12 -> 14 -> 11

I ran the random # generator today, and got 12, then 11. So the first four times I’ve rolled the “dice”, I’ve gotten 12, 14, 12, 11. Doesn’t feel random, “RANDOM.ORG”!

11. some sort of blockchain-based thing where you can modularly create an environment (Minecraft)

Yikes this one is a bit nutty. The idea is sort of that we can formalize the way we construct our online realities (which are quickly becoming our real realities) into structure-able pieces, like legos, and build the realities we want ourselves. And you can apply this concept to governance, to education, to how you want to live life, you can choose what to experience but choosing the context that you build for yourself, by choosing the ruleset under which you operate.

I’m not going to be very straightforward today – just don’t feel like making myself easy to follow or understandable.

I don’t particularly feel like writing about a random creative idea today. The above one is fun, I can always come back to it, it’s too abstract anyway, at least for today. More of a thought experiment than something grounded in my life.

So what does resonate today? Well there are three quotes I have written down in my “things to write about” list that jump out:

  • Everyone in today’s society lives in constant contradiction of their ideals. In these young corners of the internet everything is simultaneously ironic and genuine.
  • I try to always ask myself when I meet someone new “is this person a force of nature?” It’s a pretty good heuristic for finding people who are likely to accomplish great things.
  • This is why the question of a person’s motivation is so important. It’s the first thing I try to understand about someone. The right motivations are hard to define a set of rules for, but you know it when you see it.

The first one is from an analysis of political subcultures on Instagram. It’s actually somewhat related to the idea I initiated this post with; at least my interpretation of the quote is related. Basically now we have so much freedom to construct the reality we live in, in choosing the filters and the bubbles we experience life through, that we often create contradictions in our lives, because we really aren’t thoughtful or nuanced or intelligent enough to understand how the different positions we choose actually relate to one another. So we live in a state of massive cognitive dissonance, or at least, we live in a state where we are constantly trying to understand what it is we actually believe, because there is no one in the world anymore that is telling us what is right to believe. This is a long-standing trend… the spread of information has obvious benefits, it enables the aggregation of information and therefore mass, rapid accumulation of knowledge which results in innovation, genius, creativity, dominance, monopoly, but it also overwhelms us with choices of what to believe in, and robs us of the time to think about what we should believe in.

So I like AOC, I like Lebron James, I don’t like Drake, I don’t like Trump, I like Obama, I like the Warriors, I like crypto, I like Frank Ocean, I don’t like the Kardashians, I don’t like Facebook and the advertising model, I don’t like Tesla, I don’t like Netflix, I do like Spotify… how do these merge into an approach to life that is cohesive, coherent, comprehensive? They almost certainly don’t. I cannot dig too deeply into my own beliefs or it is certain I will find contradictions. Things I like that I shouldn’t; things I don’t like that I should, at least based on the logic of my prior choices.

I am confronted with so many inputs every day, and I have to choose whether I like them or not; or at least there is a “Like” button in front of many of them. But if I were to seriously consider the meaning of a “Like” and try to align my “Likes” with the direction of all my past “Likes”, I would be non-functional. I would have to withdraw from society. So the alternative is I become very good at dismissing my past choices, at saying, Well look, I reserve the right to change my mind.

And that starts to sound like a very American thing to say, in the sense of our growing obsession with being present, in our obsession with independence, in our obsession with rationality, in our obsession with being objectively correct, of being logical. None of my past choices reflect the choice I am about to make; the choice I am about to make reflects the TRUE ME, the me that exists in this moment. Old Calvin is dead (from yesterday). New Calvin is reinvented in every moment.

So what does that mean? It paints a sort of freedom. But it also paints a sort of meaninglessness, a lack of arc in a life. It creates a feeling of being 31 years old and having barely existed, of not having a past that is meaningful except in its creation of this moment, of knowing that even this moment will become meaningless when the future becomes now. It creates a sense that if the future looks like the past, what it will really feel like is a rush of memory, and nothing more concrete.

There’s a lot I want to unpack here, I think I need the paint to dry in my life, I wish I had a conviction that defined my life, knowing full well that is not the path to happiness, but perhaps to something fulfilling.

And I know I have beliefs that could become convictions. One just needs the courage to make them so.

Returning to #14

Can take some time to return to #14, the idea of developing some niche useful utility based on understanding a very niche use case of some hard-to-acquire data or tooling, and then selling it. Using CryptoFinance as an inspiration – the creator basically built API integrations with exchange APIs, and then formatted that data to be available through an add-on in Google Sheets. It’s really quite intelligent, though must have taken a lot of work not only in the coding but also in the marketing. Being first to market with a functional product was probably awesome, although it’s actually a pretty broken product, though perhaps not his fault.

