As we come to the end of a particularly noisy and contentious election cycle, a thought echoes over and over in my mind – we need more entrepreneurs in Congress. As I continue to believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are the key drivers to our economic future, it’s frustrating to hear such little cogent discussion around it.
I recently got a call from a long time friend, Martin Babinec. Martin is running for Congress in Upstate New York (District 22) as an Independent. We met in 1991 when Martin had just started his company (TriNet – now a public company) and Feld Technologies (my first company) was a dozen people. We’ve been friends ever since and when he told me he was running for Congress, I smiled, gave him feedback, and listened to his reasoning.
He recently did a debate with his two other candidates at Colgate University. It was sent to me yesterday and I watched it last night in the background as I was grinding through email. It was incredibly refreshing after watching each of the presidential debates. Martin did a great job and reminded me why I think more people like Martin should be in Congress.
When I think of his background compared to the other candidates, and how he ended up running for Congress, it’s a powerful narrative. He moved his family back to his home town of Little Falls NY in 1999 to be closer to his parents (and his kids grandparents) and then commuted to Silicon Valley for 11 years while running TriNet. He saw first hand how the lack of new, innovative companies caused some of the best talent in Upstate New York to leave – and decided to do something about it.
In 2010 Martin started a non-profit called Upstate Venture Connect with a mission is to connect first time entrepreneurs in new industries with the resources who can help them across the entire Upstate NY region. He helped launch six seed capital funds, three college accelerator programs, the StartFast Venture Accelerator. He engaged deeply in his startup community and was one of the leaders.
When he called me about running for Congress, my first question to him was “why are you doing this?” He was clear – he’s frustrated with hearing politicians talk about creating jobs and then repeating the failed corporate welfare strategies of the past as they hope for a different result. His goal was to shift the discussion and resources towards fostering an environment that supports local innovative companies and a thriving startup community over attracting businesses to the region. Ultimately, he thinks – as do I – that this is the best long term approach to creating vibrant economies.
Rather than play into the existing political infrastructure in New York, Martin did what any great entrepreneur does and started a new political party. He’s running as an independent, having created the Upstate Jobs Party.
I hope Martin gets elected – I know he’d be a strong, thoughtful, capable, and disciplined member of Congress. He’s an incredibly hard worker, which I respect immensely. And he’s a critical thinker, capable of listening and learning about things he’s being exposed to for the first time.
District 22 covers a big area in the middle of Upstate New York (roughly Utica to just east of Syracuse and south to Binghamton.) If you are in this region, I strongly encourage you to support Martin Babinec for Congress!
I’m gearing up for a long series of posts about the various books I read on my month off on Bora Bora. In the mean time, I read a bunch of stuff online this morning (from Friday through today) and thought I’d give you a taste of some of it in case you feel like digging in.
I started with How Reading Transforms Us. It’s a good frame setting piece about some new research on the impact of reading – both fiction and non-fiction – on humans. There is a pleasant surprise in there about how non-fiction influences us.
As with many of you, I’m deeply intrigued by what’s going on around the movie The Interview. Fred Wilson wrote a post titled The Interview Mess in which he expresses some opinions. I’m not in opinion mode yet as each day reveals more information, including some true stupidity on the part of various participants. Instead, I’m still enjoying The Meta Interview, which is how the real world is reacting to The Interview.
Let’s start with the FBI’s Update on Sony Investigation followed by Obama Vow[ing] a Response to Cyberattack on Sony. 2600 weighs in with a deliciously ironic offer to help Sony get distribution for The Interview. Sony’s lawyers unmuffle their CEO Michael Lynton who fires back at President Obama.
Now it starts getting really interesting. North Korea says huh, what, wait, it wasn’t us and seeks a joint probe with US on Sony hack (yeah – like that is going to happen.) After everyone worrying about not being able to see The Interview (which might now be the most interesting movie of 2014 before we’ve even seen it), Sony says Nope, we didn’t chicken out – you will get to see The Interview.
Apparently, Obama isn’t finished. Instead, he’s just getting started. He’s decided that the North Korea hack on Sony Pictures was not an act of war but is now trying to decide if it’s terrorism so he can put North Korea on the terrorism sponsors list to join Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. No wait, maybe it’s to replace Cuba which Obama has decided to restore full relations with.
Thankfully, Dr. Evil weighs in on this whole thing and makes sense of it (starting at 0:40).
At the same time we are struggling over North Korean’s cyber attack terrorism censorship thing, we are struggling with our own internal efforts by some very powerful companies to figure out how the Internet should work in the US. Hmmm – irony?
Let’s start with the cable industry’s darkest fears if the Internet becomes a utility. According to the Washington Post, Congress now wants to legislate net neutrality. And Verizon tells the FCC that what they do doesn’t really matter to them.
The FCC situation is so fucked up at this point that I don’t think anyone knows which way is up. Fortunately, we have the Silicon Flatirons Digital Broadband Migration Conference happening in February which I’m speaking at to clear this all up. Well, or at least watch some entertaining, very bifurcated arguments about First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy.
