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Five Questions for Alec Ross: Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation

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Obama was the first Presidential tenure of my adult life where I felt as if I could get involved and make a difference. During my time at YouTube, I saw a number of my former Google colleagues take roles on the campaign or in the administration. Mostly through these folks I was connected into a group of really brilliant, hard-working thinkers who saw new opportunities for public and private sector collaboration. Alec Ross, as a Senior Advisor to then-Secretary Clinton, struck me as someone who was willing to invest – and take risks – to make these partnerships work. His new book The Industries of the Future was published this week so I shot him five questions to answer for me. 

Hunter Walk: Your new book The Industries of the Future covers what’s going to happen over the next 10 years, especially areas of expected progress. What’s a point of view you’re taking that you’d consider contrarian? Any statement that people have especially challenged you on?

Alec Ross: I hope I’ve been aggressive enough with my thinking here that everybody will find something to disagree with. When two people agree on everything, it means that only one person is doing the thinking.

If there were one thing I’d flag, it’s my belief that the robots of the cartoons and movies of the 1970s will be the reality of the 2020s. I think the combination of powerful AI + cloud robotics  will give them the capabilities. By 2028 or so, advances in material sciences like air muscles (which distribute power through tubes holding highly concentrated pressurized air), electroactive polymers (which change a robot’s size and shape when stimulated by an electric field), and ferrofluids (basically magnetic fluids that facilitate more humanlike movement) will create robots that we might not even recognize as being artificial.

HW: I don’t mean to reveal book spoilers, but how does Silicon Valley fare? Does its historical advantage in technology innovation expand or contract in the next decade?

AR: I think Silicon Valley will continue to do very well and may do better than any other 30 mile long, 15 mile wide area on planet earth, but the geographic spread of innovation and wealth creation will be greater over the next 20 years than it has been over the last 20 years. This makes Silicon Valley’s % of ownership/domination relatively lower, but that’s not a bad thing. We should WANT more places to create wealth and well-being because, if nothing else, it gives us more people to sell stuff to. It also makes the world a more interesting and equitable place.

HW: We first met while you were working for Secretary Clinton and promoting “21st Century Statecraft.” Can you briefly explain what that meant and why you sent me to Iraq? :)

AR: My key thesis was that pinstriped foreign service officers needed help problem-solving and advancing America’s foreign policy interests in a world grown more driven by technology. The best way to do that was to bring in thinkers and do-ers from America’s technology sector and get them involved in our foreign policy. It was a huge success. Without getting into too many specifics here, we helped take down narcotics cartels in Mexico. We helped stop assassinations in the Middle East. We built the capacity of more than 1,800 civil society organizations working on issues ranging from women’s empowerment to clean water and election monitoring.

What the technology community needed was a way to get involved that made the highest and best use of their skills, and for four years we did that. It was a lot of fun and did a lot of good.

HW: If there was a particular ask you had of the technology industry with regards to its partnership with US government, what would it be?

AR: Help the government do a better job countering violent extremism. Nobody wants to hear it, but one of the biggest reasons Al Qaeda had to hide out in caves and recruit very secretly and ISIS is now controlling physical territory and recruiting overtly and effectively is because of technology. In Al Qaeda’s heyday there wasn’t social media or the proliferation of messaging apps and other tools that allow for frictionless communication and collaboration. I am not in favor of breaking crypto with mandatory backdoors and the like. I AM in favor of the technology community being a more serious and more engaged partner figuring out how to help dial back the radicalization that is taking place, enabled at least in part by our own technology.

HW: Given your history, I won’t ask you about any specific candidates this Presidential primary season but do you have a POV why “anti-establishment” messages seem to be resonating so strongly, at least in the poll numbers.

AR: I think there is a very high level of anxiety in America about the future. The lack of economic growth in the American middle class is entering into a near-record territory. Coupled with this anxiety is a sense of unfairness. There is a widely held perception that their economic stagnation is in large part because people at the top (the billionaires) and the bottom (new immigrants, people newly covered by Obamacare) are benefiting at their expense. The impulse to support fascists on the right or a socialist on the left comes from a very similar place.

