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Tim O’Reilly makes a case for why venture capital is starting to do more harm (techcrunch.com)
236 points by prostoalex 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments





Not sure if it's completely related, but my dad will sometimes talk about the "Yuppie Time" during the 80's, when he tried to get funding for some rather big IT projects. There would be well connected "yuppies" getting funding and loans for just about anything, so they could make short-term investments, and then run away with the profits as quick as they could. Most of these guys weren't interesting in building something lasting, though, so it was important to quickly identify them, and then just turn them down no matter how much funding they promised. Not easy, as these guys would seem pretty flush with cash. Seemingly. But oftentimes it would leave companies, and also employees, ruined after such a run. The hope was to make a lasting impression on the communities they wanted to start up within, by giving people something tangible and safe to build up long-term. However yuppies would offer anything but, so while you could sit in a nice and comfy office on the one day, you'd be out on the street on the next. Think Wolf of Wall Street. Hardly a secure environment to stake your future in. And indeed, eventually it did go south for a lot of folks by the crash of '87, and also the aftermath in '89.

All sorts of these shenanigans continue in various forms. I know of one company that received an absurd valuation and funding amount from a Russian oligarch to attack a very difficult and established industry, then got acquired 2 years later by a different Russian company for a large return. They hadn’t built anything, they had leased a large office with open windows on the first floor near mine, and every time I walked by they looked dead inside.

Easy answer - washed a large amount of money for the oligarch after the acquisition (clean transfer from Russian acquirer to oligarch plus its advantageous tax treatment).


I’ve seen this done with New York City commercial real estate, ‘accidentally’ sold far-below market rate to a party which flipped the property within 90 days at (many) millions higher valuation. After this transaction occurred, coincidentally an IRS investigation into offshore Cayman accounts was decided to have no merit and dropped.

This is a major part of Donald Trump's business.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/trumps-businesses-are...


Of course, all investments these days are a form of money laundering. Most funding is derived from loan credit which has been moved around a network of companies. The companies on the front line keep funneling the credit to big corporations and then eventually declare bankruptcy, then new companies spawn up to take their place. It's a systematized global money laundering scheme which extends all the way to the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States.

This game involves separating credit from its underlying debt obligation, collecting the credit and then letting another limited liability corporate entity take the fall for not being able to meet the debt obligation. This is basically what Carl Icahn did with Hertz - He made Hertz take huge loans from banks, then Hertz awarded one of Carl's other companies a huge multi-million dollar contract using that loan money, then Hertz declared bankrupcy. Carl gets to keep the money he received from that big contract. Carl gets the credit, Hertz takes the fall. Carl took no risks and added no value.

When you also consider that those initial loans are printed out of thin air by banks, it becomes clear that our economy is founded on legitimized fraud.

We have a system which rewards fraudsters at the expense of honest people.

What is the difference between right and wrong when the law itself encourages wrongdoing? Nobody seems to knows what is the difference between right and wrong anymore. If the law said it was OK to kill people, we would all start killing each other the next day. That's how superficial our morals have become.


The problem with your logic is that Hertz has physical assets and IP (at a minimum the brand) which the creditors will then own. But I agree with you that the rot at the bottom of the system begins with the federal reserve and our endless money printing. In a hard-money system banks actually care about the loans they make.

When companies go bankrupt these days, usually there aren't enough assets left to cover the loss for creditors - Especially tech companies whose main assets are intangible IP which loses all of its value when the company goes down.

Taking money from various Russian and Chinese newly rich crowd usually means dealing with mafia or governments/military (and thugs and government are much closer together in those places than elsewhere).

I think about this all the time.

Not the "honest graft", which I can kinda wrap my head around.

What worries more are the hidden economies. The traditional trifecta of drugs, arms, human trafficking. Which would probably now include industrial espionage, demographic data, computer security stuff. (Just occurs to me this may be the "Dark Web" category.) The kind of stuff mid-career Seymour Hersh covered.

I really thought Sibel Edmonds' whistle blowing was going to mainstream this topic. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibel_Edmonds

I guess I feel like there are so many hidden factors, of significant influence, that talking about visible finance, corruption, globalization, whatever feels wholly inadequate.


Reminds me of the Paradise papers leaks and how the journalist uncovering an international potential money laundering operation got car bombed.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daphne_Caruana_Galizia


Agreed. Honestly, I try to not think too hard about all the people who've been killed, punished. It quickly takes me to a very dark place.

Back when I was working on election integrity I fully expected to be arrested, end up in jail and then prison. Maybe a dozen activists before me (nationwide) got pretty roughed up for telling the truth.


What’s that? You mean they took gambling addicts and gave them control of humanities efforts at scale? It’s all gone wrong? Shocking! Why, a minority of global power brokers have NEVER, in the history of humanity, used their sway over the masses to abuse their trust.

Most financial crimes are still just plain old “paper cons”. They lie on the paperwork.

At least in the US, regulatory agencies are so underfunded or had their mission altered such that “paper cons” happen constantly.

Panama Papers, many of Trumps tax dodge schemes (among others, calling him out because of viz, all those guys “do it”) etc

All very obvious, well known financial schemes.

Basically the origin of the word privilege comes from Latin “privy lege” ... “privileged by the law”.

Humanity is still ruled by ruthless tribalists looking to conquer the globe.

Ain’t nothing changed about it except the literal “who”, and sound forms and visual glyphs used to describe. We use a lot less Latin and romantic notions of higher powers in the sky, but still kowtow to hierarchy based upon scientific bullshit, convincing people “THESE annotations of the numbers are it, boy howdy! We def got IT right this generation! Sorry about rocket cars, but our finance scheme numbers keep going up so we did it!”

Still biologically motivated to the same ends.


