Directors: Vala Halldorsdottir, Sesselja Vilhjalmsdottir
Editors: Helgi Johannsson, Steffi Thors
Producers: Sesselja Vilhjalmsdottir, Vala Halldorsdottir, Karen Eskapa,Julien Nicod
Narrator: Eric Parr
Cast: Trip Adler, Alexa Andrzejewski, Mike Butcher, Carter Cleveland, Leah Culver, Tim Draper, Zach Klein, Loic Le Meur, Daniel Levine, Ping Li, James Lindenbaum, Alexander Ljung, Jessica Mah, Mg Siegler, Ben Way, Hermione Way, Brian Wong, Ben Tompkins, Kristian Segerstrale, Bryce Roberts, Morten Lund, Sam Lessin
Running Time: 55min
This is my first film review, and what better way to get started than by reviewing a film about my new favourite topics of digital innovation and entrepreneurship, albeit this one focuses on those people formerly known as kids. I attended the screening of this documentary, courtesy of the BCS chartered institute for IT, at the fittingly named Innovation Hub, a venue which itself houses several start-ups (including both young and old varieties) and is located in London’s historical Smithfield meat market – you couldn’t make this one up people, so here goes.
The Startup Kids is a documentary film about young entrepreneurs in the age of digital innovation and entrepreneurship. According to the press blurb, it is all about “the growing number of young web dynamos such as the founders of Vimeo, Soundcloud, Kiip, InDinero, Dropbox, and Foodspotting in the U.S. and Europe” and was made by two entrepreneurs from Iceland, who founded their first company after that country’s economic collapse, in order to provide “an insider’s look into what it takes to make it even when everyone is telling you it is impossible”
So far, so good, but what makes it worth spending an hour of your life to watch this film? Is the subject matter treated in any way differently than other documentaries of the ilk? I’ll leave those answers for later, but first I present the evidence - aka my impression of the film and general viewing experience.
The filmmakers interviewed a credible selection of young digital entrepreneurs, and the VCs and angel investors, responsible for some of the more impactful digital ventures this side of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. They did well to cover a lot of ground in the 55mins duration of this film, and managed to convey a sense of just what it takes to become a Start-up kid. For one thing, these so called kids are anything but kid-like in their approach and dedication, nay obsession, with everything digital.
One recurring theme is their unabashed and possibly gleeful recollection, of the inhumane hours and intense effort that go into these start-up ventures. Successful or not, it seemed like these kids actually got off on the gargantuan task of creating and manifesting their digital dreams, never mind the money they make on the other side. According to one, several things, (e.g. perfect timing and immense luck), must come together at the same time, and it often "feels like a series of miracles" are needed for any success. Did I mention the word obsessive?
Another thing was the wealth of lessons learnt by both entrepreneurs and investors. For example, 90% of all start-ups will fail, but get this - failure is considered a good thing here; somewhat akin to earning your stripes. According to one VC investor, 60% of investments don't make any returns, 20% just about break-even, but the remaining 20%, which often bring manifold returns on investment, constitute the raison d'être for venture capitalists. Imagine that, eight out of every ten throws of the investment dice will likely lose money, and this is considered an acceptable business model. Hmmph!
It would seem the recipe for success involves mixing some brainy obsessive geeks, with smart, deep-pocket gamblers, drizzle liberally with digital fairy dust, and bake in a sun soaked silicon valley, (or its rainy equivalent in London, Berlin or New York), and Bob’s your uncle / auntie – easy peasy.
Well, well, not so fast. I may be a raving fan of digital technology and entrepreneurship, but I know an optimistic, feel good, happy clappy, koombayah, hallelujah chorus when I see one. Thankfully this film isn't anything of the sort. For one thing it is too short - anything over 70 minutes and it might have opened that can of worms. Secondly, considering the filmmakers’ own background, it would have been very easy to go overboard with the whole thing, but they restrained themselves remarkable well, perhaps spurred on by the short attention span of their interview subjects / target audience demographic – i.e. mainly young digital entrepreneur types - a group to which the filmmakers also belong. Finally, the film gets my kudos for realistic subject treatment and excellent execution – e.g. the cinematography, music and narrative did not get in the way, not even during the near survivalist, cabin-in-the-woods style setting for ex-Vimeo Startup Kid, Zach Klein’s interview segment.
In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, along with the other 40 or so attendees, and no doubt helped along by the traditional start-up menu of pizzas and beer, which was generously laid on by the organisers and venue coordinator. I gladly give this near top score of 4 stars.
The Startup Kids is available on DVD (in several languages), and shipped worldwide from their website. It is also available on iTunes and Amazon, and the official trailer can be found on Vimeo, as well as YouTube - just search for The Startup Kids.