David Friedberg - The Production Board



David is the founder and CEO of The Production Board, a holding company that builds and invests in businesses that solve the most fundamental problems that affect our planet, by reimagining global systems of production; across food, agriculture, biomanufacturing, human health, and the broader life sciences.

Prior to The Production Board, he was the founder and CEO of The Climate Corporation which he sold for $1.1B dollars to Monsanto. Spanning his career, he has contributed to 32 patents.

On the fun side he is also the co-host of the All-in pod, the super popular podcast co-hosted together with David Sacks, Chamath Palihapatia, and Jason Calacanis where they talk all things science, markets, venture capital, and politics. Which I highly recommend you listen to.

During this episode, we discuss the founding story of The Climate Corporation and the exit to Monsanto, why as an entrepreneur you should always be biased towards action, and his deep optimism and his mission of reimagining earth.

Thanks a million to Jan Hammer from Index Ventures and Siraj Khaliq from Atomico for the input to this episode, very very much appreciated!

Please enjoy this geeky conversation with the Sultan of Science, David Albert Friedberg. As mentioned during the episode we are launching a private network and peer support group for tech CEOs. We already signed up some well-known tech CEOs from the ecosystem. The first gathering starts in June. If interested, sign up here.

Transcript - Edited for Clarity

Bias to action

[00:02:51] calin: I'm such a big fanboy as probably hundreds of thousands of people across the world. what I really like about you is that you have always managed to be very objective, and data-driven. Were you always very data-driven? And how do you balance data and intuition?

[00:03:08] Dave: I always tell people, one of my biggest predictors of entrepreneurial success is bias to action. Bias to action often means, once you have a sense of something that needs to change, you don't delay and you make the change.

Often, that means acting on limited information or limited data. I had a guy who led my data science team. He managed all our model development back in the day when machine learning was in its infancy. We called it data science. And before that we called it math and statistics. And this guy always said,

“You can never have too much data and you can never have too little data”

Any amount of data gives you more than none and gives you predictive capability. And the more data you get, the better your predictive capability gets. So, to your question, I think that there's some element of, what's your priority to act faster, to act. A lot of people, end up causing more harm by waiting for the latter, which is a acting perfectly.

And then you end up spending most of your time, whether it's in business or in life, analyzing and waiting for the right answer to get all the data you possibly could get, before making a decision. And the reality is that a bias to action can often be a bigger predictor of success then modeling the right outcome and making what feels like a safer decision.

I'm probably a high bias to action person, but I always wanna make sure I'm making, directional decisions with some degree of data.

[00:04:33] calin: Jeff Bezos said, you need to make the decision with, 60 or 70% of the data because if you wait until 100%, probably you are a little bit too late.

[00:04:42] Dave: A lot of people that have been quote unquote, traditionally successful people in their careers, they've been successful because they've done known things, where you do a thing, you know what the outcome is going to be and therefore you get that outcome and therefore you feel accomplished and you continue down that path.

The problem is that it keeps you from doing things that are unknowns, new things like entrepreneurism. And I've seen a lot of friends who worked at Google, for example, or pick any big tech company. They went to a good high school, they got a good degree, good grades.

They got into a good university. They got great grades at the university. They got a good job at the big tech company and they assumed that they were good and successful and that therefore they could go build a company and they could go be a successful entrepreneur. The problem with entrepreneurship, however, is that as you make decisions, you often, are wandering into the unknown.

It's not a known quantity what to do. It's not an a known decision, known path. So you then make a decision. you fail. And it's that feeling of failure that happens for the first time , where you're almost like drowning in a pool. You're, you're in this place where you don't know where you're supposed to go next.

And that's a very discomforting feeling for people that have been traditionally successful because everything has been a well-worn path and they know which steps to take. And that really speaks to the point about how much data is enough. I've seen friends, consultants, working at a firm like McKinsey and they're used to the data gathering analysis process and in many cases, there isn't enough data to give you that perfectly described path of where to go in entrepreneurism.

Then they gather all this data, they do all this analysis, and then they take a step and it doesn't take where they thought it was gonna take them, but they spent all this time gathering all this data and doing all this analysis, and then all of a sudden they feel like a failure and have some way to rationalize why they're gonna go do something else with their life or their career. That's been the biggest learning for people that have been through entrepreneurism in a successful way, meaning they found a path, they found a business, they've built a business that actually worked and had good unit economics and was scalable and had a great product, market fit initially and so on is, and then ultimately scaled it to becoming a platform and other things.

