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Aug 1, 2017

Lobbying and Advocacy for Entrepreneurs: The Business Case

Lobbying and advocacy is not necessarily something that most entrepreneurs think about when they venture out on their own.

Despite the fact that my business focuses on tech policy, when I launched,  lobbying and advocacy couldn't have been further from my mind. I was more concerned with the minutiae: configuring and registering domains, setting up my workflow, designing my own site, etc. While I intended to include lobbyists on the podcast, I was more concerned with lobbying and advocacy issues as content. I did not remotely consider that a small business like mine would have any pull amidst the many "white shoe" lobbying firms up and down K St.: The big guns were for huge corporations, not businesses like mine.

But as I have progressed and interviewed 100 guests, I have learned that these issues indeed affect me. For example, I conduct most of my interviews via Skype. Buffering issues that I encounter during my guest interviews affect the quality of my work product, and thus my bottom line. That is a net neutrality issue. This is not "ivory tower" net neutrality. This is net neutrality from the perspective of how it affects my business.

How Regulations Can Affect Your Business

There are literally hundreds of laws and regulations, in addition to net neutrality, that could potentially affect your business. Changes to intellectual property frameworks like trademarks, copyright and patents are federal policy issues. If you operate an online business, you are subject to all federal regulations regarding how you collect and utilize customer data, register email subscribers, and many other consumer regulations. Differences and conflicts between U.S. regulations and those abroad could affect your business to the extent that you engage with international customers.

The number of regulations, new and old, that you could be affected by are essentially limitless. Congress and the federal agencies are continuously introducing and revising policies that could directly impact your profits.

Joining Forces: The Power of Strength in Numbers

The sheer number of entrepreneurs complicates our ability to organize and respond collectively to policy issues affecting out interests. However, just as the end of World War II brought with it the need for labor organizations to advocate on behalf of the workforce, the need for effective lobbying and advocacy on behalf of entrepreneurs will also grow. These advocates must be at least as effective at representing entrepreneurs' interests as those post-war labor advocates who preceded them.

Consider the growing number of Americans who are pursuing entrepreneurship as either a supplement to or substitute for full-time income. According to the U.S. Census's 2015 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs released in July of this year:

  • the number of minority-owned employer firms grew by 4.9% (from 949, 318 in 2014 to 996, 248 in 2015).
  • firms owned by women increased by 3.0% since 2014 to approximately 1.1.million.
  • veteran-owned firms totaled approximately 398, 453.
  • most firms in the U.S. (78.2%) have fewer than 10 employees.

Start-up entrepreneurs also need a place to belong. Networking and developing the right relationships is a breeze for powerful corporations. Small businesses are powerful in scale, but not as powerful in scope in terms of the expansiveness of their networks. Melissa Blaustein is working to change all that by leading lobbying and advocacy efforts for startup firms around the world. I hope you'll consider joining her in her efforts.


Melissa Blaustein (@MentionMelissa) is the Founder of Allied for Startups, a global network of startup policy associations whose goal is to make the voice of startups heard in government. Allied for Startups counts more than 19 countries on four continents as members, including 13 in the EU alone. Her background in digital policy and advocacy spans the local, national, and international levels, having held roles at The White House, UN Women, the UNEP, the G20 Research Group, with Fmr. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and on the team of many San Francisco politicians.

Melissa's entrepreneurial spirit has led her to take on challenges in the startup and technology space, including advising the French government on a taxation structure for the digital economy, serving as an ambassador at an accelerator in Paris and working at the Vice President of International Outreach at France Digitale, an association dedicated to lobbying the government on behalf of startups in France. Blaustein holds a Masters Degree Cum Laude from Sciences Po in Paris and an undergraduate degree with honors from UC Berkeley. She speaks four languages and has lived in four countries.


Allied for Startups--The Voice for Startups in Politics and Government

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild



House Panel Green-lights Self Driving Car Legislation

The  54-member House Energy and Commerce Committee voted unanimously to advance legislation to speed the commercialization of self-driving cars. The legislation would clear the way for the sale of up to 100,000 self-driving cars. It would also pre-empt state laws dealing with performance standards. States would continue to regulate things like licensing, liability, safety and insurance. David Shepardson has the story in Reuters.

Lyft announced last week that it too has created a self-driving car division. Read more from Heather Somerville in Reuters.