Could you please stop creating accounts for every few comments you post? We ban accounts that do that. This is in the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

You needn't use your real name, of course, but for HN to be a community, users need some identity for other users to relate to. Otherwise we may as well have no usernames and no community, and that would be a different kind of forum. https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20community%20identity...

Also, please don't post in the flamewar style to HN. It's not what this site is for, and it destroys what it is for. That's in the site guidelines also.


TBH, the satirical tone makes your reply difficult to read and weakens your argument, if any. I'm really not sure what you're position even is - you could have just said, "history is cyclical" or "nothing has changed"

The paperwork has to lie to cover up the misappropriation of actual money.

If the paperwork's lie were the only problem, then it could just be corrected to account for the theft, and all would be well.


Putting aside the important issues of diversity and inclusiveness, there's some really strong criticism of the business ethics and financial soundness of the VC model.

As I said, I’ve been really disillusioned with Silicon Valley investing for a long time. It reminds me of Wall Street going up to 2008. The idea was, ‘As long as someone wants to buy this [collateralized debt obligation], we’re good.’ Nobody is thinking about: Is this a good product?

So many things that VCs have created are really financial instruments like those CDOs. They aren’t really thinking about whether this is a company that could survive on revenue from its customers. Deals are designed entirely around an exit. As long as you can get some sucker to take them, [you’re good]. So many acquisitions fail, for example, but the VCs are happy because — guess what? — they got their exit.


Looking at some prominent examples in the last 1-2 years (Uber, WeWork, Lyft) and the recent batch of S-1 filings, I indeed see a lot of companies still operating at a loss. The analogy to CDOs and finding a bigger sucker starts ringing true. So far, the bigger suckers were Softbank and public markets. It would be interesting to see what happens going forward.

To that point on public markets: who on Earth is buying the equities of a Zynga or a SurveyMonkey? (no offense to any current or former employees)

I get that speculators exist, but I see more and more the public listing of IT startups as “siphoning” passive index funds as part of a necessary diversified portfolio strategy - this is how VCs are exiting. I haven’t done the research, but this is merely the extension of principally why VC exists: the statistical inference of putting X% (typically less than 3) into high risk investments from 10 and 11 figure funds.


Zynga made a profit in 2019. They appear to be a sustainable business which can keep operating at roughly break-even levels while hoping for another big breakout hit that makes a lot of money. Not a great investment, but certainly not a money pit.

I don't know about Surveymonkey, but Zynga makes profit from games. Games are addictive, people pay.

Can i say unless subsidised i believe this has no chance against a farm* in dalat despite shipping costs?

https://techcrunch.com/2019/06/11/infarm-series-b/

But nobody will give you us$200m to start farming in dalat. Smart, vertical, aeroponic, hydroponic or otherwise.

*make that a plain default old school fully manual dumb and horizontal kind of farm haha


The notion of grabbing market share at a loss in order to capture future profits is actually sound.

What matters obviously are the underlying fundamentals behind the strategy, which depend on a lot of things, can change, and are therefore amenable to hustling.

Each case is different.


It is unethical to be an outsourced R&D operation for an eventual acquirer, instead of an independent business?

This interview resonantes with something I have been thinking for a while.

Essentially the whole VC fueled hypescaling in a race to become the next unicorn especially in the "sharing economy" seems like a giant pyramid scheme. Like it's all about scaling so the value increases so that in the next round the VC of that previous round can cash in on the next VCs who hope to do the same thing in the next and so on, with the end goal of finding gullible regular investors once it comes to the IPO. All that without a sustainable business model, look at all the bike hire companies a couple of years ago, the scooter companies now etc.. Even Uber might never be profitable.

All that is done on the back of society leaving burned soil in the wake. And yes it's an instrument for the wealthy, because they have the means to be among the early investors.


I keep coming back to Block Buster. Their model was borrow money to open stores and drive smaller mom and pop rental places out of business. I'm not sure but I think when you add everything up they never made a positive return doing that. They just ended up leaving banks holding the bag when they went bankrupt.

Lot of VC unicorns feel like that times 100.


What? Blockbuster operated under a franchise model. They didn't borrow money to open stores—it was local "mom and pops" doing that.

> Blockbuster operated under a franchise model.

Blockbuster had franchises but for most of it's dominant phase also had a large number of corporate stores (some of which originated with one of the several competing chains that it bought outright.)


I could misremember but that's what I remembered seeing. They took on debt to expand but never reaped enough monopoly benefits to pay of the rolling short term debt they accrued.

"Even Uber might never be profitable."

Uber will never be profitable, they can't pay their labor.

What sucks is that their failure will destroy the business model for someone who might have been willing to give it an honest effort.


I think they even admitted that self-driving cars are required to succeed. That's why they acquired <wink> waymo tech.

When there's more capital available (and there's been an abundance of it in the last decade plus), the time it takes to make a new market/industry competitive enough to shred margins goes down a by lot. In recent history, this has happened before such companies can float shares in the public equities market. Great examples are ridesharing, online food delivery, and meal kits.

In an environment flush with capital chasing returns, any company without a true monopolistic moat will ultimately be forced to operate at or below cost, yielding no meaningful profit. Many of these tech unicorns thought they would be monopolistic but ended up looking more like airlines.


> It’s part of the structural inequality in our society, where we’re building businesses that are optimized for their financial return rather than their return to society.

Isn't this the whole problem? If people cared about society more than money it wouldn't be a problem to invest or take investment money, because you'd all be working toward the same goal of maximizing returns to "society". The problem is greed and selfish pursuit of wealth by certain kinds of people who see that as a worthwhile purpose for their life.


