The Startup Crowd Is Becoming an Actual CultS

When the Valley vanguard talks about itself as special, separate, and generally better than anyone not involved in a tech company, it's usually rhetoric. At least it used to be. Tech people with money are creating a new fantasy land, a mountaintop gathering called Summit Outside. Welcome to camp.

When conspiracy theorists squawk about kings of finance playing table tennis at Bohemian Grove, they quiver over the thought of one group with influence in finance, media, and politics, all hamming it up beneath the trees. But a new article in The Next Web shows that unlike AM radio night terrors, the cultish creep of startup-think is real. Palo Alto Syndrome. In the piece, Courtney Boyd Myers—a former editor at the site, and now a company founder—gushes about a recent great outdoors tech conference of mostly white startup owners and their ilk, with all the zeal of an entrepreneurial Patty Hearst.

Tech conferences used to be one of the dullest and sterile of all possible confabs. Now, they increasingly resemble Summit: a large gathering of the well to do (or parvenue) in a secluded location, by invitation, at great cost, with TED Talk-y speakers during the day, DJs at night, and plenty of whimsy to lubricate it all. Think Sean Parker's wedding, only with more meetings and less redwood root damage.

Summit took place on a privately owned mountaintop town literally called Eden. Myers slips into reporter-mode (it's so easy to do these days!) and writes of Summit—with no mention of the fact that she, as a startup founder, has a personal interest in the success of these wholly pro-startup events—as if it were the Eden of scripture:

Without WiFi or outlets, a group of the world’s most Internet-addicted human beings found immense freedom letting go of the digital world and reconnecting with nature.

[...]

After chucking bags into tents and strapping on hiking boots, attendees were delighted by surprises at every turn like a sonic meditation deck, a late-night noodle truck, a flash sale of coconuts and LeWeb founder Loic LeMeur giving office hours in the middle of a forest.

[...]

Just a 5-minute walk down the hill, Taylor Kuffner’s robotic orchestra, known as “The Gamelatron” was tied to trees in a forest of hammocks, providing an oasis of relaxation for weary Summiteers.

Sounds like a vacation, right? A quirky, twee-to-the-point-of-self-immolation vacation, but still pure leisure.

This isn't mere leisure to them—the conference is a place of worship, not to Baal or Shayṭān, but to Badoo and Sidecar, to the apps, innovators, venture capital firms, and spirit of false-progress that girds it all. Most of all, self-worship. They quite literally believe they are changing the world—not just in the Facebook sense. They are colonizing our planet anew:

As entrepreneurs do, the Summit team members are building a permanent community that didn’t exist before, a home they’re proud to live in, and one they can call their own. “Our goal is to create a center of gravity for the innovators, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders of the world,” says Summit co-founder Jeremy Schwartz, pictured below with fellow co-founder Brett Leve.

[...]

The Summit Series team has brought such mind-blowing, magical experiences to life that are shaping a generation of change-makers.

[...]

The Summit Team offers unparalleled content and a diverse set of activities capable of making us feel more like human beings.

[...]

While Summit is often knocked for being exclusive, its curated community creates an environment for some of the world’s most ambitious people to open up professionally, emotionally and physically. “It’s going to be a place on Earth that becomes a sacred space for growth and development,” says Nicole Patrice De Member, the Founder of Toi and the soul responsible for introducing Summit to Greg Mauro, the entrepreneur and Eden, UT resident who brought the Powder Mountain opportunity to the team. ”The people who need love will end up here. We want the world to be a part of this. It’s not a secret journey, but you still have to go on that journey to get here.”


Emphasis added, because holy hell. To attend Summit is to become more of a human being, to reify your status as a member of our species. It's a sacred experience, a communal flame-baptism atop a pyre of iPads. What was the point of sharing any of it this? It's not news, it's not commentary, it's thousands of words shed to describe something that Myers considers un-relatable, ineffable, magically exclusionary.

You weren't there.

You wouldn't understand.

You're not one of us.

You can be one of us. Maybe we will invite you to pay thousands of dollars and join us.

Join us. Take a seat. There's no Wi-Fi here.

But the Spirit Reception is perfect.

Your father died? I'm sorry. But think not of your "family," pilgrim—you have a new family now:

The first night of Summit Outside I stood next to a stranger as we waited for our camp mates. I said “Hi” and gave him a warm hug the way you might a friend. He said, “Thank you, I really needed that.” He then told me his father had just passed away that morning. And instead of canceling plans to be with his immediate family, he decided that his first step towards healing was to be with his Summit family.


These are the words and actions of an insane person, and they are validated in the equally rapturous comment section, and across Twitter:

The Startup Crowd Is Becoming an Actual CultS

All hail. The altar of app needs fresh blood for its blogging oracles.

It's not just Myers, and it's not just Summit. Davos, Sun Valley, Fortune Brainstorm—even PandoDaily is in the midst of some kind of bootleg camping trip. The Valley vain aren't just content with pricing everyone out of San Francisco—the logical conclusion is to retreat into an obnoxious vortex of self-regard and come flying out at Mach 3 in some woodland resort.

And maybe that's just fine. Let's let them self-seclude—so long as they don't trot back and try to convert the rest of us.

To contact the author of this post, write to biddle@gawker.com

Sorry to Courtney Boyd MYERS, whose last name was spelled incorrectly when this post first went up.