Oct 9, 2015 · 5 minutes

Last night’s episode of StartupU couldn’t be called the calm before the storm. It was more like the total freakout before the fall.

After seven weeks of manufacturing bizarre activities to try to teach the “students” how to be entrepreneurs, Tim Draper is about to throw them to the wolves. Wolves being in this case 40 “world famous” VCs (of whom we recognized one) who are going to demolish their pitches if the VCs are remotely professional or honest.

Startups frequently get demolished at TechCrunch Disrupt, at PandoLand, or on Shark Tank by the judges even when they have an actual working product. Sometimes even when they have revenues. Almost none of these students have either. It’s unclear that many of them even know if -- or how -- their idea might work.

Even some of my favorite participants were so unprepared it was hard to watch last night.

Erin (a contender to win in my view) put together a sample of her “Romeo in a box” gift box for a clueless guy to give to his girlfriend. Let’s put aside for a minute the “demo” was a gift box she put together after going shopping, not a working app that could show that she could “get to know” the woman in any guy’s life and handpick items for her. It was meant to show the “$50 level” box her service would send. Only she spent more than $50 on the items inside. That’s Pets.com math.

Then there was Carly, the animal lover whose Pretty Litter is designed to change colors to detect anything unhealthy in a cat’s urine. I’ve said for weeks, it’s literally the only product I could see myself buying.

But last night, it became clear she still has no idea if this is even chemically possible. Her “demo” was several layers of baking soda with different food coloring in it. The idea was that she would “pee” on it and the pink-colored baking soda would run off and show the blue colored layer. Her ever-supportive roommate Ana peed into a cup for her. Since there wasn’t actually a chemical reaction happening here, we’re not sure why the liquid needed to be pee. Human pee. Or why Carly needed a pee surrogate.


Worse still was Tony. You remember the one who wants to 3-D print houses? He “successfully” 3-D printed a concrete D… that even his wife said looked like dog shit. Literally like dog shit, piped into the shape of a D. And I only mean “successfully 3-D printed” if you consider a robot arm piping concrete into that shape to be 3-D printing, which it most certainly is not.

But that’s not what worries Tim Draper about Tony. Oh no. He’s worried he won’t quit his other job to 3-D print his dog shit D’s full time until he has enough of them to make an entire house.

Tony gives an impassioned speech about how hard he’s worked to be where he is and how he shouldn’t have to throw it away. Which is code for: Even he knows this is total and complete bullshit. Also: His “other job” is the construction company his dad built. He likely didn’t work too hard to get where he was. Sort of like in an earlier challenge when he called his mom to buy out his supply of women’s underwear and justified it as using “his network.”

The only one with a more improbable business than Tony is Keyonna. Remember, Keyonna, who insisted she could make a mask that could smush makeup on your face into an instant, celebrity-quality 5 minute makeover. She’s seemingly realized that’s a real Tony house of an idea. How? Your guess is as good as mine because the staff didn’t want to seem to tell her. Her newest “pivot”-- which occurred to her just a day or so before pitch day-- is a mirror that uses facial recognition software (I’m not joking) to greet you in the morning and ask you what kind of makeup you’d like and then guide you through applying it.

It’s important to remember that Keyonna is not a programmer and has no skills to build any of this. Also, it should be an app given iPhones have cameras. Also, I am not sure women want it. But mostly, she day dreamed an idea the day before pitch day and expects to get funded.

It’s not even laughable it’s all so tragic. Because these kids think they’ve paid for actual advice on how to get funding. For weeks the Draper staff has just lied to these students about what VCs expect to see. And now they are going to throw them to the wolves. Draper himself said: “Those steely eyed venture capitalists can be ruthless if you are not prepared.” Perhaps his “university” should have prepared them then.

Pitch day goes one of two ways: The students get humiliated or success is artificially staged for the cameras. I’m certainly not rooting for the former, but the latter may do more damage to the students and anyone watching.

The most delusional moment came right at the end of the show when Charlie Taibi, the director of the “university” gave the students one last pep talk. He said that $50 billion was invested in startups last year-- nearly $1 billion a week. Then added: “That’s you! Tomorrow!.... If you want it to be.”

And that’s precisely the problem with DraperU. It preaches if you can dream it you can do it. And the entire startup world knows that’s total bullshit. You dream it and then you whiteboard it and then you build it and then you get product/market fit and show traction and then grown up VCs fund you, if you can get in front of them and if you are lucky. And then -- and only then-- the actual struggle begins.

Here’s the worst part. Charlie added this was “the best class we’ve ever had.”

Pitch day is next week’s season (and likely series) finale. Lord have mercy on the student’s souls.