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Joe Lonsdale: American Optimist
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Joe Lonsdale: American Optimist

Author: Joe Lonsdale

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Ideas and dialectic on technology, policy & philosophy.
85 Episodes
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India’s tech ecosystem has hit an indisputable inflection point in recent years. For decades, American corporations outsourced basic services to India, while India outsourced its top talent to Silicon Valley. But today, India’s tech economy boasts homegrown software giants and a flourishing startup scene.This week, we get a front-row look into India’s startup evolution with one of its top talents: Sri Ganesan, Founder and CEO of Rocketlane. His first company, Konotor, was acquired into Freshworks, which went public in 2021 for $10 billion and became one of India's biggest wins. Now, Sri is building Rocketlane into a leading solution for SaaS deployment and professional services automation, with teams in the U.S. and India. By combining American know-how with Indian talent, Rocketlane represents an important dynamic for the future of tech and expanding key partnerships around the world. In this episode, we dive into the lessons learned from Freshworks's success and how it paved the way for greater entrepreneurial risk within India. We also explore Sri's journey in scaling Rocketlane, from finding product-market fit to positioning the company to take advantage of the AI wave. We discuss what India’s rise to become one of the world's most important economies means for the future of tech and global talent distribution, along with the cultural differences between India and the US, and what it's like building on two continents simultaneously. Finally, Sri guides us through the various tech hubs in India, from Mumbai to Bangalore and Chennai, even down to his favorite restaurant and must-visit destinations for anyone heading to India soon. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Every year, more than 20,000 Americans receive a bone marrow transplant — a Nobel prize-winning procedure that saves many lives but also carries great risk. For leukemia patients, it's a choice of last resort, as nearly 20% die from the transplant. Ivan Dimov, co-founder & CEO of Orca Bio, and his team have created a novel cell therapy alternative that has already saved over 400 lives in clinical trials with virtually zero rejection!This week, we dive into Ivan's journey, the science behind Orca's cancer breakthrough, and the potential of cell therapies to cure a host of other diseases.  By discovering new, high-precision methods to manipulate cells, Orca is able to provide leukemia patients with a designer immune system that attacks the cancer while nearly eliminating rejection. By safely rebooting the immune system, Ivan and his team believe Orca also has the potential to cure autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and impact the lives of millions of Americans.Orca is currently seeking the first-ever FDA approval in this space, and since it's a unique one-time curative therapy, they are also commercializing the drug in-house — a rare move in biopharma. Ivan walks us through the path to bringing Orca's products to market, from collaborating with regulators to negotiating with insurance companies and scaling up its manufacturing. Though many challenges remain, you'll see why we're incredibly bullish on Ivan's leadership and Orca's potential to transform the future of medicine. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
What are the forces behind the scenes that drive financial markets? How do bubbles form — and are we in one now? What do the world's best investors understand and how do they consistently come out ahead? This week we dive into global finance with one of the sharpest minds in macro investing: Whitney Baker, Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Totem Macro. Whitney previously worked at two of the world's leading investment firms, first in global macro & long/short strategies at Soros Fund Management and most recently as the Head of Emerging Markets at Bridgewater Associates. In this episode, Whitney lays out the principles behind macro investing and how credit flows, borrowing cycles, and monetary policy drive global finance. She traces our current-day situation back to the 1970s when President Nixon ditched the gold standard and opened trade with China. She explains how a new age of deficit spending combined with China entering the U.S. bond market paved the way for the dot com bubble, and ultimately where we are today. Whitney makes the case that inflation isn't going away soon and believes the Federal Reserve's actions over the past few decades have exacerbated inequality in America. Yet, despite these headwinds, Whitney believes technological progress can sustain the U.S. through these challenging times, so long as we set the right conditions for our best entrepreneurs to succeed. Thanks for reading! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and podcasts. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
