2015-03-07

SV Synopsis: Fundamentalism in Technology

I am grateful for perspectives gained because our family lives in Silicon Valley. Many options here to work at novel ventures, and on fascinating projects… Opportunities to drop by Stanford or Berkeley for some remarkable guest lecture by a visiting expert… The wonders of an almost perpetual Maker Faire as one walks through the neighborhood on any given evening… Tech camps that our daughters can attend locally, as they wish… And, generally speaking, the lack of any real need to engage in ridiculous commutes

As an open source evangelist and as an investor, I've felt grateful to learn from a veritable parade of interesting projects. However, I am troubled by the incidence of a particular problem. Far too often one runs headlong into what I could characterize as a close approximation of cocaine-fueled misogynistic narcissism. The condition is subtle, but systemic here. Even recently, I have witnessed this up close – along with the regrettably pervasive and predictable non-reactions to it. Increasingly, zero tolerance appears to be the only effective response. Or perhaps the tech industry percolates out elsewhere, far from SF and its inertia?

Without mentioning names, two well-known billionaire-club investors in Silicon Valley personify this character sketch. Evidence of panspermia ad absurdum festers in the "cultures" that they promote. Personal jihads seemingly to self-perpetuate their fundamentalist ideals.

A nagging question lingers… Why work alongside an ilk of people with whom I would never encourage my daughters to mingle? Granted, I believe quite strongly in the need to talk with just about everyone, to keep dialogue open, to reject the notion of "enemy". Even so, there are absolutes. Practical realities of livelihood aside, as a parent what kind of examples do my professional actions and affiliations set?

In addition, a question that investors ask over and over when considering whether to fund a new company is "Will the team scale?" Any measure of the toxins described above almost guarantees that the answer will in practice be "No."


That represents a dirty little secret. There is an amazing level of demand for tech talent. It's not exactly because these companies are raging commercial successes; most early-stage ventures by definition are not. It's because few people who are capable of making good judgements are willing to compromise their futures to work for ineffective caricatures. Many start-ups encounter difficulties in scaling their team. Or – more likely over time – they encounter high attrition rates.

While I have in the past focused for several years on the same project, lately I don't stay long in most early-stage firms, generally moving on after an organization demonstrates its nature. To paraphrase Lady Grantham from Downton Abbey, there is a point at which malice ceases to be amusing. On the one hand, that's a terrible way to leverage stock option packages. On the other hand, arguably I have pursued a portfolio career strategy. That approach has helped me build an amazing network. Long-term benefits of my network have far surpassed the potential upside of my aggregate stock options. Therein dwells an important lesson about Silicon Valley.

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