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Internet Culture Politics Preparedness

289 and Apocalyptic Aging

Millennials are aging, but that doesn’t seem to have kicked off the midlife crisis handwringing of popular culture yesteryears. The first millennial are edging towards 40 but it feels like no one is a day over thirty on social media. Maybe because it’s hard to feel like you’ve hit midlife when the traditional markers of stability like children and mortgages feel more like luxury status symbols.

Maybe no one is craving red sports cars and the open road because no one has the security of a home life from which to break free. A midlife crisis seems like an almost comically indulgent thing that our boomer parents did. Imagine having kids and a home and thinking that you wanted to go back to the insecurity of your twenties? And boomers have the balls to call millennials spoiled. You had to have have stability to throw it away first.

I’m an elder millennial and a reasonably comfortable even wealthy one at that. But I don’t have kids or own a house. I frozen my eggs when it seemed like having kids wasn’t financially feasible. My husband and I lived in Manhattan at the time and we both had early stage startups. It seemed like a wise idea to put off the decision at the time. And we never even considered buying an apartment. Tying up all that wealth into a one bedroom apartment was for trust funders not the professional class.

Now it’s clear we can afford children and a mortgage on a house, but it seems crazy to commit to either. No one has a clue what life is going to be like in ten years so why would you anchor yourself and innocent progeny? It almost feels immoral to consider.

I don’t really understand how one can age gracefully when so much of life feels casually apocalyptic. Maybe millennials aren’t acknowledging aging because we live in the stasis of the long now. If there is no future then we aren’t moving into it. Each passing year is just a lucky bonus when nothing builds towards stability.

Not being able to afford children and houses is a blessing if you don’t believe in the future will be better. We’ve rationalized that the basics of the American are luxuries only for the wealthy. The wealthy can afford to live with rising tides and six figure college tuitions. Everyone else is thrilled to have enough cash to buy prepper supplies and pay their health insurance deductible.

And in some horrifying sense it is rational. I don’t trust the political system in America. Which means I don’t trust we can solve pressing issues like climate change or rising debt. So when new and exciting issues like the pandemic destabilize life even further it makes committing to a future even less appealing. There is absolutely a part of me that stopped believing in the future sometime in 2016. Everything went Hobbesian. Millennials are aging but we aren’t growing into a future.

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Internet Culture Startups

Day 282 and Stop & Go

I wasn’t born until after stagflation so I can’t tell you what America or Britain felt like in the 70’s but the chattering classes seem to enjoy bringing up the comparison. But there does seem to be a bit of “stop & go” energy in the air. Everyone is raring to go but the energy cannot quite flow freely as we smack into obstacle after obstacle. Demand is pent up but the reality of supply is uglier.

Obviously this perspective of excitement and demand is colored by working in startups where the bias is always towards the excitement of building new things. Crypto is burning with the fire of millions of zealots, all of whom are confident we are building the infrastructure for a better future. Everyone feels like it’s worth investing and higher prices are a good sign. There is more go than stop here.

Of course, I am one of those zealots. I’ve got the optimism of someone who saw how fast previous waves of web1 and web2 changed my entire world. Wealth and creativity was unleashed twice over for the elder millennials who were lucky enough to witness the dot com boom as children and the social media era as their first jobs.

There were massive crashes and financial implosions too. Stop more than go. More of us got hurt than got wealthy. But we saw the possibility even as failure engulfed most of us. So we believe we might be the lucky ones this time. That we might be the ones to win the game. “Red light, green light” seems fun if you can make up ground when everyone is running. Just don’t get hurt too bad.

I feel this energy in my own body. I am excited to push into everything. My portfolio companies are all riding high. There is no way I can do it all in any given day. So when the go energy pushes me sometimes I find myself leaning into stop and simply taking a nap in the middle of the day. It makes me a little jittery to feel the push-me-pull-me of demand grind up against the limited supply of energy and focus. I’d like to feel fully unleashed but I know somehow there are moments where it’s best to stop before I go.

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Preparedness

Day 277 and Supplies

I’ve been watching the supply chain cascade issues for several weeks. Ports are backed up across America, the cost of a shipping container from China has gone on average from $4000 to $19,000, and there is a national shortage of truckers to get goods moved even if they reach American shores. If you are interested in the topic and the possible impacts, my favorite site for preparedness The Prepared has a synopsis without the panic or bullshit.

