Former Facebook executive and current venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya is not afraid of the future—and he says the public shouldn’t be fearful as well.
“Don’t bet against the human spirit – that’s been a losing trade since the beginning of humanity,” said Chamath, while speaking at the Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg speaker series.
Chamath is the founder and CEO of Social Capital, an upstart venture capital firm he launched in 2011 after leaving Facebook, where he oversaw its successful growth strategy. With $1.2 billion under management, Social Capital is one of the fastest-growing venture-capital outfits in Silicon Valley, giving the outspoken investor a megaphone to amplify his views, which at times run counter to current Silicon Valley thinking.
His organization’s name reflects Chamath’s strategy to leverage technology to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, not just make money, he said. The commonality among Social Capital’s diverse investments – and for that matter, among companies like Twitter, Uber and Facebook – is their challenge to conventional business models. But he believes the disruptions that many of these companies bring to industries and their workforces should not be feared.
“We should embrace that future – not run from it,” says Chamath, who is also part of the Golden State Warriors ownership group. “Change means questioning and upending traditional hierarchies and top-down company building in favor of bottom-up, organically growing businesses that offer more opportunities.”
Chamath likens such disruptions to the industrial revolution’s transformation of agriculture in the last century. At the time, equipment like the tractor shook up the industry and jobs were lost, but food yields increased dramatically.
In a similar way, he sees today’s technologies creating new industries and reshaping the labor pool, sometimes replacing many of the jobs in the workforce with different but better jobs if people embrace the change.
“The UPS driver who delivers packages may soon be sitting in his or her living room operating the drone that delivers packages,” he told interviewer and Bloomberg Radio co-host Pimm Fox. What’s more, he reckons that robots may handle a number of simple tasks, such as manicures, allowing more workers to reevaluate their skills and move in new directions.
Social Capital has invested in many business-focused startups that are trying to improve the management of technology, such as enterprise social network Yammer, company messaging app Slack Technologies and data-storage company Box.
Such investments have paid off for the firm, but the social purpose angle of its investment strategy is what makes it stand out. The firm has backed companies aiming to transform slower-moving industries such as healthcare, education and financial services.
Glooko, for instance, is a startup that helps people manage their diabetes through mobile and cloud applications as well as data analytics. Another company, Rama, is building a free Internet network in Sri Lanka, where Chamath was born. He immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 6, and received an electrical engineering degree from the University of Waterloo.
Asked about how he evaluates progress of the firm’s investments, Chamath describes Social Capital’s long-term perspective.
“We don’t need answers tomorrow or in a year,” he explains, noting that the firm has set 2045 as the date for reaching certain ambitious goals. “By this date we want to have an impact on a quarter of the world’s population, create 10 million new jobs, and be economically viable by earning one trillion dollars.”
One of the most diverse venture-capital firms in the Valley, Social Capital takes pride in its gender and ethnic makeup. For Chamath, the “reallocation and redistribution of power” he foresees should create a more democratic system that unlocks human potential and creates a better world for all.”
“The beautiful part about capitalism and entrepreneurship and American ingenuity is that they help things come into being,” he says.
You can view the entire interview here.