I’ve spent the past three days in Omaha, Nebraska at the Big Omaha conference. It’s undoubtedly the premiere conference in the US when it comes to entrepreneurship. I was excited by the speaker lineup this year, as I am every year, but pleasantly surprised to see that 500 Startups' Dave McClure would be taking to the stage.
Here’s the thing – Dave has a potty mouth. We all know this. Omaha knew this before he took to the stage, and he even forewarned people both verbally and in his slides that he would likely use language that some people would deem to be offensive. Before he got deeply into his presentation, he gave people the opportunity to leave. I say this not to excuse his choice of words, or his actions, but rather to set the stage.
Dave was talking about how things aren’t quite as good as they could be, and giving examples of ways that industries could be easily changed. In one such example, in which he was interacting with a member of the audience, they were talking about the iPhone. The audience member was defending its place as a wonderful piece of technology that didn’t suck, and Dave was looking for the reason that it did, which ended up being battery life.
She responded that the battery life didn’t suck, to which Dave quickly shot back with the statement of “you’re a lying b***h.”
Suffice it to say, especially when addressing a female, his choice of words didn’t go over well. Valleywag picked up the story, and I won’t link it because it’s trash. Twitter in general wasn’t too happy with Dave, and the 700+, very active Twitter users at the conference made no bones about expressing their displeasure.
Dave had made a terrible decision.
But later in the day, I saw some people express disgust that he didn’t face the same ridicule that Adria Richards enacted against a developer when she went on her manhunt against an attendee at PyCon.
This confused me. Primarily because Dave, after leaving the stage, immediately began the process of doing the right things – He apologized publicly, using the hashtag, to make sure that it was in the stream. He apologized directly to the attendee to which his ill-chosen words were directed, and he spent the good part of the rest of his day talking with people about how he can better communicate without being offensive.
But you won’t hear about that in Valleywag or from the diarrhea masses on Twitter because the vast majority of them weren’t there. They’re all speaking about an event that happened that they only heard about in the third-person. But that won’t stop them from trying to be a pundit, because it’s the disgusting nature of how the Twitterati work. Real, live humans were involved in something today that will change the way that they see things, how they interact and how they view one another. You can’t comment on that, with any sort of authority, unless you were there to experience it yourself.
Dave did something incredibly stupid today, and he paid for it immediately. I also believe that he, quite fortunately, learned a very important lesson today when it comes to choosing the words that you use. While vulgarity may be his method of operation, there’s a point at which it can become directly insulting, and I have a feeling that he’ll stay far away from that line in the future.
I won’t defend Dave’s actions, because I think that he was completely in the wrong for what he did. But to compare this situation to that of Adria Richards is to invoke stupidity beyond words. At no point did the person to whom Dave’s words were directed attempt to have him removed from the conference, and at no point was Dave in danger of jeopardizing any company except for his own. No witch hunt was enacted, and it took a matter of minutes instead of days for the (admittedly foolish, needless) insult to begin to be rectified.
Words have power to them, and that power can build or break. Today, Dave McClure had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…and he deserved it. I desperately hope that we, as the entrepreneurial community, will bear in mind the forces that can be driven by the words that we say, and that we can use those words to build one another up at every turn. As someone who works tirelessly toward bettering the world for startups and entrepreneurs, I hope that Dave will grow from this and understand what happened today in a light that he might otherwise not have seen.
P. S. – The title is in reference to an amazing book, which you should read.