A related problem is the compounding nature of wealth. Let's say there are 100 investors with a million dollars each. 90% of the investors pursue socially beneficial projects and make a respectable 10% average annual return. The remaining 10% of investors pursue profit maximizing ventures and make 20% per year. Within about 25 years the profit maximizing investors have more wealth. Within about 50 years the profit maximizing group has 90% of the wealth. Chastising the profit maximizing group doesn't really change anything. Not because they don't deserve to be chastised, but because even if the vast majority of them defect to the social good group it only delays the outcome where the profit maximizers own everything. I think the solution is to incentivize socially valuable businesses and de-incentivize less socially valuable businesses. One example of this would be a carbon tax. Another example would be for Medicare to only pay hospitals that charged the same price to both insurance companies and individuals. There are major concerns about companies gaming these incentives, but companies are taking advantage of the lack of disincentives right now anyways, so I don't think the outcome would be any worse.

Corporations used to have to justify their charter by showing how their enterprise helped society. And charters were temporary. Now corporations have more rights than humans and people who have corporations are nigh untouchable by law for their crimes and civil torts.

There's no justification for this. A sufficiently ethical government could rein in corporations tomorrow.


In general, the problem with "all actions are banned unless they benefit society" is that people who have different opinions about society's best interests need to coexist.

I like that - "sufficiently ethical government" - funny without being vulgar.

> If people cared about society more than money it wouldn't be a problem to invest or take investment money, because you'd all be working toward the same goal of maximizing returns to "society".

We have a hard time deciding what is best for "society" and how to achieve it. Using money as votes is working pretty well: people get to choose what they prefer from multiple offers, they clearly say what they care about the most (by spending most of their disposable income on it), which then incentivizes more people to look at solving problems in that area.

Sure, we could have lots of large meetings, or 100 levels of small elections etc pp, but this works pretty efficiently and without too much coordination. Yes, it also creates some issues, but in general I think the issues are by far outweighed by the benefits.


A fish doesn't understand the water it swims in. Have you truly thought about what the "some issues" of money in todays society truly are. What are the true costs? What did we, as a society, lose?

Here's an example. Just a few hundred years ago, many (most?) transactions were not via money, but via person to person interactions. These interactions were the binding connection points in the society. The people you would interact with , depend apon, and be depended apon, etc. These have been ripped away and we've been given a very poor substitute.

It's a drug. A quick fix and a substitute for true wealth. Need a shirt, go buy a shirt with no idea how, where, when, or why it was made and no connection to the ecological damage that it most probably contributed. Acquiring a shirt, back in the day, could involve many local interactions and could help further strengthen your local economy and society.


> These interactions were the binding connection points in the society.

They were also terribly inefficient.

If you had apples, I wanted apples and had chickens but you didn't need chickens, but would love some potatoes, we'd now have to go and find somebody that would complete the chain at the right time, for the right amount. That quickly gets annoying, so we might say "ah, whatever, you're going to need chickens some day in the future, how about I just give you a paper that guarantees to you that I will give you three chickens when you bring back that paper to me?" and that's just fine.

Now, next week you want some honey, and the bee keeper will trade for chickens, but you really don't want to keep running back and forth and transport the chickens around town, so you just give him the note and he will come to me and get the chickens. We've now created a currency, albeit a simple one, backed by chickens. Money is such a currency, it just makes trading more efficient.

I'm all with you that local economies and intricate webs of relationships are important, but I disagree that they're so important that it makes sense to run after a shirt for days. Yes, sure, you'll meet plenty of interesting people, talk to old friends etc etc, but at some point you have to raise your chickens and fix your roof, you can't spend all of your time doing side quests for barter items.


> They were also terribly inefficient.

"They" -- we would have to nail down what you are referring to as I doubt that you or I know about all the previous economic systems or if it is even fair to lump them all together.

And we'd have to figure out what "inefficient" means here and if it is even a bad thing. I'd love some "inefficiency" in todays chasing after god money -- clear-cutting old growth forests, fracking massive expanses of untouched land, fast fast fast FAST. Better get out of the way or we'll call in TigerSwan and the like because you're getting in the way of "efficiency".

Your story about the apples is nice, but it is a story that probably has little resemblance to some of these systems. Many of the systems did not operate like the mythical barter system that is told to young aspiring economists. At all.

Tribal gift economies.

Not chasing after shirts for days, but playing your role in the small society and having all of your needs met.


I was using "they" to refer to bartering economies without currency as a value placeholder, where you personally would exchange one item for another.

> And we'd have to figure out what "inefficient" means here and if it is even a bad thing.

That depends on what you want to achieve. Feeding a large population? Advancing human progress? Not working 18 hours a day in back breaking labor? Art? Knowledge? You'll want efficiency.

That's not an argument for unsustainable resource usage as in cutting down forests, fracking etc, it's about using human time efficiently.

> Not chasing after shirts for days, but playing your role in the small society and having all of your needs met.

With "your needs" being very basic because there is practically nothing advanced. I don't think that "back to a simpler life" is going to be the answer. The Amish are doing it (but not really, they do use the surrounding health care system etc), but very few others even try. And those societies that have not yet achieved the comforts of an advanced modern society are usually quite happy to exchange the simpler life for a better, longer one.


Yea, thats what I'm trying to point out. Tribal gift economies were not "barter economies".

Pretty insulting to those cultures to ignore their art and knowledge. Many would argue, me included, that their art was ,in many ways, superior and they possesed knowledge in subjects much deeper and nuaced than our "modern" culture posesses.

Your "18 hours a day back breaking labor" betrays an ignorance of the amount that people in many of those culutures had to work to survive.

If you think having most of the planet staring at flashing lights and working 40+ hours a week (unhappy and uncertain) to further a system that is rapidly destroying everything of true value on this planet, "advancement", then we'll just have agree to disagree.


I was using "they" to refer to bartering economies without currency as a value placeholder, where you personally would exchange one item for another

Many historians believe that a bartering economy never existed.

