In this week’s edition of “Rich Tech Start-up Founders Behaving Badly,” enter 1) Peter Shih 2) a micro-blogging site and 3) a really bad idea. Shih, who co-founded Celery, a well-funded payments start-up, decided to take to his Medium page with a Top 10 list of what he dislikes about San Francisco, where he moved from New York at the request of his backers. Among his pet peeves in the City by the Bay: the public transit system, the weather, homeless people, cyclists, and women who don’t measure up to his standards of pulchritude. (Shih eventually deleted the expletive-laden post, but it is viewable here.)
All in derisive fun, Shih claimed, but San Franciscans didn’t see it that way. They unleashed a Shih-storm of criticism at the startup “bro,” who managed to showcase in his listicle just about every abhorrent stereotype of the Silicon Valley parvenu – bratty, entitled, self-involved, and tone-deaf.
To Shih, the blowback hit below the money belt, with attacks aimed also at his start-up. “Hate all you want,” he wrote in his first attempt at damage control. “But please stop bringing my company into this.” His proper mea culpa came over the weekend. Contrite to a fault, it did little to quell the ire, reading as if the prevailing cooler head was someone other than Shih himself.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Peter Shih, for running his mouth like a high schooler on the playground, not an entrepreneur with a business he’d like to see succeed.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sarcasm rarely fits a business model. And when that business is your start-up, forget that you ever had an identity of your own. Shih embarrassingly lost sight of these two imperatives, as well as a third (at least): Have a good idea? Run it by someone. A brainstorm? Run it by three. And please, if you want to write something that shows you’re funny, do it on a napkin and put it in your pocket. Shih proved once again that 1) PR advisers and 2) grown-ups belong on the Top 10 list of “Things a Start-up Needs.”