Those people had to at some point get comfortable with the fact that the next step they were taking was gonna be taken without all the data and all the analysis. And again, if you spend all your time doing data gathering and analysis, you run out of time. Cuz the thing about startups and the thing about life is there's limited time, and there's limited capital.

And burning away that time is a huge cost.

Embracing failure and cold calling

[00:07:21] calin: Do you remember the first time that you have failed?

[00:07:24] Dave: I mean I did a lot of great jobs growing that I think were always important for me. I would encourage anyone that wants to be an entrepreneur to make sure that you get experience cold calling. I don't know if you've ever cold called, but it's a similar sort of feeling where you're jumping into the unknown.

You don't know who's gonna pick up on the other side, you don't know what they're gonna say, and you don't know how you're gonna deal with that. That kind of training exercise of cold calling people and then managing the sale, trying to get them to do something or buy something over the phone, is a really important muscle to build.

Because it then plays out so much more importantly later in life, like making these tough decisions about where do I go into the unknown? Am I comfortable doing that? How do I sell to someone that I've never met before? How do I get a customer to buy a product? How do I get an employee to come and work here, or a team member to join me?

I had two cold-calling jobs in college. One was for Morgan Stanley for the brokerage office. I cold called college students to sell them on setting up brokerage accounts. I pitched them on high-interest rate, which are basically money market funds to get them to do it over having a checking account.

I was just the cold call guy. I got 10 bucks bounty for every person I signed up. I got to be number one in the country for new accounts to open that quarter. So I really pushed myself to get better at that. And then I worked for the alumni fund where you cold call alumni and you try and get them to donate to the college. I think those were really important. So then I went out, and I started my company.

Leaving Google (and money on the table) and fundraising seed for The Climate Corporation

I was 25 years old and I'm cold calling and going to conferences, trying to sell people on this crazy weather insurance idea I had, which was to buy insurance against the weather.

And so I would go to the National Golf Course Owners Association, or the Carwash Association or the ski Operators Association, like all these different conferences. And I would be on the front lines trying to sell customers and doing biz dev deals. I did priceline.com, another one with Syngenta, and it was always like, you go in and you have to go.

You don't know who, or how the message will be received. So this is a classic kind of salesmanship muscle but it is about failure because you're not gonna close everyone you meet. In fact, you're going to have very few closes and you have to keep going when you get knocked down.

And they say no, and they say no, and they say no, and they keep slamming doors in your face. You gotta keep going. I tried to raise money for my company, I was at Google, it was 2006. Neil Rimer from Index Ventures had given me a check for 250 grand or something like that to leave Google to start my company.

“But I needed to raise a couple of million dollars to get this thing funded and get it off the. So I quit Google. I quit my cushy job. I left all my stock options on the table, all my RSUs I'd been given. It was worth a couple of million dollars. And I was 25 years old back in 2005. So it was a big deal.”

…and I did it without being fully funded.

And Neil's like … you will see all the VCs in the valley. I had met two of 'em from Google's board meetings, Mike Moritz and John Doerr. So I emailed them and reached out and they both said no. And then Neil introduced me around and all the VCs I met said no. And I was like, well, shit, what do I do now?

So then I had to talk to all my buddies that I worked with at Google who made a bunch of money in the IPO and I got like a past the hat going and I raised like 2.2 million from friends and networking to other people that Neil had introduced me and that my friends introduced me to.

And finally, I cobbled together 2.2 million and that was the money that we used to start, WeatherBill. It was a failure from the get-go. It was rejection. It was, you can't do this, you shouldn't do this. And then I launched the thing in January of 2007 and I'm going to conferences and trade shows trying to sell the product.

And everyone's saying, no, no, no. And you know, it's easy to give up when everyone says no. It's like, what do I do? This was my great idea. I launched this thing. No one wants to buy it. Rather than take the no as this isn't gonna work, I took the no as this is what I gotta go change. And the bias to action was, let's go figure out what to change about the product.

