The Lessons Tech Can Learn from the 2016 Elections
Posted at 8:00h, 22 Nov 2016 in List Archive by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

The Presidential election is over. The electorate has spoken, and we do know that there is great discord in the tech sector that a particular candidate failed to win, and considering the shockwaves that went through that sector, in particular, we’ll take it as a sign that there is indeed a tech bubble. Has tech totally lost touch?

We thought it would be interesting to view the election as a lesson in brand-building and how to not simply launch a company, but some pointers on how to take it to the finished line.

Customers vs Investors. One of the investors who spoke at a recent SOS Breakfasts mentioned a company in which she had invested. The company had a growing sales pipeline – until the founder started focusing on raising the next round of funding. Fund raising is a full time job, as we know, and when you have a skeleton staff, hard to keep all of the balls in the air. Nor do paying customers understand it when they’ve purchased a product and have to wait for it, as the CEO is busy raising funding. The company was falling off the cliff, and the investor suggested that the founder focus on sales and put the fundraising on hold. Result: the sales pipeline grew to the point where the company no longer needed to raise funding. One candidate focused on wealthy donors, qua investor; the other crisscrossed the country relentlessly, reaching out to the electorate, qua customers. At some point, you have to stop fundraising and focus on business.

What are your differentiators and do they resonate with your customers? One candidate had a clear, fairly consistent message that resonated with customers – especially those in the so-called flyover states – while the other had a particu;ar message that favored the tech sector. (And always make sure to mention your competitor’s message to the press – always a good idea to keep your competition front of mind. Not.) And remember: Silicon Valley and NY are hopefully not your only TAM. Not when there are potential customers in 48 other states as well.

Oversampling to get the data/results you’d like. It’s great to get user/customer testimonials, but it won’t help much if they’re generated almost exclusively by family and friends. Example: Hampton Creek sending employees out to purchase the company’s mayonnaise to ‘show’ that it was flying off the shelves, well, didn’t really help sales – or the company’s credibility. Or bottom line. Same with the pollsters. Falsifying data also won’t help, Mainstream Media. Theranos is a great example of that, and Elizabeth Holmes is still very much in the spotlight. Note to self, on the subject of Theranos: when things are going badly, always a good idea to shoot the messenger (When Its Employee Blew the Whistle, Theranos Was Out for Blood. Mind-boggling VC funding and influential board members appear to have created a company prepared to do anything but admit defeat.)

Work smart, not hard. So says Tim Ferriss, but according to Marc Andreessen of A16Z: Accomplishing great things by working smart but not working hard is, as far as I can tell, almost entirely a myth. One candidate campaigned relentlessly, visiting as many as five states a day to get his message out. One pretty much phoned it in. And depending on your product, a celebrity endorsement might just have the opposite affect.

Silicon Valley Sidebar: Silicon Valley loves disruption and making its own rules. As for job creation in the tech sector, you see companies with multibillion dollar valuations, who have just a handful of employees, while the rest are basically ‘consultants.’ How is that contributing jobs much? Think Uber, where drivers receive no benefits, which makes it an unlevel playing field, or what we like to call Third Base Economics. We won’t go into the H1B abuses (H1Bs were originally intended to help employers fill jobs in the case of a paucity of highly skilled native-born workers – and consider the number of American coders who were required to train their H1-B replacements. We personally refer to H1Bs as Lego workers: they’re working for consultancies who keep the bulk of their hourly rate, are stuck in their jobs and can easily be swapped out, if need be), the off shoring of work and use of off-shore tax shelters, or tech’s monopolistic practices and stock market manipulations (Trump Tech Meltdown Hits Fourth Day With Amazon Cut by $35 Billion). Of course Silicon Valley did well under a compliant/complicit administration, and many of the Third Base Economics practices would no doubt have been perpetuated under their preferred candidate. As for their need-for-diversity arguments – Silicon Valley was founded by immigrants or their offspring – yes, highly educated ones who arrived via legal channels, and gender and ageism issues are still huge and unsolved and, for the most part, unaddressed in Silicon Valley. Try again

As Michael Moore said in his Facebook post following the election, “Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!”

It’s pretty to think that software is eating the world, and that the Silicon Valley status quo would go on forever. Smug and complacent and most definitely in a reality bubble, tech may now have to eat their own words. Whether we like it or not, there’s a new sheriff in town and time to accept it, as we all go – hopefully, stronger together – onward and forward.