I was thinking about what I could do that is somewhat similar. So what are some of the key pieces?

  • He is grabbing data that is hard to grab and aggregate. For many people it’s basically impossible, for others it’s many hours of work. He just did the work for you, of writing integrations to like at least 5 exchanges though he actually has hundreds, and he actually aggregates it as well. Most people can’t talk to an API, let alone aggregate that all into one data pipeline. He has to pull from multiple APIs and then reformat so the API responses can play with one another.
  • He has great customer service; super responsive and super available on Twitter and Telegram and email.

I mean that might actually be it. It’s not even that functional due to constraints outside of his control, like Google Sheets putting a cap on API calls out of Sheets. It actually breaks for me all the time. There might even be a better way to do what he’s trying to do, but his product is super MVP. It’s probably good enough for most use cases, which is portfolio tracking on a daily basis (although that product is free). Then he has a product he charges $10/month for, which is based on an artificial performance constraint he can control.

So he purposefully delivers a product worse than he could for free, then charges $10 for a better product, then charges $39/month for a product that should be awesome but actually breaks all the freaking time and isn’t even very useful to use.

And he has some decent documentation.

So where I can do the work of aggregating data for people that they want? At first I thought maybe something to do with networking in crypto, but I don’t think that is it. Something like Roll Review is back in this arena, more about aggregating feedback on videos for them.

Aggregating newsletters is fully commoditized.

Maybe even just building the exact same thing as cryptofinance with some slight improvements could win over the entire market; although there are products like the CoinMarketCap API or the CryptoCompare API already. Maybe understanding Google Sheets Add-Ons. Maybe ContactOut for Google Sheets.

Or actually maybe making Google Sheet templates… no that is like not niche enough. The value prop has to be super clear – getting prices into Google Sheets from crypto exchanges (through primarily I only use one API, the CoinMarketCap API). Could build this and provide it for way cheaper to crowd him out of the market, that would be pretty simple actually. Especially if the integration were super simple, though then you have a migration cost as the cryptofinance function is already implemented in a spreadsheet. Unless you could Control-F the whole thing into a different function, but then what is the point.

No, it would be good to come up with something original. Researching available APIs and see what can be aggregated would be cool. Cryptonative would obviously be cool but it’s not necessary. What other types of data… needs to be a niche I can understand, or at least seek to understand.

Product Manager HQ is a niche providing value within that niche and people are also willing to pay. Build super niche services within a niche. That’s why I want to do something in jiu-jitsu, because it’s such a good niche that I have a passion for; but it’s unclear people will pay for it; well that’s not true, hundreds of people came out to this jiu jitsu tournament paying at least $100 each. Maybe like $50,000 worth of value there. Who try to film every single match but don’t get much value out of it.

The problem is the distribution on that is super hard. Actually if there were a way to aggregate attention for jiu-jitsu that would be great. I wonder how Occupy Democrats is doing it. Because Facebook owns all the attention, it’s really hard to get a differentiated viewership.

Hm maybe a good way to start would be to build something that solves a problem I have, because that’s an easy way to imagine CryptoFinance and Product Manager HQ starting… basically needing to build my own portfolio management tools; and then also trying to streamline my learning, development, and networking around being a product manager. Then opening up my solutions to other people. So find something that you’re solving in your own life in an interesting way that takes up a lot of time and energy, and sell that to other people who might want the same solution.

I’m not sure there is anything right now. That’s a good frame though; look for ways to solve problems in my own life in automated, streamlined ways that are scalable (easily shareable with others).

competed today

Competed in 4 matches (should have been 5, I missed one) at the BJJ Tour All-Star tournament today. Learned a ton. Didn’t get the results I wanted, but really learned a ton that should be a great tune up going forward. One big breakthrough was I lost the nerves I used to have; now getting out there is calm and chill and I can play the game. Well, I know I’m still spazzing a little bit, but it’s starting to slow down for me. Excited for the next one and to moving up and on, coming home with some more success than I did today.

Still got out there and competed, which was one of my action-oriented resolutions for 2019. And definitely had fun on the mats, and off, with my teammates for the day.

Idea #12

I have a list of 17 random startup / side project ideas. For fun and practice, I want to write about them here to assess their quality and flesh them out. Because I don’t know which to start with, I used a random number generator at random.org to pick which idea to address first. Now of course, it’s 12:30am and I’m not very motivated to dig in deep on this particular idea today, but I’ll at least get it started and I’ll continue on this thread tomorrow.

