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Yesterday I was with yet another non-US entrepreneur who is struggling to get the right visa to stay in the US and build his company here. This entrepreneur happens to be from England and his business partner (and best friend since they were kids) is also English, but managed to get into the US because he fell in love with and married and America a while ago. The business partner lives in Denver so they started the company in Denver a year or so ago.
They are a small company right now with a pretty interesting product and vision. One founder lives in the UK, the other lives in Denver. The UK founder travels to the US when he can get a travel visa, but he’s been careful not to get offsides since he’s been in the visa application process for a while. They’ve spent a bunch of money on legal fees, continue to chew up money on travel from the UK to the US, and have to deal with the uncertainty (both timing and functional) around the visa process.
Along with some others, I’ve been trying to get something called The Startup Visa Act passed in Congress and turned into law. The biggest thing to come out of it for me personally has been a deep understanding of how the process of an idea to bill to law works.
After two years of advocating for this, there is extremely broad support throughout Congress for this concept and it has been written into many of the job creation / startup type bills that are out there. But – nothing has been passed. The White House made some policy changes over the summer which have been somewhat helpful, but are still making their way through the USCIS bureaucracy, which means many of these policy changes are not yet being implemented, or people in the field at USCIS have no idea how to implement them.
In hindsight, I realized I’d made a giant mistake. Rather than call it the “Startup Visa Movement”, we should have called it the “Stealing Jobs From Foreign Countries Act.” I haven’t yet come up with the right acronym for it (SJFFCA doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure some of you out there could acronymize this.) Instead of positioning this as a “Startup Thing” or a “Visa Thing”, we should have just taken the same cynical approach to titling the activity that many in Washington do. I mean, c’mon, how could any red blooded America object to stealing jobs from foreign countries?
Every week I am in contact with at least one foreign entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in the US and build their company here. Over the past year, it’s probably been several hundred which represent thousands of jobs and who knows how much innovative, amazing stuff. Hopefully the new USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence program will help figure out how to make the Startup Visa a reality. Or maybe Congress will finally take some action and get a bill passed. Either way, I know that as every day passes, we are missing a huge opportunity in this country by making it hard for non-US citizens to stay here and build their high growth entrepreneurial companies.
After sleeping 13 hours on Friday night and then 14 hours last night it’s pretty clear that a week like last week isn’t sustainable for me. At brunch today, Amy guessed that I worked 80 hours between Monday and Friday, ran three days (after coming off a double long weekend where I did two 10 mile runs), travelled from Boston to NY and then NY to Boston late at night, and generally wore myself out.
I’m heading out for a 15 mile run in Boston and expect I’ll be garbage collecting all the random thoughts from the week. The backdrop in my world was dealing with SOPA/PIPA, which I’m glad is dead, for now. Based on all the rhetoric over the weekend, I have no doubt that it’ll be back soon as an issue and/or woven into some other bill that seems totally innocuous. Regardless, the experience around this over the last few months has impacted me pretty profoundly – both in my disdain for politics as usual, liars, and ass covering as well as my pride for grassroots leadership and the power of the Internet and the Web to get the word out and engage people.
I hope to spend zero minutes on this topic this upcoming week, although I put that in the fantasy category as I’m sure reality will interject itself. In the mean time, I encourage you to go take a look at a few more posts just to cement in your mind what is going on so you can be prepared for the next wave of it.
Joel Spolsky has two last things about SOPA/PIPA and then he will shut up. I hope he never does – he’s brilliant, articulate, and totally gets it. His two suggestions are to (1) use what we’ve learned to start lobbying for our own laws and (2) figure out a way to shift political ad dollars from TV to the web. It’s free to advertise on YouTube – let’s force it to be free to advertise on NBC, or at least so prohibitively expensive on a relative basis that it’s not worth it.
H.R. 1981 - Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 – has embedded in it an amendment that’ll have your internet service provider tracking all of your financial dealings online. And yes, the sponsor of this is Lamar Smith, the same guy who sponsored SOPA. I wonder how many more bills there are out there like this – I certainly have no time or bandwidth to deal with them since I’m trying to help create the future.
Does Online Piracy Hurt The Economy? A Look At The Numbers. Here is some empirical evidence in Forbes that it doesn’t.
If Congress wants jobs, it can’t want SOPA. Talking point #1 for SOPA/PIPA morphed into “piracy costs jobs.” Over the course of last week, there were many people who were polite against being against piracy (for example, I am), but I don’t know of one who said “but piracy actually costs jobs and I can prove it.” I’ve concluded the piracy costs jobs thing is classic talking point rhetoric – if we hear it enough times then it must be true. Wouldn’t it be ironic if there was actually net job growth based on the dynamics of the current content economy?
If you were involved in opposing SOPA/PIPA recently, thank you for your efforts. These were horrible bills at some many levels and they needed to be shut down. The cynic in me knows that this is far from over but for now I’m going to go for a run and try not to think about it too much.
