Andrew Yang: start-up expert aiming for the US presidency

Andrew Yang cut his teeth in the dotcom bubble before establishing a US-wide business. Now he wants to lead his country and introduce a “freedom dividend”. Jane Lewis reports.

922_MW_P40_Profile

Yang: a compelling candidate for the Democrats?

© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Andrew Yang cut his teeth in the dotcom bubble before establishing a US-wide business. Now he wants to lead his country and introduce a "freedom dividend". Jane Lewis reports.

Among the many candidates jostling for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Andrew Yang stands out. The New York entrepreneur wants to guarantee every adult American $1,000 a month, "no strings attached" and apparently in perpetuity. The government "has plenty of resources, they're just not being distributed to enough people right now", he told CNBC earlier this year when outlining his plan to introduce a universal basic income or "the Freedom Dividend" as he calls it. Yang, 43, is convinced that it would be "the greatest catalyst for arts, entrepreneurship and creativity" on record. "It would take people from a constant mindset of scarcity to a mindset of assured survival and possibility", he wrote on Reddit last spring.

The right credentials

The idea of a universal basic income has gained new momentum because of the potentially devastating impact robots and self-driving vehicles could have on jobs, says The New York Times. Critics dismiss Yang's predictions of "robot apocalypse" as doom-mongering and his campaign (slogan: "Humanity First") as "a futurist vanity stunt". They also argue that the cost around $2trn a year, or roughly half the current federal budget is prohibitive. Yang counters that the plan could easily be funded by slapping a 10% value-added tax on companies "benefiting most from automation". He argues that he is just the man to "sell the idea in Washington" by framing it as "a pro-business policy".

A well-connected "fast-talking extrovert", Yang certainly has the right entrepreneurial credentials. Born in 1975 in Schenectady, New York, to Taiwanese immigrants, his parents were both high-achievers. His father, who worked as a physicist for IBM and GE, produced 69 patents over the course of his career. Yang enjoyed an upmarket education at Phillips Exeter Academy and Brown University before graduating from Columbia Law School. In the late 1990s, he left his job at a law firm to focus on tech. Having cut his teeth on an internet start-up "that failed during the first dotcom bust" Yang netted "a modest fortune" selling a tutoring business he'd developed to Kaplan in 2009. But the move that put him on the map and gave him "the political bug" was starting Venture for America (VFA) in 2011, with the aim of connecting recent college graduates with start-up businesses. The specific plan, as outlined in his book, Smart People Should Build Things, was to "distribute talent around thecountry".

National success

Over the next few years Yang criss-crossed the country and VFA grew fast: by 2017, its initial $200,000 annual budget had mushroomed to $6m. By the time he stepped down as CEO in 2017, the organisation had raised

over $40m and kickstarted some 29 businesses. Yang argues that his travels, particularly through ailing midwestern cities, made him uniquely placed to spot the connection between the rise of workplace automation and the growth of anti-establishment popularism.

But the programme's success also sharpened his ambitions, says Entrepreneur. "I started Venture for America with nothing but an idea," he notes. That has given him the confidence to face down those who deem his presidential campaign a "longer-than-long shot". For a party clearly in need of an injection of young blood, says The New York Times, he could become a compelling candidate.

Recommended

Rafal Brzoska: the “Locker King” seeking to conquer Britain
People

Rafal Brzoska: the “Locker King” seeking to conquer Britain

Polish entrepreneur Rafal Brzoska’s company almost drowned in debt before being rescued and refocusing on its big idea – automated postal boxes. He is…
27 Nov 2021
Charlie Mullins: plumber to the rich and famous
People

Charlie Mullins: plumber to the rich and famous

Charlie Mullins bunked off school as a child to earn money fixing pipes. Over 50 years on, he sold his plumbing business for more than £125m. Now he h…
25 Nov 2021
Jamie Dimon: the “president of Wall Street”
People

Jamie Dimon: the “president of Wall Street”

Since Jamie Dimon became CEO of JPMorgan, the bank has made total returns that easily outstrip its rivals and sits on $3.4trn in assets. What’s the se…
19 Nov 2021
Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao: Vietnam’s airline billionaire rides high
People

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao: Vietnam’s airline billionaire rides high

Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao first spotted business opportunities in the former Soviet Union. Now she is Vietnam’s first and only female billionaire. Here i…
13 Nov 2021

Most Popular

Don’t worry about the global population explosion – it’s unlikely to happen
Investment strategy

Don’t worry about the global population explosion – it’s unlikely to happen

One of the many things we are taught to worry about is the fast-rising global population. But in fact, says Merryn Somerset Webb, the opposite is tru…
15 Nov 2021
Inflation forecasts mean interest rates should be on the rise – so why aren’t they?
Investment strategy

Inflation forecasts mean interest rates should be on the rise – so why aren’t they?

With inflation forecast to hit 5% next year, we might expect interest rates to be rising, says Merryn Somerset Webb. But central banks are holding off…
8 Nov 2021
Four of the best new investment trust listings
Investment trusts

Four of the best new investment trust listings

Diversify your portfolio and benefit from rising dividends with these four new investment trusts coming to the market soon.
15 Nov 2021