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How will tech’s biggest policy fights play out in 2021? This VC has some predictions

Airbnb gets a stock market grand slam, and a venture capitalists predict what will happen with regulation in 2021.

Happy Friday, Term Sheet readers. It’s been one heck of a week in unicorn debuts, with shares of Airbnb more than doubling in its first public trade Thursday.

Now valued at over $100 billion on a fully-diluted basis, even Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky couldn’t quite find the right words on live TV when told shares were gearing up to open at $139 (it ended up opening even higher at $146). “That’s the first time I’ve heard that number,” the chief executive started while on Bloomberg. “In April, when we raised money, and it was debt financing, that price would have priced us around $30. So I don’t know what to say, that is… I’m very humbled by it.”

And this is key: Chesky then cogently summed up the flip side of attaining such a high valuation: “The higher the stock price, the higher the expectations.” He’s right. No one wants to be the company whose stock was hyped during the IPO process but gets rebalanced after its first earnings call. 

Of course, what happens beyond that is the question—not just for Airbnb, but for all of dealmaking. Tusk Ventures’ Bradley Tusk, known for helping startups with their regulatory issues, has a few thoughts on how 2021 may play out for tech and its legislative battles.

For his guest column, Tusk makes his predictions for how the tech community will grapple with the policy fights that await in 2021 (Disclosure: Tusk Ventures is invested in or works with companies that are impacted by these trends, including medical cannabis company Eaze and esports startup Kanga):

1. E-sports. States across the country will legalize mobile sports betting, e-sports betting and, casino and gaming expansions across the board. They desperately need the revenue in the pandemic. In good times, legislators worry about the political fallout of supporting gaming. In bad times, they know that gaming is a lot less painful than spending cuts or higher taxes.

2. Cannabis. States across the country will legalize recreational cannabis and reduce barriers to psilocybin use. Social norms are continuing to shift and again, states need the revenue. We may even be on a path on which drugs other than cannabis become legal, regulated, and sold commercially in the next 5 to 10 years.

3. Cities fight the tech exodus. Local hostility to tech startups will wane as the need to create jobs and tax revenue surpasses the political benefits of being anti-tech in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. The effects of startups leaving major tech hubs like San Francisco for climates that are friendlier to business (lower taxes, less regulation, less hostility) will start to be felt.

4. Congress. The Democratic-led House in Washington D.C. will take up new regulations on privacy (to create a U.S. version of the GDPR), antitrust, and worker classification. None will get through the Senate, even if the Democrats do win both special elections in Georgia, but Biden’s agencies (the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission) will look for administrative solutions.

5. Section 230. The repeal of Section 230 may actually make it through the entire legislative process. Democrats should want to repeal the protections afforded to social media platforms in Section 230 because Facebook has revolutionized how the political right organizes. Republicans are convinced that the platforms are biased against them and want revenge. Biden already supports a repeal. Betting on anything to ever actually happen in D.C. is probably a bad idea, but this really could.

6. Proposition 22. Prop 22‘s tailwinds will be strong. Labor groups will try to recreate the opposing California Assembly Bill 5—which would have required gig-economy companies to treat workers like employees—in states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington. And despite support from Democratic lawmakers, the momentum that spurred legislation in California will be blunted by Prop 22’s overwhelming victory at the polls. But lawmakers will continue pushing for legislation classifying gig workers as employees rather than the legalization of portable benefit plans that gig-economy companies have championed.

7. Flying cars. A city somewhere will promulgate flying car regulations. The technology is not there yet, but it’s coming, and the political benefit of being the first to tackle the issue will prove too enticing for some politicians not to pursue.

8. Drones. The impact of COVID-19 will propel delivery drone regulation to the forefront. Though surface transmission of COVID-19 is highly unlikely, the next pandemic could spread that way, and having ways to deliver packages without any risk will be appealing to voters and members of both parties. This could also give a boost to autonomous taxis.

9. Big Tech. The Biden Justice Department will seriously reconsider the antitrust prosecution of Google. Facebook is an easier target and the timing around Trump and Barr’s decision to go after Google (right before the election) is suspicious. With that said, it’s not impossible that the DOJ pursues multiple antitrust cases at once.

10. Ed tech. Even though remote schooling was difficult in most places, its existence (and failings) give a boost both to ed tech activity and funding, and to government interest in finding ways to better utilize technology. If there ever was a moment for an ed tech boom, this is it.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda
Email: [email protected]

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