Startup Communities: Are They Becoming More Toxic?

With ever growing popularity of startups there seems to be more toxicity in communities as time goes on. Is there any reason for this change in startup communities?

All around the world, we have various communities centered around the startups, startup culture and ecosystem. Most of these communities focus on building the connections and developing themselves so that everyone can benefit from improved system. However, if you try to look more carefully you will see a lot of problems that are plaguing communities.

Startup events are organized to promote something, be it an idea or a product, but some of them also focus on learning and expanding the view of the attendees. When you go to those events you may broaden your view on some topic and possibly find fellow techie that is interesting enough to be part of your future team. You learn something, you get to have fun and connect to people.  Despite all that, some things are wrong and you start to notice that as time goes on and on. You soon start to see what are the main reasons of growing toxicity.


If you’ve ever talked with someone from California or if you been there, you’ve probably seen that Silicon Valley is culturally different than anything else. Furthermore, most people don’t engage in politics on general level, but you can sense it when talking with them. If you don’t follow narrative, you aren’t in for a treat.  Startups should generally stay away from politics, since it can only kill innovation and development. If you are founder, you should not mix politics with business. One of the reasons is that it can kill your business, plus the media backlash you will receive is something you don’t want.

People are so politically obsessed in some communities that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are, you will be hunted. Father of JavaScript, Brendan Eich, was pressured to quit his position as Mozilla’s CEO, due to donation of 1000$ to group against same-sex marriages.

People’s rights should be defended, but you must not ignore other side and start witch hunt whatever your political alignment is.

Hiveminds are never good thing. You can disagree with someone, but doesn’t mean someone’s job or career should be your target. In some communities, it’s dangerous to have different opinion on something that is unrelated to the tech world. Startups are especially plagued by this problem. We should focus on development, and not outside politics about issues that are not connected to tech/startups whatsoever.

At some point you get to a stage that where community goes to self-censorship mode where there is one selected narrative that you don’t want to stray from.

California is just an example, the problems differ from country to country.

As Tolstoy once said:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Wannabe Entrepreneurs

You’ve probably seen a lot of these lately. They want to become company founder, they’re sure in their skills and don’t want to hear “No” for an answer. They act as superstars in communities and try to market themselves more than their actually startup. (Some people can act like like superstars or like a douche, even if they have huge knowledge, expertise in one of the fields. That behavior isn’t good either.)

Due to growing popularity of startups, the number of these people is growing and growing. Do they know what’s MVP? Do they have business plan? Is their model sustainable?

One of the most bizarre cases that I have come across, is a case of guy making startups that are solely based on WordPress. That would be fine, if there was product behind it, however there isn’t. The process goes like: Make new WordPress website, Get some Premium Themes, Install and Customize, Declare that you are running new startup based on selling clothes, fruit, working with real estate. You’re probably already thinking: Well that wouldn’t fool everyone. Wrong! Not only did people accepted that, they also encouraged him to continue.

It’s nice to earn some buck on the side when working with WordPress, but that ain’t startup.

Some of you are wondering: Eh, if they are bad founders, don’t know anything and have an ego, they’ll fail, and will cope with reality. In some cases it’s actually true. In other cases it doesn’t go that way.

It’s not even just wannabe entrepreneurs anymore, but wannabe designers, product managers, marketing experts, growth hackers etc. Any position that you can think of basically.

Startup organizations

Now look, the truth is that there is a lot of people that are successful and that are behind some startup organizations, however there are also people that fall in other two categories. A) They were startup founder, that learned some thing or two and then later on failed. B) They’ve never had hands on experience with working or running startups.

If you put your heart and time in some project, you will be happy when it succeeds, you will worry about ever little detail.

Usually they are focused in IT in general or Business side of things. What’s interesting is that there are lot of people that basically due it for the fame. They take selfies, put it on the Facebook, they brag about successful events and so on and on.

What most people don’t realize is that most of those organization wouldn’t be there if the topic wasn’t popular at the moment. They don’t do it because they want to work with startups, they do it to further advance their own goals (be it future job or some position at current job).

Why is this exactly bad you may say? Aren’t they fooling only themselves? Well, no. Damage is already happening but you can’t see it. Take a moment to think about it. A lot of these organizations receive money from countries or companies to organize events and further expand the interest for the startups. Their overall success is at mediocre level. At some point, the events stop, and there is no more activity. If those same resources went into fewer, but already perspective organizations, or those that are young but have commitment and good execution, the overall atmosphere changes.

In Conclusion

Resources are valuable and when developing something you shouldn’t waste them without evaluating first.

People should remember that even successful organizations can fly too high and fall really low.

Toxicity can kill communities and it usually happens because of mismanagement or earlier given reasons. We should try to change they way the system functions.

Ignore politics and make startup communities isolated from it, and save innovation at the same time.

Try to point out the problems and educate people in why something isn’t working. You’ll save time on both sides, and get in return some quality after some time.

Talk with people and connect. In the end it’s your voice that counts that can make the change and remove toxicity.


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Nikola Stojic
Nikola Stojic

Entrepreneur, writing about startups and tech, giving his opinion on business topics.

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