Like artificially intelligent software that's slowly becoming sentient, the technology leaders — founders, angels, CEOs — that gathered to celebrate themselves last night at the would-be "Oscars of tech" appeared somehow changed this year, displaying a nearly human capacity for empathy, compassion, and responsibility. The 10th annual Crunchies Awards, hosted by the website Tech Crunch and held at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, were once again presided over by Brooklyn 99's Chelsea Peretti, but they were decidedly different this year.
That wasn't just because Peretti is Beyoncé-level pregnant, as she announced recently on Instagram, although that pregnancy with her partner Jordan Peele of Key and Peele may have contributed to her no-fucks-given attitude. Insouciant and political from the outset, Peretti began by asking audience members to raise their hands if they had secretly voted for Trump. No hands were raised then, but nor were they when Peretti asked, for her next question, which companies were profitable.
Hailing from Oakland along with her brother Jonah, the CEO of BuzzFeed, Peretti is at ease mocking the Bay Area tech community and its fawning reporters."Fake news alert: I'm having a blast!" she announced midway through the proceedings. Alluding to recent reports of Silicon Valley doomsday preppers, Peretti asked if anyone had a "bunker couch in the end times" she could crash on. Or, she suggested "you can just fix public schools right now."
Tech Crunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino also struck a political note while presenting the night's award for Best Startup, won by messaging platform Slack. Nodding to the many entrepreneurs celebrated by Tech Crunch who have vowed to "change the world," as Panzarino put it, "very few finish the equation... which is 'for the better.'"
Jeff Lawson, the Twilio CEO who was celebrated as the Founder of Year, echoed that statement. "When you change the world, and you cash the check for doing so, you have a responsibility for doing whatever comes with it."
For the second year, the Crunchies presented its "Include Award," this year to the similarly named Project Include. Started by a group that includes Erica Joy Baker, an engineer at Slack, and Ellen Pao, an investment partner at Kapor Capital and the former CEO of Reddit, Project Include's goal is to educate CEOs about the benefits of creating inclusive companies. After Pao's remarks, in which she blamed the rise of the current administration on factors including a lack of inclusion at major tech and media offices, Baker minced no words.
"It’s hard to be up here accepting an award for work on diversity and inclusion when we have a puppet president being controlled by a white supremacist puppeteer actively working against diversity and inclusion in our country,” she began. “For the tech companies, tech employees and VCs working against this administration, I appreciate and am thankful for you and your efforts. We have at least four years of very hard work ahead of us. For those of you working with the administration in the name of having a seat at the table, you’re on the wrong side of history. And whatever you accomplish, this will be your legacy.”
But if you were concerned that tech companies were, at last, woke, and had lost the breezy, self-serving, laissez-faire attitudes of yesteryear, fear not. The founders of Otto, who won an award for their self-driving big rig truck company that was acquired by Uber, showed no self-awareness whatsoever in accepting their award, which they did wearing Otto-branded trucker hats, a nod to the industry they hope to upend. Hats off, guys.