Posts from policy

Tech Jobs For All Who Want Them

The tech sector is the fastest growing sector of the economy in NYC and around the US and around the world. The tech sector offers high paying jobs and a growing number of them.

But, as we all know, the tech sector lacks the gender and racial diversity that would allow everyone to benefit from this growing sector of the economy. Most of the studies that have looked at the lack of diversity point to a skills gap standing in the way.

So last year Tech:NYC (where I am co-chair) and a few large employers (Google, Verizon, Bloomberg LP) and the Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund commissioned a study of the skills training programs in NYC to see where there are gaps and what must be done to close them so that tech jobs are available to everyone in NYC who wants one.

This report was done by the Center for an Urban Future and was released yesterday. You can read it here.

What the report reveals is that NYC has a rich and expanding ecosystem of tech skills training opportunities, including K-12 and adult education. But, as we all know, the quality is uneven and so are the outcomes.

The report makes twelve recommendations which are detailed here. They are:

1. Make a significant new public investment in expanding and improving New York City’s tech education and training ecosystem. 

2. Set clear and ambitious goals to greatly expand the pipeline of New Yorkers into technology careers. 

3. Prioritize long-term investments in K–12 computing education. 

4. Scale up tech training with a focus on programs that develop in-depth, career-ready skills. 

5. Build the pipeline of educators and facilitators serving both K–12 and career readiness efforts. 

6. Close the geographic gaps in tech education and skills-building programs. 

7. New York City’s tech sector should play a larger role in developing, recruiting, and retaining diverse talent. 

8. Increase access to tech apprenticeships and paid STEM internships through industry partnerships, CS4All, and the city’s current Summer Youth Employment Program. 

9. Expand efforts to market STEM programs to underrepresented students and their families. 

10. Develop and fund links from the numerous computer literacy and basic digital skills-building programs to the in-depth programs that can lead to employment. 

11. Expand the number of bridge programs to provide crucial new on-ramps to further tech education and training for New Yorkers with fundamental skills needs. 

12. Develop major new supports for the non-tuition costs of adult workforce training. 

I participated on the advisory board of this study and support all of these recommendations. Elected officials and policy makers in NYC (and really everywhere) should read and heed these recommendations.

The tech sector faces many headwinds in society right now for a host of reasons. Not all of them can be solved by an employee base that mirrors the planet. But many of them can be and we need to work to get there.

I want to thank the Center For An Urban Future, Tech:NYC, Robin Hood Learning and Technology Fund, Google, Verizon, and Bloomberg LP for giving us a roadmap on how to get there.

#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#hacking education#hacking government#management#NYC#policy#Politics

A SEC Safe Harbor For Crypto

SEC Commissioner Hester Pierce proposed a “safe harbor” for crypto projects that raise money before they are sufficiently decentralized.

I am a big fan of “safe harbors”and wrote a bit a few years ago about why I like them so much and why a crypto safe harbor is such a needed and good idea.

There is a chicken and egg problem in financing crypto projects. These projects need investment capital and community involvement/buy-in to get to market and begin the process of decentralization. But the SEC views crypto-tokens as securities until the crypto-networks are sufficiently decentralized. And so crypto projects get stuck in this never never land and have to craft crazy frankenstein financings or risk getting sued by the SEC (and/or both) in order to raise money and get their tokens in the hands of community members.

I encourage the SEC to take Commissioner Pierce’s proposal seriously and adopt a workable safe harbor for crypto projects here in the US. We have seen the crypto capital markets and so much of the innovation in the sector move offshore and a safe harbor would be incredibly helpful in getting it back onshore (I couldn’t help the nautical metaphor).

#blockchain#crypto#policy

Creating A Competitive Shaving Market

The FTC filed a complaint to stop the merger of Edgewell (Schick) and Harry’s yesterday. I don’t have a vested interest in this case in any way (other than having had a summer job working for Gillette in 1980). But it is a very curious action in my view.

Over the last decade, two new competitors have emerged in the shaving market in the US, Harry’s and Dollar Shave. They have brought innovation and competition to a market that has long been dominated by Gillette and Schick.

In 2016, Dollar Shave sold to Unilever, joining Gillette (owned by P&G) in the hands of consumer packaged goods giants.

In May of 2019, Harry’s and Edgewell (Schick) announced their intention to merge and create a strong competitor to Unilever and P&G in the shaving market. As I understand it, the leadership of Harry’s plans take over the Schick brand and bring its marketing and innovation talents to the combined business.

