It’s rainy here in London and I just came home from afternoon tea with an old friend of mine. He has recently moved from banking into the tech world where he helps startups to do fundraising. His business model is simple but so far rather unusual for the startup world: taking a cut from a capital raise. He has taken a practice that is the absolute norm in finance — the position would be called a ‘private capital advisor’ — and implanted it into a new sector. …


It’s Covid-lockdown-time and (quite a few) people have a little bit more time to read and think about things. I finally came around to work further on this list which is essentially the reading list for my book on the ethics of venture capital so far (see my other Medium posts for more on that topic). It will be updated on an ongoing basis and I very much value suggestions (find me on Twitter).

I am going through different genres here (that’s the different subheadings): from history and (high quality) journalism to VCs’ own writing, Techlash literature, Memoirs and ultimately a long list of economics papers. …


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In November, I laid out why I believe that the incentive structures for investors (and the startups they invest in) to care more about their impact, about ESG guidelines — in short: about being good or ethical — are changing. Increased pressure from the public and consumers, from LPs and from regulator is pushing investors into that direction. Bad press, scandals, the so-called — all of this seems to be contributing to an environment were first of all being bad is costly (see the Uber debacle) and being good starts to make financial sense as consumer appetite shifts. What I haven’t answered yet, and what I am still struggling with myself is the question: why has nobody in the VC world started to really care? …


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Larry Fink, BlackRock CEO; Source: NYT.

Many VCs (and tech journalists) following their ‘content strategy’ have recently blasted out predictions for what is going to happen to the tech world in 2020. USV’s Fred Wilson and Albert Wenger engage the big topics (decentralization, space race, climate change, democracy, learning); AZ16 pushed out a whole collection on its own (Frank Chen on life in 2030, one list just on the future of Fintech, a conversation on the future of the internet, Julie Yoo on healthcare); the FT tech team focused their predictions on China, the smartphone and AI; GP Bullhound’s are really boring (think streaming wars, new marketing, data lakes). And then there are lots and lots of minor ones (e.g. Speedinvest on European VC, Forbes on the future of VC and work, VCs on media trends in Business Insider, Alex Danco of Social Capital on VCs yer ahead) that tend to be self-absorbed and concerned with the VC industry itself without too much of a big-picture view. …


We have seen an increasing amount of scandals in the tech world over the last few years. From Uber to Theranos to Facebook and Hampton Creek, many VC-backed start-up companies coming out of Silicon Valley have recently received bad press.

The issues that some of these tech companies were accused of range from blatant fraud (Theranos, uBeam, Mozido), sexual harassment (Uber, Betterworks), privacy breaches (Facebook) to product buybacks (Hampton Creek) and complaints regarding “toxic” company culture (e.g. sexism at Zenefits and Uber).

Mostly, it was the founders — Mark Zuckerberg, Elizabeth Holmes, Travis Kalanick — that were blamed. In the majority of these cases, they left (or had to leave) the company; in some cases they are still awaiting prosecution (and likely prison time in Holmes’ case). …


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Imagine an environment that is built around a massive multi-billion-dollar market; there can only be one winner (or perhaps two but not many) and scale (and the network effects that come with it) is a dead-certain part of the winning strategy. Think social networks, food delivery, ride sharing, now also micro-mobility; think Facebook/LinkedIn, Deliveroo/Doordash, Uber/Lyft. The strategy that all these winners, which many of us use on a day to day basis now, applied was described as in a 2018 book by entrepreneur-turned-Greylock-VC Reid Hoffman.Blitzscaling


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The main takeaway from my last, very theoretical post was the following: an ethical investor is one who reflects on which techniques of the self (or the VC fund) can be used to strive for a better life (we will get into the complexity around a ‘better life’ in a later post). While this definition is far from being hyper-complex, some investors might still find it either inapplicable to or irrelevant for their day-to-day work. …


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To many VC and non-VC ears, ethical investing sounds like impact investing, corporate social responsibility, doing (moral) good — in short: being a tree-hugger. At worst (for some of the tech-loving but belief-shy VCs), it might even be somehow about religion. But bear with me and let me boil down what I mean when I say ‘the ethics of investing’ from Aristotle and MacIntyre to Foucault and Williams in two broad brush strokes.

Artistotle’s are an almost 2,500 years old philosophy classic. In it, he focused on a simple question: how should man best live? While his are about the perspective of the state (or the regulator), in the , Aristotle is concerned with the individual (and its society). In the first book, Aristotle describes the good (or best) life as one motivated by undertaking forms of actions whose ends are innately good, a life motivated by the pursuit of virtuous…


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I am Dr Johannes Lenhard and I am an anthropologist at the Max Planck Cambridge Centre for the study of Ethics, the Economy and Social Change. Recently, my research has taken me to Silicon Valley to interview venture capitalists.

In over 120 interviews in Berlin, Munich, London, San Francisco and New York, I asked these investors: what kinds of ethics do you have? This bi-monthly blog is a first, half-academic attempt to capture some of my observations.

You can use Twitter to get in touch and also to receive updates about my journalistic writing here.

The ethics of venture investing — why does it matter? …

About

Dr Johannes Lenhard

Writing on the ethics of venture capital @Cambridge_Uni; visiting Stanford and NYU; former: PhD on homelessness at Cambridge, MSc at LSE, BA at ZU

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