Reflection, Faster

1/27 - What's Next

Hey there. Hope you have a great week.

Every so often, I take 10 minutes to re-read my previous “Year in Review” reflections. A very valuable exercise that highlights the speed of life!

Enjoy the newsletter.

Yesterday, Kobe Bryant passed away.

Kobe had a profound impact on how I see the world.

In 2016, I published an essay about what I’ve learned from Kobe Bryant. This was the final lesson:

RIP Kobe. Life is too short.

This is my favorite Quote from Kobe:

Articles to Read.

I am nothing

On a scale of one to ten, how good of a cog are you? How do you know?

What will you do if you're too tough to be a good woman, too sensitive to be a good man, too selfish to be a good husband, too lazy to be a good employee, too shy to be a good friend, too caring to be rational, too fat to be pretty, too effeminate to be straight, too introverted to be a good leader, too smart to be kind, too young to be taken seriously, too old to make a difference, or too far behind to even get in the race?

That is all so exhausting.

I am nothing. It's simple. If I were smart, I might be afraid of looking stupid. If I were successful, I might be afraid of failure. If I were a man, I might be afraid of being weak. If I were a Christian, I might be afraid of losing faith. If I were an atheist, I might be afraid of believing. If I were rational, I might be afraid of my emotions. If I were introverted, I might be afraid of meeting new people. If I were respectable, I might be afraid of looking foolish. If I were an expert, I might be afraid of being wrong.

But I am nothing, and so I am finally free to be myself.

By returning to zero expectations, by accepting that I am nothing, it is easier to see the truth. Fear, jealousy, insecurity, unfairness, embarrassment -- these feelings cloud our ability to see what is. The truth is often threatening, and once our defenses are up, it's difficult to be completely honest with anyone, even ourselves. But when I am nothing, when I have no image or identity or ego to protect, I can begin to see and accept things as they really are. That is the beginning of positive change, because we can not change what we do not accept and do not understand. But with understanding, we can finally see the difference between fixing problems, and hiding them, the difference between genuine improvement, and faking it. We discover that many of our weaknesses are actually strengths once we learn how to use them, and that our greatest gifts are often buried beneath our greatest insecurities.

Letting go of your identity can be difficult and takes time, possibly forever, but as with any change, moving in the right direction is all that really matters (which is why you shouldn't compare yourself with others -- you didn't start in the same place or with the same challenges).

Why did we wait so long for the cotton gin?

A cotton gin on display at the Eli Whitney Museum.

Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, invented in 1793, is rightfully one of the most famous inventions of the Industrial Revolution. It separates the lint of the cotton plant, which thread and ultimately cloth is made of, from the sticky seeds—a process that, done by hand, is the definition of “tedious”.

I see no reason why the cotton gin couldn’t have been invented a century or more earlier than it was. Given the economic need, there was a strong incentive for its invention. So why did it wait so long?

The patent on the cotton gin, number 72X, was one of the earliest in America, filed only a few years after the first Patent Act. So one might be tempted to treat this as a case of patent law unleashing the creative force of entrepreneurial inventors. Certainly Whitney sought to make money from his invention (even if he was largely unsuccessful), and Greene, who sponsored his work, must have had this in mind as well. But suppose the Patent Act hadn’t been passed yet in 1793. Would Greene not have encourage Whitney to work on this problem that was so important to Southern plantation owners? Would Whitney not have bothered to solve it?

My personal, as-yet-unproven hunch is that cultural factors were significant here. This was the very dawn of the Industrial Revolution in America. People had not yet learned to expect mechanical inventions to revolutionize every aspect of life. They were used to the status quo and did not yet have “the idea of progress”, at least not in the industrial sense.

The Flute of Shame: Discover the Instrument/Device Used to Publicly Humiliate Bad Musicians During the Medieval Period

Since humanity has had music, we've also had bad music. And bad music can come from only one source: bad musicians. Despite such personal technologies of relatively recent invention as noise-canceling headphones, bad music remains nigh unavoidable in the modern world, issuing as it constantly does from the sound systems installed in grocery stores, gyms, passing automobiles, and so on. And against the bad musicians responsible we have less recourse than ever, or at least less than medieval Europeans did, as shown by the "shame flute," a non-musical instrument used to punish crimes against the art.

"The contraption, which is essentially a heavy iron flute – although you probably wouldn’t want play it – was shackled to the musician’s neck," writes Maddy Shaw Roberts at Classic FM. "The musician’s fingers were then clamped to the keys, to give the impression they were playing the instrument. Finally, just to further their humiliation, they were forced to wear the flute while being paraded around town, so the public could throw rotten food and vegetables at them." Surely the mere prospect of such a fate made many music-minded children of the olden days think twice about slacking on their practice sessions.

