Silicon Valley could not scramble away from Tom Perkins fast enough this week, after one of the founding fathers of venture capital tried to compare class tension directed at San Francisco's 1 percent with what's now basically considered the beginning of the Holocaust.
Never seen the fellow, never met the dude, not even sure how he got on our logo, they cried. Rather than acknowledge Perkins' whine for what it was—a grotesque caricature of their own paranoia and hair-trigger persecution complex over whether they deserve to be at the top of the heap—Perkins became a convenient scapegoat.
Look at that whack job over there. Protest the Google buses. Pay no attention to the income inequality and untenable housing shortage behind the curtain. (By the way, Wall Street's way ahead of Silicon Valley on the paranoia index. If one rock at a Google bus freaked them out, imagine months of rabble-rousers plotting the revolution in Zuccotti Park.)
In an impassioned disavowal of Perkins statements, investor Mark Suster, who makes some fine points otherwise, sneers at a quote Perkins gave the Wall Street Journal in 2012: "I'm called the king of Silicon Valley. "Why can't I have a penthouse?"
If Marc Andreessen barely knows Tom Perkins you can be assured Mr. Perkins is not the king of anything in Silicon Valley.
So there is a king, it's just not Perkins. In fact, Andreessen seems to be leading the charge to put simultaneously put their Teslas in reverse. Check out his Twitter stream during Perkins gaffe-filled interview with Bloomberg TV yesterday.
This heckling is from a billionaire who stunted on the cover of Time on a golden throne. Andreessen is just savvy enough not to say brand names like Richard Mille—or phrases like private coastline or that's my Redwood—on Bloomberg TV.
But that's what makes Perkins so fascinating!
He's too old—he brought A PRINT OUT of an email from some random commenter to read in his defense—and out-of-touch with the hoodie aesthetic to hide his real feelings. If you got an invite to one of those debate club/dinner parties at Peter Thiel's house, you'd likely hear some version of the obliviousness he spouted on TV. Emily Chang, who interviewed Perkins on Bloomberg described it best:
"It's apparent that he is divorced from the reality that 99% of us live in. Yet, as he answered my questions, he appeared brutally honest..."
The Silicon Valley villagers hanging Perkins out to dry are right about one thing, though. Perkins let their class anxiety out of the bag, but he's not an archetype or emblematic of the tech industry. He could never be. Mostly because he seems singularly bonkers—your wackiest uncle if your uncle had the money to see the world from the window of his underwater airplane.
Just check the archives:
1. There was that time in 1996 when Perkins was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in France. The yacht maniac collided his ship with a smaller boat, killing a French doctor on board. Perkins escaped with a 10,000 fine and source material for his wife at the time, Danielle Steel. The persecution complex is strong in this accidental killer:
"I was arrested and tried in a foreign court in a language you don't understand, by judges indifferent - or worse - to justice, represented by an inappropriate lawyer with the negative outcome preordained."
2. The manslaughter conviction and other escapades are covered in Perkins' memoir, Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins, which he told Charlie Rose that he wrote partly to compete with Her Hedgerow Highness, Steel.
3. You can read more about Perkins' competitive streak in the book Mine's Bigger: The Extraordinary Tale of the World's Greatest Sailboat and the Silicon Valley Tycoon Who Built It. The big boat in question is a $130 million pinnacle of ostentation "as long as a football field" called The Maltese Falcon. (n.b.: This is a different yacht from the one he manslaughtered on.) In 2007, Perkins told the New York Times his friend had another name for the ship:
"Bubbles are good," he said. "I've made a lot of money on bubbles."
Mr. Perkins's firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was an early backer of Google. Mr. Perkins said he has sold a chunk of his shares.
"My friend said that I should have called my boat, which I named the Maltese Falcon, the Maltese Google," he said.
4. But we've only gotten two of the reading materials you'll need to study up on Perkins! He also wrote a cheeky little romp called Sex and the Single Zillionaire. According to the book's description on Amazon, the plot goes like so:
Much to his surprise, and the chagrin of his Wall Street partners, Steven Hudson, a very wealthy widower, agrees to appear on the new reality show Trophy Bride. Plucked from his lonely Central Park-view penthouse and dropped into a frothy mix of stunning models, actresses, and athletes, Steven's sober life quickly veers out of control.
In the author's note, Perkins says the story is "pure fiction," except that like his main character, "I received an invitation to try-out for the star part in a TV reality show." Whichever network lost the opportunity to broadcast Perkins: Unplugged does not deserve its airtime.
5. This 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl offers a brief chance to watch Perkins in his native habitat: command central on his yacht. Apparently he built the software "that makes sailing on the Falcon as easy as playing a computer game!" When Stahl asks how much it cost him, Perkins laughs, but can't help himself: "The rule of thumb, Lesley, is that a big yacht costs about a million dollars a meter."
Image how many six-packs of Rolexes you could buy with that.
6. The most important thing you need to know, however, is that this isn't Perkins first letter writing rodeo. He also played a crucial part in Hewlett-Packard "pretexting" scandal, which ended with a three-month jail sentence for a former private investigator. In a book review of Valley Boy, the San Jose Mercury News wrote:
Not one to go quietly, Perkins forced HP leaders to oh-so-gradually own up to the company's skulduggery and endure the world-class scandal they richly deserved.
Kaplan's book quotes Perkins warning an investment banker, "I can be very vindictive." That's not always a bad thing. If not for Perkins, HP management might still regard its spy caper as a success, not a scandal. Remember, the HP attorney who supervised the spying was rewarded with a promotion to director of ethics.
Here's the letter he wrote to HP's directors. Sometimes you can learn more from the jester than the king.WSJ Perkins to HP (PDF)
WSJ Perkins to HP (Text)
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[Top image via Getty, Maltese Falcon image via Associated Press]