This post will probably rub a lot of people the wrong way. I don’t really care, because it needs to be said.
There is way too much celebration of mediocrity and non achievement in Hawaii’s tech entrepreneur scene. There are also too many (not all, but too many) frauds who have no idea what they are doing very vocally leading the charge. I get it, people have egos that need protecting but this isn’t high school or college. This is the real world. This is business, not fantasy startup land where everything comes easy and everything always works out. Here are my three biggest beefs (I have a lot of them, but I’ll spare you).
I’ve seen it over and over again, people get “acquired” and the local media writes all about that shit. If you’ve ever run a real business for any substantial amount of time and take even just a few minutes to investigate the details, you can read between the lines and see the truth. These companies failed and are being bailed out by someone who doesn’t understand what is really going on or feels sorry for them. They are buying toxic assets. Maybe the media doesn’t understand? More likely they don’t care and are fine with rehashing press releases that sound cool.
Failure is part of business. 90% of businesses fail so I’m not condemning failure itself. I’ve personally failed a ton. But every time I did fail, I never expected anybody to tell me “Good job!” or “Congratulations!”. This congratulatory attitude towards failure is toxic and it is absolutely the LAST thing we need here if we want to build a sustainable ecosystem. You seed false hopes into future would be entrepreneurs and even worse, you set a standard of masqueraded failure as acceptable or even praise worthy.
I’ve written a whole post about it before, but it wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. This time, I’m fire shots. Most tech investors / angels / VCs in Hawaii (the ones who are investing in Hawaii companies anyway) have absolutely no idea what they are doing. And it PAINS me, because these people are literally throwing money away. literally. And most of the time, it’s not even their money!
The facts are, 99% of funded startups fail (maybe this is why everybody celebrates the acqui-hire / bailout). The few that make it usually have a stacked deck in their favor. Yet for some reason people here that more funding is the answer.
Here the only investment in Hawaii that would make sense to me, and its not rocket surgery.
1. A company that is already showing major (and I mean major) traction pre angel round. They already have something built and running before asking for money. Their product / service has so much traction that their costs to operate (servers, apis, etc) are on the verge of killing them. I don’t understand why this isn’t common sense.
2. In the round of funding there are other legitimate investors who can leverage their connections to aid a startup with the areas they need the most help. Not an entire round of dumb money.
3. This help should be majority connections and introductions and deal making to scale growth / profitability and movement into other verticals or markets. Investors should always offer more than money.
I do not see this shit happening with the tech startups in Hawaii. Instead I see people who have such a poor grasp of where the world is going investing in the things they can understand. Which by the way all happens to be things rooted in the past.
The “entrepreneurs” are to blame as well. I see a perpetuation of the plantation mentality that people here have blamed for generations. Waiting for someone to give them approval to build their business. “We can’t build our company because we can’t get funding…” “I need to find a technical co-founder”. If these things truly stop you from building your business, good, you’re not cut out for this line of work anyway.
For the ones who do get funding, congratulations, you made it to the starting line of the marathon. Now run! Funding gets you to the STARTING LINE. Why don’t people realize this. Getting funding means the real work is now to begin. Stop celebrating! Get to work!
To me this shows what the real problem is here, it’s not a lack of funding or opportunity, its a lack of real entrepreneurs in the tech sector (we have them in the tourism industry). There are a few that I have met that I think have built / can build real companies, but they are few and far between and most of them are bootstrappers like me and don’t issue press releases because they’re too busy serving their customers.
If we’re to truly build a sustainable tech / startup ecosystem in Hawaii, we need to be honest; publicly but more so with ourselves. Everyone, the entrepreneurs and the investors. We need to stop seeking out approval (funding) to build businesses. We need to stop celebrating failure. We need to stop being dumb with other people’s money. Show entrepreneurship for what it really is.
Entrepreneurship is not cool. It is hard and shitty a lot of the time. If you really want to do this, be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your life, your time, your friends, your ego, your pride. It’s not for the weak willed. But for those who seek it, it’s the truest form of self expression available. Then maybe we’ll have the right people come out to grow this thing.