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Talking About "Hedge" with European Audiences
European Straits #89
I’m spending 36 hours in Berlin, where I talked about my book Hedge last night at The Family’s stunningly beautiful office in Kreuzberg (I know, I’m biased 😜). The format was a fireside chat with Sandro Gianella, the head of policy for Stripe in Europe. The audience was mostly entrepreneurs, as it seems hard here in Germany to build bridges with other circles like government, the press, and academia.
As it’s now been several weeks of traveling and talking about Hedge in 🇬🇧London, 🇫🇷Paris, 🇨🇭Geneva, 🇨🇭Zurich, and now 🇩🇪Berlin, I thought I’d share some early impressions.
Talking about Hedge with European audiences
I usually open my talks by reminding the audience how hard it is for entrepreneurs to grow successful startups in Europe. Not only are there the fragmentation and the lack of resources such as talent and capital, but there’s also the active resistance from corporate incumbents and the government. An entire system seems to have been designed to preserve the status quo and make life harder for European entrepreneurs. It’s not even unusual for those trying to enter regulated markets to have problems with the police or the courts. You can see the results in Europe’s lagging behind in the Entrepreneurial Age.
The hostility is fueled by the suspicion that many Europeans feel toward US tech giants: as you can read in the papers 🤔, they’re large, they’re foreign, they don’t pay taxes, they prey on our privacy, they destroy jobs, they disrupt entire industries, they corrupt democracy, they mistreat women. But something has changed recently, as disgruntled Europeans are now joined in that thinking by many Americans. And so what we’ve long been experiencing in Europe now exists in the US as well under the form of the “Tech Backlash”.
This is the reason why I think it’s relevant to share The Family’s playbook on dealing with a hostile environment. If you’re an entrepreneur and you can’t raise lots of capital to hire the armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and comms people who will wage a war on your behalf, you really need to play a different game. The secret is that instead of addressing those obstacles upfront, you should change the conversation and switch to discussing policy. This is the message you should convey: The problem is not startups disrupting the status quo; rather the problem is feeble governments that are failing to build the new institutions that the Entrepreneurial Age calls for.
But how do you converse with governments about the current paradigm shift? You don’t do it by talking about “startups”, “technology”, “innovation”, , and “venture capital”. Those are all words that don’t resonate in government circles because they’re too far removed from the everyday experience of both politicians and civil servants. Instead you should use words that are more relevant in policy circles: “jobs”, “purchasing power”, “economic security”, “geographic equality”, “opportunities”, and even “standing on the global stage”.
That’s why the Safety Net is a highly relevant topic of discussion, because it touches on what all our fellow citizens are worried about: having a good job; having enough purchasing power to live a good life; and being covered when a problem arises. Because a growing number of households don’t have those three things nowadays, they’re susceptible to freaking out about immigrants, Islam, and open borders—leading to eventual votes for fascists who are actually rising all over the world. But if we can make the case that more startups call for deploying a , then we have a chance to switch the conversation back to what really matters—again, it’s jobs, purchasing power, and economic security. I think it’s a lesson that US tech companies should learn—and for the first time in the history of computing and networks, it’s a lesson that we Europeans are in a better position to teach.
Off to Copenhagen (and an event today!)
Stefano and I became friends over Twitter, discussing issues related to startups in Europe and the Safety Net. He’s been following my writing of Hedge and has been prompt to read and react to it, bringing praise as well as criticism to the table. You can read his review here.
The Hedge event in Copenhagen will be on Thursday, October 11 at 4:30pm. Here are all the details.
I’ll have free time before and after to meet key people in both startups and policy. Please let me know if you’d like to grab a coffee or introduce me to someone interesting!
Finally, I should add that part of my team will also be in Copenhagen this week, beginning tonight, to connect with the local startup ecosystem: Don’t miss my cofounder Oussama Ammar’s talk about “What is The Family?”...also at Founders! Here are all the details.
Two new articles
I’ve published two articles in Forbes since last week’s issue. The first one expands on an idea that I’ve already shared here and used a lot in Hedge, the fact that the most successful workers in the future, no matter their skill level, will be those who are hunting rather than settling on the job market. In the article I explain why this is inherent to the Entrepreneurial Age—and no, it’s not because we’ll all become entrepreneurs and freelancers! The idea of workers as hunters is important because hunting calls for very different institutions than the ones we’ve inherited from the past. Alas, so far policymakers have been busy trying to turn hunters into more of settlers, as seen in this declaration by Donald Trump. You can read the whole article here: The Future Of Work Is About Hunting, Not Settling.
The next article is about antitrust. It’s an issue that I haven’t discussed much up to now, despite its rising importance in the global conversation around tech. In the article, I make the case that implementing antitrust today should start with understanding the (very different) rules of engagement on digital markets. In the past, breaking up companies made sense because those companies derived their power from assets concentrated on the inside of the company. Today, dominant companies harness power from the multitude of connected individuals, who now have more power than organizations themselves. This redistribution of power makes it urgent to rethink antitrust from the ground up. Read more here: It's Time For A Real Discussion About Antitrust.
More interesting readings on the future of antitrust
Amazon Must Be Stopped (Franklin Foer, The New Republic, October 2014)
The Most Important 2016 Issue You Don’t Know About (David Dayen, The New Republic, March 2016)
Is the Digital Economy Much Less Competitive Than We Think It Is? (Maurice E. Stucke & Ariel Ezrachi, ProMarket, September 2016)
Why the World Is Drawing Battle Lines Against American Tech Giants (Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times, June 2016)
Facebook and the Cost of Monopoly (Ben Thompson, Stratechery, April 2017)
How Did PornHub Become Synonymous With Porn? (Girl on the Net, The Debrief, July 2017)
5 different things people mean when they say we need to revive antitrust (Matthew Yglesias, Vox, September 2017)
Monopolies May Be Worse for Workers Than for Consumers (Noah Smith, Bloomberg, December 2017)
Why We Should Worry About Monopsony (David Weil, Naked Capitalism, September 2018)
Amazon’s Antitrust Antagonist Has a Breakthrough Idea (David Streitfeld, The New York Times, September 2018)
Warm regards (from Berlin, Germany),