I reached out to my mom suggesting to her if she had any major purchases or repairs to do so now. She’s been intending to get the shocks replaced on her husband’s truck and moved up the appointment to get it scheduled today. I went through my various preparations for emergencies and realized I was in very good shape. Maybe I could upgrade a pair of boots or consider a new winter parka to upgrade from Uniqlo to LL Bean.

But there just wasn’t much I needed to do. If we had food, fuel, or medication shortages or delays like Britain is experiencing, I am prepared for that. I’m not in a place where I can sustain a full civilization collapse (I haven’t convinced my husband to move to a homestead yet), but I’d definitely be fine if we had a month or two of cascade issues. I am thinking of scenarios like a big winter storm knocking out the power grid and impacting downstream systems like water treatment. Or I-70 gets blocked for a week or two and we have shortages at stores because truckers cannot get over the pass. I mention those two because both happened this year calendar year. These issues are it as rare as you think.

And it struck me how incredibly lucky I am that I can consider something like a supply chain crunch and rather than struggle to afford things like a car repair or a winter coat I can simply buy them. The privilege I have to be a prepper (or a doomer) is significant. And I really genuinely don’t think that should be the case.

America makes big claims to exceptionalism but we regularly have disasters that make us look like we’ve barely achieved a stable economy with functional infrastructure. So if you can prepare for a disaster please do so. The life you save may be your own. But in reality it’s probably more likely to be your neighbors. And we owe it to each other to take the strain off the system so when a disaster hits so we can do better together.

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Finance Startups

Day 270 and The Circle of Capital

Capital has evolved a lot in my life. The dynamics have changed so much in the 30 years I’ve been ambiently around venture it’s barely the same business. And yes I mean since I was a kid. The apocryphal family history is that I was born on the poor side of Silicon Valley while my unemployed father was working on pitch deck for education software. Yeah it’s a shitty origin story but it’s mine.

Back then you sold your entire life to some dudes for half a million bucks and gave up a lot of control. It wasn’t really collaborative but it was worth it to create the future. Back then your VCs controlled a lot more than they do now for capital they deployed. Flexibility and collaboration wasn’t really considered necessary. Your VCs actually controlled when you got fired (another childhood memory was a “take your daughter to work day” where a CEO got fired), when you could raise again, if and when you could sell your company, and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked if they had some Rumplestiltskin provisions too. That’s just where the market was at the time.

As it has become clear that non-linear returns come from creative founders and new markets, the structures of capital deployment have changed a lot. Capital cares about helping operators create because creation simply has more value than it did in the past. Venture capital isn’t old dudes optimizing for control and margin anymore (even if sometimes that might be a good idea) because that’s just not what makes money anymore.

Heck it has changed a lot in just half a decade. The last time I raised venture for my own startup, we actually priced the round (no uncapped SAFEs), we had a board from day one, and we were allowed to overshoot our valuation and capital goals by a whopping 300K. I was sure we’d reached the height of founder leverage at the time. Heck I felt certain we’d raised a small fortune on favorable & flexible terms. Six years later that would be considered a charmingly small pre-seed round with very onerous terms. Time marches on! And rightly so. Markets adapt to the needs of the participants and the returns they deliver. If it wasn’t profitable it wouldn’t be so.

This is all a long winded way of saying that I am continuing the circle of life. I’ve got my own venture fund Chaotic Capital with Alex Miller and Jacob Brody. It doesn’t look anything like the funds of my childhood or even the seed stage funds of the last decade. Probably because we as founders and operators lived through the hard lessons of venture in multiple cycles and took a lot of lessons with us. Capital isn’t about control. It’s about collaboration now. Capital starts early. Capital is flexible to generate returns But we also aren’t n00bs.

Rather than spend a year raising in silence and announcing it once it’s all said and done we are building a rolling fund. That structure works for us and my general affinity for building in public. It signals founders we are building like them (even as our other constituents see it as being responsive to the demands of the market). The rolling fund is a kind of flexibility to build at the speed of the market while also understanding that the give and take of responsible deployment must also work at the pace of founders.