This Recode post on the FTC action has some interesting numbers in it:

According to the research firm Euromonitor, Gillette held 47 percent of the US men’s razor market in 2018, with Edgewell’s brands, which include Schick and Wilkinson Sword, combining for 13.6 percent of the industry. The Harry’s brand, which started selling online but now has a large presence in both Target and Walmart stores, had just a 2.6 percent share at the time, according to Euromonitor. Dollar Shave Club owned 8.5 percent of the US market in 2018, according to Euromonitor, and is owned by Unilever, following a $1 billion acquisition in 2016.

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/2/3/21120169/harrys-ftc-acquisition-edgewell-schick-gillette-dollar-shave-club

So the FTC thinks that stopping a merger of the number two and four brands in a market is good for competition?

I think it is bad for competition and keeping Harry’s and Schick separated will just allow Unilever and P&G to dominate this market going forward. I don’t understand what the FTC is thinking or doing with this case in the least.

#policy

Peak Decade

I read this post on Bloomberg about a theme this week at Davos (never been) about the 2020s being a “Peak Decade”:

  • Peak Globalization (tighter borders in the coming years)
  • Peak Capitalism (the emergence of “stakeholder capitalism”)
  • Peak Inequality (the rich getting poorer, relatively)
  • Peak Youth (an aging world population)
  • Peak Climate Change (I sure hope so)
  • Peak Oil (I sure hope so)
  • Peak Cars (I sure hope so)
  • Peak Central Banks (go crypto!!!)

Even if some (most?) of these predictions are wrong, the very fact that leaders at the highest levels of business and government are having this conversation is encouraging.

We are leaving the industrial age behind and moving into the knowledge age and we need to leave some things behind as we make that transition. My partner Albert’s book is a good read if you want to dig deeper on this topic.

#policy#Politics

What Will Happen In The 2020s

It’s 2020. Time to look forward to the decade that is upon us.

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Bill Gates, is that people overestimate what will happen in a year and underestimate what will happen in a decade.

This is an important decade for mankind. It is a decade in which we will need to find answers to questions that hang over us like last night’s celebrations.

I am an optimist and believe in society’s ability to find the will to face our challenges and the intelligence to find solutions to them.

So, I am starting out 2020 in an optimistic mood and here are some predictions for the decade that we are now in.

1/ The looming climate crisis will be to this century what the two world wars were to the previous one. It will require countries and institutions to re-allocate capital from other endeavors to fight against a warming planet. This is the decade we will begin to see this re-allocation of capital. We will see carbon taxed like the vice that it is in most countries around the world this decade, including in the US. We will see real estate values collapse in some of the most affected regions and we will see real estate values increase in regions that benefit from the warming climate. We will see massive capital investments made in protecting critical regions and infrastructure. We will see nuclear power make a resurgence around the world, particularly smaller reactors that are easier to build and safer to operate. We will see installed solar power worldwide go from ~650GW currently to over 20,000GW by the end of this decade. All of these things and many more will cause the capital markets to focus on and fund the climate issue to the detriment of many other sectors.

2/ Automation will continue to take costs out of operating many of the services and systems that we rely on to live and be productive. The fight for who should have access to this massive consumer surplus will define the politics of the 2020s. We will see capitalism come under increasing scrutiny and experiments to reallocate wealth and income more equitably will produce a new generation of world leaders who ride this wave to popularity.

3/ China will emerge as the world’s dominant global superpower leveraging its technical prowess and ability to adapt quickly to changing priorities (see #1). Conversely the US becomes increasingly internally focused and isolationist in its world view.

4/ Countries will create and promote digital/crypto versions of their fiat currencies, led by China who moves first and benefits the most from this move. The US will be hamstrung by regulatory restraints and will be slow to move, allowing other countries and regions to lead the crypto sector. Asian crypto exchanges, unchecked by cumbersome regulatory restraints in Europe and the US and leveraging decentralized finance technologies, will become the dominant capital markets for all types of financial instruments.

5/ A decentralized internet will emerge, led initially by decentralized infrastructure services like storage, bandwidth, compute, etc. The emergence of decentralized consumer applications will be slow to take hold and a killer decentralized consumer app will not emerge until the latter part of the decade.

6/ Plant based diets will dominate the world by the end of the decade. Eating meat will become a delicacy, much like eating caviar is today. Much of the world’s food production will move from farms to laboratories.

7/ The exploration and commercialization of space will be dominated by private companies as governments increasingly step back from these investments. The early years of this decade will produce a wave of hype and investment in the space business but returns will be slow to come and we will be in a trough of disillusionment on the space business as the decade comes to an end.

8/ Mass surveillance by governments and corporations will become normal and expected this decade and people will increasingly turn to new products and services to protect themselves from surveillance. The biggest consumer technology successes of this decade will be in the area of privacy.

9/ We will finally move on from the Baby Boomers dominating the conversation in the US and around the world and Millennials and Gen-Z will be running many institutions by the end of the decade. Age and experience will be less valued by shareholders, voters, and other stakeholders and vision and courage will be valued more.

