Pando

“F*ck Trump”: CRV takes the tech industry’s strongest stance on the election yet

By Sarah Lacy , written on August 24, 2016

From The Politics Desk

Today brings another anti-Trump blog post from the tech industry. But this one goes further than any we've seen.

CRV -- a storied venture firm that’s amid a generational transition -- has made a bold statement today: “F*ck Trump.” Or as Pando would say without the punctuation: Fuck Trump.

As of a few minutes ago, CRV’s homepage is replaced with those words linking to a Medium post with this message:

Entrepreneurship begins and ends with a powerful immigrant spirit. It is about knocking down walls, moving people toward a common goal, and creating the unthinkable from scratch with small odds of winning. That is what makes the U.S. great and what drives meaningful innovation and change.

Donald Trump’s anti-immigration statements are diametrically opposed to the core values of entrepreneurship. And at CRV, we’ve had enough. The CRV partnership — united and unanimous — rejects Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States.

CRV is a firm of immigrants. Our 9 partners come from 7 countries and speak 8 different languages, hailing from Greece, India, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Venezuela as well as the United States. We are united by a shared immigrant spirit that makes us better investors and better partners to entrepreneurs. About 50% of the teams we back are made up of people like us — entrepreneurs who have come to the U.S. to create meaningful change. The results speak for themselves: CRV has been around for 46 years and has backed more than 400 companies, 73 of which have gone public. Our companies have created tens of thousands of jobs in the United States alone.

We stand behind immigrants, the sons and daughters of immigrants, and anyone with the immigrant spirit. That’s why we want to move beyond rheotric and focus on concrete actions to support our founders. For starters, CRV will start covering the costs for U.S. visas for any CRV company founders ([email protected]). We’ve also created a CRV Fellowship Program to provide funding, support and office space for immigrant entrepreneurs. If you feel you fit the bill, come share your stories and your ideas. If you are for building walls and stopping change, stay away. Bigots need not apply.

Sincerely,

The CRV Partnership

While those sentiments may not be unique from how others in the Valley -- and in tech-- feel about Trump, I have not seen entire organizations make a statement like this on behalf of an organization, with the possible exception of BuzzFeed which refused to take ad dollars from the Trump campaign.

Apple CEO Tim Cook for one is hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and took pains to say it was in his capacity as a private citizen, not on behalf of the company. And as I detailed last week, even mega-Valley Democrats like Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr have barely Tweeted about the election -- even as so-called “private citizens.”  

I polled a few venture firms to see if they agreed with these sentiments and had any intention to make a firm-wide political statement of their own.

A spokesperson for Andreessen Horowitz* said, “We are not taking a firm-wide stance on politics. But you can assume that nobody around here is pro-Trump.” 

Lerer Hippeau Ventures* -- founded by the incredibly liberal and politically minded ex-Huffington Post crew-- had a similar message. While Ken Lerer said of Trump, “He is a dangerous reckless person who must be defeated in my view. A serial liar and someone who has racist views. But everyone knows that,” he deferred on firm policy to Eric Hippeau who said: “I agree with Kenny. However, as a firm we don't make political statements.”

Some smaller firms like Homebrew have come out for Hillary Clinton, but as partner Hunter Walk noted, that’s pretty easy being a relatively new two-person firm. Walk has waged a campaign to get other tech companies and venture firms to make election day a holiday to encourage employees to vote. He said via email yesterday, “As I've reached out to funds to support my get out the vote initiative I'll definitely say some have been more enthusiastic than others. While that doesn't mean they're necessarily endorsing HRC as a fund I think it means they're OK with being politically active: Cowboy, Foundry, Founders Collective all come to mind as folks who have gone above and beyond. “

Said a spokesperson from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund*: “We have no plans to make a firm statement since there are a variety of opinions on the election and policy issues across the team.“

While the Founders Fund comment might make the most sense - Peter Thiel has declared himself a Trump supporter - why do firms where all the partners agree refuse to make a firm-wide statement? And why did CRV feel this was important enough to break ranks of the entire industry? I talked to CRV’s George Zachary this morning to get the answers to both questions.

He said it all started at a firm’s offsite where the partners were all talking about their disgust with so many of the things Trump was saying in this election, most notably the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

That hit home in particular because two of the CRV partners were from Muslim countries. “We have two Islamic partners, that might not have been able to be part of our partnership,” Zachary says. “Two great people we might not have been able to work with.”

The more the partnership talked, the more it dawned on them, if they all felt this way so strongly and a venture firm is just a collection of partners, why shouldn’t they make a statement as a firm?

