Diversity Through Entrepreneurship
Slack is an unbelievable example of deciding that, in success, they can actually use their bully pulpit to reframe the discussions of what is valuable. It’s laudable.
This is not a Silicon Valley problem. It’s a political problem.
We’re at a point right now where there’s a massive capitulation amongst the insider races and classes. The insiders are getting extremely worried that we are now challenging historical norms in a way that’s really counter-productive to the folks that are already in power. In politics, it’s happening entirely on the right.
It will create a wave of racial and gender equality.
It’s the step where you burn the boats. “We’re staying or we’re going to die.”
The last gasp before the establishment croaks exists in politics, in finance, in all parts of the economic structures. What’s great about Silicon Valley is that you can uproot and turn over those structures so quickly. That’s why I think it’s a 10 year problem, at the maximum.
You’re going to see so many female startup billionaires, African American, Hispanic, Chinese, Indian, successful people. In that, they’re going to assert their values on the world. That’s an amazing thing.
Paying it Back
Rich people have an obligation to give it back. By definition, you are making it off of a mass market. Right? You don’t become a billionaire by basically sitting on top of a few thousand people. You make it by building services for hundreds of millions, to billions, of people. So those same people that give you wealth, you don’t think you have a responsibility to do something right by them? That’s fucking crazy to me.
It’s not for me. I look at my kids and think, they’re so lucky that they can be around what all of this is, but they’re so cursed because if I did it the wrong way, they would think like they deserved it. They didn’t do a fucking thing.
I think that we’re at an age where it’s kind of naïve to expect the government to act on most of these fundamental issues that will really impact our society.
Let’s take something that’s really provocative, like gun control. We had this terrible tragedy again, this young guy, nine people killed, nine people injured. We can debate gun control all day long, the reality is nothing’s going to happen. That’s the honest to God truth, in legislation.
The practical solution that some of us could take is to actually try to create a system that solves mental health. There’s a lot of amazing benefits to cognitive behavioral therapy and other things that are non-toxicological. You can deliver that through your mobile phone or through immediate counseling over RTC or WebRTC. There’s all these things that we can build.
What I’m trying to say is that we can go to some of these fundamental threshold issues where there’s just so many people on both sides that it’s just so unlikely that something will change, or we can go to a different place that says, “Okay let’s just go to first principles and practically solve a problem.” Let’s MacGyver this thing.
Let’s maybe not wait for gun control legislation, because we may be waiting for Godot. In the meantime let’s build some substantive products in mental health and maybe that’s the boundary condition for a progressive government to be able to pass that legislation before they pass gun control.
Let’s take a different issue, like childhood obesity. We could spend all of our time trying to legislate a better solution to food stamps. We could say let’s replace food stamps with actual food. And let’s find a way to productize low-cost, highly nutrient-complete food, and let’s make that food stamps.
Instead of it being stamps, let’s make food, food. It’s a very conceptually beautiful idea, largely intractable from a policy perspective. What did we do?
We invested in Sprig. Our perspective was, if we can get one of these good companies to scale, we could vertically integrate the food chain and be able to deliver low cost food in the urban parts of Detroit, subsidized by the $20 meals that potentially are being bought by people in San Francisco. I think everybody would be fine with that.
There are these practical solutions that are calling out for people to support them, and I think we should just go and solve those things.
All the districting, all the gerrymandering, has created such extremism in politics. It’s not going to change in our lifetime.
I feel tremendous guilt. I think we all knew, in the back of our minds, even though we feigned this whole line of like, “There probably aren’t any really bad, unintended consequences.” I think in the deep recesses of our minds, we knew something bad could happen. But I think the way we defined it was not like this. It literally is a point now, where we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are.
I would encourage all of you, as the future leaders of the world, to really internalize how important this is. If you feed the beast, that beast will destroy you. If you push back on it, we have a chance to control it, to rein it in. It is a point in time where people need to hard brake from some of these tools, and the things that you rely on.
The short-term, dopamine-driven, feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. It’s not an American problem, this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem. So we’re in a really bad state of affairs right now, in my opinion.
It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave, by and between each other. I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore. I haven’t for years. It’s created huge tensions with my friends and in my social circles.
I’ve posted less than ten times [on Facebook] in seven years. I innately didn’t want to get programmed, so I tuned it out, but I didn’t confront it. And now to see what’s happening, it really bums me out…
Bad actors can now manipulate large swaths of people to do anything they want. It’s a really bad state of affairs, and we compound the problem.
We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded with these short term signals: hearts, likes, thumbs up, and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. What it really is, is fake, brittle popularity. It leaves you more — admit it — vacant and empty than before you did it. Because it forces you into this vicious cycle, like, “What’s the next thing I need to do now?”
Think about that, compounded by two billion people. And think about how people react to the perceptions of others. It’s really, really bad.
I did a great job [at Facebook] and I think that business overwhelmingly does positive good in the world. Where I’ve decided to spend my time is to take the capital that they’ve rewarded me with and now focus on the structural changes that I can control…
You are being programmed. It was unintentional, but now you have to decide how much you’re willing to give up. How much of your intellectual independence.
