Venture capitalist and noted hip-hop fan Ben Horowitz opened a recent blog post with an unambiguous message: Stop hating on startups for playing fast and loose.
Lately, it’s become in vogue to write articles, comments and tweets about everything that’s wrong with young technology companies. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t find something in my Twitter feed crowing about how a startup that’s hit a bump in the road is "fu&%@d"...
He may or may not be referring to this post Valleywag entitled, "Is Rap Genius Fucked?." Prompted by Rap Genius's temporary delisting from Google, the writer (Sam Biddle) ponders whether a startup that relies so much on search results (specifically, Google search results) to outperform other lyrics sites can actually be sustainable.
"If there is one thing Google hates, it is unnatural links," explains Nick Sayers, who works at Moz, a search analytics firm. "Really the only thing that can be said is they sure did mess up," and it shows as soon as you try to look up a song. Google won't let anyone "win," and really hates it if you gloat about victory over the giant. So, the hot streak is over, snuffed out as artificially as it began.
When it's so easy to be "snuffed out" by Google's whims, Biddle says, Rap Genius should be forever paranoid. "It's easy to see why getting busted for SEO cheating seemed laughable," Biddle says. "Now they'll have to look over their shoulders, indefinitely," he adds, throwing in an extraneous comma for gravitas.
It would be easy to dismiss Horowitz's post as a PR band-aid, if it weren't for his too-subtle thesis, which slips by in the third paragraph:
From a psychological standpoint, in order to achieve a great breakthrough, you must be able to suspend disbelief indefinitely. The technology startup world is where brilliant people come to imagine the impossible.
Translated into real-speak, this means that the goal of any startup is to simply continue existing by any means, so that a future of any kind is possible. Does that require bending rules? Sometimes. Should you care? Not if bending the rules means your company survives one more quarter.
Remember, we're not talking about real rules here—we're talking about Google's rules. The Rap Genius founders weren't risking jail time when they crossed Google; rather they were making a rational play for big traffic numbers, hedging their risk by making sure not to do anything so link-farmy that it would get them permanently delisted.
And as we wrote yesterday, the hedging worked, and Rap Genius is not fucked after all: Its links have been re-listed on Google, although with slightly lower rankings than before, owing to Rap Genius cleaning up its "SEO game" to be more compliant. Take that, haters.