Peter Shih And When Keeping It Real Goes Horribly, Unspeakably Wrong
Fact: San Francisco summer weather is terrible. It can ruin your day, but it’s your choice to let it ruin your life.
At the risk of piling on, Celery founder Peter Shih probably wishes he had published his now-infamous blog post “10 Things I Hate About You; San Francisco Edition,” to Snapchat instead of ascendant content platform Medium. The controversy created is not likely to go away anytime soon and it’s going to do terrible things to his personal brand and startup.
In a tin-eared, mysoginistic and self-entitled blog post, Shih decried San Francisco’s well-known “June gloom,” bicycle riders, the homeless, and made enough enemies to create a perfect firestorm of controversy.
Perhaps if he’d just left the beloved San Francisco 49ers alone, this whole thing would have passed unnoticed.
No, not all press is good press
We all have bad days. Startup life is often about moving from one bad day to the to the next in pursuit of a dream. And in these situations it’s vital to have an advisor or a close friend who can listen to you vent. Airing your grievances on social media can ruin your business and take down your friends, cofounders and team with blinding speed.
The main problem with Shih’s blog post from a startup public relations standpoint is that it serves no larger purpose. Worse yet, there’s a whole industry that thrives on the malevolence and ill-will directed at startups and the human failings of their founders. There would be no ValleyWag and no BetaBeat without it. Don’t feed the monster.
Be authentic, but don’t be stupid
Authenticity is at the root of startup public relations. But there are always limits.
You’re entitled to your opinion but remember that as a founder you’re speaking for yourself and your company. The two are one and the same. Founder Jesse Thomas torpedoed a formidable brand when he posted embarrassing video of AlphaBoost founder Matt Monahan blackout drunk from the official JESS3 Twitter account during a Geeks On A Plane trip to India with 500 Startups. While Thomas’ antics were already well-known within certain circles, he lit the the match that sent his content production house up in flames.
How to keep it real
I personally encourage founders I’m bloggers to court some level of controversy in order to stand out. It’s good to pick the large enemy
Bigger than you already are. But choose your enemies wisely. You can’t pick a fight with San Francisco and win. For a lesson on how to write about San Francisco, take a lesson from my friend and Startup Edition collaborator Jason Evanish.
If I were one of Peter Shih’s investor I would advise him to stay off social media, double down on the product, and make something useful. Usually it’s better to be hated than to be ignored. It’s far better when your competitors hate you because you’re going to steal their marketshare. This whole incident is none of those things.
A ray of sunshine(?)
Bad press doesn’t last forever. Some of us never get our 15 minutes of fame. Others get it for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately for Peter Shih we have short attention spans, and the snarkforce is already running to the site of the next burning building. But the damage is done.