Doing the Right Things

‘When he came, in the game, he made his own lane
Now all I need is y'all to pronounce my name’
-- Mr. West

I’m a white guy so I’m not allowed to talk about race.

At least that’s what they tell me.

Don’t talk about it because it’s a zero-sum game -- and you’ll lose. White guys get all the breaks, and as such we can’t contribute to the discourse.

But I believe we’re on the precipice of a post-race world, and many of us took the leap long ago. We have mixed-race families, diverse startups and we -- gasp! -- select our music based on how it sounds, not the ethnicity of the performer.

We don’t have hatred in our hearts for people, except maybe for inefficient people. Oh yeah, and for the people who build bad products -- we have a lot of hate for them!

Sadly, we live in a world where race still is an issue because some folks haven’t made the leap. Those folks are old and dying in many, perhaps most, cases.

Racism exists. Racists exists.

No argument there. But boy do these people look stupider and stupider. I mean, the “God Hates Fags” church is so insanely stupid that they’ve become a staple in comedy. We don’t see them as dangerous as much as dopey. Like, maybe they’re mentally challenged people. They’re just sad.

However, the tech and tech media world are meritocracies. To fall back to race as the reason why people don’t break out in our wonderful oasis of openness is to do a massive injustice to what we’ve fought so hard to create.

It flies in the face of our core beliefs: 1. anyone can do it, 2. innovation can come from anywhere and 3. product rules.

And anyone can do it.

And “anyone” keeps doing it.

This idea that Silicon Valley is in some way a closed, secret society is laughable. Ninety percent of the people in Silicon Valley were not born there -- they moved there. The industry is driven by investment and investment is driven by metrics, not where you went to school.

In fact, people are leaving their Harvard MBAs off their resumes because they don’t want to seem outside of the classic archetype: outsiders who dropped out and are uncontrollable rebels.  

Now, there’s some truth to me not being able to speak about race. I haven’t experienced racism myself, except when standing next to my wife (who is Asian). I had no idea people were as racist toward Asians as they are -- but they are. That makes me sad for my mixed-race daughter, who looks 97% Korean and 3% Irish -- let alone Greek or Swedish (sorry, Dad).

But she’s going to live in the post-race world we’re shifting to. Her kids will probably share six or seven heritages -- enough so that no one will matter. And that’s awesome.

Now, most of the folks on this email list were born in the 1st world (but not all -- and I do know that because you always reply). About 95%+ of the folks on this email list were blessed with a 1st-world education. We all started on 2nd or 3rd base compared to folks in rural India, China or the tribal areas of the Middle East.

Do any of us in the 1st world get to talk about inequality? If I can’t talk about race because I’m white, it would follow that you don’t get to talk about inequality because you were born in the top 20% of people on the planet.

Now that we’ve established that we can all contribute to the dialogue, let’s move on.

Besides, I like to talk about hard subjects, so let’s really talk about it.

This all started because of a well-reasoned and written blog post lamenting a race issue in the tech blogging community.

Jamellle, who I don’t think I’ve ever met or read before, meditates on race and the “white male” problem at blogs like the Verge and The Next Web.

His position counters everything I’ve experienced in my career -- and I’m one of Engadget’s parents (the other one is Latino -- but that doesn’t matter, right?).

Anyone can break into tech blogging. Anyone.

First, I broke into journalism by starting a photocopied zine, which I wrote on nights and weekends while working during the day. It took me years of hustling in my spare time to do it and my timing was perfect -- I started a magazine about the internet in 1995.

Two of my most successful writers are now high-profile bloggers: Xeni Jardin and Rafat Ali. The first a woman, the second with much darker skin than mine (brown, but not black for those obsessed with the exact tone -- really?). Both are exceptional talents who started their careers with -- not for -- me. I got lucky enough to recruit two folks smarter than me, the theme of my career I now realize (hire up!).

We kicked ass together and it had nothing to do with our gender or race. We just all busted our asses and kicked a lot of ass. Xeni went on to do BoingBoing and Rafat did PaidContent and now Skift (which I’m investing in).

Second, I started a blog network in 2003. Again, I got lucky with my timing.

We hired 500 bloggers and not *once* did we look at their gender, race, sexual orientation or color. We had no budget so we looked for folks who could write with passion and for a pittance: $2 a blog post. Everyone was a freelancer working from home -- and we didn’t know where their homes were until we sent them a check.

