Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

kevinroseprotest Tech VC Plays Nice with Anarchist Group

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google venture capitalist Kevin Rose.

The class warfare clashes between San Francisco’s tech-nauts and tech-nots continued this weekend with a protest outside the home of Google Ventures general partner Kevin Rose. But rather than escalate tensions, Rose, who also founded Digg, the news aggregator site, defused matters by establishing common ground with his detractors.

Descending on Rose’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, the anti-techies brought banners and flyers denouncing Rose as a “parasite” who “directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco.” Identifying themselves as fed-up service workers and members of anarchist group “The Counterforce,” they outlined an agenda far bigger than spoiling a venture capitalists’s Sunday afternoon. In what amounts to a ransom note, they demanded that Google donate $3 billion “to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California.”

Rose, to his credit, responded with restraint, taking to Twitter to say he agreed  “that we need to solve rising rents, keep the SF culture, and crack down on landlords booting folks out” and that all San Franciscans “definitely need to figure out a way to keep the diversity.” Now, about that $3 billion…

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Google’s Kevin Rose, who kept his cool and didn’t play into a possible PR trap.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Called out in public? Don’t lash back. Not only might your antagonist be trying to goad you into doing or saying something foolish, you also don’t stand to win sympathy and support with a churlish response. Consider the messenger as well as the message. The Counterforce’s anti-tech manifesto reads a little unripe and more provocative than proactive. Rose, who has made a horrendous public gaffe before, might have learned from it. He comes off here as eminently reasonable and eager to seek common ground with a fringe group he doesn’t need to antagonize.

SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

edlee SF Mayor Revises Facts to Fit Friends

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is trying to broker peace in his city between the haves and the have-mores – that is, between the middle class and the Next Notch Up. Many of the latter group hail from the tech industry, whose financial and political support helped Lee win office in 2011. Judging from recent published remarks, the mayor might need to recalibrate his socioeconomic bearings to keep his impartial referee’s cap.

Interviewed in Time on how tech wealth has fueled divisions and resentments among residents, Lee conceded that his city might have “missed some steps” in tending to its middle class – and then made a misstep of his own. “We might have a broader range of defining the middle class,” Lee told Time. “I’m talking maybe $80,000 to $150,000.”

That range, as it turns out, is wildly off. As local news outlets reported, census data list median salary in the city at $74,000 as recently as 2012. (It’s about $61,000 for California and $53,000 for the nation.) Upwardly revising the number also rebrands the middle class to embrace the tech block to whom Lee is beholden. Et voila! What middle-class exodus? What’s more, our six-figure friends need government help!

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, for floating a tone-deaf talking point seemingly crafted by a tech sector lobbyist.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Build a ring-fence around your credibility. This is especially true for would-be mediators. The middle ground is the hardest to defend and the slightest tip of the scales one way or the other compromises one’s impartiality and hence effectiveness at bridging gaps. Lee’s infraction of this rule is seemingly minor, but San Francisco is tightly bound, constrained geographically (by water) and politically (by tradition). Like the city’s endemic earthquakes, even small political ripples can do damage and escalate rapidly to major catastrophe. Keep your friends close, indeed – but your facts closer.

Yet Another Tech CEO’s Filter Error

gopman Yet Another Tech CEOs Filter Error

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Greg Gopman of AngelHack.

In San Francisco, the backlash against privileged, self-absorbed Titans of Tech is rising faster than city rents – themselves cresting to new heights on the buying power of civic-blinded techies. With a round-the-clock public platform but no internal filter, these kids keep saying the darnedest things. The latest Marie Antoinette moment comes from Greg Gopman of AngelHack, a start up for start ups, who’s apparently tired of stepping over – or is it trampling? – homeless people to get to work.

The rant on his Facebook page was astonishing. “Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue,” he wrote.  In other cities, he wistfully noted, the less fortunate “keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests… There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us.”

Gopman deleted the post and apologized the next day. AngelHack disavowed him a day later, saying he had officially left the firm in October –  they just hadn’t announced it yet – and channelling a more beneficent attitude. No surprise that the apologia drew far less press than the gaffe that prompted it.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to Greg Gopman, for embarrassing himself, his company and his entire industry in a city that is starting to profoundly resent it.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: In PR, no one is an island. The saying is especially inviolate for anyone whose celebrity derives from business prominence. Unleashed on social media’s open seas, your late-night brainstorm could produce a storm of quite another type. Interactions with the have-not class are inevitable for most city dwellers, but not everyone turns that into a 300-word screed. Develop a fiilter that asks: Does this need to be said, by me, right now? If in doubt, ask someone else.

Tech Founder’s Top 10 List Hits Bottom

pshih Tech Founders Top 10 List Hits Bottom

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for start-up founder Peter Shih.

In this week’s edition of “Rich Tech Start-up Founders Behaving Badly,” enter 1) Peter Shih 2) a micro-blogging site and 3) a really bad idea. Shih, who co-founded Celery, a well-funded payments start-up, decided to take to his Medium page with a Top 10 list of what he dislikes about San Francisco, where he moved from New York at the request of his backers. Among his pet peeves in the City by the Bay: the public transit system, the weather, homeless people, cyclists, and women who don’t measure up to his standards of pulchritude. (Shih eventually deleted the expletive-laden post, but it is viewable here.)

All in derisive fun, Shih claimed, but San Franciscans didn’t see it that way. They unleashed a Shih-storm of criticism at the startup “bro,” who managed to showcase in his listicle just about every abhorrent stereotype of the Silicon Valley parvenu – bratty, entitled, self-involved, and tone-deaf.

To Shih, the blowback hit below the money belt, with attacks aimed also at his start-up. “Hate all you want,” he wrote in his first attempt at damage control. “But please stop bringing my company into this.” His proper mea culpa came over the weekend. Contrite to a fault, it did little to quell the ire, reading as if the prevailing cooler head was someone other than Shih himself.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Peter Shih, for running his mouth like a high schooler on the playground, not an entrepreneur with a business he’d like to see succeed.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sarcasm rarely fits a business model. And when that business is your start-up, forget that you ever had an identity of your own. Shih embarrassingly lost sight of these two imperatives, as well as a third (at least): Have a good idea? Run it by someone. A brainstorm? Run it by three. And please, if you want to write something that shows you’re funny, do it on a napkin and put it in your pocket. Shih proved once again that 1) PR advisers and 2) grown-ups belong on the Top 10 list of “Things a Start-up Needs.”