Extremism Beats Moderation

I’ve tried to learn a new language half a dozen times. I start a daily practice in Duolingo, buy a textbook online, listen to podcasts, and watch TV only in my target language. A few weeks later, I haven’t kept up with my routine and have learned next to nothing. What gives?

Conversely, the one time that I became fluent in a foreign language was when I studied abroad for a semester in Argentina. For the first few weeks, I was constantly frustrated. I was speaking only in Spanish in both my classes and in my homestay, so I wasn’t able to express the complexity of my thoughts. I felt like my brain was melting – each day I was exhausted from the cognitive load. But about a month in, something clicked. While I was still nowhere near the level of a native speaker, I found that I could communicate at a high level and succeed in college classes taught in Spanish.

Tango in Buenos Aires

Tango in Buenos Aires

True learning took immersion – throwing myself into the deep end of the pool and finding out if I would sink or swim.

Moderation is Overrated

This concept extends beyond language learning to many – perhaps all – areas of life. Paradoxically, when trying to establish a new habit, I’ve found that success comes when I am extreme, as opposed to moderate. Why might this be?

Firstly, it decreases cognitive load. It’s hard to “cut back on drinking”. What does that mean? Is another beer tonight acceptable if you don’t have any drinks tomorrow? You end up having to think hard about each and every situation.

It’s much easier to just have a rule: “I don’t drink.” Why aren’t you drinking tonight? “I don’t drink.” Is another beer acceptable? “No, I don’t drink.”

By establishing a rule up front, you remove all of the gray areas and challenges that you’re likely to encounter as you try to build a new habit.

Or say that you’re trying to exercise more. Just signing up for the gym and trying to fit it into your schedule isn’t going to cut it. There are only 24 hours in a day, so you’ll need to remove something from your life to make time to train. You need to schedule your workouts: mark them on the calendar and commit to being a person that always goes to LA Fitness at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then, you’re on autopilot; you don’t need to think about training.

Secondly, with extremism comes stakes. Being extreme necessarily means taking a public stance that you’ll do something and creates a real cost to not succeeding. If you’re building your startup on nights and weekends, you’re not going to have much time to spend with your friends. You’ll be far more motivated knowing all of the fun that you’re missing out on. Contrast this with the wantrepreneur who goes out with their friends and talks about starting a business, but never “has the time” to actually put in the work.1

In the previous example regarding exercise, you might have a friend meet you at the gym to train with you. This external accountability creates the higher stakes necessary for success. It’s harder to let down a friend than it is to cheat yourself.

Thirdly, the high level of intensity creates an activation energy that leads to habit formation. Activation energy is the minimum amount of energy required to start a chemical reaction. Interestingly, a lesser amount of energy is required to maintain the reaction. This concept extends to habit formation in our daily lives: it’s hard to get going, but things become much easier once in maintenance mode.

Putting It Together

I recently signed up to participate in a marathon.2 This presented a small problem, since I haven’t run more than two miles since I was in high school. As previously mentioned, I have the ideal physique for lucha libre.

So I hired a coach to give me a training regimen. This decreases the cognitive load – all I have to do is show up and complete the workouts. There are also stakes present. I need to log my sleep, diet, and training for my coach. Knowing that another person’s eyes will be on these numbers causes me to make better decisions when it comes to my health. And because I signed up for the marathon in a group, I know that I’ll be letting other people down if I’m not able to compete.

Ultimately, all of this gives me the activation energy required to establish a positive habit. I’m spiraling upwards – because I’m paying for coaching, I want to make the most of my money and train hard. To train hard, I need to be fresh for workouts. To be fresh for workouts, I need to clean up my diet and sleep hygiene.

Slacklining

Extreme, dude

One final consideration – outlier results come from outlier behavior. It is impossible to do it all; being extreme is part of the cost of greatness.

Building a successful company requires a rare intensity and work ethic. At TRM Labs, our cofounders are maniacally focused on building a best-in-class product and company. I saw the same thing when I was working at DoorDash – the CEO set a culture of working long hours, obsessing over the small details necessary to build the best customer experience, and holding employees to an incredibly high standard.

