Pricing in Deception

stretching the truthYesterday, TechCrunch reported that a 2.5-year-old Boston-based social shopping startup, Kickscout, is being acquired by another shopping app, Mobee, for an undisclosed “combination of cash and stock.” TechCrunch wrote that as part of the arrangement, Kickscout’s founder (and sole employee), Michael Sheeley, is joining Mobee as its chief product officer.

Most likely, the story would have gone unnoticed, but Boston Globe columnist Scott Kirsner tweeted soon after the piece was published, “Sorry, TechCrunch, this story is actually: Boston-based Mobee hired a smart guy whose startup didn’t take off.” Kirsner continued on Twitter, “If your app is being shut down and you are going to work for someone else’s company, that means you got HIRED, not ACQUIRED.” Kirsner – who seems to have a healthy sense of humor — then added, “Deal was a ‘combination of cash & stock’ – yeah, like [taxi] fare to Mobee’s office and some stock options.”

Assuming that Kirsner is right – that Sheeley was just plucked from a bad situation – it’s easy to understand his aggravation. Silicon Valley’s compulsively sunny, rah-rah spirit can be nauseating. Talk to an entrepreneur or VC, and everything is proceeding as planned.

Still, it’s hard to see the downside in allowing someone to save face in this situation or the many others we’ve seen in recent years, where struggling founders have been swooped up by another company that’s looking to lock in their talent for a while. I like that a person who has tried and failed can receive a fresh set of cards instead of shutting down their business with nothing but debt (which, by the way, still happens with the vast majority of startups).

As for the argument that it’s unhealthy to portray face-saving maneuvers as successes, I’d argue that by now, we’re all acclimated to the culture of spin in which we live. We’ve basically been in an arms race of good news since TechCrunch was founded in 2005.

Anyone following the industry is already pricing in some deception, so why bother getting upset about it?

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