• Baker Institute Team

"I had my assumptions challenged."

At the Lehigh @NassdaqCenter

Hank Portney '21 | Jersey City, NJ

Major | IDEAS: Mechanical Engineering, Product Design, & Sustainable Development

“I’m not qualified” - Robby Kwok

By far the most interesting thing I’ve learned throughout my LSV experience has been the relationship between Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs and ethics.

From taking many a seminar with Professor Bill Best, I’m now trained to ask the ethics questions. I personally believe ethics and morality should be at the center of every design, engineering, and business conversation, and was surprised to learn just how differently this seemed to be here.

I asked the CEO of Zynga--a company best known for Farmville, a monetization-heavy online game-- what he believed the role of his company was in not abusing ‘whale’ players was. [‘Whales’ are gaming addicts who overspend on the product and help support a significant portion of online/mobile game revenue]. He answered that because they represented such a small portion of the audience, a “fraction of a fraction”, that it was okay to ignore because the consumer was responsible for their own habits when using a form of entertainment. This was incredibly surprising to me; after all, the game developers spend tons of time optimizing their product to drive microtransactions and combined with a vulnerable player, this abuse might be considered unethical. As a designer, I would hope never to write off a single user of my product, after all.

However, after listening to all of the other founders and VC firms and more talk about their work, I found something even more upsetting: a lot of the people we spoke to had very little investment in the nature of the product they were working on; instead, they seemed focused on the business components only, the funding rounds, their exit, much more than the impact of what they’re making. This was distressing; were I to enter the world of Silicon Valley, I’d hope to care about what I was doing.

That’s why I was so surprised and relieved when we heard all about Lyft's built-in social impact mission: providing free rides to any number of causes to drive social good. I had no idea that a complex, fast-growing tech company could have a positive impact so ingrained to their mission, but learning about their engagement on civic, environmental, healthcare, and job access issues was refreshing. Similarly, seeing Zipline, the medicine-delivering drone company perfect synergy of great business strategy with its core product providing such a positive impact was fantastic.

This was only one area of many where I had my assumptions challenged, and I’m really glad to have experienced it all right in the heart of the US entrepreneurship scene.

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