You can purchase Alec’s new book The Industries of the Future on Amazon or at your local bookstore. 

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Non-Conformity is Your Path to Success: Five Questions with Adam Grant on His New Book “Originals”

Adam M. Grant’s new book Originals arrives today so seemed like a good time to ask him some questions. This past weekend Adam’s NYTimes post on How to Raise a Creative Child (hint: Back Off!) gave a taste of what Originals contains. My wife and I have been fortunate enough to know Adam for a few years now and always enjoy his thoughts on what makes people tick and what makes company cultures work (or not).

Hunter Walk: Your new book Originals is available starting today. What’s it about and how’d you settle on this topic versus other areas of interest?

Adam M. Grant: It’s about how individuals can champion new ideas and leaders can fight groupthink.  There’s a lot of guidance about how to generate creative ideas, but much less on what to do after you have an idea.  Think of this book as the sequel to creativity: it’s about how we can all get better at recognizing good ideas, speaking up, and finding allies.  I wrote it because students are constantly asking how they can make suggestions and pitch their ideas more effectively, and leaders are regularly seeking insight on how to battle conformity and drive innovation and change.

HW: What’s your writing technique like when you’re finishing a book? Do you force yourself to log a certain number of hours each day or pages each week?

AG: I used to follow a pretty rigid schedule: start writing in the morning, and don’t stop until I’ve finished a chapter or a major section.  Then I learned that procrastination can boost creativity, so while writing Originals, I taught myself to procrastinate.  At various points, I deliberately stopped in mid-sentence, leaving thoughts unfinished so I could come back to them with new ideas a few days later.

HW: Give and Take was a blockbuster and you’ve gained a ton of visibility with your writing and speaking. I’m sure a ton of offers get thrown your way. How do you balance the commercial opportunities vis a vis all the other parts of your life that you enjoy?

AG: I set a ceiling on the maximum number of speaking, consulting, and travel days I do per month.  When I go above it one month, I make up for it the next month.

HW: Is there a common misinterpretation of Give and Take that you hear from people?

AG: Yes—it’s not about how nice guys finish first.  I found that givers are overrepresented at the bottom and the top of most success metrics, so it would be more accurate to say that the book is about why some nice people finish last and others finish first.  But that’s not quite right either: being a giver is not about being nice. The goal is to help others, not please them.  There are lots of disagreeable givers out there—they’re gruff and tough on the surface, yet underneath have other people’s best interests at heart.  They give the critical feedback that no one wants to hear, but everyone needs to hear.  As a Google programmer described them, “They have a bad user interface but a great operating system.”

HW: When you compare Silicon Valley to the population at large, do we index differently on your Giver, Taker, Matcher segmentation?

AG: I would love to see rigorous data on that.  My experience has been that Silicon Valley has an unusually high number of people who act like givers for taker or matcher reasons.  It’s a small world where gossip travels as fast as the speed of sound, so many people try to get ahead by developing a reputation for generosity.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a difference between helping because you expect something in return and doing it because you enjoy helping others and seeing them succeed.  Ironically, when you give with the goal of getting ahead, it doesn’t work as well.

You can purchase Adam’s new book Originals at Amazon or your local bookstore

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Five Questions with Dr. Kimberly Newell Green on Patient Tech & Where Health Startups Go Wrong Pitching Doctors

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Dr. Kim” is super duper smart. Sometimes intimidatingly (physician, Chief Innovation Officer for Kaiser Permanente SF Medical Center, etc). Fortunately she’s also very nice. We met via mutual grad school friends and our families hang out (she’s got two rocking daughters and an entrepreneur husband). My favorite “Five Questions” interviews focus on people who have one foot in the tech world and one foot elsewhere.

Hunter Walk: From a doctor’s perspective, how is technology changing pediatrics – what technology — medical-related or more general – do you use in your daily practice that might not have been part of a doctor’s life 10 years ago?

Dr. Kim Newell Green: There are so many exciting technologies that are impacting my day to day care but the elephant in the room is the electronic medical record (EMR). Robert Wachter’s wonderful and very readable deep dive into the impact of technology on medicine and doctoring,“The Digital Doctor”, highlighted a fact that I had felt but not been able to fully articulate: with any large technological advancement, the promise of saving time and money is made at the outset.  However, that promise is not realized immediately, and in fact for 10-15 years the industry is made less efficient and more costly.  