10/ Continued advancements in genetics will produce massive wins this decade as cancer and other terminal illnesses become well understood and treatable. Fertility and reproduction will be profoundly changed. Genetics will also create new diseases and moral/ethical issues that will confound and confuse society. Balancing the gains and losses that come from genetics will be our greatest challenge in this decade.

That’s ten predictions, enough for now and enough for me. I hope I made you think as much as I made myself think writing this. That’s the goal. It is impossible to be right about all of this. But it is important to be thinking about it.

I know that comments here at AVC are broken at the moment and so I look forward to the conversation on email and Twitter and elsewhere.

#climate crisis#crypto#economics#employment#entrepreneurship#Food and Drink#hacking energy#hacking finance#policy#Politics#Science#VC & Technology

What Happened In The 2010s

My friend Steve Kane suggested I take a longer view in my pair of year end posts this year:

And so I will.

Here are the big things that happened in tech, startups, business, and more in the decade that is ending today, in no particular order of importance.

1/ The emergence of the big four web/mobile monopolies; Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. A decade ago, Google dominated search, Apple had a mega hit on their hand with the iPhone, Amazon was way ahead of everyone in e-commerce, and Facebook was emerging as the dominant social media platform. Today, these four companies own monopolies or duopolies in their core markets and are using the power of those market positions to extend their reach into tangential markets and beyond. Google continues to own a monopoly position in search in many parts of the world, has a duopoly position in mobile operating systems, and controls a number of other market leading assets (email, video, etc). Apple owns the other duopoly position in mobile operating systems. Amazon has amassed a dominant position in e-commerce in many parts of the world and has used that position to extend its reach into private label products, logistics, and cloud infrastructure. Facebook built and acquired its way into owning four of the most strategic social media properties in the world; Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Most importantly, outside of China, these four companies own more data about what we do online and also control many of the important channels to reach us in the digital world. What society does about this situation stands as the most important issue in tech at the start of the 2020s.

2/ The massive experiment in using capital as a moat to build startups into sustainable businesses has now played out and we can call it a failure for the most part. Uber popularized this strategy and got very far with it, but sitting here at the end of the 2010s, Uber has not yet proven that it can build a profitable business, is struggling as a public company, and will need something more than capital to sustain its business. WeWork was a fast follower with this strategy and failed to get to the public markets and is undergoing a massive restructuring that will determine the fate of that business. Many other experiments with this model have failed or are failing right now. When I look back at the 2010s, I see a decade during which massive capital flowed into startups and much of it was wasted chasing the “capital as a moat” model.

3/ Machine learning finally came of age in the 2010s and is now table stakes for every tech company, large and small. Accumulating a data asset around your product and service and using sophisticated machine learning models to personalize and improve your product is not a nice to have. It is a must have. This ultimately benefits the three large cloud providers (Amazon, Google, Microsoft) who are providing much of the infrastructure to the tech industry to do this work at scale, which is how you must do it if you want to be competitive.

4/ Subscriptions became the second scaled business model for web and mobile businesses, following advertising which emerged at scale in the previous decade. Startups that developed the skills to execute a subscription business model with positive unit economics delivered fantastic returns to investors and capital flowed into this sector as a result. This was a very positive development as subscriptions better align the interests of the users and the developers of mobile and web applications and avoid many of the negative aspects of the free/ad supported business model. However, as we end the decade, a subscription overload backlash is emerging as many consumers have signed up for more subscriptions than they need and in some cases can afford.

5/ Silicon Valley’s position as mecca for tech and startups started to show signs of weakening in the 2010s, largely because of its massive successes this decade. It is incredibly expensive to live and work in the bay area and the quality of life/cost of life equation is not moving in the right direction. The physical infrastructure (transit, housing, etc) has not kept up with the needs of the region and there is no sign that it will change any time soon. This does not mean “Silicon Valley is over” but it does mean that other tech sectors will find an easier time recruiting talent to their regions and away from Silicon Valley. And talent is really the only thing that matters these days.

6/ Cryptography emerged in the 2010s as a powerful technology that can solve some of the web and mobile’s most vexing issues. Cryptography and encryption have been around for a very long time, well before the computer. Modern computer cryptography came of age in the 1970s. But the emergence of the internet, web, and mobile computing largely did not integrate many of the central ideas of cryptography natively into the protocols that these platforms were built on. The emergence of Bitcoin and decentralized money this decade has shown the way and set the stage for cryptography to be built natively into web and mobile applications and deliver control back to users. Credit to Muneeb Ali for framing this issue for me in a way that makes a lot of sense.

