Bitcoin and the False Dichotomy

This post originally appeared on Geekwire.

You might have asked someone recently, what the heck is going on with Bitcoin? Or maybe you are still wondering what Bitcoin is, or even questioning its relevancy?

A lot has changed in the last year in the cryptoworld — most notably Bitcoin’s price. It’s a good time to dissect a few points about Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market, things I couldn’t help but notice during my first year in the industry.

The biggest point is the false dichotomy in the general perception of Bitcoin. I’d like to unpeel this and provide a deeper evaluation of the industry, because people who commit the mistake of false dichotomy do themselves a disservice by not taking a full view of what’s going on.

First, a definition to help us here:

A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy that presents two opposing views, options or outcomes in such a way that they seem to be the only possibilities: that is, if one is true, the other must be false, or, more typically, if you do not accept one then the other must be accepted.

As one of the few people here in Seattle who frequently (attempts) to explain Bitcoin to non-technical people, and being the one who handles customer interactions for Coinme, I have noticed a problem. The media, tech executives and the general public talk about Bitcoin mostly by committing to a false dichotomy. Quite amusingly, I find people either preach the positives of Bitcoin or they dismiss it, like Gagnam style. One side thinks we’ll live in a libertarian world where Bitcoin will eventually be an anonymized currency to rule us all, and the other believes it’s only for crooks in the shady, dark interwebs. “It’s doomed to fail!” they pronounce enthusiastically.

Well, neither are true.

When I read about a new random Bitcoin startup here, or a larger funding round there, I start to understand how things are changing, and in what direction. The more I talk with highly technical people who mine Bitcoin or build on top of the blockchain, I learn we’re very early in something very special. Even though we aren’t living in Crypto-utopia, there is a subtle rumbling deep within the Internet we should pay attention to.Studying Bitcoin and watching the markets adjust has taught me a very important lesson: nothing ever ends up being 100% of what you think it will be. Innovation cannot be predicted, and the future cannot be known ahead of time. Correctly predicting the future is simply a function of luck. But seeing around corners can be a function of deep listening, observing and learning. So the best action for success is to (safely) get as close to the something as possible, and learn as much about it as you can, so you start to identify where the world is heading. Only then are you equipped with perspectives on where to invest your time, capital and energy.

My time around Bitcoin has shown me that our world will not be changed as much by the cryptocurrency you read about today as by the underlying technology.

Joichi Ito, who has been involved in building many layers and pieces of the Internet — from helping start the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan to investing in Twitter and helping bring it to Japan — recently wrote about the similarities between Bitcoin and the internet:

The similarity is that Bitcoin is a transportation infrastructure that is decentralized, efficient and based on an open protocol. Instead of transferring packets of data over a dynamic network in contrast to the circuits and leased lines that preceded the Internet, Bitcoin’s protocol, the blockchain, allows trust to be established between mutually distrusting parties in an efficient and decentralized way. Although you could argue that the ledger is “centralized”, it’s created through mechanical decentralized consensus.

What Ito is saying is that we could actually be witnessing the early stages of the next phase of the connected world, a time not so dissimilar to what we experienced in the early 1990s.

An often quoted example of a false dichotomy was when the Internet first gained media attention in the early to mid-nineties. Back then, many people thought it was a fad, hard to understand and a waste of time and money.  They simply couldn’t get their head around the fact that there were more than just two possibilities: A (success) or Z (failure).

And therein lies the fallacy of the false dichotomy around Bitcoin.

What we witnessed with the Internet was the invention of the web and the browser, which commercialized the internet and brought with it every major corporation in the world. By ending up somewhere between A and Z, the world changed forever.

It’s clear to me and many others in the industry we are still in the “pre-browser” era of Bitcoin and blockchain technology.  It’s there, but you really don’t know how to interact with it. What happens when we reach the “Netscape” moment of Bitcoin?

Could Bitcoin — the currency — pop and crash?

Yes, it could.

But seeing investment dollars in the cryptocurrency/bitcoin market grow each quarter, one has to believe that if Bitcoin the currency pops, then something else will emerge even better and more suited for the general public.

What will that be?

I could take a guess but in reality I don’t have a clue. Yet committing the false dichotomy sin here is a grave mistake. An important point to understand is that Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, is just one app that runs on the blockchain technology. People well-versed in bitcoin are familiar with the blockchain, the underlying open-source technology (or rails) that bitcoin the currency runs on. Looking deeper, theblockchain stack presents interesting solutions to problems which have hindered our society for quite some time — outside of finance. Issues such as trust, security and identity can be improved with applications built on the blockchain.