Let's go figure out how to change the pitch, how to change the pricing, and how to change the payment schedule. We tried every iteration and eventually found all sorts of models that worked and eventually focused on agriculture and kept changing, kept changing, kept changing. And suddenly the thing really like took off in around 2010.

Then it was a really big shift in the business. I think the whole point was we were constantly failing and the iteration is what really drove, the business to success.

How the idea formed and finding a co-founder

[00:11:46] calin: I'm happy that you mentioned, Danny, I just had a chat with his colleague Jan, just before this and he said that you are just like an incredible visionary. To have the vision with WeatherBill back in 2005 is just incredible. So maybe you can tell us a little bit more about how did you come up with the idea? And then looking back, what kept you motivated?

[00:12:18] Dave: so there were two Observations. the first was I would drive past this place called the Bike Hut and it rents bicycles on the waterfront in San Francisco, right where I used to live. And I would drive past every day. When it was raining, the bike hut would close down, and they wouldn't rent bikes.

And I was like, oh, that's a pretty crappy business. Whether or not this guy makes money it depends on whether or not it rains. So that does not seem like a good company. I feel really bad for that guy. I wonder if there's a thing called weather insurance. And so I had that thought but it was always like a smoldering observation, right?

Nothing you really act on. Then I used to play a lot of poker, back in my late teens, and early twenties, and I'd be sitting at a card club in the Bay Area. And one day I was sitting at this one card table and this guy was a derivative trader.

And he started telling me about, how:

Enron came about because of the energy deregulation in the mid-nineties, I think it was ‘96. And then Enron created this massive market for trading energy and all the related infrastructure. and one of the things Enron pioneered was weather derivatives, where you could basically, buy a swap or derivative on temperature because the warmer it got, the more people turned their air conditioners on so the price of energy shot up, and the more cold it got, the more people turned their heaters on and the price of energy shot up. Enron had created this synthetic energy demand swap based on the weather. And they were well traded, but I said, why doesn't the weather derivatives market exist in all industries?

Cuz 70% of companies are affected by the weather. And so that was kind of the connection of the observation on the bike hut being shut down and there's this interesting financial instrument. And theoretically you could sell insurance on the weather. There's plenty of weather data feeds, you don't need to have a insurance claim, et cetera.

And then the third was I was a product manager on AdWords and I worked on the real-time auction system that places the ads on Google search results. And it was really like this incredible system for me to see how distributed computing enabled what would otherwise seem like very compute-intensive tasks to be resolved very immediately affordably from a compute perspective.

And I said, well, why don't we do that with weather data? And then we could simulate the weather and then we could let people have a website where they specify the weather events that would cause revenue loss, like a ski resort that shuts down when it's not enough snow or a golf course that shuts down when it rains.

They could type that in and then we give 'em a price instantly and they can buy it online. So that was the idea. I connected those three things and talked with an engineer at Google named Siraj, who's a partner at Atomico in Europe now. Siraj was an early engineer at Google. Been around forever, so I thought I could get him to leave and come and do this with me.

So we started to play with this. I wrote all the pricing scripts and R, Siraj wrote the R Java connector and wrote the server side stuff. We worked on the front end jointly, mocked this thing up, and used it as a demo to show to people. And that's how I ended up getting the thing going.

[00:15:03] Siraj: Hi, this is Siraj with a few words to add. So leaving Google with Dave to start WeatherBill. Funnily enough, that was basically a no-brainer for me. 2006 was actually still a terrible year for VC and Google was the place to be if you were in tech. But Dave, which is so damn compelling with his now or never reasoning, I was already predisposed to leaving. I'd moved the valley myself to start something, but I wasn't about to take that step with just about anyone. Now, Dave and I had been friends long enough that it was clear to me he was a person you'd want leading when things get rough, as they do just all the time in startups. First he was just unrelenting. VC's now call this grit. This is a guy who just doesn't give up. Then there was this quick mind just effortlessly extrapolating where the world is going, where there's a gap for a new product, and just as importantly, when to throw out something you've been doing and start again. His talent for selling, whether it's selling customers, investors, perspective, new joiners, inspiring the team over and over again as you need to do, could just say he was born, to start companies. Now that I'm a VC myself and I've worked with many capable founders, I'm still surprised by just how rare Dave's combination of skills is. Though it has to be said, I was pretty relieved when he stopped writing code. 🙂

[00:16:13] Dave: I don't know about being a visionary because ultimately that business became the predominant software platform for farmers and was bought by Monsanto in 2013. So I certainly had no vision or intention of doing that. I think the more app term instead of being a Visionary is a Persistent Iterator, that’s what I would call myself.

