April 3, 2021
Hello and welcome to Pipeline! This week: the limits of VC knowledge, VC ad campaigns, and VC firms and founders raise $5 million to stop anti-Asian hate.
One of the skills of successful venture investors is their ability to quickly learn, understand and master a wide variety of business topics. This serves them well when a founder wants them to invest in anything from an airbed hostel platform to a self-driving airplane or a quantum computer.
But what about when the topic is not a business or even technology, but a complex social or political problem that can't be solved with a quick growth hack or a SPAC? Venture capitalists have plenty of opinions on housing, homelessness, education, crime or state boundaries — not to mention coronavirus testing, vaccines and epidemiology.
This issue came into focus in a Mother Jones article this week on venture capitalists' role in seeking to oust San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
While wealthy businesspeople have always pumped up favored causes and backed political candidates, venture capitalists, who fund companies that purportedly seek to change the world for the better, are taking a much more active and public role. Call it one more way they're "going direct." It's not just idle chatter.
I have my own opinions on crime and policing in San Francisco. But I'm not defending Boudin. I'm not even particularly lauding the Mother Jones article.
Instead, this episode illustrates a bigger issue among venture capitalists: how they increasingly feel entitled to jump into an issue as if they're experts, without a bit of humility. It's a more acute version of the stereotypical tech bro ripping about a city without seeming to care about making it better. It's also connected to why there's a broader tech backlash.
Rather than seek out experts or frontline providers on an issue, such as crime or homelessness, many base their expertise on a couple Uber rides around SoMa.
Having gone to a few happy hours at the Battery doesn't give a venture investor any more expertise than a random person walking down the street. (And, it turns out, far from being data-driven and precise, the investors didn't have their basic facts straight on San Francisco crime stats, Mother Jones reported.)
Don't get me wrong: Many people in technology have great ideas about complex social problems, and are diving deep to try to provide thoughtful ways to address these issues. And many are quietly helping build big companies. This is not that, and the social dilettantes threaten to overshadow those actually seeking to help.
Technology has been the leading sector in trust since Edelman began its Trust Barometer 21 years ago. Since that time, trust in business has risen while trust in technology has declined – and this year, the decline has been dramatic. Join Edelman for a discussion with tech industry leaders on what's next for Tech & Trust in 2021. This event is moderated by Protocol.
Katherine Boyle is a partner at General Catalyst, which has raised $2.3 billion last year. A former Washington Post reporter who still writes occasionally, she invests in companies seeking to disrupt regulated industries, such as aerospace, defense health care, fintech or computational biology. Her investments include Anduril, Literati, Nova Credit, Relativity Space and Titan.
What's your favorite pandemic meal?
Living in Florida, something I discovered is I'm a huge fan of Red Lobster. One of my favorites is the "Parrot Isle" coconut shrimp family meal. It's my life-saving go-to dinner for the family. Highly recommended. It feeds more than four — definitely generous portions. If you're one person stuck somewhere, it's the best deal for 50 coconut shrimp delivered.
What's one way you changed working in 2020 that you plan to keep going forward?
I'm an introvert, so for me this year was highly productive because I could avoid the things that introverts don't like — like small talk. But having spontaneous moments, that's the thing that's been taken out of relationships with Zoom meetings.
What did you find helpful in working this past year?
What I've loved about this year is it allowed people who used to have to conform to an extraverted business environment to now be really regimented and focused on things that matter. It allows us to have human connections. The way I changed this year was to be able to be anywhere in the world but have an instant connection over Zoom. We used to have to get in a car to go meet people. That's all stripped away and created new norms to be able connect with people without all the difficult parts of trying to meet in person.
What problem do you want to see a startup solve?
The thesis I've been really focused on is the future of government. A lot of people are interested in gov-tech. That's not how I frame it. I refer to it as civic verticals. The idea is that a lot of functions of government have been replaced by tech companies. The talent is moving to private companies. It's very difficult for government to handle a lot of problems without technology in the age of the internet.
What company, outside of your portfolio, have you been most impressed to watch this year?
Clubhouse is one of my favorite products to use. It's a company I've been watching very intently. I've been a daily active user since April. Part of the reason for this was I was pregnant during COVID. The product market fit with pregnant women who have insomnia is extraordinary. With a baby, there's very few products you can use that requires two hands to hold infant. I can get on Clubhouse while the baby is sleeping. I don't know if they built it for parents with new infants. When I'm up at 3 a.m., I can see what's going on across the world.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the proper name of the H-1B visa. This story was updated on April 5, 2021.