Fake Google Employees. Startup founder Facebook ranting about the filth of San Francisco. This week has seen two foolish flashpoints in the important discussion of how San Francisco can remain vibrant, diverse and welcoming. The question around civic obligations, personal responsibility and evolution of American economy/politics won’t be addressed by me here. They’re real, they’re complex and they’re not limited to just SF. Empathy can be gained through broadening of perspectives but when you’re running a startup, you often become more narrow, focusing 100% of your energy on bringing a company to life. The investor ecosystem, which relies upon and profits from these efforts, can help. I want to suggest one immediate step we can take to broaden perspective among young startup founders.
Y Combinator, SV Angel & a16z can invite their founders to do a morning of service at SF Project Homeless Connect. I toured SFPHC earlier this year via sf.citi and was blown away by the groups coming together to provide services. Health care, explanation of benefits and job programs, free glasses – all in one place.
Why am I highlighting these three investors? Because they represent the breadth and influence within the Bay Area tech sector right now. They’re all progressive organizations in many respects – for example, YC now admitting nonprofits, Ron Conway’s focus on helping tech industry integrate into SF and a16z partners pledging large amount of their earning to charity. How can we use this energy to reset the norms of our community?
Will a single morning of service suffice to solve the issues being raised? No, of course not, but it will allow several hundred founders to experience something personal.
Is homelessness the only worthwhile problem? No, of course not, but don’t let complexity get in the way of a simple act.
As a venture investor myself, should I back up my words with action? Yes. Homebrew’s holiday “party” was a volunteer event where we painted public school classrooms with some of our portfolio companies. And I would be proud to join these investors in the volunteer event suggested here.
We can do this in January. It just starts with one of these firms – or another large investor – raising their hand.
[Updated! Above I mention SF Project Homeless Connect as an amazing way to really see what’s going on in the city with our homeless population – really, if you haven’t seen it yourself please do. I was introduced to this organization originally via Ron Conway who five years ago got involved in Project Homeless Connect, helping to raise $1m to augment the SFPHC budget (in addition to volunteering himself at civic center). Didn’t have this info when I wrote the post so wanted to add and apologize for any confusion around Ron & SV Angel’s direct support of SFPHC. The investors noted here obviously all care deeply about SF – what I’m hoping the next generation of founders can do is also experience the city in a hands-on way]
[personal note: moved to Bay Area in 1998 for school & became SF resident in 2000. Fortunate in many ways, including economically. Now have a daughter and want to stay in SF, not suburbs. Proud of what the tech industry has done and contributes to the Bay Area but also hope to introduce philanthropy, volunteerism and empathy into our culture in a deeper way.]