Posted originally on LinkedIn, 30 October 2023
It is with some sadness I see the collapse of Supie, the online supermarket, in the media this afternoon. I had never used Supie, and was not an investor, so my interest was that of someone who invests in startups and early stage companies plus associated funds.
It’s my hope that the folks at Supie have a good support crew around them, especially founder Sarah Balle. Losing a company that you have put your heart and soul into, and to have it covered across the media, will only add to their sense of pain and grief. They will feel responsible to their staff who have been left out of pocket, their investors who have seen their capital go to zero, and their most loyal customers. Supie were brash and joyful, they celebrated their early successes very publicly, and were not shy of the media. In this sense, they will now have to endure the flip side of fame as its failure becomes covered widely.
Early comments have said Supie found it too tough to operate against the big two supermarket operators without legislative changes. But they chose to operate in this environment anyway, and raised money to try and win even though they knew the cards were stacked against them. Other thoughts might include that they simply didn’t raise enough cash for the task ahead, or that the business model was simply not strong enough to be online only.
I did not like reading that Supie ended with $3m in debt, with a large number of unpaid staff members, and that the likely outcome is not just administration but liquidation and little left over for staff who needed their pay. It may trigger questions by the administrator and authorities over whether the company was trading while insolvent, and whether directors of the company have more questions to answer about the company's governance.
That’s why it’s also my hope we have learned more about how to behave towards young and bright founders when a startup collapses.
I say it’s my hope, because I was an unfortunate witness to the public and media lynching of young company founder Jake Millar, whose Unfiltered Media company cratered in the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic. Certain media wolves with axes to grind and some self-interest descended upon that vulnerable young man, hounding him across continents. One tech commentator stated on LinkedIn that he had lined up his next column in the Herald to have a go at Jake and the “fatcats and douchebags” who backed young Jake and his team. That column was nixed by the NZME CEO Michael Boggs and his Herald Editor Shayne Currie after I went directly to them, pleading for them to stop the harassing of a vulnerable young man.
To their eternal credit, those two gentlemen saw that the promised opinion piece went way too far, and did not deserve to be in the Herald. Unfortunately for Jake, other media didn’t show the same care or integrity. Jake killed himself several months later in East Africa, far away from his friends and support networks.
This is where I will now choose my words with both sincerity and care. It turns out that one of the directors of Supie who resigned on Friday last week when the Supie administration was imminent, was the tech commentator I refer to above.
There will be much debate and commentary over Supie, the environment it operated in, its management, governance and vision. There may be tough questions and even investigations into how the company ended up failing and affecting so many staff. But I hope we’ve learned enough about the impact of media lashings and online pile-ons for failed startups and their founders that we are measured and empathetic. The sun will still come up tomorrow, and good people always deserve a second chance.
Those who tried to build Supie deserve this from us, just as Jake Millar deserved it two years ago.
This mini blog contains infrequent public commentary by Aaron Bhatnagar mostly on business, but also political and philanthropic matters of importance to him.