Zillow co-founder Rich Barton spoke this morning at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Denver, appearing alongside CH2M Hill CEO Jacqueline Hinman and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from immigration reform to global warming to how the U.S. will keep its competitive edge in an ever-changing global economy.
Barton, who prior to founding Zillow served as CEO of online travel giant Expedia, hammered on several recurring themes that we’ve covered here at GeekWire: the need for computer science education; broadband connectivity and even the regulations around new services such as Uber.
Here are excerpted remarks from Barton, who was recently named one of 11 Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship:
On what defines American entrepreneurship: “The United States was a country that was founded by pioneers, by explorers. We were adventurers. And I think to this day that is what defines the American psyche. We have this rugged individualism. We are, to a certain extent, freedom fighters. I think we still are. In my technology world, it is really exciting the way that smartphones and computers and the Internet and cloud and the Internet of Things are empowering the world with new weapons with which that they can fight for freedom. I see us as the most technologically and innovative society in the world. We are the most aggressive-minded. We have the best capital markets for growing a startup economy, in several places, not just Silicon Valley. The American dream is really this dream of adventure and success.”
On how the U.S. is perceived globally: “The great thing is that the world, especially young people and technologically-oriented people, the world looks to America as the innovation leader. The technology leader. The world knows who Mark Zuckerberg is. They know who Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are. And they, for better or worse, look up to us. And so as part of my role as an Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, I get the privilege of being able to carry that evangelical message of startup capitalism to the world and get these young people fired up, and help them create their own businesses. We as a society, and certainly the president, views American-style startup entrepreneurialism as the tip of the freedom spear. The more startups we have around the world, the more democracy we are going to have. Maybe I am wrong.”
On immigration in the U.S. “We have a couple problems. We have an immigration problem that is linked to a computer science education problem. The very best jobs in the world — I have a company called Glassdoor and we are one of the largest jobs sites in the world and we analyze all sorts of interesting data about the job market. Here’s where the jobs are: in computer science and engineering. There are literally hundreds of thousands of open, unfulfilled jobs that don’t have qualified American kids applying for, because they have not gotten the education. Only one in 10 public schools in the United States even teaches computer science. This is really something that we as a society have to change. Now, another part, tied to that problem, is immigration. So, because we can’t find all of the computer science engineering talent that we need in the U.S., we look abroad. And we educate a lot of foreigners, of non-U.S. residents. They come, and we educate them in computer science. We get them PhDs … and we still make it hard for those people to stay. The interesting image that everyone can grok is that every time a PhD is handed out in the United States to someone who is not an American, a green card should be stapled to it. There is absolutely no question that should happen.”
On slow broadband in the U.S. and net neutrality: “Our Internet in the U.S. is a lot slower than in South Korea…. I have built my career given power to the people so that they can use these computers and the Internet and smartphones to disrupt industries. I did that with Expedia in travel and Zillow in real estate and so I am a more progressive oriented guy. But I look at say the Internet and speeds on the Internet, for example. And not only are we slow, but we have a current chairman of the FCC who is proposing a ‘fast lane-slow lane’ Internet regime, such that the people that control, the big companies that control access to Internet to the homes, are going to be able to charge different amounts for different speeds of the Internet. This, to me, catastrophe is too great of a word, but really a drag on innovation in our Internet-based economy, and something that would not be good, and yet we have this regulatory regime that is proposing it.”
On Uber and ride-sharing regulations: “We had a flare up in Seattle. Uber, and there is nobody who probably hasn’t heard of Uber at this point. Maybe not nobody. But if you are in Europe or the United States, everyone has heard of it. It really is a revolutionary and transformative thing in transportation. I think people originally thought: ‘Oh, it will take a little bit of market share of taxis.’ Now people are realizing that there are people who are getting rid of their cars and it is more economical to Uber everywhere. I did that for a week as an experiment, just to see and I found all sorts of interesting side effects…. In Seattle, our Seattle City Council took a vote to cap the number of Uber drivers who were allowed to be in Seattle, at a very low number, something that was way lower than what the market was demanding. And this was done, who knows who was influencing what where, but clearly the entrenched interests of the taxi commission were in there getting the local officials. There was a huge uproar. Of course, the people wanted Uber. A huge uproar. The mayor felt pressure and two or three months later, they reversed that decision.”
On the proper role of regulation around companies like Uber: “We have to support progress. Now, I am perhaps more progressively-minded than most. I am probably way out in the distribution tail, but advancement of the country and advancement of society and advancement of the human condition means that we are encouraging progress. We need regulators who are open-minded to progress, not just companies that are open-minded to progress, but we need a government that is open-minded as well, and when you do that, and you are leaning progressive in regulatory policies, you do stub your toe every once in a while. You do get bloody and make mistakes every once in a while, and that’s how you learn and how you figure out where the new problems are. But, if you stifle innovation, I can guarantee what’s going to happen. You are going to get stagnation.”
On a $15 minimum wage: “Seattle, I am very proud to say. I wasn’t very proud of the City Council on the Uber thing, but I am very proud of Seattle on a recent vote, I guess, to raise the minimum wage to $15 that phases in over time. I think this is a head-slappingly simple idea. Minimum wage ought to be at a point where people do not have to be takers from society just to support themselves. This seems so logical. We want our middle class society to actually be able to buy things. And, if they can’t buy things, we can’t drive the economy.”
On disruption in industry: “I think we as humans like to be scared. Politicians actually know this well. It is a very effective means of getting what you want, to scare people. And now ‘we need to come in and save the day.’ One of the things we like to be scared of as humans is how technology, that we don’t understand is scary, and it is going to take away our jobs and change our traditional lifestyle. Every generation has said this. New technologies have come along. Once upon a time, most of the world was employed in agriculture as farmers. And that was great. We fed ourselves. We had a lot of autonomy and independence, and along came technology that made farming jobs as a percentage of the economy go from here to almost infinitesimally small. Did that mean we had a jobs problem going forward? Absolutely not. New jobs are created as new technologies emerge. And we are watching the kinds of new jobs that are being created upon the backs of these new technology platforms…. I am very optimistic that these new technologies are not putting people out of work, they are creating even better opportunities for people.”