Such is the case with the EMR now: electronic medical records cost money for practices, hospitals and health plans that are being asked to cut costs, and have lengthened the physician’s days significantly, in doing so taking time away from the “bedside,” from the patient. It’s an awkward and frustrating moment in this cycle and we all look forward to the day when these technologies will save money for health care consumers and providers, and will make care more efficient, giving time back to the doctor-patient relationship.

HW: Patients can also access much more medical information and community. Is this a mixed bag – on one hand you get more informed and involved parents, but it’s easy to find incorrect information or apply the right info in a wrong manner?

KN: It is true that many of the most anxious calls I field come after a patient or parent has asked “Dr Google” about their symptoms. In general, however, I’m extremely grateful for the easy accessibility of medical information and for the community that engaged and connected patients can leverage to help them navigate their health care.  With the enormous amount of knowledge about medicine and health these days, no physician can know a single disease or condition as well as an informed patient can.  

Patients do best when they become researchers and advocates for their own health.  Sometimes people do overestimate their ability to make decisions without a “real” doctor. I think that there is now and will always be a role for an informed and wise clinician to help patients navigate their care and check their own ideas and plans.  

HW: One of your roles is Chief Innovation Officer at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center. What does this mean from a tech & health care perspective? As an institution, how does KP view startups and their openness towards working with them?

KN: Kaiser Permanente is an enormous organization that is at the forefront of delivering the highest quality healthcare and leverages many advanced technologies in order to do so.  In the rapidly-changing healthcare environment, all healthcare organizations need to balance the need for stability and reliability with the need to be nimble and make thoughtful change to meet and exceed our patients’ needs and hopes.

As such, I have been asked to lead an initiative at our local medical center in San Francisco to develop the people, tools and processes to pilot new ideas around providing even better healthcare, whether through technology or changes in workflows, systems, or processes.  As all large organizations know, innovation is sometimes felt to be in conflict with day to day operations, but but by working thoughtfully with engaged teams who have been involved in the ideation process early, we are doing exciting work.

As an organization, Kaiser Permanente looks closely at new ideas in healthcare through many lens and in many parts of the organization.  For example, our Garfield Innovation Center follows trends and works with startups regularly and has a pulse on the cutting edge of medical care, helping to evaluate new technologies and move them into our organization when they meet a need for our patients and our organization.

HW: Are there mistakes that you see healthcare related startups commonly make when they seek to partner with doctors and hospitals?

There are so many wonderful ideas in medicine today, and innumerable problems that will be solved with technology.  In today’s economic climate, however, the ideas that will fly must create cost-savings.  Many of the startups that I have spoken with have not taken this into consideration. Many of the digital health startups that I see have also begun to talk to doctors and healthcare providers very late in their development process. By getting health care providers involved early and deeply, they are more likely produce solutions that will move the needle in improving patient outcomes and helping decreased healthcare costs.

HW: You have two daughters below the age of 10. What’s been your philosophy with regards to “screentime” and their use of tech?

KN: The body of good scientific evidence on how “screentime” in its many manifestations impacts the developing brain is evolving.  Until we have a more robust body of evidence, I try to follow conservative guidelines and find those from the American Academy of Pediatrics to be helpful: no screen time before the age of 2 and after that less than 1 hour a day or two hours on weekends. In fact, we “use” screens much less than this in our family, and our girls have had much less exposure to media that the guidelines suggest. All rules, however,  go out the window on long car trips or airplane trips: in these settings I’m very grateful for the addictive nature of devices with screens.

As important if not more than the recommendations about quantity, however, is the quality of the media and technology experience.  A good rule of thumb especially for young children is that the pace of the show or activity should be that of real-life:  think “Mr Rogers”. Extremely fast-paced shows seem to have negative effects on growing brains.  And as a family we think it’s important to avoid violence, and to be particularly watchful for the representations of girls in media: young cartoon characters and girl actors are increasingly presented in a very “sexy” way and we like to limit exposure to these images. Commonsensemedia.org is a great resource for good programming.

