The Venture Capitalist Cat Fight That You Never Knew You Were Missing

Scott Lucas | June 9, 2014 | Story Politics

Not since the Godzilla movie have we seen such a titanic struggle over the fate of San Francisco.

Okay, maybe that's a little exaggerated, but venture capitalists Ron Conway and Chamath Palihapitiya did get into an epic argument at a Sausalito conference today over the role of tech companies in the future of San Francisco. Finger pointing. Shouting. Accusations. It reminded us of having dinner with our family.

What it came down to, according to the video, is whether tech firms like Salesforce and Google were giving enough money away—or if they should be taxed at higher rates to fund the city's housing and education needs.

When asked what he would do if he were Mayor Ed Lee, Palihapitiya, the former head of AOL instant messenger and a one-time Facebook employee, said he would resign. That set off Conway, who had been, according to TechCrunch, waving his hand in the air for ten minutes trying to get the floor.

At that point, the following exchange took place (we've lightly edited the transcript for clarity):

Palihapitiya: "You can take very simple economic measures to fund all that and more. That's all."

Conway: "You said you recommend companies give one percent of their equity to the city. Then you ridicule Marc Benioff for One One One."

Palihapitiya: "There's all these people who are really frustrated. You see it with the riots."

Conway: "They're working to make it a better city—and so is Ed Lee. And it is going to get better, not worse."

Palihapitiya: "Ron, effort is fine. [But] there's a ton of people feel like they're getting pushed out of subsidized housing."

Conway: "Ed Lee has a mandate to build 30,000 new units. Is that not enough? Maybe you can donate some?"

Palihapitiya: "You have to see the follow-through. You have to provide the economic framework. For all these companies that want to be [in San Francisco], you could provide another kind of tax to fund subsidized housing. The company can choose not to be here. Imagine how many more units they could build? 300,000? A million? Imagine how much free education they could give. Free PCs in every school. Subsidized ways to learn to code. This is about making what they are doing an order of magnitude more impactful."

Conway: "You ridicule Google for not being generous enough. Google is participating in San Francisco. You don't know what you are talking about."

It's hard to draw conclusions from the short video that we've seen, but it seems like the fault line being drawn here is whether large firms should give back to their communities through charitable donations—like Ron Conway's One One One plan—or whether they should be taxed, which is what Palihapitiya seems to be suggesting. Certainly it's not an either/or question, but setting the appropriate amounts for each becomes—as you can see from this heated exchange—rather difficult.

It's a fascinating set of questions, but one thing is clear—we'd hate to have Ron Conway yell at us. That dude is loud.

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