If you are a little bummed by now about how humans behave, check out this article where MIT Computer Scientists Demonstrate the Hard Way That Gender Still Matters. For a taste:
The interactions in the AMA itself showed that gender does still matter. Many of the comments and questions illustrated how women are often treated in male-dominated STEM fields. Commenters interacted with us in a way they would not have interacted with men, asking us about our bra sizes, how often we “copy male classmates’ answers,” and even demanding we show our contributions “or GTFO [Get The **** Out]”. One redditor helpfully called out the double standard, saying, “Don’t worry guys – when the male dog groomer did his AMA (where he specifically identified as male), there were also dozens of comments asking why his sex mattered. Oh no, wait, there weren’t.”
But the fun doesn’t end with cyberterrorism, censorship, incumbent control, or gender bias. Our good friends at Google are expanding their presence in our lovely little town of Boulder from 300 employees to over 1,500 employees. I think this is awesome, but not everyone in Boulder agrees that more Googlers are a good thing. I wonder if they still use Lycos or Ask Jeeves as their search engine. And for those in Boulder hoping we municipalize our Internet net, consider FERC’s smackdown of the City of Boulder’s Municipalization position.
Oh, and did you realize the US government actually made a $15 billion profit on TARP?
My partner Jason has a longer post up on Senate Bill 1933, but I’m supporting S. 1933, otherwise known as “Re-opening American Capital Markets To Emerging Growth Companies Act.”
In short, this act would allow for an IPO on-ramp that would minimize costly and burdensome regulation on smaller offerings. If you have contacts in the Senate, now is the time to let them know that you support it too.
Yesterday I was with yet another non-US entrepreneur who is struggling to get the right visa to stay in the US and build his company here. This entrepreneur happens to be from England and his business partner (and best friend since they were kids) is also English, but managed to get into the US because he fell in love with and married and America a while ago. The business partner lives in Denver so they started the company in Denver a year or so ago.
They are a small company right now with a pretty interesting product and vision. One founder lives in the UK, the other lives in Denver. The UK founder travels to the US when he can get a travel visa, but he’s been careful not to get offsides since he’s been in the visa application process for a while. They’ve spent a bunch of money on legal fees, continue to chew up money on travel from the UK to the US, and have to deal with the uncertainty (both timing and functional) around the visa process.
Along with some others, I’ve been trying to get something called The Startup Visa Act passed in Congress and turned into law. The biggest thing to come out of it for me personally has been a deep understanding of how the process of an idea to bill to law works.
After two years of advocating for this, there is extremely broad support throughout Congress for this concept and it has been written into many of the job creation / startup type bills that are out there. But – nothing has been passed. The White House made some policy changes over the summer which have been somewhat helpful, but are still making their way through the USCIS bureaucracy, which means many of these policy changes are not yet being implemented, or people in the field at USCIS have no idea how to implement them.
In hindsight, I realized I’d made a giant mistake. Rather than call it the “Startup Visa Movement”, we should have called it the “Stealing Jobs From Foreign Countries Act.” I haven’t yet come up with the right acronym for it (SJFFCA doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure some of you out there could acronymize this.) Instead of positioning this as a “Startup Thing” or a “Visa Thing”, we should have just taken the same cynical approach to titling the activity that many in Washington do. I mean, c’mon, how could any red blooded America object to stealing jobs from foreign countries?
Every week I am in contact with at least one foreign entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in the US and build their company here. Over the past year, it’s probably been several hundred which represent thousands of jobs and who knows how much innovative, amazing stuff. Hopefully the new USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence program will help figure out how to make the Startup Visa a reality. Or maybe Congress will finally take some action and get a bill passed. Either way, I know that as every day passes, we are missing a huge opportunity in this country by making it hard for non-US citizens to stay here and build their high growth entrepreneurial companies.
There are two very disturbing bills making their way through Congress: Protect IP Act (PIPA – S.968) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – H.R.3261). These bills are coated in rhetoric that I find disgusting since at their core they are online censorship bills. It’s incredible to me that Congress would take seriously anything that censors the Internet and the American public but in the last few weeks PIPA and SOPA have burst forth with incredibly momentum, largely being underwritten by large media companies and their lobbyists.
A number of organizations in support of free speech and a free and open Internet have recently come out in opposition to these bills. They include EFF, Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, Demand Progress, Fight For the Future, Participatory Politics Foundation, and Creative Commons who have organized American Censorship Day tomorrow (11/16/11).
If you run a website or have a blog, go to the American Censorship site to see how you can participate on 11/16/11.
In addition to being censorship bills, these are anti-entrepreneurship bills. They are a classic example of industry incumbents trying to use the law to stifle disruptive innovation, or at least innovation that they view as disruptive to their established business. To date, the Internet has been an incredible force for entrepreneurship and positive change throughout the world (did anyone notice what recently happened in Egypt?) It’s beyond comprehension why some people in Congress would want to slow this down in any way.
While you can try to understand the bills, this short video does a phenomenal job of summarizing their potential impact along with second order effects (intended or unintended).
I’m furious about this, as are many of my friends, including Fred Wilson who wrote today about how these bills undermine The Architecture of the Internet. But we are aware, as are many others, that simply being mad doesn’t solve anything. Join us and speak out loudly against censorship – right now! If you have a blog or website, please take part in American Censorship Day – the instructions are on their website which – so far – hasn’t been censored.
I’m really proud of my Congressman Jared Polis. Jared was one of the first people I met when I moved to Colorado in 1995 (we met in early 1996) and have been good friends ever since. Jared has a great article about his first few weeks in Congress up on the CNN website titled Commentary: Congress is like going back to college. There’s also a fun video.
Jared – you look very serious in that suit and tie.