Posts from hacking government

Why be civically engaged if you’re in tech?

Tomorrow, Ron Conway and I are going to kick off Disrupt NY 2015, with a fireside chat with Kim-Mai Cutler. We plan to discuss philanthropy and civic involvement. I’m looking forward to this talk. I think folks in the tech sector need to embrace philanthropy and civic involvement and I look forward to making the case for that.

I’ve been working in the VC business since the mid 80s. And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.

But we know that the things we make and the companies we build have great impact on those outside of the tech sector. It can be for the good, like building cars that don’t use carbon fuels and showing the auto industry that it can be a good business to do that. It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.

It feels to me that our economy and our society is now deeply entwined with technology and being significantly impacted by it. If that is true, I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward. I think one way or another the tech sector is going to get pulled into these debates. It will be one thing if that happens thoughtfully and positively and another if the tech sector is pulled into them kicking and screaming.

Regular readers of this blog know that my partners and I have been involved in these discussions since we started USV over a decade ago. We spend our time, energy, and capital in areas like policy debates, philanthropy, and civic engagement. There are others in the tech sector who do the same. Ron Conway comes to mind as someone who has spent a similar amount of time, energy, and capital on this stuff. And I am thrilled to share the stage with him tomorrow as we discuss these issues.

We go on stage at 9:05am eastern tomorrow. I’m hoping the talk will be livestreamed and you can watch it live. If it is, it will be somewhere like here.

Startups Matter In DC

In the WSJ post about the FCC’s decision (announced yesterday) to adopt Title II as the mechanism to insure that last mile access providers don’t mess with the open Internet, they explain how the White House came around on this issue:

The prod from Mr. Obama came after an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House, led by two aides who built a case for the principle known as “net neutrality” through dozens of meetings with online activists, Web startups and traditional telecommunications companies.

Acting like a parallel version of the FCC itself, R. David Edelman and Tom Power listened as Etsy Inc., Kickstarter Inc., Yahoo Inc. ’s Tumblr and other companies insisted that utility-like rules were needed to help small companies and entrepreneurs compete online, people involved in the process say.

In an office on the fourth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, some companies claimed they would have never gotten off the ground if they had been forced to pay broadband providers. “We want to compete on product and service, not on our ability to negotiate preferable treatment with an Internet service provider,” said David Pashman, general counsel for Meetup Inc.

Note that startups like Meetup, Etsy, Kickstarter, and Tumblr are mentioned. These companies took the time to go to DC and explain how an open Internet allowed them to get into business and stay in business. And DC listened.

That’s hopeful and important in a world where it seems the big guys have all the weapons. David can beat Goliath. It is not just a fable.

Next Wednesday Is The Internet Slowdown

We’ve talked a lot here at AVC about Net Neutrality. I hate that term because it’s got so much baggage now that it is essentially meaningless to me. What I want to see is a framework that everyone agrees to (application developers, bandwidth providers, last mile access providers, and the regulators) that says you can’t prioritize one bit over another in the last mile access network and you can’t charge application developers to deliver their bits to the end user.

This issue is coming to a head at the FCC as the comment period is ending and some sort of decision will be made this fall. So next Wednesday, September 10th, is the Internet’s opportunity to stand up and be heard.

If you are with me on this issue, please consider joining the Internet Slowdown campaign next Wednesday. There are all sorts of ways you can do this. You can change your avatars on your social media profiles, you can send push notifications if you operate a mobile app, you can put a slow loading graphic on your blog or website (there are WordPress widgets if you are on WordPress like I am).

And if you still aren’t convinced, please read Chad Dickerson’s piece in Wired this week on why this issue is important to businesses and everyone who uses the Internet to reach their customers and/or audience.

Algorithmic Organizing

My partner Albert penned a post yesterday (on and because of labor day) talking about the changing nature of work (more freelancers working on marketplace platforms) and suggested some interesting ideas. You can read his post here.