U.S. e-commerce sales eclipsed $1 trillion last year and are expected to double or triple over the next decade. As online demand increases, how can small businesses compete with retail giants like Amazon and Walmart? What capabilities do they need? And can a new model help level the playing field? This week, we explore the future of logistics and e-commerce with Tyler Scriven, co-founder and CEO of Saltbox. Tyler was a star talent at Palantir for many years (his first job title was "Predictor and Crusher" on account of his ability to eliminate operational challenges) before applying his learnings to help entrepreneurs nationwide. He identified a key gap in the market: small businesses have great software tools, but need help in the physical world with supply chain and logistics to compete against large retailers with scale advantages. With a dozen locations in major metropolitan areas, Saltbox provides a unique co-warehousing model to elevate storage and shipping capabilities. In this episode, we discuss Tyler's most important lessons from Palantir and how to cultivate a mission-driven culture. We cover his entrepreneurial journey from Palantir to acquiring his own small business and discovering the logistical shortcomings that Saltbox is designed to solve. We also talk leadership lessons and Tyler's compelling perspective on "courage for normal people."  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Leonard Leo is one of the most effective agents of legal and cultural change in America today. What's his playbook?  How can we apply it to other broken areas of society?  And why should the technology world be especially interested in his work?In the mid-20th century, the U.S. judicial system took a sharp left turn, resulting in hyper-politicized courts, runaway bureaucracies, and many other distortions of our Constitutional system. Through his leadership of the Federalist Society, Leonard has led the charge to repair these broken institutions and, in the process, built arguably the most powerful legal network in the nation. He's been instrumental in the most important judicial elections and nominations of the past few decades. Leonard's wisdom is especially relevant for my friends in the effective accelerationism (e/acc) movement — or anyone who values technological progress.  Standing athwart innovation is the ever-expanding administrative state, and Leonard has spent decades fighting to rightsize government and restore the separation of powers. He explains why property rights, limited government, and decentralized power are the bulwark of innovation, and why technologists must also join the effort to rein in the regulatory state and defend these sacred Constitutional principles.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
What are the single most effective policies for helping the world's poor? And what are we doing right now that's ineffective and should be stopped? The answers may surprise you. In his latest book "Best Things First," Bjorn Lomborg reveals the 12 best solutions to address the most pressing global challenges. He gathered the world's top economists to analyze the policies that would do the most good for the least amount of money. It turns out the United Nations and others are getting it wrong — climate policies didn't make Bjorn's list! In 2015, the UN released its Sustainable Development Goals — a mere 169 promises to achieve by 2030! Yet as Bjorn explains, these are largely virtue signaling or ineffective vows the UN will never make good on. Instead of overpromising or obsessing over climate change, Bjorn says the evidence points to 12 clear and measurable policy solutions: eliminating tuberculosis, investing in education the right way, and establishing clear land rights, to name a few. Bjorn is the Founder and Director of the Copenhagen Consensus think tank and one of the world's most influential writers and thinkers. He's made a career challenging misguided narratives, especially on environmental issues, while fighting to restore sanity and fact-based policymaking. His arguments are a direct challenge to the alarmism and doomerism surrounding us today, which is why YouTube and others try to censor him!  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
By the summer of 2012, ride-sharing had arrived: Uber launched its everyman product, UberX, and Lyft debuted hot on its heels. Today, Lyft's market cap hovers around $5 billion while Uber's is north of $140 billion. How did Uber explode to global dominance? What was different about its culture? And how did it take on taxi cartels around the world and win? This week, we go behind the scenes with Emil Michael, one of Silicon Valley's great operators and dealmakers. As the former Chief Business Officer, Emil helped Uber raise a record $15 billion in two years and led its expansion into the most difficult markets, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. (Yes, Italy.)  Emil recounts his biggest wins and toughest challenges, including how the Italian mafia threatened to kill Uber employees and why to this day ride-sharing is almost nonexistent in Italy. Emil immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Egypt as a young child, and his success and character epitomize the American Dream. He graduated from Harvard, received his J.D. from Stanford Law, and began his entrepreneurial journey at TellMe, an early speech recognition company.  He quickly became known for his dealmaking skills, including transforming a $300 million acquisition offer into a $800 million deal with Steve Ballmer and Microsoft. After TellMe, he served as a White House fellow at the Pentagon and spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, before later joining Uber. We dive into his unique approach to high-stakes negotiations and lessons learned from his distinguished career.