The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries was one of two books I read this weekend (the other was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness).
It was outstanding. I made it the August book club book for my dad and my brother. And then, this morning, I woke up to the following headlines.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is paying attention. There is now a long history of governments trying to control the Internet. One approach over government is censoring the Internet; another is weaponizing it.
The Red Web covers Russia’s history around the Internet starting during the Cold War with a focus on the last twenty years. While Russia had a slow start, the Internet played a big part in both sides of things – the increasingly free flow of information combined with government control over information.
I believe we are at the very beginning of a new version of this battle. Since the beginning of humans, information – and the control of information – has been one of the key dynamics of power. At least we don’t need to use ravens anymore. But, depending on which country you are in, they might be a good backup plan.
On May 24th, I wrote a post titled Shifting To Maker Mode For The Summer. I had full intentions of making this shift around Memorial Day and sustaining it until Labor Day.
I have completely failed at this. While I’m managed to stay off social media and read a lot more than watch TV, I massively underestimated the amount of transactional activity I’d have this summer. On Monday mornings, when I’d look at my schedule for the week, I’d see a wall of blue through Friday, starting early in the morning and going until dinner time. My goal was to have nothing scheduled until 1 pm with an upper bound at 5 pm, but this ended up being an epic fail. And, as a bonus, I’ve had a dinner almost every night between Monday and Thursday so far this summer (that’s not a good thing.) I’ve had a few days that weren’t completely full, but they’ve ended up being catch-up days.
The next few of weeks are more of the same. So, I’ve accepted that Maker Mode is not happening this summer.
I’ve got two books in process: Give First and Startup Communities 2. I wrote 15,000 words on Give First in March but haven’t opened my Scrivener file since. I have a co-author (Ian Hathaway) work is hard at work on the first draft of Startup Communities 2, so at least he’s making progress, but I haven’t even started holding up my part of that particular bargain.
I’m am running and have committed to do the Run Crazy Horse marathon in South Dakota in October. The running has been great for my body and even better for my mental health, so that’s good.
I feel deep equanimity around this. In the past, I’d be frustrated with myself for not getting in gear. But in hindsight, it’s clear that maker mode wasn’t realistic given the other work commitments I have along with all of the episodic stuff that regularly comes up in my work life. Snoopy continues to be my guide on this particular journey.
My favorite Onion article of all time (from 2010) is U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion. It starts off with some Bernanke brilliance.
“Though raising interest rates is unlikely at the moment, the Fed will of course act appropriately if we…if we…” said Bernanke, who then paused for a moment, looked down at his prepared statement, and shook his head in utter disbelief. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. None of this—this so-called ‘money’—really matters at all.”
“It’s just an illusion,” a wide-eyed Bernanke added as he removed bills from his wallet and slowly spread them out before him. “Just look at it: Meaningless pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. Worthless.”
This is not a new idea. From William Gibson’s book Neuromancer, one of the most important sci-fi books ever which established the idea of cyberspace in 1984.
“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
Back to the Onion article.
“Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally shouted out, “Oh my God, he’s right. It’s all a mirage. All of it—the money, our whole economy—it’s all a lie!”
Now, ponder Bitcoin.
“I’ve spent 25 years in this room yelling ‘Buy, buy! Sell, sell!’ and for what?” longtime trader Michael Palermo said. “All I’ve done is move arbitrary designations of wealth from one column to another, wasting my life chasing this unattainable hallucination of wealth. What a cruel cosmic joke,” he added. “I’m going home to hug my daughter.”
“A few U.S. banks have remained open, though most teller windows are unmanned due to a lack of interest in transactions involving mere scraps of paper or, worse, decimal points and computer data signifying mere scraps of paper.”
I just read Kenneth Rogoff’s The Curse of Cash: How Large-Denomination Bills Aid Crime and Tax Evasion and Constrain Monetary Policy. I literally have zero cash in my wallet. On a daily basis, I’m dealing with very large sums of money across multiple companies, but it has completely become a functional abstraction to me.
