WWPHD? / "Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses," by Peter F. Rothermel, via public domain.
Caroline O’Donovan,  February 6, 2015

The Revolution Will Be Venture Funded

WWPHD? / "Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses," by Peter F. Rothermel, via public domain.
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Where do revolutions begin? In the streets? On Twitter? In Greece?

No! Little did we know, they begin in a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital fund. Aptly named 1776, these titans of entrepreneurship plan to overthrow our bloated and broken system, by replacing it with a more agile and intelligent startup culture. How? By connecting socially conscious startup companies with investors, Beltway insiders and, in some cases, seed money they need to get off the ground and foment “revolution.”

One would think to warn the White House! But, as it turns out, they already know all about it. President Obama dropped by 1776’s offices last year, and just this week, two of his former campaign staffers pledged their media consultancy, Precision Strategies, to the cause. Said one of the former White House strategists to the Washington Post, regarding their mission to market technological insurrection, “It’s very much akin to launching a political campaign and selling a candidacy.”

1776 purports to be about political change—but not so much change that it strays from the capitalist underpinnings that make this nation great. After all, consider the name, an homage to the first great American victory over having to pay taxes.

As a seed fund, 1776 posits that there’s nothing at odds between streamlining for profit and making the world a better place; either way, the goal is efficiency. They frame the privatization of social good as radical act by emphasizing technological solutions. After all, if the technology is new, it must be progress, and progress is always good. But just who and what are these companies, these startups that prove one can pursue revolution and profit simultaneously?

A screenshot of 1776's homepage.
A screenshot of 1776’s homepage.

One 1776 member, iMogul, analyzes crowdsourced “opinion data” and uses it to connect screenwriters and film producers with investors: democratizing Hollywood, one downvote at a time! Another company is Hire.Bid, a digital marketplace that allows underworked Americans to auction off their leisure time and “be bid upon by prospective clients needing a helping hand.” (“Your time is money. Literally.”) Hire.Bid can be thought of as a radical extension of historical progressive thought: eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will sell online.

Of course, private property and personal wealth won’t be going away, even if 1776 does somehow succeed with its revolution. That’s why 1776 backs a startup that “synthesizes real estate and infrastructure development data to enable users to visually analyze the characteristics and future growth of urban neighborhoods.” Enticingly called AreaProbe, this company will be instrumental in helping former revolutionaries find affordable condos in up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Benjamin Franklin was a revolutionary who worked to promote the ideals of the republic in both the United States and in France. Franklin was also a known party boy who is said in folktales to have once written that beer is proof that God loves us. Undoubtedly this is why Drizly, a company that delivers alcohol to your home, is also a 1776 member.

Fomenting rebellion is no joke, so it’s a relief to know that 1776 is taking all threats seriously. With Commander-in-Chief Obama at the helm of our the current administration, it makes sense that 1776 has brought DroneShield, which uses a network of sensors to detect drones, into their confederacy of entrepreneurs. With these and other technologies in hand, America is poised for national innovation liberation.

Startup culture is known for its hatred of bureaucracy, of hierarchical structure, and of rules in general. Startups are all about big cash infusions, quick decision making and brilliant young (white) people solving problems. There’s a belief, clearly, that we need to do away with current government processes—that we need to hack regulation, topple the system, and install a startup federation in its place.

All of 1776’s startups are well meaning, plenty of them are smart ideas, and change, in general, is good. But freewheeling cowboy capitalism masquerading as political freedom is not. The current regime is indeed maddeningly inefficient, but technology alone is not the solution.

Perhaps 1776 co-founder Evan Burfield put it best in an interview with Business Insider when he said: “If you’re going to fix the world you’re going to have to figure out how to figure out all this crap.”

 

[Note: Thanks to Kyle Chayka for the title for this one. – Ed.]

Caroline O'Donovan is a staff writer at The Nieman Lab. Find her on Twitter @ceodonovan.

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