- Chris Michel
- Mike Maples, founder of Silicon Valley-based venture firm Floodgate Fund, says that people in the tech industry need to reconsider the language they use to describe their ambitions.
- Maples says that phrases like “Move fast and break things,” “Robots are eating the jobs,” and “Software is eating the world” are problematic and pervasive.
- Maples says that as tech has grown in to the mainstream culture, it needs to use more responsible language.
When Mark Zuckerberg first coined Facebook’s early company motto, “Move fast and break things” in 2009, Silicon Valley was in its heyday.
Back then, the slogan was a bold acclamation of an industry propelled by change and unhampered by convention.
“On the one hand, ‘Move fast and break things’ is a great rallying cry to go fast, to cut through the BS and get things done,” Mike Maples, founder of Silicon Valley-based venture firm Floodgate Fund, tells Business Insider. “But ‘moving fast and breaking things’ is the same thing that causes fake news to happen on your platform.'”
Maples, an early investor in companies like Twitter, Twitch, and Okta, has been involved in Silicon Valley’s tech scene for nearly three decades. He’s seen the industry evolve from what he describes as a “counter-culture fringe movement” to something much bigger: A global behemoth that’s impacted nearly every conceivable industry today.
Tech may have rapidly matured into an economic mainstay, but Maples says that there’s one tenet of its culture that’s been left behind: The language people in the industry use to describe their ambitions.
Problematic and pervasive language
“The tech industry uses immature language in society,” Maples says, firing off a number of popular slogans: “‘Move fast and break things,’ ‘Software is eating the world,’ ‘Artificial intelligence’ – whatever that means – ‘Robots are gonna eat the jobs,’ ‘We’re going to disrupt this or that…’ This type of language is problematic. It’s pervasive.”
At best, says Maples, these catchphrases are disconnected from the tech industry’s ethos at large. At worst, it’s jargon that alienates not only potential consumers, but people who are involved in any industry other than tech.
Fundamentally, says Maples, this language inspires fear.
After all, big tech’s potential to “disrupt” the livelihoods, education, and way of life of millions of people isn’t always a comforting notion.
“We need to do a better job of helping people see the future through a lens of optimism and hope rather than insecurity and fear,” Maples says. “Imagine if Thomas Edison said, ‘I’m disrupting kerosene oil lamps.’ That’s not leadership – I don’t know what you’d call that. The tech industry will succeed if the way we describe abundance is so exciting that people want to get in line and wait for it, the way they get in line for a new iPhone.”
Rather than framing tech’s ambitions in doomsday jargon, Maples says that the industry should position itself in terms of liberation.
You can’t talk like a pirate if you’re the one running the pirate show
“To me, tech empowers people,” said Maples. “It’s inspiring an ownership economy. Rather than ‘robots eating jobs,’ tech has the potential to let everyone be a venture capitalist in the future. It can liberate people to pursue their passions for profit and not be beholden to the constraints of having to work for ‘the man.’ If the tech industry lets the narrative be framed this way, rather than in terms of ‘the robots are taking the jobs,’ people will see that we’re going forward and that we’re headed to a place of opportunity.”
When tech was a small, burgeoning industry, this sort of language wasn’t as problematic, says Maples. But as the industry has grown into the mainstream, it’s time for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, computer scientists, and engineers to reconsider how they describe tech’s future.
“Tech used to be an industry of counterculture folks who ‘raised the pirate flag,'” says Maples. “That works when you’re in the counterculture. But tech has become incredibly embedded in the culture at large, so it’s time for the industry to take on responsible language. You can’t talk like a pirate if you’re the one running the pirate show.”
The best founders aren’t disrupting things – they’re creating things
While some industry titans are taking note (after all, Facebook modified its motto in 2014 to the more responsible but clunkier-sounding “Move fast with stable infrastructure”), Maples says that there’s plenty of entrepreneurs who are modeling their ambitions on dated industry jargon.
In conversations with entrepreneurs, Maples says that he’s quick to interrupt when a prospective CEO says that they hope to “disrupt” a given industry. Usually, Maples says that most entrepreneurs will tell him that they’ve been advised to speak this way by other investors.
“When an entrepreneur says, ‘I’m going to disrupt ‘X,’ I think: Why are you trying to disrupt anyone?” says Maples. “If your advisor told you to say that, then you’re getting bad advice. Advisors who talk that way are doing a bad job. The whole ecosystem from entrepreneurs to advisors to venture capitalists writ large need to do a better job at understanding the raison d’être of startups in the first place.”
For Maples, this raison d’être of startups is straightforward: “The best founders I know aren’t disrupting something, they’re creating things,” says Maples. “It comes from love and passion and innovation. True innovation doesn’t come from eating someone else’s business.”