Similarly, pushing the bounds of athletic performance necessitates outlier behavior. One of my best friends is training with the USA National Bobsled Team. He’s perhaps the most naturally athletic person I’ve ever met. He also has a degree in Computer Science and could be working for a FAANG company. But in order to pursue the Olympic dream, he put his career on hold. He is away from his fiancée for most of the year, living in a dorm room in Lake Placid and training.

The societal default is mediocrity. To break away from mediocrity, you have to be extreme – to do what others refuse to do. If you’re not willing to be extreme in the pursuit of excellence, that’s completely fine. Often the sacrifices aren’t worth it. But don’t delude yourself into thinking you can have a two sigma outcome without two sigma behavior.


Notes:

  1. I’ve been guilty of this. 

  2. More accurately, I was peer-pressured into signing up, but that’s another story. 

Getting a Crypto Job

A year ago, I was ready for a change at work. A re-organization at my old company meant that I was spending about 6 hours per day in meetings, which drained me. In the wake of COVID, it was high time to heed my own advice:

Now is a great time to get a new job. With the labor market now untethered from your geographic locale, you can enjoy your current lifestyle while locking in the salary of a much higher cost-of-living city. The key is to do this soon – before companies start adjusting salaries for the cost of living where a given employee is located.

Work From Home

I drew up a list of what I’d like to accomplish in my next role:

  1. Have a large impact; solve important, complicated problems.
  2. Grow my technical skill set; spend time on heads-down execution, rather than in meetings and on process updates.
  3. Learn from incredibly smart coworkers. Specifically, learn how to scale a company from the seed stage (~$0 ARR) to $10M+ ARR and beyond, with the end goal of launching my own company 2-5 years down the line.

Let’s Talk Tactics

If I were to look for a job in the blockchain space today, I’d learn Solidity, launch a few dApps of my own, and join crypto project Discord servers as a way to dip my toes into the industry.

But last year I didn’t limit my job search to the crypto space. At the time, I didn’t even realize I could work in the crypto space! So here are a few tactics I used to find companies and jobs in the tech industry more broadly:

Ignore public job postings. Well, don’t actually ignore them. But they should be viewed as an indication that the company is hiring, rather than a comprehensive list of the roles it actually needs. Many early-stage companies find smart people and then write a job description for them, rather than publicly posting a job description for every open role. Similarly, you should view job requirements (particularly regarding work experience) as a mere suggestion. With 5 years of work experience, I could regularly get interviews for roles that “required” 7+ years.

Warm intros. I reached out to folks in my personal network for personal introductions to companies. Your university’s fellow alumni as well as first- and second-degree connections on LinkedIn are often happy to help.

Cold emails to founders. When the company is Series A or smaller (< ~25 people), the founders can be surprisingly responsive. To send a good cold email, you should:

  1. Find the right person. This is a decision-maker (i.e., someone who can actually hire you) in your area. At a company of this size, this will likely be the CTO for engineers and the CEO for everyone else.
  2. Keep it short. The person you’re emailing is busy. They don’t need your life story; a five-sentence email will suffice.
  3. Do your homework. Say something unique that draws you to the company. If you could send this email to several different companies, it’s not differentiated enough.
  4. Focus on the value that you’ll add. 90% of people who send these emails focus on themselves: their past experience, how much they’d learn at the company, etc. You want to highlight why the company needs you. In what ways are you uniquely qualified to help the company?

Early-stage startup boards. I found companies that were hiring on AngelList. Many startups don’t actively check their AngelList profiles, so it’s best to reach out directly once you find companies you’re interested in. Similarly, Work at a Startup, Y Combinator’s job board, is a great resource.

Through Work at a Startup, I ran across TRM Labs. On a whim, I shot off a note saying I’d be interested in a Data Science role. Here’s the exact message that I sent TRM to get an interview:1

Hey TRM Labs team! Reaching out because I’ve spent the past couple of years immersed in healthcare data – I’m drawn to working on a smaller team and getting closer to my academic roots in finance. Would love to chat!

Enter TRM Labs

Let’s take a step back. What is TRM Labs?

We are a blockchain intelligence company. We analyze blockchain data to help financial institutions and government entities detect financial crime and fight fraud in cryptocurrency transactions.

