This Startup Does Not Exist takes an ironic stance on the startup industry

By Shira Jeczmien

Updated May 17, 2020 at 09:21 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Generative adversarial networks, or GAN, are sprouting up all around us. From the cover of Dazed Beauty’s Issue 0 (Kyle Jenner’s makeup was created by GAN), and a website that generates infinite images of people who don’t exist, to ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com, which is a website that creates, at every click of the refresh button, a new landing page for an imaginary startup here to revolutionise your… something.

GAN works by running two classes of neural networks into one final output—meaning that it takes real data and feeds an algorithm that distorts it in a formulaic way in order to create more variations that are anchored in real traits, but are completely fake. In many ways, GAN can be used for positive developments such as advancing virtual realities in video games or even aid in the visualisation of design across fashion to interiors as well as urban planning.

In response to the growing use of GAN in our day-to-day, a movement of websites has risen, examining the many aspects of our life that GAN is capable of affecting. Using a variation of the URL address This XX Does Not Exist, ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com is the latest addition to this movement (alongside ThisWaifuDoesNotExist.net and ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com). The site runs GAN to generate endless fake startups websites that look and sound real, but are in fact created in a matter of seconds. 

What makes ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com so intriguing is its accurate depiction of a startup movement that has seen companies founded by the thousands. All the companies somehow follow a similar formula which was most likely subscribed to them from accelerators and advisors in the chase for VC investment. This site accurately exposes this formula in its ability to use GAN to generate endless startups that seem, on the surface, legitimate.

The layout resembles that of a classic landing page of a 2019 startup. A large hero image with the startup name and tagline greets the users as they are first introduced to the company. “Econdr, Build hardware that unlocks new use cases”, is one startup’s name and mission. “Finise, Streamline a process through tech”, reads another. The names of the fake companies are well in line within the trend of startups using one word names that oftentimes take on a go-to suffix like -ly or -ify (Contently, Spotify), drop a few vowels (Grindr, Flickr) or adapt to a magician’s lexicon like in the case of (Shazam, Hulu, Venmo).

After users are introduced to the company through its landing page, name and tagline, they need only scroll down to discover the team section. For any aspiring startup, this is a crucial part of the business, one that Venture Capital companies examine closely as they chose who to invest their money into. A winning team of CEOs, COOs, CFOs and CTOs is key. While it isn’t clear exactly where ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com pulls the images for its fake team members, it is assumed that these are taken from ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com and attributed a random combination of names. 

“Finise is more than just Streamliner. Community, Native and Served are just a few characteristics of Finise. But we offer a lot more!” reads the tagline above the prices and planning further down the page. Following which users are presented with several price plans for various uses—from personal to enterprise. And finally, the whole faux startup is sealed with a stamp of approval using quotes from fake clients currently using the service, a newsletter sign up option, and a ‘get in touch’ form to fill.

This website of endless fake startups is a subtle and humorous yet powerful way to highlight the absurdity present in the startup era. According to a 2015 report by Forbes, approximately 90 percent of startups fail, and it feels as though ThisStartupDoesNotExist.com is bleak criticism of the culture behind an industry of ‘disruptors’ who rely so heavily on VC funding and thus conform to an often destructive ethos of growth, inflated markets and disruption where it is not always necessary. Surely GAN’s ability to generate endless fake startups in a matter of seconds should be seen as a wake-up call that we should take this industry with a pinch of salt. 

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