The Myth of Valley DoucheBaggery


(Warning, loads of unabashed cursing ahead).

Everyone’s definition of what makes a person or a company “douchey” varies, but we all know ’em when we see them. Douchebag behavior is kind of like the Supreme Court definition of pornography: You know it when you see it. The very fact that the HBO series Silicon Valley can confidently parody douchey behavior  is proof we’ve at least found common ground when it comes to extreme douchebaggery.

But I think our industry culture is moving far faster than the writers at Silicon Valley might wish to believe. I think we’re seeing the rise of a new culture, one that rejects arrogance and the founder worship which breeds it. Inevitable outliers aside, the Valley and technology culture I experience every day in my work at NewCo is one of passion, sweat, earnestness, and good intentions. Sure, we all fuck up. And sure, the press (especially, not surprisingly, the press in New York) has a field day when someone does. But by and large, the teams making companies like Slack, LiveRamp, Medium, Earnest, MetroMile, Lyft, Okta, Pinterest, and hundreds more are damn fine people, and they are dedicating their lives to making something that creates positive change – a product or service that makes the world a better place (even if it’s in a small way).

You just can’t do that if you are a douchebag, or if your company culture is one of douchebaggery. The world eventually conspires against you if you’re a consistent asshole. Particularly in the times we live, where the majority of humanity believes we’re running on a climate change shot clock. When you’re facing existential threat, our tolerance for douchebaggery in the name of making more money at any cost, or screwing over others so as to secure your own fame and fortune, well, our cultural tolerance for that kind of shit goes way down. Donald Trump is the last failing breath of a dead culture, IMHO.

This shift in business culture isn’t limited to the Valley, not by a long shot. Imagine a company like McDonald’s declaring that it, as a corporate entity, it believes that climate change is created by humans? No way, right? Because at least half of its customers in the US disagree with that statement. And if those customers decide to eat somewhere else, McDondald’s would lose 20% of their worldwide profits. No way will a douchey, profit-maximizing Fortune 500 company ever make such a statement, right?


The people at the top of Mickey D’s aren’t stupid. They’re paid a lot of money to look into the future and figure out which way the wind blows. And they’ve come to realize that denying climate change has recently crossed the line of corporate douchebaggery.

Walmart, as I’ve written before, has also figured this out. So has Unilever, PepsiCo, and a ton of others. The times are changing: The largest force in our economy are now Millennials, and they have very clear ideas about what they want from brands they buy (they should create net positive good in society) and companies where they work (they should be driven by purpose as well as profit). This cohort will be 40% of the entire workforce in a mere four years. And the good news is twofold: They love business, but they love business on a mission even more.

No more douchey companies, please. We don’t have the time, or the patience, for them anymore.

Want proof the Bay area has amazing companies with heart? Go to NewCo SF and Oakland. 225+ extraordinary companies are opening their doors to you. Get inside and meet these teams. They’re totally not douchey. 

8 thoughts on “The Myth of Valley DoucheBaggery”

  1. “They are dedicating their lives to making something that creates positive change – a product or service that makes the world a better place (even if it’s in a small way).

    You just can’t do that if you are a douchebag, or if your company culture is one of douchebaggery.”

    Uh, yes, you absolutely can. Look at Steve Jobs.

  2. it’s nice to make assertions without evidence, but given how much counter-evidence there is to your thesis–that really terrible bro-y douchey behavior is rewarded repeatedly by huge sums from A list venture firms, that sexism and racism (the soft kind, the kind where none of your c-suite colleagues happen to be of color, or at least not in a statistically significant way) are rife in an ostensibly liberal place like SV, that the peter thiels of the world continue to preach a sort of insane hateful libertarianism in place of actual kind human thinking…c’mon man. this post is just pure grade A bullshit.

    it’s nice that you are nice. it’s nice your friends are nice. it’s nice you recognize that global warming is key to you, and i’m sure newco is dedicated to mitigating those effects, and you’ve placed your offices near public transport, and not taken money from people who drive their cars up and down sand hill road in a town with no public transport to speak of…no? yes?

    i’m nice too. i work with some shitty people in my world. their shittiness makes me shittier. wish it weren’t so, but i’m not going to write a screed about how they don’t exist.

  3. Holding up McDonald’s as an example of anti-doucebaggery on climate change would make Goebbels proud. Their whole reason for being—raising and slaughtering cows, pigs, and chickens for human consumption—is one of the biggest drivers of global warming and misallocation of water resources.

    I’m glad their corporate communications department is trying to reframe the cruelty and destruction of factory farming as “addressing the impact” of the “animal value chain.” But, until the actually DO something about it, douchebags they shall remain.

  4. For accuracy’s sake, the Supreme Court comment was about obscenity, not pornography.

    As for the companies/startups you cite being full of great people, not douchebags, that may very well be true of the people you’ve met, when and where you’ve met them. It’s also possible they have douchey sides that they’d never reveal in front of someone like you. So many of the douche behavior we’ve heard about has come to light via deleted tweets, private email, or even video evidence that a CEO paid to have declared inadmissible (Radium One). Sure, some douchebags fly the douche flag loud and proud. Most are narcissistic charmers who know just how to craft a public persona that makes them seem like bold, colorful characters just driven to succeed.

    Lastly, I agree with the previous commenter that douchebag behavior can exist in any company, regardless of its mission. I think we all can think of plenty of examples of people caught out for major hypocrisy (sometimes criminal) while supposedly engaged in causes for social good.

    Perhaps SV is slowly changing, but it’s far from a “myth” that a-holes have a ton of influence and power.

  5. Off-topic, but was wondering about your thoughts on the recent rise of ad-blocking and the backlash against adtech?

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