This post should be sung to the tune of The World Is A Vampire by the Smashing Pumpkins
“the world is a vampire, sent to drain
secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames
and what do i get, for my pain
betrayed desires, and a piece of the game
even though i know-i suppose i’ll show
all my cool and cold-like old job
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage
then someone will say what is lost can never be saved
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage”
Some VCs like rap, but I’m old school 80’s grunge, heavy metal, head banger music with some 90’s fruit bands mixed in. The chorus of The World Is A Vampire was echoing in my head as I took a shower this morning. And then the first line morphed into “My world is a network” and I started thinking about networks and hierarchies.
Earlier this week I was in New York. I spent Tuesday with my dad. I got up early, went for a run along the Hudson River, grabbed some Starbucks oatmeal, and did phone calls and email until 11. We then got together and wandered over to Union Square Ventures where we had lunch with the USV partners and talked about the healthcare industry and how technology could radically alter it as well as the relationship between each of the different constituencies. After lunch we got in an Uber and went over to MakerBot’s office (the Botcave) where I gave my dad a tour of the world of 3D printing. We took the subway back to Manhattan and walked to dinner with Fred Wilson, where we talked about healthcare some more.
Sometime during the day I had a few phone calls. One of my calls was with a Senator about PIPA. Another was with a CEO about a strategic partner. Another was with Eric Norlin about Blur. They were all short calls (as anyone I’ve ever talked to on the phone knows – I’d rather be off within five minutes than discuss football, the weather, and the kids I don’t have.) After the call with Eric, my dad asked “how do you keep track of all this stuff?” It was asked in a loving way with a glint of humor and amazement. I responded simply “I don’t – I just let it wash over me.”
If you follow USV’s investment thesis, you know that it’s different from Foundry Group’s thesis. While my partners and I are focused on a set of broad horizontal themes, USV is investing in the application layer of the Internet with a particular focus on Internet services that create large networks. Sometimes our paths cross (as in Zynga) and we co-invest together, but independent of that we are close friends and intellectual counterparts.
At the lunch with my dad, I participated in the conversation but spent most of it reflecting about the doctor / patient relationship and how critical it was for that the be the essence of the dynamic driving the healthcare system. Unfortunately, this relationship has been completely co-opted by all of the other constituents such as insurance companies, healthcare product vendors, hospitals, drug companies, and the government.
As I was working with a bunch of other amazing people over the course of the week to defeat SOPA and PIPA, including my partner Jason Mendelson and Phil Weiser (the Dean of CU Law School), I realized that the network was taking back control of the discussion about politics from the hierarchy.
This morning, I pondered that some more. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it a lot in the next few months, but it’s clear that my entire life has shifted from a hierarchy model to a network model. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Cambridge, connected to a network (the Internet), communicating with anyone who wants to hear from my (a network) via a publishing approach that is the ultimate democratizer (my blog) while getting ready to go to a board meeting for Yesware (a distributed company that has a broad network of users), followed by a bunch of meetings with random people who reached out to me via email and the web. And, throughout the day, I’ll continue to interact with the many companies and people I’m involved with, mostly via email, but in a completely distributed and untethered fashion.
My world is a network. And being part of a hierarchy sounds to me like that poor rat in a cage.
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.
Recently, two bills have been introduced into Congress that – if passed – will do irreparable damage to the Internet, entrepreneurship, free speech, and job creation as a result of the continued entrepreneurial activity around the Internet.
Fred Wilson has a strong post up titled Protecting The Safe Harbors Of The DMCA And Protecting Jobs that explains the situation. Go read the post now – it’s an outstanding summary in plain English of what is going on.
If you don’t want to read the bills, watch the following four minute video for another excellent summary of what they are about, especially how the bills will be used by existing large companies.
