Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


I have been trying for some time now to articulate the problem with venture capital, especially as it was practiced in this province by Innovacorp—and now by Invest Nova Scotia, under the possibly capable but definitely expensive ($1,500 a day up to $18,000 a month) leadership of our premier’s close personal friend, Tom Hickey. (I just accidentally typed “Tim Hockey” and am now forced to ask myself, “If he’d put Tim Hockey in charge, would you be complaining?”)

Houston created Invest Nova Scotia in July by combining three crown corporations—Innovacorp, Nova Scotia Business Inc. and the Invest Nova Scotia Fund—into one, firing their CEOs, dissolving their boards and directing the new entity to report to Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek. (While he was at it, he combined Nova Scotia Lands and Develop Nova Scotia into something called Build Nova Scotia, but the personal friend he tapped to head that organization, Wayne Crawley, couldn’t take the heat so got out of the kitchen just two weeks—and I guess about $9,000—later.)

When the CBC asked Houston if there wasn’t a risk this clever arrangement might “create a situation where the government is picking winners and losers,” he said decisions about where government funding will go will be made by “very qualified CEOs” who will report directly to government. Those CEOs were to be appointed “later this year,” which gives the premier 22 days to find a couple so  he’d best get a wiggle on.

"Current Opportunities" section of Invest Nova Scotia website.

Invest Nova Scotia is not looking for a CEO via its website.

The reason I’m discussing Invest Nova Scotia today, I mean other than my longstanding if morbid fascination with bureaucrats playing at venture capitalist, is that I finally heard someone articulate the problem with venture capital far more clearly and and concisely than I ever could.  My Eureka! moment came as I was listening to Paris Marx interview  Douglas Rushkoff, “an author and documentarian who studies human autonomy in a digital age,” about his latest book, Survival of the Richest.

The conversation got around to the dot com boom of the late 1990s, during which, Rushkoff explained:

…what people would do is come up with a high concept, like, ‘digital bike lock.’ And then you write this business plan where you say, ‘Okay, there’s 500 million bicycles in America times 12 dollars, which is the margin that we get on each one of these digital bike locks, equals 2.7 billion dollars.’

Even if the entrepreneurs out to disrupt the bike-lock industry were more realistic and envisioned selling to just 20% of American bike owners, said Rushkoff, their on-paper profits were still impressive.

So they’d write this out and generate money—it was really a pure pyramid scheme, the Angel [investor] would come in and support that, and then they’d go up to a Series A for the next level investors and a Series B and you try to get it all the way up to your IPO [Initial Public Offering] where you’re selling to the public, and at that point the Angels and the Series A people get out and leave everybody else in the pyramid holding the bag until the thing dies.

Marx asked Rushkoff how the dot com era compares to the current period of investment in companies like Uber, which, as Marx points out, has made no money but earned a fortune for its early investors, who “got more investors to come in on it and cashed out at the IPO.” Rushkoff said the biggest difference is that whereas a lot of wealthy people lost money in the crash, “the early investors now understand to get out.”

Mind you, they won’t admit they’re just getting out while the getting is good. They’ll pretend “their work here is done” and the company no longer needs their “training wheels.” And if the company immediately plows off the sidewalk and directly into traffic? Well, that sounds like a Series B problem.



A reader was kind enough to send along a link to the 2022 Munk Debates on this year’s resolution, “Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media.” Arguing for the resolution were journalist Matt Taibbi and conservative commentator Douglas Murray, while author Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg argued against—and what a nasty little argument it was.

It left me disliking all the participants, even Taibbi (whom Gladwell kept calling “Tiabbi,” although I don’t know if it was a debating tactic or a hearing problem), a reporter whose work I’ve always appreciated and occasionally quoted.

I want to write something definitive here, but my own thoughts on the subject of mainstream media are entirely unsettled. I  agree, for instance, with Taibbi that the decision by US cable news networks like Fox and MSNBC to court niche audiences has not served us well, even as  it’s made them money. But I don’t agree that in doing so the two abandoned their previous “neutrality” because I don’t think journalists are ever truly neutral, a case in point being Taibbi himself whose (arguably) greatest single work of journalism was an article for Rolling Stone in which he compared the investment firm Goldman Sachs to a vampire squid.

Monk Debate 2022 participants

I have always held that we all have biases and the only way to deal with them is to own up to them—and then stick to the facts.

But that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far and I have to grapple with some serious issues this debate has raised for me, chiefly, my distinct lack of enthusiasm for anything Douglas Murray says. Murray is the author of The Strange Death of Europe, which, as this remarkably restrained review notes, argues that “Europe as we know it is doomed to self-destruction, and that Islam will have a central part to play in this auto-annihilation.”

The reviewer contends that Murray makes his case through a “staggeringly one-sided flow of statistics and examples, reflecting a clear decision to make the book a rhetorical, not an argumentative text,” in short, tarring him with the same brush Murray waves at the mainstream media in the Munk debates.

This question about the mainstream media is an important one. Maybe too important to be left to this crowd?