7/ Technology inserted itself right in the middle of society this decade. Our President wakes up and fires off dozens of tweets, possibly while still in bed. We are all hostage to our phones and the services that we rely on. Our elections are conducted using machine learning technology to segment and micro-target important voting groups. And bad actors can and do use the same technologies to interfere in our elections and our public discourse. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle in this regard, but the fact that the tech sector has such a powerful role means that it will be highly regulated by society. And there is no putting the genie back in the bottle in that regard either.

8/ The rich got richer this decade. Axios wrote in a recent email that:

“The rich in already rich countries plus an increasing number of superrich in the developing world … captured an astounding 27% of global growth.”

But the very poor also had a great decade as Axios also reported:

The rate of extreme poverty around the world was cut in half over the past decade (15.7% in 2010 to 7.7% now), and all but eradicated in China.

The losers in the 2010s were lower middle class and middle class people in the developed world whose incomes stagnated or fell.

Technology played a role in all of this. Many of the superrich obtained their wealth through technology business interests. Some of the eradication of extreme poverty is the result of technology as well. And the stagnation of earning power in the lower and middle class is absolutely the result of technology automation, a trend that will only accelerate in coming years.

9/ This a post publish addition. A huge miss in my original post is the emergence of China as a tech superpower and a global superpower. There are many areas (digital money for example) where China is light years ahead of the western world in technology and that will likely accelerate in the coming years. Being a tech superpower is a necessary condition to being a global superpower and China is already that and getting more powerful by the day.

I will end there. These are the big mega-trends I think about when I think about the 2010s. There is no doubt that I left out many important ones. You can and will add them in the comments (wordpress for now), emails to me, and on Twitter and beyond. And that is what I hope you will do.

#crypto#entrepreneurship#machine learning#policy#Politics#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Adversarial Interoperability

As I’m gearing up for two big posts tomorrow and wednesday, I will simply give you a link (courtesy of Nick) to read.

Cory Doctorow’s EFF post on Adversarial Interoperability explains the move we need to make to fix what’s wrong with big tech, monopolies, duopolies, etc, etc. Basically everything that is wrong with the Internet, mobile, and web.

If I was able to issue required reading to everyone who is regulating tech or running for offices that are in a position to regulate tech, this would be it.

#policy#Politics#Web/Tech

Getting Tech Into The Boroughs

A number of elected officials tweeted “I told you so” when the news came out at the end of last week that Amazon had taken space in Hudson Yards and will move 1500 jobs there soon.

While the question of what kind of public funded incentives should be used to incentivize the behavior of the wealthiest corporations in the world is a conversation that we must have, the truth is we all lost something when Amazon decided not to build their second headquarters in Long Island City and bring 25,000 good paying jobs to Queens.

Where companies locate does matter. Sure you can take a subway from Jamaica Queens to Hudson Yards and some people will.

But NYC’s large and rapidly growing tech sector remains largely white and asian and centered in lower and midtown Manhattan.

I dream of a day when communities like the South Bronx, Jamaica Queens, Brownsville Brooklyn, and St George in Staten Island can have tech companies as residents and tech jobs will be readily available to the residents of those communities.

A good start is NYC’s groundbreaking CS4All program in which computer science teachers and classes are being made available in every public school building in NYC. Another good start is CUNY’s emphasis on making high quality computer science majors available at many of its twenty five campuses around NYC.

We are well on our way to training the tech workforce of tomorrow which can and should be as black and brown and female in the future as it is white and asian and male today.

But we also must connect the tech sector to the vast part of NYC that exists outside of lower and midtown Manhattan.

And the best way to do that is to create incentives of some sort for large and small tech companies to spread out into the outer boroughs.

There is a fantastic building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard called Dock 72. I have suggested to many of the tech companies that I work with that they move there. Some have taken a subway over there to take a look. But many have told me “I’m happy here in Manhattan.”

Locating in Manhattan is easy. You can recruit employees from New Jersey, Westchester and Connecticut. Moving to the boroughs is a harder decision.

So we need to encourage that behavior. If not tax incentives, then let’s try something else.

But if we leave this to the market to sort out, we will see the next 250,000 jobs created by the tech sector located in places like Hudson Yards and not Industry City.

And that will be a loss of all of us.

#NYC#policy#Politics

Funding Friday: The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF.org) has been fighting for and helping to protect our online rights for twenty-eight years. Their primary focus areas are online privacy and free speech.

They spend about $12mm a year on legal interventions and policy work. Most of their funding comes from small donations from people like us who value the work they do on our behalf.

I signed up for an annual membership this morning and will be contributing $2500 a year to this amazing organization. I also got this awesome EFF ski hat.

I would like to encourage all of you get to read what I think free of censorship to support their work as well. You can make a one-time payment of as little as $25 or as much as I did and you can also make that a recurring payment, as I did.

You can do all of that here.

#policy