Our mission is to build a safer financial system for billions of people. We believe that:

  1. Crypto is poised for explosive growth.
  2. Risk management infrastructure is essential for that growth to occur.

Crypto

I had played around with crypto on and off since 2013, but never thought that I could make it my career. So I was happy to hear that TRM attracts a motley crew:

  • Brilliant data scientists and engineers – with or without a crypto background. We work with huge, complex datasets, and our data is the lifeblood of our product.
  • Former law enforcement agents who specialize in investigating financial crimes.
  • Folks in the financial compliance space.
  • Cryptocurrency enthusiasts who have been in working on decentralized projects for years.
  • Anyone who is humble, smart, and driven, who wants to solve big problems and build the future of finance.

But when I reached out, I didn’t know any of this. At the time, all that I knew was that TRM was a small startup with some good investors (YC, PayPal, Initialized Capital, etc.) operating in the crypto space.

Interview Process

My process started with a standard 30 minute phone screen with our CEO, Esteban. He gave me an overview of TRM, dug into my background, and asked what types of problems I’d like to solve in my next role.

From there, he sent me an “AoR” (Areas of Responsibility) document. This was a list of all of the potential workflows that were open areas of need at TRM. I indicated my level of ability and interest for each workflow, then got on a follow-up call with Esteban to discuss. I respected how thoughtful Esteban was about building not only a great product, but a great company, as well as his emphasis on finding a good role for me, given my skills and interests.

We mutually agreed that TRM would be a potential fit, so I was given a take-home challenge involving SQL, writing, and project planning/project management. This was extremely open-ended. I then had a 3-hour virtual onsite to discuss the results of my take-home challenge, as well as some additional technical and cultural interviews.

It was tough to get a read on my performance during the virtual onsite. I think that this is a function of not being in the same room as others and being able to read non-verbal cues. Frankly, I thought that I had bombed the Python portion of the interview. I don’t have a degree in CS – I’m self-taught technically and don’t code well under pressure.

Being on the other side of interviews now, I realize that at TRM we intentionally hire for strengths, as opposed to lack of weaknesses. So the other facets of the interview may have made up for my relative weak performance on the Python portion. (E.g., I was able to send across some writing samples from this very blog.)

My final-round interview was on a Friday. Esteban called me and gave a verbal offer first thing on Monday morning. I was impressed by the quick turnaround; as a candidate, this made me a lot more excited about the company and the role. I also appreciated that they offered an Amazon gift card as a token of appreciation for completing the take-home challenge. These take-home challenges can be a substantial time investment for candidates, so the fact that TRM recognized this exemplified that this is a company that cares about its people.

Due Diligence

After getting an offer from TRM, I had some follow-up questions to ensure that the company and role would be a good fit for me. I knew that joining as one of the first 15 employees of a seed-stage, remote startup meant that culture would be extremely important.

Esteban lined up some follow-up casual one-on-one meetings with various team members for me so that I could get a sense of what working at TRM would look like. He also got on the phone with me for about an hour to discuss all of the questions that I had.

Beyond that, two things in particular pushed me over the edge:

  1. The cocktail party test. If you were at a cocktail party, how excited would you be to discuss your current job? In my former role, if I was looking to get out of a conversation, I’d say that I was working for an “insurance company”, and if I wanted to continue the conversation, I’d say that I worked at a “healthcare startup”. With a job at TRM, I could tell people that I worked in crypto at a blockchain analytics company. That’s something that I’d be excited to talk about!
  2. Backchannel references. I reached out on LinkedIn to a few former employees of TRM, to chat about their experience at the company and why they left. I thought this would give me a more honest assessment of the company, compared to the point of view of current employees who were actively trying to recruit me. One of the people I reached out to was effusive in his praise of TRM. I’ll quote him directly:

    WOW this is an excellent strategy that I’m going to do for all my next jobs (reaching out to former employees). So, in short, TRM is a one in a million startup. The biggest names in crypto and fintech as clients, an incredible CEO, and a world class technical team. The primary reason I left was because I got an opportunity to more or less found a startup with a really good friend of mine that I’ve known for years. Even on my way out, everyone in the company wished me well and even got me a going away gift.

At that point, my decision was made. I negotiated my offer with Esteban and signed on to start working at TRM two weeks later.

One Year Later

Almost a year into my time at TRM, I can say that this was a great decision for me.

The crypto space is extremely exciting right now, and TRM is capitalizing on the trend of institutional adoption of crypto. We ship new product features extremely quickly and are growing our customer base.

