Top tech venture capitalist Sir Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital caused a stir last week by claiming that American tech workers in Silicon Valley are lazy compared to tech workers in China.
Sequoia is one of the oldest and highest performing Silicon Valley start-up investors, with over 1,500 deals and 266 IPO and merger exits. Moritz, as a top partner, led Sequoia early-stage monster scores such as Google, LinkedIn, PayPal, Flextronics, Yahoo!, and Zappos. Current unicorns and/or future monsters he helped start include 7.ai, Berkeley Lights, GameFly, Instacart, Klarna, POPSUGAR, Strava, and Stripe.
But Moritz published an opinion piece in the Financial Times last week observing that the California tech community’s preoccupations with equality and work-life balance “seem like the concerns of a society that is becoming unhinged.”
Moritz sees Silicon Valley facing “furious” competition from harder-working Chinese tech workers, where “top managers show up for work at about 8am and frequently don’t leave until 10pm,” and engineers “appear about 10am and leave at midnight.”
Although male chauvinism is still common in Chinese homes, Moritz says that women are having an “easier time gaining recognition and respect in China’s technology workplaces.” He emphasizes that Chinese “high-flyer” women understand that they must demonstrate the same work ethnic as men, including accepting that their children will probably be “raised by a grandmother or nanny.”
Moritz points to the deep-rooted Chinese sense of “frugality,” expressed in the workplace by working on modest laptops in tiny un-heated cubicles, and even re-sharing tea bags with co-workers. He compares that to Silicon Valley tech workers demanding 2,400-foot climate-controlled work areas, large flat panel equipped desktops, and “$700 office chairs.”
Moritz states the while Silicon Valley technorati are often obsessed with a healthy lifestyle that may include such priorities as working out eight to ten hours a week, the Chinese work ethic “springs from memories of privation and the desire to improve personal circumstances.”
The bottom line for Moritz as an investor is that doing business in China is easier than doing business in California. He added, “As the Chinese technology companies push ever harder outside the mainland, the habits of western companies will start to seem antique.”
Moritz, on Sequoia’s website, warns that the tech competitive environment has changed: “In China these days, there are probably four Silicon Valleys. In the U.S., there’s one.”
Rather than accepting criticism that Silicon Valley’s work ethic has become a problem, tech publications generally have responded with self-righteous shaming. According to Connie Loizos at techcrunch.com:
“Moritz has hit a few balls out of the park, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should take his opinion as gospel. In fact, I would argue that mega-billionaires like Moritz have absolutely no place telling anyone how hard they should be working, in the U.S. or anywhere else. This is especially true if they’ve spent most of their careers not as operators but as venture capitalists — a plum job if ever there was one.”