Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and Renewed Hope for a Technology-Savvy President

Rob Enderle

Over the past several days, I’ve seen some hopeful things about Donald Trump, at least with regard to technology. First, he clearly pivoted based on a very different approach to analytics during the last days of the election, which showcased that he got that none of the polling research coming out of the research houses was any good (something most of us had known for some time). Then I got a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) showcasing that one of his few solid positions was actually on cybersecurity. Finally, I learned that Peter Thiel, one of the better-regarded VCs out of the Valley, was going to remain an advisor and confidant.

Now all of this together at least supports the position that he’ll be better with technology than the last two presidents were and Hillary Clinton would have been. Given that he’s the guy who will have the job, that gives me hope for the future. And if there is anything we need right now, it is hope. I’m one of those who believe, in terms of priority, that fixing our cybersecurity problem trumps nearly everything else either candidate discussed.

Peter Thiel vs. Mark Cuban vs. Meg Whitman

I’m not saying Thiel is the strongest player in the Valley, but he is generally better regarded than Mark Cuban. In addition, Cuban was largely used, like Clinton used Meg Whitman, as a way to piss off Trump, while Thiel actually spoke to the critical technology infrastructure and security needs of the country more. Thiel was more focused on the critical topic of making the nation better, while Cuban and Whitman came off as opportunists who now clearly have figured out that they bet wrong.

Both Whitman and Cuban had access to analytics, and Whitman sells analytics solutions, yet Trump used this tool far more successfully than Clinton did, suggesting that Thiel was likely a far greater technological asset to Trump than Cuban or Whitman were. In fact, while Cuban and Whitman seemed almost laser-like in their focus on status, Thiel’s support of Trump actually hurt his status. Yet he stood the course and, it turned out, this choice was the right one if he, in fact, wanted to make a difference.

This was one of the issues with President Obama and Google. The relationship didn’t seem to benefit Obama’s presidency; it just seemed to protect Google from timely U.S. anti-trust action and created ethics problems for both parties. Thiel, on the other hand, has Trump’s ear and appears focused less on personal status and more on actually fixing problems.

By the way, I think it was pretty stupid for both Cuban and Whitman to be used tactically as weapons during a presidential campaign. The benefits if their candidate won were fleeting, but the exposures if they lost could last four to eight years. Trump isn’t known for being forgiving.

Use of Analytics

Up until this week, I wasn’t convinced that Trump or Clinton could spell “analytics,” let alone use this powerful tool correctly. It wasn’t that both campaigns weren’t using the tool but both seemed to be using it badly, or not at all, leading to a never-ending string of bad tactical and strategic decisions. But then, about 10 days before the election, Trump got a clue. Suddenly, he is the poster child for how to use analytics to win elections from behind. Clinton is now the poster child for how to commit political suicide with a huge advertising budget.


The reason a lot of us were concerned about the use of analytics during the election was that it was clear that normal sampling methods couldn’t, and wouldn’t work.

Trump actually listened; the result was a changed approach that is credited with him winning the election. Once a tool works for you, there is a good chance you’ll use it again, and this also showcased the value of accurate data.

Wrapping Up: The U.S. Strategic Technology Asset

I’ve now watched two relatively young U.S. presidents get technology wrong, and I had pretty much given up on anyone in politics ever getting it right. Up until this week, I doubted that either Clinton or Trump were going to be any different but, surprisingly, Trump actually has a clue and I think we desperately need someone that has a clue in technology. If you want more good news, read this ITIF report on his technology positions. He doesn’t have many, but he hits solidly on the one that most concerns me, cybersecurity.

Maybe things are getting better. I figure this is something positive to take into the weekend, and positive works for me. I hope it does for you.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+


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