Almost Famous

After Redfin’s layoff last week, the CEO of a startup down the street emailed to say “at least we’re not public!”

Which made me wonder how private we really are. You can hide from the Wall Street Journal but not from the hundreds of tech and real estate blogs that covered Redfin last week. One big difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is that this time, the meltdown will be blogged.

That kind of attention can lead startups to dither like publicly traded companies before making hard decisions. And it has prompted some startups to turn against blogs just for covering the news.Philipp Klinger

Connections with Other Little Companies, Everywhere
But Redfin has no complaints. Blogs brought us our first customers and our best ideas. Most important for the lonely types who tend to go off on their own to make software, blogs connected us to other little companies everywhere.

Sure, eWeek or CNET covered startups before, but it was blogs like TechCrunch and GigaOM – with their fits of idealism and jadedness, of accessibility and remoteness, of cleverness and heart, their sense of “we” and “they” — that first made us feel cool.

When Redfin announced our layoffs, we expected all that to turn against us. But there was only empathy for the company and, most important, for the people who had to leave the company.

To all the folks who blogged or commented on our setback, thanks for your even-handedness. Redfinners past and present have never needed your support more, or expected it less.

The End of Cool
The only thing that we lost in having blogs write about our troubles is our cool: the cool of startups that never struggle, that show up on all the “hot” lists, that always seem to be having a ball, that don’t have a care in the world.

That’s ok. Startups haven’t always tried to be cool. Today, the blogosphere has created its own celebrities, mixing Michael Arrington with Ashton Kutcher, MySpace with Paris Hilton.

But my first startup job was about as far from cool as you could get, a reunion of all the people at the desolate end of the high-school cafeteria. We rented U-Hauls to drive our own pop-up booth to a trade-show. At big client meetings, we wore debate-tournament-era suits.

Even starting a company that went public was never really cool in the way it’s usually portrayed: it meant walking through rivers of my friends’ blood, and working on silly little things all night, and caring too much, and becoming a jerk and becoming humble again, and it meant joy that arrives without your noticing it, and love and above all things — not a flash of brilliance or a dramatic strategic decision — endurance.

And that is the one trait that characterizes Redfin, endurance. This was a business run out of an apartment, by people working for free. We created a real service when it was fashionable to be all virtual. We have changed the game rather than play the game. And now we offer a service so valuable to so many people – and so much better than what they have come to expect — that I believe we will always endure.

The Only True Currency
It seems like the blogs — which are typically written by compulsive people late at night in their bedrooms, for reasons they can barely explain — are best equipped to understand what we are going through: setbacks and endurance, passion and hardship, being cool and not being cool, working for love and scrapping for money.

As Lester Bangs explains in “Almost Famous,” the “only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” This impulse is what drives blogs and startups alike. That bloggers have reached out to us now, when we have never felt less cool, is the truest currency there could be between us.

(Photocredit: Philipp Klinger on Flickr)

Discussion

  • JanelleS

    “Redfinners past and present have never needed your support more, or expected it less.”

    Amen.

  • common1sense

    What the heck do you mean, walking through rivers of your friends blood?

  • http://blog.redfin.com/blog/author/glenn%20kelman Glenn Kelman

    Only that Plumtree had layoffs too, which affected folks who had become my friends.

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    In the Wall Street people suffer lot of losses in some weeks.

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