Wealth Is What You Don’t Spend

Let me tell you a story about why some people aren’t as financially secure as they could be. It starts with a weight-loss study.

Fitness is a $30 billion industry. Almost 40% of Americans are obese.

Exercising makes you feel like you accomplished something healthy, which can rationalize a post-workout food binge. Eating a pizza after sitting on the couch all day might bring guilt, but doing it after a jog feels like a justified treat.

A lot of exercise can be offset by a lot of food. That’s what we do, and we do it because exercising gives us a moral license to eat more.

You can’t measure the benefit of exercise by merely looking at how much you sweat. The gap between what you gain and how much you avoid offsetting that gain is the figure that matters most.

The same goes for saving money.

The Refragmentation

One advantage of being old is that you can see change happen in your lifetime. A lot of the change I've seen is fragmentation. US politics is much more polarized than it used to be. Culturally we have ever less common ground. The creative class flocks to a handful of happy cities, abandoning the rest. And increasing economic inequality means the spread between rich and poor is growing too. I'd like to propose a hypothesis: that all these trends are instances of the same phenomenon. And moreover, that the cause is not some force that's pulling us apart, but rather the erosion of forces that had been pushing us together.

The form of fragmentation people worry most about lately is economic inequality, and if you want to eliminate that you're up against a truly formidable headwind — one that has been in operation since the stone age: technology.

Technology is a lever. It magnifies work. And the lever not only grows increasingly long, but the rate at which it grows is itself increasing. Which in turn means the variation in the amount of wealth people can create has not only been increasing, but accelerating. The unusual conditions that prevailed in the mid 20th century masked this underlying trend. The ambitious had little choice but to join large organizations that made them march in step with lots of other people — literally in the case of the armed forces, figuratively in the case of big corporations. Even if the big corporations had wanted to pay people proportionate to their value, they couldn't have figured out how. But that constraint has gone now. Ever since it started to erode in the 1970s, we've seen the underlying forces at work again.

Not everyone who gets rich now does it by creating wealth, certainly. But a significant number do, and the Baumol Effect means all their peers get dragged along too. And as long as it's possible to get rich by creating wealth, the default tendency will be for economic inequality to increase. Even if you eliminate all the other ways to get rich. You can mitigate this with subsidies at the bottom and taxes at the top, but unless taxes are high enough to discourage people from creating wealth, you're always going to be fighting a losing battle against increasing variation in productivity.

Your Life is Driven by Network Effects

What city you live in. Who you date or marry. Which job you choose. What clothes you wear.

We all think we make these choices ourselves. It certainly feels like we’re in full control. But it turns out that our choices — both in our startups and in our lives — are more constrained than we think.

The unseen hand in them all is the networks that surround us and the powerful math they exert on us.

This article outlines how we see network effects impacting nearly every aspect of your life. With that lens, it lays out a perspective on how to make the 7 most important decisions of your life. It will hopefully help you make decisions that are more true to the kind of life you want to lead.

Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

Amsterdam’s canal houses may be beautiful, but we shouldn’t assume that they were always sites of a leisured, easy life. Look closely at the appearance and layout of these skinny, extremely photogenic buildings, laid out across the city’s canal belt during the Dutch Republic’s 17th century peak, and there are telltale signs that they were built not solely for living: Cranes projecting from their gables; deep, murky plots; and internal staircases almost as steep as ladders. Indeed, these houses may still be impressive, but when completed, their uses were a little different from what we might associate with a “house” today.

More to Check Out: 
- A global tipping point: Half the world is now middle class or wealthier
- How Nursing Homes in the United States Overmedicate People with Dementia
- An ant colony has memories that its individual members don’t have
- Superhuman & the Productivity Meta-Layer
The economic policy of Elizabeth Warren



Experimenting with something…hit reply to this email (with perhaps a bit about you and what you are interested in) and I will email introduce you to another newsletter subscriber. Think you will find interesting!

Books I read:

  • The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns

My bookshelf

My Update:

  • Here’s the guide to leaving banking/consulting and breaking into startups.

  • Working in SF!

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan

Tips, Pollution

1/20 - What's Next

Hey, happy Monday! Hope you have a great week.

Articles to Read.

Give it five minutes

A few years ago I used to be a hothead. Whenever anyone said anything, I’d think of a way to disagree. I’d push back hard if something didn’t fit my world-view.

It’s like I had to be first with an opinion – as if being first meant something. But what it really meant was that I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the problem. The faster you react, the less you think. Not always, but often. It’s easy to talk about knee jerk reactions as if they are things that only other people have. You have them too. If your neighbor isn’t immune, neither are you.

