Career investor and friend to the effective altruism movement.
Things I am interested in:
I have over a decade of experience investing in and managing technology companies as an investor/board member. I have been involved in a number of nonprofits in a similar governance capacity. I care a lot about financial literacy and operational excellence at impact organizations and believe this is a major blindspot for the EA community. I know a good bit about the biotechnology and healthcare sector, including global health, should domain knowledge in either of those areas be helpful.
It seems like we're splitting hairs. What I'm saying is that millions and millions of people are hearing about EA for the first time via articles like this: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/01/technology/sam-bankman-fried-crypto-artificial-intelligence.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare
Maybe this won't matter for the marginal Berkley EA Club joiner, but I'm worried this will do some harm for donors and non-EAs that EA orgs have to work with in order to be successfull. EA orgs often/usually have to interact with the outside world, sometimes with fairly establishment/conservative organizations who have leaders who read the NYT and WSJ.
Maybe I'm raising this alarm because I experience this directly daily working in finance with a bunch of people who are on boards of foundations and nonprofits who now have a very negative view of EA. Maybe this is a niche concern and it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Things that I think played particularly badly:
My only update is that I think this community (based on the EA forum only) is under-rating the PR damage from all of this. For a lot of people SBF =~EA, and this interview does not appear to be playing well (source: twitter, group chats etc.). I'm not sure what to do about it but I thought I'd share that observation from outside the EA/LW bubble. A few other thoughts:
When FTX raised $420 million from an array of big-name investors in October last year, the cryptocurrency exchange said the money would help grow the business, improve user experience and allow it to engage more with regulators.
Left unmentioned was that nearly three-quarters of the money, $300 million, went instead to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who sold some of his personal stake in the company, according to FTX financial records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the transaction.
Just drawing attending to the bankruptcy filing day one statement, which really is something else. This is just a brief intro filing and by no means comprehensive, but the sentiment is incredibly damning for SBF and his inner circle. Putting aside the Vox interview and questionable EV thinking re risk, it also appears that FTX was just badly run. If the plan was to run a high risk/reward strategy (even if you thought you might need to obfuscate activity in the future), you would not have such poor internal controls and governance. It all looks a lot more ham-fisted than I thought possible. I honestly don't get it.
The bankruptcy filing is something else, including the statement (from the man who restructured Enron) ‘Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here. From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented.’
There are huge private equity firms that focus on buying venture secondaries. No one is talking about selling to individuals. There is also enormous demand for these, especially from firms unable to get into deals with primary capital. FTX raised far less than they could have in the 2019-2021 market to limit dilution, which is a totally reasonable strategy. The demand for exposure to FTX surely far outstripped the ‘supply’.
All I’m saying is that as a professional investor this is extremely common and uncomplicated, especially for hot venture companies. I have friends close friends who took tens of millions off the table in 21 through secondaries in far less exciting and earlier stage businesses. On if my neighbors works at StepStone and entirely focused on venture secondaries.
My broader actual point was this: I don’t blame Will or Nick or any of the FF people for this - this stuff is super niche financial markets minutia. My broader point/concern is around governance, financial controls, and funding strategy at EA orgs (looking in from the outside and reading a few case reports). If FF had a CFO they should/would have flagged the concentration risk and developed some proposals immediately. At the most basic level I just want you guys to hire some good finance people!
There is an established mechanism for doing this called selling shares into the secondary market. From Carta:
Between 2012 and 2021, the global market for venture secondary deals grew from $13 billion to $60 billion. This growth happened in part because the primary market for venture capital also grew: Over the same span, annual global venture investment rose from just over $50 billion to well north of $600 billion. This growth culminated in a record-setting 2021.
Only thing I can add here is Helena is a longtime joke in VC/finance circles for being an almost comical example of nepotism and ego. Haven’t seen their name come up for a few years but it was a kind of meme for a while. Their new public facing stuff looks better but it used to be hard to distinguish from parody (Yale rich kid and his buddies behaving as if they were members of some kind of World Congress Davos intelligentsia). I have no idea about their biosecurity work and it could be good / it could be the case everyone has grown up and started doing serious stuff, but it’s worth noting the history and reputation. As someone who thinks EA massively underrated PR/vibe/reputation I thought I’d bring this up. I have a lot of respect for ASB so I assume there’s more to the story.