Competitive Ethos of Tech companies

Every so often we seem to get surprised by how one or another tech company behaves in a predatory and mean-spirited fashion and the refrain is - "how could nice guys wearing khakis and Patagonia vests behave that way". The founders and leaders of them are all these nerdy people who seem, if anything, shy and meek and then their companies are these bloodthirsty competition squashers who believe that "everything that is not prohibited is permitted".

I have grown to believe that there is really no inconsistency there if you look at the formative years of most of the Founders and leaders of the tech universe (and here I include companies like Uber and AirBnB who are not really "tech"). What I mean is that in their formative years these folks were playing a lot of computer games. They were largely not in the Boy Scouts (as Rex Tillerson) or on sports teams which teach honor and fairness and camaraderie even with one's opponents.

There is no "honor" in First-person Shooter games (I think). If you have cheat codes, you use them regardless of how you obtained them. At the end of the game you don't shake hands with your opponent and say "good game". Either you or they are dead. Game Over is the ethos of gaming and these young (mostly) men have spent countless hours and years steeped in that ethos.

And then when they emerge, poorly socialized, into the world of "regular" people and they have an idea, the forum in which they are asked to show those is not called "Community Garden in Which Every Flower Grows", it is called the "Shark Tank". Venture capitalists who fund them expect them to have the "killer instinct" and to aim to be the next Google. Go Big or Go Home. When has a VC ever suggested to a company "we will invest in you because you provide a valuable service at a fair price to a small group of people who really need it and if we did not fund you, the service could not exist".

When these companies and these Founders then exhibit predatory behaviour in the marketplace or even go as far as saying "to heck with the Attorney General" (Ballmer to Janet Reno) we all get surprised - "who would have expected that from nerdy kid who did not date much". When their motto of "Don't Be Evil" starts sounding hollow and almost as a joke, we wonder when and how did that happen.

We shouldn't. All we need to do is look at formative years of the founders and leaders of these businesses and we can see that with the background that they had, it would take a miracle for them NOT to grow into people who in their line of business think that only good competitor is a dead competitor. Game Over.


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