This came to a head back in 2007. I was speaking at the Business Innovation Factory conference in Providence, RI. So was Richard Saul Wurman. After my talk Richard came up to introduce himself and compliment my talk. That was very generous of him. He certainly didn’t have to do that.

And what did I do? I pushed back at him about the talk he gave. While he was making his points on stage, I was taking an inventory of the things I didn’t agree with. And when presented with an opportunity to speak with him, I quickly pushed back at some of his ideas. I must have seemed like such an asshole.

His response changed my life. It was a simple thing. He said “Man, give it five minutes.” I asked him what he meant by that? He said, it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.

Richard has spent his career thinking about these problems. He’s given it 30 years. And I gave it just a few minutes. Now, certainly he can be wrong and I could be right, but it’s better to think deeply about something first before being so certain you’re right.

Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is having a negative impact on our oceans and wildlife health.

High-income countries generate more plastic waste per person.

However, it is the management of plastic waste that determines the risk of plastic entering the ocean. High-income countries have very effect waste management systems; mismanaged waste – and plastic that ends up in the oceans – is therefore very rare. Poor waste management across many middle- and low-income countries means that these are the main sources of global ocean plastic pollution.

An estimated 20 percent of all plastic waste in the oceans comes from marine sources. In some regions, marine sources dominate: More than half of plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) come from fishing nets, ropes and lines.

Economic Inequality

Since the 1970s, economic inequality in the US has increased dramatically. And in particular, the rich have gotten a lot richer.

Nearly everyone who writes about economic inequality says that it should be decreased.

I'm interested in this question because I was one of the founders of a company called Y Combinator that helps people start startups. Almost by definition, if a startup succeeds, its founders become rich. Which means by helping startup founders I've been helping to increase economic inequality. If economic inequality should be decreased, I shouldn't be helping founders. No one should be.

But that doesn't sound right. What's going on here? What's going on is that while economic inequality is a single measure (or more precisely, two: variation in income, and variation in wealth), it has multiple causes. Many of these causes are bad, like tax loopholes and drug addiction. But some are good, like Larry Page and Sergey Brin starting the company you use to find things online.

If you want to understand economic inequality — and more importantly, if you actually want to fix the bad aspects of it — you have to tease apart the components. And yet the trend in nearly everything written about the subject is to do the opposite: to squash together all the aspects of economic inequality as if it were a single phenomenon.

Sometimes this is done for ideological reasons. Sometimes it's because the writer only has very high-level data and so draws conclusions from that, like the proverbial drunk who looks for his keys under the lamppost, instead of where he dropped them, because the light is better there. Sometimes it's because the writer doesn't understand critical aspects of inequality, like the role of technology in wealth creation. Much of the time, perhaps most of the time, writing about economic inequality combines all three.

The Incredibly Happy Life of Larry David, TV's Favorite Grouch

The kid is wearing a T-shirt reading “EAT MORE AVOCADO,” one of the designs for sale at this Venice Beach café at which he's a server, along with “WE SELL DESIGNER KALE” and “BEET IT.” He's waiting on me and Larry David, who is of course dressed precisely like Larry David—gray knit hoodie, dark long-sleeve T-shirt with a white shirt beneath that, beige jeans, and sneakers. David chooses or approves all the wardrobe for Curb Your Enthusiasm, and then he keeps all the clothes, from blazers to socks, creating a seamless visual loop between Larry and the character he calls TV Larry.

So Larry David is sitting there, using his very Larry David voice to discuss very Larry David things: breakfast preferences (today, scrambled egg whites, grilled onions, and sliced avocado), the relative pleasures of killing flies and ants (flies are more satisfying), and yes, clothes, about which, unsurprisingly, David has Thoughts. The son of a garment-district salesman, David has always approached clothing with something of a tailor's eye. The very first Seinfeld gag was about shirt-button placement; the first Curb Your Enthusiasm centered on a crotch cut too big, thus simulating an erection. He has a code: One should wear only one “nice” piece of clothing at a time. “Otherwise it's too much,” he says. “Too dressed. You have to be half-dressed. That's my fashion theory, since you asked: Half Is More.”

The Investing Meta-Game

Two variables determine successful bets. First, you must have some foresight in the future through betting on the right horses: this is an “investment process”. Second, you must also identify where the odds, implied by prices, are different than your view of the future. For example, a bet on Sea Biscuit in the 1938 Kentucky Derby merely identifies what the crowd already knows, and prices reflect such. The stock market is similar: investors bet on future company profitability relative to stock valuations (price-earnings ratio, for instance). Most investors understand this.

