Brad Hargreaves | Building Things

Brad Hargreaves on entrepreneurship, community and life

Entrepreneurship is the New Art

with 4 comments

I wrote several months ago that everyone should get funded, and the growth of philanthropy-driven angel funding will fuel it. A few things I’ve seen over the past week have taken my thinking to the next level.

It has become extraordinarily difficult to change culture through pure art. New forms of art are no longer shocking to mainstream culture as Pointillism was to the late 19th century or Cubism to the early 20th. Few know this better than Carter Cleveland of, who made a powerful point to me last week: Those who wish to fundamentally change culture in the 21st century — and those who wish to fund those changes — must look toward entrepreneurship.

Over the past fifteen years, startups have been catalyzing global cultural changes that had previously been the realm of artists. Facebook is the perfect example, a company nominally driven by a desire to “change the way people interact”, a phrase that could just as easily be spoken by a conceptual artist. And Facebook has succeeded in changing the way over five hundred million people interact, whereas an artist with a similar goal would be lucky to be featured in a design magazine or score a cameo on the evening news. One could argue that it’s all art, but the medium has shifted from canvas to Delaware C Corporations. Fifty years ago, repressive regimes banned books and modern art. Today they ban Facebook and Twitter.

This thought has been stewing in my head for a while, and Yuri Milner’s commitment to YCombinator drove it home. Yuri has fantastic returns — his three investments thus far are Facebook, Zynga and Groupon — but I’m convinced he’s playing by a different set of rules. Arrington first wrote about US startups as a vanity purchase for wealthy Russians more than a year ago, and there are surely enough wealthy Russians to fill DST’s coffers without forcing a strict focus on returns. But I don’t think DST is an oddball clique — rather, I see them as the model for the future a venture capital. A future in which super-wealthy individual limited partners are driving a fund that is based on equal parts vanity, philanthropy and financial returns.

This is a self-reinforcing trend: as more investors look to startups as a “Broadway-like” investment — that is, something that is just as much about status and cultural change as financial profitability — ever-adapting entrepreneurs will build companies that emphasize these kinds of “softer” returns. As the positive feedback cycle accelerates, we’re likely to see an entire class of investors and entrepreneurs styling themselves as patrons and interactive artists, respectively. This isn’t to say that these entrepreneurs will be building nonprofits; rather, supernormal returns are an integrated piece of the startups’ aesthetic appeal to culturally and financially savvy investors.

This is as long of a prediction as I’ll make here. I don’t think this is a trend we’ll see culminate in the next 5 or even 10 years — this one is going to take thirty years to fully play out and the effects will be felt for decades if not centuries. Entrepreneurship is the new art, and it is a Good Thing — both for entrepreneurs and our society as a whole.

Written by Brad Hargreaves

February 2nd, 2011 at 6:04 am

  • Anonymous

    Entrepreneurship may be the new art. But it can never be good art if money plays such a dominant role.
    Well, depending on how you define “good” of course… :)

  • Colin Winter

    Agreed; as long as the entrepreneur is following a passion and not just a path towards generating lots of money. Personally I would have gone to film school if I didn’t reason that entrepreneurship would have a much greater impact. Thanks for the reminder Brad.

  • Mharris717

    I really like the core concept, that art seeks to change/inform culture, and startups are the entities doing that. Still thinking about the rest of the post. Great job.

  • paramendra

    How companies get funded keeps changing, mostly for the better. More money for more entrepreneurs. You no longer need friends and family money. You can go straight to super angels, for example.