We found that farmers are such a great fit because they put their whole balance sheet on the line every year. The biggest driver for whether or not they make money is the weather and they operate on 10 to 20% margin, sometimes less. so it was a perfect fit for farmers and we figured out how to make it fit with existing products they were buying.

Selling to Monsanto and the birth of AgTech

[00:19:46] Calin: Persistent, iterator, I like that. Do you think you sold it too soon? Do you have any regrets about that?

[00:19:57] Dave: No. If you ask people who work in and around the industry, a lot of them call the acquisition of Climate by Monsanto a success because they paid $1.1 billion. It was a really big outcome for our investors, and more importantly, for the industry. So everyone paid attention to it, and suddenly it set off this land grab race, a strategic battle amongst all the players in agriculture. Because they woke up to the fact that software in agriculture is real and valuable, and they needed to find their place in this evolving market landscape. As farmers move away from gut instinct and intuition and start using data and analytics to make decisions, it has a profound effect on the ag inputs market – meaning what products they're buying, how they're buying them, and how they're using them. The role of all the players in the agricultural inputs ecosystem, such as the companies that make the seed and fertilizer, the retailers that service the farmers, the agronomists that support them, and the farm equipment companies, are all very worried about being commoditized. So, everyone started thinking about software and how to use it, aiming to own the farmer customer through their software platform. However, 99% of what was built is absolutely terrible. It's like hiring terrible consultants or some big company to build a software tool for you. The product sucked, but it caused a lot of money to start flowing around that transaction with Monsanto. As a result, a lot of venture investors started pouring money into what they called Ag Tech, and this whole Ag Tech ecosystem caught fire.

There had been one or two VC-backed exits, such as Granular, which I was involved in because we helped with the restructuring at the beginning. We took over the Soillab, and they took over this company called Solomon and rebranded it as Granular. We had a shared investor in Khosla Ventures. Then there was the company called Blue River, where I was also an investor with Jorge, and it was acquired by John Deere. But besides those two in the traditional digital world, those have been the two big outcomes. There's obviously a lot more going on in agriculture that doesn't get as much media attention – all the work in biologics, seed technology, and genomics, which have become digitized. Because of that, we see a tremendous amount of innovation happening on the biological side that doesn't get mainstream media attention but is really pushing agriculture forward.

Agriculture is like human civilization's first real technology endeavor, right? And it has always been technology-driven. If you just live off of what's on the Earth, you're not going to last very long. The precursor to modern humans was pretty much starving, running around on the savannah looking for food. Then, at some point, we figured out that we could engineer the Earth, plant things in the ground, and grow them for food. That was engineering. Then we started to breed plants and pick the bigger ones, which led to plant breeding as an engineering process. The tractor gave us incredible leverage over the land, and fertilizer allowed us to increase production significantly. So, if you go through the spectrum of what's happened in agriculture, much of what we take for granted today and dismiss as non-tech really is the original tech. Whether it's mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, or nowadays biochemical engineering or bioengineering, agriculture continues to be the tip of the spear in terms of the application of human engineering potential. Digital is just one aspect of that.

[00:23:41] Calin: I remember actually reading in "What Technology Wants" by Kevin Kelly, a beautiful explanation of technology, which is like you have biology, which is the logic of the bio, and then you have technology, which is the logic of something that is crafted. And to your point, I think, that the first technology we had came from agriculture.

The Production Board

[00:24:01] Calin: If we take a step back, tell us maybe a little bit about The Production Board. What's the mission, and how do you guys go about building a product and bringing a product to the market?

Dave: Yeah, so we're generally speaking an investor. We have a number of companies that we've run through what we call our Foundry program, and we're investors in them. So, we will often build a thesis around some evolution of one of the markets we operate in, whether it's food, agriculture, or human health. We increasingly do a lot more work in human health. Generally, this intersection of digital biology plays out not just in food and agriculture but also very deeply and meaningfully across human health and those markets.

