Oct 7, 2023 - Economy

Y Combinator hires Yelp veteran to lead public policy

Photo illustration of Luther Lowe on a background featuring the Y Combinator logo and various square shapes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Best known for his relentless public criticism of Google as a monopoly, longtime Yelp public policy chief Luther Lowe has a new gig: heading up policy efforts for Y Combinator.

Why it matters: Startup-land has historically shied away from politics, but the famed Silicon Valley accelerator is now embracing it head on.

  • Y Combinator's leaders have occasionally taken policy stances, such as against the Stop Online Piracy Act, but the more proactive approach of president Garry Tan stands out.
  • Lowe met Tan through former journalist Kim-Mai Cutler, currently a partner at Initialized Capital, which Tan co-founded in 2012. From there, he connected to the YC orbit, eventually spending time with Tan last November during a trip to the Hill, and subsequently staying in touch.

The big picture: Lowe says his work in Washington will be on behalf of startups and Y Combinator itself.

  • "It's about making sure there are minimal headwinds to allowing founders to build things people want," he adds, quoting his new employer's famous slogan.

Between the lines: "You really have for the first time a role that's representing the authentic voice of the startups," he says. Lowe added that some Washington groups that bill themselves as such are really just astroturfing (though he declined to name them).

Zooming in: He didn't want to get into the exact details of the policy issues he'll focus on — in large part because he's yet to complete a listening tour of YC's community of founders — but they'll likely fall into three general buckets:

  • Access to talent: immigration, banning noncompetes, and similar issues.
  • Access to markets: antitrust, other regulatory barriers.
  • Artificial intelligence: no surprise here, given that more than half of the companies in YC's most recent cohort describe themselves as working on AI or related tech.

The intrigue: Lowe's new job may require a more delicate and nuanced approach to antitrust than it did at his prior employer, given the central role mergers and acquisitions play in keeping the venture-backed ecosystem going.

  • On the one hand, large, entrenched tech companies can make it harder for startups to have a shot at taking market share, and building a sustainable business.
  • On the other, many VCs have recouped their investments (and then some, in many cases) by selling a portfolio company to Google, Meta or Amazon.
  • "There's this kind of problem, in that many [VCs] don't want to bite the hand that feeds them," Lowe says.

Yes, but: He denies any conflict between his long-running work fighting anti-competitive behavior and repping his new employer.

  • "Ultimately even if you want an exit via M&A, it's better to have five companies wanting to buy you," he says, echoing Tan's words earlier this week.

The bottom line: Prepare to hear a lot more from "little tech" in Washington, if Lowe does his new job well.

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