15. March 2012–
Whether you think Milo Yiannopoulos’ recent outpourings on European startup scene in the Kernel are thought-provoking insights into differing cultural approaches to capitalism or, like me, you consider them to be part of a baldly engineered controversy piece, created to gain cross-channel infamy – there’s no denying they worked. So here it goes: We took the bait.
I know I should simply give him the credence he deserves and concentrate on reporting on one of the most interesting, diverse and exciting startup scenes in Europe, but it’s for that very reason that I have to defend it and the values that I see it standing for.
Supposedly penned as a response to Rob Cox’s balanced and thoughtful piece on the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley’s self-appointed morality, Yiannopoulos uses this as a shaky jump-off point to lay into European startups.
I’d rather be a socialist pussy than an amoral right-winger
European startups are branded “pussies”; “lily-livered pansies” that merely “pay lip service to the Valley’s hungry culture of ambition”. The Samwer brothers singled out from this ridiculous (and very quotable) name-calling, presented as a beacon of “hope and an inspiration”, to be “worshipped, not derided”.
The crux of his argument is that Europe is shackled by, alternately, manners and a “socialist” history. That we’re “hampered by virtue” and are not willing to blithely hop on the bus of ripping off personal data or developing a “fuck-you attitude to the law”.
It’s interesting that Yiannopoulos should equate socialism with virtue and moral thinking and those virtues as opposed to success in business, but he’s absolutely right – on the whole, European startups are a different, perhaps more moral breed. If that makes them less “hungry” – if that hunger means (as it does to Milo) profit-crazed douchebaggery, that is A Good Thing.
I don’t know if he’s noticed, but the recent, let's call them global financial hiccups have largely been caused by just this wanton and unchecked profit-chasing. And to praise the “audacity” of Facebook’s privacy infractions is simply disingenuous. EU law is far from a hindrance – it serves a politically active and digitally savvy populous that cares who doles out its digital information rather than the corporate giants favoured in US law.
Yiannopoulos also admits his remarks are generalisations and the exceptions in his own piece are plentiful – Rovio, Soundcloud, Moshi Monsters, Wonga, any European companies with San Francisco offices, as well as companies of mysterious “friends” whose successes may, perplexingly, not be mentioned (surely an expression of the very European genteelness Yiannopoulos purports to be disgusted by).
Can capitalism have a heart?
From what I’ve witnessed here (first-hand), there’s absolutely no shortage of ambition, drive and creativity in Berlin (where I will limit my comments to). I’ve also seen a new breed of collaborative capitalists – maybe because startups start leaner here, perhaps because of that dirty socialist history, perhaps because the scene is still nascent, but I’ve seen companies that have, well... soul.
Companies such as Soundcloud, EyeEm, Gidsy, and 6Wunderkinder are key players in sharing not shafting and from growing a user base from savvy grass-roots campaigns rather than nicking personal data or providing an internet addiction.
The Samwer brothers – the inspiration of Europe?
But I guess the thought of this makes Milo shudder. He’s rather reserve his adulation for the ruthless copycat model of the Samwer Brothers. Having previously described Oli Samwer as “irresistibly sexy”, he describes here the brothers’ model of copying websites as a source of inspiration.
Audacious, yes; ruthless, definitely; sexy... OK, perhaps, if I’m feeling freaky, but inspiring - the Samwers most definitely ain’t. Saying you’re inspired by the Samwers is like saying you’re turned on by the Krankies. Their model is a poster-child for the kind of dead-eyed profiteering that the Berlin scene is desperate to distance itself from (the Samwers', not The Krankies').
The air in Berlin is electric with possibility right now – every week I come into contact with startups with vast reserves of hunger, ambition and drive to back some awesome ideas. They’re just not dicks. Our new breed of capitalists has plenty of fire in their bellies, but also, thankfully, some warmth in their hearts.