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Controversial tech entrepreneur to political leader: The new startup career path
Controversial tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom has announced the formation of a new political party, known as the Internet Party, ahead of New Zealand’s next general elections in September.
German-born Dotcom is best known as the founder of the controversial file sharing website Megaupload, for which he was indicted in the US on charges relating to piracy.
Since then, he’s gone on to launch a new venture, a highly encrypted cloud storage service called Mega.
His new party’s positions include delivering cheaper high-speed internet, better oversight of spy agencies, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, copyright reform, the introduction of a digital currency and the introduction of a digital bill of rights.
However, Dotcom is far from the first tech figure to turn to politics – with some having more success than others.
StartupSmart looks at five other high-profile tech figures from the tech world who have gone on to their hand at politics – often with mixed results.
1. Julian Assange, Wikileaks Party
Should Dotcom’s party get off the ground, his political career will inevitably be compared with that of Julian Assange.
Assange is best known as the founder of whistleblower website Wikileaks, along with a long-running series of court cases relating to rape allegations in Sweden. Since August 2012, facing the threat of arrest, Assange has been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
After being granted asylum, Assange announced plans to form a Wikileaks political party. The Wikileaks Party contested the 2013 federal election, but only received 0.66% of the vote.
Along the way, several high-profile candidates, including prominent academic and former Wikileaks lead Senate candidate Leslie Cannold, abandoned the party.
2. Ross Perot, Reform Party
A far more successful minor party campaign was run in the US by Texan tech entrepreneur Ross Perot.
Perot got his start in the tech industry all the way back in 1962, when he launched an information technology equipment company called Electronic Data Systems. Perot eventually sold the company to General Motors in 1984, which in turn sold the company to HP in 2008.
It was around the time of the sale to General Motors that Perot met another young tech executive named Steve Jobs. After being ousted from Apple, Jobs had launched a new tech startup called NeXT, and Perot decided to make an investment.
The products Jobs’ company developed included an operating system called NeXTStep, which would eventually form the basis of Mac OS-X and iOS after Jobs returned to Apple. Perot also sold another venture – Perot Systems – to Dell in 2009 for $US3.9 billion.
Of course, these days, Perot is best known for standing as an independent third candidate in the 1992 US presidential election against incumbent George Bush Snr. and Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton.
The Texan stood on a platform combining a mix of policies mixing positions traditionally advocated with the left and the right of US politics. For example, Perot advocated a balanced budget, a tough stance on drug policy and opposition to gun control. However, he also advocated in favour of abortion rights, protectionism, an end to outsourcing and a strong Environmental Protection Agency.
Perot ended up winning 18.91% of the vote, an incredible result for an independent presidential candidate in the US. He stood a second time in 1996, picking up 8% of the vote against President Bill Clinton and Republican candidate Bob Dole.
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3. Rickard Falkvinge, Pirate Party
Of course, when it comes to Kim Dotcom, perhaps the best political role model to follow might be Rickard Falkvinge.
Falkvinge grew up in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, next door to the home ground of football club Västra Frölunda.
Falkvinge’s biography reads like a list of tech entrepreneur clichés. He got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, when he was just eight-years-old. By the age of 16, he had launched his first tech startup, a company called Infoteknik. At the age of 18, Falkvinge hired his first employee.
More than making profits, Falkvinge was motivated by the free exchange of ideas that came with the early home computer market. He grew increasingly concerned that harsher copyright laws being lobbied for by the motion picture and record industries could stifle online innovation.
His concerns about patents, copyright law and file sharing restrictions led Falkvinge to form a new political party. On January 1, 2006, he launched the website of his newest venture – dubbed the Pirate Party.
While the new party managed just 0.63% of the vote in its first Swedish elections, it grew to 7.13% for the 2009 European elections. The pirate party model was mirrored internationally, including in Australia. On January 1, 2011 – five years after its launch – Falkvinge stood down as party leader, handing control to his deputy, Anna Troberg.
4. Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal Party
In Australia, the most prominent example of a (far less controversial) tech executive turned entrepreneur is communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
Before entering into federal politics, Turnbull has served in many roles, including as the general counsel to Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings, the cofounder of law firm Turnbull McWilliam, the chair of the Australian Republican Movement, a journalist and a partner at Goldman Sachs.
Turnbull became the chair of pioneering Australian internet service provider OzEmail in 1994, also becoming an investor in the company.
In 1999, at the peak of the ‘90s tech boom, Turnbull sold the company to US telco MCI WorldCom.
In 2004, Turnbull won the by-election for the federal seat of Wentworth, being elected as the local Liberal Party MP at the general election later that year. Since then, he has served as the environment minister in the Howard government, as well as the leader of the opposition.
5. Paul Fletcher, Liberal Party
These days, Paul Fletcher is best known as the Liberal MP for the federal seat of Bradfield, as well as a parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications. It’s a position he’s held since December 2009, when he won the seat at a by-election after former opposition leader Brendan Nelson retired from politics.
However, before entering into politics, Fletcher served as a senior executive in one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies Optus, between 2000 and 2008.
After stepping down from the role, Fletcher authored a book titled Wired Brown Land? Telstra's Battle for Broadband, which dissected the case for Telstra being allowed to build the national broadband network.
He has also run a strategic consulting business focusing on the communications industry, and also served as the chief of staff to former communications minister Richard Alston.