In fact, here are a few other areas where the blockchain serves as underlying technology.

  • OpenBazzar: An open peer-to-peer marketplace not controlled by any specific organization such as eBay or Craigslist. Ideas like this, using a decentralized platform to exchange goods and services, could change e-commerce as we know it.
  • Factom: A conceptual framework for a system that secures and proves the authenticity of records, documents or other important types of data that are later enshrined on the Bitcoin blockchain. This could transform how we handle record-keeping online.
  • Counterparty: An example of digitizing property and identity. Developers are starting to build networks that work in parallel to the Bitcoin blockchain to perform tasks that the bitcoin network can’t, but that make use of the bitcoin blockchain to, for instance, timestamp or validate work.

The reality is that no one really knows what will happen next — that is why it’s called innovation.  But something is going to happen in this area to improve our lives and I hope you don’t get caught up in thinking only A or Z is possible.

Most likely somewhere in between A and Z we’ll see Bitcoin technologies enhance our digital lives. There’s more down there than you think.

 

Okay Founders, Stand Up And Take A Risk

As it turns out, I was indeed part of the group who brought the first bitcoin machine to the State of Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest.   We launched Coinme on May 1st at Spitfire in Belltown during a well attended launch party, complete with our first Meetup and an entertaining expert bitcoin panel, including Charles Fitzgerald , (angel investor), Patrick Murck (General Counsel for Bitcoin Foundation) and Will O’brien (CEO of BitGo).

We had a great time and it was an awesome way to ring the new venture.

Interestingly, one of the most asked questions I get now is “So, why bitcoin?”  What is it about bitcoin that made you jump at this opportunity?”

My answer may not be what you expect, but if you are a founder – or thinking of becoming one – it’s what you need to hear.

I jumped at this opportunity because I sensed something seismic rattling under my feet, I felt the inevitably of it becoming such a transformative force in our world I knew I would kick myself later if I or Seattle didn’t get involved now.  I had this crazy notion that we are now experiencing a tremendous change in the way we relate and interact with money/currency/privacy/data and wanted to be a part of it.  I noticed the most common way people were perceiving this new technology was with ignorance and confusion, stating things like “bitcoin is a Ponzi Scheme”, which tells me they just need to be educated.  I realized we are watching an industry mature right before our very eyes, growing from a child into a gangly teenager, struggling with growing pains along the way.  With a little luck maybe I felt I could guide that teenager in the right direction.

It was a risk I simply couldn’t pass up.

The media likes to cover the “downfalls” and the “catastrophes”, mostly because shock media drives more page views than intelligent and analytical dissection of challenging topics.  But along with all the negative press bitcoin has received, there are golden nuggets of wisdom one shouldn’t turn a blind eye towards.  Look hard enough (and follow the right people) and you will read bitcoin analysis that will blow your socks off.   Please follow Fred Wilson, Marc Andreesen and Naval Ravikant for such nuggets of the wisdom I am referring to.

It’s fascinating.  You’ll read things like bitcoin is the new internet of money and will soon power machine to machine (droid to droid?) payments, opening up a whole new part of our daily economy.  It has the opportunity to transform many different industries outside of finance, it could become the new domain/identity protocol for online citizens, it will aide in calming identity theft and consumer privacy, allow for more efficient commerce and transactions across the web, maybe even help media outlets collect micro-payments from readers for access to their posts, and many, many other things.  Simply put, this ain’t your daddy’s financial system.  These and other reasons played into my decision to be a part of Coinme and help grow the crytpocurrency in Seattle.

So with all this crazy “Bitcoin” (air quotes) coverage and other startups making questionable business decisions around the cryptocurrency, why the heck would I decide to start a bitcoin business?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

I acknowledge the above quote can be quite overused, but in this instance I think it fits perfectly.  We started Coinme because we saw an industry taking shape but yearning for more quality leadership from the innovators and executives of those companies.  We made a pledge to ourselves to be one of the good men (or women) leading this new industry.   The bitcoin economy desperately needs innovators, entrepreneurs, legal advisors, regulators, politicians, consumers and business owners to all work collectively for the advancement of our society.  Not just for the advancement of their own selfish interests, but for the betterment of the world.