While we work on forming our proper fund, we’ve created an AngelList Syndicate for chaotic where we’ll be creating SPVs for our current deals (we already have our first two which feels crazy to me) as well as follow-on deals once the fund is created. If you’re an accredited investor and interested in joining our deals, head on over. Isn’t it cool how these structures morph and change over time? I guess having a couple decades of being an operator has some benefits. You’ve seen what works and hopefully have some capacity to change what needs to be changed.

Our LPs and co-investors are mostly our friends and former colleagues who have spent years working with us at companies as varied and diverse as Stack Overflow, Trello, Easypost, Triplelift, Goop, PopSugar and over 40 different angel investments. Alex Miller, Jacob Brody and I have invested over 4m over the years which seems sort of astonishing.

While we work on forming our proper fund, we’ve created an AngelList Syndicate for chaotic where we’ll be creating SPVs for our current deals (we already have our first two!) as well as follow-on deals once the fund is created. If you’re an accredited investor and interested in joining our deals, head on over.

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture Media

Day 251 or NYFW SS08

Today is Star Trek day. The original series debuted 55 years ago. I was searching for a photo of myself as a child wearing a captain’s uniform to commemorate it and instead stumbled upon a file containing my old WordPress blog. So rather than find an adorable picture of me in a red jumpsuit I found this picture from September 10th 2007 waiting for the Marc Jacob’s fashion show.

Several invitations to Marc Jacob’s fashion show for his spring 2008 collection seen from above. A blackberry, an iPhone & a recorder are scattered between wine glasses, a carton of cigarettes and two arms.

I used to be a fashion blogger you see. I have a few dubious CV distinctions, one of which is being the first person to live blog fashion week (at least according to Women’s Wear Daily). In the late aughts just before the Great Recession, it was a hell of a time to work in fashion and I wanted in. Being utterly unqualified I did what any kid would do and started a new media company. It went pretty well, we turned it into an ad tech company, sold it, and survived “RIP good times” but before all of that I partied professionally. A lot of business in fashion used to get done over drinks in fancy hotel lobbies while we all clutched our Blackberries.

This particular photo represents a time when Condé Nast still mattered. I was at the Mercer Hotel with my friend Lauren Goldstein Crowe (also apparently economic writer Felix Solomon). My friend Lauren was the newly installed fashion columnist for the new glossy magazine about money called Portfolio Magazine. We were killing time in the then trendy Soho hotel before the always reliably two hours late Marc Jacob’s show.

I don’t actually remember if I legitimately had an invitation or if I snuck in with Lauren that season. Back in 2007, if you can believe it, social media was considered very uncouth and no one has begun writing “bloggers are taking over the front row” thought pieces yet. Could have gone either way.

Portfolio was the last hurrah of the print behemoths, a glossy magazine dedicated to the culture of finance, so naturally I was appreciative that I could tag along with my much better financed friend. Condé Nast reported spent 100m on the magazine and I appreciate that some small portion of that went to drinks before the fashion of the season. Lauren is an especially erudite editor, of the sort who writes deeply studied long form work, so the fact that Condé Nast was paying to send her to fashion week was pretty decadent. She wasn’t a mid tier market editor who needed to see the clothes. She covers culture so the entire milieu was her domain. The gossip before the shows absolutely counted.

Of course, the business of media couldn’t support that sort of thing forever with changing advertising models and Condé Nast didn’t really keep up with the times. It’s a real loss. People like me ended up winning and it’s been perhaps a net loss for some things that were valuable cultural artifacts.

I spent no more than a couple grand getting our rinky dink operation up and running. We still managed to publish faster than anyone else. I had several meltdowns in service of that effort. In hindsight it was probably a waste but it felt so very new and urgent to be publishing things at the very second a look went down the runway. Now fashion week is an exercise in instant publishing and live-streaming everything from a million perspectives. But the actual studied writers don’t get expense accounts and drivers and corporate Blackberries anymore. If they are lucky maybe they have a blog with a subscription. Lauren knew it even then. She and I slowly occupied the same basic space in the ecosystem. She was just 15 years ahead of seeing it.