The following are more excerpts of our conversation.

Sarah Lacy:I reached out to several venture firms, and while they may agree with your stance on the issues, they say they can’t make a political statement as a firm. Where did that come from? Why is that such a hard and fast industry rule?

George Zachary:I have no idea. My guess is they really don’t feel that strongly about it and don’t feel like rocking the boat. They are probably more nervous that it’s going to affect their business. That some entrepreneurs are Pro-Trump, and maybe we’ll scare them away. Maybe there are some entrepreneurs who are Pro-Trump who won’t want to do business with us now, but it wouldn’t be authentic for us not to say it. We might as well say who we really are at the cost of potentially pushing away founders who are against this immigrant spirit.

SL: I get why a company like Apple or Tesla or Facebook can’t take a stance like this, because they need to have a good relationship with the government. As a venture firm, have you ever had to negotiate with the government for anything or had to be on an administration’s good side?

GZ: Not really. We have enterprise companies who sell things to the government. But government customers don’t pick software vendors based on who their venture investors are. That hasn’t come up.

SL:Well, there’s plenty of startups funded by Saudi princes, and that hasn’t seemed to be an issue.

GZ:Exactly.

SL:Your post doesn’t just denounce Trump you talk about sponsoring visas for immigrant entrepreneurs going forward, is that new?

GZ:Yeah, it’s easy for us just to say something and make a statement, but we wanted to help people as well, so we are going to sponsor the costs for startup immigrants’ vias and some other costs to them doing business as well, things like providing office space. We haven’t modeled that out as well, we don’t know how big that program is going to be, but we already have our first founder in that program.

SL:Have you mentioned to friends in the industry that the firm is taking this stance? What is their reaction?

GZ:We are just going public with this today. You are basically the first person to know.

SL:What do you expect the reaction might be? Do you think some partners at other firms who feel the same way politically might envy that you were able to take a strong stance like this as a group?

GZ: There might be some people in some partnerships who feel that way. There might be internal stuff that’s in the way of people saying things. My guess is there are firms where individual partners wanted to say or do something but couldn't. I wouldn’t be surprised.

SL:We spoke recently about CRV being at an inflection point as a firm. Is part of this about defining what CRV is?

GZ:This has been part of a discussion internally, we just have to say who we are, no matter what the cost, we just have to say it. There is no downside in saying who we are and what we believe in. This is something we all really strongly believe in. This is why we work with each other. This is why we picked each other as partners. I guess it’s a point of differentiation.

If other venture firms want to say things, if we inspire other firms to do the same thing, I think that would be great. I would like to see other firms add on to this, to take a professional stand as a business in Silicon Valley. The more the better.

There are too many venture firms who hide in order not to offend anyone.

SL:Which is crazy to me, because this business started out as people who were misfits and couldn’t fit into other areas of finance.

GZ: That’s right.

SL: Tell me about your family’s immigration story.

GZ: My dad was born in 1926 and fought in the last portion of World War II against the Nazis in Greece, in the small village my family grew up in. The name of it translates to “small village;” the village is only 250 people. And then my dad fought in the Greek Civil War against the communist forces. He realized that Greece was never going to get out of this position of trying to figure out what this country was all about, and that’s sort of where it still is.

So he and my mother immigrated to the US on a boat and at Ellis Island, they chopped my last name from Zacharopoulos to Zachary. They told him it was too long and wouldn’t fit on the paper. He just accepted what this person, his immigration officer, there had said. My dad told me he was nervous not to go along with it. So I lost the “poulos” version of my name.

That’s a version of fear and hate. What we are seeing in what Donald Trump says is a magnified version of that. I just remember how my dad used to speak about it.

He worked in a light bulb factory and saved enough money to become an electrician and then saved enough for my tuition and I got student loans and got to go to MIT. I was the first person in my family tree to be able to go to college.

There are so many stories like this within CRV and Silicon Valley. I don’t see how this rhetoric doesn’t impact the business.

SL:If Trump’s rhetoric was only viewed as racist or only viewed as sexist, I could understand firms not wanting to take a stand. But CRV isn’t unique in the tech world on having relied so heavily on immigrants. That, in particular, seems a threat to their businesses.

GZ: It’s mind boggling to me. Silicon Valley is built on founders and a lot of founders are immigrants. 50% of the teams we back are entrepreneurs who come to the US.  So I don’t understand why other firms haven’t taken a professional stance. People don’t want to offend anyone, so they aren’t saying anything about this, I guess.

 

[* Disclosure: AH partner Marc Andreessen, Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Founders Fund are Pando investors.]