49: This guy has an outsized influence on your future

By DONUTS DONUTS

By DONUTS    2 months ago

There is something fundamentally cool about working on new technology. By doing so, you are building tomorrow. Thanks to your hard work, the future inches that much closer. Who doesn’t want to be innovative?

And this allure is more or less baked into Silicon Valley’s culture and branding. You aren’t just trying to make a fast buck. You’re changing the world. This isn’t the gold rush. This is technology, baby.

Yet as much as Silicon Valley is about arriving in the future as quickly as possible, there is also this sort of counterbalancing force that wants to delay the traditional “future,” if you will. Because Silicon Valley is also Neverland, the magical place you go where you never have to grow up in the way boring non-technologists expect you to.

This cultural manifesto manifests itself in various ways, some more obvious than others, such as ditching a more formal dress code for hoodies and flip flops. Google’s office isn’t an office, it’s a campus, where college kids can go to more or less stay in college. There’s no need to understand the responsibilities of being an adult when you can get your haircut and your teeth cleaned at the office all while your laundry is being dry cleaned for you on location.

There is understandably a reason to this rhyme. Those sorts of menial, bandwidth sucking tasks distract from the one true task of building the future. And so the onset of their personal future is traded for the onset of our collective future.

Such is the altruistic plight of the Silicon Valley technology worker.

Today, this philosophical approach has further extended to a startup’s financial structure. It used to be that an IPO was the ultimate badge of honor. Your tech startup has made it!

But today, an IPO isn’t that kewl anymore. Because once you go public, you’re held to a different level of accountability. So the new kewl is being able to stay private and avoid the glare of public markets for as long as possible.

Why grow up if you don’t have to?

Of course, the leading institution representing this latest trend is Uber, which raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia last summer giving Uber a valuation then of $62.5 billion.

(At the same time, the most notable tech IPO of the year is Snap, which has, in some arenas, has been criticized for going public too soon and too fast. Snap, perhaps tellingly, is known for being the not-Silicon Valley tech startup.)

As we all know, Uber’s had a tough time these last couple of months, much of which might be chalked down to the idea that the company’s culture and leader, Travis Kalanick, who is north of 40, haven’t necessarily grown in a way that we might expect of a company with that kind of expansive prominence.

Anyway, the NYTimes has a profile of legendary Valley investor Bill Gurley, who got on the Uber train early with this VC firm Benchmark, and is also a close advisor of Kalanick.

And Gurney has never been a fan of the Valley’s Peter Pan syndrome:

Helping to right the ship at Uber is a somewhat fitting role for Mr. Gurley, who for years has warned about excessive risk-taking on the part of start-ups. Going against the Silicon Valley orthodoxy, the venture capitalist has urged technology start-ups to go public as soon as they are able, instead of continuing to take venture capital funding: Taking on too much venture funding, he has said, can fuel a lack of discipline.

“The Valley reeks of entitlement,” he said in an interview last year. “It’s bad for the industry.”

Another of Mr. Gurley’s concerns relates to the way entrepreneurs have delayed initial public offerings. By staying private for as long as possible, these companies often operate without rigorous financial and operational controls, which is to their detriment, he said.

For Uber, it could still be some time before going public is even on the table. The company has yet to hire a CFO.

Instead, the top priority, currently, is finding a COO to provide Kalanick some hand-holding as he admits it’s high time to grow up. (One exec was apparently pissed to learn he would no longer be the #2 ranking bro at Uber and left in a huff.)

The funny thing about growing up is that you do it when you have to, which is one reason that Uber never has.

But it will probably be the same reason that Uber does. (And it might happen faster than people expect.)

On a happier note, the last bastion of non-Uber territory happens to be where I’m from (upstate New York) and it looks like this may no longer be the case, sooner rather than later!

Also, here’s another story of a unicorn that’s stayed private, Palantir (which, incidentally, also happens to be kind of controversial).

In this case, Palantir’s status as a private company gives it a lot more leverage when it comes to how its shares are traded.

Really rich, really smart people

Back on the East Coast, things are a bit more pragmatic and the issue here might be that maybe people grow up too fast and too earnestly. I went to college in NYC and I remember kids showing up to class wearing suit and tie freshman year.

Anyway, here are two fun features about East Coast types who have it all figured out.

The first is Robert Mercer of Renaissance Capital, who some people give an awful lot of credit to when it comes to Trump’s surprise presidential win, despite being sort of a recluse who hates interacting with people:

Through a spokesman, Mercer declined to discuss his role in launching Trump. People who know him say that he is painfully awkward socially, and rarely speaks. “He can barely look you in the eye when he talks,” an acquaintance said. “It’s probably helpful to be highly introverted when getting lost in code, but in politics you have to talk to people, in order to find out how the real world works.” In 2010, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about Mercer assuming a top role at Renaissance, he issued a terse statement: “I’m happy going through my life without saying anything to anybody.” According to the paper, he once told a colleague that he preferred the company of cats to humans.

Several people who have worked with Mercer believe that, despite his oddities, he has had surprising success in aligning the Republican Party, and consequently America, with his personal beliefs, and is now uniquely positioned to exert influence over the Trump Administration.

And apparently, one of the benefits of being a reclusive, genius billionaire is that you get to choose your own echo chamber and believe whatever you want:

Patterson also recalled Mercer arguing that, during the Gulf War, the U.S. should simply have taken Iraq’s oil, “since it was there.” Trump, too, has said that the U.S. should have “kept the oil.” Expropriating another country’s natural resources is a violation of international law. Another onetime senior employee at Renaissance recalls hearing Mercer downplay the dangers posed by nuclear war. Mercer, speaking of the atomic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, argued that, outside of the immediate blast zones, the radiation actually made Japanese citizens healthier. The National Academy of Sciences has found no evidence to support this notion. Nevertheless, according to the onetime employee, Mercer, who is a proponent of nuclear power, “was very excited about the idea, and felt that it meant nuclear accidents weren’t such a big deal.”

The other is the NYTimes profile on Ackman, which is perhaps less eye-opening but still entertaining given the hedge fund impresario’s recent trials and tribulations. If you’re into schadenfreude and all that jazz.

Stuff

Wholesome viral videos of kids is all the rage these days. Check out these two little rascals.

Buzzfeed has a kewl profile of Techmeme, the most important website in Silicon Valley. (Shameless plug: that time my piece was featured on the front page.)

Southern fashion is in.

DRW: get ready for more market volatility.

Our friend Noah Smith was recently a guest on this illuminating FT podcast on the evolution of economics post-crisis.

An excellent, much needed round-up of world leaders and their bodyguards.

This is pretty fucked up, but the FBI have arrested the guy who purposefully sent a seizure-inducing tweet at writer Kurt Eichenwald. This is notable being that it’s a situation of cyber-harassment that resulted in physical harm.

The future of manufacturing is still in China.

Speaking of manufacturing, there’s still a dearth of tech startups that make real things like Tesla.

The worst part? That America might miss out on the next industrial revolution.

The silver lining? IDK, maybe this Joe Rogan tweet:

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DONUTS

Delightfully indulgent.