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.

Silicon Valley is the new Fannie Mae

Tim Draper has it rough
Tim Draper has it rough

VCs have a tough job. They have to turn a giant pile of money into more money. However, they are not allowed to do it the sensible way, which is to invest in European index funds1. They have to do it by investing in half-baked ideas dreamt up by kids in a garage.

Some time ago, banks had a similarly tough job. They had to turn money into more money, and they had to do it by lending it to people to buy houses. The customers would pay back the loan plus interest. A decade ago, interest rates were unusually low, and this cut the banks’ profits. They had to make more home loans than ever before to get the same returns.

But there were only so many people out there who wanted to buy houses. There were only so many people who deserved to buy houses.

The banks did what any smart business would do: They invested in marketing. Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest provider of mortgages, created the term “American Dream” and defined it as owning a house with a white picket fence and a kidney-shaped pool. The American Dream is a manufactured marketing scam to convince more people to buy houses.

Own the American Dream! Only $4999/month for the next 3 decades. Plus shipping and handling.
Own the American Dream! Only $4999/month for the next 3 decades. Plus shipping and handling.

After the financial crisis and stuff, Fannie Mae went bankrupt and that dream died. Americans locked on to a new Dream. A dream where we aren’t enslaved to mortgages and corporate employers. Screw owning a house, I want to own my own company.

The new dream is Entrepreneurship.

Blame Quantitative Easing or Swensen’s Asset Allocation model: Venture Capital is seeing a lot of inflows. And VCs have to do their jobs, which is to invest in startups. Therefore it is in their best interest that lots of people quit their corporate jobs and start, or work at, a startup.

Welcome to the new marketing scam. The pages of TechCrunch2 teem with stories of who raised how much money and how easy it was. Look, this 8-month old company is suddenly worth a Billion dollars3! All they did was write an app! Anyone can write an app.

In Silicon Valley, every day is just like this.
In Silicon Valley, every day is just like this.

Silicon Valley is the best place to do it, of course. Sam Altman, Paul Graham, Marc Andreessen, and Peter Thiel all say so. They cite many different reasons, but the biggest one is that way they don’t have to get off their asses and leave Sand Hill Road to meet with founders.

Dear VCs: You are not allowed to bitch about the high burn rates of startups while simultaneously urging their founders to live in the most expensive city in the nation. Doing so makes you a hypocritical shit.

So, what’s your dream today? Who fed it to you, and why?

1 This does not constitute investment advice.

2 The founder of TechCrunch is also an LP at multiple VC firms, which should really be a disclosure in every single article they publish.

3 Don’t believe everything that you read.