Why Are Tech Founders Such Assholes?

Illustration for article titled Why Are Tech Founders Such Assholes?

In the past couple of weeks, the co-founders of Microsoft and Twitter have been attached to the same kinds of unsavory stories that have long dogged the people behind Facebook, Apple, Zynga and other top tech firms. What is it about computers and money that instills villainy?

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As Tom Foremski at Silicon Valley Watcher has noticed, it seems like there's been a spate of news about ethics-challenged startup founders lately. Paul Allen says in his new book that fellow Microsoft founder Bill Gates twice watered down Allen's stake in Microsoft—with Allen's consent but to his later regret—before later discussing with current CEO Steve Ballmer ways to dilute him further after Allen took a leave of absence for cancer treatment and his productivity dropped. The "spiritual leader" of Twitter and man who coined the company's name, meanwhile, still feels betrayed that he was fired by eventual Twitter CEO Ev Williams after Williams took a stronger interest in the microblogging service that Glass had been instrumental in developing and had championed from the beginning. Williams also left a bitter trail of colleagues at Blogger.com, the company he co-founded and later sold to Google.

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That's not to say either man is a lifelong asshole; Gates, for example, has given more than $28 billion to charity. Nor are angry former coworkers always trustworthy sources of information. But judging from the preponderance of stories circulating out there, it sure looks like tech founders collectively tend to act like jerks as they build their fortunes.

Take Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has admitted to sending instant messages in which he wrote "I'm going to fuck them" in reference to associates with whom he was collaborating on a Facebook-like website. Or the emails that revealed that he'd referred to Facebook users as "dumb fucks." Then there's Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, who once admitted, before some of his scammy advertising partners were publicized, that "I did every horrible thing in the book to — just to get revenues right away."

And then there was the time, which is now part of Silicon Valley legend, when Steve Jobs misled his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak about the size of a bonus the pair received from Atari, giving him only $350 and keeping $5,000 for himself.

"My hope is that the next generation of young entrepreneurs can tell the difference [between right and wrong] and will choose to build ethical businesses," Foremski writes. Sadly, the biggest, shiniest, most profitable example of a young startup right now—Facebook—has one of the most checkered ethical histories of all. Recent charitable gifts notwithstanding, Facebook's history may prove to be inspiring in all the wrong ways.

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[Photos (from l. to r.) of Zuckerbrg, Gates, and Williams via Getty]

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DISCUSSION

Hmm, I'll never cease to be surprised by the cynicism people can display . You don't always have to be a butt-hole to get things done. Whoever told you that was lying, and if that's what life has taught you, then I suggest you give people another shot. It's just, understandably, usually a good deal harder to get things done without being a jerk. But again, by no means impossible.

Someone in a previous post said donating $28 BILLION dollars to charity doesn't make up for being a jerk, which I think is ridiculous, because that money probably means thousands of lives saved, perhaps millions if you take into account future repurcussions. Yes you can go into the negative repurcussions of enterprise and blah blah, but I highly doubt whatever negative impact gates' choices might've had would supercede what he's done since. Not to mention the dude never goes into the spotlight and could be making a lot more money if he wanted to.

Keep in mind that a lot of these people behaved as they did during a young stage of their lives when their personality hasn't even been concreted and they are just being thrown into the so-called "real-world". I personally wouldn't qualify having some butt-hole moments as making them jerks on the whole. Furthemore, these instances of gluteal-holiness tend to be exacerbated in the minds of the populace by the fact that they were dealing with a company that is now huge(whereas it might not have been before). "Regular" people do things of similar relative caliber on a daily basis.

I do think Google's founders on the whole represents a pretty strong counter-example to these in the article(which I don't think all belong there anyway).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I believe we needn't be jerks to be successful in business, it's just the harder way to go about things. If we get caught up with the idea that hurting others is absolutely necessary for our own success, then of course that's what we're going to end up doing.That's not to say some people won't get the short end of the stick sometime, but I think the key thing is one should try to minimize damages to others as much as possible. Although obviously I'm not in such a position to talk, yet.

I'll let you know how things go when the startup my colleagues and I are working on is up and running. If we are successful, I hope it can be without proving tobe jerks.