Congress seeks more government data on Kaspersky Labs

Members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology,  have asked some 22 cabinet-level government agencies for any information they have on Kaspersky Labs. Kaspersky is the Moscow-based cybersecurity firm. Several U.S. officials and members of Congress don't trust Kaspersky. They allege that Kaspersky could be a front that Russian officials use to spy on the U.S. It's an assertion that Kaspersky has vehemently denied. Dustin Voltz reports in Reuters.

Russian Citizen Indicted for Bitcoin Laundering

The Department of Justice has indicted a Russian citizen for money laundering. The DOJ alleges that Alexander Vinnick laundered $4 billion through the digital currency Bitcoin to fund drug trafficking, identity theft and hacking. Ali Breland at the Hill reports that Vinnick was arrested in Greece for allegedly using BTC-e--one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges--to carry out the crimes.

Is FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's FCC 'Full of Sh*t'???

Remember when the FCC's site went down after John Oliver urged his viewers to submit comments regarding net neutrality? Ajit Pai claimed it went down because of a DDos attack. Gizmodo said, "Yeah right" and filed a FOIA request asking the FCC to provide documentation showing it was indeed caused by a DDos attack. Well, thus far, the FCC has apparently failed to corroborate the Chairman's story. So Oregon Senator Ron Wyden took the FCC to task last week, accusing the FCC of playing "word games".

Wyden also suggested the FCC may be violating the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide the information Gizmodo seeks. If there was indeed a 3,000 percent increase in network traffic at the FCC as FCC Chair Ajit Pai claimed, why wasn't anyone at the FCC freaking out??? Surely there would have been emails. But Gizmodo hasn't found emails, or anything else for that matter, to suggest that Chairman Pai was telling the truth. The FCC's net neutrality docket has thus far received over 10 million public comments. Jon Brodkin has the story in Ars Technica.

Tech Earnings Reports Off-Target

Major tech stocks showed lower than expected results in the second quarter. Amazon took a 77% hit to profits even though its sales were up. Google's parent Alphabet's profit fell 28%. The Wall Street Journal attributes the shortfall to the $2.74 billion fine the EU levied against Google last month for allegedly pumping its own search results. And while the number of clicks per ad were up at Google, revenues per click were down. Further, Twitter's stock dropped 12%. The company also reported flat user growth, which is stuck at 328 million, and a $116 million loss.

Foxconn to build a U.S. plant in Wisconsin

President Donald Trump indicated that Foxconn -- the  iPhone component maker-- would be spending $10 billion to build a Wisconsin plant. The president claims the plant would create 3,000 jobs.  Foxconn CEO Terry Gou did join Trump, Vice President Pence, House Speaker  Paul Ryan, and Wisconsin Senators Walker and Johnson at the White House. But it's not clear exactly what was discussed. Walker claims that the average job created by the plant will pay $53,000 per year.

Google to Spend $50 million to help displaced workers

Google announced last Wednesday that it would be spending $50 million to help workers displaced by technology to find new jobs. The company's head of philanthropy, Jacqueline Fuller, made the announcement in a blog post last week. Ali Breland has more details in the Hill.

In other Google news, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has joined the board of Google's parent company Alphabet. The move comes as Alphabet seeks to accelerate many of the other initiatives it has been working on, such as Fiber X and self-driving cars. Dieter Bohn has the story in the Verge.


Will Amazon's Whole Foods Alleviate or Promote Food Deserts?

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and 11 members of Congress are asking the DOJ and FTC to investigate the Amazon-Whole Foods merger. The lawmakers are concerned about how the merger would affect underserved-communities' ability to access quality groceries. Many consumers live in so-called "food deserts"leaving them isolated from quality supermarkets.

Airbnb and NAACP Team Up

Airbnb and The NAACP have teamed up to open up the Airbnb platform to underserved communities. The company has come under fire for helping to facilitate an environment in which hosts routinely refuse to rent to people of color. Some cases are more explicit than others. In California in recent weeks, a host was fined $5,000 for explicitly refusing to rent to an Asian woman for no other reason other than the fact that she's Asian. The host will also have to take a college-level racial sensitivity course. The NAACP will work with Airbnb to identify underserved areas in which residents can learn more about how Airbnb can generate extra needed income. NAACP will be compensated 20% of all revenues that come from this initiative. No word yet on how much of that extra revenue will go to fund local schools and other need services. Nick Statt has the story in The Verge.