We will then spend time, once we either read a paper, start meeting with engineers, or learn about some evolution in AI and think about the application of new technologies in AI to therapeutic drug discovery. Then we'll spend time trying to map out and identify how the markets will change, how the pharma companies will respond, or in the case of agriculture, how seed technology will change and how the input companies will respond. And then we will develop a thesis around what we think is possible. We will then invest against that thesis. So we'll either make an investment in an existing business, and we'll go out and meet with companies in that space, or we'll start a company, and we'll bring together a team, usually starting with the technical team and a founder, and start to build the business in-house. So we run this foundry program, and we'll typically be the sole or early backer of those foundry projects until we start to bring other investor partners into them.

Reimagine Earth and Deep Optimism

I would say, generally speaking, our mission is to reimagine Earth, and a lot of the stuff we've talked about fits into that. I think there's human potential that is always seemingly limitless. Our thesis and orientation are deeply optimistic. So, a lot of people talk about the climate crisis and the world ending and it's a cataclysmic resolution to humanity. But if you go back in history, we've had these sorts of conversations throughout human history, and there's always been some existential crisis that humans have been faced with.

I mean, we talked earlier about the ancestors of humans roaming the plains of the Savannah 200,000 years ago, not having any food. You better believe they were sitting there feeling like they were existentially threatened, and they had no food. And at some point, someone had to invent the solution of agriculture. And when that happened, humans had abundance at that moment. You know, imagine going from roaming the plains of the Savannah, eating berries off the ground and finding dead carcasses, to suddenly being able to materialize your own food from the ground. That was an incredible technology transformation for humans, and it brought humans in that moment to an era of extraordinary abundance.

That abundance did not even seem feasible prior to the realization of that technology event. The same was true, I would say, of the fertilizer crisis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All farms in Europe were fed by fertilizer harvested off the South American coasts and the Atacama Desert, and those fertilizer supplies ran dry. As they were running dry, the world thought we were going to run out of food again, and we were all going to die.

And then we had a population bomb in the mid-20th century, and we thought we were all going to die. And then, you know, the Black Plague in the 14th century, and then we developed medicines and solutions to resolve that, and suddenly these medicines could kill infections. In every one of these moments, we were faced with some existential threat. Human ingenuity prevailed, and post that human ingenuity moment, there was an era of abundance.

And I think that we're going through that moment right now where the technologies that I see from energy production, which is a big area that we're starting to spend more time in, to human health and therapeutics, where we now have this interestingly identified ability to rejuvenate cells and create what is a veritable fountain of youth, not to mention all the cell and gene therapies that are effectively going to eradicate most major diseases, to all the stuff we've talked about in agriculture.

And you look across the board, and you ask yourself, there's a portfolio of low likelihood but high-impact things that humans are working on today. If any one of these things actually works out, like fusion energy or the Yamanaka factor reprogramming of cells to make everyone youthful again, or I mean, you know, take the long list, it will feel like we will enter this era of abundance once again.

And so, our orientation is one of optimism. I don't feel existentially threatened as a human on this planet because I see the engineering and the technology that's being developed, and you know, there's a portfolio of now 70 fusion companies. If any one of them works, we have free, abundant energy for the world. Absolutely, it's really profound. So, that's my orientation: let's go find those and help accelerate them.

[00:28:46] Calin: Absolutely, I agree. And when I hear someone actually complaining about today or what's happening, like, can you imagine what people going through the plague would think about, or people 1,000 years ago? It's just crazy.

Choosing the area to build or invest —> 10 to 1

How do you choose the area to focus on and investigate with your team and how do you decide then to build a product?

