Eduardo Saverin, co-founder of Facebook Inc., said social networks are heading for more regulation and change, as political pressures mount and users fragment into specialized interests.
Governments will inevitably get involved in regulating networks like Facebook and Twitter, he said. He spoke only hours after Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey appeared before the US Congress in the wake of attempts to manipulate public opinion and interfere in elections.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of the type of regulation,” Saverin said at the Bloomberg Sooner Than You Think technology summit in Singapore.
Saverin started Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg and left after a falling-out, but he expressed confidence in the company’s ability to navigate its way through the current troubles.
“It’s difficult to see a company that’s so close to my heart going through a point of public scrutiny,” said Saverin, who now lives in Singapore and invests in startups through his B Capital. “I have tremendous faith in Mark and the team that he’s built around him and, frankly, the intentions that Facebook was born out of from day one.”
Saverin said ecosystems need to be open to working with governments and industry to drive the best kind of regulation and ensure it doesn’t work against new ideas. Consideration also needs to be given to the size of internet firms, as smaller startups may lack the resources available to giants such as Facebook to adapt to new rules and frameworks.
“The one thing I would always prevent is the type of regulation that might stifle innovation,” he said.
Saverin was born in Brazil, grew up in Miami, and studied at Harvard University. He moved to Singapore in 2009 in part because of the lack of venture capital funding in India, with a population of more than 1 billion, and Southeast Asia, a region of more than 620 million people with rising incomes and economic growth.
“Dynamics of Southeast Asia are incredibly exciting,” he told the summit. “You have the largest single growth of internet connection happening in this area.”
B Capital was founded by Saverin and Raj Ganguly in 2016. In February, the VC firm closed a $360 million fund to invest in financial services and insurance, digital health, and consumer technology. It has backed about 20 startups globally including scooter-rental service Bird and parcel-delivery service Ninja Van.
Other portfolio companies include Mswipe Technologies, a digital payments provider in India and CapitalMatch, a platform for invoice financing and secured lending.
Saverin says that social networks are now forming around specific communities, drawing user attention away from massive networks like the one he helped found. He cited the example of Fishbrain, a mobile service for anglers that B Capital has backed.
“It let me go back to my childhood and do a little bit of fishing,” he said. “Is it monetizable? Is it a large market? Is there actual benefit? I think the answer is yes with respect to fishing. It fits in every single criteria.”
Saverin brushed aside skepticism about the prospects for autonomous-driving technology, despite recent setbacks. He has backed the startup AImotive and sees broad opportunities, even as the technology draws a lot of capital.
He said one of the biggest hurdles is psychological, where many people would hesitate to travel in a self-driving car. While he would hop inside in two seconds, his mother would say “in another lifetime.”