I joined DoorDash as employee ~200 in 2016. The explosive growth that we’re experiencing at TRM is reminiscent of my time at DoorDash. Over the past year, we’ve gone from a dozen to over 40 employees. By this time next year, we’ll have over 100. Each new hire raises the bar for us as a company. In general, I rarely walk away from a conversation thinking “Wow, that person is really smart.” That happens to me regularly at TRM. I know that I need to bring my A-game every day at work.

We have employees all over the world and have embraced the remote work model. Long-term, we’ll likely have some offices in hub cities, with the opportunity to work from the office or remotely, depending on employee preference. We’ll also conduct off-sites a few times per year to get together in person and collaborate.

Because of this remote culture, we place a large emphasis on written communication. We document our thoughts and processes, and challenge each others’ thinking asynchronously, meaning I spend on average just 5 hours per week in meetings.

This remote environment has also given me a great deal of flexibility, given TRM is an early-stage startup. I largely set my own calendar and have been able to do things like go to the gym in the middle of the day. That’s not to say that we don’t work hard – the other side of the coin is that I’ve been on calls at 3 a.m. when we need to push out a new feature or report for our customers.

My day-to-day consists of varied tasks, as you’d expect at a startup. Some examples:

  • Analyzing illicit activity in the cryptocurrency ecosystem, then delivering the results of this analysis to regulatory agencies.
  • Building internal tools that help scale the work of Blockchain Intelligence Analysts and the Machine Learning team.
  • Defining the methodology for calculating the exposure to a given counterparty on UTXO blockchains.
  • Standing up or modifying an Airflow pipeline.
  • Meeting with clients; implementing custom reports for them based on datasets and on-chain data.
  • Extracting insights from our data to inform our product strategy.
  • Jumping into a sales meeting to highlight TRM’s analytic capabilities.
  • Designing a Data Science interview process to grow our team.
  • Writing this blog post.

Various Tasks

I’ve encountered a ton of autonomy at TRM. There is more than enough work to go around, so it is up to you to prioritize your work to make the maximum impact. We are a flat organization that places a lot of emphasis on being a “humble master of your craft”. We ship surprisingly quickly, communicate openly, and take full ownership of outcomes – whether a presentation to a regulatory agency or a last-minute client request.

I started this post by saying that one of my goals was to find a role where I could learn how to scale a company, before starting my own. I think I’ve found a great place to do that. I’m optimistic that TRM will be the last job that I ever have – but there’s a lot of work to do here first.

Interested in solving hard problems with us to make the financial system safer? Join us!


Notes:

  1. I don’t follow all of my advice regarding cold emails here…this wasn’t the ideal message, but it got the job done. 

Stop Feeding the Dragon

If cars were invented today, they would be illegal.

We give 16-year-olds minimal training, then entrust them with the control of a 3,000 lb. weapon for the rest of their lives.1 You can be an awful driver, but even if you get into an accident, your license will rarely be taken away.

Over 100 people per day die in car crashes in the U.S. This is the leading cause of death for people aged 1-54. Each year, an additional 4.4 million people are injured badly enough to need medical attention, costing over $380 million in direct medical costs.

You are 750 times likelier to die in a car accident than on a commercial airline flight. Similarly, buses and trains are far safer than driving a car.

Car accident

If cars had not been invented, and we had designed 20th century cities around people, rather than the automobile, we’d have a robust public transportation network that would all but eliminate the need for cars, at least in cities and suburbs (see Japan). Even today, an auto-piloted Tesla is 9x safer than a human driver in a normal car. We should arguably drive cars the same way that pilots fly airplanes – with a bit of manual intervention when necessary, but otherwise letting a computer do the work.

So why do we still allow driving?

Defaults Define Us

Status quo bias is one of the most pernicious insensibilities that permeates our collective consciousness. In short, we have an emotional preference for the current state of affairs.

It is nearly impossible to contest the societal inertia around what already exists. But if you examine some of our cultural practices from first principles, they begin to appear more and more nonsensical. Some pertinent examples:

  1. Alcohol. Drinking is quite literally poisoning yourself. It is completely socially acceptable to have a few drinks after work, but this widespread usage leads to widespread abuse. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs out there: it has high potential for addiction and long-term adverse health affects.