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/02/barter-...


> If people cared about society more than money

Money is only a way to measure relative value of one thing vs another to people who have things (or time) want things (or time). Money is the wrong thing to focus on. It's like blaming air for carrying bad words.


Doesn’t the parent mean “acquiring money” rather than money as a concept? It’s people’s relationship to money that is being criticised rather than money itself.

To rephrase what I believe the intent was “if people cared about improving society more than acquiring money”.


But "acquiring money" from others means, if you follow the idea of money as a placeholder for value, "producing value" for others. That's absolutely what we want.

That is: if you care about society, you will want to produce something of value for your fellow beings in that society. Them giving you money is them saying "I like what you do", essentially.

Of course it's not that simple, and of course every system gets gamed and you have irrational actors everywhere and customers get lured with false promises etc, but does it matter at the scale of the economy itself?

For example, if you look at the US with a GDP of 20 trillion dollars and you believe that celebrities getting huge amounts of money is stupid and they don't actually add value ... How much do they "misdirect", 10bn per year? That seems like a small price to pay compared to the big picture. Like taking a life-saving medication but having to deal with a rash or occasional constipation as a side effect, not using the medication because of this undesired side-effect seems foolish.


Merely providing value to others is not necessarily making society better. That’s the point. Otherwise we’d celebrate slavery as selling one person to another is just telling them “I like what you do” and providing value. So there is clearly a whole different set of criteria where it’s possible to take a moral stance and not provide value in terms of acquiring money but sacrifice potential profit for social good. That this is hard for people to understand sometimes is why they get described as morally bankrupt.

> Otherwise we’d celebrate slavery as selling one person to another is just telling them “I like what you do” and providing value.

No, we wouldn't. We consider the slaves part of society and their suffering is far greater than the gain of the slave owners. Society suffers.


"Celebrities" are misdirection. They generally he tmoney for value. Money siphoned by bankers and defense contractors and predatory advertisers are the real waste.

They may well be worse than celebrities (though I don't see the large value generated there either, tbh; they are getting paid for advertising effectiveness), but even those are a small fraction of the economy.

The old doing things for money is inherently evil philosophy coming out again?

If everybody could just live in love and harmony and to work towards a common goal.

> The problem is greed and selfish pursuit of wealth by certain kinds of people who see that as a worthwhile purpose for their life.

No. The problem is not pursuit of wealth but when that pursuit leads to breaking of the law or focus on changing political outcomes.

To be successful society needs to have good laws and enforcement and a stable political system.

The problem is when those things are not correct, not 'greed and selfishness'. Trying to change human greed and selfishness or setting changing that as a necessary goal to improve the world will always fail.

In fact people who wanted to earn money for themselves and their families have overall done a huge mount of good in the world.


according to standard economics, and all economists from right to left agree on this: money is the measure of value to society.

(I changed the word "return" to "money" because return essentially means profit and when you make a selling or purchasing decision, you receive or pay the full price, not just the profit so your decision is a money decision, not a return decision.)

That doesn't mean the rest of the argument he's making (and you are believing) fails, it means you are getting confused by stuff that economists clarified a long long time ago.

There are many effects that distort people's decisions such that the wrong people benefit vs the wrong people who pay, but try to fix that and then just never never let it be said that we should not pursue returns, that's pure nonsense.


Money is a measure of value, but the standard for assigning value is mostly emotional. Buy anything at retail, then try to sell it. You'll always take a bath, because the retail (whether a store or Amazon) experience adds value.

The same thing happens in business.


> money is the measure of value to society

The internalization of this leads rich people to conclude they are rich because the provided even more value to the world than they kept to themselves, otherwise they wouldn't have paid them so well. The richer they are the more they think they think they are benefactors and any complaints about how they acquired their wealth is just jealousy or, uh, socialism or something.

Sometimes it is the case that the wealthy have contributed something of such value that the world is better off, sometimes not. A drug company taking a 40 year old out of patent drug that has a stable but fixed market can increase shareholder returns by increasing the price 5-fold if they've cornered the market on this niche drug. Did they really do anything good for society? It sure doesn't seem that way, even if they are "creating value" by jacking up the price.

The kneejerk reaction of many is to say I should start a company to compete with that predatory pricing model. But that is naive because (a) there are lots of moats to cross to get there and (b) even if stuck it out, I know that the predatory company can drop the price in an instant and use their scale and place as the market leader to crush my nascent company. So nobody does it.


If I'm able to force the competition to drop their predatory rates to sane levels, then even if I go out of business, I've still won. The objective was for there to be reasonable rates, not to make money. We saw this with Google Fiber, where the incumbent cable monopolies speeds hadn't kept pace with technology. As soon as ATT started offering fiber, Google Fiber "won", in a sense that consumer gigabit fiber Internet now exists.

some people internalize ideas that lead them to commit suicide, and those type of problems afflict rich and poor people. So, having internalized wrong ideas does not cast doubt on what money is.

rich people can internalize whatever they like, but the money they control allows them to effect more changes to society than the money controlled by people with less and in proportion to the amount of money, whether they are investing for the future or simply consuming today.

it is inescapable what money is measuring, and the rubber meets the road as to how you measure your values in how you allocate your money resources too.

you are putting a lot of adjectives on things like "predatory"; money is neutral in this regard. How much does society value health care vs food? Just how much is spent. I'm not telling you anything about what to think, I'm just telling you what money is.


> The internalization of this leads rich people to conclude they are rich because the provided even more value to the world than they kept to themselves, otherwise they wouldn't have paid them so well.

That's right, and that's a consequence of free markets and the astounding rise in overall standard of living in countries with free markets.

> The richer they are the more they think they think they are benefactors and any complaints about how they acquired their wealth is just jealousy or, uh, socialism or something.

