Idiocy and brilliance of American policy toward entrepreneurs

Listen to the story of Aye Moah. She grew up in one of the poorest countries on earth. She shouldn’t have many opportunities. Yet here she was, talking with me at a Silicon Valley party after the Always On conference. The route she took? She went to MIT. How did she get in? Was one of the top-scoring students in Burma. One of the top 10, in fact. Then she scored a perfect 800 on the SAT. That’s a cool story alone.

But now keep listening. She is one of the top talented people in the world. The kind that help start companies that hire thousands of people.

Yet she can’t work here in the United States.

Let me get this right. One of the smartest people in an entire country gets an invite to come to the United States to study. Does so. Gets a great education from one of the top universities in the world. And we can’t employ her because of our screwed up immigration laws.

Shame on America.

Even if she were to get a work visa, it probably would be from a bigger company that would treat her poorly (I keep hearing stories of how immigrants are treated like crap and can’t leave, otherwise their work visa will be yanked). These laws are unjust and not American. Worse yet they are anti innovation because it’s these smart, highly educated, people who will start the next companies. It isn’t lost on me that eBay was started by an Iranian.

But, standing next to her was Ronald Mannak. He is an entrepreneur who lost everything he owned. In Holland if your company fails and you’ve taken venture capital you are personally liable for the losses. So, Ronald owes the Dutch government $200,000 and lost everything, even his fridge, he told us.

Here in Silicon Valley it’s different. We let you fail, multiple times, and you aren’t personally liable to the venture capitalists.

So, here, in one video, you have a demonstration of how American policy is both brilliant and idiotic at the same time.

It’s amazing how anti immigrant we’ve become. Stupidly so, too.

This is why I support the Startup Visa project and urge you to support it too.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

75 thoughts on “Idiocy and brilliance of American policy toward entrepreneurs

  1. If you are so proud why didn't you sign your name to your comment? Your comment rings partly true, but goes over the line, me thinks. I'm much less interested in the America that can beat up and kill other people and one that can employ Americans and keep jobs on our soil. To me that is the real question of being a “great American.”

  2. My uncle went to the US to get his MBA (Harvard) but came back to Canada. As a Canadian, I chose a Canadian university for my MBA. After alot of grief trying to open up shop in the US, I started my business here in British Columbia, Canada. It really can amount to a great deal of frustration at times trying to work in the US. Just in case you're curious, I'm also married to a US citizen from San Francisco.

  3. Our current immigration policy is just… well, the best word I can come up with for it is retarded. The whole thing needs a serious overhaul. The H1-B program is a DISGRACE. It's the next thing to indentured servitude. I've seen H1-B's told everything from “Your wife will be baby sitting my kids”, “You need to pick up my dry cleaning on the way to work from now on”, “I need someone to clean my house”, and “I don't care how many hours it takes you to do X, you're only getting paid for 40″ and a lot of other shameful things. The mostly, but not always, unspoken threat is “If you don't agree, we'll fire you. You get sent home and we get someone who won't balk or complain.”

    I wish someone would let me write the policy on immigration and naturalization. But it won't change because what we have now is in the favor of the large employers who are the ones who make the donations to our legislators and so no one wants to change it because they want those campaign contributions.

  4. Indeed!

    By the way, as far as I can remember Pierre Omidyar is French-american, not iranian.

  5. A path to citizenship here should be challenging so that the matter is taken very seriously. Only those people who are willing to do “what it takes” should be allowed to move here, become citizens and vote. Great scores in college should not be the sole prerequisite for living here, moving here, becoming a citizen and earning the right to vote. Just because someone is well educated, does not mean that they understand and appreciate the reasons for which our constitution was written and our country seceded from England. If these people truly desire American citizenship, the path is there. Is it a PITA? Yes, and it should be. If it was not so difficult, then it would not be so respected.

    There are repercussions to every action. I see people arguing that just because a student studied here and they are brilliant that we should somehow make it easier for them to come here for a great job or to launch a new business. Imagine the reality of that action. You will have a naturally born American kid with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering being forced to take a different job than he otherwise might have gotten because that better job was filled by someone with a higher GPA from somewhere outside the US. That is idiotic policy! Didn’t this American kid’s grandfather put on a uniform and fight some god awful war so that his grandson could be given the best possible opportunity in life. America doesn’t owe the world’s brightest minds a damn thing. If they want citizenship badly enough, the path is available.

    What kind of country would we have if we let everyone and anyone into it just because they are great math science students? We would become just like the Europeans that you people are complaining about in this post.