12. Learn everything about AngelList and where a startup could compete with the safest, simplest offering, e.g. tokenization of seed funding. Or FundersClub

That’s #12. I rolled the random number generator around noon today, so I’ve spent a little bit of time thinking about it today. The reason this idea is attractive is because the business model of AngelList is so insanely lucrative, yet it seems like the moat they have around their business should not be THAT strong. Their business doesn’t actually create any network effects, or at least not super strong, locked-in network effects. To me, the syndicate leads are really just brokers or agents for allocations in investment opportunities, and AngelList is like a super expensive SaaS platform in the cloud for those agents.

Now the reason being an agent is so lucrative is because these tech investors are so well-respected that they serve as signal in themselves. Naval Ravikant will never have trouble filling a deal, as long as he is interested in that deal. I don’t even need to know what the deal is; I’ll invest if Naval Ravikant is leading. That’s because he’s invested in Uber, and a bunch more, but mostly Uber is all that matters to me. This signaling is so critical to both the fundraising startup and the syndicate investors, that Naval Ravikant becomes a critical part of the ecosystem even though he doesn’t actually add that much value, like I can’t imagine he makes or breaks the company with respect to his decisions about how they operate. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but he’s probably not truly even 100x smarter than anyone else. That just can’t be the case. Even though he’s 10,000x richer. Returns accrue in power law.

Anyways my point is this model is so insanely good for Naval Ravikant because as long as his reputation is strong, and the social proof is there, syndicating a deal has no downside and insane upside. If every deal has 0 loss potential but infinite upside potential, then if Naval syndicates massive volume, he WILL WIN. And he will win big. Statistics wins, and Naval is the beneficiary.

So the question is really how do you rip this model up and improve it. Why should the broker AND the broker’s technology platform take such a gigantic cut of the returns of the company? Well the incentives are such that if the company fails, Naval gets nothing. So he is incentivized to help them as much as he can, as long as he believes they can be successful. But he’s always incentivized to help where he thinks his time can have the eventual highest return multiple on his investment; so if you aren’t the hottest company in his 500-company portfolio, you aren’t getting shit from Naval. If you’re the 10th hottest company you might not get shit.

So what I’m getting at is, AngelList is not the intermediary to disrupt here; Naval the syndicate lead (and to an extent all venture investors) are the intermediary to disrupt. You can see how ICOs tapped into this in a huge way, although they were all kinds of fucked up. Founders don’t actually care if their investors are value add if they can raise exponentially more money for less effort versus fundraising the traditional route. So that indicates that they aren’t locked in to the VC side. From personal experience at Compound, our VCs aren’t bending over backwards to help us — like at all. They try to help, but only in ways where it’s clear they can derive value back.

Meanwhile, LPs and syndicate investors just want to follow social proof; but social proof doesn’t have to be ONLY the big name investor; it could be created in many ways that are actually more rigorously analytical and thoughtful.

Anyways I’m looking at my notes and some logic is missing in my thought process but the rest of my notes say things like:

  • VCs/syndicate leads are just brokers, agents who price deals then try to sell and take a huge carry but no downside incentives except success breeds success so volume wins
  • Incentive mechanism
  • How to get social proof – ppl want to follow
  • How to price deals with no VCs involved (this is a key value add they do at the fundraising stage, though I’m really curious how it affects outcomes)
  • Aggregate venture investment analysis; then open fundraise

And the key is in the last bullet point. I want to aggregate the attention of every LP or potential LP that ever invests in a venture fund or through AngelList, then create a fundraising platform around that where the platform actually is the intermediary instead of the VCs/syndicate leads. I won’t go further than that right now. If I do go further later, you’ll hear about it!

Energy

I haven’t had much energy lately. Not sure if I’m fighting off a cold, or this diet (Whole30) has finally gotten to me or if I’m just run down from being so busy. I feel SO BUSY. I don’t know what’s up; I could really use a pause button for a week. I kind of got that over the holidays though. I dunno – I’m hanging in there. At the end of the day I’m still grateful that I don’t truly have anything to complain about.

I just like, want to type with my eyes closed. That’s how tired I am. A little down today; it seems like there’s no end in sight with regards to responsibilities building in life, and things to get down. To be a kid again. It’s really impossible; you just can’t go backward. I guess I have to reinvent the way I think about life. Good thing Vipassana’s coming.

