Will David Sacks be the Valley exec who gives others an excuse to join Team Trump?
Late last week, the New York Times and others reported that David Sacks is stepping down as CEO of disgraced-but-better-now-it-swears insurance unicorn, Zenefits.
His resignation comes less than a year after Sacks took over from founder Parker Conrad who was accused of allowing Zenefits to potentially screw users in seven states while actually screwing each other in hallways and stairwells.
Sacks explained his decision in a series of 16 Tweets. Following the standard sudden resignation playbook, he insisted that everything was now hunky dory at Zenefits and so, really, there was nothing left for him to do.
16/ I’m excited about the future of Zenefits and partnering with a great operator and our Board to take Zenefits to the next level. //— David Sacks (@DavidSacks) December 3, 2016
And, as with most sudden resignations, that insistence appears to have been mostly smoke and mirrors. According to the Times, Sacks actually decided to leave Zenefits because he’s been in talks to join Donald Trump’s transition team. A transition team that, of course, also features Sacks’ old PayPal buddy and friend (and Pando investor, may god have mercy on my soul) Peter Thiel.
A tweet storm that might well be total bullshit! A refusal to answer media inquiries! I know what you’re thinking: This guy was born to be on Team Trump. But that’s just the half of it...
A glance at Sacks’ recent resume…
-- Was chief operating officer of an organization accused of widespread fraud and of potentially putting at risk the health insurance of countless Americans.
-- Was forced to apologize after co-authoring (with Peter Thiel) a book in which he suggested that “the rape crisis movement” was really just an attempt to vilify men.
-- Once threw himself a Marie Antoinette-themed birthday party.
-- Uninvited a reporter from that party after she wrote an article that made him angry.
-- Hangs around with Hollywood celebrities
...suggest a man who is not only qualified to help implement Trump’s policies but pretty much is Trump’s policies.
And yet. Compared to some of the other people on Trump’s transition team, including Thiel, Sacks is an extremely safe pair of hands. And, rape books notwithstanding, pretty well liked in Silicon Valley. I’m no more concerned a the idea of David Sacks following Trump and Thiel into the White House than I would be seeing a reasonably sober mouse scampering into a china shop behind a psychopathic orange bull and an overly litigious cruise missile. In fact, putting aside the basic moral question of joining Team Trump, the former COO of Zenefits and founder of Yammer seems like a perfectly sensible appointment by an administration which most tech people won’t touch with a barge pole.
And that’s what makes the idea so worrying.
I wrote last month that Silicon Valley is facing its Come to Satan moment. That is, the point at which the tech industry has to decide whether to abandon any sense of morality - and any claim to care about the rights of women, or minorities, or humanity - to avail itself of the boundless profit opportunities available inside the most corrupt and conflicted administration in modern history.
Peter Thiel made his choice early on. After he was appointed to the transition team (apparently in return for a $1.25m campaign donation and an on-stage endorsement at the RNC) we’ve already seen him hire his old Founders Fund colleague Trae Stephens, and Buzzfeed has reported that Trump’s national security advisor has been shilling for Palantir.
But so far most Valley bigwigs have refused the call, apparently concerned at the long-term social and career costs of being amongst the first to sell out.
But if it turns out that Sacks really is joining Team Trump then it makes the optics far less bad for the next PayPal mafioso, or other one of Peter’s Friends - Joe Lonsdale, say - to follow suit. By that point, with Stephens too, you have a quorum.
After that, I predict we’ll see the dominos start to fall and the excuses start to pile up: Is it reeeeeeally so bad to join what now looks like a reasonably legitimate technology group inside the new White House?
Before we know it there’ll be a human centipede of Uber bros, Facebook and Google execs and other Sand Hill rogues traipsing across the White House lawn on their way to meet with Trump’s intelligence chiefs and State Department wonks, before posing for a selfie with hashtag POTUS. Muslim ban and sexual assaults bedamned - everyone else is doing it… and when you’re called to serve it’s your patriotic duty to… blah blah blah.
Simply put, as the first reasonably-non-irredeemable Valley player to Come to Satan, Sacks could also be the tipping point that prompts a whole host of other Valley semi-deplorables to suddenly decided that, actually, it might not be so terrible to follow suit.
Now, David ! now, Keith! now, Travis and Shervin!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
From the muslim database, to building a wall
Now, cash in, cash in, cash in all!
Unless unless unless.
Unless David Sacks decides to do the right thing.
Because, David, if you really feel bad about all the shady stuff Zenefits did on your COO watch and if you truly, truly want to make amends for that despicable rape book, a pretty great start would be to say thanks, but no thanks to Peter Thiel and his new boss Donald Trump.