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初创公司配对仪式入门

Chadwick Matlin 2011年04月21日

在演示日,初创公司把自己卖给风险资本家。本文对这个不可思议的仪式化世界进行了人类学技术研究。

    随着越来越多的人从初创公司中寻求财富和自由,新的看门人梯队出现了。他们被称为“孵化器”,而获得他们的认可等同于大学文凭。就像是从哈佛大学(Harvard)或麻省理工学院(MIT)获得了学位,美国较为成功的孵化器公司TechStars的联合创始人戴维•科恩如是说。

    通过出让公司6%的股份,初创公司获得了一位投资人,在初创公司群体中较高的可信度以及与其他艰难前行的创业者交流的机会。与此同时,孵化器公司为一定数量的创业者提供指导,有可能地话,将其转变为成功的业务。经过几个月的准备,指导者和创始人就可以召集成百上千的人,向业界正式推出该公司。

    惯用技术术语的人们给这种不可思议的仪式取了一个名称,叫演示日。这是一套高度结构化和仪式化的传统,有固定的模式、语言和体系。经过数月的与世隔绝、不眠之夜和马拉松式的编码过程,年轻的初创者展示他们已经成熟的时间终于到来了。

    每个初创公司都安排一名创始人上台,伴随着的是他/她雇员的尖叫声。听众都礼貌地鼓掌。随后,通常是在急促的声音下,表演开始了。创办人需要在给定的时间内(TechStars是8分钟)阐明为何其公司值得被推升到更高的等级,为何这是一家应获得一轮风险投资的初创公司。

    上周四,TechStarsNY的组织者允许我进入一次演示日,同750名风险投资人、企业家和媒体朋友共同见证了这个过程。我发现这是一个恪守详细流程的群体。似乎个性只能在认同的参数内表达。我的现场笔记列出了这些参数:

    THE DECK: 所有演讲都发生于幻灯片幕布前,有些还提供简短视频。为何一组幻灯片被称为“deck(一副)“已不可考。但须知纸牌也是一副副的。觉察到这与赌博间的类似之处,并非全然荒谬。

    行业用语: 整个会场充斥了业界用语。奢侈时尚品拍卖网站ToVieFor早已“实现了相当的行业融入”。“人们是世界上最好的平台,”初创公司 Friendslist如是说;该公司已打造了一个Facebook时代的Craigslist。而Nestio计划“颠覆房地产行业”。似乎房地产泡沫还不够颠覆的。

    口号: 显然担心年长听众对每家公司的记忆可能都不会超过几个字,初创公司备好了易记的口号。Red Rover是一个“P2P学习平台”。拥有Migration Box意味着“你无须丢弃数据”。平板电脑设计模板和广告网络OnSwipe的口号更像是一句牢骚话:“应用软件是胡扯”。

    问题: 几乎所有的演讲都以需要解决的问题开头。Crowdtwist不满于品牌无法跟踪哪些人是忠实品牌用户以及他们在什么“平台”上。Immersive Labs认为数字广告牌在针对受众调整播放广告时还不够好。ThinkNear代零售商希望将优惠券使用至极致。许多抱怨就是被视为问题的市场低效之处。不管我们怎么称呼它们,他们几乎总是试图解决第一世界的问题。

    解决方案: 初创公司是解决方案。

    演示: 演讲者并不期待你会欣然接受他们的解决方案。他们希望证明给你看。他们不会进行真正的实例演示——这些将保留给那些知名或受欢迎的企业家,如史蒂夫•乔布斯。事实上,在The Deck中他们会给你展示产品运行录像。这是一项狡猾的策略——迫使观众中的一些人稍后亲自试验产品,并且减少了因为发生“哎呀,出问题了”这种尴尬局面,从而把整个演示搞砸的可能性。

    商业: 对于房间里的每个人来说,钱就是钱。因此,出于对听众的尊重,演讲者们都试图回答如何赚钱的问题,这个问题也是初创公司的试金石。将个人社交圈中正在分享的所有视频集中于一地的Shelby.tv计划让品牌孵化自己的频道。以Red Rover为例,早已赚了160万美元,证明其模式——为其他公司整合其内部社会知识网络而收费——是可行的。

    融资请求: 接下来就到了融资金额问题。半是谦卑、半是激动的演讲者们披露希望募集的资金数量。几乎所有的初创公司都已部分筹得资金,这种方式就好像咖啡师先往小费罐里放一些钱,让其他人觉得不好意思不掏钱。当投资者听到数字——有些是几十万美元,有的是100多万美元——他们的默认反应是无反应。

    提示: 接着再回到一开始,打出一张带有公司标识、口号的幻灯片——以防观众已忘记了演讲者希望他们不要忘记的片断——幻灯片上还有创始人的电子邮箱。

    随着所有这些完成,叫好声和有节制的鼓掌声回到了室内。既然11家初创公司都已进行演示,他们很快将必须找到自己的办公空间,走出TechStarsNY总部的临时办公地点,为新的初创公司腾地方。但那是后话。现在,一些创始人得知他们将获得投资,而其他创始人正在重新组团、准备新一季推介。但所有人都已走下讲台,走入投资者中间,而投资者可能拒绝他们,也可能看好他们。在那里他们执行一套完全不同的仪式。他们称之为“商业拓展”。但人类学家或许将其视为“配对”。

    As more people have fled to the startup community for the promise of wealth and freedom, a new tier of gatekeepers have emerged. They're called "incubators," and their imprimatur is tantamount to a college degree. It's like getting a degree from Harvard or MIT, explains David Cohen, the co-founder of TechStars, one of the more successful incubators in the country.