Who knows, Bitcoin might drop through the floor and Coinme might fall flat on its face as a result.  But by taking this risk I will have learned A TON about a new and emerging industry (and myself) at a time when everyone is still trying to figure out what it is. I will have laid the groundwork for my next 10 – 20 years as an entrepreneur and established myself in a small but growing industry.  I will have looked uncertainty in the face and chosen to proceed when the path is not exactly clear, teaching me to acknowledge my fear of the unknown but move forward anyway.

And that is what I encourage you with today.  Seattle has tremendous leadership in the technology space and is home to many recognizable and industry leading companies, yet, we need more leaders – the future of our local economy depends on it.

You may not be launching a bitcoin startup but you do have an opportunity to be influential and guide your market in the right direction.  You have an opportunity to take a risk, to put Seattle on the map – or more aptly allow us to become even more attractive for both entrepreneurs and investors and hopefully put to rest the whole Valley vs. Seattle argument.   We hear it all the time from the investment community here in Seattle – Swing Bigger.  Well, here’s your chance.

You have right in front of you a choice: take the easy road and solve a derivative of an existing problem, making things just a bit easier for the few that may experience it.  Or choose the hard road and take a larger risk to do something no one has ever done before, with a greater reward waiting for all of us at the end.

In speaking for the greater Seattle tech community, I urge you to choose the latter.

The Road Ahead

I have often said being an entrepreneur feels like you are a circus clown on a unicycle, riding on a tightrope and juggling 5 different things at the same time.

Yep, that’s pretty much what I am doing right about now and it feels a bit crazy.  My hope is that it settles down a bit as we get these things in motion.

Below is a glimpse into the road(s) I am looking down right now and if all goes as planned it will be most of my career focus.  They might be general – on purpose – but they are the trends of the next 20 years and industries I am both interested in and feel are at inflection points historically.

Payments – mobile and otherwise

road

Most of you know I have been in the mobile payment space for a few years now.  Our first try with Seconds payments didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped.  BUT, we learned something really valuable – remote mobile payment/billing is going to be huge.

We learned this from realizing the act of forcing someone to make a payment with their mobile device while standing in line at a coffee shop/target/local market/etc actually takes more time and is more complicated than giving cash or card.  The end solution just has to save all parties valuable time.  It will be years before this becomes commonplace and who knows how much it will take (billions invested) to make it happen.

But, you know all those letters you received (or still receive) from utility companies, munipalities and other entities basically telling you 1) here’s the total you owe and 2) here’s where you send the check or 3) log in at this url to pay?  Well, we can save people a lot of time and hassle with a new direct mobile billing experience.  That can all be achieved by a simple notification on your mobile device informing you of a balance due, should you opt into receiving it.  And with your payment credentials already in the system all you need to do is simply respond with “pay” and it’s all taken care of.   Business gets paid, consumers account is cleared, no re-entering payment credentials… Simple.

Yep, we got that in the pipeline.

Cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin

Since I am in the payment/financial space I have been watching the rise of Bitcoin for some time now.  It’s very interesting to say the least and everyone has an opinion.

Here’s mine: the world needs a new mechanism for payments to flow around the world and Bitcoin feels like it’s the one.  As both a currency and a technology, it will not only transform money as we know it is but also its place within this new digital/mobile/worldwide economy.  As a speculative commodity, no one knows if the value will hold ($500), massively increase ($100k) or completely tank ($1).  We’ll have to see, but my guess is that its value will not be the greatest impact Bitcoin will have on our world.  As for regulation, the government will have to figure out how to play nice and guide it towards positive impact on our country and world.  I don’t see it completely taking the role of the U.S. dollar so I think that argument is flawed and used politically to take a side, similar to the silly spat between Republicans and Democrats in this country.

So please remember today’s incarnation of Bitcoin will not be tomorrow’s…  merely turning your head and shushing the noise is the wrong answer.  Just as there were many naysayers in 1994 and 1995 about the web, we are seeing something truly transformative take shape and I don’t want to look back in 10-20 years and kick myself for not getting involved in the movement.

That being said, yep…. the road also includes some things around Bitcoin.  It should be an interesting year.

Internet of Things – API’s of life

Another interesting phenomenon starting to take shape is the so-called Internet of Things.  I am not sure I like that term but we’ll agree it means a world where everything is “smart” and “connected” to everything else via the web and sensors.  Just imagine what can be automated or programmed when devices and objects – previously “dumb” and non-economic actors in our world (tables, chairs, driveways, houses, bikes, cars, etc…) are brought online and provided an identity.  Then include an economic identity (hhmm like using something like bitcoin…. now are you are starting to get it?) and allow humans to communicate with and pay and be paid by machines.  The possibilities are endless.

