“American Kingpin” is Not a Startup Satire
“[Tech entrepreneurs] don’t seem to get into it for the purpose of pure greed and trying to make money. They end up there.”
The above words comes from a recent New York Times Magazine pieced titled “Mike Judge, The Bard of Suck” that profiled the creator of the popular HBO show “Silicon Valley.” But this quote might just as easily have come from the pen of Vanity Fair columnist Nick Bilton, whose most current book “American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road” is released today.
While the spring of 2017 has seen several satires of startup culture, Bilton’s new release isn’t one them. Instead, his book chronicles the rise and fall of Austin native Ross Ulbricht, who launched the Silk Road website, a next-generation anonymous marketplace that specialized in the kinds of products not typically found on Amazon — drugs, weapons, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons and assorted other items. According to the press clips for “American Kingpin,” this is “the story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized Web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law.”
Still looking for an ironic twist to this true-life tale? Then consider that the success of Ulbricht’s entrepreneurial venture essentially qualifies him as the first (and only) unicorn to emerge from a Central Texas founder. Although his time spent in the billion dollar club was cut short by his October 2013 arrest and subsequent life sentence.
Having read the two lengthy excerpts of the book in Wired from two years ago, I’m excited to tackle “American Kingpin” over the summer.
Hugh Forrest tries to write four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts generally cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith or meditating, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.