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Tech’s Privilege Barrier

Behind the articles we write about hot startups and funding rounds is a truth that needs a headline of its own: The technology industry is not as meritocratic as it may seem.

For this column, I am focusing specifically on entrepreneurs, the people who found companies and beat the odds to turn them into something big. By many measures, the industry is incredibly fair with relatively few barriers to entry. You could, in theory, build the next Snapchat or WhatsApp with a good idea, a laptop and barely any capital.

The reality is a little different. Rags to riches tales (like Steve Jobs or WhatsApp’s Jan Koum) get a lot of attention and certainly exist. But the “anyone can make something of himself” narrative ignores the fact that to go from idea to successful company you need a lot of other ingredients, ingredients where privilege helps a lot.

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This topic has been on my mind as I wander around the Allen and Co. conference in Sun Valley this week. There are lots of entrepreneurs here who worked hard to build great businesses. But they have also had privileged pedigrees.