Sexist like me: The Evan Thornley startup manifesto

An Australian tech exec reveals the secret to his success: Categorically underpaying women. Give the man a medal!

Evan Thornley at Australian Labour Party rally
Credit: Wikipedia

The technology industry is truly basking in the glow of a new golden age, populated entirely by highly intelligent people who take pride in constantly broadening their minds and aggressively promoting revolutionary thoughts to combat restrictive traditions and prejudices. Folks like these are responsible for the '60s; equality across race, religion, and sexual orientation; a free Internet and open source code. These are people who continually live on the edge of tomorrow’s thinking.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the sound bites of the tech industry’s latest contribution to society: the startup founder. The most recent example is a truly insightful and thought-provoking comment made by LookSmart founder, Evan Thornley, when addressing attendees of a recent startup conference somewhere down under. His premise: “Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper.”

When I read that, it felt like Hannibal Lecter had sawed off the top of my head and poured tabasco sauce on my brain. It's as if Ada Lovelace, Meg Whitman, and Sheryl Sandberg never happened. It's highly ironic that it came from someone responsible for the name LookSmart -- unless the second half of the company manifesto is SoundDumb.

And, no, this wasn’t taken out of context. Thornley goes on to say that part of the reason his company is successful is because he likes to hire women in order to take advantage of the fact that they’re economically undervalued. He gets all the same talents and abilities, but at a lower cost. He is almost literally devaluing them for his own gains and profit. Maybe the plan even works, but believing that’s a good thing, taking advantage of it, then bragging about it as though the glass ceiling is some kind of hidden brain nugget only you’ve managed to discover because you’re that talented at business, well ... wow.

It’s hard to sputter in print, but I’m doing it right now – and wasting valuable drops of whisky in the process. What’s possessing so many startup CEOs to keep coming up with thoughts and ideas that make Justin Bieber look like a MENSA candidate? Does absolute luck and buckets of undeserved money (on paper) corrupt brain cells absolutely? Travis Kalanik insulting his own customers; AirBnB’s founder, Joe Gebbia’s idea to market pads designed specifically for artists’ butts; Ryan Allis thinking his not quite 30 years of life experience was worth almost 1,300 PowerPoint slides; Yo – the list goes on and on.

I know the startup world is a different place than where the rest of us live – a place where money grows on promises and espresso mixed with Ritalin is an acceptable substitute for plasma. I suppose that eventually becomes mentally crippling. But these brain farts are streaming out at an unacceptable rate.

Look at them week to week and it’s funny; look at them in aggregate and it’s more disturbing than finding your wife in the living room, gnawing on your dog’s dead skull. Dollars to donuts if I were to post this prose a couple of days from now, there’d be another fresh example. You’re lucky I’m too drunk to check last week’s thought bombs.

Sure, I’m a professional snark and my job description says I need to ferret out stupidity in the tech sector on what I firmly believe is an overly prolific schedule, but at least make it a little challenging for me. These constant softballs are making me lazy – and they're killing me on the inside at a rate not even the tumblers of Scotch can match.

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