Expanding "Hedge", and Working on European Tech

European Straits #102

Dear all,

Happy 2019! I’m just back from Greece, where my son Ferdinand and I enjoyed the stunning mountains and beautiful beaches of the Peloponnese. I especially recommend visiting Monemvasia, where you can visit the old town and castle on a beautiful island connected to the mainland by a small bridge—a kind of a Greek version of France’s Mont-Saint-Michel, majestically bursting out of the blue sea, only without the thousands of tourists!

With this issue, I’d like to set the stage for the many things that will happen in 2019.

Expanding Hedge

Most of the year will be dominated by my continuing to promote more thinking around Hedge. Here’s how I will try and deepen the discussion in 2019.

#1—Make the case that building a new Safety Net is not about social entrepreneurship. An idea I’m hearing a lot is that institutional innovation is the task of the government and a specific class of entrepreneurs not interested in making money—social entrepreneurs. I always push back against this idea for two reasons. First, I think that increasing returns to scale blur the old boundaries between private interests and the common good, something I discuss at length in Part 4 of my book. Second, the private sector has long been a key contributor to designing and operating our Safety Net—and nothing suggests that will change in the new age.

#2—Develop concrete policy proposals based on what entrepreneurs are doing. I’m planning to launch a new series on Medium later this month, with the provisional title “Hedge Entrepreneurs”. My initial thought was that it would be interviews of inspiring founders. But then I changed my mind and decided to write longform articles on various verticals and then feature many interesting startups, both inside and outside The Family’s portfolio. Here’s the provisional list of topics I have in mind: housing, healthcare, insurance, education, consumer finance, trade unions, proximity services, occupational licensing. Please let me know if you know interesting startups in any of those fields!

#3—See if Hedge’s message resonates in Asia. As most of you know, one of the book’s central arguments is that we in the West must hurry up and imagine a new Safety Net, because if we don’t China will come up with its own version based on their intriguing (and sometimes frightening) social credit system, and we will have no choice but to —renouncing liberal democratic values in the process. And so I’m interested in learning more about how Asian countries are looking at this discussion. I’ll have two opportunities to do so during the coming months: in Singapore 🇸🇬, where I’ll spend a few days in March, and then in China 🇨🇳, where I’ll be travelling for almost two weeks in May.

#4—Explore turning Hedge into a platform. People sometimes ask me how many copies have been sold (we’re past 1,500 now!). But what matters is that the conversation around a new Safety Net actually happens, and this takes much more than selling books. Therefore I’m looking forward to meeting more people interested in building on Hedge as a platform and doing two things: designing better policies and deploying more capital in relevant startups. We at The Family will look to lead the way as I’ll start working on how Hedge can become the foundation for a specific investment thesis. Beyond that, Hedge as a platform will be particularly relevant in political discussions in both Europe and the US (where the 2020 presidential campaign is already heating up).

If you think you can help on any of these fronts, please reach out! I’d be happy to share more and see if there are things that we could do together. Also if you don’t have it, don’t forget to buy your copy of Hedge, which is at a discounted price until the end of this week. Visit the relevant Amazon website depending on where you are: 🇺🇸US, 🇬🇧UK, 🇫🇷FR, 🇩🇪DE, 🇮🇹IT, 🇪🇸ES.

Working on tech in Europe

Over the longer term, I’d like my next book to be dedicated to tech in Europe. What I have in mind is an in-depth discussion at the crossroads of economic development, ecosystem building, industrial policy, history, and our personal experience at The Family, building the infrastructure that no ambitious entrepreneur can afford to miss. You can have an overview of what I have in mind by looking at some of my recent Forbes articles, such as this one or that one. Beyond that, here are my reference points:

  • One of the best books I read in 2018 is Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works. This inspiring work made me realize that we in Europe have to cease describing ourselves as part of the developed world. Countries like France and Germany have certainly dominated the world economy during the Fordist age. But now that we’ve shifted paradigms, we are lagging behind. Europe is still wealthy from its 20th century glory. But it is underdeveloped in the age of computing and networks, and that should be the starting point of reflecting on how we can catch up.

  • I recently met Ian Hathaway, an American based in London. Ian has been lending his skills as a trained economist to interesting projects, from fostering a better environment for entrepreneurs with the Center for American Entrepreneurship to mapping the global venture capital landscape with Richard Florida to working with Brad Feld on the next iteration of his work around startup communities. I expect a lot from the ongoing conversation with Ian when it comes to understanding what’s wrong with European tech and how we can make it right.

  • Finally, there’s now a bar for assessing the state of technology in Europe, and it’s been set high by Atomico’s Tom Wehmeier. For several years now, Tom has been overseeing publishing an annual State of European Tech Report that is rich with data, analysis, case studies and others. To learn more about what he’s doing, I suggest you read Atomico’s press release announcing Tom becoming a partner—a rare move in the world of European VC firms and, judging from the buzz generated at Slush 2018 (which several colleagues attended), one that is lifting all of us upward.

Two other things

I recently contributed with an essay to a “field guide” published by the Royal Society of Arts on the future of work. The purpose of this pamphlet is to “break out of the overworn questions, and give more airtime to alternative and thoughtful perspectives on how technology might shape the world of work”. My essay, titled “The Fall of the Cathedrals”, is about how the changing form of organizations has an impact on workers. Read more here: Field Guide to the Future of Work: Essay Collection.

Finally I’ve decided to publish again on corporate strategy in 2019. I’ll relaunch Scaling Strategy by The Family, a series of short notes exploring business strategy in the 21st century. I’ll also be working on new issues in my 11 Notes series. Two are already online: 11 Notes on Amazon, and 11 Notes on Goldman Sachs. In 2019 I plan on writing 11 Notes on (provisional list) Netflix, Revolut, Stripe, Facebook, Andreessen Horowitz, Airbnb, SoftBank, BlackRock, Alibaba, Tencent, and Ikea. Please send ideas if you think I should dive into a strategic analysis of a particular established organization!

Further readings on entrepreneurs and building a new Safety Net

Warm regards (from Normandy, France),

Nicolas