Feb 14, 2020 - Economy & Business

VCs push back on DOJ antitrust concerns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Silicon Valley investors downplayed concerns that big tech companies inhibit startups, during a recent workshop hosted by the U.S. Justice Department and Stanford University's law school.

Why it matters: Antitrust regulators are paying increased attention to Silicon Valley's M&A culture.

What they’re saying: “I think [government regulation] is the greatest impediment to the creation of smaller companies and to moving fast,” said Sequoia Capital’s Michael Moritz, echoing a familiar anti-government refrain from Silicon Valley.

  • He later pointed the finger at "the school classrooms of America" for lagging behind China's educational achievements. "We're killing the future technologists of the United States."

VCs also argued that because they tend to invest in “the next thing," big tech incumbents aren’t a deterrent for their business.

  • “Would you invest in PC operating systems today? Would you invest in microprocessors today? Would you invest in combustion automobiles today? No, you wouldn't if you’re a good investor,” said Ram Shriram, an early investor in Google and one of its current directors.
  • Similarly, Moritz pointed out that companies like Google and Nvidia didn’t set out to take on incumbents like Microsoft and Intel.

But, but, but: Some disagreed.

  • “I’ve seen dozens of startups wanting to do something to compete with Linkedin but that’s so hard to do — incredibly strong network effects to overcome,” said Switch Ventures partner Paul Arnold.
  • Early Facebook backer Roger McNamee argued that “the business models of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft and of the venture firms… may not be optimal for the economy as a whole.”

Between the lines: Many worried about the impact that increased M&A regulation could have on incentives for everyone involved.

  • “If I’m a founder or I’m an investor, and I’m thinking about starting a company in a core market of an incumbent…. what if Plan B (M&A) is not an option—that changes things,” said Trinity Ventures' Patricia Nakache.

The bottom line: While Silicon Valley's investors and entrepreneurs love market competition, they also value the rewards of winning a competition—being a big and powerful company.

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Big Tech braces for sprawling FTC acquisitions review

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday it will review the past decade of takeovers by tech giants Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. Not only the large ones, but also the hundreds of smaller ones that didn't trigger automatic antitrust reviews.

Why it matters: Apparently the FTC thinks it has a technique for getting toothpaste back into the tube. And that's before one considers the knotty logistics of unwinding something like Facebook/Instagram or some random Google acqui-hire from 2015.

Exclusive: Grant funds tech job growth outside Silicon Valley

One America Works, a nonprofit that helps high-growth companies find the right cities for expansion, received a $1 million grant over two years from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Why it matters: While the dollar amount isn't huge, it shows an increasing interest in strategically spreading economic opportunity to new places.

Google cashes in on law enforcement data requests

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Google began capitalizing on law enforcement's request for user data this month, the New York Times reports.

The big picture: Big Tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Microsoft explicitly announce they might seek reimbursement for giving personal data to federal agencies and law enforcement, which they're legally entitled to do.

Go deeperArrowJan 25, 2020