As I did a fairly sophisticated transaction on my computer yesterday that moved cash into a cybercurrency, I had the phrase “money is a consensual hallucination” echoing in my head. Math and computers are helping reinforce this. And the government is watching.
A new non-profit organization, the Center for American Entrepreneurship, launched yesterday.
While there are lots of non-profits supporting entrepreneurship, CAE is organized around the idea of engaging and educating policymakers in Washington and at state and local levels across the nation, regarding the critical importance of entrepreneurs and startups to innovation.
I met the John Dearie founder and CEO of CAE, a year ago. He came to Boulder, met with me for lunch, and gave me a copy of his book Where The Jobs Are, which I promptly read and felt was on the money. I knew a number of people on the board of CAE, which was just getting started, and Amy and I made a quick financial contribution to the organization.
I then watched over the past year as John, as a founder, put CAE together. I helped where I could and watched John live the entrepreneurial life as he founded a new organization. Several of our conversations were self-reflective, especially around the challenges of getting investors attention to provide seed financing for a new organization.
Ultimately John was successful and CAE has launched. Instead of a board role, I’ve agreed to be on the Advisory Council, as I’m trying to fit into a role of having an impact by helping the CEOs of the non-profits I’m involved in, rather than having a broad governing role that being a member of the board entails.
If you want to get connected to CAE or are in the DC area and want to engage around the issues of entrepreneurs and innovation, email me and I’ll connect you with John. If you want to support CAE, please consider making a donation.
An amazing book. But a dark, dark future. Or not, depending on whether or not you believe we are actually living in a computer simulation already.
Amy and I were at a delightful dinner with friends (new and old) last night who are deeply involved in Naropa. After a very long couple of days where I was very tired, it was nice to sit in a cozy house, eat home cooked food, and just talk about life.
Near the end of the evening, I heard a line that will stick with me for a very long time.
“Contentment used to be a virtue. Now it’s a vice.”
As with many things that need to stick with me, I repeated it out loud. We talked for a few minutes about the overall, dominant American culture of achievement. The endless striving. The need to feel busy, important, and successful. The deep cultural norms around ambition.
The word striving stuck out for me (I wasn’t the one who mentioned it first.) Recently I’ve been telling people that I’m done striving. Sure, I expect I’ll accomplish a lot more in my life, but it’s not driven from a place of needing to ego fulfillment of accomplishment. Everything about striving, including the definition (“struggle or fight vigorously”), turns me off at this point. It’s not me, how I think about myself, or how I want people to think about me (as a “striver.”)
Yesterday afternoon before dinner I gave a talk at the Catalyze CU-Boulder accelerator. I try to do this every summer as one of the things I do to support entrepreneurship at CU Boulder. As I got in my car to drive to dinner, I wondered whether the students got what they wanted from me. I spent 45 minutes answering a set of questions they’d put together in advance but gave to me when I showed up. While I answered their questions, sort of, my responses were rambling philosophical views of what I thought was actually underneath the question. It was a lot more fun for me; I hope it was useful for them.
This morning, I realized that many of my public talks, especially Q&As, have become more abstract in the past few years. While some specifics still find their way into what I say, I’m trying to help people think about the questions at a much higher level than they ordinarily do. And, in a lot of cases, I’m not trying to give an answer, but provide stimuli to generate more introspection about the question.
On my drive in today, my phone dropped three times, which is in the normal range of one to six. On the third drop, when I called the person back, I said:
“My life with Verizon can be agitated or amused. I choose amused.”
The person I was talking to, who is a high achiever in a very fast growing company, said “I choose amused also. It’s a better way to live.”
Choose amused. Think about the real issues. Embrace contentment.
Readers of this blog likely know that my partners Jason and Ryan have a band called Legitimate Front. You also probably know I’m on the board of Defy Ventures. And it’s likely you know that we are investors in Harmonix.
