‘Startupland’ Documentary Sheds Light on the Human Stories Behind Startups

March 14, 2014

3:00 pm

Last night, at the E Street Landmark Theatre in downtown Washington, DC, the Kickstarter-funded Startupland made its global premiere. Centered on the experiences of early-stage startups going through the accelerator process, the web series offers not just very informative guidance through the startup journey (such as raising capital), but also insight on the touching and relatable human stories behind companies – a unique perspective that has not been shown in previous video documentations of the startup experience.

“Together [Jonathon Perrelli and I] had this idea, you know. We brought it to the screen and, you know, hopefully it makes a large impact on inspiring and educating entrepreneurs…everyone,” said director Justin Gutwein at the premiere.

“There is no option to fail – there just isn’t. The fear of that is so great that it’s just not an option,” said Elise Whang in one of the two episodes shown at last night’s premiere. Whang is the founder and CEO of SNOBSWAP, a luxury consignment e-commerce startup – one of the series’s five featured startups going through Fortify Ventures’ now-defunct accelerator program The Fort (the other startups include LegCyte, RidePost, TrendPo and The Trip Tribe). Prior to entering the startup world, Whang had a successful career as an attorney for the government, but she gave it all up to pursue this passion. Throughout the first two episodes of Startupland, we learn a little more about Whang’s back-story, the people in her life, and her motivations for wanting to start her own business – overall, giving us a more human story to the startup experience, outside of product design, venture capital, and whatnot.


The Q&A panel at last night’s ‘Startupland’ premiere, which included the founders of LegCyte, RidePost, SNOBSWAP, TrendPo, and The Trip Tribe, as well as director Justin Gutwein and producer Jonathon Perrelli.

From one founder recounting the six months spent living with his three other co-founders to another sharing how he literally abandoned everything from his previous life on the opposite end of the country, Startupland offers untold stories on what it means to dedicate one’s self to this startup life. It’s not all about wanting freedom from traditional careers or wanting to create products to make the world a better place; it’s about the human spirit and the reality that the faces behind each startup are no different from mine or yours.

“I thought they did a great job of kind of telling the story of startups – telling the story of entrepreneurship – which, when it’s successful, is awesome. But [there are] many challenges on the entrepreneurial journey, and I think they also show that in a very authentic way, which is an important message for most of us,” said Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL and Chairman and CEO of Revolution, at last night’s DC premiere.

While not the first series to focus on startups, Startupland shows the startup culture through a lens that allows the audience to empathize with the founders and teams rather than merely following their startup development. Rather than merely portraying the paradoxical fun-and-casual and high-intensity nature of startup culture, the series offers deeper perspectives around which to frame these startup experiences. Previously, shows that spotlight startup culture focus on the development of or the everyday operations at startups – The Verge‘s Small Empires or TechStars’s series come to mind. Or, even when focus shifts more towards the people behind startups, entertainment – rather than connection to human experiences – seem to be the primarily goal (such as with USA’s START UP  and the mess that was Bravo’s Start-Ups: Silicon Valley).

Of course, aside from giving us a more humanistic view on the startup life, Startupland succeeds in explaining the details of the startup experience and the various processes and activities in which entrepreneurs need to engage. For instance, in the second episode, SocialRadar’s Michael Chasen’s clear explanation on venture funding and equity split is accompanied by great graphics; Startupland provides viewers with easily digestable bits of startup knowledge from people in the industry who have had years of experience.

Last night’s premiere featured the first two episodes of the six-episode series, with a full release of all six episodes planned for June 6, 2014. Aside from DC, Gutwein and Perrelli will be touring to other startup hubs in the country to screen Startupland. Pre-oder the Startupland series here.

Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled director Justin Gutwein’s name as Justine Gutwein.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.