There are many problems with how the world of tech operates: discrimination, glass ceilings, poor working conditions, and so on. The state of affairs is much better than how a lot of other sectors work, but there’s also a ton of room for improvement. If you are a concerned founder or investor, what can you do to push things in the right direction?
Be the change you wish to see in the world
Last week, Greylock’s John Lilly made a wonderful comment:
Lots of people telling you what will happen in 2015. You can read those. Or you can go make the things you think need making.
— John Lilly (@johnolilly) January 1, 2015
I think John’s advice applies as much to creating structural innovations as it does to building products.
If you run a startup, you influence the world through the projects that you undertake. If you’re an investor, you exert influence by choosing which projects you support. Not only can both groups affect what will be built, but they also have the opportunity to influence how things are built, and by whom.
I think one of the best things that founders and investors can do to combat injustices and bad practices is to set a good example for others, and to be successful while setting that example. For instance, if you make it a point to invest in founders from underrepresented groups, and on top of that your fund gets a great return, you’re simultaneously showing that 1) people from underrepresented groups are very capable founders and 2) investors can make more money by supporting those groups than they would have made otherwise. Similarly, as a founder, if your company is successful while hiring minorities or offering longer maternity/paternity leaves or practicing enhanced transparency (like Stripe and Buffer), then that shows the world that you can win while being more diverse/more family-friendly/less opaque.
In my case, I frequently hear founders lament the lack of clear feedback from most VCs. As an engineer who loves tight feedback loops and optimization, I find the opacity of most investment decisions – and of the VC world in general – very frustrating. My attempt at improving the status quo is to blog about things I learn, to provide useful benchmarks whenever possible, and to offer direct, useful feedback to founders when my fund (Susa Ventures) decides to pass. My hope is that if when Susa becomes a 10x fund, that will provide a good data point for demonstrating that financial returns don’t have to come at the expense of transparency.
Problems that need attention
Some sample problems in tech that I think founders and investors could tackle:
What if you’re not an investor or a founder?
While investors and founders have a lot of leverage for creating change, the flatness and accessibility within tech provide everyone a great opportunity to make a difference. You can write publicly about problems so that they’re not swept under the rug. Speak at conferences. Challenge public figures within the community on forums like Twitter. You can also speak with your boss or CEO and convince them to prioritize making the tech industry better. You can also vote with your feet by not taking money (as a founder or an employee) from crappy human beings.
Finally, crowdsourcing is a wonderful tool. Tracy Chou did a great job of publicizing the position of women within tech via a public GitHub repository. Semil Shah recently created an easy-to-follow Twitter list of underrepresented minorities within the world of tech. If you’re creative, you can accomplish a lot with free tools.
I’d love to see what ideas others have for using companies and funds as vehicles for setting great examples for everyone. The world is an amazing place, but it’s not perfect, and the startup ecosystem is a great vehicle for making it better by setting good examples.