Former Washington DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, known for his contrarian thinking and business-style approach to government, is joining venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as a special advisor. He joins in a part-time role in which he will advise both the firm and its portfolio companies.
In politics, Fenty is best known for implementing radical education reforms that handed control of public schools to the mayor. Fenty and Michelle Rhee, whom he appointed Chancellor of DC Public Schools, oversaw a period in which student achievement rose 14 points in reading and 17 points in math, and SAT scores shot up 27 points.
In a just-published blog post, Andreessen Horowitz partner Margit Wennmachers hailed Fenty’s courage to take on the status quo, particularly in education.
Fenty and Rhee’s reforms, however, were and continue to be controversial. Critics, including Diane Silvers Ravitch, a former US Assistant Secretary of Education, have alleged that the legacy of the reforms were cheating, institutionalized fraud, and a narrowed curriculum. In 2010, Fenty lost the Democratic primary for the Mayoral election to Vincent Gray, who went on to become Mayor.
Since then, he has immersed himself in Washington’s tech scene, serving as an advisor to languages software company Rosetta Stone, ed-tech startup EverFi, and a new seed-stage investment firm called Blue Tiger Ventures.
In a call today, Fenty said he’ll spend two or three days a week working for Andreessen Horowitz and will split his time between Washington and Silicon Valley. Although he doesn’t have a background in tech, he has fully embraced its potential to affect change on a macro scale. “I really got the bug on how technology can really affect the lives of people fast,” Fenty said.
He will be advising the firm and its startups across a wide variety of fields, but sees education as an obvious area in which he can add strength. “I really believe education tech and innovation is going to be a tidal wave over the next decade.”
Wennmachers describes Fenty as “a progressive innovator and a really disruptive guy.”
Fenty’s political background will add an interesting dynamic to Andreessen Horowitz, which in June appointed former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to a similar position. Although a staunch Democrat, while campaigning for Mayor, Fenty quoted former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a conservative hero, by saying: “Consensus is the absence of leadership.” He is also known for his anti-unions stance, having come out in support of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s condemnation of collective bargaining.
At the same time, he won the hearts of liberals with his support for marriage equality, and in December 2009 he signed an act that legalized same-sex marriage in DC.
Tom Davidson, CEO of Everfi, says Fenty has been “immensely helpful” as an advisor to his company. The former Mayor is detail-oriented and is “one of those people who just make stuff happen.” Davidson has traveled with Fenty across the country and said he is incredibly respectful to people from all walks of life. “He’s polite, but below that he has a very aggressive interior,” said Davidson. “You don’t get to be mayor of a city like Washington DC by not being able to get things done.”
While Andreessen Horowitz has been careful to stress that Fenty is not serving a government relations role, it will no doubt make full use of his connections and knowledge of the internal machinations of the political process.
Like the startups he’ll be advising, Fenty sees technology as a way to change the world. “The Internet and technology allow you to build business to get to many people … not by the thousands but by the millions,” he recently told the Washington Post. “It’s that same thinking – the macro, not the micro – that drives me toward tech.”