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“Even private firms run by geniuses need a licence from society to operate.” — The Economist, Empire of the Geeks

Some of the most powerful people in tech see government as a tool of disrupted incumbents or an inefficient bureaucracy that runs contrary to tech values and thus the types of institutions best avoided. The Economist offers a cautionary reminder that just as people vote with their feet in markets, tech companies still need support from society (and their governments).

Following up on a16z’s great discussion with former D.C. Mayor Fenty, the a16z team talked with U.S. Representatives Fred Upton and Greg Walden of the Energy and Commerce Committee. They urged founders to focus on building something that customers love and were quick to highlight the power of markets in helping regulators understand what voters/consumers want.

Along similar lines, Tumml’s co-founders suggested something we’ve also found to be true: engaging with regulators too early can be deadly for startups. Without a vibrant community of support, there is little to suggest that new businesses will be welcomed. Echoing a16z’s recommendations, they urge focusing on building something people love to ensure that when the time comes to engage with regulators, your community will help you make your case.

More from The Economist, a16z (audio), and Tumml.

[Startup Candidate] Logcheck: Preventative maintenance and routine inspections are a critical part of ensuring that buildings function efficiently and safely. However, much of that process is managed on paper! Logcheck is changing that.

[Insights] Something Changed This Week: Jessica Lessin talks about three signs of less optimism in tech’s capital. Interestingly, Homejoy’s failure is highlighted; in part, their failure was caused by a dispute with regulators about the nature of full-time employment. More from The Information.

[Insights] Unicorn Club 2015: The sequel to the post that popularized unicorns in startup world is jam-packed with data and great observations. Despite an over-2x increase in unicorns, this update draws some cautionary conclusions. More on Techcrunch.  

[Insights] Talent is Everywhere: Fred Wilson discussed why he is encouraging more of his portfolio companies to build engineering teams outside expensive cities like NYC and SF. Watch his interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin.

[Insights] Great Storytelling: Whether you are pitching investors or new employees, a great story can get people to cheer for the most unlikely heroes, including wall-mounted battery packs! Check out this simple framework.

[Opportunity] NYC Bigapps: We’re excited to partner with NYC Bigapps, the best-known open challenge centered on cities. This year, the focus is on waste, civic engagement, affordable housing, and exploring how IOT can positively impact cities. Learn more about Bigapps Challenges.

[Opportunity] Verge Accelerate: We’re also excited to partner with #VERGEcon. We love their focus on celebrating the best early-stage startups at the intersection of sustainability and tech. In October, Verge 2015 will feature 16 winners. Learn about Accelerate.

[Founder Updates] BRCK, Revivn, Rachio, and Onewheel: The BRCK team received a lot of attention and coverage during POTUS’s Kenya visit, but they tell us the real news is still to come :). Revivn has a new, much larger space to support more enterprise electronic recycling in NYC. And yes, they’d love more customers like these.  The Rachio and Onewheel online communities are starting to remind us of some of LEGO’s great work in this area. 

[Reading] Summer Reading: We hope our friends in the Northern Hemisphere will have a chance to take some time off. Here are a few books we think you might enjoy during your break.

• Antifragile: A great discussion of how to benefit from uncertainty about the future (thanks Andrew Frey for reminding us about this).

• The Box: A history of the shipping container and its pervasive but often overlooked effects (thanks to @km for flagging)

• U.S. Counterinsurgency Manual: This is much less about traditional warfare and much more about a hard-won understanding of winning hearts and minds.

• Sapiens: A beautiful exploration of what we can’t really know about the past. This serves as a great reminder that even recent history narratives leave out a lot.

• Remote: This title explores how to make distributed teams work. We’re longtime fans of Jason Fried of Basecamp (formerly 37Signals), and he doesn’t disappoint.

• Powering Global Action: This survey from C40 and ARUP offers a great perspective on how city governments around the world are positioned to play a central role in climate action.


We’ll be taking a little break over the next few weeks, so we’ll skip our next update. We hope you can enjoy some time off too.

Enjoy the break!

- Shaun, Stonly, and Anthony

P.S. Check out this fun interview with Syd Mead (the designer behind Blade Runner and TRON) on urban planning.

Need more Urban.Us? Find Us on Angel.co and Twitter. Catch up on past updates here.