Startup Knowledge Ruined A Movie For Me

I was at the gym the other day, and a movie called The Darkest Hour came on. Now, this turns out to be a movie which has general consensus as being Not Good (12% on Rotten Tomatoes, etc). However, the thing which first threw me out of my suspension of disbelief was an early scene to do with startup economics.

I now have to recap the first 15 minutes of the film. Sorry. Our protagonists were set up as being some sort of web/mobile developers. They had developed a site/app that let travelers find fun nightlife in new cities, and meet up with one another. They were flying into Moscow, because they had developed said app up-front with the intent of selling it off to some Big Russian Business. When they land they mention looking at the site, and seeing 50 active users in Moscow that day. Showing up at their meeting, it turns out that their partner has sold them out, and is presenting their Big Idea to the Russians, with them cut out of the picture. Notably, he’s not stealing the actual app from them, just the idea. They are now incredibly discouraged, feel he has won, and make comments about how they guess their app has to shut down.

That’s the point where it lost me. These people have (a) an working application, which (b) has a noticeable number of active users despite their only having just launched it. Their ex-partner has an idea for a rip-off of a site with first-mover advantage. Assuming that they have any idea at all about how they want to monetize this service, they’re in a clearly good position. Either they perform said monetization themselves, or they find a new business partner to sell to. (If they don’t have any idea how to monetize, of course, there’s a problem. But if that’s the case I’m not sure how they hoped to sell to the Russians.)

So. 15 minutes in, and I’m forced to either break suspension of disbelief or conclude that our protagonists are idiots. I don’t think the writers wanted either of these outcomes.

I’m used to losing immersion due to computer-related mistakes. But I think this is the first time it’s happened because of a more general tech-industry issue.

My operating theory is that this is a case of screenwriters assuming that every industry is like screenwriting. Presumably if you’ve written a script on spec, and you show up at a studio to try to sell it, and it turns out that your backstabbing partner is already there selling a script based on the same idea… you’re kind of screwed.