Even more basic is the ability to start automating things in your life.  If you have heard of IFTTT (If This, Than That) you know what I am talking about.  Basically, it means you can set triggers in the world, that when activated, will result in an action you previously determined.   These triggers are offered by various web based components in the form of API’s (Application Programming Interface) which allows you to tap into and easily integrate with other technologies.  For example, if I leave the house (known because my GPS on my mobile) then lower the temperature in my house by 5 degrees.   If Bitcoin falls below a certain price ($300), purchase X more for me.  You get the picture.

Yep, something like that’s in the works as well.

Health Technology – Wearable devices

An amazing area for innovation using connected and wearable technologies is health care.  We are wondering what is possible once people wear something(s) that are able to monitor and collect up to the second data regarding our vital heath?

Given my background in health I am immensely interested in the future of preventative health tracking, and we are in the process of laying out our first attempt at it.  Imagine wearing a small device that, when it senses a certain vital sign has fallen out of the standard deviation for this specific individual, sends a notification to family and medial team with actionable instructions?  Imagine how many heart attacks could be prevented if we knew the second someone was “about to go there”?  Now, I know this vision could collide with the scary notion of Big Brother NSA, but I have a feeling the pendulum will swing back toward a better equilibrium of personal safety and information security.

Yes, although it might be a bit on the horizon this is down the road for me as well.

Content Creation – Founders RAW

The last one is video.  We are starting to see more online video created and watched each day, month and year.   And it’s easier than ever to create and distribute video, especially through social media.  I intent on continuing my work on Founders RAW and experimenting with online media.   Founders RAW is a great playground, since it falls inline with entrepreneurship and founding of technology companies.  My goal is to continue to talk to founders and put out high quality content for all of us to enjoy and benefit from.  It will be interesting to see how content and video grows from here, how we all can take part in it.

So there you have it.

If you are tired from simply reading it, how do you think I feel?  My mind is spinning with all these possibilities and opportunities.  While it may seem like I have some random form of ADD (might be true) it’s more like all these opportunities came to me in the last few months.  Some are being built as we speak.  Some are on their way.  Some are in brainstorming and prototyping stages.  Some might not make it into production, but all are well thought out and well positioned to become something great in the future.  I hope to be a part of them all.

It’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur.

Image by Flickr user oatsy40.

Navigating When There Is No Map

map1“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”  – Jeff Bezos on the purchase of The Washington Post

Jeff Bezos wrote the above words the day he bought the Washington Post to the amazement of not only the online world but the traditional newspaper world.  Simply put, he said there is no game plan or road map on innovation.

I think Bezos is one of the most underrated and misunderstood founders of our generation.  He very well could be looked at as THE definitive entrepreneur of the 21st century (in strong competition with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.)  I say this even though Amazon is already 15 years old with a market cap north of $130billion, making Bezos one of the wealthiest people in the world. Yet I don’t think they/he has made anywhere near the impact they/he will make in our world.  Like it or not it’s only going to get more Amazonian as the decades go on.

My perspective above comes from how Bezos thinks – specifically how he has a long term perspective on new business models and innovation.  Regardless of business unit or product, the quote I opened up with stands above and beyond anything else I have recently read surrounding entrepreneurship.  In fact, I believe all entrepreneurs working on anything new or different need to embrace the mantra of navigating when there is no map.

Let’s breaking down the statement into chunks to see what else we can grab from it.

There is no map and charting a path ahead will not be easy

Almost too obvious to mention, there is no road map or directions to follow when you are innovating.  If you are doing something novel or new in a market, you are by definition innovating.   Yet, it seems as if some entrepreneurs (myself included) yearn for THE answer to all their confusion and frustrations when they are starting out, as if someone has the magical answer.  The fact is THERE IS NO ANSWER.  Or better said, NO ONE KNOWS THE ANSWER YOU ARE LOOKING FOR, so stop asking.

Why?

No one knows because most likely you are the first to encounter this specific problem, thus no map or charted path is available for you to lean on.  The first step of innovation is acknowledging you don’t really know the exact path and you will be blazing your own trail. Yep, it’s not easy to be a leader just as it couldn’t have been very comfortable for Lewis and Clark during their epic journey west.

We will need to invent

So if no one has your answer, what do you do?

You invent it.