The bills – like many in Congress – are misleadingly named. The House bill is called the E-PARASITES Act. The Senate bill is called the Protect IP Act. If you have the emotional fortitude and patience, go read them – they will scare the crap out of you, if you can understand them (I had to print them out, read them slowly, and annotate them to understand what they actually said.) I’d encourage Congress to rename both of these bills the “Destroy the Internet, Corresponding Jobs Created by Entrepreneurship Around The Internet, and Restrict Freedom of Speech” Act.
I’m not being dramatic – these are horrifyingly bad bills being introduced at a time when our country should be focused on exactly the opposite of what these bills represent.
Speak out now about this – loudly – to your representatives in Congress. While I recognize the lobbyists behind these bills – and the companies behind the lobbyist – are pouring in tons of money to try to get these bills past, hopefully our representatives are strong thinkers who can’t simply be bought.
The Internet has been an unbelievable force for innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and free speech in the US, and around the world. The US had been a leader here – let’s continue to be a leader.
I received at least one email a day last week pitching a politics oriented web startup. The emails start off something like this.
Over $8 billion dollars will be spent on the upcoming 2012 election. The web and social media are critical tools for any candidate. Every candidate will need our stuff and since over $8 billion dollars will be spent, even if we capture a tiny part of that market, we will create a huge company. Did I say that over $8 billion dollars will be spent? Would you like to hear more about the amazing opportunity we have in front of us?
The polite version of my answer has been “Thanks for reaching out but we aren’t interested in investing in the politics vertical market.” But, echoing in the back of my head is “$8 billion dollars? You’ve got to fucking be kidding me.”
I could go on about a rant about spending $8 billion to elect people in one election. But I realize there are lots of different ways to look at this, including the common refrains of “it’s a stimulus for our economy” and “but it’s entertainment, just like football.” And I have no doubt that there are people out there whose immediate response is “but don’t you think your ad-tech related companies make a lot of money off of this?” And as I cycle through the next ten thoughts in my head, I realize that my personal thoughts about this will have no impact on what actually happens.
So instead I just vote with my own wallet and get on board the Howard Schultz Boycott Campaign Donations train. And while I have no doubt that some people can make money creating web services for helping candidates get elected, especially those that include mobile, real-time data, and geo-location, I have no real interest in investing in companies that have the singular goal of helping politicians get elected.
After my Schoolhouse Rock posting on how a bill becomes a law, several people sent me alternative versions of the video. This one rang true to me.
This one – not so much – but it made me laugh out loud.
And then there’s this.
On Monday I was at the White House to help announce the Startup America Partnership. As part of this, TechStars announced the TechStars Network, an affiliation of TechStars-like programs across the country along with our commitment to the Startup America Partnership to help 5000 experienced mentors work with 6000 entrepreneurs to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015. For an awesome description of Startup America, please read Aneesh Chopra’s (the United States CTO) post on TechCrunch titled Startup America: A Campaign To Celebrate, Inspire And Accelerate Entrepreneurship. By the way, I think it is awesomely cool that the CTO of the United States blogs on TechCrunch!
Over the past eighteen months I’ve gotten to know a number of people in the executive brand of our government, especially at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. In general, I don’t engage that much with government, but I have with issues that I care deeply about like the Startup Visa and entrepreneurship. In this case I’ve been blown away by the intelligence, thoughtfulness, tirelessness, and capability of folks in OSTP and the NEC. When I was first involved in discussions around entrepreneurship that later evolved into the Startup America Partnership, I was originally skeptical about what I was hearing. Nine months, and a bunch of discussions later, I think the White House has approached Startup America in a very smart and powerful way and I believe that everyone involved has a major clue about entrepreneurship, the importance of it to our economy and our country in general, and how to help celebrate, inspire, and accelerate entrepreneurship across America.
When I was first approached to talk about how the White House could help entrepreneurs, I focused most of my comments on trying to help the folks I talked to understand the difference between high growth entrepreneurs and small business people. They are both important to our economy, but have very different needs and until recently I didn’t feel like the White House, or other branches of government, really understood the difference between the two.