This post should be sung to the tune of The World Is A Vampire by the Smashing Pumpkins
“the world is a vampire, sent to drain
secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames
and what do i get, for my pain
betrayed desires, and a piece of the game
even though i know-i suppose i’ll show
all my cool and cold-like old job
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage
then someone will say what is lost can never be saved
despite all my rage i am still just a rat in a cage”
Some VCs like rap, but I’m old school 80′s grunge, heavy metal, head banger music with some 90′s fruit bands mixed in. The chorus of The World Is A Vampire was echoing in my head as I took a shower this morning. And then the first line morphed into “My world is a network” and I started thinking about networks and hierarchies.
Earlier this week I was in New York. I spent Tuesday with my dad. I got up early, went for a run along the Hudson River, grabbed some Starbucks oatmeal, and did phone calls and email until 11. We then got together and wandered over to Union Square Ventures where we had lunch with the USV partners and talked about the healthcare industry and how technology could radically alter it as well as the relationship between each of the different constituencies. After lunch we got in an Uber and went over to MakerBot’s office (the Botcave) where I gave my dad a tour of the world of 3D printing. We took the subway back to Manhattan and walked to dinner with Fred Wilson, where we talked about healthcare some more.
Sometime during the day I had a few phone calls. One of my calls was with a Senator about PIPA. Another was with a CEO about a strategic partner. Another was with Eric Norlin about Blur. They were all short calls (as anyone I’ve ever talked to on the phone knows – I’d rather be off within five minutes than discuss football, the weather, and the kids I don’t have.) After the call with Eric, my dad asked “how do you keep track of all this stuff?” It was asked in a loving way with a glint of humor and amazement. I responded simply “I don’t – I just let it wash over me.”
If you follow USV’s investment thesis, you know that it’s different from Foundry Group’s thesis. While my partners and I are focused on a set of broad horizontal themes, USV is investing in the application layer of the Internet with a particular focus on Internet services that create large networks. Sometimes our paths cross (as in Zynga) and we co-invest together, but independent of that we are close friends and intellectual counterparts.
At the lunch with my dad, I participated in the conversation but spent most of it reflecting about the doctor / patient relationship and how critical it was for that the be the essence of the dynamic driving the healthcare system. Unfortunately, this relationship has been completely co-opted by all of the other constituents such as insurance companies, healthcare product vendors, hospitals, drug companies, and the government.
As I was working with a bunch of other amazing people over the course of the week to defeat SOPA and PIPA, including my partner Jason Mendelson and Phil Weiser (the Dean of CU Law School), I realized that the network was taking back control of the discussion about politics from the hierarchy.
This morning, I pondered that some more. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it a lot in the next few months, but it’s clear that my entire life has shifted from a hierarchy model to a network model. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Cambridge, connected to a network (the Internet), communicating with anyone who wants to hear from my (a network) via a publishing approach that is the ultimate democratizer (my blog) while getting ready to go to a board meeting for Yesware (a distributed company that has a broad network of users), followed by a bunch of meetings with random people who reached out to me via email and the web. And, throughout the day, I’ll continue to interact with the many companies and people I’m involved with, mostly via email, but in a completely distributed and untethered fashion.
My world is a network. And being part of a hierarchy sounds to me like that poor rat in a cage.
There are two very disturbing bills making their way through Congress: Protect IP Act (PIPA - S.968) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – H.R.3261). These bills are coated in rhetoric that I find disgusting since at their core they are online censorship bills. It’s incredible to me that Congress would take seriously anything that censors the Internet and the American public but in the last few weeks PIPA and SOPA have burst forth with incredibly momentum, largely being underwritten by large media companies and their lobbyists.
A number of organizations in support of free speech and a free and open Internet have recently come out in opposition to these bills. They include EFF, Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, Demand Progress, Fight For the Future, Participatory Politics Foundation, and Creative Commons who have organized American Censorship Day tomorrow (11/16/11).
If you run a website or have a blog, go to the American Censorship site to see how you can participate on 11/16/11.
In addition to being censorship bills, these are anti-entrepreneurship bills. They are a classic example of industry incumbents trying to use the law to stifle disruptive innovation, or at least innovation that they view as disruptive to their established business. To date, the Internet has been an incredible force for entrepreneurship and positive change throughout the world (did anyone notice what recently happened in Egypt?) It’s beyond comprehension why some people in Congress would want to slow this down in any way.
While you can try to understand the bills, this short video does a phenomenal job of summarizing their potential impact along with second order effects (intended or unintended).
I’m furious about this, as are many of my friends, including Fred Wilson who wrote today about how these bills undermine The Architecture of the Internet. But we are aware, as are many others, that simply being mad doesn’t solve anything. Join us and speak out loudly against censorship – right now! If you have a blog or website, please take part in American Censorship Day - the instructions are on their website which – so far – hasn’t been censored.