[00:29:08] Dave: I think choosing the area is really a function of where we think there are advances that can enable 100x, orders of magnitude improvement in something. So you can look at some metric, whether it's the cost of production of proteins, the energy cost of production of proteins, let's say. Can we reduce the energy cost of beef from 30 to one? It takes 30 units of energy to make a unit of beef in terms of its energy equivalency. Can we go 10 to one or three to one or two to one? I think that's the stuff we're always looking out for. Are there therapeutics where the efficacy of those therapeutics can be 10x over the existing solution? Are there solutions in energy? Fusion is such a powerful example because, around the world today, in the industrialized world, the cost for electricity is roughly 11 cents a kilowatt-hour. If we can get that cost to 1 cent a kilowatt-hour, it doesn't just make the businesses more efficient that are consuming energy; it will completely transform the landscape of what businesses are possible because now electricity is so cheap. And so there's a 10x improvement in the cost of electricity. That's a tremendous advance. And there are certain tipping points, like if we can get the cost of energy down by 75%, scalable desalination works everywhere. And so we can turn ocean water into freshwater at the same price as groundwater today. So we just need a 4x improvement in energy prices, or a 75% reduction in energy prices. So those are the sorts of things we're always looking out for: where is this transformative potential? That's where we want to focus, not on the 10% better stuff or 20% better stuff. And from there, it's really about what emerging technologies we get from meeting with scientists, academics, researchers, or engineers, or we're reading papers internally, or our teams' efforts are around following a trail into the forest and finding something new that is just emerging. And then it's about the application of that capability into a market and really going deep. And often again, we'll meet with lots of companies to try and figure out what's going to happen here. And in those meetings, we'll find a company we want to invest in or will resolve to finding a team. If no one's maybe doing it the way we think it could be done, and we've got a great team to work on it, then we'll work with them to build it. So it's a little bit fluid at that point in terms of whether we go down this path, but more often than not, nowadays you find incredible teams working on great projects and they're very backable. And so we're increasingly doing a lot more kind of traditional venture investing across those opportunities.

When existential memory is failure

[00:31:30] Calin: Let's change gears a little bit and let's get personal. What was the most challenging period scaling the climate company, and how did you overcome it?

[00:31:39] Dave: Every day you feel like you're taking a step backward and one out of five days you take a five-step / a leap forward. So at the end of five days, you're one step ahead of where you were, but your existential memory is failure because 80% of the days you're taking one step backwards.

There was this one moment we would launch our new product. We sold 35 million worth of the product or something like that, total weather insurance thing in 2011, or so and then at the end of the year, we had a bunch of farmers complain and they would complain and say, the weather didn't match what happened on my farm. Your data is bad. I didn't get paid out, but I had a drought. I got paid out, but I lost yield. And so, the product didn't work as we had anticipated for a chunk of customers. And then they got pissed and they started talking badly about us. And then yet to deal with all of that, you have all these issues with market-facing stuff, with product stuff, and then with kind of internal team ops stuff. I mean, there's just no shortage of things to say that make things difficult. The hardest thing about agriculture is that you have a seasonal cycle, so you only get to sell once a year and then you don't know until the end of the year how it's going.

In a startup's lifespan, that's a lot of time, right? You've now burned through a year of capital and if you're only getting funded for two years, you just had one bite at the apple and you missed it. Now you're scrambling to survive. So that's what makes agriculture very hard, the iteration cycle isn't like a consumer app where you can do pushes every day and try new things out. You have a couple of weeks to sell and a couple of weeks to gather data, and then you're done.

[00:33:57] calin: What is the worst advice you have received during your career?

Know thyself

[00:34:00] Dave: At Climate when we were building the software side of the business because we saw how farmers were using our insurance products and valuing the software so deeply and how powerful it could be I was really convinced that building software for agriculture could work, should be the future and we should do that.

It was hard because we were scaling this insurance business and it was selling really well, and we had all of our operational issues, sales channel conflict problems, how do we market, how do we get farmers to retain, how do we retain our agents from last year?

Just all the typical stuff that goes on with scaling a business. And it took a lot of work and a lot of effort, but at the same time, we were spending time building the software thing and people were like:

“what are you doing? You're unfocused, you need to get the core thing working right? Go back to first principles, flush all the excess stuff.”

And that was the wrong advice because ultimately, my spidey intuition was that the software thing was the future and it's what we should be doing. And I was on the ground and I trusted myself and I disregarded what the investors had told me and vehemently told me I should do, which is like, stay focused on this thing. Don't make this investment, don't make this, don't spend this time on the software thing.

There is a scene in the movie, the Matrix, where Neo goes in to see the Oracle and she's got this thing on her kitchen that says,

“Know thyself”

And she's like,

“no one can tell you if you're the one except you.”

then she's like, okay,

“let me look at you.”

And then she looks at him and she's like,

“you're not the one.”

And then she kicks him out of the kitchen. He eats a cookie. it's a really great scene because it took him knowing himself and trusting himself and believing only in himself that he was the one, and that he would make this thing happen, that he could do all this amazing stuff like warp reality.