Most of the complaints I see are based on envy.

> cornered the market on this niche drug

Most of that appears to be the result of FDA regulations making it very difficult for competitors.


> according to standard economics, and all economists from right to left agree on this: money is the measure of value to society.

Only for a very strict definition of "value to society" that is a tautological summing of individual relative desire that is measured in dollars. Luckily, we're not restricted to defining value that way when speaking generally.

edit: coincidentally, I was recently reading an article by an ex-scientologist reflecting on the complicated process of indoctrination that keeps them in the church. A large part of it seems to be redefining common words (usually making them more specific, but sometimes intentionally creating definitions of words which explicitly denigrate their common meanings) and justifying this as a technical language (or I guess in Scientology, the "words" of a "tech"?) Next, they teach that deviation from those definitions is the source of all error, and that all doubt can be cured by going between the sentence that has caused you to doubt and the official definitions of the words in that sentence, back and forth, until you understand that the sentence is correct, and that LRH is always correct.

Doing that for long enough could probably convince one that somebody buying horrible stepped on street heroin to keep from being sick is valuable to society. Isn't not being sick nice?


This process is documented at length in the book 1984, including a special appendix dedicated specifically to what the author termed "Newspeak" and "doublethink", or "doublespeak".

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak


> horrible stepped on street heroin

Is a consequence of heroin being illegal, thus people who buy bad heroin have no recourse in the courts. Free markets rely on a court system.


People buy horrible prescription opiates generally with no recourse to the legal system, and that's legal.

It's not adulterated drugs. There have been no allegations that the opiates were not the chemicals they were advertised as being.

They were falsely advertised as non-addictive, and they were prescribed by bribed doctors violating their fiduciary duty to their patients.

The false advertising and bribery is illegal, and they are being pursued by the court system both criminally and civilly.

"when I said "money is the measure of value to society" I accompanied it with a quotation that mentioned both "money" and "value to society" and I did so to make the point that OP was failing to make a point.

if you'd like to defend the original quote, go ahead, I'll bite on that, but here you've just changed the context to no profit.

> Only for a very strict definiton of "value to society"

well, as I was looking for a strict definition of money, great!


Please cite a source for your claim.

Economists agree they utility is the measure of value to society.

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/u/utility.asp

Money is merely a proxy for utility, a token of exchange.


I will cite your statement "money is merely a proxy for utility" because that makes utility a suitable proxy for money, and you agree to that.

To expand on my original point and a statement I made elsewhere, to make it more palatable to people who want to object to it: I'm just talking about definition here; I'm not changing your ideas about greed, or distribution of wealth or sustainable wages. Adopt the definiton I gave, and then say what you want about those other things, and you'll make more sense, or understand why you're failing by your own standards.


And note that market price is an indicator not of how much people value something, but rather their willingness to pay, which is obviously limited by each person’s ability to pay.

Money is the worst proxy for optimising returns for the society. Lemme know if you have anything better.

Greed and selfish pursuit leads to wealth creation


>Lemme know if you have anything better.

I think there are some pretty obvious things. Improvement of the environment, health, safety, educational attainment, military prowess and so on.

As Michael Sandel put it, since the 80s we've moved from a market economy to a market society. Markets aren't used as tools any more to further social ends, they've become ends in themselves. We don't measure success in human flourishing, we measure it in dollars.

Ironically this has made much long-term wealth creation impossible. Many companies in Silicon Valley were sustained by the government pursuing strategic goals, in particular the military.

Industrial ecosystems don't spring out of the ground because of selfishness and greed, they're created by institutions.


> Industrial ecosystems don't spring out of the ground because of selfishness and greed, they're created by institutions.

barrin92 meet Charles koch.


Our representatives are theoretically responsible for balancing different social interests, including social welfare and money. I think that is better.

I'd rather fix the thing where elected officials don't seem to do that job rather than just throwing up my hands and saying the market knows best... seems like a pretty extreme position to just say that money and pricing is the only tool in the toolbox.


> balancing different social interests

okay. how can you measure social welfare?

> seems like a pretty extreme position to just say that money and pricing is the only tool in the toolbox.

I never said that. You said it. You countered it.


> Greed and selfish pursuit leads to wealth creation

Yeah, but for the people doing the actual work or not?


If you create value for others and they show there happiness with money. Congrats you are rich

People in sweatshops create a lot of value for others ...

> Money is the worst proxy for optimising returns for the society.

Free markets have done far more for society than any other system that's been tried.


I'd say social democracy has done more.

It's easy to tally up the greatness of the free market when you redefinento boundaries of society to exclude the huge negative costs imposed on slaves and laborers.


> exclude the huge negative costs imposed on slaves

What slaves? That was a century ago.


Slavery is not a free market system.

Um... I agree the word "free" is misleading but once you're in a legal system that condones slavery then of course it would be a free market. I'm having a hard time imagining the slave trade arising without a market much more free than the people forced through it.

Markets are amoral. That's why we shouldn't rely on them to solve social problems.


A free market is one where transactions take place absent fraud or force.

Slavery doesn't remotely qualify.


Couldn’t it just be a coincidence that the most recent wealthy societies are the wealthiest societies in history, and they also tend to claim to adhere to “free markets” ideas? The wealth could actually be caused by compounding benefits of technology or even exploitation of other societies, and may have little to do with how their public schools describe their economic system in middle school civics courses.

Except it happens over and over again - when countries turn to free markets, they get much much wealthier. None of them get poorer.

I agree.

China is doing social scores?

I’m not even sure if a lot of these businesses do that. Some of them seem more like a mechanism to shovel VC money around than an actual plan on how to make a product or service that’ll make money.

>The problem is greed and selfish pursuit of wealth by certain kinds of people who see that as a worthwhile purpose for their life.