There’s one more important point. Imagine you have an “investment process”, in this case you collect statistical data on past horse races to forecast the future. You address your behavioral biases. You have “long-term capital”, which means you’re betting with your own money. Yet, after years of betting, your results are statistically no better than average.

At this point, the poor bettor probably reflects on his results, revisits his “process” and sees no obvious reason for his underperformance besides the fact that maybe luck runs in streaks and his approach is “out of favor”. He’s missed an important point, its not the sophistication of his process that matters, it’s the quality of his process relative to the pool of competitors -- and likely his pool of competitors has changed. Thus, it may not matter that your team does pre-mortem reviews, red-team / blue-team, checklists, or any of the like, as the incremental quality of decision-making does not overcome a very real problem: most of your competitors are doing it too.

My Personal Moonshot

Rather than talk about moonshots we might take collectively, let me go small scale and lay out the "moonshot" I have tried to take with my own career. My goal is to be the economist who has most successfully used the internet as a platform to foment broad enlightenment.

As I see it, the internet is changing everything, and most intellectuals (and also businesspeople) still are underestimating the import of this reality. That's bad for me as a consumer, but it gives me an edge as a producer, namely the competition is limited. This advantage is heightened by the fact that academia does not reward internet communication per se.

What the Death of iTunes Says About Our Digital Habits

When iTunes launched in January 2001, Apple’s software was a place to organize the MP3s and other music files on your desktop computer. (It was not yet even a tool to sync an iPod, because the first iPod didn’t come out until October 2001.) But within a few years, it became a “digital hub,” a place to organize your music and movies and, eventually, iPhone, which debuted in 2007. (Note for younger readers: An iPod was like an iPhone, except it could not make phone calls, or search the internet, or sext, and the sexts would have been terrible, because it had a black-and-white screen.) But iTunes kept guzzling other functions: digital movies, TV shows, and then apps.

The abandonment of iTunes heralded a broader shift in how Americans are assumed to approach their digital lives. You could call it the victory of Gmail. When it debuted in 2004, Google’s email software offered Americans a revolutionary new way of thinking about their digital footprint: Don’t. Instead of encouraging people to file their email into folders or delete it—which is how you have to deal with paper mail—it encouraged an approach that, anywhere else, would be called hoarding. “With tons of storage space, you’ll never need to delete an email,” said a recent Gmail tutorial. “Just keep everything and easily find it later.”

More to Check Out: 
You have 20 minutes left to live. What do you do?
- How to Identify an Immoral Maze
- Life at the End of American Empire
Visa, Plaid, Networks, and Jobs
- How Elite Chess Players Can Burn More Than 6,000 Calories Sitting Down



Books I read:

  • The Three-Body Problem

My bookshelf

My Update:

  • Working. The team is growing. Really excited!

  • Friend and I wrote a guide to help people quit consulting/banking and break into startups. Hit reply to this email if you want to read a draft!

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan

Thank You, Professional

1/13 - What's Next

Hey! Happy Monday. Hope you have a great week.

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can support me by helping me hire.

We’re building a world-class team and hiring across engineering, design, and operations. Really high impact opportunities.

Hit reply to this email (if you are interested or if you have any friends you could recommend!). Thanks!!

Articles to Read.

What are "secrets" among your profession that the general public is unaware of?

  • I work at a pizza place, the more items you get on your pizza the fewer of each item you will get while still being charged the same price per item.

  • Journalism: the reporter who writes the article rarely writes the headline. The editor typically writes the headline.

  • Sometimes students are given a better grade than they should because we are too tired to really give a shit anymore.

  • Im a Zamboni operator and most people dont know that we use hot water when shaving the ice.

Happy Habits

I made one day a week untouchable. Guess what would happen on that day? Nothing. I would have no internet, no cellphone, no connection to anybody, not even my wife. Nobody could get a hold of me, no one could contact me. Nothing, I was literally untouchable. Guess what happened? Instead of writing 500 words through bits and sparks on a normal day, I wrote 5,000 words, like 10 days worth of writing in one day, a 10X increase in my production. That’s where my next book came from. I launched three books, my podcast from those days. Everything good that I’ve done in the last couple of years has only come from untouchable days.

It’s not work life balance, it’s a flywheel. The more energy you pour into either side of your life, the faster and more energy you can pour into the rest. I found that model so inspiring I was already doing that without knowing that that was a thing. I was always under the mistaken assumption that they were trade offs rather than a pie that constantly grows with maximum energy and no limits with it’s potential.