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Sasha Lubomirsky Has Held Design Leadership Roles at YouTube, Android, Airbnb and Medium. Damn! Here’s Five Questions With Her.

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I met Sasha Lubomirsky during our YouTube days where she led User Research for the Design team. Sasha helped us uncover many learnings about how the community was using YouTube and her work informed many subsequent product decisions. When we started Homebrew, Satya and I were thrilled to add her as an advisor that our founders could turn to for questions around design, product and user research. Here’s a bit more about what she’s been up to!

Hunter Walk: What initially attracted you to User Experience Research as a career path? Did you steer towards it or did it emerge from needs at companies you were working at?

Sasha Lubomirsky: I learned about user research in the middle of my time at Stanford, and became obsessed with it immediately. I was into the internet in a way that many of my friends weren’t pretty early on and I also loved psychology, so when I saw there was an overlap, I thought: maybe this is it, a way to combine two of my loves into an actual, real life job! When I graduated, Google was hiring junior researchers, so I started as a researcher right away.

HW: The role can mean so many things at different companies – you got to see this across Google, YouTube, Airbnb and Medium – all amazing places. Were there notable differences on how these companies think about UER?

SL: It’s hard to do a true apples to apples comparison because there were two other factors in play as I went from place to place: my own evolution as a product person, and how the discipline evolved in general. Initially, there was a strong orientation towards usability studies — hilariously, my first official job title at Google was “usability engineer.”

As time went on, the work became a lot more foundational and strategic: what problem are we actually trying to solve vs. can they figure out how to finish this flow. The latter is still important but it became balanced with much bigger picture work. In fact, right now I’m doing some straight up PM work, and it doesn’t feel all the strange given the world I’ve been living in most recently.

HW: Obviously products are team efforts but can you remember an example of where product direction was dramatically impacted by a specific set of findings you delivered?

It’s interesting because some of what I think about as the most impactful stuff is also the most fuzzy because strategy and shifting how a company fundamentally thinks about its product can be harder to measure – not to mention, less easy to talk about publicly.

I can give you an example of some impactful tactical work though. I did some work on conversion at Airbnb. You think about conversion for Airbnb, and what does that mean? It’s not about making the button bigger. It’s about understanding that there are two humans who are deciding to do something rather strange, which is to trust each other without having ever met. Conversion is the moment where this really comes to a head and decisions have to be made, on both sides.

Without getting into too many details, after doing some research, we were able to create a taxonomy of all the reasons things don’t work out and give specific recommendations on how to address the ones that were addressable. Obviously, conversion is measurable, so it’s easy to be able to look at the impact of the implemented recommendations and say, “hey that made impact!” and that is awesome. But again, I think some of the big picture stuff feels more exciting in some ways: expanding how leadership and the company fundamentally thinks about the product they’re building is pretty rad.

HW: When you’re working directly with a user community (or potential users), how do you ensure there’s diversity of experiences and background within the sample set?

SL: One hugely helpful thing is to do remote studies — meaning, using screensharing via Skype or something like it to run the study— so you can get the hell out of the Bay Area. It’s also awesome because people are in their real environment, on their regular device, feeling comfortable. And it’s more convenient for them to make it to the study. So this helps a lot, not just in terms of geographical diversity, but in generally expanding the potential pool so you can get other types of diversity, too.

It has shortcomings, of course—there are technical issues with the call sometimes, and certain things aren’t easy to test, like prototypes you can’t easily give the participants access to, but overall, it’s a really helpful approach.

HW: You’re part of a “dual career” tech couple since your husband is an engineer at Dropbox. Any specific things you guys do together to make sure your lives aren’t 100% tech tech tech?

SL: Great question. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. Talking shop can be really fun, and outright helpful. There’s been countless times when talking to each other has helped us think through something related to our work, something that would be significantly harder if we didn’t have a shared understanding of each other’s worlds.

