Max Marty: The pirate of Silicon Valley

What do you get if you mix entrepreneurialship with utopianism? Max Marty - the so-called 'pirate of Silicon Valley' - is hoping to find out with his floating colony of start-ups off the coast of California.

Progressive technology entrepreneurs have long dreamed of creating new colonies far from the restrictive tentacles of Big Government. SpaceX maestro Elon Musk's ultimate goal is to create a settlement on Mars; Paypal founder Peter Thiel recently invested $1.25m in a project to create maritime colonies. Now it seems a hitherto unknown new player might beat them to it. At a recent Silicon Valley conference, Max Marty outlined plans to create "the Googleplex of the sea" a floating incubator for start-up companies in international waters off San Francisco.

Unlike many of his peers in the "Seasteader" movement (see below), Marty's main motivation isn't utopian but pragmatic, says the TechCrunch blog. His venture, Blueseed, is a riposte to US immigration rules preventing foreign entrepreneurs from joining the entrept in Silicon Valley. "This is where awesome companies are born," he told would-be investors at the JumpStartDays conference last month. "There are people around the world who want to be here... who also want to try their hands at forming great companies, but aren't able to do so."

So his plan is to anchor a vessel, providing living and office accommodation, 12 nautical miles out to sea beyond US jurisdiction. A mere half hour by ferry from the Valley, entrepreneurs could hop in and out of America using an easily obtained tourist visa. Marty's plan is to charge rent and take a small position in every start-up on board "so we have skin in their game and their success is our success".

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Not so long ago the new "Pirate of Silicon Valley" was a college student, dabbling in philosophy, economic theory and rap music. He met Blueseed's co-founder, Dario Mutabdzija, when both joined the Seasteading Institute a not-for-profit organisation promoting "a long-term vision of autonomous floating city-states on the open ocean", says technology website Ars Technica.

Immigration has always been a cause close to Marty's heart. Born in Florida, he was the son of Cuban political refugees and, as a student, saw several talented friends from overseas forced to abandon hopes of a career in the US. As he points out, many of America's most successfully innovative firms including Intel, Google and Yahoo! were co-founded by immigrants.

Marty's scheme is a long shot, says The Huffington Post. It would take $10m minimum to charter a vessel. The logistics of kitting it out, liaising with customs and so on, are mind-boggling. Still, he has garnered interest from 31 start-ups, including a couple from London's so-called silicon roundabout' an area near the City where many of Britain's tech businesses are based. And if a high-profile investor agrees to invest, "Blueseed could take off big time". As Australian entrepreneur Ryan Wardell concludes, Blueseed "could go down as a pivotal moment in human history And I want to be there when it happens."

Laissez-faire on the high seas: can it work?

Max Marty's "Seasteading" idea isn't a new one, says Cyan Banister on the TechCrunch blog. Similar concepts include floating hospitals called "Mercy Ships", offshore gambling centres and, of course, pirate radio. Some have enjoyed surprising longevity. Radio Caroline formed in 1964 to circumvent the BBC's monopoly remains the best-known example. Another 1960s North Sea station, Radio Essex, formed the basis of Sealand a "principality" based on an old World War II pontoon fort six miles off the Suffolk coast, with its own passports, currency and national anthem. Founded by Major Paddy Roy Bates, it is still held by the Bates family. It recently hosted a data haven like a tax haven for data named HavenCo and an offshore casino is expected to open next year.

The driving factor behind attempts to build maritime colonies off America has largely been political, says Wired magazine. "For decades romantics and whack jobs have fantasised about fleeing the oppressive strictures of modern government and creating a laissez-faire society on the high seas."

The latest is Patri Friedman, founder of the Seasteader Institute and a grandson of the free-market economist Milton Friedman. He plans to build multiple city-state colonies off the coast of California, with the first scheduled to open in 2018. The "ultimate goal", he says, "is to open a frontier for experimenting with new ideas for government". And Friedman and his followers have got serious cash behind them notably from Peter Thiel, who bankrolled Facebook in its early days.

Max Marty says he would like to live in a society somewhere between night watchman' (a society with a minimal state) and anarcho-capitalism' (a stateless, free-market society). But "we should be far less concerned with creating our ideal state and instead focus on creating whatever the heck will get Seasteads started", says Marty.