All that glitters is not gold. And that's unforgivable.
It could be a brilliant marketing ploy or true exasperation, but an entrepreneur is lamenting about his own success, and it brings up the age-old lesson for many founders: You need to have a business behind your idea -- as great as that idea may be -- or you will fail.
First, some background. The founder of the website ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com is reportedly asking customers to stop ordering because of huge demand. "Please stop buying this horrible glitter product — I'm sick of dealing with it. Sincerely, Mat," the owner, Mathew Carpenter, is quoted as saying on Product Hunt.
It isn't often someone badmouths his own product, but that's Carpenter's style apparently. In an interview with Slate, he lets on that he never thought it was a good idea in the first place. "I apparently have too much free time on my hands because now my plans for the next few weeks consist of sending stupid fucking glitter to terrible people," he said.
He also doesn't like his customers. "Over 2,000 of the world’s brightest people have spent money on this service," he told Slate. "It's good for business, but bad for society."
Actually, it isn't good for business, because there's no business at all. There appears to be no real effort to ever deliver in scale on what was offered: a bag of glitter sent to someone somebody else detests, for $10. It was a throwaway idea, along with Carpenter's other purported web claim to fame, a site that shows cartoon images of penises inserted in places they're not expected.
Given the controversy over his glitter company, Carpenter might simply want to swap those gratuitous pics with images of himself. He has, after all, committed a cardinal sin in the entrepreneurial world: He squandered an opportunity, the eighth deadly sin of business. He is snatching failure from the jaws of victory.
SendYourEnemiesGlitter was, at bottom, a very, very good idea. People hate other people. It's human nature, and no amount of time watching Sesame Street or hugging it out can fix that. We have enemies and rivals and people we just think are creepy. If we didn't revel in rivalry, no one would ever watch Bravo.
What's more, sometimes we want bad things to happen to those we don't like. Very often, we treat them shabbily, and it's well worth the penance of 10 Hail Mary's, mumbled while kneeling on pencils, to give our antagonists their just deserts.
A glitter bomb makes this hatred fun and fabulous. Glitter is, after all, sparkly and hateful. It gets everywhere. It stays with you. As Carpenter himself described it, it is the "herpes of the craft world." There is nothing wrong with sending it to a rival, an enemy or a brother-in-law. It sends a wonderful, disturbing, shiny and clear message.
That's why Product Hunt, perhaps the best measure nowadays of the viability of an idea, blew up when it was exposed to ShipYourEnemiesGlitter. It was a great idea.
It seems Carpenter at one time was even serious about this as a business. In the FAQ part of the website, the first questions is, "Is this for real?" Clearly channeling Goethe, Carpenter poetically insists it is. "Yes, you fucking idiot," he writes. "We spent too much time, money & resources putting this shit hole of a website up to not get paid for it."
Well put, and actually quite appropriate given that your customers want to stick it to people they don't like. Malice loves company, too. It is, in its own profane, infantile way, the perfect marketing pitch.
So if the idea was good and the business was real, where did Carpenter go wrong (assuming, of course, that this is not some brilliant publicity stunt, fueled by the glitter cartels or the Sith)?
He is giving up.
Saying you want your customers to stop ordering your product is akin to uttering Adava Kedavra in the entrepreneurial community. Product Hunt, for instance, is the buzzing hive of innovators, dreamers, creators and builders. It is where many people go each day for validation. More often than not, they find rejection, but that's OK. Rejection and failure are ingredients in learning and success. That brilliant community deserves brilliant, serious people, not clowns who turn tail at the first signs of victory. It's one thing to learn from failure. It's quite another to seek it.
Many entrepreneurs around the world would sell their grandmother's favorite kitten's kidney for a chance to get an idea and company with the kind of response ShipYourEnemiesGlitter got. They would have rightly seen that as a gift, something earned and worth honoring, something worth building a business around.
These opportunities are fleeting and rare. There is a randomness to entrepreneurship, and sometimes bad ideas and worse businesses get validation, whether that be a $55,000 crowdfunded potato-salad bowl on Kickstarter or the $300 million otherwise smart investors blew funding Fab for too long.
But ShipYourEnemiesGlitter was a good idea, one actually worth saving and cultivating. Perhaps Carpenter will awaken and see that lamenting about success sucks compared with making this a go as a business, one where he can actually make a ton of money shipping a ton of glitter. Or, perhaps even better, other entrepreneurs will see the validation of this idea and do something similar, and honor it.
This should have been a story about pure, fun entrepreneurial success, but Carpenter's attitude and his lack of seriousness shut down the party early. Hopefully, there is a level of entrepreneurial hell worthy of such an attitude and crime.
And, more hopefully, Dante stocked it well with the stickiest of glitter.
Related: When Innovation Means Playing God