Well, isn't it the essence of capitalism and free markets? Isn't it how the deeply individualist Western democracies work - let people follow their greed and ambition, but surround them with legal fences, milk them for taxes, and use the collected taxes for the common good.

It's like operating a nuclear reactor. Give it too much freedom and it will blow up and poison everything around. Restrain it too much, and it's output will quickly drop.

The current social model isn't perfect, but no better social model has been invented so far.


I would argue that, depending on your value sytem, many better social models have been invented and flourished for thousands of years. They didn't value property or money nor care to commit genocide to further expansion and hence were basically wiped out. Just because the psycopathic murderers won does not make their world view a "better social model".

Not going to argue, just curious what social models of the past you consider as better ones?

I would consider the tribal gift economies of many of the American Indian tribes as "better". Moraly, ecologically, and spiritually. Minimal ecological damage and some would argue, me included, that they operated more as stewards improving much of the land they lived on. They cherished and took care of their elders. They worked a hell of a lot less hours than we do.

And here's the kicker, they valued listening, honesty and respect. Can you even imagine living in such a society?


> let people follow their greed and ambition, but surround them with legal fences

It’s a shame they didn’t think of the obvious loophole that some people get so wealthy that they can use their wealth to influence those “fences.”


I am reminded of a quote from The Innovator's Solution about how to build a spinoff in a disruptive industry:

Dumb money is impatient for growth and patient for profit. Smart money is impatient for profit and patient for growth.

That book has a lot to say about the dynamics of why this is so. But the lesson is worth thinking about. If you want sustainable returns, focus on being profitable and let growth take care of itself.

However Venture Capital has a fundamental problem that leads to their being "dumb". It is in the interests of the people running the fund to get as much money in the fund as possible (so that they can get the management fees). But then they need to invest too much money in startups. Which forces those startups to search for big enough business opportunities to justify the investment. And if along the way they happen to find a smaller opportunity, they can't pursue it. Therefore they have to look for growth, growth, growth.


Tim's thoughts dovetail nicely with the Mathbabe "Microfinance is mostly a scam" story also on the front page at the moment. (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23662482)

Technological change always causes collateral damage, and, having been in the business for 25+ years, I can't say people were previously more tuned into the negative consequences of our creations in 1994. With every passing day, however, our power to quickly and sweepingly change the structure of physical and social reality grows, and too many investors give their ethical and moral obligations no more thought than an eight year-old does while burning ants with a magnifying glass.

There's a place for thinking about the world through a spreadsheet, but before pouring tens of billions of dollars into science experiments on human civilization, as a professional and a citizen and a human, you have an obligation to pause and look around before pulling the trigger on a deal.

Taking an example from some time ago, I believe Groupon was a singularly ill-conceived and pernicious business akin to payday lending. And perhaps there's a place for payday lending (or microfinance) but the ability to wave your hands and exclaim "(fin)tech start-up!" allows you to avoid the reputational damage usually associated with working in such milieus.


We should all learn and accept that VC funding and bootstrapping are not the only two options. Of course VC is bad for some founders and business models. That does not make it bad in general.

The point is not that VCs are a bad funding option for founders and business models (compared to other funding options). The point is that VCs are bad for the world by funding things that do not create long term value, so they're effectively destroying and misallocating wealth.

What are the other options?

Revenue sharing venture capital for small valuations ~tens of millions.

TinySeed, Earnest Capital, etc.


ICO, crowdfunding, loans, patronage, government's backing, etc.

>government's backing >ICO

For those of us who aren't Musk, Thiel, or Vitalik, there's only loans and patronage and crowdfunding then :)


>>government's backing >For those of us who aren't Musk, Thiel, or Vitalik, there's only loans and patronage and crowdfunding then :)

The US SBIR program provides up to $1.7MM per project over 2.5 years to small businesses or startups. It's a pain in the ass process that takes forever, but hundreds of start ups get funded this way every year, and it costs literally nothing to apply other than you time.

sbir.gov


> it costs literally nothing to apply other than you time

Which, if you're wondering, is probably around 6 weeks of full time work the first time you go through the process, less for future iterations when you have a better idea of what you're doing.


Kindly find me one startup that has gone on to have a successful exit that has publicly stated "We took funding from US SBIR and it really made a difference"

Additionally by government's backing, I didn't mean to say loans, I meant to imply "the government are our customers"


“This funding allowed us to pursue several innovative programs that otherwise would not have been possible” - Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm in testimony to the US senate.

The government is good at a lot of things, it is NOT good at publicizing it’s own success. Just because you don’t know about it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.


Qualcomm is also nowhere near a startup or a fledgling SMB

They were in 1987 when SBIR gave them their first grant [0]. That's sort of the point, parent comment asked for an example of a company that exited with SBIR help, and I gave him a wildly successful one.

[0] https://www.sbir.gov/node/285190


That is a very interesting example. Thank you for providing it.

The SBIR program is not a loan. It's product development contract program. You tell the program manager what you want to build with their money, they give you the money, you figure out how to build it. If you don't meet delivery expectations, you owe them nothing. If you deliver on the end product, they are likely to become your customer.

If you look through the list of companies with SBIR funding, and what they are working on, you'd be really impressed. A lot of the ventures funded are a lot more high risk than any sane VC would invest in, but that doesn't make them any less cool.


“Kindly find me one startup that has gone on to have a successful exit that has publicly stated "We took funding from US SBIR and it really made a difference"“

There are a lot of them in the DC area. You just don’t hear much about them.


> There are a lot of them in the DC area. You just don’t hear much about them.

For those of us entirely and woefully ignorant on where to start, could you provide a few names? I'm entirely apprehensive of this model on principal after having to deal with a project that relied mainly on Departmnt of Ag grants that stifled me in every step despite making them profitable for the first time in its 8 year history. But the truth is that as a former bootstrapping founder I hope funding is actually an issue that UBI can mitigate.

