Venture capitalist cat-fight as Ron Conway angrily defends Mayor Ed Lee

Ron Conway shouts down a venture capitalist as they argue the future: will Mayor Ed Lee make San Francisco affordable again?
Image courtesy of Bloomberg

Wealthy Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ron Conway shouted down a fellow VC at Bloomberg's Next Big Thing summit, after VC Chamath Palihapitiya dared criticize Ron's biggest political investment: Mayor Ed Lee.

For context, Conway has been dubbed the "Godfather of Silicon Valley," a capitalist Michael Jordan who invests lots of money in the tech industry (like Twitter) and politicians who support it. His catfight with Palihapitiya will no doubt be re-tweeted and Facebooked amongst the tech elite for days to come. Or you know, minutes to come. After all, there are great cat videos out there.

But for us common folk, it's useful to listen to hear what Palihapitiya had to say about innovating new ways to fundraise for the affordable housing stock in San Francisco, and Conway's error-filled arguments.


Conway sounded like an outraged muppet, but Palihapitiya took it all in stride.

"Ron, all I was talking about is you can make very simple economic measures to fund all of that and more," Palihapitiya argued on stage at the conference. Conway wasn't having it, and interrupted him. 

"Then you said you recommend companies give 1 percent of their equity," Conway shouted. 

Palihapitiya fired back, calmly. "Ron listen, there are people in this city now who are really frustrated, you see it with the riots," he said. Conway countered that Lee was making an effort to address it. "Effort is fine," Palihapitiya replied, "but you have to see the follow through."

Conway started shouting about Lee's promise to build 30,000 housing units by 2020: "30,000 units, Ed Lee has a mandate to build 30,000 units. Is that not enough?"

Importantly, new reports from the San Francisco Public Press show the mayor's 30,000 proposed units are partially a sham: 40 percent of those units are units are already being built, including existing public housing units simply being renovated. Only 6,000 affordable housing units would be new -- making Conway's shouting equal to only so much hot air.

housing graph

"You can provide economic frameworks for all these problems," Palihapitiya told Conway from the stage. He mentioned perhaps instituting an affordable housing tax on businesses. "Imagine how many units you can build," he said, "300,000, a million! Making [Ed Lee's plan] a magnitude or more impactful. That's all I'm saying."

When Conway mentioned Google's contributions to Muni, Palihapitiya countered. "Ron, you could've taxed those guys at Google $10 million and Google would've paid."

We called Conway for a response to his tirade, and he told us "I'm in a meeting. I can email you a statement." We sent him an email, but aren't holding our breath for a reply. 

Either way, it's something new to see someone in tech actually challenge the weak crumbs the tech industry has dropped from its table for San Francisco residents. It's almost, dare we say, disruptive.