There’s an article in Forbes or Fortune about a bunch of guys who are creating basically what seem like Ponzi schemes around drugs and buying orphan drugs. Is that right? The example was an Alzheimer’s drug that has a $4 billion market cap. We know that there’s a 99.99% failure on all Alzheimer’s drugs. Why is this drug any different? Why is that company worth more than — I don’t know — pick your favorite startup that’s actually doing something and generating revenue.
There’s no revenue, there’s no pipeline. There’s just the drug, and a story.
The regulatory framework has created the ability for a company like that to go public and financiers to capitalize on that.
We can’t have the way the system works today because it’s not exactly working for everybody.
The protectionism has to revert to something that’s slightly different. I don’t know what the answer is.
Otherwise, what will happen is, most of us will build quality systems, launch in Europe, figure out how to go to China, going into Southeast Asia, where we have direct relationships with all of the governments and they can fast track us…
What happens is, unfortunately, these developed markets, and the United States, get starved of the actual advancements that are actually happening on its soil. Which is tragic.
When we think about now funding these things, the most important decision we make, after the amount of capital against the idea, is, “Where do we go with it?” We think all the time now: we have great relationships with the Indian government, we have great relationships with the Vietnamese government, with Indonesia, Sri Lanka.
Because all of these developing countries are like, “We want to win. Get my population to be best of class. We’re ready to run. Get us to the start line.”
And we’re like, “Okay.”
The idea that we know what happens to anybody at the n of 100 or the n of 1,000 trial is a crock of horseshit. It’s not statistically significant anymore. I’m just going to put that out there.
We want to go through this farce of, “Don’t worry, it works on n of 100, let’s just go.” And it costs $1 billion to get a drug to trial. It’s crazy.
That has to change.
We have to have a regulatory framework that isn’t just based on Eric Lander’s genome.
I would like the ability for companies to literally be able to say here is a project, and I would like people who are of sound mind and body to be able to just opt in and decide what they want to do and let an entire regime allow that pathway to exist and then see what happens.
I think that there will be some cases where this stuff is puzzling and terrifying but I bet you you’re going to see overwhelmingly amazingly beautiful things of young energetic companies with great ideas who can get to the start line unimpeded.
We do that in technology, and great things happen. Are there bad consequences to Twitter and Facebook, etc? [Yes.] But the net effect is generally positive.
If we could find a way to ease the regulatory oversight where adults can basically go and choose to participate in systems and products and things that can actually meaningfully help them change the trajectory and the course of things that they are suffering from, and figure out then how to have a more lightweight approval once you have some statistically significant sample size.
Maybe you can only do it on 10 people, but you can do it with absolutely no oversight. Then you can do 20, 50, then 100, and 1,000, and 2,000, 5,000, 10,000. You show some genetic diversity of the whole thing, then you can go back and say, “I’m ready to go.”
You’d probably find ways to do it a lot cheaper. You don’t have to contract out to a bunch of contract research organizations and spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars and hire consultants to talk to the person at the FDA.
The entire system isn’t set up for success.
I started in a place where I had the same Silicon Valley rhetoric as everybody else, which is, “Regulation is terrible and we should just work around it.” After five and a half years and $1 billion invested, what I would say is, that was a really immature perspective.
The reality is that these organizations exist for a reason, and that they provide belts and suspenders that are, frankly, necessary. The reason I say that now is that after having gone through that gauntlet with a couple of our companies a few times, I am so glad that that exists. For a very practical reason, we are that much more likely to build de facto standards and monopolies because I know that nobody else is going to take the brain damage to go through what we just went through. That’s a practical perspective.
Regulation has existed for years in all of the markets that we’ve operated in other than consumer internet. I think we amplified what the consumer internet was like, which was this free-wielding wild, wild, west where nothing mattered, you could do whatever you wanted.
I remember in 2003 or 2004, the team that I was a part of at WinAmp, we released some open-source software on AOL servers. That software became the root cause of Bearshare, Limewire, and all these peer-to-peer headless networks that effectively destroyed many content businesses. It seemed so cool at the time.
Now I look back on it and I’m like, I’m glad I went through those experiences, but, in any other market, if something like that had happened, we would have been prosecuted and put in jail.
I think we have to mature and grow up and realize that we’re doing serious things, we have to do serious things, serious things require working with serious people, in a serious way.
[Regulation] is great, just buckle down, spend the time. It’s not about the quickest, fastest thing, it’s about the right thing. Let’s just go.
What will happen is that we’ll filter out all of the charlatan, fly-by-night, people, who really don’t have the wherewithal and the courage to go through that gauntlet.
America and Immigration
Empires work in a cycle of four stages. First, you’re a poor country and you act poor. Then you’re a rich country, but you still act poor. Then you’re a rich country and you act rich, and then you’re a poor country, but you still think you’re rich.