Fortunately, the White House listened to a number of smart people, including the amazing folks at the Kauffman Foundation. I worked closely with the Kauffman Foundation in the mid-to-late 1990’s both through their partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Organization as well as being an “entrepreneur-in-residence” (a fancy word for “one day a month consultant”) where I worked with a team on better understanding high growth entrepreneurs. I continued to spend time with the Kauffman Foundation over the past decade, but lost touch with many of the people I’d worked with as the organization evolved. In the past few years, under the leadership of Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation has reasserted itself as the most significant organization thinking about, researching, and advocating for entrepreneurship as part of its mission to accelerate entrepreneurship in America. I’ve gotten to see them in action first hand through work that I’ve done with Lesa Mitchell, Paul Kedrosky, and Bo Fishback and I can confidently say that Mr. K’s legacy is in great hands.
Along with Kauffman, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, his wife Jean and the Case Foundation, has been working hard to help the White House craft a public / private partnership to shine a bright light on entrepreneurship and help accelerate it across the country. I’ve never worked closely with Steve but have always admired him from afar and love the leadership team of Steve and Carl heading up the Startup America Partnership.
As David Cohen and I talked about the idea for the TechStars Network over the past few quarters, it became obvious to us that it would be a natural part of the Startup America Partnership as we both strongly believe that mentorship is a core attribute of growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We both believe that TechStars like programs can existing in over 100 cities in the US, covering many different industry segments (not just software and Internet), and the value of coordinating the mentor, entrepreneur, and investor activity across the entire country is extremely powerful. We had already identified over 100 different accelerator programs in the US that were modeled after TechStars and had helped a number them get started, so as we put together the original members of the TechStars Network, we were psyched that 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us at launch.
It’s important to realize that each of the TechStars Network member programs will be locally owned and operated. We strongly believe in the power of a network model in the construct of expanding entrepreneurship, not a hierarchical centrally owned and controlled one. We think entrepreneurship across the US is not a zero-sum game and we want to play our part in expanding it. TechStars will still run programs that it owns and operates in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle, but we’ll continue to aggressively expand the overall network across the US as well as the world.
I’m extremely excited to play my small part in the Startup America Partnership. For those of you out there questioning how government and entrepreneurs intersect, I encourage you to give the Startup America Partnership a chance. Start by looking at the 27 private organization commitments to the partnership. And, if you want to engage in any way, just email me and I’ll try to figure out how to get you plugged in.
I’m extremely excited that Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the senior senator for Colorado, has signed on as a co-sponsor of The Startup Visa Act of 2010 that was originally proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN). Senator Udall joins his Colorado colleague in the House, Jared Polis (D-CO), who has proposed Startup Visa legislation as part of his EB-5 reform bill.
In addition, our friends at SVB Financial (the parent of Silicon Valley Bank) have also formally endorsed the Startup Visa. My partner Jason Mendelson wrote a post about a roundtable that Silicon Valley Bank hosted for members of “the new Democrat Coalition” which included Jared Polis. Shortly after this meeting, SVB formally endorsed the Startup Visa.
I’m really proud that two of Colorado’s members of Congress are leading the charge on the Startup Visa. I have deep respect for both Mark and Jared, their understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and their vision for innovation in our country. I’m also grateful that SVB – which has been an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity throughout the US – for their support as well.
We are working on a few additional major announcements and endorsements in the next sixty days. I’ve received a number of requests for ways to help. At this point, if you are part of an organization that you think would be supportive of the Startup Visa, please drop me an email and let’s talk about ways to get a formal endorsement.
Over the past 24 months, a deplorable activity in the money management business came to light. It got the name “pay to play” but was just another form of bribery. The common description of pay to play is “the practice of making campaign contributions and related payments to elected officials in order to influence the awarding of lucrative contracts for the management of public pension plan assets and similar government investment accounts.” Yup – sounds like bribery to me.
