There are literally thousands of start-ups being formed or in their infancy right now. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to start a company as an entrepreneur, to have to deal with the headaches of forming a company, its employees, getting funding by doing presentations and even dealing with the potential failure? Microsoft has just produced a full-length documentary film called, “Ctrl+Alt+Compete,” which was directed by Brian Giberson. The film gives viewers an inside look at the difficultly facing new start-ups through the eyes of five CEO’s (founders), their teams and the brutal truth and struggles they face. The film also features notable faces in the tech industry, like the lovely Veronica Belmont, Simon Sinek and the always cool, Cliff Bleszinski.
The film starts off with an inside look at two companies and their respective CEO’s Josh Sookman (Guardly.com) and Joanne Lang (aboutone.com), who are about to “pitch” their company to potential investors at DEMO, the same stage that where companies like Palm, TiVo and LiveScribe all got their start. This inside look allows the viewers to see just want it takes to prepare for these pitches, the emotion and fear that these presenters must overcome in order to land an investor who could potentially take them and their idea to the next level. For Josh, this is a make it or break it moment and he is pulling out all the stops. Sookman doesn’t want to just show the off the Guardly app, he wants to show how it works. Josh has a complete “performance” that requires the light to go out, to give the appearance of an emergency. This demonstration not only shows how well the app works, but that Josh and the Guardly crew take what they do very seriously. The expert commentary here is great and really lets you know the risks that are involved when a company decides to take the money of an investor. Essentially, if you take their money, you need to realize you also give up some of your freedom. Every investor wants to see a return on their money and if they don’t feel your methods are working, you could potentially end up being booted from your own company, it happens all the time. To paraphrase a line from the film, “Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of entrepreneurs who all thought they had the next big thing.”
Following the events at DEMO, the film takes us to GDC (Game Developers Conference) where video game developers, big and small, meet to show off their latest games, usually still in development. In 2011, an indie game studio, Supergiant Games, a 6-person team comprised of former EA Games staffers, brought their first game, Bastion. While Supergiant isn’t really part of the “Web 2.0” movement, their story is no different. Viewers will get an inside look at Supergiant Games and how they work and exhaust themselves to the point were they pass out on a couch. Unlike Josh and Joanne, Supergiant Games have decide to make their game on their own, with no help from investors. This allows them to enjoy their freedom, something they didn’t have while working at EA Games. They also have no pressure from a third party, so the team can release their games when they and how they want. Something most entrepreneurs can only dream of. (We had the chance to talk with one of Supergiant Games team members, Greg Kasavin, who is also featured in the film, about his experiences when helping to start their new studio.)
After GDC, it is on to Austin, Texas for SXSW (or South by Southwest) a tech geek’s nirvana. Much like the event at DEMO, we follow two more start-ups, LiquidSpace and POPVOX. These two companies have high aspirations, as SXSW has become a hotspot for developers, influences and investors. In fact, two of the world’s most popular companies got their start here, Twitter and Foursquare. LiquidSpace’s CEO Mark Gilbreath, who’s no stranger to start-ups, outlines his company’s plan to lure potential investors with a carefully organized press campaign. With LiquidSpace, users can find an open workspace in their city, be it a High-end business center, hip startup co-working spaces, hotels, or private spaces either by using Liquidspace’s website or mobile app, now available on the Apple App Store. The service is live and expanding, so if you don’t see it on your town, just be patient.
POPVOX, on the other hand, was started by a first time CEO, Marci Harris, a former congressional staffer. Of all the companies featured in Ctrl+Alt+Compete, POPVOX is probably the one in the direst of circumstances. POPVOX was out of seed money, the team’s personal accounts were being drained and worst of all, a competitor with a similar idea was encroaching, which also had more money behind it. So Harris and her team used Microsoft’s BizSpark Accelerator platform as sort of a last ditch effort to raise money to help the company. The POPVOX idea was to give people a better way to get ideas, comments and feelings to their congressional leaders, in essence, to be heard.
At the end of the film, we get sort of a recap that lets us know what happened to each company and where they are at now. I won’t give any spoilers here, so you’ll have to check out the film.
Overall, the film does a great job of covering start-ups, entrepreneurs and the rise of the Internet and its “burst” in 1999 and how many investors lost millions of dollars. One thing I found interesting is how the film points out that when a big corporation purchases a smaller company, they almost always tend to drive it into the ground, killing it. I applaud Microsoft, the producer of this film, for allowing some of the honest comments in this film, even the not so flattering ones. For example, Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, also created the website LinkExchange that was purchased by Microsoft. Hsieh, sadly point blank that Microsoft bought his company, but didn’t know what to do with it and eventually, killed it. You can clearly see the frustration and emotion in Hsieh’s face.
As the founder of TechHog.com, I can completely relate to many of these individuals. When I founded this site, I did it completely by myself; I literally work all day long. Even now, I’m writing from the time I wake up, till the time I go to bed. After a year and few months, we’ve hit our stride and are becoming known, but in that time, I’ve had sacrifices, like less time with my family, expenses and stress.
Everyone wants their “idea” or their business to be a success, but few people realize what that entails. Are you prepared to work 20 hour days, 7 days a week, spend money you don’t have and take loans you may not be able to pay back, all in order to achieve this dream? If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to be willing to sacrifice. Anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur should watch this film; it’s a real eye opener.