Venture capital is a very small and incredibly young industry, but it is one with outsized power, particularly when it comes to the contemporary digital economy. For the entire duration of venture capital’s existence, this power has been in the hands of mostly white, highly educated and mostly wealthy men. When I started my research with venture capital investors in late 2017 for my postdoctoral research project at the Max Planck Cambridge Centre, I wasn’t aware of this. I was just happy that people were willing to speak with me, the anthropologist, who asked questions about ethics and decision making.


The investment world was recently shaken by the ‘Deliveroo disaster’ but why is still nobody talking about the ‘ethics of VCs’ and so much focus is on the tech companies funded and controlled by them?

I was interviewed yesterday by a reporter from Citywire in London; she reached out because she is writing a piece on the ripple-down (or up) effects of the total flop which the long-awaited Deliveroo IPO in London had quickly turned into. For background, in late March, a number of institutional investors refused to back the delivery-gig-company in its initial public offering amid concerns around workers’…


While nine months ago (see my earlier piece), many VC funds wouldn’t even have known what ESG might mean for them, there has been a wave of initiatives going through the industry recently. In general, ESG stands for environment-social-governance and comprises a set of principles that touches on issues from the well-known DEI and board structures to labor relations, supply chain, data ethics, environmental impact and legal requirements. Unlike impact investing, which is squarely focused on the (external) effects of a business, ESG concerns mostly internal practices and processes that could support both a fund and its portfolio companies to…


Source: Alex Taylor

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is often slow — and even more so this year in London where Tier-4 restrictions keep us inside. So for me, it is the right moment to write next term’s lectures. Within a series on the anthropolgy of contemporary capitalism, I will lecture on both data and ‘new finance’. While the latter is my actual area of research and (growing) expertise (see my venture capital primer here), data is a more marginal topic both for me and anthropology more generally.

I reached out to the Twitter-verse to see what people are reading and…


It’s rainy here in London and I just came home from afternoon tea with an old friend of mine. He has recently moved from banking into the tech world where he helps startups to do fundraising. His business model is simple but so far rather unusual for the startup world: taking a cut from a capital raise. He has taken a practice that is the absolute norm in finance — the position would be called a ‘private capital advisor’ — and implanted it into a new sector. …


It’s Covid-lockdown-time and (quite a few) people have a little bit more time to read and think about things. I finally came around to work further on this list which is essentially the reading list for my book on the ethics of venture capital so far (see my other Medium posts for more on that topic). It will be updated on an ongoing basis and I very much value suggestions (find me on Twitter).

I am going through different genres here (that’s the different subheadings): from history and (high quality) journalism to VCs’ own writing, Techlash literature, Memoirs and ultimately…


In November, I laid out why I believe that the incentive structures for investors (and the startups they invest in) to care more about their impact, about ESG guidelines — in short: about being good or ethical — are changing. Increased pressure from the public and consumers, from LPs and from regulator is pushing investors into that direction. Bad press, scandals, the so-called techlash — all of this seems to be contributing to an environment were first of all being bad is costly (see the Uber debacle) and being good starts to make financial sense as consumer appetite shifts. What…


Larry Fink, BlackRock CEO; Source: NYT.

Many VCs (and tech journalists) following their ‘content strategy’ have recently blasted out predictions for what is going to happen to the tech world in 2020. USV’s Fred Wilson and Albert Wenger engage the big topics (decentralization, space race, climate change, democracy, learning); AZ16 pushed out a whole collection on its own (Frank Chen on life in 2030, one list just on the future of Fintech, a conversation on the future of the internet, Julie Yoo on healthcare); the FT tech team focused their predictions on China, the smartphone and AI; GP Bullhound’s are really boring (think streaming wars, new…


We have seen an increasing amount of scandals in the tech world over the last few years. From Uber to Theranos to Facebook and Hampton Creek, many VC-backed start-up companies coming out of Silicon Valley have recently received bad press.

The issues that some of these tech companies were accused of range from blatant fraud (Theranos, uBeam, Mozido), sexual harassment (Uber, Betterworks), privacy breaches (Facebook) to product buybacks (Hampton Creek) and complaints regarding “toxic” company culture (e.g. sexism at Zenefits and Uber).

Mostly, it was the founders — Mark Zuckerberg, Elizabeth Holmes, Travis Kalanick — that were blamed. In the…


Imagine an environment that is built around a massive multi-billion-dollar market; there can only be one winner (or perhaps two but not many) and scale (and the network effects that come with it) is a dead-certain part of the winning strategy. Think social networks, food delivery, ride sharing, now also micro-mobility; think Facebook/LinkedIn, Deliveroo/Doordash, Uber/Lyft. The strategy that all these winners, which many of us use on a day to day basis now, applied was described as blitzscaling in a 2018 book by entrepreneur-turned-Greylock-VC Reid Hoffman.Blitzscaling

Dr Johannes Lenhard

Writing on the ethics of venture capital @Cambridge_Uni; visiting Stanford and NYU; former: PhD on homelessness at Cambridge, MSc at LSE, BA at ZU

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