But, there very much comes a time for a break. A couple things come to mind as helpful. First, an obvious one is interests outside of work—both things we do together, and things we do on our own, like writing and improv for me, and DJing and drawing for him. Traveling is big for both of us—we just got back from Myanmar which was quite an adventure, and basically a break from the internet since it’s not that easily accessible there yet. Relatedly, I think keeping perspective on our very strange, very privileged world is really important to both of us. We talk about that a lot, and that helps us not lose sight of the bigger picture. Lastly, sometimes just a simple, “time out, no work talk for awhile,” can work remarkably well.

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How Homebrew “Got Smart” About Hardware Investments

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Bias towards action. Learn by doing. Satya and I both believed these tenets as product managers and extend them into the work we do via our seed fund Homebrew. So when we started the fund in early 2013, we knew that in addition to investing in the familiar, there would continuously be new areas of exploration that we’d want to ‘get smart’ about. One of the first involved the advances being made in “software-enabled hardware.”

Enterprising founders were telling us about a future where many configurations of sensor-enabled hardware would be paired with software and developer communities to form new platforms. Of new devices and machines that could dramatically reduce costs, increase quality and create new industries. We were believers but given our focused approach (8-10 core investments per year), how should we proceed? It wasn’t by purely researching the opportunity, it was by getting to work. So during our fund’s ~first year we quietly made three supporting investments in hardware startups that we believed:

a) Were being run by exemplary founders to help us refine how we can be of use to them within the Homebrew model.

b) Had platform potential. Namely, proprietary hardware giving way to software giving way to developer communities atop the software.

c) Would attract the best hardware investors so we could establish co-investor credibility and begin accessing collaborative dealflow.

The first was Cruise, a driverless car technology we funded in their seed round out of YC. They’ve since raised an A Round from Spark and are quite the formidable team.

The second was Eero, home WiFi innovation, alongside their other seed investors. Eero is preparing to ship very shortly and since have raised funding from Shasta and Redpoint.

This past week the third disclosed their A Round led by Javelin. Estimote is the leader in beacon and spatial hardware, and we were able to slide a check into cofounder’s Steve Cheney’s pocket when he joined the early team.

Alongside these investments we started spending more time with hardware entrepreneurs and working with vertical accelerators/funds such as Lemnos Labs, Bolt, PCH/Highway1. Eventually we started writing lead checks into hardware-first companies, funding a soon-to-be-announced consumer hardware company (which recently closed its A Round with one of the best consumer hardware funds in the Valley) and an industrial carbon fiber printing startup which promises great innovation in high-strength, durable manufacturing.

Now in our second fund we’re spending an increased amount of time — and have particular interest — in hardware startups fitting these categories. While we’re open to hearing from any founder with a strong vision of what the future will look like, we’re proactively reaching out to companies in these verticals:

  • Industrial IoT — it’s fascinating to see the manufacturing floor, the warehouse, the field worker and others benefit from automation, more accurate and frequent data measurement.
  • Sensor Networks & Machine Learning — host of startups deploying what are essentially low cost sensor networks to gather data, then applying machine learning to help businesses make ongoing business decisions. In agriculture, in urban planning/logistics, in health and safety, and so on.
  • CRISPR & Health Sciences — I’m still understanding the early stage venture opportunities here but am increasingly fascinated by the prospects for speeding the cycles of testing, and ultimately delivery, for biology related science. Not afraid of projects aimed at human-based outcomes but also thinking about agriculture, foodchain.

If this stuff interests you as well, never hesitate to reach out [hunter at homebrew dot co] with links to great articles/studies, people I should be following on Twitter or companies I should meet.

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Ted Rheingold Founded Dogster in 2004: Five Questions About Building a Startup, Selling a Startup and Whether SF Is Still a Good Place

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Photo Credit: Christopher Michel

Hunter Walk: I know you started Dogster, one of the seminal early online communities, but I don’t know Dogster’s founding story. How did the site come about?

Ted Rheingold: In 2003 I owned and ran a web service business called OneMatchFire, and made a number of image sharing products for customers (or as side projects). Camera phones were just happening and I saw people really liked showing off their pet photos. One day I came home and Molly, my future wife, was crying. I asked why and she said she liked to look at dog pictures to feel better but she ended up on a shelter site that euthanizes dogs. It hit me there needed to be a place for people to post and share their own dogs. This was pre-Google images, pre-MySpace/Facebook. I spent 6 months coding and building Dogster myself. Arin Fishkin did all the original graphic design.

