SPEAKING OUT

Fred Wilson has a few choice four-letter words for Trump but says it won’t all be bad for tech

Obsession
"America First"
Obsession
"America First"

Unlike many of boldfaced names in the technology sector, investor Fred Wilson had been quiet for months on the topic of Donald Trump.

No longer. The US president’s executive order on immigration convinced Wilson, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, to go on the attack (and join the ACLU, to which he is giving $20,000 per month in matching donations throughout 2017).

And after he spoke out against Trump at the NewCo Shift Forum, a conference on business, technology, and policy where event rules specified conversations were not attributable, Wilson told Quartz he was willing to put his comments back on the record.

Wilson isn’t confusing the deteriorating state of American political discourse with business opportunity. The two, in fact, may be inversely related in some respects. On Nov. 9, the day after Trump was elected, Wilson advised entrepreneurs to “be cautious and maybe even a bit conservative while all of this shakes out but don’t panic and don’t confuse uncertain times with a lack of opportunity.” On Feb. 7 at NewCo’s Shift Forum, he was ready to start naming losers (American ideals, orderly government) and possible winners (encryption, startups, chaos). Here are other highlights from his remarks:

On whether Trump is good for startups and technology

“I think this administration will be more aggressive in supporting tech for things like blockchain because they don’t give a fuck….I think it will more about: anarchy is good, and regulation is bad. And honestly, that’s good for tech.”

“I think there are people inside the inner circle of the White House who are anarchists … who [are] willing to blow all this stuff up.” (Presumably Wilson is referencing White House senior advisor Steve Bannon, who has a rather dark view of establishment forces.)

“I think if they could literally get rid of the Department of Education they would. If they could get rid of the Department of Energy, they would. And what I meant by [the anarchists remark] is just less rules, more chaos.”

“I think that’s good for innovation actually…. I’m not for anarchy. I’m willing to pay the tax that good regulatory oversight creates on our industry. But really, I think if done right now, it [regulation rollback] would be good for tech.”

On whether CEOs should advise Trump

“For the CEOs that have chosen to get involved with Trump in an advisory way: When you lie down with the dog, you’re going to come up with fleas.”

Wilson did not criticize Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for joining Trump’s Strategic and Policy CEO advisory group alongside SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. But he warned that there was no way to avoid the negative association with Trump.

“I think [Travis] made the right decision, but in the end he felt [the repercussions] first. And I think Elon will feel it. Anyone who gets close to those fuckers are going to feel it.”

On Silicon Valley resistance to Trump

“I think there is lots of opposition in tech sector to most of the out-there issues that the Trump administration has put forward. But I also think that there is the possibility of much less regulation in areas that really matter for tech.” Regulations on the financial system and startup funding are among the areas he cited.

“The resistance movement is headquartered in the Bay Area. …The most progressive parts of America are here in California and the Bay Area and I think that’s where we will see the resistance movement flourish most.”

“I think that people who make up the tech sector are progressive. They are people who think about the future, not the past”

On the future of surveillance and encryption

“I think we’ll see people stop trusting big companies. Citizens will take encryption into their own hands. The next big consumer tech company is a company that makes encryption available to citizens in a way they can understand it.”

“I don’t trust Facebook. It’s going to be Signal or something else. It’s not Facebook or Google. They’re too indebted to the government. They can’t really fight the government. You need someone who is an insurgent, who’s right there with the citizens.”

“Every [corporate] board I am on has moved their communication to Signal. We now have all our board meetings on Signal.”

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