Saudi Money

Silicon Valley founders are worried about the source of their money. 75% of venture-backed startups fail, and it’s very sad when those sunk costs are financed by public pensions and other modest sources.

Here’s Kevin Roose:

Lyft backer Andreessen Horowitz, for example, has gotten investments from the Imperial County, California, Employee Retirement System and the University of Michigan; the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System invests money with SpoonRocket backer General Catalyst. If you asked them, I’m sure that firefighters in Memphis and public schoolteachers in El Centro would have no idea that their retirement funds are being used to lower the price of my delivery lunches and rides across town.

(ed. note: SpoonRocket filed for bankruptcy in 2016.)

Won’t somebody please think of the schoolteachers and firefighters?? Why are shady fund managers always pillaging their pensions??

That’s why it’s a relief to see Andreessen-Horowitz, Kleiner-Perkins, Y Combinator, Greylock, and other usual suspects raising money instead from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman! Not only can he afford to lose the money, he deserves to!

We love it when Bad Guys get ripped off! Remember how thrilled we were to find out Betsy DeVos lost $100 million on Theranos? Hahaha, that’s what you get for supporting school choice! What better way to stick it to a repressive regime than by selling its dollars for 75 cents??

At last, it feels like the tide has turned! The media will finally stop villainizing Silicon Valley and see tech founders as the great humanitarians they truly are.

Wait… what’s this? People think that taking Saudi money is… bad?

I guess… people are worried about the outside chance that a wildly successful long-shot could enrich Mohammed bin Salman and his sovereign wealth fund?

Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz. His company took half a billion in Saudi money and turned it into a tragic heap.

People are… really worried. In fact, some VCs are *so* worried that they’re only seeking investments from Good Guys, like nonprofit groups and children’s hospitals.

Only 5% of VC funds generate enough profit to justify the fees and illiquidity. Are nonprofits and children exempt from the usual 2-and-20? Didn’t think so.

Yes yes, every VC is convinced that his fund will be one of the 5%. This is the type of concern that could only arise in a place as delightfully Panglossian as Silicon Valley. My next moonshot is going to be so valuable, taking other people’s money is practically an act of charity — That’s why my seed round is only open to widows and orphans!

Or maybe the problem is Silicon Valley’s knack for knee-jerk reacting to whatever the media is raging about. Maybe it’s a side effect of being always plugged in; maybe tech people are just naïve. But maybe these founders should take a page from wizened Wall Street execs and stop worrying what others think.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink
Does Lloyd Blankfein look like he’s worried about enriching a murderer?

Listen up Silicon Valley, it makes no difference whose money you take. You’re gonna get ripped on no matter what. In fact, there’s a whole class of people whose sole purpose in life is to run around afflicting the comfortable — They’re called journalists.

Me, on the other hand, I’m here to comfort the afflicted! Here we go:

No schoolteacher is gonna end up in the poorhouse due to bad VC investments. I asked a Sand Hill Road GP why he was gambling with teachers’ retirement money. He said that many pension funds follow a portfolio model that allocates a percentage to private equity, but assuming the fund manager isn’t completely irresponsible, the fraction that goes to venture capital is typically less than 0.5%.

As for enriching murderous regimes? Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is planning a $2 trillion IPO for Saudi Aramco. Trillion! If a billion-dollar company is a unicorn, then a trillion-dollar company must be a… chimera? Chupacabra? Either way, the Saudi fund’s $3.5 billion stake in Uber is chump change.

Remember Network? It’s a 1976 film where TV anchor Howard Beale realizes that getting viewers worked up into a frenzied rage is really good for ratings. The station gives him his own daily program to rant about America and the state of democracy, until Beale finds out that the network’s owners are about to close a funding deal with Saudi investors.


    BEALE (ON LIVE TV): We know the Arabs control more than sixteen billion dollars in this country! They own a chunk of Fifth Avenue, twenty downtown pieces of Boston, a part of the port of New Orleans, an industrial park in Salt Lake city. They own big hunks of the Atlanta Hilton, the Arizona Land and cattle Company, the Security National Bank in California, the Bank of the Commonwealth in Detroit! They control ARAMCO, so that puts them into Exxon, Texaco and Mobil oil! They're all over - New Jersey, Louisville, St.Louis, Missouri! And that's only what we know about! There's a hell of a lot more we don't know about because all those Arab petro-dollars are washed through Switzerland and Canada and the biggest banks in this country!

    Right now, the Arabs have screwed us out of enough American dollars to come back and, with our own money, buy General Motors, IBM, ITT, AT&T, Dupont, U.S. Steel, and twenty other top American companies. Hell, they already own half of England.

    Now, listen to me, goddammit! The Arabs are simply buying us! They're buying all our land, our whole economy, the press, the factories, financial institutions, the government! They're going to own us! A handful of agas, shahs and emirs who despise this country and everything it stands for -- democracy, freedom, the right for me to get up on television and tell you about it -- a couple of dozen medieval fanatics are going to own where you work, where you live, what you read, what you see, your cars, your bowling alleys, your mortgages, your schools, your churches, your libraries, your kids, your whole life!

That looks bad for the Saudi investment, so network execs put an end to Beale’s show. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Hard to believe that was four decades ago.

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