Drinking the Kool-Aid

Water: yielding but relentless

3 topics today for the blog and one teaser.

Topic 1: startup thinking.

It is difficult to live in the Bay Area and not be infected in some way by the zeitgeist surrounding startup and tech culture. Tech is not only the largest employer (and thus bound in some way to one’s social circle) but also tech companies have directly impacted the way I  live thru iPhones, AirBnb apartment rentals, Google search, etc.

The thinkers laying the philosophical foundation and providing thought leadership for this tech culture by and large are the famous entrepreneurs turned VCs such as Marc Andreesen, Peter Thiel and Vinod Khosla. While many people work in tech, these are the folks at the top that the media, universities, think tanks and the population at large turn to for soundbytes on how to think about startups, VC and tech in general.

I read Zero to One from Thiel and honestly thought it was one of the most interesting business books I’ve ever read. I think I may have covered that in a previous post. A lot of what he says in the book, he repeats in public appearances and is emblazoned on the manifesto of his VC firm: http://foundersfund.com/the-future/.

The book provides a ton of counterintuitive insights into business – such as the idea that monopolies are good and countries/peoples in general tend to think in indefinite optimist terms when they should be thinking in definite optimist terms.

I do think the definite/indefinite 2×2 needs to be specified a little. It seems okay that you should be open to many futures as a founder and be willing to pivot from your single definite vision if there’s reason to do so. But I think the dichotomy mainly has to do with seeing a different future from the currently existing present and choosing to pursue it, rather than harvesting the past, making increments and hoping things magically change.

I recently also saw an interview of Vinod Khosla – https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/vinod-khosla-be-wary-stupid-advice. To summarize his thinking, you have to have an internal compass – don’t just do what’s expected of you. Have a belief system. And then once you have that belief system, back it up with insane persistence and you can make what you want happen and it’ll be a hugely empowering experience. And even if it doesn’t, only success counts – no one remembers failure.

I dig what he’s saying about the belief system and it squares with Thiel’s definite optimism framework. They’re all saying the same thing which is – have a view about the future and work towards it. Build the future.

There’s also the topic of what to work on and both guys again agree – incremental futures/progress is boring so only work on ideas that 1) very few people believe are possible and 2) have the potential to change the world.Working “on the edge” is actually rational because 1) only on the edge are you really learning and 2) solving those hard problems may make for a great business later on. In general, only on the edge can you really make a difference.

I have to say – that thinking is intellectually attractive to and has made a deep impression. It leads to the conclusion that I should quit my job and work on something more ambitious than merger arbitrage (where I’m innovating but only making incremental progress). While not ready to take such a drastic step, I do want to develop expertise in a moonshot-type field and think hard about business ideas. I’m just going to browse for now.

Edit – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/18/tomorrows-advance-man

Wanted to also lob in this terrific profile of Marc Andreesen in the New Yorker since it not only talks a lot about Marc but also about the state of VC and hence technology.

Topic 2: was going to be about trying to understand the role, relationship and interaction I should have with people that I really like/respect in my life but don’t see that often.

Basically I went to the wedding of a friend who I had taken physics classes with and swam with at Harvard, two very challenging endeavors. I hadn’t spoken with this friend in some time but I always implicitly assumed we had a bond because of the shared experience.

Maybe it was just me but the interaction wasn’t as smooth as I had imagined it would be. The meeting wasn’t as warm as I maybe thought. And a lingering tension (at least in my mind) was “if we’re still so close, why haven’t we spoken?”And the followon, which causes me to search the archives of my memory, is – “were we ever really that close?”

Emotionally (and this sounds really childish), I was a little disturbed even though I cognitively understood it. I guess I’d say that I would’ve treated someone like that that I hadn’t seen in a long time differently that I was actually treated. Or at least I hope so. So maybe that’s the takeaway – try to treat old acquaintances warmly while anticipating different feelings about the relationship.

And honesty is important too – to not feign enthusiasm that isn’t felt.

Topic 3: was going to be about these 2 articles that coincidentally ran at the same time on ESPN. One about Tiger Woods and his impending retirement given health and Kobe Bryant’s retirement. They’re going out in different ways (although both are no longer physically able).

Kobe’s going out beloved and on his terms, while Tiger is painfully fading away. Tiger attempted to go through the motions in golf for a few years even though he was emotionally spent post his father’s death. Probably tough for him to fully walk away given the whole machine that had build up around his golf career of publicists, agents, Nike, etc. But the going through the motions ended poorly to say the least – robbing him of both family and career.

Obviously it’s better to go out like Kobe did, but what he did differently was he always made the one craft of basketball his core and never lost his focus. And once the fire for the craft ran out, he walked away. The point is to not go through the motions. Better to take a long time off maybe. To search for your mind. “Your focus determines your reality.”



Teaser: One of these days I maybe should write a post about the Docs and processes I use to run my life. Hmm.



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