Why Everyone is Talking about the Crunchies this Year
On Thursday, February 5th at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, Tech Crunch hosted the Eighth Annual Crunchies, arguably the best time of the year to nerd out and mingle with the hottest stars of the startup world. This was my first year attending the awards ceremony, and I present to you a recap of what went down.
The Crunchies were hosted this year by the comedian T.J. Miller, who plays tech guru Erlich Bachman on HBO’s Emmy-nominated hit show Silicon Valley.
As I walked to the symphony hall, just outside were about 40 anti-eviction protestors and angry cab drivers. Their presence highlighted Uber’s domination in the taxi industry, steering cab drivers out of business. The demonstration also brought to light the negative consequences of tech on the residents who don’t work in that industry. Lower-middle income residents are being driven out of the Bay Area as the escalating rental market caters to the ever increasing millionaire entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile inside, the awards commenced.
Some notable winners this year were: Stewart Butterfield, Eric Costello, Cal Henderson and Serguei Mourachov of the team communication company Slack for Founder of the Year, Marc Benioff of the CRM platform Salesforce.com for CEO of the Year, product curation app Product Hunt for Best New Startup 2014, and ride service Uber for Best Overall Startup of 2014.
Interestingly, the nominees and winners in multiple categories can hardly be defined as a startup. In the first category, called Best Technology Achievement, Apple Pay was a nominee. Apple, the world’s most valuable company, is certainly not a startup. When the CEO of Uber Travis Kalanick went onstage, he acknowledged that Uber (valued at $40 billion) might not be a startup anymore. The startup world, at least the startup world according to TechCrunch, seems to have trouble discerning what is and what is not a startup.
One of the most talked about aspects of the night was emcee T.J. Miller’s performance, which has been criticized by most as offensive and sexist. Miller began with some edgy commentary, but all within reasonable limits and that I found quite funny. Midway through, however, Miller called a woman a bitch three times and casually threw out a racist remark. Miller’s final monologue lasted more than 15 minutes. He frequently called out to Uber venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, whom he had nicknamed “Sherv the perv.” T.J. Miller did acknowledge that he probably wouldn’t be called back again next year, and in his final moments it seemed that this indeed would not happen again.
This is not the first time TechCrunch has faced criticism on sexism. As an article in BizJournals.com put it, “The situation puts the spotlight back on gender diversity in Silicon Valley’s tech community and echoes an incident at a TechCrunch hackathon in the fall of 2013 after which the tech news site issued an apology and adopted an anti-harassment policy for its events. For those who don’t remember, one of the pitches at that hackathon involved an app concept built around men staring at women’s breasts. Another involved a guy simulating masturbation during his pitch. Miller clearly violated that policy and it took TechCrunch two days to acknowledge that officially.”
Two days after the show, Ned Desmond, chief operating officer at TechCrunch, apologized in a blog post. He said, “Many at TechCrunch… feel badly about some elements of T.J.’s performance. The use of derogatory slang to refer to women or minority groups is unacceptable at any event TechCrunch runs, period,” he said. “And we know many others feel the same way, even if it’s hard to find the words to say so. We’re sorry.”
“Some things said on our stage on Thursday would not mesh with that anti-harassment policy,” Desmond wrote, “Many will argue, and already have, that it’s just comedy and that no one should take it seriously. But it’s valid to ask how we can reconcile our stance on anti-harassment with statements made on stage at our event. We won’t be asking T.J. back next year, and we’ll be thinking hard about the steps we can take to improve the experience for everyone across the program.”
The way the events unfolded that night led me to question why the tech world had brought in a comedian satirizing the industry in the first place.
“Why do technologists love to be satirized so much?” Nellie Bowles asks the question in an article on ReCode. “Stewart Butterfield, the co-founder of Slack and an award winner that evening, was having a cigarette. He said the Valley loved satire because it cuts to the core of the issue: Much of the work and money in the startup industry is absurd. It’s almost disturbing. Satire is a way to cope. ‘Everyone here must know that everyone is making too much money, and that’s why we love satire,’ he said. ‘If anyone is honest with themselves, they must think that the reward is disproportionate to the work.’”
The tech industry has been invaluable in positively shaping our daily life. However, it seems they still have a lot to learn.