Things Will Be Different

I remember looking at other people on the street the day after 9/11. Everyone was just so sad. It was a shared moment in time where nothing needed to be said, and all we could muster was a slight nod to acknowledge that what you were feeling, everyone else was feeling, too.

It felt like things would never be the same.

Yet, it wasn’t very long after before I was on a plane. Sure, I was a bit apprehensive, but slowly it faded away. I don’t know when we stopped thinking that every loud noise was a terrorist bomb, but we did. We said we’d never forget, but, in all honesty, we kind of did.

Absent of the security theater we now have at airports and office buildings, not much about the lives of most people in this country permanently changed. We tragically lost thousands of troops and needlessly spent trillions on endless war, and I’m sure those who were at Ground Zero or who lost colleagues wouldn’t forget, but Joe and Jane America moved on.

The Financial Crisis of 2008 sure seemed bad in the moment as well. People lost homes and businesses—banks blew up—but then we went on an 11-year bull market run that sent unemployment down to historic lows.

There we were at the casino table again after that, pouring billions of dollars into unprofitable startups while cutting taxes when we didn’t need to, for people and companies who didn’t need it, with little regard to the future.

Some sovereign wealth funds lost their shirts and some startup employees had their options fall underwater when the likes of WeWork blew up, but somehow we collectively dodged serious pain again.

I don’t think it’s going to be so easy to move on this time. I think the impact is going to be greater than we imagine—to the point where we will look back at our generation and we will be defined by this moment, much the same way we had a “Depression-Era” generation.

I don’t necessarily mean that this is my prediction as to what the stock market will do or what this might mean for startup returns.

We’ve already been in an economy where the stock market doesn’t reflect how the average person is doing. Similarly, startup returns haven’t necessarily reflected our ability to create meaningful and lasting new businesses either. Investors have been making a bunch of money cashing out of companies that might not have lasted another year even before Coronavirus hit.

I think we’re going to see such far-reaching ripple effects not only in the economy but in our own psychology that we’re going to approach everything differently.

Take Uber, for example—one of the largest wealth creation events of our time. It’s a status symbol and a calling card to say you were an early investor, despite the fact that the company that still loses a ton of money. It was built on a network of drivers woefully unprotected by labor laws, without healthcare, wage production or unemployment benefits—the consequences of which are now painfully all too obvious and should seem a little less like a source of pride.

I don’t think building companies like this are going to be seen the same way going forward. The US taxpayer will have to backstop the company’s lack of basic support for its workers, much the same way it’s been doing for Walmart for years.

Scrutiny is coming in a big way.

As I write this, Congress is working hard to undo the mistakes of the 2008 bailout and the sense that corporations got off easy and the little guy was never made whole. They’re debating restrictions on stock buybacks, direct payouts to individuals—and confronting the hard choices of choosing whether or not we have enough money to bail out both small business and the cruise lines.

If I was in the cruise line industry—I’d be polishing off my resume right now, because I think that ship has sailed.

We aren’t going to be able to fix everything.

Faced with a health threat and choosing between taking sick leave and paying your rent, I think the country is going to take a dramatic turn left—realizing that no one should have to make those decisions.

Some people have been riding high on the horse for too long.

The window on gutting ACA will be closed. Anyone who threatened it will be voted out along with the congresspeople who dumped stock while telling the public the Coronavirus was going to blow over.

The era of the little guy getting the short end of the stick is over.

Why?

Because so many people are going to directly feel the pain. Few people are feeling secure in their job right now, and save for a few morons on Florida beaches, most rational people are concerned about their health and the health of their loved ones.

They’re feeling the direct effects of a fragile economic system and an underprepared health system, run by an incompetent administration. I’m not making this political—no objective person could possibly give the White House passing grades on its Coronavirus response. Start from the firing of the National Security team’s epidemic response experts to the continued misinformation that has to be corrected and backtracked after every press conference and I think the story of our national nightmare comes to a close soon.

You have to go back to the Depression and World War II to find a disruption of this magnitude—and that shaped an entire generation.

This will definitely be a generation shaping event—one in which we’re going to undergo a lot of pain and difficulty, but ultimately, for the better.

I don’t see us building new companies that exploit workers in the same way as the past.

I think we’re going to shore up our economic system—making it a safer place to be for individuals and small businesses. Perhaps this comes at the expense of those at the top, but ultimately I think it will be a system that can drive growth from the bottom up through greater access to education and a more competitive playing field.

I think we’ll be more likely to see through hollow promises of demagogue leaders unfit for the moment in the future—because we’re seeing firsthand the destruction that incompetence breeds.

How we run businesses will be different, too. I’ve written before about the profiles of leaders we’ll be looking for. This feels like a turning point moment for the leadership style of female founders who focus as much on making sure things don’t fall apart as they do on how big they can get something to grow. The remote chance that things can fall apart won’t feel so remote.

There are some lessons on how this all plays out that we can learn from the past. I know it’s going to be very difficult for a lot of people who will undoubtedly have to rely on government and other kinds of assistance—just as it was for my great grandfather who lost his grocery store on Monroe Street on the Lower East Side. He never really recovered emotionally from that loss of pride.

A lot of kids are going to grow up sharing rooms and families are going to move in together, just as they did when my grandparents took in other families into their house. I’m not totally sure that’s going to be so bad. I think we’re realizing now as families return home during this crisis that we may have gotten a little too far away from each other.

This is going to be a more difficult economy, but I believe it will be a more collaborative one. We’re going to have to do more with less. We’re going to need the government’s help along the way, and it’s going to need our help in steering it where it can help the most.

Our Green New Deal will come—if for no other reason than doing more with less is going to mean less material, more reusability, and less footprint, for economic reasons and supply chain shortages. Hopefully, we can be a little more innovative with material reuse than my mom cutting up her parent’s basement carpet to cover the holes in her shoes as a kid.

Harder for many, but better for all of us will be the new economy that Il look forward to being a first check investor in.