Life is so relatively easy that we have lost our capacity to handle failure or even, and this is more important, perceived failure. So when you get two likes on your Instagram photo, it feels like I have no friends. The traumatic feeling of loneliness or anxiety or depression. These things are coming to us sharper and harsher because we have lost the internal systems to handle them.

US emissions fell 2.1% in 2019. Here’s why

The US saw a 2.1% fall in greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to a new report titled “Preliminary US Emissions Estimates for 2019” by independent research company Rhodium Group.

This was due to a decrease in coal plants, which resulted in an emissions drop of 190 million metric tons.

Can You Locate Iran? Few Voters Can.

28% of registered voters could point out Iran on a zoomed-in map of the region.

49% said they heard “a lot” about the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

69% said the strike makes war with Iran more likely, and 50% said it makes the U.S. less safe.

The political history of Thailand’s internationally beloved noodle dish

You’ve likely tried pad Thai, wherever you may be from. The stir-fried noodle dish from Thailand, with shrimp, eggs, vegetables, and peanuts, has become ubiquitous around the world. The late Plaek Phibunsongkhram—Thailand’s third prime minister—would no doubt be pleased with this development.

In 1938, Phibun became Siam’s third prime minister and soon began issuing “cultural mandates.” The state decrees included changing the country’s name to Thailand, commissioning music and lyrics for a new national anthem, and unifying the ethnically diverse nation. Phibun believed a shared identity could be created using cultural tools. Food was among those tools, and he pushed a new national noodle dish on the people of the newly named nation.

But the dish he chose wasn’t widely eaten before the decree, and it didn’t even originate in Thailand. “He simply had this particular version of a Thai noodle that was made by his housekeeper in his kitchen and he really liked it,” retired nutritional anthropologist Penny Van Esterik, who specializes in Southeast Asian cuisines and worked in Thailand, tells the South China Morning Post. “So that dish somehow became standardized… It became a ‘Thai noodle dish’, and [Phibun] was promoting the idea that one should eat it, particularly civil servants, for lunch.”

Iran, Again

Since 1979, no one in the United States has figured out a good way to handle the regime in Tehran. For 40 years, we’ve been having the same arguments, and no matter what we tried, the results were disappointing.

The odd thing is that no matter what happens between the U.S. and Iran, we keep repeating the same patterns and having the same debates. From the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy and the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; to the “Tanker War” and the mines in the Straits of Hormuz in the late ’80s; to the truck-bomb attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; to Iran’s letting the 9/11 hijackers go through Iranian territory without stamping passports; to IEDs against our soldiers in Iraq . . .

In their eyes, we’ve attacked them in unfair ways: We backed Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq war, imposed sanctions that squeezed the Iranian economy, and in 1988, our Navy blew up two of their oil platforms. That same year, we accidentally shot down one of their civilian airliners. The frustrating reality is that our actions rarely hurt the mullahs and ruling class. Our sanctions made life tougher for the average Iranian, but the mullahs still ate well.

Plastic packaging ban 'could harm environment'

Plastic packaging

Firms are swapping to other packaging materials which are potentially even worse for the environment, the cross-party Parliamentary group warns.

  • Glass bottles, for instance, are much heavier than plastic so are far more polluting to transport.

  • Paper bags tend to have higher carbon emissions than plastic bags – and are more difficult to re-use.

More to Check Out: 
- A Note on Reading Big, Difficult Books...
Health and wealth in the Roman Empire
Majority of Americans favor wealth tax on very rich
- The Most Important Scientific Problems Have Yet to Be Solved
Women Now Make Up the Majority of the U.S. Labor Force


I’m hiring for every role. Come do impactful work with an exceptional team.

Hit reply to this email or recommend a friend. Thanks so much!!

Books I read:

(finished a lot of books this week, getting addicted to reading again!)

  • The Lessons of History: Really interesting perspective on the history of civilization and how we think about progress.

  • The Great CEO Within: The Tactical Guide to Company Building: Great resource for company building.

  • Get Big Fast (2002): Amazing how a book written in 2002 could so well articulate the uniqueness of Amazon.

  • Brave New World Revisited: Strong recommendation. Written in 1958, the novel analyzes society and comes up with some really interesting points of view including: why is everyone addicted to the television? why is the media lying to us? why do we all come up with the same ideas? Remember, 1958!!

My bookshelf

Random thoughts / open questions:

  • More people should send thank you emails. Easy way to differentiate and show gratitude. Amazing how rare they are.

My Update:

  • Working.

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan

Value, Happened

1/6 - What's Next

Hey there, happy new year! Hope you have had a great start to 2020.

We have ~ 2000 subscribers right now. Thanks to all who read it every week!

