By San Francisco standards, I’m just another regular fella who loves to travel and write from everywhere in the world. Even though there are supposedly half a billion blogs out there, I actually don’t know many people in the off-line world who have a blog let alone make any money from their online endeavors. So perhaps I’m not so average.
My friend invited me to a party to support our city’s mayor, Ed Lee. The cost was $500 per person, which is the limit for political contributions per person, per event. Usually, I would just pass because of my disdain for politicians in general. However, Ed Lee was the incumbent, and was willing to provide tax breaks for firms like Twitter and Zynga to stay in San Francisco, and therefore keep jobs in San Francisco.
I deliberated for a while and decided, what the hell. My friend was college classmates with the host, who so happened to be named Marissa Mayer, 37, the first female engineer at Google, and now the CEO of Yahoo.
Marissa hosted the party at one of her penthouses somewhere in San Francisco which I shall not disclose for privacy purposes. She and her husband were gracious hosts to us all. At the party, there were only a total of around 70 people, 70 very influential people. Ron Conway, the founding father of Angel Investing rolled in with his dark-rimmed classes and silver hair. Former SF Mayor Willie Brown was there in his suit and hat. Rose Pak, “The real Mayor of San Francisco” hobbled in due to a sprained ankle. Mark Pincus, founder of Zynga, who really is only about 5 feet 6 inches tall, came in a black turtle neck. And of course, MC Hammer, 1990’s super start rapper and now VC investor joined the party as well.
Funny enough, the people I talked to the most were Hammer for an hour and Rose Pak for about 45 minutes straight. It was fun to hear Hammer talk about his projects, what his son “Booby” is doing, and how he went back to Japan during the earthquake tsunami tragedy to help out. He felt a kinship with the Japanese people after having performed at Tokyo Dome five times in his career. We talked about collaborating on charitable events in the Bay Area as well. At the end of the night, we traded text messages and promised to keep in touch.
Rose Pak was just as interesting given she was the main reason why Mayor Ed Lee ran for Mayor and got re-elected. She controls the Chinatown vote, which is one of the most important groups of people in San Francisco given the size of the Chinese population. Rose provided an inside glimpse into the other candidates and how respect for the community and for one’s elders was tantamount. About every 5-10 minutes, a couple younger fellas would come by and ask if Rose was alright and whether she needed any food or drinks. Aunty Rose was the god mother and more important than anybody else in the room.
ACCESS IS KEY
As I observed the crowd of 70 mingle and exchange stories, I came to the realization that once you are rich and powerful, it’s easier to get that much richer, and that much more powerful. If you have a promising start-up but face tremendous competition, you likely won’t have a chance to stand out. But, if you have Ron Conway on speed dial, you are golden because everybody’s ears will perk up and pay attention.
When you’ve got money, you can afford to buy access. It sounds contrite, but that’s what rich people do. They are able to participate in fund raisers and charity events to get to know other rich and perhaps famous people who can also afford to attend. Even though I am financially independent now, $500 is not chump change to me. It’s how much I gave to the Yakezie Writing Contest and it does affect my budget. Sometimes the price of admissions is $1,000, or even $38,000 for the party Robert Mailer Anderson hosted for President Obama this past February.
The party was exclusive and to everybody there except for me, $500 was an afterthought. I just so happened to be a friend of a friend. If I wanted to join Yahoo now, getting at least an interview might have gotten a little easier.
THE PLAYING FIELD WILL NEVER BE LEVEL SO LET’S HELP!
The reason why those with money and power have the responsibility to do good is because the playing field is not level. If you so happen to be born to a poor single mother who works two jobs to feed you and your brother, it is hard to compete against someone who grows up in a wealthy household. From tutoring needs, to private school, to having parents as alumni of prestigious universities or who are in senior roles at companies, wealth makes a difference in getting ahead.
Some of us are simply just luckier than others. It is up to us who are the most lucky to help those less fortunate. There is a big uproar over Obama saying that “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” That is what we call a political gaffe and downright offensive to small business owners if it wasn’t.
What Obama means to emphasize is, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.” It’s not that you didn’t work hard and take risks. It’s just that if you live in America, you have the infrastructure to help make your dream a reality. America is the best country where there is the highest correlation with effort and success. I am very thankful for the public school education I received, and the ability to invest my money and work towards entrepreneurship.
Can the government bureacracy improve for small businesses? Absolutely! But the point is, there are many qualified individuals who are also smart and hard working, but dont’t succeed. A lot of success has to do with luck. Plenty of success also depends on who you know. For those who are connected and who have luck, don’t forget those who helped bring you there.
LET’S BE CLEAR
Money buys power. And once you’re powerful, you’ll gain even more money if that is what you wish. My fellow partiers weren’t there for either really. We were just there to help keep an incumbent Mayor in office and help keep jobs in San Francisco. But if you listen carefully, you’ll notice the discussions revolve around the charities we support. There weren’t really conversations about business. Dialogues were all about trying to figure out ways to give back to others.
Pity the person who did not have any cause they cared deeply about in which they could speak its merits. That is when you become an outsider because nobody cares how much money you have or who you know at such events.
The net worth in Marissa’s apartment that night was probably close to $4 billion dollars. With this much money comes a tremendous responsibility to help others and that’s exactly what so many of the attendees are doing.
* Does Mayor Ed Lee become more powerful now that Marissa Mayer is CEO of Yahoo with ~14,000 employees?
* Does Marissa Mayer have better access given she helped raise thousands of dollars for Mayor Lee’s campaign?
* Do you think the rich and powerful feel somewhat guilty for being so blessed with fortune?
* Will Mayor Lee do everything he can to take care of Rose Pak’s Chinatown district in terms of economic development?
* Why are there people against rich and powerful people when they donate so much to charity?
* What can we do to even the playing field to give everybody a chance to succeed?
Note: For the record, I think Marissa is going to do fantastic as the new CEO of Yahoo. She’s got the insight of how Google is run, and has the experience and drive to turn Yahoo around. Good luck Marissa!
Primary Photo: Hammer came up to Mark and said, “I’m a big fan! Can we get a picture together?” Hammer handed over his black iPhone and asked me to take a shot. I did, but my finger was in the way, and the flash whited out their faces, so I asked them to pose and took another.
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