Silicon Valley’s inventions have benefitted Donald Trump more than any candidate ever. But if the Trump campaign were a startup in the land of Facebook and Twitter, well, it’s unlikely venture capitalists would be looking to invest. The presumptive Republican nominee’s New York-based operation looks like a once high-flying startup now on its way down—witness this morning’s latest upheaval, the ousting of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. The turmoil, the drama, the desperate search for money: the Trump campaign is looking like so many startups that have caught fire before flaming out.

01

A Key Founder Exits

Founders rarely leave or get fired from a startup when everything’s going smoothly. Case in point: Andrew Mason’s zany antics were a harmless sideshow during Groupon’s ascent, but once the public started clicking unsubscribe en masse, the daily deal site’s board decided it needed a grownup to help run things. And so it goes in Trumpland. During primary season, it seemed Lewandowski was invincible, even as he was accused of battering a member of the press. But the general election cycle has so far been much tougher on Trump, and it seems the campaign is doing what so many other struggling companies before it have done. By replacing Lewandowski with a campaign veteran—in this case Paul Manafort—it’s trying to bring in a grownup.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Founders rarely leave or get fired from a startup when everything’s going smoothly. Case in point: Andrew Mason’s zany antics were a harmless sideshow during Groupon’s ascent, but once the public started clicking unsubscribe en masse, the daily deal site’s board decided it needed a grownup to help run things. And so it goes in Trumpland. During primary season, it seemed Lewandowski was invincible, even as he was accused of battering a member of the press. But the general election cycle has so far been much tougher on Trump, and it seems the campaign is doing what so many other struggling companies before it have done. By replacing Lewandowski with a campaign veteran—in this case Paul Manafort—it’s trying to bring in a grownup.

02

The Hunt for Money Becomes Desperate

Startup founders never want to give away more equity in their companies than they need to early on. But often, those who forgo venture funding find themselves scaling faster than they can manage on a bootstrapped budget. That’s what’s happening in Trump’s campaign. The self-proclaimed billionaire self-funded his primary run, perhaps never expecting to become the Republican party’s presumptive nominee. Now, he’s tasked with funding a general election bid, with no donor network to count on. Commence panic. This week, after the Clinton campaign launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign, Trump sent out an email that didn’t exactly inspire confidence: “Right now we’re facing an emergency goal of $100,000 to help get our ads on the air.”

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Startup founders never want to give away more equity in their companies than they need to early on. But often, those who forgo venture funding find themselves scaling faster than they can manage on a bootstrapped budget. That’s what’s happening in Trump’s campaign. The self-proclaimed billionaire self-funded his primary run, perhaps never expecting to become the Republican party’s presumptive nominee. Now, he’s tasked with funding a general election bid, with no donor network to count on. Commence panic. This week, after the Clinton campaign launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign, Trump sent out an email that didn’t exactly inspire confidence: “Right now we’re facing an emergency goal of $100,000 to help get our ads on the air.”

03

User Numbers Dwindle

In startup world, companies measure their health in downloads, page views, and monthly active users. In politics, it’s polls. Throughout primary season, Trump crowed about his polling numbers, and understandably: compared to other Republican candidates, he dominated nearly every one. Not so in the general. In poll after recent poll, Trump has lost ground to Clinton. Recently, even Trump tweeted a poll result that showed Clinton ahead by 3 percent.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

In startup world, companies measure their health in downloads, page views, and monthly active users. In politics, it’s polls. Throughout primary season, Trump crowed about his polling numbers, and understandably: compared to other Republican candidates, he dominated nearly every one. Not so in the general. In poll after recent poll, Trump has lost ground to Clinton. Recently, even Trump tweeted a poll result that showed Clinton ahead by 3 percent.

04

The Press Turns on You

The tech press plays as important a role in driving “the narrative” around a startup as the political press has in driving Trump’s campaign. As one communications executive at Square recently noted, startups that begin as media’s shiny new toy soon graduate, narrative-wise, to heavy duty disrupter before reports of turmoil inside the company eclipse any ostensible triumphs. That’s where the Trump campaign seems stuck today. What initially began as a novelty for some reporters quickly became a serious campaign that they had to treat as such. Now, Trump and the press have become so estranged that the candidate has banned The Washington Post from covering any of his events.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The tech press plays as important a role in driving “the narrative” around a startup as the political press has in driving Trump’s campaign. As one communications executive at Square recently noted, startups that begin as media’s shiny new toy soon graduate, narrative-wise, to heavy duty disrupter before reports of turmoil inside the company eclipse any ostensible triumphs. That’s where the Trump campaign seems stuck today. What initially began as a novelty for some reporters quickly became a serious campaign that they had to treat as such. Now, Trump and the press have become so estranged that the candidate has banned The Washington Post from covering any of his events.

05

Your Attempts to Pivot Fail

It’s hard to count how many times the e-commerce site Fab.com tried to pivot. What started as a gay social network soon became a wildly successful flash-sale site. But its eye-popping burn rate forced Fab to pivot once more, diving into home furnishings before another company acquired it in a fire sale. Trump, too, has similarly sought to remake himself with intermittent stabs at becoming more “presidential” as he reads haltingly from a Teleprompter. But like most startups that attempt to change direction mid-flight, all Trump supporters seem to really want is the original. And the candidate himself seems to have little interest in adopting a new brand identity.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

It’s hard to count how many times the e-commerce site Fab.com tried to pivot. What started as a gay social network soon became a wildly successful flash-sale site. But its eye-popping burn rate forced Fab to pivot once more, diving into home furnishings before another company acquired it in a fire sale. Trump, too, has similarly sought to remake himself with intermittent stabs at becoming more “presidential” as he reads haltingly from a Teleprompter. But like most startups that attempt to change direction mid-flight, all Trump supporters seem to really want is the original. And the candidate himself seems to have little interest in adopting a new brand identity.

06

Your Product Malfunctions

If the Trump campaign were a startup, its product would be Trump. And sometimes that product doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. As a presidential candidate, Trump often says and does things that even his team, much less his fellow Republicans, wish he wouldn’t. When he said, for instance, that women who get abortions should be punished, Trump’s team quickly walked the comment back. It did the same more recently when Trump insinuated that US troops in Iraq stole government funds. (Trump’s campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks later told reporters he was referring to Iraqi troops.) Faced with a buggy product, people often choose to use the alternative. Come Election Day, we’ll see if the same is true of Trump.

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

If the Trump campaign were a startup, its product would be Trump. And sometimes that product doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. As a presidential candidate, Trump often says and does things that even his team, much less his fellow Republicans, wish he wouldn’t. When he said, for instance, that women who get abortions should be punished, Trump’s team quickly walked the comment back. It did the same more recently when Trump insinuated that US troops in Iraq stole government funds. (Trump’s campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks later told reporters he was referring to Iraqi troops.) Faced with a buggy product, people often choose to use the alternative. Come Election Day, we’ll see if the same is true of Trump.

Continued:  

Lewandowski Is Out as Trump’s Campaign Flails Like a Desperate Startup