The tech industry's privacy concerns, patent problems and labor immigration issues have made it more active in Washington than ever, and on Monday, one of its own, Carly Fiorina, announced her candidacy for the presidency of the United States. But despite having led Hewlett-Packard as CEO for six years, the rift between Fiorina and Silicon Valley is wide.
Fiorina's knowledge and understanding of issues ranging from the National Security Agency's snooping to the Federal Communications Commission's ruling on net neutrality has not helped narrow the divide: Silicon Valley simply doesn't consider Fiorina one of its own.
That's partly generational. It's been nearly a decade since she was CEO of HP. Her tenure there is associated with poor performance of the company and a massive bet on hardware (the $25 billion merger with Compaq). Today's Silicon Valley power brokers -- the founders, top executives and VCs -- made their names and fortunes in software and services.
“There's a certain pride the Bay Area has in backing tech-forward candidates, and Fiorina isn't tech-forward," said Matt Thomson, chief product officer of Bitly and a longtime veteran of the tech industry. "You might say she's from here, but not of here.”
It took just a few hours for the Republican candidate to be publicly mocked by Marc Benioff, one of the most prominent executives in the tech industry. “Today @CarlyFiorina declared that her 1st move as President will be replacing photos of Washington and Lincoln in WH with photos of herself,” tweeted Benioff, who is the CEO of Salesforce.com and one of the biggest political donors in tech.
That gibe shouldn't shock anyone. Benioff strongly opposed Indiana's controversial religious freedom law and was criticized by Fiorina for it. Fiorina did the same with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who was also against the law.
Fiorina's best bet at gaining tech support would appear to be landing either Peter Thiel or Marc Andreessen, two of the most notable venture capitalists in the industry. Thiel is famously libertarian and has donated to Republicans in the past, but he may already have a candidate in mind, having previously donated to Sen. Ted Cruz, who is also seeking the Republican nomination. Andreessen, on the other hand, may be up for grabs. Though he supported President Obama in 2008, he sent his donations to Republican nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Based on donations, Andreessen has yet to pick a candidate, but when asked to speak for this article, the famed investor declined to comment by way of his firm Andreessen Horowitz.
One of the few supporters whom Fiorina appears to have been able to pluck from the tech industry is Qualcomm co-founder Antonio Franklin, who donated $10,000 to the Unlocking Potential Project, a super PAC the candidate established last year. Other than Franklin, it’s tough to find any notable members of the tech world who support the former HP chief, but that hasn't stopped her from seeking tech's support. Fiorina participated in a panel of TechCrunch's Disrupt NY conference on Tuesday, just the second official day of her campaign.
The San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its left lean on most issues, and it has voted blue in every election since 1984. More importantly for Fiorina, many of the industry’s richest individuals primarily donate to Democrats. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, for example, each gave money to Obama in 2012.
Fiorina's positions on social issues and business put her at odds with dominant views in Silicon Valley. Tech has found that supporting issues like same-sex marriage is key to recruiting and retaining skilled workers. At the same time, Fiorina has said she would support an amendment banning same-sex marriage. She also penned a CNN opinion piece criticizing another thing Web companies hold dear: new Internet rules -- so-called net neutrality -- recently passed by FCC that were supported by companies like Google and Netflix.
“New tech companies like Google, eBay, Uber -- all these companies that you’re seeing come about -- they’re much more progressive,” said Craig Agranoff, founder of PoliticalConsulting.com and co-founder of Gripd.com, a digital marketing agency. “They’re more liberal, especially on social issues, and she’s not likely to move these voters.”
Fiorina is her own biggest supporter, contributing $5.8 million of the total $21.5 million she raised for her unsuccessful 2010 Senate bid. She will have to rack up much more than that if she’s serious about becoming president -- Obama and Romney each spent more than a billion dollars in 2012.
Fiorina, who has never held public office, will position herself as a savvy businesswoman and a D.C. outsider who will bring to government the same kind of fresh and innovative ideas California’s tech industry is known for. The problem with that picture is that many in tech don’t think too fondly of her business skills.
Fiorina presided over HP during the dot-com years, but since the smartphone revolution in 2007, the industry is a very different place. The first sign that Fiorina may be out of touch came Monday, when it was discovered that her team had forgot to register CarlyFiorina.org. The site was snatched up by someone else and used against her campaign to highlight the 30,000 jobs she cut while at HP.
“Here’s a woman that’s supposedly Mrs. Tech, the CEO of a Fortune 20 corporation, and she didn’t even think to spend the $10 or whatever it would be registering that domain name?” Agranoff said. “This shows right at the very beginning of the campaign how un-tech she is. She might be a business woman at the helm, but when it comes to the actual technology of it, I’m just not sure she gets it.”
There are some in Silicon Valley who support Fiorina and appreciate that a veteran of the tech industry has thrown her hat in the ring. But even among them, enthusiasm is lacking. Tasso Roumeliotis, CEO of Location Labs, an Emeryville, California, mobile security firm, said he thinks Fiorina could provide that leadership, but would like to see someone more in the mold of Elon Musk as the pro-tech, pro-business candidate.
“If there’s nobody else that runs that has significantly more of a Silicon Valley mindset, I think there will be support,” Roumeliotis said, calling Fiorina the most representative candidate for Silicon Valley, albeit not the ideal one.
Fortunately for Fiorina, many consider the Republican nomination a wide-open race with no clear front-runner. If she can gain momentum and find success during the primary debates, she may be able to find support from tech companies and workers over time. “When the debates start, if she can break away and score some good points -- assuming she gets in them -- that’s really all you need,” said Fred Karger, a former political consultant.
Down the road, Fiorina may be able to rally the industry she was once a leader of, but for now, it doesn’t look like the majority of Silicon Valley will flock to support her or sing her praises.
“Fiorina is definitely not the Silicon Valley's candidate because she simply doesn't represent the socially progressive attitudes of the Bay Area," said Bitly's Thomson. "For every H1B issue that she may expediently support, she's also anti-gay and is spotty on the environment."