Big Tech’s Big Defector

Roger McNamee made a fortune as one of Silicon Valley’s earliest champions. Now he’s one of its most fervent critics

If the founders of Big Tech were a family, McNamee might be its eccentric uncle. A longtime guitarist who still plays some fifty shows a year, he has toured for more than two decades with an evolving cast of venture capitalists, technologists, and career musicians such as Pete Sears, of Jefferson Starship. On tracks like the stoner anthem “It’s 4:20 Somewhere,” by his band Moonalice, McNamee performed under the stage name Chubby Wombat.

McNamee has mentored many of the people who have transformed Silicon Valley. In 2006, when Facebook was a two-year-old company with less than fifty million dollars in annual revenue, McNamee advised Mark Zuckerberg to turn down Yahoo’s offer to buy it for a billion dollars. (It’s now worth more than five hundred billion.) Not long afterward, he encouraged Zuckerberg to hire Sheryl Sandberg. His acquaintances have included Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who was an investor at Silver Lake.

McNamee saw the tech industry as an experiment in creative and profitable problem-solving. He grew unnerved by its ethical failures only in 2012, when Uber came to him for investment capital. He decided that Silicon Valley had changed. “These guys all wanted to be monopolists,” he said recently. “They all want to be billionaires.”

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