Since no one has gone before you and you are encroaching upon uncharted territory, you need to muster up  the courage to invent your answer.  Then you also must have courage to trust your answer and trust it is the right step forward at that specific time.  Some entrepreneurs – especially rookie first-timers – have difficulty knowing when to trust their gut and when to seek and act on the guidance and advice from others.  But I will argue you aren’t really an entrepreneur (OK, an innovator to be more specific) if you aren’t willing to have the courage to create your own map and to trust yourself with your own answer.

and we will need to experiment.

One of the best ways to earn your own trust is to acknowledge the answer won’t be the first thing you act upon – it will be a series of things.  Embracing the fact that charting your own map will involve experimentation, failure and course correction goes along way to ease the uncomfortableness of uncharted territory.  Our first ideas are only there to get us going in the right direction, but will never be the only turn we make.  There will be right turns, left turns, wide turns, U-turns and maybe even parallel parking for a short period.

The point of all of this is to identify how one of our generations greatest entrepreneurs thinks and to illustrate how you can think the same way as well.  I think Jeff Bezos is a genius, but not in the way you might think about genius.  His genius – and one you need to see as well – is in simplicity and honesty with himself and others.

Believe me, a simple mind frame like this on complex subjects such as creating a whole new market segment makes all the difference.

Earth To USA Today and JP Morgan – There Are More Startups Today Than Ever Before

A recent column in the U.S.A Today makes the bold claim that there are less startups today than compared to the 1980’s, during the Carter administration.

The rationale:

At any rate, the latest data indicate that start-ups are becoming rarer, not more common. A new report from JPMorgan economist Mike Feroli indicates that employment in start-ups is plunging. New jobs in the economy tend to come from new businesses, but we’re getting fewer new businesses. 

I am going to guess Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a professor and the author of the post, is not an entrepreneur and has never been one.  If he was one he would know basing innovation metrics and the quantity of “startups” solely on the amount of people they employ is an incredibly flawed argument.

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 8.00.44 PM

Diving deeper into the JP Morgan study, they lay claim to a few reasons on why we are seeing an apparent slow down in startups:

Hudson’s possible suspects for the slowdown: a) higher business taxes, b) Obamacare, c) an IRS crackdown on US employers that hire U.S. workers as independent contractors rather than employees, and d) a steady barrier erected to entrepreneurs at the local policy level.

But whatever the cause of the entrepreneurial decline, two possible impacts: 1) A less productive and innovative economy, and 2) higher profits for big business thanks to fewer upstart competitors on the horizon.

Here are a few observations on why I feel this assessment is off the mark:

1) Assuming Obamacare is a factor completely misses the point, since Obama wasn’t even in office when the decline in jobs started (see chart above).

2) Although a local policy issue may influence certain industries – since we’re talking the entire nation here it’s irrelevant to include local policies because they vary state to state.  I, for one, can tell you it’s quite easy to get going in your own new venture.

3) The IPO market really cooled off over the last decade, suggesting a rise in mergers and acquisitions.  Simply stated, startups are being bought by bigger companies before they beef up their workforce, which also will affect overall startup employment numbers.

4)  If anything, they miss the most obvious reason why people would choose employment at a larger corporation rather than a startup: job security and dependable paycheck in a shaky economy.   Although this also doesn’t apply since the economy didn’t tank until late 2008 and beyond, so again, not a very high correlation.

5) The largest omission in this report can be seen by evaluating technological progress and the resulting drop in computing costs.  Comparing the chart from the JP Morgan article and a graph of Moore’s Law (which is exponential) you now realize using a simple number like the number of employees of startups is probably the wrong approach when determining the current status of innovation.  Moore’s Law states the computing power is increasing at the same time the cost is dropping.  So, it is easier to start a business than ever before. The cost of computing, virtual work environments, AWS, instant and free communication tools, and the proliferation of the web have coalesced to create a startup nirvana.  Looking at two charts from the same timeframe you will notice the stark drop in jobs at the same time a drastic increase in computing power?  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

So am I missing something here?

Maybe if they simply stated “startups are employing less people” I wouldn’t have a problem with the report.  But they didn’t.  They claim (in fact lead with) the idea that there are less startups and innovation than in the 80’s and 90’s, which I feel is wrong – or at least how they came to that conclusion is currently flawed.  They go on to make a few solid points regarding higher taxes and government regulation and how those influence an early venture hiring but lack any real depth for their argument.  Maybe they should have consulted an entrepreneur or two who could help them sift through the chaff a bit further.