Dogster launched January 12, 2004 (Happy 12th Birthday Dogster!) with strong tailwinds behind it: a) Christmas 2003 was the year of the digital camera, b) Pets had quietly been moving from something families had to becoming members of the family c) the Internet nuclear winter was just passing, and a fun, colorful, whimsical site that anyone could use turned out to be quite newsworthy. I wish I could claim I deftly foresaw this, but I was just seeking recurring revenue to to cover OneMatchFire’s office expenses. Two weeks after launching, Molly made a terse posting to Craigslist that there was a site you could make a website for your dog and usage exploded from that day forward. By the end of 2004 I had brought on two co-founders: John Vars – who is now the Chief Product Office at TaskRabbit, and Steven Reading took over Sales and Revenue. Though I should point out was still doing client work for OneMatchFire until mid-2005 until the business could pay full salaries. From the middle to 2005 to early 2010 the business was break-even or better every quarter.

HW: Because of Dogster you’ve been a sought-after advisor/investor for pet-related startups, which I know for a long time resulted in eye rolling from some of the wild business plans sent your way. Any companies that actually made it through your filter and you think are building something impressive?

TR: Pet businesses can easily get early traction, but have great challenge finding sustained, high-volume growth. While 66% of American households have pets, these people have little else in common and reaching them at scale is like trying to gather rain in a rain storm. Dogster and Catster broke through to large scale because we offered something fun to every pet owner, but just a couple years later there were so many ways to make a webpage for your pet, all our follow-on competitors could never reach critical mass.

Since selling Dogster I’ve been looking for just the services that we heard asked for in our forums, groups and customer interactions over and over again. A top request was always for help with dog sitting, so I jumped to both advise and then invest in DogVacay which is now huge and unstoppable. Another recurring issue we heard was that pet owners feeling guilty leaving their dog home alone. So I was thrilled to find CleverPet, an AI game for dogs made by animal behavioral scientists and electrical engineers. It just took another 1st place at CES. Finally, I’m very keen on Treat, a concierge service for pet owners to answer and support any needs a pet owner has. First year pet owners have endless questions as do owners of older animals and the peace of mind they are doing everything well is very important to them

HW: When you sold Dogster to SAYMedia (and joined them as a VP), was it difficult to let go of a company you’d spent so much time on? How do founders think about whether it’s time to move on or not?

TR: This was an easy one for me. I was relieved to find Dogster & Catster a superior home because we were burnt out. Pets and the people that love them are (mostly ;) wonderful, but the pet industry is still cold and industrial as the 1960s. Early on my original expectation was that, like a social club, Dogster site members should be able to incur all cost of site operations. We had a lot of members spending a lot of money directly with us to buy memberships and virtual currency, but it never got higher than 25% of total expenses. The most reliable way to make up the remaining 75% was direct selling to the ad agencies that represented pet food and product brands. We were often a must-buy for the brands, but weathering the Great Recession was exhausting. Ad Buys went from 6-12 month advance commitment to 6-12 days and buy lengths went from 6 months to 6 weeks, and stayed that way. Household pet spending isn’t highly affected by recessions (pets are family, remember?) but before long the secret was out and by 2010 our 2 person sales team was competing against dozens of huge publishers bundling together pet sections and use their large nationwide sales efforts to fight for our bread and butter ad buys. It got cutthroat, and if you think big brands and their ad agencies place passion over reach you should quit your ad-model business right now.  

When Say Media, with its 100 personal sales team, masterful IT, publishing design, video teams took over it felt like landing a very battle-worn Millennium Falcon directly from light speed into an Alliance Star Cruiser. A core of long-time Dog/Catster team members got to take over running the sites and leading the community and I got to work on much higher order functions of audience engagement since I no longer had to deal with the business of running the business. Sales and IT were now handled by life-time pros and not start-up mercenaries.