    I would prequalify Aye and Ronald with the question “Would you abandon your new job here or your new company here, put on an American uniform and go shoot someone in your existing country if the American government told you we were now at war with them? If the answer is yes, then by all means come on over. If the answer is no, then they do not have the desire that I would say is a prerequisite.

    If you want to become an American then you had better be willing to give your life in defense of me and my family on any battlefield just as much as I am willing to give mine in defense of yours and the (my-stuff-doesn’t-stink-elitists who think the only qualification for being a good American is an advanced education). Otherwise we (people who love America and take great pride in calling ourselves Americans) do not want you here.

    Saying that we are a nation of immigrants is one of the most thoughtless statements a person can make. Every single country on the face of the earth can say the same thing. Somebody moved there first. They were immigrants. I don’t live in a nation of immigrants. I live in a nation of Americans who take pride in the fact that we call ourselves Americans. I am not so willing to demean that status by giving it to anyone and everyone with a perfect SAT score. There are far more important considerations for citizenship than that pal.

  6. By definition, we immigrants carry the entrepreneurial gene. It's why we pick up and travel half way round the world to make life better for ourselves. We are the reason why America is able to re-invent itself time and time again. If we continue to be turned away at the door, America will not be able face the challenges of the future. It will stagnate, clinging to the past….

  7. Robert,

    Since you so obviously are prejudiced against Americans who only scored 799 on the SAT can you please tell us all where you would set the SAT cutoff for immigration? Would you let in only those who scored 800, how about 799? What about 795?

    There are thousands of extremely smart Americans who cannot get a job because they are in their 40's and 50's. You really don't understand that the problem is not immigration. The problem is age discrimination.

    Get a clue Robert, because you don't understand the problem.

  8. Hey Mike, you are absolutely right that Europe consists of many countries with different systems and cultures. However, I'd say that with the exception of the U.K., the cultures *and* laws in most –if not all– European countries are 'anti failure'.

  9. Why do you think it is unfair for an equally qualified American citizen to get a job IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY over a resident alien, since that American citizen is indeed taxed with representation?

    You make it sound like this country owes something to the the rest of the people in the world that want to move here. How easy would it be for an American citizen to move to another country and start a company? What hoops to they have to jump through to take a job away from citizens of that country?

  10. thank you for this post, Robert.

    this is the best blog post about tech startups of the year 2010!

    and you touch the core why European Union empire is dying out and will soon break down completely: lack of innovation caused by lack of proper startup culture

    USA is the best! … if you can get there.

  11. Robert:

    Thank you very much for bringing further attention to this important issue we have here in America. It’s folks like yourself, Shervin Pishevar, Dave McClure and Brad Feld who are the influencers that will catapult change on this subject.

    It’s very interesting how we promote our country as a melting pot, yet our laws dictate otherwise. The amount of innovation we’d see in this country if the Startup Visa Act was enacted would bring us back to the knowledge-based economy we’re starving to revive across the country.

    We’re very fortunate here in America to have the funding system that we do, ie not owing our investors money back if we fail. An ecosystem culture that supports fast build, fast fail culture exponentially increases the innovation in an ecosystem. Hopefully as we push toward a resolution on this front we’ll see this type of culture – which is wholly needed.

    Hopefully sooner rather than later our political system will realize that the Startup Visa creates new jobs – it doesn’t take jobs away from hard working Americans. Entrepreneurship is what will drive our country out of this recession – not spending packages, unemployment benefits or regulation. Government should get out of the way and provide the platform to allow the creators to create.

  12. Robert, FYI, Europe is not one country. There are now 500 million people in Europe. Not all those cultures and countries are 'anti failure'. Please don't make such broad statements about such a complex patchwork.

  13. Robert, thanks for the article, I think StartupVisa is a great initiative. Nevertheless, I think your examples don't exactly tell the real story. How can you compare a Burmese top talent from an American university with an unfortunate entrepreneur from Europe? While it may be true that Dutch corporate culture doesn't exactly favour a VC system, that doesn't mean one cannot innovate in Europe. Yes, Google, Yahoo, etc., are all great American success stories, but you should be honest: there are many failures as well that end up being in the exact miserable situation Ronald is in. Over here in Europe we try to prevent people from living in poverty, but you can't always have your cake and eat it. It's just different systems that aren't easy to compare for the average reader. This way, you make it look like Europe is a communist state that is bound to fail. For the record: I'm Dutch, I love Ronald's work and I wish him all the best in the Bay Area. (@Ronald: wazzup dude?)

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