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Valley of the Bro's

It always seemed too good to be true. A shiny new city in a valley, beholden only to itself and the simple ideal of making the world a better place for people. Stuffed with thousands of highly intelligent global citizens working from sleek air conditioned palaces. Every whim is catered for, every back-rub and shot of kale juice thoroughly deserved.

Even the old truth that you have to make money to make money cannot permeate this bubble. Grow fast, Lose money, Go Public and Cash Out is the new logic in the Valley.

Venture capitalists used to be software engineers who had cashed out and made a ton of money and VC’ing gave them a lucrative hobby. Nowadays VC’s tend to be run by dysfunctionally competitive men, who a generation ago were trading bonds and derivatives and other opaque financial instruments. They invest in whatever makes money, no matter how inane. Investments that would have had the previous generation running for the hills.

Today, investors are pitched a $400 internet connected device that squeezes sachets of fruit and vegetable paste into water - think it’s a good idea and invest 120 million dollars in it. Juicero became an overnight joke when it was discovered you could simply squeeze the packets by hand.

Quirky was set up in 2009, with the mission of ‘making invention accessible’. They developed a wifi-enabled egg holder for your fridge which told you how many eggs you have. A wifi-enabled egg carton is a subplot of a ‘Silicon Valley’ episode. It’s comedy. That’s all it is. It has no business being anything else. How dare it raise 185 million dollars.

Welcome to emergence of ‘Valley Bro’ culture. It’s a perfect storm of an overtly male-dominated culture of too much money following too many bad ideas, with a large dash of ego, greed and sexism thrown in. It’s not just driving bad investments, it is driving truly awful behavior.

Everyone in the valley has known about Uber’s ultra-aggressive culture for a long time now, but during years of hockey-stick growth this was mostly overlooked. CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michel are now gone, chased out by a multitude of sexual harassment and discrimination charges.

Dave McClure resigned from his role as a GP at 500 startups after admitting multiple instances of inappropriate behavior. Justin Caldbeck, an influential VC who co-founded Binary Capital stepped down on the 25th June. My experience of Google was a mature, thoughtful company so I was surprised as anyone to see recent male employee stating that women were less effective than men because of their inbuilt 'neuroticism'. I imagine he will be fired soon, but the damage has been done.

This is not just a few bad apples. This is an emergent dominant culture which has been festering for years. I see many reasons for this.

Firstly, there are too many men. There just are. You can’t build the future with just one chromosome. Apart from the obvious moral unfairness, it also makes for some shockingly bad decisions. I was once involved with a startup who were creating an app for young mothers. There wasn’t a woman in the room and apart from myself, nobody had had a child. I doubt half the room was even in a relationship. Yet there we were. 

Secondly ‘Bro Culture’ is driven by archetypes.

We all know the indefatigable CEO --- the Orchestrator. Male, early thirties. Sleeps 4 hours a night, hires and fires around the clock and bristles with self-belief and Jobsian soundbites about his latest venture.

Then there is the Wizard Engineer, invariably male, commands the highest salary and often the most reverence. He is extremely bright, well paid, irreplaceable and he knows it. Which in turn, can make him an unbelievable asshole.

There are many more archetypes (The Money Man, the Slave Driver etc.) but my point is – they’re all male. Where is the role for all the brilliant, capable and driven women?

Thirdly, Valley Bro Culture is driven by the corrosive nature of large amounts of money and the desperation that this creates in people to either acquire it or retain it. It’s no coincidence to me that well-educated, liberal-leaning young men in the Valley started acting like Wall Street assholes the moment the Wall Street money arrived.

The Valley needs a reset. An ethos of honest innovation has been replaced by greed, sexism, cronyism and bad behavior. A change won’t come from the top, but we as innovators and builders can hold ourselves to higher standards and change will come from beneath.

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