HW: You’re on the verge of ending the role of COO at InVenture, a business that provides mobile-based credit scoring and direct lending in emerging markets. How’d you get connected with that team and what struck you as compelling?

When I completed my term at Say Media (10 years to the month after I started working on Dogster), my research led me seek out a mission-driven for-profit with deep social impact. I prefer to find new business opportunities than to duke it out in proven, crowded markets. Ben Horowitz talks about asking founders what secret they know that no one else does. My answer was, and still is, that socially-oriented purpose-driven for-profits outcompete their marketplace competitors due to superior revenues generated from deeply loyal customers and expense saving from free word-of-mouth marketing and long-term employee retention (and even sacrifice). Social benefit companies also have access to impact investors which can provide 6 & 7 figure zero-dilution grants, which are an early stage secret weapon.

To find my perfect fit I logged over 50 meetings with all the people I knew and respected in the greater tech industry and laid out my thesis to each of them. Chris Sacca heard it and said I had to meet InVenture, a company he had just invested in that was in need of Operational and Strategic support.

It’s been an amazing run. When I joined InVenture’s product line was SMS-based and required 30 days of daily customer usage to be able to credit score them, and loans could only be gotten to them if we could get a local bank to use our scores. But we obsessed over the emerging market customer and we made some hard, big bets on Android and mobile money being used around the globe. InVenture now credit scores and directly lends to worthy customer in under 3 minutes of installing our Android application in 3 emerging markets and growing. Most importantly the customers love it and thank us every day for providing it.

InVenture is in a really great place. In Peter Thiel terms it’s officially gone from Zero to One. Now it’s time for the Finance, Portfolio and Expansion teams to take over. So while leaving now is bittersweet for me, I’m thrilled to get to start afresh without having to wait 10 years like last time. I’m still obsessed with the intersection of profound social impact and exceptional business opportunity. I expect it will take another 50 meetings to find the perfect next one, and I’m looking forward to that process again.

HW: If you were just starting your career in tech, would SF still be where you chose to settle? What do you make of the discussion whether or not dominance of tech in the economy is making SF worse?

I thought you said the questions were going to be easy Hunter? It’s becoming a little more debatable, but as of now I would recommend getting to The Bay Area. But be forewarned that for all the superior opportunities, there’s a lot of crud, hype, and employer misinformation meaning you can still have a mediocre personal experience. You could easily work for three “sure things” in a row that all turn out to be disasters. Yet you could work for one unknown company in a city near you that improves your life forever. So, wherever you are, work hard, commit to your job and your team, make sure you’re being respected enough, don’t believe half of what you read in TechCrunch, and make sure you’re always meeting lots of people all along the way.

As to “Is the dominance of the tech industry making SF worse?” No, it’s also making things better (see the mid-Market area). But what it is doing is making SF more boring. The populace is homogenizing, and many new residents care as little for the city’s long-term welfare as they did their college town. SF has always been a transient boomtown, and now is no different, but the vibrancy of the previous transients is simply not present in the people that spend more time looking at their phones instead of their neighbors.

It’s my optimistic expectation though that SF-as-tech-epicenter of the Bay Area will dissipate, and of the many who do realize they’ve grown roots and want to stay in SF for the climate, culture, geography will give back from what they’ve gotten. How many times can you go to the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass before you realize that being a Venture Capitalist also means you can provide great civic benefit. Or when their children are born at the spectacular Benioff Children’s Hospital, that they can use their success to fund something the city greatly needs.

In fact, I’m done feeling a need to speculate what changes are problematic and am much more keen on noticing how SF is reblooming. Ironically it’s a Grateful Dead song about a urban neighborhood going to seed that I’ve been singing a lot. Everytime I see something new, vibrant and communally-oriented I’ve been singing a refrain from Shakedown Street. “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. You just gotta poke around.”

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So, You Got Laid Off. What Next?

The fact that some startups don’t work out, or need to occasionally take one step back in order to take two steps forward, is a fact of this business. It means that good people can sometimes find themselves out of a gig, which is always jarring even when there are great opportunities to land elsewhere.

Over at the Homebrew blog, our Head of Talent Beth Scheer put together a post on what you should do if you lose your job.