Categories
Internet Culture Reading

Day 244 and Crypto Fiction

Science fiction has often been the proving ground for reality. Without Star Trek I doubt I’d be typing this out on my own personal tricorder (mine is called an iPhone). Imagination begets reality. Much of the internet was charted in the genre of cyberpunk long before the rest of us got online.

I think we are entering a new phase with crypto and I’d like to compile a list of foundational texts that have given us the imaginative framework for concepts like the metaverse, DAOs, and smart contracts. I believe this to be a distinct genre from cyberpunk even though classics like Snowcrash transcend both genres.

For instance I don’t think Neuromancer is a crypto novel even though it is an internet novel. I’ll have to work through my logic and categorization on that front but my instinct is that novels that explore networking and computing are not in and of themselves crypto novels. They have to include some aspect of decentralization to qualify. Further aspects like self executing logic for corporations, societal organization, peer to peer and permission-less code and other similar themes I think all fall under decentralization.

Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson – the original metaverse novel. Hiro Protagonist literally inspired Stack’s Hiro. Full disclosure my husband is the COO. Ironically he has not read the book.

Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge – what is basically boomer has to adjust to economic life that is organized around what are functionally DAOs with the help of his granddaughter. This grossly oversimplified plot shouldn’t be used to judge the book which is actually a singularity story.

Daemon & Freedom by Daniel Suarez – the predictive text finisher for Gmail takes over the planet by creating a smart contract. If you ever wondered what would happen if what if Grammarly becomes Putin this is for you. But I do think it is an excellent exploration of how DAO (decentralized autonomous organizations) could replace the corporation.

Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow – you could include any of the books in his Homeland universe but this one pushes home a bit harder how centralized services destroy privacy which is core to why we need peer to peer permission-less systems.

Analog by Elliot Pepper – While it is technically a thriller trilogy there is an augmented persistent metaverse that is run by an organization that transcends the corporation to be something much more. Plus it has lobbyists, self destructive energy billionaire and engineer heroes.

Acellerando by Charles Stross – it starts in the home of the corporation Amsterdam and pans out from there to include things that look like smart contracts that are in fact too smart, lobsters, shell corporations, and the eventual end logic and utility issues brought on by the logic of “always be growing.” Also snag Neptune’s Brood which deals with the monetary policy implications of faster than light travel in a galactic civilization that needs slow stores of value. Cold wallets!

Categories
Finance Startups

238 and DAO Ethics

Are smart contracts freeing us from the tyranny of the legal class just to toss us into the maws of the developer class? Sure we think of lawyers as being inherently worse because they are bourgeois and protected by credentialism and regulatory capture.

But as crypto gets more complex and smart contracts involve more intricate provisioning ,will it become just as exclusionary as the ecosystem of white shoe magic circle legalese? It’s getting to be mighty hard to afford Solidity developers!

Sure we tend to think of developers as friendly self trained indie types. Anyone can learn to code! Let us not lean on heavily on the benefits of decentralization as a panacea for human nature. Power aggregates and money likes influence.

When describing the benefits of how DAOs will outflank traditional corporate governance structures we need to look out for how we avoid the self interest of a protected class of Mandarins forming. We need to think ahead on how to keep smart contracts legible. I don’t have any of the answers here. Governance is just barely coalescing in crypto but it’s never to soon to think ahead.

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Internet Culture Startups

237 and Crypto-Optimism

As much as Silicon Valley and startup culture claim a kind of techno-optimism, in the wake of the social media partisanship, science skepticism and climate concerns, it feels hard to really dream big. People say catch phrases like “it’s time to build” but we all understand there are limits to the problems we solve in capitalism’s current markets. And no one believes the government can solve anything.

Any possibility or big dream can be clouded by its politics or cultural baggage if you let it. We yell about cancel culture but it’s really a lack of imagination. A kind of giving in to the boundaries of what is acceptable has captured the moment.

But I’m noticing a genuine mood of possibilities in crypto. A levity that believes in wide open horizons. Instead of the long horizon, crypto sees a bright one.

Maybe it’s because crypto’s proponents genuinely believe it will be possible to toss out legacy systems. Crypto is still so new the disillusionment of compromise to human nature, design dependencies or aggregate power seem far away. The problems that plague ant endeavor haven’t become inevitable. No wonder the mood is ebullient. We are genuinely happy in crypto.