I think the same is true frankly in this kind of unknown realm of entrepreneurship where you're wandering around trying to build a business in an area that no one had ever done it before.

And the best entrepreneurs are willing and open and able to listen to all the advice around them and hear everyone and take it in, but ultimately can know themselves to make a decision and to reorient the business based on what they feel is the right thing to do. Not to just be told what their investors or their board's telling them to do, which can sometimes be a path to ruin.

Vinod Koshla said that most VCs add negative value, to a company cuz they feel like they have to give advice and then the advice they give is uninformed cuz they're not on the ground with the entrepreneur building.

So they're kind of being armchair quarterbacks, like the guy that sits at home watching football and he's telling the coach what to do. Founders Fund also takes a similar kind of hands-off approach and really trusts the entrepreneur to drive successful outcomes.

At the end of the day, if the founder isn't, doesn't know thyself, and can't make decisions themselves, you have a lower likelihood of success.

[00:37:41] calin: Know thyself! Love it. And the last question. If David from 20 years ago would listen to this episode what would you tell him?

Support and participate in the changing of the guards

[00:37:50] Dave: 20 years ago, what was I doing 20 years ago?

it was my first job outta college, right after that, I worked in banking and I was enamored with Silicon Valley and technology and what all these businesses were doing and building and it was so cool.

It was really affecting the real world. I mean, my degree was in astrophysics so it was to some degree theoretical looking out in the universe and predicting our place in the universe, very esoteric stuff.

And then being in Silicon Valley and meeting with lots of entrepreneurs, I spent a lot of time with these guys and it was so exciting. I wanted to do something like that. I wanted to be in the mix with what these guys were doing and building and affecting the world and it was energizing.

So I started spending my evenings learning how to code and I read books on PHP and MySQL and how to set set up a Linux server.

How to run Apache and I wrote my own scripts for running these payment gateways and I built this website called Kadanga, which was this Q&A site. I advertised it on AdWords and I got people to go to it. And then they paid with their credit cards to get people basically to do their homework for them and answer questions for them and do research projects for them.

And it made a little money, it worked, it was really cool but it wasn't gonna scale. I was aspiring to build something that was big and impactful and meaningful. But yeah, having gone through this I probably would've been disappointed in the scale.

Peter Tiel always says there's usually a 10 to a hundred X order of magnitude difference in the buyer or the seller, in terms of their outcome.

And it's hard for me to think if I did leave the a hundred x on the table? I always think about that. I don't know how my younger self would feel about my story.

[00:39:57] calin: Are you a little bit disappointed with what you've achieved?

[00:40:10] Dave: You know, we all have lofty ambitions and aspirations and dreams.Changing the world was the core motivator. There's so many problems in the world. I want to change 'em all and I wanna fix 'em all.

I wanna build these massive businesses that are just having incredible influence. So maybe to some degree, the company I built has had a decent influence and a good outcome, and it's used widely, but as I've gotten older, I’ve realized everything is in constant change. And so there is no absolute, you don't build a rock, and the rock stands there for all time. The wind and the water erode the rock. And I mean, you look at every great company. How many companies today existed a hundred years ago, 500 years ago? There's a few, but they're not substantial.

The great companies come and go, particularly in technology. Those that lead, and we can talk about this for, for an hour about why this is the case.

We're in a microbial consortia and the consortia, there may be some predominant species for a moment, but a few minutes later the species shift happens and there's new species that emerge.

And I think that enabling that change and that transition is kind of where I've resolved myself to be.

Which is

“how do I support and accelerate and participate in the changing of the guards?”

the constant changing in industry and in humanity that allows us, as a species to move forward that allows us to progress all that we're all gonna benefit from, rather than pick the one thing and be the one influencer that does all of that, and just resign oneself to the fact that this is a constantly kind of evolving set of things.

So yeah, I think that's the ego crush from childhood and from teenage years and college years, which is, there is no one big business or one big titan, or one big entrepreneurial outcome that succeeds above all others and wins the day and lasts forever. As a result I just want to continue to participate in that motion versus the static outcome.

[00:42:18] calin: You will be the organism that helps all the organisms, grow.

[00:42:24] Dave: I would be the feed stock 🙂