CEOs in Troubled Waters (with Myriam Joire from the Mobile Tech Podcast)
On this week’s episode of the How To CEO podcast, I spoke again with Myriam Joire (TNKGRL) of the Mobile Tech Podcast. You won’t want to miss her fiery take on CEOs and corporate social responsibility. We started the episode with a discussion about the WeWork debacle.
The Problem with WeWork
No discussion about “CEOS in troubled waters” would be complete without talking about WeWork. Myriam told me she doesn’t consider WeWork to be a tech company. It was valuated as a tech company, but it’s actually a real estate company. Similarly, Airbnb isn’t really a tech company. Uber and Lyft aren’t tech companies either. (More accurately, they’re logistics companies, in Myriam’s view.)
Although these companies certainly use technology, all companies use technology today. And for many years, WeWork’s false “tech” status made it look bigger and better than it was.
“Ultimately,” Myriam told me, “it’s a scam. It’s unfortunate because it gives us a bad rep in tech right now when this is really not a tech company.”
Myriam’s primary takeaway regarding the WeWork problem is that we in Silicon Valley shouldn’t invest in companies that aren’t tech companies. When non-tech companies go sour, it’s detrimental to everyone in Silicon Valley.
Before the WeWork problem happened, the crowdfunding problem occurred. As Myriam pointed out, crowdfunding is essential. Not everyone can raise VC money. But today, no one takes crowdfunding seriously.
“When crowdfunding was a big thing, a few bad eggs made it fall apart,” Myriam said. “They scammed people and abused the system, and people are unable to crowdfund anymore.”
Myriam Points to Greed in Silicon Valley
Myriam pointed out a more significant problem we have in Silicon Valley. “It’s something we see with Facebook and Twitter around privacy and free speech. We are driven by greed too much, and I think that needs to change,” she said. “I think the culture in Silicon Valley has gotten poisoned over the last 20 years.”
Myriam recalls that companies in the valley (rightfully) started out intending to be profitable, which is a good thing. But she told me that technology has a significant impact on people, and as CEOs in tech, we have to be mindful of how we affect people’s lives – negatively or positively.
We have to remember that, on the one hand, we’re certainly here to make money and be profitable. But at the same time, we also need to be mindful and careful about society and how we affect it.
Disruption is Good, But We Need Checks and Balances
“Disruption is good,” Myriam said. “Larger companies tend to rest on their laurels…, and new, smaller, more agile players that come in and push the buttons and change things are good…
But once you start realizing that the buttons you’re pushing are affecting people in a bad way, you need to stop and think about how you’re going to change things to alleviate that problem. And that’s not what we’re doing. We don’t have those checks and balances in place…”
Early Dot Com Days Vs. Today
To illustrate her point, Myriam contrasted what things were like in the early dot com days verses right now. When she came to Silicon Valley in those days, the valley was mostly run by engineers (which isn’t necessarily a good thing because the business side of it wasn’t always sound. This was made loud and clear when the bubble burst.)
“But at the same time,” Myriam told me, “a lot of the positive thought on how we could change the world for the better came from the idealism of engineering. And it was celebrated, and I saw my artistic communities I was involved in thrive because of the money that was made in tech.
People were donating money to curating artists and helping them out, and curating the community and helping out the community with the profits they were making.
We don’t see that as much. Everyone’s just hoarding their money now.”
Could We Not Buy from the Companies That Hoard Money?
Myriam pointed out that it seems strange, for example, that with Apple’s market cap, they’re not doing more philanthropic work.
In our discussion, I suggested to Myriam that perhaps that the right way to respond to companies who aren’t doing enough for their communities is to not buy from them. She responded that it’s hard to simply “not buy” from companies who aren’t being socially responsible.
For example, while Myriam loves Google and what they do, it would be extremely hard for a company or individual to wean away from companies like Google, Facebook, ISPs, etc.
Myriam views these companies as utilities at this point because we almost depend on them as much as we depend on electricity, water, phone bills, and other traditional utilities. We can’t run businesses properly without such companies.
What Startups Should Be Doing Now
When these companies get this big, argues Myriam, and they start affecting the lives of millions of people, they have a responsibility to help society.
Companies should start thinking early on about their role in the world. If companies in the early stages of their creation can start thinking about the good they can accomplish – before huge money and investors are involved – they’ll be able to make long-term differences for humanity. Good should be woven into the company culture right from the beginning.
Myriam had much more to say on this heated topic, so be sure to hear the entire episode.
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