Folks thought we were idiots for paying for blog posts at the time, since no one was getting paid. The rate quickly went from $2 a post to $15 and we wound up selling that company for a lot of money in under two years.

If you want to break into writing, you don’t need rich parents to get you a free internship at WIRED. That’s a 1989 thing -- ’94 max.

I know because when I came into the game I used to be very resentful of those rich kids. They lived in Manhattan and went on long vacations to Europe while I took the R train in and out of the
city in August. It was hot as hell, and I spent my time writing in journals in between dragging copies of my ‘zine about the internet to startup companies like DoubleClick and Razorfish. My luggage cart was always breaking and I was a bit of laughing stock to some I’m sure: “What CEO delivers his own magazines?” they must have thought. Answer? The one who is going to rank you 97 in the Silicon Alley 100, and who you’re going to be to take to a Knicks game and Nobu in another six months. Boom.

Those internships are long over. If you want to blog for Gawker or Engadget or TechCrunch the best way to do it is:

a) post highly intelligent comments -- not about yourself -- on those blogs 2-5x a day for three years.
b) start your own blog and write one blog post a day about one subject  for three years -- not about yourself, about the topic. Don’t ever talk about yourself.
c) go to any party, meetup or SIG you can find

You do those three things you will break in. Two hours a day for three years.

Anyone who does that is going to not only get a job but might actually build a sustainable business or have a bidding war over them.

You can sit there and come up with all the people stopping you, or you can decide to be unstoppable.

You can sit there and look backwards at the racist old-world, or you can look forward and create the new post-race world.

The fact is that the tech industry and tech media should be extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished. We’re the most open meritocracy I’ve ever seen in industry.

We accept anyone based on their performance.

In fact, the venture capitalists and angel investors I know would blow off their mother’s 70th birthday party in order to close a deal with a founder of a startup with a hockey-stick growth curve -- regardless of their age, gender, color or sexual preference..

All you need to make it in this world is hustle. You need to put in the 10,000 hours.

Don’t let anyone tell you that some secret cabal of rich, old white guys on some secret golf course is trying to stop you.

I mean, there are secret packs of rich, white guys on golf courses making fun of and trying to hold disadvantaged people back. They’re just not in the tech industry, and they’re less and less relevant today--and they can’t stop you!

Nothing can stop you if you put in your 10,000 hours building your craft.

It’s all about skills.

Skills = power.

On that measure, I think JB’s piece is a success. I didn’t know your race, just your excellent writing ability, when I got engaged. Now that I know you’re black you know what difference it makes?


You’re followed and subscribed to based on your skills.

best @jason

PS - Even if the world isn’t, the LAUNCH Festival is a pure meritocracy! If you know of any stealth or non-stealth companies trying to make it in the world, let me know. If they are minorities, women or from outside the United States even better -- as we run a diverse show by design! In fact, a female founder won best 2.0 last year.

Other updates:

1. The LAUNCH Festival has so many amazing partners and supporters that we’re able to give scholarships to builders and broke founders -- of any race, gender, etc.

2. The greatest hackathon ever held, The LAUNCH Hackathon, has 100+ teams already formed. That’s 300 developers/designers of 400 signed up. There is a $50k angel investment prize from myself and @dharmesh. I’m looking for another VC or angel to put up $25k-$50k and get the prize money to $100k. That would be insane, huh? Talk about an open opportunity!!!

3. We should do a panel on race and Silicon Valley... who should be on it?

4. Great news episode of This Week in Startups with Mightybell’s Gina Bianchini & Little Bird’s Marshall Kirkpatrick, as well as my interview with David Cohen of TechStars.

5. Follow me if so inclined: @jason and YouTube.

6. Thanks to the amazing new partners of the event!
(There’s still time to reach the 5,000 developers/designers/entrepreneurs/startups that are going to be there. Email

* AWS (
 * Digital Detox (
 * Docstoc (
 * ESRI (
 * FusionPR (
 * Google Developers (
 * LewisPR (
 * Ludlow Ventures (
 * MaRS (
 * Media Temple (
 * Menlo Ventures (
 * Micro Ventures (
 * PivotDesk (
 * Samsung (
 * Silicon Valley Bank (
 * Venture51 (