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The Fixer

Saving Startups from Death by Politics

By Bradley Tusk
16-minute read
Audio available
The Fixer: Saving Startups from Death by Politics by Bradley Tusk

The Fixer (2018) is the story of a political strategist’s adventures in politics and business. Bradley Tusk recounts how he learned the arts of political influencing while advising some of the biggest names in US politics, before launching his own consultancy to advise start-ups. Since then, Tusk has stopped the taxi industry from strangling Uber with regulation, kept lazy regulators from preventing the launch of innovative insurer Lemonade, and fought off attempts by casinos to crush the online fantasy sports industry.

  • Anyone interested in politics and business
  • People working for start-ups threatened by politics and regulation
  • Anyone interested in how businesses can take on the political establishment and win

Bradley Tusk is the founder of Tusk Strategies, a consultancy dedicated to helping start-ups tackle political problems, and Tusk Ventures, a venture capital fund for politically exposed start-ups. He has served as campaign manager to Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, communications director to Senator Chuck Schumer, and was himself deputy governor of Illinois. He writes for the Observer and hosts a podcast, Firewall.

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The Fixer

Saving Startups from Death by Politics

By Bradley Tusk
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Fixer: Saving Startups from Death by Politics by Bradley Tusk
Synopsis

The Fixer (2018) is the story of a political strategist’s adventures in politics and business. Bradley Tusk recounts how he learned the arts of political influencing while advising some of the biggest names in US politics, before launching his own consultancy to advise start-ups. Since then, Tusk has stopped the taxi industry from strangling Uber with regulation, kept lazy regulators from preventing the launch of innovative insurer Lemonade, and fought off attempts by casinos to crush the online fantasy sports industry.

Key idea 1 of 10

Tusk’s early career taught him the importance of public relations and controlling the narrative.

All politicians crave two things: Constant attention and constant validation. Outside of elections, the best way to achieve those is to get good publicity.

Tusk learned this in the 1980s working for Henry Stern, a New York City council member and the city’s parks commissioner. Tusk’s job was to get as much publicity for Stern as possible, partly because it kept the politician happy, and partly because the more time the Parks Department spent in the public eye, the easier it would be for Stern to secure his budget and policies.

Parks aren’t inherently that interesting, so Tusk was forced to be creative. When Stern wanted to push for new measures to make it a crime to fell trees without permission, Tusk staged a funeral for "murdered” trees. When a new bathroom was constructed in one of the city’s parks, the media were invited not to a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but the ceremonial cutting of a toilet roll. The press lapped it up, the coverage was great, and Stern was happy.

Tusk’s creativity came in handy in his next job, as communications director to Chuck Schumer, Democratic senator for New York. Schumer understood that most voters don’t really know what politicians do all day. But they do like to see that their politicians are busy.

As a result, the whole Schumer operation revolved around getting constant media coverage. This could be difficult, because as a junior senator, Schumer didn’t have all that much to do. So Tusk and his team would invent things, like writing a tough letter to the Ford Motor Company in protest at the rising cost of windshield wiper liquid. On one occasion, Tusk worked up and released to the media a proposal for the modernization of the old-fashioned, unreliable voting machines used in elections. This idea proved unexpectedly prescient when, weeks later, the 2000 presidential election descended into chaos due, in part, to disputed votes made on old-fashioned punch-card machines. It seemed clear that America needed a new system. An avalanche of press coverage for Schumer – now regarded as the expert on the subject – ensued.

Tusk learned how to give his political bosses what they craved. And that was an important lesson for his future career: if you can mold the media narrative, you can get what you want from politicians.

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