Ben Horowitz explained
This post can be annotated on Rap Genius HERE
“They tryna blackball me, don’t wanna see me win
Hit after f*%kin’ hit, like there we go again
They say I’m underrated, I’m just misunderstood
They can’t compare to me, I wish, I wish you would”
- “Blackball” by DJ Khaled (feat. Ace Hood, Future, Plies)
There are times when you must publicly speak up about what’s on your heart, and this is one of those times for me.
To understand Ben's importance, you must first understand how Silicon Valley is run, and that is by a very specific protocol. There are kings (notable investors), king makers/fool makers (influential media), connectors (hyper networked individuals), and actors (founders) that revolve around the deals. Silicon Valley runs on the perception of those inside those deals and those on the outside looking in. If you are not properly situated somewhere in the ecosystem, then your company will not get funded or you will not get access to a hot deal that is being funded that you would like access to as an investor.
In this instance the valley is not unlike DC. The aforementioned above run their ecosystem in almost exactly the same way, and that is by using a sort of currency to get around. This currency is measured in factual insider information, publicly misleading untruthful information, favors, and the power of name brand people. It is populated by climbers and star fuckers (sorry if that language offends), and it is all about who is hot or now. It is also populated by some of the most optimistic, interesting, and bright minds in the world. Good people. Ben Horowitz, is one of these good people, and perhaps one of the most.
You must also consider culture and its importance in shaping markets and in its ability to create social stigmas and/or social acceptance. Alpha culture dictates what success “looks like”. For so long hip hop culture has been the culture of poor people. The art of beta culture. An oddity that voices the raw emotion of the poor, and that glorifies the suboptimal traits that keeps poor people from mobilizing up the ladder in society. To outsiders, that’s all it is. But by using his voice and stage to elevate rap as a useful medium for informing business, it is creating a legitimacy in the business world for this culture and those that come from it.
I have grown to form a tight bond of friendship with Ben. In the course of two years have grown to trust him immensely as one of my closest friends. I value his input immensely. I also respect what he is, and what he is not.
Ben invested in my company AgLocal in 2011, I did not know him previously to pitching him, I barely knew my head from my ass as an entrepreneur, I had no track record as an entrepreneur, I was not from the valley and did not attend any Ivy or MIT so I had no network, and there was nothing inherent or obviously valuable that I could offer to Ben. However, and this is important to note, Ben looked past all of that and decided to take me on as a mentee and subsequently helped me raise a seed for my company also.
He saw a guy from the midwest with an idea and immediately understood what I was trying to accomplish, and understood that my background was just as important to my startup as are the background of some folks who have backgrounds at an Ivy, Stanford, MIT. He went on to not only invest money but invest time in my learning and in helping me to build my network. This is absolutely antithesis to the way the valley works as described above.
The typical way that diversity is handled in the valley is that the most visible voices are publicly outspoken about how inclusive they are, and in my private experience around many of them, they are typically full of shit. They do not know anything about me and those like me or know anything about the culture where we come from, so how can they introduce this culture? If they were being honest, many of these folks would probably admit that they don’t really have a clue and don’t give a shit about it all in reality. In the opposite, Ben has spent the time and does the work, actually gives a shit and ironically doesn’t crow about all of this publicly. You never hear him talking publicly about his friends and his work in the ecosystem for applause. He just is who he is, and I learned that very early on.
At the height of the Series A crunch, my team and I went into Andreessen Horowitz to pitch an ‘A’ to both Ben and Jeff Jordan. We were a couple of months from being out of cash. After a tough but fair meeting, we thought we had landed a16z as a lead. I was way off. Ben had the unenviable task of calling me up and telling his friend, “no, we are not going to participate or lead an A round at this time”. You would think this was a hard thing, well it was, but it was also a time of great trust building between us. I felt more included as a real founder in that no, than I felt at the time he said yes to our seed round. I became a better CEO because of it.