The two really interesting and related ideas are:

– A legal right for workers on these platforms to have real time (API based) access to the information about their work, pricing, supply and demand in the marketplace, etc, etc

– The development of algorithms (and coops and communities using these algorithms) that will allow these freelance workers to extract the best rates for their work

I believe that in the long run these platforms may/will be replaced by blockchain based networks of labor where there is no platform middleman and there would be no need for a legal right to an API because all the data would be public by default.

But who knows how long it will take for that transformation to happen? In the meantime, Albert’s ideas are really good and I would encourage people who are thinking about old school based regulation of these platforms to think instead of a new school regulatory approach along the lines of what Albert has suggested.

Video Of The Week: Etsy and Rockford

Our portfolio company Etsy is helping Rockford Illinois build an entrepreneurial economy in their city. Here’s a short (3 min) video that talks a bit about what they are doing and how it got started.

MayDay PAC

Today, July 4th, the anniversary of the day in which our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, is also the final day of a crowdfunding campaign to raise $12mm for a Super PAC to fund campaign finance reform.

This campaign is called MayDay and the person behind it is Larry Lessig.

The idea is to use the $12mm to make campaign finance reform the fundamental issue in five high profile congressional races and win them.

If that works, then May Day PAC will crowdfund a much larger amount in 2016 and do this again in a lot more races.

Larry’s assertion is that the vast majority of americans want big money out of government, but the small number of people with the big money don’t want that to happen and they are calling the shots now.

He believes that the best way to fix that is for everyone with small amounts of money to come together and put together some big money and go toe to toe with them.

I think it is an interesting idea and when Larry raised the first $1mm from the crowd, the Gotham Gal and I participated in the small group that matched the first $1mm. We can and do write big checks to politicians because that’s the way our corrupt system of government works right now. We are happy to write big checks to change that system and make it right.

The second part of the crowdfunding campaign is seeking to raise $5mm and then get that matched in the same way the first $1mm was matched.

With one day to go, the campaign is short by about $1.5mm. It would be amazing if the american public celebrated July 4th by coming up with the final $1.5mm.

If you are so inclined, you can help do that here.

Video Of The Week: Brad Burnham On Iceland, Economic Development, and Networks

My partner Brad and our colleague Nick have been advising some folks in Iceland on economic development and how the Internet and networks could be the key to giving their economy a big push. They have been doing that for several years now.

Last March Brad went to Iceland and gave a talk to a bunch of policy makers there. It was put up on YouTube recently and I am making it the video of the week this week. In this talk Brad lays out a vision of what the Icelandic economy look like in ten years with the right policy choices. He also explains why he and the rest of USV is interested in that (hint: jurisdictional competition).

Open Source and Our Government

A couple days ago, I saw a tweet by Henry Blodget and replied:

I am really upset by the problems with healthcare.gov. Leaving aside all the issues with Obamacare, and I hope and pray this discussion does not downgrade into a debate about that, I am very excited about the potential of marketplaces and marketplace economics on the price, availability, and transparency of healthcare insurance. It is way too complicated to buy healthcare insurance today and it costs way too much. The Internet and the power of marketplace economics has the potential to change that.

But our government has badly botched the construction of healthcare.gov and is now proposing a tech surge to fix it. More people, more money, and more promises thrown at a badly broken process. This will end about as well as Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'd like to suggest another way. Open source the healthcare.gov project, or at least all the components that easily lend themselves to open source. I think that some of it may already be open sourced. But instead of hiring an army of contract developers who will cost us so much money, harness an army of volunteers, who are likely better engineers, who will do the work for free.

That's what is increasingly done by technology companies and so much of the software that runs the web these days is open source. Why can't the software that runs our government be open sourced too? If you think this is a good idea, you can sign this petition. I signed it yesterday.

There is a lot going on in this area. My colleague Nick posted this link on usv.com today. GitHub now has a "subgit" on government projects. That's awesome and I hope we see the healthcare.gov codebase show up there soon.