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Tales from the S.B.F. Bankruptcy Black Hole

Democratic analytics startup Deck is headed to the S.B.F. ash heap
Democratic analytics startup Deck is headed to the S.B.F. ash heap Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
August 22, 2023

Few billionaire playthings have had a wilder couple of years than the Democratic analytics startup Deck, which has bounced from the balance sheet of one tech oligarch to another, and from one scandal to the next. First, in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg acquired the company, at the peak of dumb speculation that he was preparing to run for president, only for Zuckerberg—and, somehow, Deck—to get swept up in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Then, after a few years of independence, it was sold to Sam Bankman-Fried. We all know how that billionaire scandal unfolded, and Deck was subsequently put back on the auction block. At one point in the last year or so, I’ve learned, it appeared that the company might be purchased by Rory Gates, the 24-year-old Microsoft scion who has been moonlighting as an investor in Democratic voter tech.

Alas, in a peculiar twist of fate, the startup now belongs to no one. Once regarded as among the most successful startups of the billionaire-fueled Resistance era in Silicon Valley, backed by everyone from Chris Sacca to Eric Schmidt, Deck is headed to the S.B.F. ash heap, as I reported last week. On one level, it’s a small story in business and politics: Trump won’t get re-elected because Democrats lost one tech-infused voter-targeting platform. But in a bigger sense, the company’s demise captures the mercurial forces at play in the billionaire philanthropy-industrial complex—or at least the downside to being owned by a mega-donor whose business problems might collide with their personal philanthropic interests.