Last week my old AOL friend Chamath, who is now the hottest VC in Silicon Valley, unintentionally took a stand against, essentially, the way the Gen-Y founders of Airbnb were pulling $20M out of their startup.
At the same time thousands of the disenfranchised -- from fatigued Marines in fatigues to mid-level execs to mommy bloggers to pilots all dressed up with no where to fly -- occupied Wall Street in protests.
The white-haired White Shirts of New York's Finest lost their cool and pepper sprayed the innocent. Sad shades of a Kent State to come?
These baby-faced, well-spoken and highly intelligent millennials marched around Wall Street leading their parents into the fight of the 99% against the 1%.
The OWS protesters see a corrupt system filled with greed. I wonder if they see the fact that there are two different types of massive wealth creation: the spreadsheet jockeys who create little value beyond the two or three months they work on deals, and the founders who spend years to decades creating real value?
People can easily make millions of dollars without much work in America.
And that's a good thing!
This concept that starting a company is so hard and that you'll never make it is conspiracy concocted by the rich and powerful to keep you from trying -- and you've fallen for it.
You don't need an MBA to start a business, you need big brass balls and the understanding that it takes two to three swings at the bat. Don't give up after one ass-kicking because kicking ass takes getting your ass kicked.
That's why despite all the problems we have, and despite all the growth in China and India, we are still on top of the consumption food chain. America might be a dying empire, but it's not going to die in our lifetime -- and it doesn't have to die at all.
It is within our power to restore the American dream while infusing it with a socialist -- urrr, common good-based -- gestalt.
Yeah, Wall Street got a sick, sick bailout while giving themselves F-U bonuses.
Yeah, the bankers both paid off the government we elected and they scared and bullied them into backing up the bailouts for the mess they created. And yeah, none of them got prosecuted and that's dead wrong.
The Airbnb kids created a billion-dollar business that has made it possible for anyone to stay on another person's couch or in their guest house. They've royally screwed big corporations -- the hotel chains -- by democratizing travel while giving individuals the ability to make extra money.
Airbnb is a much more effective protest than shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge.
Airbnb is radical.
Sitting in a park waiting for RadioHead is not radical.
Selling your company for a billion dollars and having RadioHead play your birthday party, which is also a fundraiser for education? That's radical!
Oh yeah, the kids behind Airbnb cleared $20M already for their protest thanks to being able to clear the air with Chamath and gave all shareholders in Airbnb the ability to liquidate. [ The first deal structure was a dividend to only select folks -- or something like that. All the facts are not public. Big picture, more folks get to cash out. ]
They added more socialism to their startup -- everyone gets to sell in the private market!
They are radical inside and out.
Oh yeah, that same capitalism-socialism hybrid is empowering another startup called SecondMarket that, come to think of it, Chamath also invested in. That startup allows for the fluid exchange of non-public, which is to say not controlled by Wall Street, shares in companies.
SecondMarket is a more effective protest than sitting in a park live streaming with bad audio (seriously dudes, invest in good microphones and get some lighting).
We in the startup community operate in the most corrupt financial system ever created: angel investing and venture capital.
In one day you can drive up and down Sand Hill Road with your prototype and early progress and get term sheets from folks who have more capital than they can deploy.
Or you can sit at home in the buck on AngelList and update your subscriber growth daily, wooing thousands of angel investors. I'm sure those ranks will include many members of the soon-to-be-flush teams at Airbnb and SecondMarket -- if not already!
Those VCs get 20% of any profits their money generates while taking 2% of the money they invest to pay for their lifestyle. The angel investors get to play 20 bets knowing that at least one is going be a 20x return (at least that's what I'm hoping!).
If a system is corrupt and you are a good actor, your moral obligation is to leverage it, not change it.
Jeff Skoll founded EBay with Pierre Omidyar.
They became billionaires, but not selfish boring ones.
Jeff is producing the awesome, issue-driven films that the OWS protesters are watching on their iPads as they fight the evil Wall Street bankers. "An Inconvenient Truth," "Food Inc.," "Waiting for 'Superman,'" and "Darfur Now" are among his documentaries while his feature films include "Syriana," "Charlie Wilson's War," "The Informant" and "The Help." All are changing the world.
Skoll is a soft-spoken radical, and you can be one, too.
Pierre is busy investing in startups that do social good, like Meetup.com -- which protesters around the world have used for a decade.
Omidyar is a soft-spoken radical, and you can be one, too.
Protesting in the streets is outdated in an already free society like ours. In Egypt with a clear-cut message like "Mubarak step down?" For sure, protest away. In America with a clear-cut message of... ummm.... what is the message of OWS again? OWS really needs a mission statement!
It's lame to protest for more jobs when you will so easily create them by starting a company.
There is so much capital in the world that doesn't trust Wall Street already.
You don't need to convince the world that Wall Street is corrupt -- we know that -- you need to convince us that your option is better.
All that capital parked on Wall Street wants to participate in the creation of startups and the selling of shares on SecondMarket -- where real money is made. They want to put their money to work on AngelList -- the farm league for SecondMarket.
Rich folks don't want to give their money to the rigged game that is Wall Street because it's boring AND it's rigged. They want the excitement of startups.
Radical is creating disruptive services that let you accumulate massive wealth while creating jobs and social good. Then when you become part of the 1%, you can use your wealth to really change the system by creating awesome movies, improving education or eradicating diseases from the planet.
Sure, OWS is finally getting on TV after being ignored by our corrupt, bought-and-paid-for media machine, but you're probably not going to change much of anything. You've got 100x the number of protesters showing up in Europe, rioting in the streets and throwing bricks -- and they're not getting the change they want.
Protesting isn't bad, and it's important for a democracy, but it's just not the most effective method of delivering change. Being the change you want is the most effective method of change.
We've already won our freedom (I mean, with the exception of gay people and children). The system is already way, way open for everyone to participate in it and leverage it.
Yes, it's not perfect, but it's damn, damn close to perfect -- and you can bridge the gap by participating.
Now get out of your tents, learn to code and make something that changes the world.
You're 100% right that the system is rigged and the opportunity to be disproportionally rich has never been so easy.
So go get that money that is so easy to acquire and use it to make the world a better place.
Time to pack up your sleeping bag and find a co-working space and build something methinks. Or, heck, stay in the park and build a company down there--it's cheaper and I'm sure there are a couple of dozen awesome UX designers and sysadmins down there right?
Perhaps the next Airbnb, Facebook or SecondMarket is being built in Zuccotti Park right now!
Plug in, startup and disrupt.
Be the 1%!
Note: This piece leaves out the 50-year-olds who are laid off, don't have skills that are needed in today's marketplace and who are discriminated against. Those folks are seriously screwed and I don't have an answer for solving that problem. Saying "learn HTML/to code" is easy, but even if they did I bet they are going to get looked over for young folks by the understandably biased HR folks (i.e., they haven't seen 50- and 60-year-old developers crushing it so they don't take a chance on them). I'm really sad for the 50 and 60-year-olds who are left behind -- especially since my dad is one of them.