Letting go of the acquisitive mindset

I had real difficulty writing a blog post for the last two days. What I realized that sometimes I'm regurgitating received wisdom that I haven't practiced or even tested. I'd like to stop doing that.

What writing does is force me to think for myself. It's something that both education as well as our models of media consumption don't seem to help.

Part of this introspection has been to challenge deeply held beliefs on who I am and what I do. The acquisitive mindset that is forced on us from an early age makes this hard. Most people I know are driven either by fear or by greed. "If I don't do this, these bad things might happen." "If I do this, I can become better so I can get that."

Letting go of fear and greed is, for me, a gradual process that needs continuous work. Almost everything in society is set up to encourage this acquisitive mindset. "Buy this product so you can feel better." "Read this article so you are better prepared for what is coming." 

Well, I'm in open revolt to those values. The incredible freedom bestowed by relinquishing them has allowed me, for the first time in what feels like years, to look at myself and the world with a sort of piercing clarity that is gut-wrenching. But also very liberating. 

What emerges is both a feeling of equanimity, but also gratitude and a deep empathy for people and things. I'm going to try and operate more from this place going forward.   

What questions would an AGI have for us?

For the past few months, a story has been spinning in my head about the onset of artificial general intelligence, or AGI. I’m imagining it as a controlled scenario where an artificial intelligence would be gradually given access to more information/knowledge and would thus complete similar stages in “consciousness” as those undergone by a child  or, if you’re arguing from a Jungian perspective, all of humanity. 

I know I’m anthropomorphizing here, but believe it’s required from a dramatic perspective. 

What would be the first questions an artificial intelligence would ask of humanity? How would those questions change as it discovered more about the world? 

And perhaps: are you interested in this topic? Is it a book/short story you’d want to read? 

Out of geo deals

We’ve recently been more actively looking at opportunities outside of our main market, continental Europe. Part of that is the draw of our DTC thesis: there’s just a lot more happening in NYC and London. And some of those deals are coming to us. 

We’ve done one investment in New York earlier this year and one in London just a few weeks ago. Both will stay unannounced until they’re ready to raise an A (this seems to have become market standard). 

When considering out of geo deals, the question always comes up: why are we seeing this instead of the locals? 

It’s the flip side of FOMO - the fear of errors of commission because we aren’t part of the chatter in that particular market. That’s certainly a risk from a pov of attracting follow-on investment at the next round. 

On the other hand, we are conviction investors. We have a fairly narrow thesis and when we come across something we like, we can make our minds up quickly. And we’re not afraid of being contrarian. 

A great business can attract financing from many sources and venture investors are only one of these. I believe as the DTC frenzy increases, we will see more specialized funds and financing methods (eg working capital) emerge. 

PS. I’m writing this only my phone with my toddler sleeping on my shoulder. Bliss. 

Autonomous weapons aka killer robots

I re-watched a video over this glorious summer weekend that put a little darkness inside me. It’s disturbing. 


Humans have always been particularly versatile when inventing ways to kill other humans. From rock to blade to arrow to gunpowder to WMD. It took 42 years from the flight of the first aircraft by the Wright Brothers to the carpet bombing of Dresden. For millenia our evolutionary biology trained us to recognize snakes. Now suddenly death came from above.

When was the first drone flown? When did facial recognition become viable? We have a few short years before these technologies will have become combined and weaponized. 

International law is one way of addressing the proliferation issue of cheap technologies being combined in lethal ways. The other of course is to develop defensive technology to counter them. Both need our support. 

The key question is then whether to tie yourself into an international treaty to ban autonomous weapons that may impact your ability to build defensive tech. I’d argue that it’s possible to do this, but folks may differ. On the whole, though, it’s too important a conversation not to have. 

Be culture

Interesting exchange this morning with a friend, European serial founder on the way to his second billion plus outcome. He doesn’t understand the way people talk about company culture, as if it’s some type of practice that gets added to the business. 

Culture is about being, he says. It’s about who you are and how you show up. And then it’s about who you hire and whom you promote. 

You can’t fake culture. If it’s not authentic to who you are as a founder, it won’t be the real culture of the company either. 

Obvious, surely, but it gets lost in the “start with why” stuff. 

A shift in perception

The world we inhabit is a product of our perceptions. These perceptions are shaped by our belief systems, whether conscious or unconscious.

 

I invested in a founder a while ago who is facing possibly the most challenging time right now in the life of his young company. And yet, when he calls me, he is palpably enthusiastic about his response to this challenge. He fully believes it is an incredible opportunity to once again change the trajectory of his company.

 

I love that energy. No matter what happens, he is learning and growing with the crisis.

 

On reflection, each moment gives us this opportunity. To decide who we want to be and to meet the world that way.

 

I’m resolving to live more from this place.

Dive down deep into the ocean

I saw this at Soho House Greek Street today. Apologies for the less than ideal pic. 



As someone who reads a lot of Grand Things of Great Import, like following your Personal Destiny and the Moral Imperatives of Virtuous Conduct, I loved the gentle exhortation not to take myself and ourselves so seriously. A good omen! 

Love,
Max 

Tracking phone usage

I’m writing this on my phone 📱 as per Fred’s recommendation yesterday. It still feels a bit awkward, especially adding links and photos. But I like trying it out. 

Speaking of trying things out and phones, my colleague Yacine pointed me towards an app called Mute earlier this week. It tracks your phone usage, including pickups and total time spent. And it tries to use loops to get you to reduce unnecessary usage. 

I’ve been using it for a few days. Here are my stats from yesterday:


I picked up my phone an astonishing 108 times and apparently checked it every 6 minutes. My longest streak without using it was 1:10 hours. I spent 6:17 hours on it out of the 18 hours that I was awake (either discipline or young kids, take your pick). That’s... concerning. 

I can’t wait for computing to move more into the background. But in the meantime, developing a more healthy, mindful relationship with my devices is a good idea. 

I’m going to use Mute for a few weeks and tell you how it goes. 

Our investment in Orbex

Our previously unannounced portfolio company Orbex came out of stealth yesterday with $40 million in private and public funding. Orbex is planning to launch orbital vehicles from the newly-announced UK Vertical Launch spaceport in Sutherland in the Scottish highlands. 

Orbex is a UK-based spaceflight company, with subsidiaries and production facilities in Denmark and Germany. The company is constructing a completely re-thought and re-designed orbital launch vehicle, called Prime, to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit. Prime launchers are up to 30% lighter and 20% more efficient than any other vehicle in the small launcher category, packing more power per cubic litre than many heavy launchers. Orbex staff members have professional backgrounds with NASA, ESA and several other commercial spaceflight organisations. 

We're delighted to be a small part of providing Europe with a small satellite launch capability. 

Croatia's president is Leslie Knope

The average blog post here gets maybe a hundred reads. Obviously it's targeted at a specific group of people - European founders - of which there are just a few thousand. 

But it's still funny that the most popular content I've put out in the last three months is:

It's not even original but poached from a Reddit comment. Oh well. Still love Parks & Rec, so any exposure I can give that show the better.