I Missed

I missed a day again yesterday. This time writing didn’t even cross my mind; on other days I missed, I at least thought about writing and then either forgot or perhaps even subconsciously bailed on it. Yesterday was just so busy and I was just so tired that I simply forgot. I hadn’t slept very well, and I was feeling sick, and I had gone to jiu-jitsu, and whoops. It happens. I don’t really need to explain myself going forward.

Actually, I spent a bunch of time late at night writing a few important emails and helping my mom edit a document she was working on, so that kinda became my writing time. Or at least cannibalized it.

I have a Vipassana coming up in exactly two weeks. To date, I did one in February 2016 in Nepal, for 10 days, which was incredible. Inner peace was actually achieved; my ideal state of being. Then I did a 3-day one in February 2017 in Kelseyville, California which was awful. My car was outside, three days was too short, and I never got to focus on doing the Vipassana and just wanted to leave the whole time and was able to leave after effectively one full day, since the first day was the day I arrived and the third day was the day that I departed.

So this is my first Vipassana, my first real one, since February 2016, three years. I downloaded all these selfie videos I took from around the time of my last Vipassana, and I intended to watch them and try to get a sense of what I was like back then, and what I gained from the Vipassana, and how I changed afterwards. I actually haven’t watched any of those videos yet… I think they’ll likely make up around 3 hours or more of content. I should try to bite off a piece every day… it should be really interesting. I’ll actually just start with one tonight, and watch a few a day and see where I end up.

Right now I’m very scared to do a Vipassana and I definitely want to bail. But I know that while it’s incredibly challenging and scary, last time it was also one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done. I just hope it’s not a one-hit wonder you know? That for me repeating the experience will be as great as the first time I did it and it was brand new. It’s also scary because at that time in 2016 I had nothing to do, nothing to worry about, I was in the middle of backpacking through East to South Asia. This time, I have a million things to worry about, though all related to Compound and our wedding. It’ll be weird to go into the Vipassana with a million things on my mind, and to finish the Vipassana and go directly back into work without much time for reflection. I guess we’ll see.

So at this thing there’s no talking, no reading, no writing, no music, no exercise. Last time, I tried to do some pushups once in a while. I also snuck in a little notebook and wrote inside of my jacket with my eyes closed – I just thought of so many things I didn’t want to forget. I even wrote on my hand then copied it into a notebook later. I’m probably going to do the same thing this time… it’s a pretty cool memento to bring out of the experience. Though it is cheating and I’m sure the experience is different if you have to really give up on even bringing your thoughts through the experience; that is, you KNOW there are thoughts on day 1 you will forget by day 10 and you just have to be okay with letting go.

Anyways it’ll be awesome and intense but I guess for me there’s no better way to live than with passion and intensity. We’ll see how it goes. I hope it’s transformative in a good way. Always seeking evolution and progress. There’s a lot I have to work on, might as well work on it hard.

I have a list going of things I want to write about… one thing was a video I saw earlier today, from a tweet by the Black Socialists of America. The video had nothing to do with Black or Socialist or even America, it was a video of James Baldwin talking about suffering. The point he makes is that in our lives there are times we feel like, “Why me? Why must I suffer?” and we feel isolated in this pain, like God has chosen us to suffer, and there’s no reason we should, and we feel so broken in this suffering. But then, he says, one day we realize it’s not just us, that everyone suffers, that everywhere people are suffering almost regardless of their circumstances. It’s just part of the human condition, it comes with the gift of being alive, which is really the gift of experience, that some experience will be pleasant and some will be suffering. And then, he says, you learn that your suffering is a bridge to other people. I guess he’s talking about connection. Perhaps about sympathy, or empathy.

And finally he talks about this sympathy or empathy, this bridge, being a motivation to try to bring a little light to other people, a little hope. That you can’t bring people out of their suffering, but you can try to bring in them the inspiration or the resolve to bring themselves out of suffering, or at least to hope and survive until the good experiences come around again.

It was so powerful. There was something magic in the way James Baldwin delivered this message. There’s magic everywhere, whether it’s art or music or wisdom or writing or nature or sport or community. I wish I could tap into magic like that. The kind of magic that sends chills down your spine, that makes you feel so alive, that makes your heart expand, or your mind explode with pleasure and excitement. That’s what I’m seeking. That kind of magic. It’s everywhere, but it doesn’t feel like it’s in me. I wish I had a well of that magic inside me. But I know that can’t be the way it works, not for anyone (well maybe for some people?). Stevie Wonder magic. Frank Ocean magic.

How do I build that magic? Or how do I grow it. Or at least, how do I create it, once in a while, inside of myself, and share it with the world, or at least share in the experience of it with other people in the world?

We’ll see.