Bill Davidow has a great essay over at The Atlantic that should be required reading for every would-be entrepreneur and venture capitalist on the planet -- really, for anyone in the tech game.
Davidow has quite the resume. He started with GE, moved to Hewlett-Packard in 1965, and then to Intel. He's a consultant, executive, book author, and venture capitalist with a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford. He was making multi-million-dollar deals when Mark Zuckerberg was still making poopy in his Pampers.
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Yes, he's a graybeard, schooled at the feet of giants, who's seen quite a bit of Silicon Valley history in his day. And what he sees today appalls him. In the essay titled "What Happened to Silicon Values?" Davidow takes today's tech giants to the woodshed for treating their customers like dirt:
Over the past five decades... I've become increasingly concerned about one thing that is seldom discussed: the valley is no longer as concerned about serving the customer, and even sees great opportunity in exploitation. We are beginning to act like the bankers who sold subprime mortgages to naïve consumers.
Ouch -- yet not entirely undeserved. Davidow scolds nearly all of the big boys -- Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Zynga -- for treating us like so much natural gas buried in the shale just waiting to get fracked.
Davidow blames greed, of course, as well as a two-tiered stock ownership system that allows the founders (and their VC benefactors) far too much control over the company. He also notes a sea change in how Silicon Valley operates. Back in his early days, tech companies sold mostly to industrial firms that spent millions of dollars with each vendor and had an equivalent amount of influence.
Today many Valley firms market to individuals, who have much less sway. Collectively, high-tech companies need us; individually, not so much.