The idea of not having to rely on government programs, VC, or banks but rather a system that relies entirely on private funding from members of your family, friends and community with an incentive structure is something that interests me a great deal.

One of the more creative things I saw when I worked in Kitchens was this model where the Mexican employees would group their paychecks and give it to one member of the group of 5-7 workers/employees and it would allow them to have substantially more money than their single paycheck to take care of things that they would otherwise would need predatory payday loans for or simply have to do without until they could save enough to do so. And this would continue until every member of the group was served and it would start again, its an interesting system but it ultimately relies on Trust that I think could and should be done away with given that the technology exists to do so. That's not to say Trust isn't a valuable commodity, but is entirely unnecessary concern if well designed.

Remittances are another meaningful business model that I think are not only under-served but attract the worst people to them in hopes of keeping people in desperate situations to retain their demographic.


There are some case studies from a government review of the program here [0] if you are interested.

Your skepticism is warranted, especially since the government doesn't make programs like this as accessible as they should to people who aren't in the know/not already mired in government funding through DOD, NSF, etc. The list of massive companies that have taken this funding at an early stage is quite impressive though: Genentech, Illumina, Qualcomm, Biogen, and Symantec for example.

[0] https://www.nap.edu/read/11963/chapter/13#282


The money pooling scheme that you’re describing sounds very similar to a chit fund in India. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chit_fund

> The money pooling scheme that you’re describing sounds very similar to a chit fund in India. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chit_fund

Yeah, that sounds about right from what they'd tell me when I asked. I lived in many rural Ag areas in Europe and in the US and never saw anything like that before. The difference being that in both those regions Ag is heavily subsidized by the State and access to loans are far more accessible.

But one of the cooler things we saw with Bitcoin was microfinancing in Africa [1] specifically towards subsistence (often female) farmers, where small investments (sub $1000) would allow a mother to send her children to school in order to focus and invest in equipment or repairs that would eventually allow the business to grow and become profitable. From what I recall the default rate for that demographic is incredibly low, a guy who was making up-cycled glass bottle homes in Africa in a ted-talk or something similar went through the numbers during his talk and it stuck with me.

During my apprenticeship one of the farmer's son in Germany I briefly worked with when I got there had just gotten back from a year abroad in Africa for his Ag degree and he had talked about how critical it would shift the entire landscape if greater access to loan programs had emerged while he was there, this was during the Banking collapse in Cyprus, mind you.

He had started to make biochar/pyrolysis device from old oil drums he could source locally at scale and had tried to create a credit system to just get them into people's hands; eventually he gave up because while the demand was there, as were the results in his test fields, the money to achieve a success model was not as many simply couldn't risk defaulting on payment.

Also now that you mention it, I had a regular customer who said they were from a car club when I had my car part business during University that had a similar scheme; they would focus and budget for the costs of a member's car, and with the members dues and money they got from various fundraisers and any donations they got that period they pooled all that money and they'd finish a persons car for that term/year.

I was introduced to them by a girl I met when I lived in the dorms one night and we I only ever spoke to them via AIM, they often always bought misc things like headlights, used seats and fenders from me in Fall and Spring. I totally forgot about that until I read that wiki entry.

Human's have a great ability to adapt to a situation and through effective collaboration it reminds you how amazing we can be at overcoming often insurmountable odds and it also shows that ultimately we are all the same regardless of where we're from as the same means and methods are seen and reflect a collectively held value system.

1: https://bravenewcoin.com/insights/bitbond-and-bitpesa-target...


Here in the EU, government funding is available and used by businesses of all sizes, although you do have to navigate the bureaucracy and be able to handle the paperwork. Do you not have something equivalent in America?

Canada has many programs for small startups just beginning.

There is always asking your rich parents for money. :)

Often startups are being hyped that show exponential growth. There is even books “The age for exponential” but I hypothesize some may have gotten the exponential curve wrong which has impact for growth. Ie I argue that growth may follow mathematical logistic curves/sigmoid s curves and not necessarily exponential hyper growth. Ie there is not an ifinit number of customers there is natural limits to growth. Nor is there infinite number of energy for example. This put some limit on growth which may shape on logistic curves. Has there been research on which types of exponential curves some startups grow with? I think it’s sound that there is demand from investors with income revenue generation.

It kind of matters which of these curves it is or other curve for that matter. And while you are in the middle of a logistic curve growth it can be confused for exponential curve. I recently confused these curves in another topic.

Logistic curve https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logistic_function

Exponential curve https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exponential_growth


This post by Tyler Tringas of Earnest Capital is really relevant here: https://tylertringas.com/the-entrepreneurs-new-path-of-maxim...

I wonder why TechCrunch never seems to work on mobile. Every single time, every single article.

“An error occurred with this part of the page, sorry for the inconvenience.”


Techcrunch links are redirected through a tracking domain: https://guce.advertising.com/collectIdentifiers?. This breaks lots of things, especially if you're blocking ads.

I keep a copy of Brave on my iPhone with scripting turned off by default. While this article loads fine for me in Safari, for some that don’t, I share the article to Brave and it often loads great without scripts. This article loads fine in Brave without scripting.

Works fine in Firefox Preview on Android 10 with uBlock Origin and PiHole

Works fine in Safari on an iPhone 7.

Are you running any kind of ad or script blocking?


Ah yeah I have iOS ad blocker turned on.

Works with Wipr content blocker for me.

Sounds like maybe Wipr is not blocking as aggressively.