When you mix all three, you get a new DLC for Rock Band from Legitimate Front. Their song, She, is now available to play on Rock Band. And, all proceeds go to Defy Ventures.
I’m proud of a bunch of people involved in this. Yes, I smiled today when I saw how it all came together.
As a bonus, if you want to see Jason and Ryan (and Legitimate Front) IRL, take a look at the video from a recent Techstars FounderCon.
This showed up in my inbox the other day from a friend of 20 years. He’s been involved in a number of companies that we’ve invested in over the years in different senior and/or co-founder roles, including CEO. It was short and sweet but captured the essence of something I often talk about with founders.
Heard you and Jerry on CPR this morning, nice job!
What struck me was your point about the gap between expectations in the role of CEO or startup founder, or investor – and the reality of depressive events/emotions that are often present – but no one gets to expose or relinquish.
I felt this first hand in my experience, both as co-founder and later as CEO. I used to *hate* seeing people around town or whatever because they’d ask “how’s the startup going?” and usually extra commentary like “oh startup rockstar, and you must be killing it, etc…” and my answer was always “no, it’s fucking unbelievable hard, and anxious, and trying, and most of the time shit is more fucked up than you could ever imagine”. You live with that veil and it always made it worse when people wanted to interact with you but position it as only successful sounding answers would work.
I learned to approach others the way I wanted to be approached:
1) I recognize everyone has a “bag of despair” they carry – you can’t see it, and anything can be in there, work, home, friends, family – serious shit is wrong somewhere for everyone at most points in time. So know it’s there, don’t assume and ask questions from ridiculously positive framing, but rather in a way that lets folks share honestly and is then actually helpful dialog to them (if they do want to take the opportunity to disclose challenges and discuss)
2) when someone asks “how’s it going” be honest – share the good and the bad, but don’t feel like you have to fulfill the stereotype and give them the sugar coated answer
Yesterday, the White House announced it was delaying and likely eliminating the International Entrepreneur Rule. This rule is the closest we’ve come to a Startup Visa, something I’ve been working on with numerous other people since 2009. Several failed bills in Congress, a failed bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, and an Executive Order later, and we still have nothing.
I’m disappointed but not surprised. Steve Case says it really well in his article America Will Fall Behind Without Immigrant Entrepreneurs. I won’t repeat his words here because I agree 100% with them. I encourage you to go read his post if this is a topic you care about.
If you just want Steve’s punch line, it follows:
“The data is clear: immigrant entrepreneurs are job makers, not job takers. And today, we just pushed them to create jobs somewhere else.”
Jeff Farrah of The National Venture Capital Association wrote a thoughtful post titled An Unforced Error for Job Creation. It explains what the International Entrepreneurship Rule is and why delaying and rescinding it is at fundamental odds with a number of goals of the Trump Administration. Jeff’s article ends with a clear message.
“Finally, rescinding the rule is at odds with the administration’s goal of advancing emerging technology. Last month, top VCs joined President Trump at the White House to discuss how to bring to life next-generation technology. What was one of the key recommendations from venture leaders? Retain the International Entrepreneur Rule so the best technology is created and developed here rather than overseas. Today’s action is 180 degrees from the recommendation of successful startup leaders.
The administration’s move is certainly a setback, but it’s far from the end of the road. NVCA will continue to be the leading voice in Washington for immigrant entrepreneurship. We’ll continue to advocate that the Trump Administration reverse course and allow the International Entrepreneur Rule to take effect. Only then will the United States realize the full benefit of immigrant entrepreneurs to our nation.”
While I agree that it’s a setback, in the eight years since a group of us started advocating for a startup visa, entrepreneurship has taken off around the world. A number of other countries now have startup visas modeled after the original US startup visa idea. As entrepreneurship is democratizing the world, the US has exported a great idea for attracting entrepreneurs to one’s country, while denying the US’s ability to do this for itself.
That’s unfortunate and disappointing for the US, but great for the rest of the world.