Enjoy the newsletter.

Articles to Read.

What Is the Most Valuable Thing You Can Learn in One Hour?

This article will give you a list of the most valuable things you can learn in just an hour. There are many basic and valuable skills you can acquire in a very short amount of time, not only in technology but also in general life. Cooking, first aid & CPR, setting up a Raspberry Pi, cable management, or even learning to learn. These are all things that you can learn in under 60 minutes and will make a remarkable impact on your life. Obviously, learning is not mastering. Practice makes perfect, and you will have to practice over time to perfect your newly acquired skills.

What Happened In The 2010s

Here are the big things that happened in tech, startups, business, and more in the decade that is ending today, in no particular order of importance.

1/ The emergence of the big four web/mobile monopolies; Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. A decade ago, Google dominated search, Apple had a mega hit on their hand with the iPhone, Amazon was way ahead of everyone in e-commerce, and Facebook was emerging as the dominant social media platform. Today, these four companies own monopolies or duopolies in their core markets and are using the power of those market positions to extend their reach into tangential markets and beyond. Google continues to own a monopoly position in search in many parts of the world, has a duopoly position in mobile operating systems, and controls a number of other market leading assets (email, video, etc). Apple owns the other duopoly position in mobile operating systems. Amazon has amassed a dominant position in e-commerce in many parts of the world and has used that position to extend its reach into private label products, logistics, and cloud infrastructure. Facebook built and acquired its way into owning four of the most strategic social media properties in the world; Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. Most importantly, outside of China, these four companies own more data about what we do online and also control many of the important channels to reach us in the digital world. What society does about this situation stands as the most important issue in tech at the start of the 2020s.

2/ The massive experiment in using capital as a moat to build startups into sustainable businesses has now played out and we can call it a failure for the most part. Uber popularized this strategy and got very far with it, but sitting here at the end of the 2010s, Uber has not yet proven that it can build a profitable business, is struggling as a public company, and will need something more than capital to sustain its business. WeWork was a fast follower with this strategy and failed to get to the public markets and is undergoing a massive restructuring that will determine the fate of that business. Many other experiments with this model have failed or are failing right now. When I look back at the 2010s, I see a decade during which massive capital flowed into startups and much of it was wasted chasing the “capital as a moat” model.

Don’t Shave That Yak!

The single best term I’ve learned this year.

Apparently turned into a computer term by the MIT media lab five years ago, yak shaving was recently referenced by my pal Joi Ito. (Link: Joi Ito’s Web: Yak Shaving)

I want to give you the non-technical definition, and as is my wont, broaden it a bit. Yak Shaving is the last step of a series of steps that occurs when you find something you need to do.

This yak shaving phenomenon tends to hit some people more than others, but what makes it particularly perverse is when groups of people get involved. It’s bad enough when one person gets all up in arms yak shaving, but when you try to get a group of people together, you’re just as likely to end up giving the yak a manicure.

Thoughts about my free iphone app - WhatsApp

(published in 2009 by founder of WhatsApp)

hi there…i hate shameless self promotion, but i couldn't resist posting here because i wrote this app with people like us in mind (those who travel a lot)…

problem found - problem solved. so i spent a couple of months and developed a little tool called WhatsApp - it can let you set a status like "On the flight to munich, send email instead of calling me" or "In Japan for two weeks, my cell there is +81 829 282718"

our site with screenshots and faq is: and direct itunes link is:

i would like to hear your feedback and suggestions on the idea. hit or miss?

(of course app is useless 'til your contacts begin to use it also)

P.S. - i know a lot of you are BlackBerry users, and we are working on a BlackBerry version already (wish there was more hours in the day)

From The Big Short to Normal People: the books that defined the decade

The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay (2015), with from left, Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Steve Carell, Jeffry Griffin and Ryan Gosling.

It began with the fallout from the global financial meltdown and ended with two women sharing the Booker. Which titles shaped the last 10 years?

Zero-to-100 Million in 3 Years

They say startup years are like dog years, by which logic we launched 21 years ago! Now that we’re all grown up we thought we’d take stock, give an update, and maybe get a beer.

We’ve never spelled out our strategy in public before, but 3 years in we finally have enough data to substantiate its component parts, and anyway, what are Transparency Chronicles for?

So here it is: our strategy is to delight consumers.

That’s not a strategy, you say? Well, given how we’ve architected Lemonade, it really is. You see, delighted customers fuel growth, growth spawns predictive data, data powers the machine learning that improves our performance, to the delight of consumers. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I wasted $40k on a fantastic startup idea

When good ideas make bad business

You have a mind-shattering headache. You’re standing in the aisle of your local CVS, massaging your temples while scanning the shelves for something—anything—to make make the pain stop.

