What “Parasite’s” Oscar Win Means for Founders and Investors

Here’s what startup founders—and investors—can learn from the Oscar-winning movie.

Last Updated: December 31, 2020

Published: March 3, 2020

Matt Petit

M13 will occasionally share what we’re overhearing on our Slack channels as our team unpacks the day’s news. Today, Christine and Matt are exploring what “Parasite’s” big night at the Oscars means for founders and investors, the importance of background checks, late-stage capitalism, and more.

Matt Hoffman  11:41 PM

Hi Christine! I was so excited about the Oscar winners tonight because 1) I’ve actually seen more than half of the nominated movies (not an easy feat for a parent of young kids) 2) I know of your personal connection to director Bong, and 3) a great movie, "Parasite", deservedly won!

I’m not an arts critic (although I used to be one in college), but Parasite’s themes resonated as we both step into new roles as venture partners.

Christine  11:42 PM

THANK YOU! I’m still reeling. Back in October when “Parasite” premiered at the NY Film Festival, my family had dinner with director Bong and my brother (his U.S. producer). It was self-evident then that “Parasite” was truly special, but I was ready to be disappointed by the Oscars. And their first screening they served tater tots, and I wondered why they didn’t serve Korean noodles. Give the people what they want!

And tonight director Bong receives four Academy Awards for Parasite, a movie that by the way features powerful and plot-defining females including three in midlife. Tonight is historic on so many levels, but mostly it’s gratifying to know that the world takes notice of brilliant makers who realize their vision despite barriers.

Matt Hoffman  11:42 PM

Totally. It is making me think about a couple of relevant narrative takeaways from both the movie itself and the director’s journey.

Obviously there’s the direct textual ones. Why hiring managers shouldn’t overly rely on referrals and the importance of background checks  🙂

Christine  11:45 PM

LOL! Thanks for that HR lesson, Matt!

Matt Hoffman  11:45 PM

The most interesting takeaway is the importance of founder vision and tenacity.

Christine  11:45 PM

Yes, vision and tenacity + good character is everything. My brother and director Bong fought hard for Snowpiercer to be realized in director Bong’s vision. A bureaucratic corporate structure or formulaic check-writing decision-maker can stifle or derail the very thing that’s being invested in. Let the man make his stories!

Director Bong’s accolades are a reminder that a decent human can achieve her or his vision and not let exhausting barriers get in the way.

Matt Hoffman  11:47 PM

We see so often how an unhealthy relationship with an investor can dilute the power and magic of a talented founder’s vision. You want to create positive feedback loops, but when a board substitutes its belief system and ideas for the founder’s own without good reason to, you lose the main reason why you presumably invested in the startup to begin with. Director Bong’s perseverance is creating his own vision; flawless execution is a huge reason why he is where he is today. You see the power of his inspirational leadership in the fact that his cast and crew keeps coming back to work with him. That level of teamwork over time pays off as they know and trust each other more and more.

Also—don’t forget about fostering healthy work life balance and not to burden your team on weekends. That’s a super important lesson too we can’t overlook.

Christine  11:47 PM

Okay, okay, so you really did watch the movie. So don’t just give your team weekends off, but if you’re returning to the office early because your plans changed, give them more than an 8 minute heads-up!

Matt Hoffman  11:51 PM

Exactly—clear expectations and follow through. So important!

Christine  11:59 PM

Twitter is blowing up! People are genuinely happy for the cast and crew of "Parasite." It’s like we all needed this: we need more good things to happen to good people.

What is it about "Parasite" that makes it so understood and appreciated? I go back to the Katrina-like flooding that destroyed the poor family’s house and worsened their stink but that had absolutely no effect on the rich family; they were so rich their boy slept outside unharmed. NYT op ed said, “[Parasite’s] reception is evidence of the same crisis of faith in capitalism that’s making Bernie Sanders into a front-runner for the Democratic nomination.”

The movie takes place primarily in two homes that obsess over insert-anything-as-a-service—wifi service, pizza delivery service, household maintenance service, people delivery service. We seem to understand and empathize with the consequences of income inequality, and yet are we contributing to it?

Matt Hoffman  11:59 PM

I do believe that as investors we have an obligation to pay attention to the impact of our portfolio companies and the larger community. The widening wealth divide that’s a core theme of “Parasite” is certainly salient in U.S. politics, and there is real relevance to what we do in venture. I’d argue that there are useful takeaways about the gap between senior leaders and regular line workers from a wealth generation aspect—that theme is as relevant to the startup journey as the families whose stories “Parasite” tells.

As investors, we want everyone to have life-changing outcomes. That’s a big part of what we do and why we do it. But how the total gains are distributed is worth reflecting upon, especially since we know that making sure that every employee has meaningful ownership in the company and shares in its success is one of the best ways to drive organizational performance.

Christine  12:02 AM

Our Slack channels light up with our founding teams asking for your guidance on compensation packages. They’re lucky to have you as their sounding board. I can’t imagine a better place to be than M13 where we are aiming to redefine venture by meaningfully supporting our founding teams who are building sustainable companies. I don’t think you can ask for anything more.

Matt Hoffman  12:08 AM

Yeah, I know that approach and value system has deep resonance with the founders we work with.  It speaks to our broader approach around community, and I agree it’s what sets us apart. I think there’s a ray of hope there for the world we’d like to create, and some of the lessons of the ceremony help inspire that.