We have this decision to make, because we’re in a transitory state. Do we still want to be the rich country that is still rich? We have to figure out how to open the doors to get more people to the starting line, because then we’ll keep winning.
The biggest thing that I care about politically is this concept of the value of human capital. We as individuals can just get run over, now, with all kinds of small dollar influence, whether it’s via lobbying, via gerrymandering, whether it’s through populism that gets perverted into these weird, political manifestations.
And all of it slows down human capital potential. Like, if you take a sports analogy to America: if you’re running a sports team, you look forward to free agency. In free agency, it allows you to wipe page and say to yourself, okay, who are the people that I want on the field, on the court? Why, for what reason? And then you can choose: athletic capability, cultural capability, teamwork… all of these different characteristics. And then around them, you build the team that you want. And then you go out, and you compete, and you try to win.
Similarly, for the United States, while that doesn’t express itself in the year, it’s expressed itself, that way, for hundreds of years.
The long arc of America is the best run sports franchise you can imagine. Championship after championship, after championship. Whether or not you like the Patriots, it’s the Patriots of the 2000s, or it’s, maybe the current Warriors.
My point is America has done this exceptional job of being a beacon for human capital. For guys like me, for people like you, the deck is stacked against you, and that’s the one place where I can flip all the cards the other way. What an amazing thing.
And now you see it in a different light. People don’t want to come here. And that’s so tragic. There are these amazing people all around the world who would otherwise abandon everything that they have built up to come here and start with nothing to rebuild themselves on behalf of this team.
And the idea that we wouldn’t want the best of those people to help us, to advance the ball, and then to push everything to everybody else around the world, to me… it’s insane.
And that’s happened in a year. That literally changed in a year. And that really saddens me.
Technology is deterministic. We’re gonna do stuff. We’re gonna build the stuff that’s possible. It’s going to happen. Will the person that builds the next great battery technology not be allowed to because the same batteries could be used in a dirty bomb? Even though those same batteries can basically uplift the entire transportation system of like 100 developing nations? Of course not.
Are we gonna tell Google they can’t build Google Glass because all of a sudden some guy is running around and he’s built an app that allows people to identify women’s faces? That’s a really bad thing, I get it. But what about the surgeon that can also then perform remote surgery using Google Glass?
My point is that these are not clean answers. You have to have the courage to basically say as long as this stuff generally outweighs the bad, you gotta move forward. So we are living in a world where you have to either confront it and say, “I’m gonna live my life transparently,” or hide.
We have a shift underway in what is acceptable morality. Nobody talks about that. You have a die-hard constituency of people that fall on this, “Trump is a liar.” Like, if you saw the Romney thing. If you ask the average person, they have a very different definition of morality and right and wrong now, because the world that we live in is slightly more contrived and created than it ever was. Like, our entire lives used to be how we were in our true self. Now, I’d say it’s like 60% our true-self, and 40% what we program on Facebook and Instagram… and Snapchat. And to think that that doesn’t have an effect on the psyche, and the psychology, because all of us are like, “Oh, we’re lying half the time anyways,” and then when you see someone else lying you’re like, “Fuck it, he’s lying too.”
So the morality is changing. And so in that morality, changing to a different place, you have people like that who have the opportunity to seize it. It’s not unacceptable in the way that it was in the 60s, or the 70s, or the 80s. So we’re dealing with a very different dynamic, in terms of how society believes there’s an expectation in your behavior.
And so that’s why it exists. I’m like kind of just like fascinated sitting on the sidelines just like watching it all.
A Business Model for Truth
It was a broad statement about my reaction to social media in general. And that’s a lot of things, of which Facebook is a part. But there are many other things. The whole context of it is, all of these things in my opinion sit on top of a business model that allows us to conflate, and now confuse, truth and popularity.
And it’s come to a point where, years ago, the context of the stuff that was awkward and uncomfortable would have been cyberbullying. And maybe that was the extent of it. But in 2017 and beyond, I think we all know now, the extent of, that very, very, small percentage of things that may not go right, are much more insidious potentially.
In very small ways, I confuse what is valuable sometimes. I just wonder whether if I’m suffering from that confusion, and I seemingly have enough signaling where I don’t need the affirmation of the people around me, I wonder how other people deal with it.
Forget even, adults, dealing with it. How do younger people deal with it? Or people that are dealing with more severe issues, whether they are physical or emotional or otherwise?
Adam Bain and I were in New York this weekend, and I took a photo, and I really thought about [the filter for 15 minutes]. And I think at some level, that’s really okay. But at some other level, I’m just consciously wondering, to myself, “Wow, that was not a behavior that I even knew existed within my value framework a few years earlier.”
I’m trying to, as I get older, self-actualize around these kinds of things and ask these kinds of questions, because I think they’re worth asking. I suspect other people think about it, and, if you have an opportunity to vocalize some of this stuff… I just have to do a better job of how I do it.
Part of my takeaway, as well, is I have to grow up and realize that I actually do, for the most part, say what other people are thinking. But I have to do it in a more constructive way. This press cycle that’s been happening is completely unnecessary.