Michael Moritz is legendary for many of the investments he has led throughout his long career with the venture firm Sequoia Capital. Among his biggest hits: PayPal, Zappos and Google.
Moritz stepped away from managing the firm some time ago (partners Roelof Botha, Doug Leone, Neil Shen are now its stewards). But he continues to invest in startups and serve as a director, including at Instacart, Klarna and Stripe. Sequoia’s limited partners must be exceedingly happy, too, that Moritz continues to play an active role in the firm, which is considered among the most successful in Silicon Valley. His mere presence on a board is a signaling event.
Still, we’re beginning to wonder if Sequoia’s investment team might wish Moritz would also just keep his mouth shut.
Two years ago, Moritz attracted unwanted attention to Sequoia during a Bloomberg interview in which he was asked why Sequoia’s U.S. partnership hadn’t yet hired a female partner. Moritz told interviewer Emily Chang that the firm was looking for the right candidate but that it didn’t want to “lower its standards” simply to satisfy outsiders unhappy with its all-male team of investors.
The answer quickly created a shit storm of negative criticism; smartly, less than a year later, the firm announced its first female U.S. investing partner, Jess Lee.
Now Moritz, a skilled former journalist for Time who clearly still enjoys writing, has placed a target on Sequoia’s back once again by publishing a controversial opinion piece in the Financial Times, comparing Silicon Valley unfavorably to China. (That China is a de facto dictatorship doesn’t come up in his editorial.)
To say it is extreme is an understatement. While Silicon Valley technology companies increasingly complain about striking the right work-life balance, Moritz notes approvingly that in China, top managers show up for work at 8 a.m. and frequently don’t leave until 10 p.m., sometimes seven days a week. In fact, he writes that it is “quite usual for the management of 10 and 15-year-old [China-based] companies to have working dinners followed by two or three meetings. If a Chinese company schedules tasks for the weekend, nobody complains about missing a Little League game or skipping a basketball outing with friends. Little wonder it is a common sight at a Chinese company to see many people with their heads resting on their desks taking a nap in the early afternoon.”
Moritz (alas) continues on: “Many of these high-flyers only see their children — who are often raised by a grandmother or nanny — for a few minutes a day. 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.”
“There is also a deep-rooted sense of frugality,” he later adds. “You don’t see $700 office chairs or large flat panel computer screens at most of the leading technology companies. Instead, the furniture tends to be spartan and everyone works on laptop.”
The title of the piece is, “Silicon Valley would be wise to follow China’s lead.”
While I agree that Silicon Valley is changing in ways that are concerning (I’m particularly worried that people can no longer speak freely here), Moritz’s disdain for U.S. tech workers is not only shocking but impossibly out of touch.
I’m sure my colleagues and many of you reading know of high numbers of U.S. startup employees who work their brains out, answering calls at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, routinely taking two weeks of vacation or less, and receiving a large portion of their pay in the form of equity that will never be worth anything. They are living hand to mouth, often with more roommates than they would like, simply to be within commuting distance of the companies where they work.
When was the last time Moritz spent 12 hours coding? How many family dinners did he have to miss? How many weekends did he have to give up to work on a new product release?
As for those expensive chairs and flat-screen computer monitors, it might be worth acknowledging that long hours in front of a computer can cause both back and vision problems. Maybe Silicon Valley companies have figured out something that China-based companies will discover soon enough: it’s worth taking care of your employees if you want to keep them alive and well and in service to you.
Moritz has hit a few balls out of the park, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should take his opinion as gospel. In fact, I would argue that mega-billionaires like Moritz have absolutely no place telling anyone how hard they should be working, in the U.S. or anywhere else. This is especially true if they’ve spent most of their careers not as operators but as venture capitalists — a plum job if ever there was one.
Sequoia has been actively investing in China for years. If Moritz wants to win points with China-based companies to keep its winning streak there alive, fine. But he has done his partners at Sequoia a disservice by so publicly dismissing today’s employees in Silicon Valley, where many companies have made him an exceptionally wealthy man — and will likely continue to do so.