Chip On My Shoulder

UPDATE: Investors are still giving me shit for this and it’s pissing me off. Look people, I asked a legit question publicly that A LOT of other people, primarily ENTREPRENEURS, have asked privately––including CEOs of companies that Dave Tisch has invested in (they’ve emailed me). It’s a real issue.

Yes, I am the asshole who asked the question, but I’m just the messenger. Really, this is TechStars bad for not having thought: “Hmm, broke ass entrepreneurs might wonder why a trust fund baby who’s never started a company is running TechStars:NYC? We should probably address this question on our website and in the press before entrepreneurs start wondering or whispering to each other.”

This album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me
I’d never amount to nothin’, to all the people that lived above the
buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on
me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughters.

-Biggie Smalls, Juicy
Last week, I ignited a minor shitstorm on the Internet with a tweet about Dave Tisch, the Director of TechStars NYC.

I mean, I meant to be provocative, but sheesh:

In my mind, I was asking a pretty straightforward, obvious question: How the hell does a trust funder from the Tisch family end up running an elite technology incubator in my old hood…without ever having started or sold a company???

Something smelled fishy…very East Coast, old money cabal.

It should surprise no one, but I have a thing against old money. I dislike unearned wealth–it undermines the meritocracy and the American dream. If I am lucky enough to create wealth for myself, I will not pass it on to my children–if they are to have any, they must make their own.

For some context, I went to Columbia, where there was plenty of old money floating around. While all the rich kids partied on the weekends and interned for their dad’s friends in Midtown, I worked on an ambulance in the South Bronx, picking up drunks and doing CPR on junkies.

I did that job 24-50 hours a week. While the money allowed me to attend Columbia, the time suck prevented me from getting internships, building my resume and doing the things everyone else was doing to make themselves hirable post-college. I envied the trust funders and their endless opportunities.

Hence the chip on my shoulder.

But back to the previously scheduled blog post…

On Friday, I spent an hour on Skype with one of our investors from New York. He brought up the Tisch kerfluffle.

Me: “Jesus, it’s like I kicked a puppy! Everyone and their sister has a hard on for this guy. Holy cow!”

Investor: “Yeah dude, I was a little suspicious of him at first too. But Dave’s a really good guy. And the TechStars NYC Demo Day was the best Demo Day I’ve ever seen anywhere.”

Me: “So everyone says…”

Investor: “Well, the inside scoop is that yeah, he comes from money, but he wants to prove that he’s his own man, that he’s not just some trust fund kid with a last name. He’s got a chip on his shoulder.”

A chip on his shoulder…now that is something I can relate to.

Truth is, that’s my tribe: the strivers, the unsettled ones––the men and women with something to prove.

The thing I like about that explanation is that it speaks to my heart more than all the tweets about the slickness of TechStars Demo Day or that, really, Dave’s a nice guy. It tells me that he has a reason to fuck with the status quo, to create and to destroy, to be more than just a crony… that he has a reason to be an entrepreneur.

And that, my friends, is what this country, what America is all about.

Kudos, Dave!

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  1. Reader May 4, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    The last time this came up you were going after James D. Robinson IV of RRE for having a successful parent (

    Just accept that individuals are born into different circumstances and stop taking swipes at them for something that was entirely beyond their control (to whom these people were born). Nobody doubts that you work hard for what you get, but you do yourself a disservice by continuously attempting to tear down otherwise decent, hardworking people.

  2. Frank Denbow April 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I feel like there was an episode of Saved By The Bell that went like this. /random

  3. Andrew Ferenci April 28, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    I think Matt is addressing a question that does have merit because it is being actively discussed in the community of entrepreneurs in New York; me being one of them. Now I don’t know David and I can’t pass judgement on anyone I have never met. I think the tweet in itself was a little aggressive, but hey…Matt was a journalist and he knows how to get a discussion going 🙂

    But at face value this is an important topic that is being discussed in NYC entrepreneurial circles.

    When I see panels, meetups, and incubator events where “influentials” are advising or providing recommendations to young entrepreneurs on how to effectively operate their businesses, bootstrap, or raise capital without ever having the hands on experience of doing it themselves and scrapping it out; it does beg the question “what qualifies this individual to provide guidance and advice to early entrepreneurs?”

    That is simply the question I ask. Putting all the financial and educational background of this person or anyone else aside.

  4. J. Anthony Miguez April 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

    Great post. Really surprised at the responses you have gotten over the week. Startup-ville has always been the one place I could count on to ask the hard questions and focus on merit and performance versus “nice guy”. Keep asking and Dave can keep performing and we are all better for it.

  5. Jonathan Fischoff April 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    I got in touch with Dave, after he made a tweet about how to find a co-founder. He asked me if I wanted to be part of Tech Stars, I said no, but he still went out of his way to try to find a co-founder for me. Don’t really know the guy, but he does seem genuinely interested in helping entrepreneurs.

    • Matt Mireles April 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      This is what lots of people who interact with him say.

  6. David Sandrowitz April 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    Matt, I’m sure there is a version of you that would jump on this and accuse you of softening because people gave you such a bunch of shit about it. But, that is not what I want to say here. I share your skepticism of people like Dave Tisch and thought that it was totally valid to be asking the questions you were asking. For me, having a chip isn’t enough, though. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but he still has the money, right? Meaning, he can have a chip, but how easy is it for him to put it down? How easy is it for him to fuel his desires to prove people wrong given the name and access that he probably has? What about people with no name, no access, no old money to rely on? Tisch was born with money and has grown a chip. You and many others (myself included) were born with no money and the chip already in place.

    • Matt Mireles April 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      Fair point.

      Two things..

      1) The truth is, I don’t actually know the guy one way or the other. If I had seen him speak or had any sort of real interaction with the dude on which I could base a judgement, I’d be more adamant about having a specific critique. All I have to go on is a priori fundamentals and hearsay. And so, since I’m a reasonable man, I’m not gonna continually slam the guy when everyone who’s worked with him is saying he’s a great dude.

      2) Having spent some time with the old money crowd, I’ve found a subset that I like and admire: the strivers who don’t family money to define them. To wit, there’s a saying in Spanish that translates to: “No one asks to be born.” Dave Tisch didn’t ask to be born a Tisch, he just is, for better or worse, and while I have no problem playing an asshole on the internet, I’m not so much of an asshole that I’m going to begrudge a guy for things he has no control over and/or give him no way to redeem himself. The fact that he sees the need for redemption and is acting on it says to me that he’s a man of character, and that’s something I cannot help but admire, respect and praise.

      • David Sandrowitz April 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

        Massive respect for being willing and able to openly admit stuff like this. A real asshole would just keep going in an attempt to save face.

        And, yeah, I know folks with family money who aren’t so bad. I still laugh when they slum it by wearing working class threads and talking about Marx.

  7. bemcmanus April 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Love this Matt and Dave, as a New England prep school and Notre Dame kid, I think we might share a chip or two 🙂

    Keep up the great work.

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