Or maybe it is blocking more aggressively. The site works fine for me even with both uBO and Firefox's tracking protection enabled

VC is fundamentally a power/money alliance which exists to further the allies' interests. Capitalism ideology says that it turns out that this is fairly optimal for consumers, given competitive forces to keep it checked and balanced. But this balance is only healthy to the extent that the homeostasis can be maintained. Unconstrained growth (prioritized above all else and with disregard for externalities) is less like homeostasis and more like cancer ("Wall Street: As long as someone wants to buy this [collateralized debt obligation], we’re good.")

...and it's pretty ironic that this comment is written in a social media website directly funded by a VC (Y Combinator)

Y/C does the seed rounds and I think they started doing series A - not really a VC, but I get your point.

No more ironic than that everything posted under Capitalism involved stuff made under Capitalism

He's not saying venture capital is starting to do more harm, he's addressing where and how venture capital is being expended. He actually has a good point regarding funding of small to medium sized business with strong business models that emphasize being cash flow positive. Venture capital cannot do harm, most people don't know this but small businesses need the protection via social connections that a venture capital provides. If you don't believe that try running an independent small business and see how exhausting it is when you run into problems and don't have the backing of a VC. I grew up with people who did this and they get burned out when they don't have a larger investor who is connected enough to solve what seem like small problems. Everyone thinks they are better off being completely independent as a small business, that is always a bad idea.

There are certain types of businesses that are difficult to grow due to either legal hurdles or local protectionist tactics, I've seen this growing up in different states. If you start a business in the wrong place and don't have the right connections your business is never going to succeed, it doesn't matter what your business model is. In certain states they simply do not want large multi-national corporations, interstate corporations or franchises. If you succeed on a small scale and decide to expand you're going to run into all kinds of problems because people are going to come out of the woodwork trying to slow down your expansion (yes, this is a real thing it caught me off guard when I first found out there are people who do this).

There are also some types of businesses (particularly in the financial industry) that when implemented on a large scale are a nightmare to understand because there are so many rules and regulations. No one has a clue what is happening and it is easier to have hundreds of medium sized businesses with narrow focus that anyone can understand easily. Funding these types of businesses because everyone wants some sort of large IPO just makes the problem worse.


Most VC backed businesses fail, and less obvious, changing an operational model (= company dna) into a VC-optimized one instead of a sustainable revenue optimized one puts a company on that failure path. It is not the capital, but the associated changes for the pursuit of the next round, and dangers of not hitting it. He is pushing back against the hits based business that burns out otherwise good companies, and Bryce is focusing on alternative funding strategies for companies so they can succeed without mega-succeeding.

It's pretty non-obvious. Eg, a founder yesterday in my area cited a ~$50M exit as a success example for what he is doing. Except to O'Reillys point, it may only be a success for a couple of investors, and possibly an income loss for most of the team. They looked good -- raised $2M, $10M, $23M, grew to 50-100 employees, sold for $50M after 5-9yr, helped Global 2000s and govs tackle some hard problems, probably had revenue around $5M+yr, and are now a reasonable part of BigCo's product portfolio for much more $. AND YET... if either the $10M or $23M have a 2x participation, only the VCs really made money (and less than their model needs, so a miss!), and only 0-$5M left to split with the 50+ employees who took years of reduced salary. That's the financial instrument stuff going on. On the leadership side, the hiring was fueled by funding, always more then operating revenue (otherwise no VC needed), so needed the next round or otherwise layoffs and a death spiral. (Only a few % of funded startups can choose to slow growth and switch to sustainable revenue.)

There are reasons to do today's model, but a lot of nuance, and from a creator's / equitibilty perspective, fundamental room for improvement. Glossing over that is no good.


This will be a growing model in the next decade and is imo much more sustainable for founders because the core business model isn’t torn apart and it’s easier to sell to $MED_CO or $BIG_CO as the exit.

Build a small team, grow to $20-75m valuation then ditch to a bigger co. Easier to pitch this to some of the less unicorn-y VCs like Arrowbridge, etc. I like to call it the bluebird strategy.


Love it, smart cookie. Like every good reporter nowadays, the interviewer made it about racism right off the bat. Oreilly doesn’t bat an eye, genuflects to the racism god and make his point about the fundamental differences between the ventures within the good think context. It’s the new public relations dexterity.

Replace "starting to do" with "does".

The stock market was invented for the purpose of raising initial capital for companies that need it before they can begin trading. Initially this was mainly railways. But now the stock market is rarely used for that (is it ever?) but rather for initial private investors to cash out.

I sometimes wonder if private investment should be illegal. It's completely unfair that billionaires are able to invest early in radical new companies but the general public are not.


There is a special type of entity that can raise money for acquiring other profitable businesses as well, they are called "special purpose acquisition companies" (SPACs). You can basically raise money out of thin air only by only using your reputation and your desire to invest in other companies.

One practice that seems relevant is when a large company buys a smaller product which many users depend on, then after a year or two proceeds to kill the product with poor or no replacement options. Some examples: https://ourincrediblejourney.tumblr.com/

This seems like a clear-cut case of market failure since it would even be better for society for the company to die and their product to be open-sourced. The fact that VCs focus on exit instead of building a sustainable business seems to at least contribute to this phenomenon.


This is old news.

The reason nothing has changed is because LPs prefer their money goes to the bros.


I think it’s always good to be doing something unfashionable in investment because that market is under served (so you get a better deal) and it can only become more fashionable (so you’re ahead of the curve).

At the same time, we shouldn’t pretend this is novel. People have invested in Idaho (or Austin or wherever the fuck) before. Following a bit about how Silicon Valley just makes financial instruments for the rich with how you’ve made a financial instrument for people with 6 figures is sort of blind too.

I hope this guy does some good and makes a profit but at best he’s just doing angle investing outside Silicon Valley...


And sometimes the crowd is mostly right. Kleiner Perkins' big bet on renewable energy pretty much flopped.

Vulgar language makes your comment hard to read.



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