Leave ‘hipster’ startups alone

Posted on Aug 23rd, 2016 | News and opinion

If there’s a useless cliché in small business and freelancing based culture that gets bandied about and chastised more than poor old millennials, it’s the dreaded ‘hipster’. The hipster truly is the stereotype that keeps giving, no matter how fickle the supposed criteria is.

One minute they’re all sanctimonious vegans – the next they won’t shut up about how brilliant bacon is. All of them wear retro skinny jeans – just like the ones sold in mainstream clothing chains. They’re snapping photos on their obsolete polaroid cameras – then somehow uploading them directly to their Instagram accounts. The contradictions are seemingly endless.

These caricatures have become so interchangeable that for many hipster-bashers, telling the difference between so-called hipsters and made-up people has become a bit of a struggle. In one instance,
Melbourne-based self-proclaimed‘web developer, mystery blogger and jazz kitten’ Samuel Davide managed to gain worldwide notoriety as the ‘world’s ultimate hipster’ by giving a ludicrous interview featuring pearls of wisdom such as “I admire the style of Trotsky in leather” and “Sometimes I just wear something random, like a lab coat!

The Independent, The Daily Mail and countless international publications reported on this astonishing discovery, and Davide was embarrassingly even featured on the front page of the Age Newspaper in Melbourne, before revealing that he was a satirical creation dreamt up by himself and freelance journalist Tara Kenny, who The Age quickly parted ways with.

While admittedly it’s refreshing whenever that the judgemental ire of the media is aimed somewhere other than immigrants and benefit claimants, the fad of ‘loving to hate’ hipsters has turned refusing to live-and-let-live into a bit of a global sport – with this negative attitude extending to so-called ‘hipster startups’.

It’s one thing applying daft labels onto people; sticks and stones, after all. But does the slur negatively affect the way small, niche startups are perceived?

“Obnoxious, aloof, pretentious and shallow”

“The reason nobody wants to own up to being a hipster is because it is increasingly a pejorative term; it’s a social slur” clarifies Chris Mandle in The Telegraph. “When we call someone a hipster, we’re identifying facets of their personality or lifestyle that we think are obnoxious, aloof, pretentious, shallow and calling them out on it.”

As we’ve previously discussed in our feature piece on the Cereal Killer café, the backlash can get quite ugly when small businesses with a ‘hipster’ stigma try to open up their doors in areas where poorer people are being priced out of living. But this is isn’t really fair, according to author Zachary Crockett in Time Magazine.

“Hipsters have become the lone scapegoats for a variety of social trends, from gentrification to the decay of quality music. At the same time, they are, in the words of author Joe Mande, nothing more than “unemployed city-dwelling narcissist[s] with a penchant for bad clothes.” This seems to be a definition most agree with.

But there’s just one problem. After spending nearly a year researching so-called hipsters for our new book, Hipster Business Models, the Priceonomics team and I have come to the conclusion that this breed of hipster simply does not exist. In fact, the “hipster” is merely an invention of those who are looking to do some good old fashioned bullying.”

I would postulate that there probably isn’t a sudden spike in businesses selling frivolous items and decadent services (these have existed since trade first began), but moreso a higher awareness via people moaning about them (and just about everything else) on social media.

While accounts like the vastly popular ‘Get in the Sea’ do a great job of hilariously lampooning outrageously pretentious businesses, sadly the bile has an occasional tendency to extend to anyone who dares to try something a bit different to stand out.

Just like regular people

The H-word gets thrown around in online articles with little to no regard for what it means – and because nobody really identifies as a hipster, the flimsy stereotyping rarely gets called out. Case in point. What is it about this hoodie with a pillow inside it that earns it the label of, quote, ‘a hipster hoodie’?

Is it the fact that innovation was applied to it? The fact that it might be worn by a person with a stylish beard at some point?

Or perhaps more likely, because the word ‘hipster’, with all of its negative connotations, elicits slightly more emotional appeal to an otherwise quite boring headline?

Unsurprisingly, the characteristics whimsically attributed to ‘hipster startups’ are just as ambiguous and paradoxical as those applied to the people supposedly running them.

Startup magazine The Heureka, for example, claim one of the ‘Nine Signs you’ve become a startup hipster’ is that ‘You have to say your startup’s name 44 times before anyone can successfully repeat it back to you’.

But on the contrary, the much-referenced ‘Hipster Business Name Generator’ exclusively produces two simple nouns separated by an ‘&’ symbol, for example ‘Shovel & Crown’ or ‘Joy and Bishop’.

So, which is it? If you believe both of these sources, you’ll sensibly come to the conclusion that hipsters have varied tastes, influences, and opinions.

You know, like regular people do.

Hipsters and self-employment

Tech Startup blogger Steve Glaveski notes in his article for Startup Daily:

“The Hipster Handbook suggests that the hipster sees working as a necessary evil, “reserved for the masses by of which by definition the Hipster is not a part.”

By extension, it makes sense that many such hipsters would turn their noses up at the traditional convention of working for the man and look to start their own business where they and they alone can dictate terms.”

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? If by ‘hipster’ he means ‘entrepreneurial person’, this is spot on. But of course, starting your own small business is not a pursuit solely for people who dress in a certain way – it’s a growing lifestyle amongst people of all ages, backgrounds, interests and social groups looking for more freedom in the way they work.

According to the ONS report trends in self-employment in the UK: 2001-15, the number of British people working for themselves rose from 3.8 million in 2008 to 4.6 million last year, an increase of more than 20%.


For lack of better words, being your own boss is becoming more ‘hip’ than ever, which is not just good news for the economy, but also for other self-employed people. The more people identifying as self employed, the more attention the Government are likely to pay towards the issues and barriers they face. Everyone wins.

Hipster startups annoying you? Just let them get on with it

Haters are always gon’ hate, but it just seems like such wasted energy to vilify small businesses for trying to stand out. After all, an ill-thought out, flash-in-the-pan idea based on a fashion trend won’t last the test of time anyway – so why not just let them sink or swim?

Starting a business takes a lot of effort and ultimately isn’t for everyone, but it’s almost as if some people who don’t have the hunger to ditch the 9-5 humdrum and follow their dreams would rather just deride those who do by lazily applying patronising labels.

The moral of the story for startups: if you’ve done your market research and there’s a clear demand for your niche product or service, then listen to the people who matter – your target audience – not your detractors. No matter how big your beard is.

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Written by Tom West

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