Last November, Fred Wilson had the privilege of sharing a stage with John Doerr, the wealthiest venture capitalist in the world, a man Amazon’s Jeff Bezos once called the "center of gravity in the Internet." Next to this titan of Silicon Valley, Wilson, who co-founded the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures in 2004, was "a puppy," as the panel’s moderator put it.
But Wilson was there because, in addition to his having made some successful investments, he’s become a spokesperson for New York City’s digital entrepreneurs, who have no greater champion. Beyond the financial backing he provides, Wilson, largely through his popular blog, AVC: Musings of a VC in NYC, is the staunchest and most outspoken advocate of the city’s tech scene—aka Silicon Alley—as well as a passionate detractor of the titans of the Internet’s true capital.
The problem for Silicon Alley entrepreneurs is that USV’s success has largely come from West Coast investments, namely Twitter and Zynga.
For the New York City-based tech startups out there, including the ones that make up two-thirds of USV’s portfolio, Wilson is an odd, reluctant leader. A spokesperson must speak; Wilson, though he blogs frequently, rejects media attention.
Wilson declined to be interviewed or otherwise cooperate for this article. "I don’t want to do a profile," he told me by email. "It’s not my thing." When he found out I was contacting his partners, he seemed livid: "i would like to reiterate that i don’t want any profiles of me. i am not newsworthy. the companies we invest in are. i will not cooperate with this profile and i’ve asked my partners not to cooperate and if you reach out to others and they mention this to me i will ask them not to cooperate either.
"i have nothing to hide," he went on. "i am open and transparent. people know me from my blog, my talks, my activities, and my work. but i do not want to be the subject of a profile. this is not about adweek. i tell the same thing to everyone who asks me to do a profile and most respect my wishes."
This was the beginning of a series of caustic emails that Wilson sent, in which he argued that "profiles aren’t journalism" and told me that I "might want to think about making friends instead of pissing people off."