Blog Post

Two Startups Shoot for the Snobbish Set

Trying to reach a mass audience is so 2007. Who needs the hoi polloi when you can target the elite? Big Think and SQUA.RE are two startups using web video to go after a more, ahem, refined audience. One wants to invite you into an ivory tower, while the other wants to keep you at arm’s length from a world you probably can’t afford.

Big Think wants to become the YouTube for ideas. The site has experts like professor Steven Pinker, author Deepak Chopra, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer answering big questions on topics like identity, politics and media. The video answers to these questions are supposed to kick-start discussions with people like you and me who can post responses or comments.

Site co-founder Peter Hopkins says Big Think has received angel financing in the “low seven figures” from a handful of investors including Peter Thiel (of PayPal and Facebook), former Harvard president Larry Summers and Family Ties TV producer Gary David Goldberg. The company has one part-time and five full-time employees.

In a world in which everyone’s a pundit, it’s nice to see someone recognizing the value of experts, but I just can’t see Big Think taking off. It’s just…so…heavy. Questions like “How are language and identity connected?” or “Has capitalism run mmok?” require too much brainpower when I’m multi-tasking with my computer, and the answers are snippets, so the topic can’t be more fully explored. While I haven’t watched all the videos, the only “fun” on Big Think I came across was “Writing for the Harvard Lampoon,” and “What is the most lavish party you have been to?” It’s like I’m reading cartoons from The New Yorker — clever, but fun in a way that’s elitist. Ultimately the whole thing feels like a big Ivy League club that I’m not welcome in.

Speaking of clubs where I’m not wanted, I’m definitely on the wrong side of the velvet rope for SQUA.RE, a new invitation-only site targeted at 18-to-35-year-olds interested in luxury.

To put it bluntly, SQUA.RE is DU.MB.

There are two components to the site. The first, which consists of four Internet TV channels devoted to nightlife, style, high living and luxury travel, is open to the public. The must-know-the-secret-knock area of the site requires an invitation and allows you (well… probably not you) to post videos and connect with other high rollers. The site was funded by Paul-Rene Albertini, former chairman and CEO of Warner Music International, and will be seeking VC funding during the second stage of development.

But really, all you need to know about SQU.ARE can be summed up in the press announcement the company sent out:

SQUA.RE founders, 25-year-olds Olivier Bassil and Jeremy Genin, believe their friends from all over the world will make SQUA.RE their online meeting point for sharing tips for a better lifestyle and for meeting new, gorgeous and entertaining friends, with the same desires and ideas about life and luxury.

Oddly enough both SQUA.RE and Big Think were founded by guys in their mid-twenties (well, that’s kinda true — Big Think was co-founded by Hopkins, 24, and Victoria Brown, a 33-year-old woman). I spoke with Hopkins, who wanted to make sure people knew that the site was being run by five people in their twenties and early thirties — that the idealism of youth hadn’t been crushed out of them yet by the old naysayers.

That’s something to have a Big Think about.