However, for some reason, the definition of this expanded to include any campaign contributions to any state or local officials, regardless of the size. So, if I contribute $1,000 to the campaign of the Colorado state treasurer, I violate this SEC rule and become someone who is “paying to play.” Now, as someone who gets multiple calls and emails most days to contribute to campaigns as an election approaches, I can assure you that it has never occurred to me to support the campaign for a state treasurer. However, I do know that a candidate for state treasurer has called me asking for campaign contributions. And I’ve politely declined.
After studying the implications of this ruling, I’ve decided it prohibits me and my spouse (Amy) from making any campaign contributions to state or local races anywhere in the country. The NVCA has also studied the new SEC rule and has come to the same conclusion:
“This ruling is consistent with guidance the NVCA has been providing members. It is now even more important to have a firm-wide policy against political contributions to these officials / candidates. This restriction does NOT include political contributions to candidates running for federal office (U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, U.S. President) nor does it include contributions to the NVCA PAC, which only gives to federal candidates.”
We’ve instituted this rule at Foundry Group, although it’s upsetting and offensive to me because I think it fundamentally violates my First Amendment rights. To err on the side of caution, we’ve determined that spouses cannot make state or local political contributions either. This infuriates Amy, as it should.
It’s even more upsetting when you consider that there is no cap on political contributions that corporations can make. The Supreme Court ruled on this in January stating that the government has no business regulating political speech. So, on one hand we have corporations who can give any amount to any candidate running for office while on the other hand my wife can’t contribute $1,000 to someone running for governor of Colorado.
Now, don’t misunderstand me – I think pay to play is grotesque. And Amy and I are huge advocates of campaign finance reform. However, the core problem of pay to play is bribery, not the active support of state and local candidates for office by individual citizens. They are totally different things and should be able to be easily and cleanly differentiated, without the government regulating my political speech.
I’m in Washington DC again – this time to talk about innovation. I’ve been here three times in the past year – the first time was to hear Bilski at the Supreme Court in November and then I was back in March to talk about and promote the Startup Visa.
Yesterday, Thomas Friedman article wrote another great OpEd about the topic titled A Gift for Grads: Start-Ups. As with many Friedman OpEd’s, rather than just railing against the situation, he suggests several specific things that can be done – in this case by the current administrationb. His premise is that to solve the unemployment issue, especially among recent college graduates, we need three things: more start-ups, more start-ups, and more start-ups. And to do this, Friedman talked to Robert Litan (vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation) and Curtis Carlson, (CEO of SRI International) and came up with the following.
I strongly agree with each of these. My one small addition to the Secretary Newco idea is that person should be an accomplished entrepreneur rather than a career politician, policy person, academic, or lawyer.
Over the next two days I’ve got a meeting with each of my Colorado Senators (Michael Bennet and Mark Udall) as well as a summit at the White House led by Phil Weiser (Director of Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council), Aneesh Chopra (CTO of the US), and Vivek Kundra (CIO of the US). Our summit includes a small group of VCs from different parts of the US that I’ve helped put together and it’ll focus on the issue of early stage entrepreneurs and innovation throughout the country (specifically – more than just Silicon Valley). I’m also participating in a roundtable titled Implementing The National Broadband Plan and Protecting Consumer Choice: The Venture Capitalist Perspective with fellow VCs Brad Burnham from USV and Santo Politi from Spark Capital. And, as a special bonus, I’m going over the CIA later today for a tour, although I can’t talk about it, so you didn’t just read that.
I don’t spend a lot of time in DC, in politics, or even following politics (I’ve never been a political junkie) so these short immersions are fascinating to me. Hopefully when I look back on the time I’ve spent on this stuff I’ll feel like it’s been a productive effort for the cause of entrepreneurship and innovation in the US which is the thing I spend all my time actually working on by helping create new companies.