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Can investigative journalism prevail over sensational clickbait? Is it time to give up on San Francisco? Is the First Amendment sufficient to prevent the government from colluding with, or forcing, Big Tech to censor speech? This week, join us for a one-of-a-kind conversation with Mike Solana, Chief Marketing Officer at Founders Fund and Founder of Pirate Wires, one of the fastest-growing and most influential new media companies. Mike is a must-follow on X for his wit and unique insights, but also for the work he's doing to expose corruption and revive investigative reporting. Pirate Wires recently revealed how San Francisco taxpayers are being forced to fund the protests that shut down the Bay Bridge! We begin our discussion with the broken state of media, and why Mike believes a subscription model is the path to building a successful media outlet that isn't beholden to clickbait. Next, we discuss whether SF can be saved from the far Left and why we need better elites who don't blindly fund radical non-profits. We also cover several of Mike's seminal pieces of writing: the future of free speech when the government and Big Tech create a decentralized censorship regime, and how to revive our country's ability to build great, inspiring works. Can we restore competence in government or should we turn our energy and attention elsewhere? We discuss! This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
What is e/acc (effective accelerationism) and why is it going viral among tech's elite? Who are the leaders behind this movement and what are their ambitions? This week, we explore e/acc with one of its pioneers, Guillaume Verdon (aka @BasedBeffJezos), a theoretical physicist at the cutting edge of quantum computing and AI.  Guillaume worked under Sergey Brin as the quantum deep learning lead at Google X before launching a thermal computing startup called Extropic.  He started e/acc as a cultural counterforce to the degrowth and doomer movements that sow distrust of technology and seek to undermine the advancement of artificial intelligence and other emerging innovations. Fifty years ago, sci-fi was some of the most inspiring art in America.  It's no coincidence that it preceded the birth of the space and digital ages — the stories and narratives we tell ourselves as a society are the ones we tend to work toward.  Not surprisingly, as sci-fi took a dystopian turn in recent decades, society's view of technology and progress soured as well.  E/acc is the antidote; it aims to inspire a cultural, then technological, renaissance in the West.  While e/acc has gained popularity through viral memes on social media, it's also a cohesive framework designed to apply to the modern world.  In this episode, we discuss the first principles behind e/acc, steelman the arguments against it, and explore how it's compatible with religion and other ethical frameworks.  This is an important movement that resonates with us at American Optimist.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Who should be in charge of the culture of a company? How do you maintain a spirit of innovation as an organization scales? How can executives be transparent about their shortcomings while also improving as leaders? Scott Cook, the founder and former CEO of Intuit, has navigated these challenges himself while mentoring hundreds of other leaders on how to do the same. Scott is a legend of Silicon Valley. In 1983, he founded Intuit and pioneered consumer finance software, first with Quicken and later TurboTax, Quickbooks, and other products that quickly became household names. During the 8VC Leadership Summit, I sat down with Scott to discuss some of his most important lessons learned and advice to CEOs and founders. He begins with the responsibility of the CEO to set the company culture, and why leadership doesn't get to play by a different set of rules than its employees. He also explains how success can make organizations slow and stupid, and how to fight the forces of inertia. One way is by orienting decision-making around experimentation, not opinion or status, and he illustrates how Intuit learned to adopt this mindset. Finally, he advises CEOs to advertise their failures, not bury them, and seek out accountability and outside scrutiny from coaches and advisors. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
In the wake of October 7, the decadence and rot of our legacy universities have been on full display. We've seen feckless leadership from college presidents, moral cowardice from faculty, and, as a result, shocking displays of anti-Semitism unchallenged on campus. It's time to build anew. That's why we founded the University of Austin — America's first new top university in almost a century. And we are now accepting students for our inaugural class in the fall of 2024!  In this episode, three of UATX's founders — myself, UATX President Pano Kanelos, and world-renowned historian Niall Ferguson — discuss this critical moment for UATX, and the nation. We dive into what sets UATX apart: a constitution that safeguards freedom of inquiry and expression; a curriculum that combines the intellectual foundations of Western Civilization with real-world applications; and a faculty and support network made up of the world's leading scholars, writers, entrepreneurs, and builders. As Niall and Pano explain, we're training the Navy SEALs of the mind — the next generation of leaders who can reason, debate, build, and restore our republic to greatness. Right now, we're looking for our first 100 students. If you're a maverick and have what it takes to help us forge a new path in higher education, we encourage you to apply.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
