Silicon Valley is 'becoming unhinged,' says top VC

Commentary: Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital seems to believe California is lazy, while, oh, China is setting the example in work ethic, according to a Financial Times interview.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

,Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Michael Moritz, Venture Capitalist and partner with Sequoia Capital, poses during interview BT 60 minutes, at office, in Mumbai, India. Potrait, Sitting, Talking, Action

Michael Moritz admires the Chinese work ethic. Should he?

The India Today Group

No one, but no one works harder than the obsessives in Silicon Valley, right?

They work on their buses. They work over carefully catered lunches. They work when they get home. And when they finally switch their laptops off, their minds never switch off. 

Honestly, they barely have time for sex parties.

At least, that's what so many tech types tell me.

Yet Sequoia Capital partner Michael Moritz reportedly seems to think Valley types are largely a lazy, entitled lot.

In a Financial Times article, Moritz bemoans that the Valley is embracing "the concerns of a society that is becoming unhinged."

Instead of working, night, day and every moment in between, Moritz says that California tech people are debating utterly inconsequential things such as "the appropriate level of paternity leave and work-life balances."

Shame on them.

Moritz contrasts this with, oh, China.

There, "top managers show up for work at 8 a.m. and frequently don't leave until 10 p.m. Most of them will do this six days a week -- and there are plenty of examples of people who do this for seven."

In California, they can do this sort of thing for a couple of years, concedes Moritz. But they don't keep it up. They're too busy "grumbling about the need for a space for musical jam sessions."

Certainly, the Valley is filled with painful excesses of apparent comfort. Of the body and the soul. Do they really need to do all that yoga?

To Moritz, though, it seems odd to witness human beings grasping at something that might approach, well, living, rather than killing themselves working.

According to him, the Chinese do still find time for essential life elements, such as romance.

"There are even examples of husbands, eager to spend time with their wives, who travel with them on business trips as a way to maintain contact," he says.

Maintain contact with what, exactly? Their sanity?

Sequoia Capital, one of the Valley's most prestigious VC firms and an early-stage investor in Google, Yahoo, PayPal and Zappos, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment and confirmation about Moritz's sentiments relayed to the Financial Times.

But he reportedly lauds how many Chinese businesspeople travel long-haul in coach and even share hotel rooms with colleagues. As if this somehow proves their superior commitment.

Some might fear this merely proves their superior self-subordination to the corporate overlords.

For Moritz, this exalted work ethic is rooted in "memories of privation and the desire to improve personal circumstances."

Anyone who grew up with little -- hey, we never had a car or even a phone when I was growing up, but I'm still not sharing a room with you on a business trip, Mr. Moritz -- will tell you that their perspective can be a little different from that of those who emerged from vast home comforts.

But does it always translate into some sort of excellence? It may have in Moritz's case -- he came from a not so wealthy part of Wales -- but does it happen always? I suspect not.

Moritz surely has a point in suggesting that the Valley is entirely self-absorbed, only emerging from its 1,000-thread organic cocoon to express how great it is and how much it's making the world a better place -- when too much evidence suggests it may not be (I'm amazed how slow some VCs are to pick up on that).

It's odd, though, that he doesn't dwell on the qualitative parts of life.

The freedom thing, for example, something the Chinese don't seem to entirely, well, admire.

Yes, the Valley embraces political correctness far too tightly, but at least it can surf Facebook.

For Moritz, there seems to be nothing beyond work. Everything is beneath it. 

"If a Chinese company schedules tasks for the weekend, nobody complains about missing a Little League game or skipping a basketball outing with friends," he tells Financial Times.

Perhaps they should. They might enjoy their lives a little.

Moreover, does this obsessive, nonstop, heart-burning commitment to the corporate goal actually make these employees better? 

Does it make them more inspired, more imaginative?

Does it make these people happier?

Or is it that too many VCs adore the expendability of human beings in the pursuit of making money from everyone becoming a robot? 

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