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.


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.

Internet Culture Startups

Day 236 and Founders Who Write

A heuristic I’m playing with for assessing founders is how good they are at writing.

And while this approach to vetting a founder is a practical method (everyone writes) it’s obviously limited. But I think it is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an approximation of founder capacity in a swift and asynchronous way. I like to see examples of founder writing whether it is Tweets, blog posts, technical documentation or a Notion document.

It’s my belief that we’ve overweighted salesmanship, pitching & synchronic communication methods (remember reality distortion fields) which has led to prioritizing messianic style founders. A rousing keynote speech used to be the gold standard. But this may be less relevant as teams go fully remote and more work is done asynchronously. Your capacity to document and communicate meaning at scale is crucial as a founder.

The canonical example of a founder who telegraphed competence and meaning through writing was Joel Spolsky. The Joel on Software blog established him as ur technical writer and gave us documentation culture which blossomed in Stack Overflow.

A more recent example for me is Devin Finzer who I discovered through his technical writing. Long before OpenSea was a clear winner in the NFT space, Devin’s writing caught my attention as his crisp clear articulation on the basics non-fungible tokens was legible to everyone.

My guess is this heuristic of focusing on writing instead of showmanship will improve overall diversity of founders & companies in a portfolio as less bias creeps into asynchronous documentation whereas mirroring & social cues easily tilt pitching in favor of certain classes of people

I’m also keen on folks who like messaging culture. Being able to hop in and out of conversations is crucial to team building & scaling. Those that are happy to DM & chat to build rapport in distributed fashion more easily will succeed at building relationships in a remote first world.

Preparedness Startups

Day 189 and Cascades

One of the reasons we named the fund we invest out of Chaotic Capital is because I’m obsessed with cascade failures. In complex systems one small change can ripple out in unexpected ways. As players scramble to accommodate these shifts, opportunities for power realignments emerge. This is particularly exciting in systems that are man made as we can only create so much complexity in mechanical systems (unlike biological ones). Most startups are built on technology or engineering that are simple complex systems.

The absolute best description of the risks of a cascade comes from the science fiction television program The Expanse and a botanist named Prax. He is describing a failure in the hydroponics system (which both feeds the people and produces oxygen) on a space station on the moon Ganymede.

Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how.

While I’m a doomer and a prepper so it was bound to happen, it was this insight from Prax got me into hydroponics. Cascades and chaos and lettuce fuck yes!

But jokes aside, we’ve got a number of complex systems under strain right now. Supply chains, the financial system, our power grids coping with climate change, and even unemployment benefits are all examples of simple complex systems that are experiencing cascade failures.

I’m not in the mindset to lay a Grand Unified Theory of Simple Complex Systems tonight, because I did experienced one today. Colorado just set another heat record today and my air conditioner crapped out. As I set about closing blinds and checking electrical breakers I worried about how my own survival and comfort depends on cascades not occurring.

What if it had been electrical and my refrigerator went out and not just the air conditioner. Then my $5000 a dose immunosuppressant would go bad. If I can’t have that my spine will swell. Then I’ll be in too much pain to walk. Sure this isn’t a simple complex system exactly but I think it beneficial to go up and down the systems that keep our lives intact. If one system goes down do you survive?

This used to be a topic which we all shied away from. Then the pandemic happened and preppers like myself didn’t look quite so whacky. We told stories about the systems thinking that went into basic preparedness. We got a Nellie Bowles Styles piece. It was a lot of fun. But it belies the seriousness with which the topic of preparedness should be approached.

You probably aren’t prepared for some of the cascades that come as the works gets more chaotic. And no we cannot predict it. Shit is way too complex. It’s fucking chaotic as hell. So get some bottled water. I’ve made it easier. Here is what I keep in my go bags. Do it before the next cascade hits. You won’t regret it. I think Prax would agree.

Finance Startups

Day 181 and Thesis Trends

As I was putting down scratch notes for Chaotic.Capital’s thesis yesterday on the types of businesses we like I thought I’d do a bit more stream of consciousness writing to discuss some of the mega-trends that I see driving returns over the next decade.

Embedded Functionality

We think more and more businesses will be born of the embedded functionality inside protocol layers or data sets. Many protocols have functionality embedded across different layers of utility and functionality. For instance, the new consumer bank is an API at heart. The protocol layer is the API and the embedded functionality is the financial services layers enabled through the protocol or application layer. Need another example. Retail sales data and demand trends give rise to fashion retailers. Think of StitchFix, the clothing brand is the embedded functionality of its aggregate trend, recommendation and demand data set.

Unbundling Trust

Trust based networks rule businesses like insurance, retail banking, law and financing. But what if trust was unbundled from institutional nexuses of power. What if we built trust from value creation instead of value extraction. DeFi wants to build permission-less trust based on a protocol. Its entirely possible we bundle trust back into the wisdom of crowds and markets. Wall Street Bets is an aggregate source of unbundled trust. Figuring out what layers can be stripped away for more efficiency and what layers we need for safety and peace of mind are unsolved problems.