What do you reach for? Tylenol? Advil? Aleve?

In the year of our lord 2017 I had a Brilliant Startup Idea: use a structured database of clinical trials to provide simple, practical answers to common medical questions.

Over the next nine months I would quit my job, write over 200,000 lines of code, hire five contractors, create a Delware C-Corp, add four doctors to my advisory board, and demo GlacierMD for twelve Bay Area medical practices. I would spend $40K of my own savings buying clinical trials and paying contractors to enter said trials into the GlacierMD database.

Choirs of angels sang in my ears. Here I was, living the Silicon Valley dream: making the world a better place through technology.

Two weeks later it was dead.

More to Check Out: 
- Did the Emptying of Mental Hospitals Contribute to Homelessness?
My 2019 Year in Review
- Google’s Monopoly is Stifling Free Software
I Was Wrong About Speed Reading: Here are the Facts
- What technology to learn in 2020?


Cool companies:

Interesting people:

I had a random idea!

By now, you have likely seen things like the Breakout List or the Career Launching List or the Signal — they are all basically a list of interesting companies to start your career with.

While the company you work for matters, I also believe “who you work for” (i.e your manager) matters a ton.

What if there was a list of the best managers to work for?

I tweeted this over a year ago.

Are any companies doing this?

Books I read:

  • Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment by David Swensen

My bookshelf

My Update:

  • Just got back to SF from NY. Spending New Years in NY catching up with old friends was really great.

  • Still hiring for all kinds of roles. Email me if you have any interest.

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan

Theories, Time

12/30 - What's Next

Hey, hope you have had a great holiday season. A few days left until 2020!

Enjoy the final newsletter of the year.

One quick personal plug: I am hiring for every role. If you/friends have any interest in engineering, design, or product work…we have lots of exciting opportunities with great compensation, high-impact problems, and exceptional teammates.

Shoot me an email:

Articles to Read.

My 2019 Year in Review

In short, 2019 was the most rewarding year of my life. It was also the most personally and professionally challenging. I learned a lot about myself and the world around me. Once again, I interacted with hundreds of people who challenged me to become a better person. I learned about kindness, intentionality, and leadership.

Focus was the theme of my year. I said no to most opportunities and concentrated in a single direction. “Les is mor.”

Thank you for an incredible year. “While life is largely a single player game, I know that I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” Thank you to my family and the many old + new friends for an incredible year. Thank you for taking a chance on me.

Three Theories for Why You Have No Time

Technologically, the typical American home of 1900 wasn’t so different from the typical home of 1500. Bereft of modern equipment, it had no electricity. Although some rich families had indoor plumbing, most did not. Family members were responsible for ferrying each drop of water in and out of the house.

The following decades brought a bevy of labor-saving appliances. Air conditioning and modern toilets, for starters. But also refrigerators and freezers, electric irons, vacuum cleaners, and dishwashers.

Each of these innovations could have saved hours of labor. But none of them did. At first, these new machines compensated for the decline in home servants. (They helped cause that decline, as well.) Then housework expanded to fill the available hours. In 1920, full-time housewives spent 51 hours a week on housework, according to Juliet Schor, an economist and the author of The Overworked American. In the 1950s, they worked 52 hours a week. In the 1960s, they worked 53 hours. Half a century of labor-saving technology does not appear to have saved the typical housewife even one minute of labor.

The First Credit Card Ever

Today there are more than 2 billion credit cards being used around the world. On February 9, 1950, there were three.

I wrote the following article on March 12, 1963, that appeared on the front page of the local Winsted Evening Citizen:

This is an obituary. It’s about something that’s always been very near and dear to us. It’s about something people have too much of, others have barely enough of, and some, who love it fondly, seem to get rid of it as soon as they get it. Cash, which was born several thousand years ago, the son of Barter, the adopted child of Trade, died today in Winsted, Connecticut, a small American city on the banks of the Mad River.

The doctors who treated the patient before it died in Winsted came up with the following diagnosis: Why did cash die? It got dirty. It ripped. It faded, and people lost it and had no way to claim it if somebody else found it. When you had some of it, somebody was always trying to borrow some from you. When you used it, you had to stop and count it and examine it, and so did the person you gave it to. Sometimes it was too big for a cab ride and too small for dinner. It was easily gambled away and carried some ten-odd million germs per bill. It was absolutely irreplaceable when accidentally dropped into the family incinerator and was something you had to worry about having too much of when walking down a dark street and too little walking into an expensive store.

