Matt Ocko, co-founder of venture firm Data Collective (DCVC), was among a small group of VCs viewed as alarmists when they began tweeting about the coronavirus’s imminent appearance in the U.S. back in January.
In retrospect, those individuals were prescient, so we spoke with Ocko last week about why he was so certain the U.S. was about to get walloped by COVID-19, and asked how some of the startups in DCVC’s portfolio — which has long had a strong biotech focus — are trying to get us back to a state of normalcy.
This conversation has been edited for length.
TechCrunch: You were tweeting about COVID-19 back in January; I almost canceled a flight out of San Francisco because of your [expressed concern about a flight bound for SFO from Wuhan, China]. What did you see that the rest of us missed?
Matt Ocko: My family has been working with the Chinese government at a reasonably high level since the late 1970s, starting with my dad, and I kind of grew up in that environment. And at a relatively young age, as a professional [in the 1990s], I started pro bono helping my dad, who’s a Chinese legal expert, on things like constructing the laws around China’s Nasdaq equivalent, its stock markets, the joint dollar-renminbi investment legislation, advice on technology development and venture capital development.
I’m not an anti-China hawk by any means. But I do have an understanding of some of the idiosyncrasies of Chinese culture reflected in its government, the same way every country has its idiosyncrasies.
[In China’s case], it’s a focus on face and reputation and extreme sensitivity to negative perception or shame or humiliation at every level of government and culture. And so there’s [an] unfortunate trend — and not a universal one — for people to manage upwards, especially in the government, and tell their higher-ups what they want to hear to avoid shame, to avoid the loss of reputation and to kick the can down the road or hope that circumstances on the ground change favorably in the face of denial or equivocation.