  2. Circumcision. We (rightfully) view female circumcision as barbaric. Even our language surrounding the practice – female genital mutilation – suggests this. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to males?

  3. Libraries. The government buys books, then lends them out for free to the public. If you proposed this idea today you’d be laughed out of the room and then sued to death by publishing companies.

  4. Football. Football is a brutal sport. I made my best friends playing football, gained confidence, learned countless life lessons…but I still wouldn’t let my future children play the game because of the risk of brain injury. A few months ago, I had a conversation with a former teammate where we wondered if there have been long-term negative cognitive effects.2 And I stopped playing at 19 – I can’t imagine the cumulative effects of years playing in the NFL. How many suicides from former football players are we willing to tolerate?

  5. Cheerleading. We sexualize pubescent girls by having them dance on the sidelines of high school sports games. In the most charitable interpretation, this is a bit…odd.3 See also: beauty pageants.

  6. Cigarettes. This is an interesting example, because the Overton window has shifted – we were able to overcome the societal inertia, and smoking is now a marginalized activity. This proves that overcoming status quo bias is difficult, but possible.

  7. Organized religion. Most people practice the religion they were born into: religious conversion rates are low, suggesting that the social switching costs from the religion of one’s birth are high. Many religious practices, while culturally significant, are not exactly logical.4

  8. Factory farming. The amount of suffering that we impose on sentient beings will make us seem barbaric in 200 years. I don’t have a strong rational defense of eating meat, much less factory farming.

  9. The U.S. Constitution. Our Constitution and the Founding Fathers are revered with religious zeal. The United States has the oldest continually operative written constitution in the world. But shouldn’t it have been updated more often in the past 234 years? We wouldn’t want our doctors using the oldest extant medical textbook, or our aerospace engineers using the oldest viable technology to build rockets.

Kant Betray Us

In confronting status quo bias, utilitarianism thrives compared to deontology. Utilitarianism claims that creating more happiness is just as good as preventing suffering.

The Room

Consider the trolley problem. A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks. Tied to the tracks in front of it are five people. If the trolley continues, it will undoubtedly run them over and kill them.

But wait! You’re standing next to a lever. If you pull the lever, you can divert the trolley to a different track, where only one person is tied to the tracks. What do you do?

If you do nothing, five people die. But if you pull the lever, one person dies. Utilitarians would pull the lever – the suffering of one person is less than the suffering of five. But deontologists would not, because they have an ethical duty to not kill people.

But not making a choice is itself a choice! Choosing inaction by default, rather than reason – tacitly endorsing the current state of affairs – demonstrates an incoherently fatalistic worldview.

Societally, we are faced with the trolley problem every day. And because we don’t make the difficult ethical decision to pull the lever, we default to the status quo and do nothing. Ex post facto, we all pat ourselves on the back for being good deontologists, while through our inaction we increase the amount of suffering in the world.

But what about Chesterton’s Fence? There must be some benefit for doing things the way that we do them.

I’m not so sure. Societal forces build up incrementally over time, as individual actors respond to the incentives present in their current circumstances. See Moloch.

Or, as Scott Alexander recently put it in a post regarding the effects of missing school in the wake of COVID:

Eliezer Yudkowsky tells a parable about a society where people hit themselves on the head with a baseball bat eight hours a day for some reason. Maybe they believe it drives out demons or something. Then they learn that it does not, in fact, drive out demons. But everyone has great reasons why they need to keep doing it.

“It’s a great way to increase your pain tolerance so that the little things in life don’t bother you as much.”

“It builds character!”

“Every hour you’re hitting yourself on the head with a bat is an hour you’re not out on the street, doing drugs and committing crime.”

“It increases the demand for bats, which stimulates the lumber industry, which means we’ll have surplus lumber available in case of a disaster.”

“It improves strength and hand-eye coordination.”

“It may not literally drive out demons, but it’s a powerful social reminder of our shared commitment for demons to be driven out.”

“It’s one of the few things that everyone, rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, all do together, which means it crosses boundaries and builds a shared identity.”

“It binds us to our forefathers, who hit their own heads with bats eight hours a day.”

“If we stopped forcing everyone to do it, better-informed rich people would probably be the first to abandon the practice. And then they would have fewer concussions than poor people, which would promote inequality.”

“It creates jobs for bat-makers, bat-sellers, and the overseers who watch us to make sure we bang for a full eight hours.”

