California needs saving, and tech's wealthiest need to be part of the solution, says the VC who just walked away from his firm to focus on climate-related startups
Venture capitalist Josh Felser.
- Josh Felser, an early investor in Airtable and Patreon, left the venture capital firm he founded last month to focus on sourcing solutions for California’s woes.
- In an interview with Business Insider, he urged people who have benefitted from the state’s lucrative technology industry to get involved, rather than flee when the going gets tough.
- For his part, Felser plans to start a new investment vehicle that’s focused on climate-related startups.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Josh Felser is tired of hearing San Francisco is dead. And he believes that those who have become wealthy from Silicon Valley’s tech industry should not be among the people fleeing the state’s climate issues, high cost of living, or pandemic, but should become part of the solution.
“I have no issue with people physically departing. Do whatever you need to do,” the longtime tech investor said on the phone, ironically, from his mother’s house in Florida during a visit to her.
But he urges those who have profited off the tech industry to stay involved in the state’s affairs, wherever they land.
The people who had their success in Silicon Valley, “which created this environment that we took advantage of,” should not feel good about saying, “Oh, now it’s tough, I’m just going to reject it, or eject from it,” Felser said.
He tells us he’s leading by example, too. Last month, the Freestyle Capital partner made waves when he left the venture capital firm he founded to focus on projects that address the worst problems facing his adopted home state of California, from wildfires and food insecurity to the novel coronavirus.
“There’s the ‘San Francisco is dead, I don’t care, I’m out.’ And there’s, ‘San Francisco is dying, let’s figure out how to resurrect it,'” he said.
Felser, whose bets include Airtable and Patreon, has ambitions of starting a new vehicle that will raise outside funds to invest in climate-related companies. He also helped start a task force with a mission to help the California government find technology solutions in the private sector, which was first reported on by Protocol’s Biz Carson.
Already it paired food banks and pantries with a San Francisco startup called Silo, which makes software that helps farmers and ranchers find buyers for their products. The task force also surfaced a company, OptumInsight, to develop a new system for reporting and tracking COVID-19 cases, which will augment the state’s antiquated system.
The state is now seeking proposals on how to transport samples from coronavirus-testing centers to laboratories for analysis, with the goal of speeding up results reporting and improving testing access in hard-to-reach areas.
Felser, who moved to the Bay Area in the late ’90s to build his startup, Spinner, an early internet music service, admits the state is in trouble. With its cocktail of income inequality, a housing shortage, and a worsening climate crisis, many have fled the Golden State, and Felser can’t blame them.
“I could easily be doing what I’m doing from New York, if that’s where I wanted to be. But where am I devoting my energy? I’m devoting my energy to trying to be part of the solution,” he said.
Felser is still writing checks to startups as an angel investor and has backed two climate-related startups and two social media companies in recent months. Those deals are not yet public, he said.
With his interest in climate-tech, it seems only a matter of time before the investor nudges one of his portfolio companies to compete for a state contract, which would pose a conflict of interest. Felser said of his role in the task force, “We’re not decision-makers, we’re recommend-ers.”
He also said his partner in the task force, Bill Trenchard from First Round, would be responsible for guiding his profile company through the process.
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