Data Ingestion Is Value Creation. The more capacity we have for data collection the more demand we will have for data ingestion and processing. While we can say sure businesses rely on the protocol and data and that unbundles trust, that’s not the full picture. We will need people who make sense of the chaos for the muggles. Ordered systems give the impression of serendipity for their users (an introduction on a social network, a recommendation for a loan, an outfit customized for you) but the work required to intake and order the data to create value for users is a big hairy problem. And there is a lot money to be made in those. Centralization may come at this layer especially in user experience.

Flexible Asset Weighting.

We are also interested in businesses that know where they stand with capital needs for their business. If you are executional business you need a thin layer of assets to succeed. To quote Roy Bahat “hot swap” startups are executional businesses. A slim horizontal physical layer to take advantage of low financing costs means return on equity is greater for these asset light businesses. If it’s deep innovation then you can be asset heavy. We like those just fine too. But knowing where you stand and anchoring your business case on your asset weighting can give you an edge. That lets you be capabilities based and find opportunities, particularly as debt as is in a commoditization cycle.

All of this is to say we are thinking across a number of system level problems to unearth startups that will give flexibility to individuals, organizations, industries and hopefully the entire economy. Incumbents won’t see who is coming to beat them because they won’t recognize the new predators. They prioritize value systems that at won’t remain true as systemic chaos erodes inefficient businesses and institutions.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 173 and Waves

Humans crave linear narratives. We do something. It has an effect. We see an improvement. I don’t know where we got this logic of clear cause and effect and simple logic arcs, because it doesn’t seem like it matches reality. Horizontal thinking has a much longer history. In antiquity no one insisted on a 3 act play. We wandered through the Odyssey.

Maybe this is why we impose routines and rhythms on our daily lives. I personally require a lot of external routines to tame my physical body. Most of my days are dedicated to simple repeatable patterns. It gives me strength. Humans look to seasons and the festivals we have labeled on top of changes. We plan our lives according the angle of the sun.

But I’m skeptical that the pattern recognition my mind lays out for me of linearity is real. Life is fully of squiggly lines. Biology resists straight lines like unpredictability is some kind of dogma. We spent all pandemic resisting exponential growth because it just didn’t make sense to our little minds.

I get lost in cause and effect every day. The insistence of my emotions that because I did “good” responsible things (like workout, meditate and therapy) means I should feel good afterwards is part of my linear bias. But it’s not true that because I was good in my activities that I should feel good afterwards. Sometimes I don’t. I can have a perfect day and feel like shit. Because fuck it cause and effect isn’t that clean. And everything is multi-causal anyways.

Life comes in waves. It builds and pulls back and then crests and crashes. I’m sure we can map some of it but I’m getting much more comfortable simply riding the waves of kids as they come in.


Day 160 and Starting with Money

The best articulation of why anyone gives a shit about currencies in crypto (as opposed to just focusing on bigger structural problems of macroeconomics) is that you need foundational layers to build a new economy. You need a currency before you can have an economy. Ryan Sean Adams at Bankless gave me an aha moment with this quote. You need money.

The bankless model is simple: you hold the majority of your crypto wealth in crypto money. Specifically crypto commodity money. Today that means ETH and BTC.

Wealth is different than money. And crypto wealth should be in crypto money. Like yes, we get it, assets get tokenized. Crypto folks are wild for tokens. But that’s more of a DeFi problem. Financialization has allowed us to buy so many cool kinds of financial products that we forget that shit like derivatives were invented by normal dudes who traded soybeans for a living in the 70s.

But we needed soybeans to be traded first. There is an order of operations to setting up an economy. That means a system where folks grow soybeans and sell them, or turn them into another product like oil, or sell their labor as an accountant to the oil company that buys the soybeans. Because we don’t trade soybeans for steak. We trade it for dollars and then we buy a steak to enjoy at home with our spouse and kids. Circle of life! Circle of trade.

So first things first (I’m the realist) we to understand that understand that currency is crucial to the functioning of but also the first step in an economy expanding. We need to read up a bit on the history of money. PBS has a NOVA series that is pretty comprehensive. If you like stories Thomas Levenson’s Money for Nothing is a not-actually-tall tale about how the scientific revolution lead to a financial revolution (plus it has boats). Or learn how Kublai Khan invented paper money which seemed even crazier than a digital currency at the time.

If we start with a digital currency who knows what we can build from there. Balaji believes (and I agree) that it’s the first step in forming a digital country. But money comes first.


Day 145 and HODL

If I like something I want to commit. I don’t get folks who get panicked at bumps in the road. Hype cycles for cryptocurrency trading have been unappealing to me. I’ve never been one to watch things like FOREX trades so why would I want to do it but with Bitcoin? Like I have fantasies about being a trader but I am absolutely not. If I believe in an opportunity I am not a short term thinker or investor. I want to see where it goes.

