The Importance Of Being Free-And-Earnest

I have had several discussions and e-mail conversations with entrepreneurs, journalists, and venture capitalists (VC) about the free-market principles described in my blog “How to fix VC once and for all.” In that blog, I propose to apply free-market principles to the marketplace of innovation, in connecting the assets of the Limited Partner (LPs): money, with the assets of the entrepreneur: ideas.

What struck me most is how few people are familiar with those macroeconomic principles that, beyond consumer benefits, have a significant impact on how an entrepreneur goes to market and how VCs fund them.

VC feedback

Especially eerie, short, and dismissive was the interaction with one of the most well-known VC czars of Silicon Valley, who publicly proclaims to be a proponent of free-markets (that is precisely why I contacted him) yet does not seem to understand their basic premise. He brushed off my marketplace-for-innovation plan as just more creeping Socialism.

I am, of course, the fool, for telling the old-boys club to now support a meritocracy and dump the walled gardens that made it fat-and-happy in the first place.

I knew that switching to free-markets will unleash the protectionist stance in many VCs. But what worries me more is that the opinions and decisions made by this General Partner (GP) impact startups whose successes are predicated on a firm understanding of macroeconomics. His responses mean that this GP would simply brush off-platform investments that embody free-market principles (eBay and the Apple AppStore, for example) as socialistic movements. History proves that it is not a good idea.

And that, dear reader, is what the rest of the world (and the majority of Silicon Valley) looks up to. We blindly copy methodologies that no longer work, hoping that 20-years of underperforming past behavior establishing the norm, will yield future behavior to break the norm. Sure, it is all someone else’s fault.

Start praying.

Debunking free-market myths

But where there is smoke, there is a fire (aptly considering the many other fires in California), and it is important for the marketplace participants, LPs (money), and entrepreneurs (ideas) who bring real assets to the table to get a good understanding of free-market benefits. So, let me debunk some free-market myths:

Myth #1: free-markets are socialistic movements

A free-market is a self-regulatory instrument that ensures that a true meritocracy prevails, destroying artificial walled gardens such as geography, demography, old-boy status, first-mover advantage, etc. A free-market ensures that the quality of the authentic value-add by each participant is evaluated based on its independent merit. A free-market therefore is the ultimate in capitalism; those who build earnest value will prevail.

Myth #2: free-markets require a lot of governance

Different regulation than none, for sure. But the regulation will move away from the government but after the trust is established from the marketplace participants (see my blog “Why innovation needs regulation“). When transparency to all participants (a requirement of free-markets) is implemented, and all participants benefit from said exposure, the merit correlated to the building the trust in the marketplace becomes the governor.

Myth #3: free-market transparency is unwanted

Transparency promotes competition, and competition based on merit is good for LPs, VCs, and entrepreneurs. Merit yields better value to the detection of outliers at the foundation of disruptive innovation. LPs will benefit because, in forming new funds, they can proactively bid to get in on a VC fund, they previously only had access to when approached. New LPs can enter the fray and compete at an equal level. Small LPs can bid alongside large LPs. Entrepreneurs gain precious time in dealing with VC that have proven merit, and achieve more attractive valuations and secure better runway support – reducing the infant death syndrome due to investor lock-ins. VCs who are comfortable that money is not the only value they offer should feel confident the merit of their value-add secures their role.

Free Like You Want To Be

But even if you are not convinced that the current VC performance is a systemic risk, a move to a free-market mechanism that (if nothing else) offers the transparency to all participants is the fastest way to prove the other side of the argument wrong.

I hope that we, in the venture business, establish these free-market principles voluntarily and without intervention from the government. But the feedback to my query, as witnessed by the protectionist answers from VCs, does not hold a lot of promise.

With a systemic risk of $2.9 trillion of innovation-spin-out revenues quickly deflating, we face a similar overruling by the government as healthcare, where rather than a voluntary free-market, a free-market with arbitrage from the government will be forced upon us.

Take your pick.

The sign of an intelligent nation is its willingness and ability to reinvent itself, upstream. Let’s inspire the world with new rigors of excellence we first and successfully apply to ourselves.

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