Trump’s election is testing the leadership skills of young startup founders

Time to rally the troops.
Time to rally the troops.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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Silicon Valley is slowly conceding the fact that Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Aside from one divisive and vocal supporter, its leaders threw their support behind Hillary Clinton, who ran a tech-friendly platform.

For eight years, the Valley enjoyed the privilege of Barack Obama’s fascination with their industry—the president enthusiastically hosted science fairs and demo days at the White House, toured innovation factories and tested technology on the cutting edge of AI development, and mused on topics like Universal Basic Income with journalists—which translated into support for policies favored by the industry (around Net Neutrality, patent reform, and immigration, for example).

How Trump will engage with Silicon Valley and approach technological innovation more broadly are wild cards. His comments around immigration and putting up a wall along the US border are troubling to tech leaders, who heavily rely on drawing engineering talent from abroad. Many startup founders have remained silent on what a Trump presidency means for their companies, but some executives took the opportunity to rally their teams. The morning after the election, Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself watching the results with his daughter, and shared that there’s “work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children.” Apple CEO Tim Cook emailed employees and reminded them that “Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.”

Facebook and Apple are positioned to weather any sort of storm, of course. Many young founders see the election as a test of their own leadership skills.

A few of them shared with Quartz memos that they sent to their teams after election night and weighed in on what a Trump presidency could mean for the industry.

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Miki Agrawal, a founder of several ventures including THINX, a startup that developed high-tech underwear for women, emailed her 35-person, all-millennial staff, on Wednesday (Nov. 9):


Yesterday’s outcome was a wake-up call.

As individuals and as a team, we must put our heads together to strive to do even more to raise consciousness, educate people and most importantly, spread love. The angrier we are, the more the wrong people win. Let us come together at 12:30pm today and please, each of you, bring thoughtful answers to the following questions:

1) How do I plan on showing up personally in the next year to come?

2) How can we as a company be agents for positive change during these upcoming tougher times for our greater communities?

3) What can we do differently the remainder of this year (adjust our strategy) with the holidays coming to inspire the people who love our brand and us in a positive way?

I am so proud of the people behind this company who care so deeply about issues that bring about equality, so may we now roll up our sleeves even more to create the change we authentically want to see ourselves.

We got this ok? We have 3 babies entering the world, we need to plant healthy roots for them!


Agrawal’s twin sister Radha Agrawal is a producer for Daybreaker, a community that throws early-morning dance parties popular among startup founders in New York City and San Francisco. On Wednesday morning Daybreaker threw parties that attracted hundreds of entrepreneurs (many of whom campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton) in both cities, followed by a discussion session about how to mobilize their teams after the election.

At DoorDash, a food delivery startup headquartered in San Francisco, general counsel Keith Yandell sent a note acknowledging the “surprise, uncertainty, and confusion” expressed by employees in the wake of the election. ”I promise to you that DoorDash remains committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse culture that is accepting of everyone,” he wrote. “We can move forward by executing and living out the values upon which the company was founded: that we stand for anyone that is trying to make it.”

Marco Zappacosta, CEO of jobs and home services listing site Thumbtack, wrote in a note to employees that Thumbtack would “continue to be committed to creating an inclusive company where all people are empowered to reach their potential.” But, he continued, “we can all make an impact outside our walls”:

Political scientists will study this election for a long time to come, but there is no doubt that yesterday’s outcome highlighted that there are many people across the political spectrum who feel like the hopes and dreams they hold most dear are slipping out of reach. Now, we’re not going to solve that problem, but we can do our part to help.

The Thumbtack we’re building should let anyone with the talent, time, and hustle move closer to fulfilling their dreams and creating a better life for themselves. While we’re proud to say that we’ve already enabled tens of thousands of small business owners from all walks of life to do this, we know there’s still plenty of room to grow. To be clear, getting to where we want to be as a platform doesn’t mean hitting some arbitrary revenue or GMV number. It means truly becoming a pathway to a middle class career that everyone can access.

Other entrepreneurs were similarly optimistic. Startup founders engage with high uncertainty every day; it’s the nature of their jobs. Many are now choosing to see the reality of Trump presidency as a new opportunity. Meanwhile, venture capitalists are saying that for the time being, it’s business as usual.

“From chaos comes opportunity,” said Jake Bronstein, who founded Flint and Tinder, a fashion tech startup acquired by Huckberry in February. Like most of his peers, Bronstein voted for Clinton. “From uncertainty comes even more opportunity.”

Alex Abelin, a former Google public affairs manager who co-founded Liquid Talent, a platform for gig economy workers (which has paused operations), was also a strong Clinton supporter but is trying to keep an open mind about Trump. “In some weird analogy, Trump is sort of like a startup founder,” Abelin said. “He was never an elected official. He has no real business being CEO of our country. But he has a founder’s mentality, which is that by passion, by vision—though I don’t see his vision—he has this belief that you can start something from nothing.”