    By ceding 6% of their company, startups get an investor, credibility in the startup community, and communion with other founders who are going through the same masochistic slog as they are. The incubators, meanwhile, get a set number of entrepreneurs to mentor and perhaps turn into successful businesses. After a few months of grooming, mentor and founder can then summon hundreds of people to watch their company's official introduction to society.

    Techno-types have a name for this strange ritual: Demo Day. It's a highly structured and ritualized tradition with a set form, language, and hierarchy. The routine is universal: After months of isolation, sleepless nights, and marathon coding sessions, the time finally arrives for the young startups to reemerge and show how they've matured.

    Each startup sends one founder to the stage to wild screams from his or her (and there are some hers!) fellow recruits. The audience applauds politely. And then, usually with a rushed voice, the performance begins. The founders have a set period of time, eight minutes in TechStars' case, during which they will argue that they deserve a promotion to a higher status, that they deserve to be a startup that has raised a round of venture capital.

    On Thursday the organizers at TechStarsNY allowed me to infiltrate a Demo Day and observe this ritual in the wild, along with 750 venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and members of the media. What I found was a community that is committed to a very defined script. Individuality, it seems, can only be expressed within agreed-upon parameters. My field notes indicate those parameters are as follows:

    THE DECK: All presentations happen in front of a screen of slides and, in some cases, short videos. How a collection of slides came to be known as a "deck" is a story lost to history. Note, however, that playing cards come in a deck, too. It would not be unreasonable to note the latent parallels to gambling.

    THE TECHSPEAK: Throughout, the community's idiomatic language is on display. ToVieFor, an auction site for luxury fashion, has already "achieved significant industry buy-in." "People are the best platform in the world," says Friendslist, a startup that has built what Craigslist would be like if it were created in the Facebook era. And Nestio plans to "dramatically disrupt the real estate industry." As though the housing bubble wasn't enough.

    THE TAGLINE: Apparently concerned that the elders in the audience won't be able to remember more than a few words about each company, the startups come prepared with catchy slogans. Red Rover is a "Peer-to-peer learning platform" Having Migration Box means "You don't have to leave your data behind." OnSwipe, a design template and ad network for tablets, had more of a cri de coeur than a tagline: "Apps are bullshit."

    THE PROBLEM: Nearly all of the presentations begin with an argument that something needs to be fixed. Crowdtwist is concerned that brands can't keep track of who's engaging with the brands and on what "platforms." Immersive Labs is distraught that digital billboards aren't nearly good enough at adjusting their ads to the audience that's looking at them. ThinkNearis frustrated on behalf of the retailers who can't use group coupons to their full effect. Many of these laments are simply market inefficiencies that are perceived as problems. Whatever we refer to them as, they almost always try to solve definitively first-world issues

    THE SOLUTION: The startup is the solution.

    THE DEMO: The presenters do not expect you to simply accept that they are The Solution. They intend to prove it to you. They will do this not through an actual live demonstration -- this is reserved only for entrepreneurs who are known and beloved by all of society, like Steve Jobs. Instead they will show you recordings of the product in action as part of The Deck. It's a cunning strategy -- it forces those in the audience to engage with the product on their own later on, and eliminates the chances of "oops, that wasn't supposed to happen" glitches overshadowing their vision.

    THE BUSINESS: For everyone in the room, currency is the currency. So as a gesture of respect to their audience, the presenters attempt to answer the question that they'll all ultimately be judged by: how they plan to make money. Shelby.tv, which pulls all the videos your social network is sharing into one place, plans to let brands curate their own channels. Red Rover, for example, has already made $1.6 million, proof that its model -- charging companies to integrate their in-house social knowledge network -- works.

    THE ASK: And now comes the supplication. The presenters, with equal parts humility and thrill, reveal how much money they're seeking to raise. Nearly all of them have already raised part of it, the way baristas seed the tip jar to guilt others into ponying up. When investors hear the number -- hundreds of thousands of dollars for some, over a million for others -- their default reaction is to not react.

    THE REMINDER: And now we're back to where we began, with a slide that has the logo, The Tagline -- in case the audience has forgotten the snippet that was created for them not to forget -- and the founder's email address.

    With all of this completed, huzzahs from the balcony and reserved applause from the floor return to the auditorium. Now that the eleven startups have presented, they'll soon have to find their own office space, kicked out of the liminal one inside TechStarsNY's headquarters to make room for a new crop. But that's later. For now, some founders are learning they are among the funded, while others are regrouping for a longer season of pitching. But all are off stage and downstairs, mingling with the investors who either spurned or favored them. There they are engaged in an entirely different ritual. They call it "biz dev." But an anthropologist might recognize it as mating.

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