The U.S. spends $280 billion annually on healthcare billing!  It's an irrationally complex and outdated system in which most claims are adjudicated manually, resulting in massive inefficiencies and bogus claim rejections. Why is it so broken? How do we fix it? And what would healthcare look like if it functioned properly? That's what I discuss with Nick Perry and Doug Proctor, co-founder & CEO and COO of Candid Health, respectively. Two talented Palantir alumni, Nick and Doug represent a trend I'm watching closely: leading technologists with a top culture, the right software, and new breakthroughs in machine learning taking on the most broken areas of our economy. In this episode, they explain the origins of Candid and how they first learned the billing process by hand in order to build the information architecture necessary to process myriad types of claims with extremely low denial rates.  At scale, Nick & Doug envision Candid as Stripe or Shopify for healthcare: the infrastructure layer that automates revenue cycle management and dramatically lowers the barrier to entry for new healthcare startups. And if we ever want the U.S. to move from its broken fee-for-service model to value-based care, we'll need platforms like Candid to enable that shift — another reason I'm bullish on Candid and the leaders behind it.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Secret police groups, illegal bio labs, and large-scale influence operations — China is engaged in these activities inside the United States today. How should we respond? Is economic divorce the answer? And are we destined for conflict, or is there a path toward peace and mutual prosperity? We discuss these pressing issues with Rep. Mike Gallagher, Congressman for Wisconsin's 8th District and Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A distinguished warrior-scholar, Chairman Gallagher served in the Marines and deployed to Iraq, earned two Master's degrees and a Ph.D., and now leads one of the most consequential committees in Congress. In this episode, he details some of the CCP's most nefarious activities within the U.S., and our government’s inadequate responses. We discuss the right strategy for addressing the CCP, including when and where economic decoupling makes sense. Chairman Gallagher also provides an update on new legislative efforts he believes will finally succeed at forcing a sale of TikTok, and he explains why China's economic woes and looming demographic crisis might make Xi Jinping more likely to take aggressive action. If you want to understand the extent of the CCP's malign actions and influence campaigns, follow the bipartisan work of Chairman Gallagher's committee. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Ten million students attend community college annually, but only 30% ever graduate!  It's a massive economic loss to students and society.  What if a new model could drastically increase completion rates while maintaining a high-quality education, and leave students with zero debt? That's what Tade Oyerinde is aiming to build with Campus, a new way to conduct community college. His approach is two-pronged: improve quality and increase completion rates. First, Campus is pioneering a gig economy for top adjunct professors. Recognizing that adjuncts at elite universities are often underpaid and drowning in debt, Campus offers them the opportunity to teach part-time online — a win for adjuncts and students alike. Next, they surround students with support designed to reduce attrition: tuition includes a laptop, wifi, and a personal coach, all at a cost less than the annual Pell Grant (currently $7,495). Campus also recently acquired a brick-and-mortar school in Sacramento that offers hands-on skills training for in-demand career tracks, such as medical coding and cosmetology. Instead of taking on large sums of debt to attend mediocre private schools, Tade believes community college is the smarter path for most students, and hopes Campus will be at the forefront of a new era in higher education. But it won't be easy. Learn about his journey to reinvent one of America's most entrenched and misaligned sectors.  This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
In the last generation, the U.S. technology sector created many of the most valuable companies in the world. Has Silicon Valley figured out a better way to build and scale a business? How did this cohort of outsiders — “geeks” — create cultures that continually redefine the limits of science and technology? And how can others, especially our government, learn from the very best organizations? These are the questions at the heart of best-selling author Andrew McAfee's new book "The Geek Way: The Radical Mindset that Drives Extraordinary Results." A principal research scientist at MIT, Andrew explores the geek mindset — an obsessive maverick, as he defines it — and explains how geeks developed a new management philosophy that permeates Amazon, Apple, SpaceX, Palantir, and other pioneering organizations. He breaks it down into four norms: speed, science, ownership, and openness, and details the principles behind each. He also explains why even the most successful companies are vulnerable to bureaucracy and sclerosis, and that human nature and status-seeking have something to do with it. Instead of fighting it, he describes how geeks have figured out a better way to align these innate tendencies with the mission of the company. I've bought copies of this book for all our CEOs, and hope you'll check it out too! This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
