Happy Tuesday, and welcome back to The Stratosphere…
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In today’s email: Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, Laurene Powell Jobs’ son, a couple of Ellisons, and the trillionaire future of Silicon Valley’s next-generation dynasties. Plus an interview with British journalist Sebastian Mallaby about his new book The Power Law and the golden age of venture capital.
But first, a few Tuesday appetizers before the main course…
- If you missed last week’s column about Sam Bankman-Fried, I regret to inform you that it’s already outdated, given the break-neck pace of giving by the hottest donor in Democratic politics. S.B.F.’s primary political objective these days centers around pandemic preparedness, as I wrote, but the FTX C.E.O. just plopped down $2 million into GMI PAC, a super PAC backing pro-crypto candidates that is representative of the industry’s new muscle in D.C.
- Netflix’s Reed Hastings popped up yesterday in Jackson, Mississippi to give a speech announcing a $10 million check for Tougalou College, an H.B.C.U. that has an exchange program and partnership with Brown. Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, have been on an admirable crusade over the last few years to beef up the endowments of historically Black colleges; with such small corpuses, it’s hard for these schools to generate sufficient returns to underwrite their yearly budgets. Kudos to Hastings for actually visiting himself over the holiday and not sending a lackey.
Reed Jobs, the well-liked millennial son of Laurene Powell Jobs and the late Steve Jobs, has privately talked about a political run, including for Nancy Pelosi’s seat if it opens. It may herald the dawn of a new era: Society is currently being remade by a group of super-billionaires. Pretty soon, their kids will take over.
Earlier this month, I described the early political jockeying to succeed Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is widely expected to step down sometime next year if Republicans retake the House. Inside her hometown of San Francisco, the race is viewed as essentially a two-person contest between moderate Scott Weiner, the city’s state senator, and more-progressive Christine Pelosi, a longtime Democratic organizer and middle daughter of the city’s royal family.
More recently, however, another dynastic name has come up in those conversations, and it is one that deeply intrigues me for symbolic reasons: Reed Jobs, the eldest son of Laurene Powell Jobs and, of course, the late Steve Jobs. Reed manages the health investments of Emerson Collective, his family’s hybrid family office, philanthropy and political advocacy shop, and is passionate above all else about efforts to cure cancer, which claimed the life of his father a decade ago. He is also very involved with his family’s nascent climate foundation. But the 30-year-old Jobs also loves politics, and he has long told people that he is definitely interested in running for something down the line, according to people who have talked with him. Sometimes, he has brought up Pelosi’s congressional seat, in particular. One person who has talked politics with him said Reed, as late as early last year, told them that he would strongly consider running for the seat after Pelosi retired.
Reed declined to comment for this story, and a person close to him pushed back on the premise, saying Reed had no current plans to run for the Pelosi seat. Of course, this is sensitive territory: Neither Weiner nor Christine Pelosi have confirmed that they have plans to run, either, as everyone maintains the lebenslüge that the Speaker of the House isn’t likely to step down in early 2023. (When I asked her this month, Christine told me she has “zero indication” that her soon-to-be 82-year old mother might step down next year, and she “would question the judgment of anyone who does.” Hmm.)
Jobs may very well survey the potential field, led by political heavyweights with deep relationships in Democratic politics, and decide this isn’t the moment for a longshot campaign. Alternatively, he may see an opening for a tech-friendly, pro-science, baggage-free campaign. A political outsider with a $25 billion family fortune and a widely-admired surname shouldn’t be underestimated. (LPJ has said the kids won’t inherit much.) Some people who have spoken to Reed think he might not want to run for something until years from now, but, as Pelosi’s 30-year incumbency makes clear, these jobs only open every so often.
I don’t know Reed personally, but he is described to me by his friends from their Emerson days as sarcastic, trollish, quirky and nerdy (By way of explanation, one told me he reminds them of the Kieran Culkin character on Succession.) He is well-liked internally at the shop, and doesn’t walk around like he owns the place. Most importantly, he is ambitious. While this may be idle chatter at the moment, there’s a whole generation of Silicon Valley heirs now entering their prime who are going to have enormous influence in society. The descendants of the ten richest tech billionaires will have some $1 trillion to spend or misspend in fascinating ways. David Ellison (39) and Megan Ellison (36) have already made their mark in Hollywood as the founders of Skydance Media and Annapurna Pictures, respectively. Emma Bloomberg (42) has been making waves over the last twelve months in political tech circles with her new company, Helm. I mean, what havoc and splendor X AE A-XII Musk (1) will wreak on Earth? So I don’t know whether Reed Jobs will run to succeed Nancy Pelosi—watch this space—but trust me, we’ll be hearing from him and his peers.
Speaking of the Ellisons, some news came over the transom last weekend that turned more than a few heads: Larry Ellison, the world’s ninth wealthiest person, just cut the biggest political check of his 77 years on Earth. According to new F.E.C. filings, Ellison gave more than $15 million last month to a super PAC supporting Tim Scott, the South Carolina Senator and one of the few prominent Black voices in the G.O.P. As I noted in my recent power ranking of Silicon Valley mega-donors—catch up here if you missed it—Ellison is undergoing a late-in-life political renaissance. (Ellison handles much of his political giving himself, though he also takes the political advice of Oracle C.E.O. Safra Catz, among others, I’m told.) In the final weeks of the 2020 election, he donated $1 million to Senator Susan Collins, $1 million to Michigan repeat aspirant Josh James, and then $5 million to Scott. Ellison also gave another $5 million to Scott over the summer, bringing his total support for Scott to a staggering $25 million.
