The Silicon Valley Fast Track to Wealth and Fame (That Comes at a Price)

Colin Kroll fit a very stereotypical millennial with the Silicon Valley mindset: self-taught coder and college dropout who made millions in 20s. Kroll grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and his intellect was shown at a young age. He began teaching himself to code in multiple languages and even had a business of bootlegging Japanese anime. He eventually dropped out of his local community college, and also was struggling with a drug addition from a young age.

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Colin Kroll

He had been previously behind two very popular apps: Vine, a popular six-second video platform that was bought by Twitter, and HQ Trivia, a live mobile gameshow where users can win real money. HQ Trivia was once valued at 100 million dollars and Vine was sold to Twitter for around 30 million dollars.

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Vine, a popular six-second video platform

 

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HQ Trivia, a popular trivia app where users can win real money

As described in the article, “Silicon Valley has changed the traditional path of business success. Instead of toiling up the corporate ladder, young coding whizzes can take a fast track to wealth and fame.” Kroll was able to quickly gain success, due to the speed of popularity of the apps he helped create. These apps were both viral sensations, gaining millions of users in a matter of months.

One of the hidden problems with all this Silicon Valley success is the addiction that sometime manifests. With all of this quick success comes with a need to maintain, leading to a huge amount of stress placed on the founders such as Kroll. His early drug addition only continued to grow worse with the impeding stress from trying to raise more money for his apps and keep users from migrating to his competition such as Facebook and Snapchat. His family also struggled with addition, leading to him trying to get his act together by enrolling at Oakland University and starting to go to AA meetings.

After his first app, Vine, was sold to Twitter he was offered a job at Twitter that was promised over a million dollars in bonuses and this led to a spiral. He began to treat his success by parting frequently and using drugs that he tried to stop taking years before. He was trying to again fit into the stereotypical mold of a successful tech millennial, making millions and partying to show off a “unstoppable” and idyllic lifestyle.

His engagement fell apart and he began buying luxury items: cars, apartments, clothing. He began hanging out with internet celebrities, may of whom got their fame from Vine. He started using drugs much more frequently, as to compensate from the long work hours and the increased pressure from investors.

Kroll also got into trouble with trying to raise money for his company as potential investors uncovered his Twitter history, along with the #MeToo movement make them “wary of any hint of hint of misconduct.” Twitter held an internal investigation that he had not sexually harassed anyone but did make a hostile work environment for may of the employees.

As Vine became obsolete and HQ Trivia was the new hot app on the market, he had a falling out with his partner Mr. Yusupov who apparently talked badly about his reputation behind his back and tried to get him out of the company.

Unfortunately, Kroll’s story ends after a holiday party on December 14th 2018 where he accidentally overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin in his NYC apartment.

Kroll’s story tells a tale of many of the pressures that result from someone so young becoming successful in a very short amount of time. An important quote from the New York Post article states, “There’s so much pressure on [start-up] founders because they need to deliver to investors,” said the company insider. “There’s a disproportionately younger set of founders in this space … They are brilliant and creative and innovative, but they are also young and inexperienced and naïve. All of a sudden, you’re going from a fun, creative time of building something into pressure from the investor side.” My personal opinion is that he became successful too fast and he was not ready to go to the side of trying to please investors when he was mainly in the construction of the app side rather than a more manager role.

This story also brings up many of the mental health concerns with this “Silicon Valley lifestyle” with depression and suicide becoming rampant among many of these young entrepreneurs as they are working extremely long hours and are under immense pressure to succeed. There needs to be more resources to help these entrepreneurs because many of them feel overwhelmed by the pressure and the fear of failing. Colin Kroll’s story is a cautionary tale to young entrepreneurs to not get in over their heads and to ask for help when they need it.

Sources:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-tech-whiz-behind-vine-and-hq-trivia-made-millions-in-his-20s-he-was-dead-by-34-11550283078

https://nypost.com/2018/12/22/ex-fiancee-of-dead-hq-co-founder-colin-kroll-success-got-the-best-of-him/

7 thoughts on “The Silicon Valley Fast Track to Wealth and Fame (That Comes at a Price)

  1. I’d be really interested to see mental health stats for young professionals in other high demanding industries such as banking or competitive grad programs in law/medicine. I also wonder if mental health issues are on the rise, or if Millenials and our generation are just more open to talking about them. My uneducated guess is that it might be little of both. For Silicon Valley in particular, the ethos is that everyone is changing the world/the next big thing–and while this spirit of ambition undoubtedly has its uses, I can’t help but think it’s a double-edged sword.

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  2. What a sad story. I am really curious as to how common drug addiction is within Silicon Valley. From my perspective it seems impossible to start a successful business while struggling with addiction, but given Colin’s story that must not be the case. I also wonder how many of Colin’s coworkers or colleagues knew of his addiction and at what point does it become their responsibility to step in and offer help, even if Colin appears to be successful on the outside.

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  3. This is a really unfortunate story, and as you said, I’m sure there are many others along these lines. It’s unfortunate that these founders are so passionate about their products, and it drives them to such intense levels of stress and depression. I wonder if investors or venture capitalist companies will start to implement more support for these founders that undergo such intense levels of stress. These startups progress and grow so quickly, that people often have difficulties keeping up with it, but there definitely needs to be more support as it begins to affect peoples’ mental health.

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  4. Everyone knows about Vine, but not many people know about Colin Kroll’s story. It is so unfortunate that he had obtained the success people dream of, but couldn’t enjoy the success he worked hard for. Similar to Justin Bieber who reported that achieving fame young nearly destroyed him, Colin Kroll is not alone. I also think startup incubators should offer trainings and supports in mental health, but I know it wouldn’t be possible in a profit-driving system.

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  5. Wow, this is such a sad reality that is not addressed nearly as much as it should be. The pressure for these young tech founders to fit the stereotype of a successful millennial, resulting in partying and drug use, shows parallels to how young movie and TV stars tend to fall into a downward spiral of excessive partying and drug use. Do you think any kind of major success at too young an age will likely cause someone to fall into these bad/dangerous habits?

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  6. Such a sad story. Mental health is something that’s hard to talk about in any environment, and I can only the imagine the extent to which this might be an unspoken issue in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs often have the charismatic, get-it-done attitude. And as much as that applies to your work, it does not always work the same in terms of your personal life and mental health. This post is a great reminder that even the people leading and changing the world don’t always have to have it all together.

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