You can imagine a world in which the DAO destroys the corporation. You can imagine a world in which artists are paid directly by patrons in effectively priced markets which respect their ownership. You can imagine expensive and exclusive financial products being automated away so even a small independent entity can access the best without bleeding out through a dozen service fees. Everything could still be a utopia.

And while I know it won’t it feels really great to be optimistic about something.

Categories
Internet Culture

Day 226 and Brain Prostitutes

When you sell your intellect for a living you cannot afford to have a stupid day. When I was younger I sold my time but as I got older I got paid for my ideas. Or as one of my favorite anonymous Twitter accounts Becoming Critter said I’m “a brain prostitute.”

There isn’t a union for idea whores so when your mind has a sick day you are fucked. Not idea fucked, no, because then you’d get paid. If you can’t produce a good idea you’ve got nothing to sell. I personally found this entire concept of knowledge worker as as brain prostitution to be pretty amusing. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails if you’ve decided being a “knowledge worker” makes you better than other types of labor.

We’ve decided that selling your mind is higher status than selling your time but I think it’s all just a a clever way for the capital class to move labor into categories that produce better returns. If someone has found it beneficial to employ you, either for your time or your ideas, it’s because it’s worth more than you are getting paid.

I like that the intelligentsia is lying to themselves about being bourgeois. Doing practical things like running a grocery was beneath them. So they had to invent some exciting distinction that convinced everyone that selling ideas made you a better class of person than selling lettuce. I’m not really sure how Marx would see all of this but it seems like if you aren’t capital then you are still labor.

But I guess now that we’ve got rid of hereditary aristocracy the need for more elaborate distinctions for how we determine our betters is clear. The market demanded a rebrand. Personally I like idea whore better but I can see why we went with knowledge worker.

Categories
Finance

Day 225 & Explaining DAOs to Moms

My mother is a sharp woman. She’s interested in economics but if you asked her to explain securities law she’d probably shrug. Not her expertise. She did survive our family bankruptcy during the tech IPO implosion she’s got a slight intuition of securities law in the context of consumer protection but that’s about it.

So I was impressed that she was able to sum up the recent infrastructure bill’s attempt to make crypto foot the bill very neatly.

So they are trying to convince us that people who program computers to run math problems are actually bankers?

That’s…actually not too far off. She seemed to grok that this was a misunderstanding of the basic technology, who builds it and it’s purpose. She was glad the amendment didn’t pass. Clearly people who build computer applications are not the same as the guy at Charles Schwab who looks after her retirement account.

We were discussing it, as I was trying to explaining PR DAO and why I wanted to help organize an activist group of folks whose purpose was execute public relations campaigns to tell stories about crypto. I explained to her that rather than having a bunch of executives who make decisions we would write a set of rules that automatically determine how we make decisions. Those rules would let all members of the organization vote on how we wanted to deploy our assets and pursue our agenda. She liked the tag line “rules not rulers” a lot. She’s pretty into freedom. A smart contract was pretty intuitive to my mom.

Where she got confused was the governance tokens. Not how they worked. Again it was intuitive to her that depending on what you contributed and how invested you were in the organization that you would a different say in what got done. Maybe each token represents one vote. Maybe some people have more votes because they are more invested. Presumably we figure that out in our smart contract. What she didn’t get was why the government thinks a voting mechanism is a security.

“So the government treats the way your group organizes decision making as if those little voting symbols were stock in IBM? That’s fucking stupid”

Now granted my mother probably can’t explain what a security is (she’s got the basic idea that they are like a type of money and Boomers like to own stocks). She gets why they are regulated the way they are in a general sense. She’s lost money on badly governed companies. So sure it’s fine that the government has some rules for that sort of thing.

But even to a lay person like my mom it seems pretty clear that something meant to represent ownership in a money making enterprise and something meant to help organize voting and decision making are separate ideas. She seemed to think maybe they ought to distinguish between the two ideas. Because you know the last time we came up with clever ideas like the corporation the whole world changed. Evolving them again to be autonomous could make for the same level of change. If my mom got that in a half an hour phone call seems like maybe the professionals at the SEC could work it out too.