As the year draws to a close, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the less profound statements made in 2013 by technology industry CEOs, entrepreneurs, insiders and other folks who should have known better.
“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”
“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”
“This document was clearly written by the B team. Can someone get me the A team document? I don’t want to waste my time with the B team document.”
“Why are you wasting my life?”
— Eight “devastating rebukes” delivered by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over the years to Amazon employees, according to author Brad Stone in his book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” The book prompted a negative customer review by Bezos’ wife, MacKenzie Bezos, who cautioned readers against believing everything they read and noted that Stone’s narrative was filled with “many inaccuracies…I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years.”
“Just got back to SF. I’ve traveled around the world and I gotta say there is nothing more grotesque than walking down market st [sic] in San Francisco. Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue. Each time I pass it my love affair with SF dies a little. The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay. />/>
“In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it’s their place of leisure… In actuality it’s the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It a disgrace. I don’t even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path.
“You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn’t made anyone’s life better in a while.”
— Former AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman complaining about the homeless in San Francisco in a Facebook post spotted by Valleywag. Gopman apologized for his “inappropriate comments about San Francisco and its less fortunate citizens…I trivialized the plight of those struggling to get by and I shouldn’t have…I am deeply sorry.”
“I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number—I just love how divisible it is. I don’t like odd numbers, and I really don’t like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37. But 37 turned out to be a pretty amazing year. Especially considering that 36 is divisible by twelve!”
— Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, in an in-depth interview with Vogue. The magazine explained that her fascination with numbers, as evidenced by the quote above, illustrates how much of a “geek” she is. The interview was notable not just for her insights into being a CEO, but also for the photo that accompanied the story, in which Mayer posed upside-down on a chaise lounge, holding a tablet showing an image of her face. Critics said that it diminished her position as a CEO. “Nothing says, ‘I’m a powerful woman’ like a photo of you upside down on a weird couch,” Stan Horaczek, an editor at Popular Photography, tweeted. Mayer told interviewer Charlie Rose that it was “a nice photo.”
“Abel, put that camera down right now! Abel, you’re fired.”
— AOL CEO Tim Armstrong firing Abel Lenz, creative director for AOL’s Patch local new service, during an employee conference call with more than a thousand people listening. Lenz was taking photos of the event, in which Armstrong was announcing job cuts. Armstrong followed up that 10-word dismissal with a 394-word apology, calling Lenz’s firing “an emotional response,” said that he should have handled the matter differently, and noted that while he believes in “open meetings” and “open Q&As,” that openness doesn’t extend to confidential internal meetings.
“Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.”
— Bryan Goldberg, founder of The Bleacher Report, announcing that he had raised $6.5 million to create a “feminist publication” called Bustle.com to serve what he said was an underserved women’s publishing market. Goldberg was immediately criticized for his failure to recognize that there are actually already a lot of sites and news organization addressing the women’s market — and for paying writers just $100 a day to write for Bustle.com, below the rate paid by some of those other women’s sites. Goldberg apologized, saying he had “messed up” with his “pandering” post about the fundraising. Goldberg also acknowledged that joking about cosmetics “was a horrible decision.”
“Vivek Wadhwa is the Carrot Top of academic sources.”
— Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, in response to criticism by Wadhwa, a respected author, for the lack of diversity on the social media company’s board as it filed its initial public offering. “Dude, weak,” said one twitter follower. Costolo then explained, in another tweet, that Twitter’s lack of board diversity stemmed from an unwillingness to add token women to the Twitter team. “The whole thing has to be about more than checking a box & saying “we did it!” Costolo tweeted. Twitter has since added a woman to its board.
“One quality that’s a really bad indication is a CEO with a strong foreign accent. I’m not sure why. It could be that there are a bunch of subtle things entrepreneurs have to communicate and can’t if you have a strong accent. Or, it could be that anyone with half a brain would realize you’re going to be more successful if you speak idiomatic English, so they must just be clueless if they haven’t gotten rid of their strong accent. I just know it’s a strong pattern we’ve seen.”
— Y Combinator founder Paul Graham in an interview with Inc. magazine about the CEOs he is not willing to fund. Graham later clarified that “It’s fine to have a foreign accent as long as people can
understand you.” Graham was in the news again this month for saying that while Y Combinator doesn’t discriminate against female founders, the fact that many girls aren’t hackers in their teens is the problem. “…Startups say that they did not like to hire people who had only started programming when they became [Computer Science] majors in college….If someone was going to be really good at programming they would have found it on their own. Then if you go look at the bios of successful founders this is invariably the case, they were all hacking on computers at age 13. What that means is the problem is 10 years upstream of us. If we really wanted to fix this problem, what we would have to do is not encourage women to start startups now. It’s already too late. What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that. God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers.”
“Don’t want to be a pain here, but the price seems high. Not long ago, I had a clean hit done for $80K. Are the prices you quoted the best you can do? I would like this done asap … it doesn’t have to be clean.”/>/>
“OMG so f’ing EVIL OMG OMG… i can’t believe this shit, so horrible holy shit.”
— Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, in a tweet that seems to mock customers who complained about Uber increasing pricing dramatically after a heavy winter storm struck the East Coast this month. Kalanick said the “surge pricing” is a result of the imbalance in supply and demand. ““Surge pricing only kicks in in order to maximize the number of trips that happen and therefore reduce the number of people that are stranded,” Kalanick told Wired. ““We did more trips because of our approach, not fewer…We gave people more options to get around, and that is the whole frickin’ goal.”