Techstars on TV – Hit or Miss?

Like many members of the start-up ecosystem, I was excited to watch the Bloomberg TV show on Techstars NY last night.  The opportunity to see our little subculture of whacky characters and idiosyncrasies playing out on television was so alluring that it was worth foregoing my usual nightly email binge.

Yet, when the show was over, I was strangely disappointed.  I had that same feeling you get when you eat a bag of potato chips, which taste good going down, but then feels unfulfilling and unappealing after the last chip is gone.  In short, I think the show was a huge wasted opportunity.

First, I should say that I’m a huge fan and supporter of Techstars.  My partners and I are personal financial investors in Techstars Boston and we funded one of the first Techstars companies (oneforty) and have served as advisors to countless others in NYC and Boston.  Finally, I am a huge fan of David Tisch, Katie Rae and the other Techstars managing directors.  What they have created from nothing a few years ago, with the backing and support of Brad Feld and David Cohen, is nothing short of remarkable.

OK, caveats aside, here’s what I didn’t like about the show:  the tone was all wrong.  The edgy graphics, music and camera shots tried to bring a crass, reality TV feel to a serious and sophisticated business.  The producers apparently wanted to create something akin to “the Bachelor metes The Apprentice” and, in doing, cheapened the whole endeavor.  Get rich quick, kids, was the message, complete with hip sound track, sound bites and quirky camera angles.

I would submit that’s not the point of entrepreneurship or, for that matter, Techstars.  I would have much preferred to see a more sophisticated show that brought out the “change the world” passions of the founders and provided a more nuanced view of the ups and downs of start-up life.  I wanted to see more big picture thinking, for example an explanation about the game-changing (and, in many cases, life changing) impact start-ups are having in our society, transforming industries and households up and down the economic stack.  

I’m not suggesting Bloomberg should try to emulate their own Charlie Rose, and risk putting the audience to sleep, but at least channel a bit of Jon Stewart (who, Bill Moyers recently put, is brilliant at taking “a critical view of the news and marinating it in humor”).  I would have much preferred to see the producers treat the audience like adults, able to digest serious issues and trade off decisions that the founders were struggling with, rather than target hipsters that are looking for dramatic founder break-ups because they’re too busy to watch mid-day soaps. 

Perhaps the start-up community needs a Jon Stewart-like figure to act as our guide through the Techstars process – more of an shrewd yet entertaining narrator than an MTV host.  Some of the quick-hit interviewees on the pilot show would be great candidates for this (e.g., Fred Wilson, Roger Ehrenberg, Brad Feld).  Start-up life has plenty of drama that doesn’t need fabrication or exaggeration.  Hard problems are being faced by each team professionally and personally.  The characters in most start-up dramas are fascinating people, with compelling stories – I know many of the folks depicted in the show and they are deserving of more than surface treatment, but rather real character development and dimensionality.

Sure, I enjoyed seeing so many friends and familiar faces on screen and seeing “my world” exposed to a broader audience.  But, objectively, I thought the actual show kind of stunk.  That said, I’ll be tuning in to the second episode.  And hoping for the best.

14 thoughts on “Techstars on TV – Hit or Miss?

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for the good points. I’ve watch the first 2 episodes.
    I don’t like the focus of the program right now. The “drama tailored for TV entertainment” sucks. And, I hate that there’s so much cussing (albeit beeped out), which, I’d say, cheapen the motive of the show.
    I hope that they will introduce some changes in the upcoming episodes. I hope that I won’t be watching Biggest Losers when I watch TechStars.
    TechStars rocks! And I will continue to watch!


  2. I’m glad I came across this post. I’m a tech entrepreneur working on a startup that exploits internet connected televisions for lead capture.
    With much techie startup hubris I tried shooting a pilot that would use our iTV platform myself. Total fail, but I learned a lot 🙂
    Since then as founder I have been blessed with the opportunity to recruit some real national broadcast talent to our team. However, One of the things our team is struggling with is striking the right balance with the content and form of our first two shows.
    I think a lot of what your describing comes from traditional television culture being evolved before the advent of the “long tail”. Even a “business network” like Bloomberg is trying to grab as many eyeballs as they can. So there is a lot of pressure to keep the content light and make it appealing to as big an audence as possible as to avoid getting too “wonky”.
    This is one of the reasons we are out raising capital to syndicate our interactive shows rather than pitch it to a traditional network. We know our core target is craving the “wonky” long tail stuff that makes for great leads.


  3. I enjoyed the show, but I also fully expected the “made for TV” distortion. Agreed with some of the other comments. Bloomberg hasn’t created this show for the tech community. It is geared more toward mainstream America that loves reality TV, drama, and game shows. So Bloomberg had to try to create / exploit these features in the show.
    Take it for what it’s worth and enjoy. It is a great look into some of the behind the scenes stuff of techstars.


  4. This conversation is great validation of mainstream audience appeal… being part of the TechStars Boston 2011 class, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The competitive prize aspect to the storyline is the one glooming distortion. But overall, I’m optimistic this can only mean good things for the TechStars brand, and create real value for the programs (and other similar programs). I’m most fascinated with contemplating how being filmed might have affected the individual teams and whether that’s a net positive or not.


  5. TypePad HTML Email
    Look forward to it!  No matter what, it’s good for Techstars to have the publicity – and (with a note to a famous GM CEO quote) what’s good for Techstars is good for start-up America. 


  6. 100% completely agree. Thanks for saying this. I’m not sure the whole competition angle is right either. There is no competition in TechStars, everyone is working together, every team is helping the other team. It’s sad to see Bloomberg manufacture that when it’s not what happens in the actual program.


  7. Great contribution, and I can certainly see why you might be disappointed. I thought it was a little slow at first as well, but I think I know why. My take was that this show was tailored to introduce people that are not industry people. I figured it was an attempt to introduce normal people into our crazy World. For crazy people like us were like, “I get it already.. Move on!”. Most “normal” people probably thought it was pretty interesting. I guess you’d have to take into account that there might be an audience that knows nothing about this culture. From that thought, I had convinced myself that it wasn’t all that bad. I’ll certainly continue to watch.
    Talk soon, Raphael


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