Don’t drink the Kool-Aid

This morning’s Observer column.

Sadly, there is no cure for megalomania. But venture capitalists ought to start funding the search for a cure, because it’s costing many of them a lot of money, and is likely to cost even more in the future.

Here’s how it works. A smart entrepreneur – a Harvard dropout, say, or some guy who made a lot of money by selling off his last venture to some clueless multinational – starts up a web business which grows like crazy by attracting millions of subscribers who use its services for free. Pretty soon, it's got 400 million of them and everyone is saying: “Wow! 400 million users! That must be good for something.”

Then several things happen. Firstly, the proprietor of the sensation du jour starts drinking the Kool-Aid and contracts the aforementioned megalomania. He begins to fantasise that he could own the whole internet. Secondly, thousands of other entrepreneurs think “Wow! He could own the whole internet. We need to make sure our stuff has hooks into his stuff. Otherwise, we’re toast.” And then the mainstream media, whose insights into this could be written in 96-point Helvetica bold on the back of a postage stamp, are going around saying, “Jeez, this stuff is the real deal. How do we get onside?”