When the venture capitalists tried to get to Edward Snowden

I thought this was a wonderful anecdote, recounted by Anand Giridharadas on pg 77-78 of his Winners Take All. Edward Snowden was interviewed at Summit at Sea by the venture capitalist Chris Sacca who immediately looked straight past the politics of what his interviewee was saying once there was a fleeting mention of a startup emerging from it:

Perhaps in an effort to be courteous to his entrepreneurial audience, Snowden had tucked a mention of a start-up into his much grander vision of heresy, thereby destroying whatever chance he had for his ideas to be heard as they were intended. He had ensured that Sacca, and presumably many others, would now hear his revolutionary words and think only of investment.

“So I invest in founders for a living,” Sacca said, staring up at the giant screen. “And I gotta tell you, as I listen to you, I smell a founder here. You’re talking about these things that need to be built. Are you going to build any of them? Because there’s probably investors waiting for you here.”

Snowden seemed taken aback. Here he was talking about heresy and truth and freedom, and now he was being asked about a start-up. Flummoxed, he tried to let Sacca down politely: “I do have a number of projects that are actively in motion. But I take a little bit of a different view from a lot of people who need venture capital, who are trying to get investors. I don’t like to promote things. I don’t like to say I’m working on this particular system to solve this particular problem. I would rather simply do it, at the minimum expenditure of resources, and then be judged on the basis of results. If it works, if it expands, that’s wonderful. But ultimately, for me, I don’t tend to think that I’m going to be working in a commercial space. So I would rather say, ‘Let’s wait and see.’ ”

It was a kindly delivered rebuke to MarketWorld’s way of life. Here was a man who didn’t like to promote himself, who didn’t crave money, who was actually fighting the system, and willing to lose for the greater good to win.

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