That’s an age-old question thrown into sharp relief this summer as Juul, the e-cigarette company that teenagers are gaga for these days, raises a round of financing that values the company on the same par with names like Lyft or Snap. There is perhaps no better market than one we are addicted to, but puritanical Silicon Valley typically refrains from industries that call upon our taste for sin.
So that means not to expect to see a marquee venture capital firm behind a new marketplace to organize the adderall industry, even if there is surely a better way to connect dealers and buyers. Or behind a new technology to muffle the blast of a pistol, even if tens of millions of firearms are sold each year.
Or behind a new innovation in how we experience pornography — even though the virtual reality platforms that firms’ portfolio companies build could very well revamp an estimated $100 billion industry worldwide. Here’s the deal: By rule in some circumstances — and by tradition in others — premier venture capital firms don’t touch the industries that prey upon our worst angels.
That’s generally to please their own investors, known as limited partners, who might be doing good, expensive work but put in place these “vice clauses.” “All investment opportunities are evaluated through the lens of what is consistent with our values,” says Kleiner Perkins, the oldest of the old-guard venture capital firms, “and we have no current investments in the categories of alcohol, tobacco and guns or businesses that are illegal in any state.” That’s long been modus operandi at Silicon Valley’s most brand-conscious firms. The reputational risk is real — or, at least, was real. What’s new is the liberalizing of the country’s mores on topics like drugs, with growing parts of both the left and the right pursuing criminal justice reforms that treat drug addiction like more of a business problem to be solved than an industry to be eradicated.
Take marijuana: As states like Colorado began legalizing weed, effective in 2014, about $700 million has flowed into the cannabis industry. From investments in delivery startups like Eaze, backed by DCM Ventures, to providers like PharmaCannis, some venture capital firms have shown that they do occasionally change with the times. Read more from recode.net…
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