“Sometimes people collapse of exhaustion after only six hours, and that’s the first sign that they have a serious disease, and then they’re able to get diagnosed and treated. If we didn’t make them bang bats into their heads for eight hours, it would take much longer to catch their condition.”

“Chesterton’s fence!”

None of these are false per se. Banging a bat against your head for eight hours a day does have lots of advantages. They’re just not advantages that would cause us to want to take up the practice if we weren’t already used to it.

With any of the examples above, I can build arguments that rationalize the behavior. Alcohol leads to social mingling that we wouldn’t have otherwise, football teaches teamwork, we need to circumcise our sons so that they aren’t embarrassed in the locker room. But that doesn’t mean that these we should engage in these activities. We should constantly be re-examining our assumptions from first principles.

For example, we are far too risk-averse when it comes to testing medicines. The Moderna COVID vaccine was ready in February 2020. It took another 10 months for it to get FDA emergency use authorization. This is just the most conspicuous example of a problem endemic in life sciences.

Extend this to any technological improvement that can prevent human suffering. Nick Bostrom tells The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant:

There was once a dragon that terrorized the planet. It was so powerful that humans could not hope to defeat it. So humanity reached a state of dreadful detente – they would send 10,000 human beings to be eaten by the dragon each day. This went on for as long as anyone could remember, so that a mythology arose around it:

Spiritual men sought to comfort those who were afraid of being eaten by the dragon (which included almost everyone, although many denied it in public) by promising another life after death, a life that would be free from the dragon-scourge. Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach. Others still maintained that the dragon was good for the human species because it kept the population size down. To what extent these arguments convinced the worried souls is not known. Most people tried to cope by not thinking about the grim end that awaited them.

Dragon

Over time, the dragon’s appetite grew and grew. Entire industries and professions sprung up around the dragon: dragonologists to study it, operations experts focused on feeding it most efficiently, finance professionals to set the dragon-administration budget. The dragon became an accepted fact of life; bureaucrats focused on managing the existence of it, rather than slaying it.

A group of scientists who studied the dragon argued that he could be defeated. It would take time, money, and a lot of hard work, but it could be done. At first, the people wrote them off as crazies. Everyone knew that the dragon was simply a fact of life to be accepted. In fact, it was being eaten by the dragon that gave life meaning – to be human meant living a finite life to the fullest, before ending up in the belly of the beast.

In the end, despite this philosophical reprehension, the dragon was defeated. But not before he caused immeasurable suffering.

This parable is used as an argument for allocating resources to life-extending technologies. But beyond that, we continue to feed large and small dragons each day: all of the suffering that we allow simply because that’s the way things are.

Each day that we don’t act, we continue to feed these dragons. Time is of the essence.


Notes:

  1. Cars are often used in terrorist attacks

  2. With a N of 1, I’m not sure if I’ll ever know the magnitude of the effects on my brain. But I don’t think anyone can say that nine years of tackling people and seeing stars during games helped my brain development. 

  3. Cheerleading has very high participation prices, because the industry is a monopoly. Additionally, I originally wanted to include a point about the large number of injuries in cheerleading, but that may be a misleading narrative

  4. A religion is just a cult that has gathered mainstream acceptance over time. 

You're Not Too Late

When you’re a very online person, it’s easy to think that you’ve missed the bus.

I often think that the blog post I want to write has already been written. That I can’t make money investing in a company – the stock has already gone up 10x and I didn’t get in early enough. That I missed out on gigantic crypto gains.

So on a daily basis, I try to remind myself: You’re still early.

Didn't miss the bus

Hiding in Plain Sight

In the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, Forrest finds out that his business partner “invested in some sort of fruit company” and that they “didn’t have to worry about money anymore”. That company was, of course, Apple.

The implication is that Apple was a great investment prior to 1994. However, if you put money into Apple stock the day that the movie was released, you would have returned 640x on your investment (27% per year).1 Apple has tripled in market cap in the past three years alone! And this is a stock tip found in one of the most iconic movies of the past 30 years, one that won the Best Picture Oscar.

Zoom out on an exponential curve and it still has the same shape. But your y-values (i.e., what you care about) will have changed dramatically.

