How should entrepreneurs react to President Trump’s controversial policies?
“The right response is neither ‘keep your head down’ nor ‘fight the power,’” according to a memo from investor Bradley Tusk. “This is a choice between what may be right for the business (in any given situation, odds are, it’s staying out of politics) and what’s right for you as a person. If this were the Weimar Republic in the 1930s, you would hope you’d have spoken up regardless of the personal consequences for you or your business.”
Tusk’s memo, “How do you deal with Trump?” was sent yesterday to the CEOs of Uber, FanDuel, and 19 other companies within Tusk Ventures’ portfolio. The VC firm invests in startups seeking to conquer highly regulated markets and provides them with expertise in navigating the roil of politics. Tusk served as the campaign manager for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election and has been called the “political genius” behind Uber’s and FanDuel’s success.
Venture capital firms often send memos to their entrepreneurs as they face political, social or economic upheavals. Last year, for instance, multiple firms wrote letters urging their startups to cut costs and hoard cash as the funding environment entered a deep freeze.
Tusk’s letter provides a framework for CEOs to navigate a raft of competing interests. He outlines several questions to help them, under the circumstances, do the right thing.
- How political is the company now and how political do you want it to be?
- How much does the issue at hand relate to the core business?
- How much personal risk are you willing to take? What’s the downside?
- Does your action have to be directly political?
Last week, Bessemer Venture Partners sent a similar memo to its portfolio companies. Bessemer, however, took a firm stand on the travel ban controversy. “We at Bessemer Venture Partners are deeply concerned by how President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration will impact high-tech and life-sciences companies and the well-being of employees and their families.” The firm also joined its entrepreneurs “in condemning this policy decision.”
These VC memos represent a bottom-up approach to confronting controversial issues posed by the Trump Administration’s policies. Tusk writes, “There are plenty of ways to protest without officially protesting” even as the Apples and Googles of the world grab headlines. For instance, nearly 100 large tech companies signed an amicus brief seeking to halt the President’s travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And last week, Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber (one of Tusk’s portfolio companies), publicly quit Trump’s Advisory Council after a barrage of criticism from employees and customers. Meanwhile, employees at many companies continue to participate in protests across the country.
Tusk’s memo is sanguine and thoughtful. He concludes: “While you shouldn’t ever hesitate to exercise your constitutional rights as a citizen, if you’re going to speak out on a political issue on behalf of the company itself, there better be a very compelling reason that can rationally address and answer all of the questions above. In other words, take your time, keep your head and get it right.”