Silicon Valley isn’t Autistic, It’s Just Full of Assholes

[Silicon Valley] is a hard place to write about. It’s a lack of emotional content. It’s a cold place. I mean, it’s basically a bunch of autistic people walking around.
–Michael Lewis

I wasn’t aware that Silicon Valley had become some sort of leper colony for autism patients. I guess I haven’t been paying attention.

It is also possible that Mr. Lewis misdiagnosed the respective symptoms of autism and asshole. They can be hard to distinguish.

More concerning is that this is how the outside world actually sees Silicon Valley. This, coming from the author of Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, and Flash Boys. The writer who created sympathetic characters out of Wall Street and pro baseball says it’s difficult to write about Silicon Valley because Silicon Valley has no soul.

Why? Because we celebrate people like this:

And this heartwarming response to Chamath Palihapitiya‘s assertion that venture capital is full of Bros Funding Bros:

[ Previously, Marc Andreessen tweeted that his a16z team had x% females, y% African-American/Latino, and z% female African-American/Latino. Kevin Roose replied with “Now do the GPs!”. Andreessen has since deleted his tweet. ]

Marc did not respond Roose’s request. It’s no secret that A16Z has eight General Partners*. 0% female, 0% African-American/Latino, 0% female African-American/Latino.

Some might think it a bit tactless to boast about their firm’s inclusion of minority women when 100% of the minority women are recruiters, marketers, or admin-assistants.

Here are some pie charts!
Here are some pie charts!

Investment banking also has a culture of “Bros Funding Bros”, but at least they have the social grace to own up to it. Is Silicon Valley in denial, autistic, or run by even bigger assholes than Wall Street?

I don’t think Marc Andreessen is autistic; nor do I believe he’s an asshole. Andreessen has simply been hero-worshiped for so long that he has lost touch with reality.

Retired angel investor Tucker Max observed: “Perhaps the biggest thrill in angel investing is that people flatter you and beg you for your resources, and this makes you feel powerful and respected.”

While Wall Street investors spend their days kissing client ass, Sand Hill investors have their asses kissed by legions of startup founders.

Not only does Silicon Valley extol those who were born on third and scored on a wild pitch, we stroke their egos until they’re convinced that they scored a triple and stole home.

The more we glorify venture capitalists, the more influence their opinion has on early-stage companies’ success. As a result, Silicon Valley ends up with a public image shaped by a few entitled elite.

No, Michael Lewis, not everybody in Palo Alto is rich. What more, Marc Andreessen is not the voice of Silicon Valley. Neither are Dave McClure or Jack Dorsey.

If I’ve learned one thing from reading your books, it’s that you appreciate an underdog. So try listening to the underdogs for a change. The guys who failed to get jobs at Facebook. The tech companies that grew without venture capital. The people who give voice to those that have none.

Listen to those who aren’t celebrated only for their bankroll. Then see if you still think Silicon Valley has no soul.

brian acton-fb-job

*The A16Z GPs I counted were Ken Rampell, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz, Chris Dixon, John O’Farrell, Lars Dalgaard, Peter Levine, and Scott Weiss.

How to Get Lucky

The House that Jack Built... with MONEY
The House that Jack Built… with LUCK (and money)

Last month, Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital gave Jack Dorsey a good load of crap for claiming that there was no luck involved in his path to success.

Success is never accidental. No accidents, just planning; no luck, only strategy; no randomness, just perfect logic. –@jack

Marks points out that Dorsey would have been unlikely to found Twitter had he been born in Bangladesh. But clearly it was Jack’s awesome strategic planning skills that arranged for him to be born in the United States.

Aside from the circumstances of birth, there is an easy test to determine if success in an activity should be attributed to luck or skill: Ask if you can lose on purpose. If you can lose on purpose, then there is skill involved [1]. It would be hard to intentionally lose at a craps table (betting strategy notwithstanding).

Can a person intentionally fail at building a billion-dollar company? Of course. And that is because luck is a skill.

Given the role that luck plays in startup success, it should be considered the most formidable skill of all. Here’s how to improve on it [2]:

    1. Maximize Your Chance Opportunities. Be open to diverse people and experiences. Your lucky break isn’t going to find you in your cubicle.

    2. Listen to Your Intuition. It’s usually right, and shortens your deliberation time.

    3. Expect Good Fortune. Having positive expectations makes you attempt more things and persevere more. And if you act positively, the world reacts positively. That’s one of Newton’s laws.

    4. Turn Your Bad Luck Into Good. Because luck is a skill, any bad luck that arises is a result of something you did. Learn from it and move on. Time spent feeling bad is time spent being unlucky.

Just like Jack Dorsey, I had the incredible foresight to be born in the United States. That makes me luckier than 98% of the other humans on the planet. I managed to not come out mentally retarded or disfigured. Not excessively so, anyway. I think that puts me in the top 1%. This is a very good bet.

I am also clearly very stupid, so it is another testament to my luck that I haven’t ended up dead. I’ll list this alongside my credentials in the team’s executive summary.

What am I doing sitting at home writing code, anyway? I should go to Vegas and get lucky.

See Also:
success equation luck factor

1. Michael Mauboussin. The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. 2012.

2. Richard Wiseman. The Luck Factor. 2004.