The real excitement to me in crypto is the potential to impact larger more broad based systems. Changes that occur over time and with significant collaboration are more interesting than any narrative blip. A libertarian monetary policy implications was obviously particularly exciting. As business person the potential to change the middle man fee structure that makes financialization and banking a scourge was equally appealing. As a technologist the possibility of building applications on an entire new protocol is enticing.

The bigger picture is the only thing that matters. Go in the right direction over time and ignore the noise. That’s why we’ve slowly moved up our allocation into Bitcoin over the years. And that’s why I’m excited for my husband Alex to be working as the new COO for Hiro.

Any angle you take on the big picture implications for building new systems is an opportunity for innovation and wealth creation. That’s why I’m HODL. HODL is a mindset. Sure it came out of a misspelling of “hold” when someone was drunk but who can’t relate to the desire to really commit to a bigger vision? Participation in the creation of something bigger is the ultimate HODL value. Hold on for dear life or just hold on. Either way you are in for the long haul.

Chronic Disease Politics

Day 142 and Optimism

The pandemic has done more to improve my life than to it has hurt it. I have a little survivors guilt as I am not far from family and friends that have suffered but I was lucky. Part of my luck has been tied to my privileged place in society. I was able to enjoy housing flexibility and leave behind an expensive city apartment for a townhouse in my hometown. I was always able to work from home with little fear my income would be impacted by disease or even negative secondary effects. Nevertheless I haven’t felt much optimism until recently.

Part of my lack of optimism has been tied to my health challenges. It’s been two years of working to get a diagnosis, stabilize my spine, and get the secondary symptoms controlled. There were low points when drug regimens didn’t work. Or when it seemed like the fatigue or pain would keep my life away even when primary concerns were improving. I was genuinely terrified going into the pandemic as it did cut off my access to typical doctors visits and more hospital setting delivered care.

But I’ve found significant improvement over the past six months thanks to excellent remote care I was able to receive from functional medicine doctors. It’s almost as if with the operational and physical logistics of care removed the actual outcome of my care improved. I was able to get to the heart of a diagnosis and hone in on effective treatment protocols more quickly. Thanks to this improvement I’ve come to find my optimism again.

Not that I think the world is getting better. If anything I’m far more worried about the many axis of American failure. Our politics has become authoritarian. Our economy increasingly serves only the entrenched and already wealthy. Our interest in mitigating climate change remains low. It’s so bad the best we can do is chuckle at why millennials don’t have kids. It’s because they are selfish right? Nothing to do with how hard it is to trust that the system will ever work for you so why bother investing in the future?

But I am intrigued by the opportunities afforded by the chaos. There is money to be made adjusting us to new realities. Maybe by dint of accidental or unexpected changes we find innovations that change our world. Maybe those will be for the better. And maybe I can help nudge along the better outcomes. And for the first time in a while o believe my body will be up for the challenge. It’s nice to be optimistic.

Finance Politics

Day 141 and Double Indignity

I’ve always been interested macroeconomics. Even as a child I got very excited about trading and markets eating up movies & books with political themes. Precocious snot that I was I quoted the Economist in my high school year book. So was primed to be interested in Bitcoin from the start. I even had a physical copy of the ur-conspiracy theory of monetary policy “Creature from Jekyll Island” in college. Yes it’s embarrassing. Point being if you are a fiat freak you probably have some opinions about the Fed, a few of which sound utterly wild.

I’d been exposed to questions about money and what drives people to build and create. I was skeptical that we could continue printing currency because I was introduced to economics through the basics. I also had an intuition that this system was making bigger winners of the already advantaged and short term interests, while taking away from long term interests who need their time & money maintain its value on the horizon. Basically I think inflammation sucks for the young. And if you are young and poor it’s a double indignity.

This is why I find Bitcoin so appealing philosophically. The idea that those already in power can inflate their interests over those who come after them offends me. Dynastic societies become ossified. I found Steven Ross’s Stone Ridge investor letter to be a particularly compelling argument for why Bitcoin is a moral good for equity.

Money is, and has always been, technology. Specifically, money is technology for making our wealth today available for consumption tomorrow. Modern Americans with a ‘What’s water?’ mindset about money – virtually all of us – assume there is a sharp line of distinction between what is money and what is not. That’s false. Instead, throughout history, various monies (note: plural) have always existed1 – simultaneously – along a continuum of soundness, subject to competitive monetary network effects. Sound money – along with language – were the first, and have forever been the most important, human networks responsible for human flourishing. Imagine life without them.

I think Americans especially the monied elite interests are simply becoming too entrenched to the detriment of freedom here but most critically around the works. We have no incentive to let the rest of the world compete so we are rigging the game in our favor. I don’t like it morally even if it benefits me personally (though arguably not as much as it does Boomers and the old). I’d rather Earth compete as one as this drives our progress. Anything less is serving a double indignity to the least privileged among us.