“Journalism”

Logo_better_place Globes published today an obnoxious article (Hebrew) about Better Place – Shai Agassi's electric car venture. From the first word through the last, it was clearly setup as a hit-job by a clueless nobody "journalist" who has obviously never tried to accomplish anything meaningful in her life. 

Disclosures: I'm not an expert on the subject matter. I'm not very familiar with the company. I've never met or spoken with Shai Agassi, and have no other connections I'm aware of with his company. 

The "article" attacks Better Place for failing to deliver on a variety of milestones that the "journalist" had apparently expected them to. For example, they did not yet start manufacturing cars or employing 50,000 people in Israel after less than two years since the company was founded. The writer of course has started multiple successful companies, and has extensive experience in building factories within months…. 

This seems to have been going on for a while now – On the one hand Better Place has gotten some incredible press, and on the other hand "journalists" ripping apart Shai and the company, as if they owed them or the public anything (they don't…). It's sad to see this kind of hit-job journalism which is designed to do nothing more than sell a few more copies of the newspapers. The cost of hit-jobs by mediocre writers is much cheaper than actual journalistic work by journalists. And unfortunately, tabloid crap like this sells newspapers…
 
So as an FYI to Ms. Shlomit Lan – startups in general, and specifically one as ambitious as Better Place, take years or decades to build. During those years, as long as it's a law-abiding, private company, it owes *nothing* to the public as it relates to timelines, milestones, business models, pricing, etc, etc. Building a great company is never as simple or quick as it seems, and if they figure out half of the challenges they currently face in say 5 years, that will be an incredible achievement. Passing this kind of judgment on the company so early in the game proves you're either clueless, or jealous, or you've intentionally setup a hit-job. 

A couple of years ago I attended a conference where Yossi Vardi was part of a panel judging startups. After passing criticism to a couple of the entrepreneurs, Yossi stopped the conference, took the microphone, and said he has something critically important to remind all the judges, journalists and investors dealing with entrepreneurs. He quoted Theodore Roosevelt's 1910 speech (also covered by TechCrunch here):

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Shai Aggasi is the man in the arena. He might fail miserably, but he will do so while daring to make great things happen. 

I know too little to determine whether Better Place is good for the environment or bad (I suspect it's a pretty good alternative to buying oil to fund the bad guys and burn it to destroy the world…). I simply dread the day that "journalists" kill innovation and innovators by abusing their power to run hit jobs like this on the men in the arena. Therefore I had to respond. 

Finally – to anyone who is genuinely interested in this project, I highly recommend this hugely inspiring talk that Shai Agassi recently gave at TED:

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  • Don| April 26, 2009 at 4:04AM

    The writer forgot to mention in his “Disclosures” that globes exposed some of his fathers nasty tricks in an investment fund that he runs. And yes Mr. Galai, like you said yourself, indeed you understand very little on that issue

  • karin kloosterman| April 26, 2009 at 5:05AM

    Yaron,
    I haven’t read the Globe’s story (I will soon), but the problem with Better Place is that they act as though they are above or immune to criticism. This is a very dangerous place to be, especially when they are riding the “environment” brand to sell their business model.
    The idea may be a hot one for industrialists, who are all quick to get in on the action, but environmentalists are critical of the Better Place plan for a number of reasons. You don’t need to be a veteran journalist to be able to write about electric cars or technology; of course you do need to stand behind the facts you put down.
    While Better Place laps up the press frenzy around them, as though Agassi is the new pied piper, I think some constructive criticism of the company is very much in order. And it’s not about knocking a man down to watch him fall, but part of the democratic process where people know there are other sides to one story. People can decide for themselves.
    I’ve written many positive articles about Better Place on sites like TreeHugger, but negative ones as well (Huffington Post). If nothing else, they generate some healthy discussion and debate, like the one you’ve offered here.
    Hope all’s well,
    Karin Kloosterman
    http://www.greenprophet.com

  • Yaron Galai| April 26, 2009 at 8:08AM

    Hey Karin – thanks for leaving your comment… long time!
    I couldn’t agree more – I have no issue at all with criticizing the venture… there are obviously many points that call for a real discussion – Is moving the emissions from the car to a remote power plant really a good idea? How do you safely dispose depleted batteries? Etc, etc, etc.
    Again – I’m far from being an expert on the subject, and would have been very interested in reading a real journalistic report exploring these challenges and how Better Place is (or is failing) addressing them. But there was non of that in this hit job. Instead we got a piece snickering at their “failing” to build an automotive industry employing 50,000 people after ~18 months or “failing” to have finished development of the battery, etc. Really brilliant journalism…

  • Yigal Ben Efraim| April 30, 2009 at 4:16PM

    Wow, I don’t think I ever seen an Israeli with such presentation qualities, Agassi is for real!
    Anyhow, more from Roosevelt here:
    http://www.quotes.net/authors/Theodore%20Roosevelt
    😉

  • Yigal Ben Efraim| April 30, 2009 at 4:16PM

    Israeli Techie, that is…

  • Yaron Galai| April 30, 2009 at 4:16PM

    😉
    It surprises me that you have so quickly forgotten the presentations you received from me…

  • Yigal Ben Efraim| April 30, 2009 at 5:17PM

    LOL, I didn’t forget a single moment, I meant an Israeli with an Israeli accent… 🙂

  • Yaron Galai| April 30, 2009 at 5:17PM

    Now that makes a little more sense!!