One Sunday, Ben invited me to breakfast with him at his favorite place. Was it Los Altos or Palo Alto or Pac Heights? No, it was in the old neighborhood that he grew up in. In the east bay on the border of Berkeley and Oakland. A working class neighborhood, primarily black and Latino, you could even call it “the hood” if you wanted to. I did, and I did so lovingly. The place we went to was a hole in the wall breakfast place, everyone working or eating there was from the neighborhood and all of them knew Ben right away. He is still a regular. You see he never forgot where he came from. That morning we were joined by one of the most recognizable founders of one of the most high profile companies in the valley. He drove from the south bay to see Ben here, just to talk to Ben and get advice. Did Ben tell me and the other nobodies to leave while he listened to the hard management decisions this rising CEO had to make? No, he let us sit there and listen, and for me as a new CEO I learned a lot that day. I of course learned from the advice I heard given out, but I also learned that truly reaching the stars means never letting your earth go. Be who you are and project where you came from no matter what as it is the only thing that can help you and inform you on making the right decisions for you. These experiences are what inclusion looks like.
This is not charity, this is true inclusion.
The crux of this post is this: Science and technology related fields are becoming the primary industries for global commerce and market participation (read: dominant basis of wealth generation) and secondly that as of the writing of this post today, in the present time we happen to live, I personally believe that Ben Horowitz is the single most important person acting in the interest for the entry and participation of people of color into science and technology related professions. This isn’t to say that there aren’t others doing great things that are helping, but that Ben is the most impactful person of the lot currently.
Secondly, and much more importantly, diversity isn’t just being on the payroll and isn’t just a head count, diversity means a whole host of things more than that, notwithstanding, acceptance and adoption of culture first and foremost (culture: the music, art, and philosophy of a people)
Let’s deconstruct the common misuse of the word “diversity” as thrown around. In Silicon Valley the word means “non whites”. This is an obscuring of both data and definition. Oh great lets just count the numbers of non whites in technology companies or being funded to run them, and pat ourselves on the back, yay for people! This is an old, quick and short way of quieting any voices that clamor for honesty regarding inclusion and that rail against the charge of ”pattern matching” (it happens). The fact is that we don’t have enough black and latino founders, investors, scientists, and executives participating in the commercialization and management of technology.
The isn’t only about different faces, it is about cultural adoption, because let’s face it, birds of a feather flock together. It is far more likely that if I am into the same things you are into and wear the same clothes that you wear, and come from the same college dorm that you were in, then we likely share the same humor and taste movies and hobbies. I’m far more likely to be able to connect with you quickly, and build rapport. In the valley this translates into getting funded more easily, getting my company written about more easily, and most importantly to be able to attract the best talent as employee/co-founders. This has little to do with skin color and everything to do with skin color at the same time. Why is that? Because people consume culture in groups, that is why. From that foundation is where pattern matching (we all do it) is built. If you look around silicon valley, there are not as many black or latino’s participating in tech in the valley. This is not controversial, but what is controversial is what is really helping and what isn’t. This can’t be remedied until there is cultural exchange of some sort.
Finally and in summary, I want to explain the two things Ben is doing that are much more impactful than all of the fancy HR diversity policies, the proclamations being progressive, or participation in hipster infested SF style protests on your weekend. We don’t need more “please help a brother who is down and out” style charity. What we need is what Ben is doing. Those things are:
1. A new network.
Ben is using his power and time (and trust me he is the *only* one doing this) to build and advocating and acting on the design and construction of an authentic network that facilitates participation and adoption of the culture. I cannot stress anymore the importance of inclusion in the networks that run silicon valley. Networks equal access to jobs, funds, and deal flow, and the networks that run silicon valley are Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Google, HP, Ebay, Facebook, Apple, and PayPal. To purposefully create an intersection with these networks and a network of people of color is actual helping the situation, It is not the misguided charity so many love. It is real cultural translation and adoption. IE - opening the doors to silicon valley in earnest.
2. Cultural implanting.
The ability to implant beta culture in alpha culture and exalt beta culture as not only important but necessary. By purposefully using his influence to explain how culture described and translated in the things like music (hip hop primarily), sports and sports history, digital media, and then repurposing this culture to be seen as valuable to alpha culture in how they can and do inform good business decisions and how they create and move markets in general has taken things that were considered silly and suboptimal and even degenerative and redefined them as important culturally to the alpha culture that is running the business world, especially technology business, that as I said earlier, is where tomorrow’s dominant wealth creation is happening.
Ben's work and the work of those with him is creating authentic diversity and participation in science and technology related fields. I am not talking about filling quotas I am talking about “change”.
For that we should be all jumping into the work.
Disclaimer, I am the co-founder of a company that a16z has invested in.