Including my two weeks leave at the end of August, this newsletter has become so tardy I’ve had ITK readers emailing me to ask if I’m okay. To which the answer is: I’m doing good!
Especially now I’ve finally shipped my big Niklas Zennström feature
, a whopping ~4,750 words, and a personal best measured by word count. The piece is based on a one hour sit down interview with Zennström, who is the co-founder of London venture capital firm Atomico and previously co-founded Skype.
There were no red lines for the interview, but either way I wanted to keep it quite high level and I knew Zennström had some strongly-held views on quite a number of big subjects. These include how ethics relates to the technology industry (and presumably global capitalism), tech’s lack of employment diversity, and the failure of the current political class to think long term about how to solve some pretty urgent world problems (climate change and sustainability, in particular) and actually lead.
As our conversation developed – and it was just that, a proper two-way conversation – it became clear that, aside from giving Atomico’s investors a decent return on their money, Zennström has a developing thesis that the fourth industrial revolution, enabled by cutting edge and future technologies, such as AI, can help society solve some of the problems caused by the first two industrial revolutions (the third, being the internet itself, of course).
“What we’ve seen over the last few years is more and more founders who are building companies to address world problems, whether that is sustainability problems, trying to fix education, trying to fix healthcare, using AI to massively improve the detection of diseases, or treating mental illness, fixing transportation, fixing the food chain that is broken. If we can support those entrepreneurs who are going after these big opportunities, bigger problems, and if some of those companies can be successful, that can be a positive impact on some pretty urgent challenges we have in this world.”
He says that some of those urgent problems have their genesis in our parents’ generation, who didn’t understand that certain things would become a problem because it was assumed that the world had infinite resources. “But we know very well now that was not the case,” he says.
Along with other topics, we also had a pretty frank discussion on tech’s lack of diversity, which I used to air a view I’ve had for quite a while.
In a rush to ape Silicon Valley, we in Europe have blindly imported Silicon Valley’s version of diversity, which leaves itself too easily exposed to accusations of identity politics and doesn’t put nearly enough emphasis on how diversity relates to European and British progressive notions of social mobility and building a more equal society.
Feedback on the piece so far has been really positive, and as ever I get the impression that many of you would like me to write more long-form pieces and conduct more in-depth interviews. I have a couple of others already planned, but what I have come to realise is:
a) They really take it out of me – mentally and physically – when having to also balance managing email, breaking news and following up tips from sources so I don’t leave any potential scoops on the table.
b) I never, ever want to write a puff piece. You know the deal: reporter given unparalleled access, enters reality distortion field, and publishes a gushing and often hyperbolic article on said person or company. Luckily I have good editors and industry friends around me who will catch me if I ever fall down that trap.
c) I have developed strict personal criteria for committing to a feature article. I need to find some kind of conflict in the story or some unique angle that can benefit most from my style of writing, inside knowledge and natural line of enquiry.
Otherwise it becomes a lot of words that doesn’t say very much new and – importantly – fails to entertain. The latter doesn’t mean going tabloid, it simply means finding insider tidbits and a way to add narrative drive in order to bring readers along with you and get to the really meaty stuff.