Fred Wilson and Tim O’Reilly on Startup Opportunity

After a great bike ride into work that was joyously interrupted by Ry’s Halloween Parade at school, I stumble upon a Art Laffer’s op-ed piece in the WSJ courtesy of Brad Feld.   Another in a series of doomsday scenarios that just redefine the word “buzzcrusher.”

It’s a pretty well-argued piece, but during this month’s depressing news, some of our more important intellectuals have been offering up some hope.

First is Fred Wilson who, in my opinion, has really revived the idea of the citizen intellectual from his vantage point as a venture capitalist.  I’m new to the AVC community, but I really like the discourse that has emerged in Fred’s community and find it nourishing.  I don’t always agree with him and was motivated to start YallaGuy in part because I wanted a forum to challenge some of our leading venture and entrepreneur intellectuals.   Mostly I began because I admired AVC so much and am grateful that Fred has helped restored the importance of prose in our everyday life.

Tim O’Reilly wrote an eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama earlier this week.  His argument struck many of the same themes as other well-constructed centrist endorsements, but I was struck by a small passage in the middle of his essay.

…for those of you who are concerned about the financial downturn, that reinventing government will be a huge business opportunity. Yes, much of that business may well go to existing government contractors – navigating the maze of Washington procurement is not for the feint of heart – but there will be tremendous demand for expertise that today can only be found in the cutting edge technical community.

Even if the most brutal predictions of downturn occur, interesting, lucrative startup opportunities for reinventing government will emerge.  I grew up in Washington and I know  real disadvantages to having the government as a customer exist, but big companies tackle big problems.  Government is at the center of the energy, healthcare, and education challenges we face and companies that want to solve those challenges would do well to involve governments at the federal, state, and/or local level.

Fred has a post today about Donor’s Challenge but what really interested me was his broader points about the restructuring of philanthropy. Here’s an excerpt from Fred’s post.

We (our firm Union Square Ventures) did a “sessions event” last year called Hacking Philanthropy in which we discussed how to use the internet and marketplace models like Donors Choose and Kiva and others to radically reshape the world of doing good. Since then, I have been committed to doing everything I can do (within reason) to put the “rubber chicken circuit” out of business. What Obama has shown, and Dean before him, is that the Internet is the most powerfulfundraising tool ever invented and we have to harness it to do more and do better. Donor’s Choose is showing the way and I’ve been incredibly inspired by them.

Obama’s fundraising and organizing might be the single greatest application of the Internet to effect change that we have witnessed so far.  No company will affect the world more than our next President and without Obama’s Internet organization, I’m not sure he could have been successful.  Part of his appeal to many of us is how sophisticated he has been with his deployment of technology to raise money, organize volunteers, and articulate policy.

This example can very much pave the way for a new advocacy in the NGO world and philanthropy is a big component of the NGO industry.

We could be entering into the worst economy since the 30s or 70’s, but even then opportunities abound to help pull the world through this period.  The good news for the entrepreneurial faithful is that the pretenders who thought they could be entrepreneurs won’t try it in the next year or so.  Time to get a head start.

One Response

  1. this is so true

    we are not sure “hacking philanthropy” is a for profit oppty, but we know that hacking eduction, environment, and energy is and we believe all three of those sectors are going to grow a lot in this downturn

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