipping Christ, A GOOGLE PEN! How exciting. It’s like I’ve basically just had a three-way with Larry and Sergey in the back of a Lexus. Michelle, did I tell you about the time I had a three way with Larry and Sergey in the back of a Lexus?”

For the Groupie it’s about basking in reflected glory. Fame by proxy. Startup meetups are a chance to meet new people, spend time with the people behind the startups they are interested in and play the game of startup oneupmanship with the same veracity children trade Pokemon cards.

They are likely to be employed in social media and have their own Tumblr blog which consists mostly of Instagrams of their Paleolithic cooking experiments. It’s highly probable they have more than a passing affinity for emoticons.

What they say:

“You don’t know X? You have to meet X, he’s easily the greatest Y in Z. I can totally introduce you if you like? I know him so well we’re practically married.”

What they really mean:

“I have a friend, who has a friend, who has a Facebook friend who shared an elevator with him once.”

#3 The Investor


Imagine you put on a suit, a totally normal suit, with pockets for your business cards and holes where your arms and legs go. Then you pin $100 bills all over it, then you went walking the streets carrying a big sign that says “free money” on one side, then “grab it, grab it, grab it!” on the other.

That’s probably what it’s like to be an investor at a startup meetup. It’s harder than it looks. On the surface, you’re the enabler, the great white knight, the startup Bono. But, the downside is that a lot of people suspect you have evil monopolistic tendencies, and the whole day, when really, you probably just want to have a normal conversation with another human being, form a connection with them, however fleeting, people will just keep pitching at you.

You’re the Simon Cowell of the startup world. You’re constantly propositioned by the delusional, yet unlike Simon Cowell you’re expected to smile and be nice. OK, fine, what’s your idea? Pinterest, for badgers?!?! Oh boy.

You can either mentally cover your ears, by just nodding and saying that all sounds interesting and they should definitely contact your office about that or you can trample upon their fragile dreams and be honest, telling them you wouldn’t urinate on their startup idea if it was on fire. In fact you’d rather pay them not to do it, just so they don’t waste their and humanity’s time.

What they say:

“Uh huh. That sounds interesting.”

What they really mean:

“As business ideas go, yours appears to have been repeatedly bludgeoned by a big stick of stupidity. While you were talking that nonsense, you just died. Right here in front of me. You’re now dead to me. Your tweets I will ignore. Your emails I will spam. Your calls I will not answer. Dead.”

#4 The Media


The startup media is a little different to the normal media. On the one hand they have more power, since they often make or break entire companies (or at least get them to their next funding round). On the other, they are still largely dependent on advertising, so they have to go where the hits are.

So any romanticised view of the media as noble truth-hunters, out there discovering stories and filtering the internet’s signal from its noise quickly evaporates when you see what they really have to cover, which is not that super-interesting new technology they probably really would like to spend time researching and understanding, but instead, another boring copy paste churn we-got-funded article, or the latest tedious piece of minutia from camp Apple or Facebook, written quickly while dodging the deluge of daily PR spam thrown in their direction, from an inbox stacked up like the tense finale of a giant game of Hyperbole We’re The Next Big Thing Jenga.

As a result, journalists in the startup world, at least in my experience, usually have an end goal and this job is a stepping stone to it, whether it be writing books, traditional journalism, organising conferences or if they’re particularly unoriginal – creating their own startup. This job is an elaborate network-building exercise.

In that sense, learning to pitch the startup media is great practice for pitching potential customers. If you can make them care, if you can create a story so compelling they’ll drop everything to cover it, you’ll know the same kind of emotional hooks and messaging that will work on prospective customers.

What they say:

“Send me over the details, maybe we can cover it.”

What they really mean:

“You got a scoop for me, kid? Stick with me, you and I, together we’ll own this town. They’ll love you here, kid. Just love you. Now what you got for me? Give me something with a little juice. Oh that’s good. Mark Zuckerberg’s high school girlfriend, you say? That’s gold, kid… Right, now scram. You still here? Vamoose! We’re done and I got me tweeting to do.”

# 5 The Founder


If founders were ice cream, they’d only come in two flavours – inspiring and ass-hat. The inspiring kind ask questions, listen as much as they speak, seem genuinely interested and experienced in a wide variety of disciplines and want to use their one brain to make the world just that little bit better. They’ll radiate natural curiosity.

To the ass-hat kind you’ll not be an equal partner in the conversation, but a fortunate VIP guest in an intimate audience with them. They’ll have a magical gift for derailing any conversation, however unrelated, back to their startup. They may as well be carrying a giant inflatable mallet with their company’s logo emblazoned upon it, and when you try to talk about something else, they just interrupt you mid-sentence with a whack to forehead and with you momentarily dazed, they can reassert their dominance on the conversation and its main topic – them and their startup.

Which they’ll remind you, is seeing significant traction. For them, the meetup is often very transactional. They come there to network with a particular goal in mind. So you see them working the room doing a kind of business-card jiggle: introduce, handshake, pitch, excuse to leave, card, promises of future contact, next person. Rinse and repeat. You are your network. Expand and connect.

There is about a 76 per cent chance they’re looking for either funding or a CTO who does Rails. If they only made fleeting eye contact with you, worry not, it’s not a medical condition, it’s just that they’re looking to see if there’s someone more important nearby.

What they say:

“We’re seeing significant traction.”

What they really mean:

“My mother has been very enthusiastic.”

The illustrations from this article are available as a poster over at the Hipstery’s webstore.

For related posts, check out:

“That sounds pretty stupid to me” – why chats with my 80-year-old grandma are the best antidote to tech hype
Don’t drink the startup Kool-Aid – just find a problem and try to solve it