Ellison has, practically overnight, become one of the G.O.P.’s biggest donors—more than Peter Thiel, for the record—and positioned himself as a kingmaker in 2024. Scott has hinted that he would be open to being Donald Trump‘s running mate, but is also widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate if Trump doesn’t run. Either way, having Ellison’s backing makes Scott a formidable player in Republican politics. The two appear to have become particularly close over the last year or two; in addition to Scott’s reported trip to Ellison’s Hawaiian island early last year, recent F.E.C. spending disclosures from the second half of 2021 reveal even more super PAC receipts at Ellison’s properties, and payments from Ellison for in-kind contributions of lodging and meals, suggesting that the trips to Lanai are becoming a regular occurrence.
What Happened to the Celebrity V.C.?
Lastly, I like to occasionally use this space to highlight a good book or two that is relevant to this column. Over the holiday, I finished reading The Power Law by Sebastian Mallaby, the British journalist and author on economics. I often find books about venture capital to be tedious, but what readers will appreciate is that this is a book, at its core, about personalities. The Power Law is a mostly flattering history of the venture capital titans who created modern Silicon Valley, as told through the perspectives, egos, and conflicts of the venture capitalists themselves: people like John Doerr, Mike Moritz, Peter Thiel and Vinod Khosla. The book is, to be clear, a very positive survey of this industry, but it also contains some solid dish. I called Mallaby after putting it down to discuss the politics and motivations behind venture capital’s elder statesmen.
Teddy Schleifer: You write about the leadership dynamic at Sequoia between Doug Leone, a Republican mega-donor, and Mike Moritz, a Democratic mega-donor, which I’ve definitely been curious about. You describe them as unlikely bedfellows in a sort of buddy comedy. How do they manage their very different political worldviews?
Sebastian Mallaby: What’s evident is that they managed to work together very effectively for a long time. As you know, Mike stepped down from his position as steward about 10 years ago. So since then, I assume they are less in touch than they had been. But in the period when they were co-leading the firm—without needing to ask them, ‘Did you like each other?’—it’s just obvious looking at it from the outside, that the success of their partnership was that they not only produced the results in their traditional venture field, but they really pivoted the firm into these new businesses. If they hadn’t been joined at the hip, that would have fallen apart.
There was a pretty deliberate and serious commitment to not bring the politics into the office. I have that sense not mainly from them, just from other people at the firm I talk to—that you park your politics at the door.
I want to ask about another partnership—Khosla and Doerr at Kleiner Perkins, which you correctly note has lost a step. You write about Kleiner not as an explicit rival to Sequoia, but as a study in contrast. Tell me about the Doerr-Khosla leadership style versus Moritz and Leone. What did they do not as well as the Sequoia guys?
Clearly John Doerr is a pretty extreme personality. He has this magnetic, Messianic salesmanship. Somebody I quoted in the book says he has the emotional commitment of a priest and the energy of the racehorse. He can be massively persuasive and passionate. He’s never half indignant. That charisma is terrific for being a leader and an evangelist, but it’s not great for managing, which requires patience and listening and sometimes putting the other person first and letting them take the limelight. It is quite difficult for John to be on the stage and not try to dominate it.
Vinod is like John in that sense—he is extremely forceful in his opinions. He loves to advance a really contrarian position, and then enjoys the intellectual battle of trying to win you over. He is, in a way, a louder, more in-your-face version of Peter Thiel. Peter is very contrarian but he is also quite deliberately subdued in that way… A brilliant guy, but difficult—and not somebody who is a natural, nurturing leader who will elevate people all the time.
Where Mike and Doug are very disciplined—if they decide that it’s important to build the internal culture of the firm, they’re going to really set out to do it—Vinod and John are too much about ideas, too much about being original, being contrarian, provocative, messianic, to actually do that internal work.
Reading this book in 2022, I felt like I was visiting a bygone era. Back then, the elder statesmen of Silicon Valley and celebrities of the day were the V.C.s—Doerr, Moritz, and dating back to Arthur Rock. Now it’s the entrepreneurs who are the celebrities; I don’t think Roelof Botha has high name I.D., exactly. Do you feel like the current era is just plain different?
In any given period, the majority of V.C.s want to be the coaches, not the athletes. They want to be behind-the-scenes, not giving the press interviews. But at the same time, in any given generation of V.C.s, there’s going to be one or two prominent exceptions that quite like the limelight.
I always wonder how much legacy matters to these V.C.s, versus just creating value. You seem to argue that creating value, on its own, is impact. I know you’re not a shrink, but on these folks’ deathbeds, what do the great V.C.s of that era think about how they are remembered?
There are some kinds of work where your question would feel more relevant, but in the case of creating companies that really make an impact … if you literally traded a certain kind of obscure oil contract for 25 years, if you did well at it, it’s part of your identity, and it’s probably one thing you’re going to be thinking about as your legacy. Even if it’s just trading oil contracts. But on the other hand, if you’re creating companies, that’s big.
That reminds me of your book about hedge funds. So much of the mythology of venture capitalists is the idea that they are changing the world with these investments. In the hedge fund world, or more broadly on Wall Street, it’s all about getting a return. The idea of impact and legacy isn’t as wrapped up in individual investment decisions as it is in Silicon Valley, where that’s very much part of the gospel.
I agree. There are people in my hedge-fund research to whom I would say, ‘Your hedge fund has done well because of this strategy. Did this have an effect on how markets work? Is there a bigger story here about how it affected capitalism?’ And they would say, ‘No. It’s quite boring. There’s no bigger impact. That’s why I’m going to quit in two years.’
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