Cash will be missed. People got used to it, but cash was replaced in Winsted today and may eventually be replaced everywhere by something else people have become used to — the credit card.

Why I Carry Plastic Straws

California is obnoxious about recycling. Every workplace has approximately 67 trash bins to choose from, so finishing lunch also requires playing a game of real-world Tetris to “properly” dispose of your food. It’s a pain in the ass, but whatever.

Recycling per se isn’t bad. The sin with recycling is 1) fooling ourselves in to thinking we’re actually being helpful, and 2) virtue signaling to others that if they don’t do the same they’re less than.

What would actually help is making materials that are both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the status quo. Creating things that make people less environmentally impactful without forcing behavioral change on them.

The plastic straw ban is my favorite example of this nonsense.

But I can’t let San Francisco win this one. They have so many god awful policies that impact me that I can do very little about. This one I can take back for 8 bucks on Amazon and simultaneously turn in to a party trick. SF can make me pay $3,000 for a 1 bedroom apartment but by God it will not make me eat a paper straw to consume my beverage.

What's Amazon's market share? 35% or 5%?

Amazon is a big company, but what does that mean? How big is ‘big’? What does ‘dominant’ or ‘scale’ or ‘huge’ mean when US retail is $6 trillion a year?

Running the numbers, Amazon has about 35% of US ecommerce. But, it competes with physical retailers as well - it competes with Macy’s, Walmart and Barnes & Noble. On that basis, Amazon’s real market share of its real target market is closer to 6% (it’s 2/3 the size of Walmart).

Regulators pick and choose market definitions depending on their objective, and this will probably happen to Amazon - it’s definitely dominant in books and definitely not in cars. But if we’re going to worry about the scale of the Amazon machine, which scale are we talking about? That’s a political question as much as it’s an economic one.


The Spirit of St. Louis. In 1927, Donald Hall and Charles Lindbergh designed and built Spirit in 60 days. "To determine the amount of fuel the plane would need, Lindbergh and Hall drove to the San Diego Public Library at 820 E St. Using a globe and a piece of string, Lindbergh estimated the distance from New York to Paris. It came out to 3,600 statute miles, which Hall calculated would require 400 gallons of gas." Source: Ryan Airlines gave Lindbergh wings.

The Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was built in 2 years and 2 months; that is, in 793 days. When completed in 1889, it became the tallest building in the world, a record it held for more than 40 years. It cost about $40 million in 2019 dollars. Source: Eiffel's Tower.

Apollo 8. On August 9 1968, NASA decided that Apollo 8 should go to the moon. It launched on December 21 1968, 134 days later. Source: Apollo Spacecraft Chronology.

BankAmericard. Dee Hock was given 90 days to launch the BankAmericard card (which became the Visa card), starting from scratch. He did. In that period, he signed up more than 100,000 customers. Source: Electronic Value Exchange.

The Empire State Building. Construction was started and finished in 410 days. Source: Empire State Building.

The New Payday Lender Looks a Lot Like the Old Payday Lender

A sign with the logos of various credit-card companies

Apps promising to “advance” a user’s wages say they aren’t payday lenders. So what are they?

Jonathan Raines needed money. An app promised to help. He searched online for an alternative to traditional payday lenders and came across Earnin, which offered him $100 on the spot, to be deducted from his bank account on payday.

Earnin didn’t charge Raines a fee, but asked that he “tip” a few dollars on each loan, with no penalty if he chose not to. It seemed simple. But nine months later, what was originally a stopgap measure has become a crutch.

“You borrow $100, tip $9, and repeat,” Raines, a highway-maintenance worker in Missouri, told me. “Well, then you do that for a bit and they raise the limit, which you probably borrow, and now you are in a cycle of get paid and borrow, get paid and borrow.” Raines said he now borrows about $400 each pay cycle.

Two days before a recent paycheck, Raines told me, the app notified him that his maximum borrowing amount would be $100 less than he was used to.“So now the money you were depending on, that they took from you last paycheck, you don’t have access to,” Raines said. “They get you hooked and you keep coming back for more.”

More to Check Out: 
Flushing money down the toilet
- Working for a startup makes less sense
- Successful One Person Online Businesses
- We’ve just had the best decade in human history. Seriously
One day I will be a CEO


Cool companies:

Interesting people:

Books I read:

  • King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone

My bookshelf

My Update:

  • Spent the past week in NY. Will be here until Saturday. Working and having fun.

  • I am hiring for all kinds of roles. Reach out if you/friends are interested.

  • How can I make this newsletter better? What parts do you like/don’t like?

If you enjoy the newsletter, you can Venmo me a tip: @jordangonen or on the web here. Really appreciate the support! - Jordan

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