We've all seen the images — garbage patches twice the size of Texas accumulating in the Pacific Ocean. Yet nothing was being done, despite billions of dollars a year spent on environmental lawyers and bureaucrats. That is until a young engineer from Holland set out to do what bureaucrats couldn't — clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and stem the flow of plastic into the oceans. Boyan Slat is the Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, the most effective organization ever built to rid the oceans of pollution. They're already cleaning up an average of 750kg of trash each hour this year, and Boyan estimates their latest technology will eliminate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within 10 years! Moreover, Boyan and his team have also identified the top polluting rivers in the world and are building interceptors to prevent pollution from reaching the seas in the first place — all for a tiny fraction of other environmental spend. But it hasn't been easy. Boyan explains how they overcame numerous engineering challenges, as well as intense criticism and cynicism from media and activists hoping they would fail. Boyan's inspiring journey reflects the power of an innovation mindset, and the ability of a small group of highly-motivated builders to achieve what an entire class of experts and bureaucrats couldn't. I'm a supporter of Boyan's work and hope you'll consider supporting him as well. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Will high interest rates and inflation be the norm for the foreseeable future? Are we living through a 1970s redux? How should investors navigate these uncertain times?We discuss the volatile financial markets with Jacob Miller, co-founder of Opto Investments [an 8VC Build company] and head of its Advisory Practice. Jacob studied economics and classics at the University of Chicago and cut his teeth at Bridgewater Capital, the world's largest hedge fund. In this episode, he draws on historical parallels to explain why the U.S. is heading into a long-term debt cycle similar to the late 1970s, and why a prolonged period of readjustment is more likely than a major crash.He discusses the challenges investors face in the coming years, and why it's vital to find differentiated investments that can generate alpha. One area of opportunity is the private markets, but they have been historically difficult to access and navigate. Jacob explains how Opto is equipping wealth managers with a new tech-enabled platform to understand and invest in these markets with confidence. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Nearly half of all Americans don't have investment accounts.  Financial literacy is the exception, not the norm, in most households.  Is it no wonder that so many young Americans distrust capitalism and misunderstand wealth creation?‍Brad Gerstner is stepping up with a solution: a legislative program called Invest America that would create an investment account seeded with $1,000 from the Treasury Department for each of the 3.7 million children born every year in the U.S.  His aim is to educate the next generation on the merits of free markets and give every child a financial upside in American innovation. With nominal recurring contributions starting at birth, a child turning 30 today would have over $250,000 in an Invest America account!Brad is the Founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital, a firm he grew from less than $3 million in 2008 to billions of dollars in assets under management today.  A leading voice in Silicon Valley, Brad is a four-time founder with a knack for identifying major trends early, from Booking.com, Zillow, and Uber to Snowflake and Mongo.  In this episode, he provides his macro outlook on the economy and explains why he believes AI is the next big supercycle but also why being early in a cycle isn't always the right play. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
On the morning of October 7, Roni Eshel was stationed at a military base in Nahal Oz, not far from Gaza. The 19-year-old soldier was serving her second year of service in the Israel Defense Forces when Hamas stormed the base and set fire to the compound. Some soldiers escaped, some were killed, but Roni has not been found. Her family is desperately searching for her and fears the worst. Her uncle Elad Levy is speaking out in hopes of locating Roni and bringing awareness to the atrocities committed by Hamas. In recent days, we’ve seen shocking displays of pro-Hamas statements and demonstrations from student groups at "elite" universities, while many in the media cowardly display moral equivalence and fail to speak the truth about Hamas’ unspeakable actions. Elad hopes that out of this darkness comes a new moral clarity that will unite the free world behind Israel and make clear that Hamas will meet the same fate as the Nazis and ISIS: complete destruction. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
Bob McGrew is at the epicenter of the AI revolution.  As the VP of Research at OpenAI, he's instrumental in breakthroughs that are reshaping the world, from building GPT models and launching ChatGPT to overseeing the Dall-E project.  How was GPT-4 trained and what will GPT-5 look like? Why does ChatGPT respond with certain biases and how do they correct for that? What breakthrough led Bob to believe AGI could be achievable?Bob and I were in Phi Psi together at Stanford and both interned at PayPal in its early days.  We hired Bob as the second engineer at Palantir, where he built and shipped the first products for the intelligence community and went on to lead engineering and help run the company.  Bob joined OpenAI part-time in 2016 and full-time in 2017, where he's been at the forefront of AI innovation.  In this episode, we discuss the early days of Palantir, how he knew AI's moment had arrived, and the most important research projects underway at OpenAI.  We also look ahead to what GPT-8 could unlock for humanity and what's needed for Large Language Models to move beyond mimicking humans to higher forms of intelligence and creativity. This is a public episode. If you would like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit blog.joelonsdale.com
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Jan 16th
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