The Bus Is Parked

Working within crypto over the past year, I’ve been exposed to tons of new, exciting concepts:

  • Decentralized exchanges
  • Zero-knowledge proofs
  • NFTs
  • DAOs
  • Yield farming
  • Perpetual swaps
  • Etc.

If you recognize (recognize – you don’t even need to be able to define) one of those words, you’re early to crypto.2 It’s easy to think that the innovation has already taken place, but the space is just 12 years old. Even the current king of crypto (or, if you prefer, the “Prince of Risk”), Sam Bankman-Fried, only began working in crypto in 2017.3

Recently, I’ve been following the explosion in the NFT space, wondering if it’s too late for me to get involved. Let’s take a look at some numbers:

And some comparables for market sizing:

We’re still really early on! There is a ton of growth potential for NFTs across a few axes:

  1. Existing crypto users
  2. Art collectors
  3. Asset traders
  4. Gamers

You don’t need to be first to see a trend to capitalize on it. Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Google wasn’t the first search engine. Coinbase and FTX weren’t the first crypto exchanges.

So no, the bus hasn’t left the station. Hell, the bus isn’t even in the station yet – it’s in the parking lot waiting for the driver to start his shift.


Notes:

This blog post is NOT investment advice. Do your own due diligence.

  1. $148.60 close price on August 27, 2021 compared to pre-split share price of $.233 on July 6, 1994. 

  2. Relevant thread, and some of the inspiration for this post, found here

  3. I’m sure he was trading on the side before this, but we’ll use him founding Alameda Research as the official start date. 

  4. I’d argue that the NFT market has much larger potential, given lower barriers to entry and the potential size of the metaverse compared to tracked art sales, but this is still a relevant number. 

Up in the Air

Most people hate flying. And they’re right – air travel largely sucks. You’re jammed into a tiny space, treated like a head of cattle, essentially just riding a bus in the sky.

That may all be true. But it’s also true that planes are my happy place. Up in the air, I’m free.1

Flying

I spent several years taking 50+ flights per year, both for work and pleasure. Leaving is always crazy: do laundry, then pack my clothes, make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.2 But once I get to the airport, all of that changes.

Little perks make flying alone as stress-free as possible. Airline status. TSA PreCheck. Lounge access. You can play the credit card game to get these benefits for free.

Walk to the gate just before they close the door to the flight. (Of course you want to maximize lounge time.) And you don’t want to be trapped in that metal tube with the masses for any longer than necessary.

The real magic occurs once we’re airborne, though. I have no WiFi, no communication with the outside world. I’m untouchable.

I get my best work done on airplanes. I can actually focus on writing.3 I have the willpower to sit down and read a book without checking Twitter. I’ll become engrossed in a movie.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve felt my attention span drastically shortening. The inside of an airplane is one of the last refuges from distracting interconnectivity. Much of modern-day knowledge work is simply being a human router. But our best work requires deep focus and solitude; flights provide that environment, allowing us to execute.

Cal Newport describes this phenomenon in his book, Deep Work:

As a popular speaker, Shankman spends much of his time flying. He eventually realized that thirty thousand feet was an ideal environment for him to focus. As he explained in a blog post, “Locked in a seat with nothing in front of me, nothing to distract me, nothing to set off my ‘Ooh! Shiny!’ DNA, I have nothing to do but be at one with my thoughts.” It was sometime after this realization that Shankman signed a book contract that gave him only two weeks to finish the entire manuscript. Meeting this deadline would require incredible concentration. To achieve this state, Shankman did something unconventional. He booked a round-trip business-class ticket to Tokyo. He wrote during the whole flight to Japan, drank an espresso in the business class lounge once he arrived in Japan, then turned around and flew back, once again writing the whole way—arriving back in the States only thirty hours after he first left with a completed manuscript now in hand. “The trip cost $4,000 and was worth every penny,” he explained.

I’m missing those long solo flights. I’ll use my miles for a round-trip to Japan once I get a book deal. 😛


Notes:

  1. Obvious reference to the movie Up in the Air. I’m not sure why it was so celebrated by frequent fliers, though. It’s a good movie, but it doesn’t extol travel so much as abase it. 

  2. Back when I lived in New York, before departure I’d also clean my apartment to prepare it for Airbnb guests. I’m still mad at that guy who stole my shoes. 

  3. Coding can be tough without the internet, though.