The small company that start-up founder Werner von Siemens founded more than 175 years ago in a backyard in Berlin has grown into a global corporation. When five former IBM employees started their own business almost 40 years ago, they created SAP, and the group is now one of the largest software providers. And two college students from California started Google in a garage in 1998. Founders are undoubtedly important. You take risks without fear of failure, build new things, provide important impulses and, above all, create jobs. But success rises to their heads again and again all too quickly, they take off - and then often reveal rather crude attitudes.
The latest example: In a position paper of the Young Digital Economy Advisory Board, which is supposed to advise the Federal Minister of Economics and in which mainly company founders sit, “disciplining the press” was called for. According to the proposal, the media should in future be legally required to determine how and whether to report on start-ups. So far, according to the lawsuit, the reports have been too critical and in some cases defamatory, which is an obstacle to the success of German start-ups, according to the analysis. The media would even be partly to blame for the poor environment for IPOs in Germany.
Of course, such ideas of government control over reporting are irritating and utterly absurd. They would also seriously damage the freedom of the press. CDU Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier immediately distanced himself from the ideas of his advisors, the members of the advisory board accepted the suggestions immediately, but much too late, as the paper was already a few months old and accessible. None of those responsible had noticed the explosiveness. Nobody wants it now, control mechanisms have failed, it is said. Nevertheless, it is a process that cannot be excused and damages the image.
The Wirecard case shows how dangerous it is to suppress criticism
Above all, it shows how dangerous the hubris of founders (mostly still men) can be. Entrepreneurs too have to adhere to laws and conventions. But they often don't care. They prefer to see themselves as a destroyer of traditional business models that show the established companies. They are blinded by their success and sometimes even generate themselves as supposed do-gooders. Travis Kalanick, who once founded the taxi app Uber, didn't care about the German passenger transport law. Some delivery services sometimes ignore the validity of German labor laws for their own employees. And Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is specifically turning trading with his customers' data into a lucrative business model. Most founders are reluctant to accept public criticism. To “discipline” the media, that might also appeal to Zuckerberg.
But that is a wrong path. A critical discussion, especially with start-ups, is essential, especially when it comes to planned IPOs. Because then investors should put their money into the company and buy shares. They depend on the company and its business model being examined very carefully and fairly - by the media, banks, authorities and shareholder protection agencies or stock analysts. Transparency is required. The Wirecard case impressively shows where critical voices are simply wiped away or even massively suppressed. Many were clouded by the hope that the payment service processor from Aschheim near Munich could become a globally successful Internet company, and they have shown indulgence. It would have been better for everyone to have looked particularly critically.