Moore's Law of Computing Power

Moore’s Law of Computing Power

My take: it takes less people to achieve more today.  What once took a team of 10 to accomplish now only takes 2 or 3 people and a wifi connection.  So I am claiming the exact opposite of the USA Today and JP Morgan.  We are seeing more products, apps, and startups created today than ever before.  Ask any VC or startup founder and I guarantee they will say the same thing.

Hell, Instagram and their entire team of 12 employees was sold for almost $1 billion to Facebook in 2012.  So whatever you do, do not believe there is a lack of innovation and startups out there.  If anything, there’s more innovation and startups created each day than ever before because we can do more with less.

One just needs to look closer and use the right measuring stick.

To Change The World Solve A problem – Just Not “Your” Problem

As founders we’re generally told the best way to build a business is to solve a problem in the world.  Find a problem, create a solution and someone will pay you money for it.

Great, I think we can all agree with that.

Issues arise when you are advised to solve “your” problem, which I have noticed happens quite often.  And on the surface it makes sense – the easiest problems to find in the world are the one’s right in front of your face.  So we are told to look at our life and determine what needs to be fixed.  Next step, we go out and build our solution so our lives can be made better.  Then we think, “if I have this problem, then others must have it too!”  We dream about getting lucky, the moment others figure out they have this problem as well, and think we just might hit the home run and cash in on our new idea.

I started thinking about this the other day when I read or heard on video someone mentioning the fact that this is precisely why we have so many copycat startups around Silicon Valley.

Think about it (yes I am generalizing): pretty much everyone in the valley is of the same demographic and has mostly the same problems in their life.  It’s hard to argue we are in a relatively small bubble and can only see our own groups unique problems.  Simply put, we all have the same problems in our small little startup world.  That ‘s why we have so many founders trying to make an incrementally better photo sharing app, food ordering app (or input-any-cliche-mobile-app-example here).  We are too narrowly focused on what’s in our palms each day we don’t lift our heads towards the rest of the world and see what they are dealing with.  We all walk around with smartphones in our pockets and cannot stop thinking about how to make our lives 10% better with this new app, or that new website.  This is how we get 10 Pinterest’s and 50 Instagram-wannabes.

That’s all fine and dandy for the 1% in our bubble but what about the 99%?  What about the person that doesn’t have a smartphone or doesn’t want to think about being plugged in it 24/7/365?  The problem is we don’t know what all the problems are out there in the world because we aren’t really thinking about the rest of the world.

So how do we get away from all the copy cats and towards real world changing ideas?

We need to start solving problems, just not “our” problems.  We need to start talking to other people outside our network and our little bubble, maybe they aren’t as fortunate as us and still have challenges we aren’t aware of but could help solve.  We need to shut up and listen to what they are struggling with and then start thinking about how to bring a solution to them.

Real customer development happens when you have many conversations – hundreds or even thousands – and you find random people are all having the same problems but lack a viable solution.  That’s when you know you are onto something – not when you have a thought in the shower about this thing in your life that really needs to be fixed.

Uniqueness will come when you look outside of yourself and your little bubble and discover issues people not like you are dealing with.  If you have the problem as well, even better!

So If you really want to change the world, solve a problem.  Just don’t solve your problem because it’s probably not something the 99% aren’t even thinking about.

Incredibly Insightful Words From Peter Thiel’s CS183 Class, via Blake Masters

Here is an incredibly insightful thought from Peter Thiel on progress and innovation.

Teaching vertical progress or innovation is almost a contradiction in terms. Education is fundamentally about going from 1 to n. We observe, imitate, and repeat. Infants do not invent new languages; they learn existing ones. From early on, we learn by copying what has worked before.

That is insufficient for startups. Crossing T’s and dotting I’s will get you maybe 30% of the way there. (It’s certainly necessary to get incorporation right, for instance. And one can learn how to pitch VCs.) But at some point you have to go from 0 to 1—you have to do something important and do it right—and that can’t be taught. Channeling Tolstoy’s intro to Anna Karenina, all successful companies are different; they figured out the 0 to 1 problem in different ways. But all failed companies are the same; they botched the 0 to 1 problem.

What is he saying?

Peter is saying this doesn’t lead to innovation: “From early on, we learn by copying what has worked before.” Innovation cannot be taught and copying leads us nowhere.  Innovation is, by definition, creating the new…  Successful companies figure things out as they go, they learn from small insights early and often.  This is why no two successful companies are exactly the same, since they go from 0 to 1 in different ways.

Read more on Blake’s blog.