This “teacher’s reference guide” distills what I thought were some of Chirs Dixon’s more interesting blog posts and ideas. Don’t take my word for it, I’ve put together a complete compilation of his blog posts below that is well worth your time.
Chris Dixon first started a company called SiteAdvisor that helped users understand the safety and reputation of websites by testing the sites to find malware and spam. McAfee eventually bought it. His next venture was Hunch, a site that built a collective intelligence recommendation system, that was eventually acquired by eBay. Chris is now a partner at a16z, the “CAA” of venture capital.
Some of my key takeaways were around cryptocurrency (it allows computers to make commitments, amongst many other things, of course), the next paradigm shift will start off looking like a toy/hobby (what the richest and smartest do for fun on the weekends is what the mainstream will do in 10 years), and more related to network effects, startups, and venture capital.
I spent this past month reading Bill Gurley’s fantastic posts on Above the Crowd.
Bill has been blogging since 1996 and it was fascinating to look back through time and see his thinking and thought process over these past 25 years, specifically as it applies to technology and consumer internet companies. The link at the bottom of the page is a compilation of all his posts and my favorite were: The Most Powerful Internet Metric of All, The Smartest Price War Ever, All Revenue is Not Created Equal, and The Thing I Love Most About Uber.
- The story and scandal of Theranos, the once multi-billion dollar startup which promised to revolutionize the medical industry by making blood tests quick, affordable, and available everywhere. Holmes promised the world but is now in the midst of lawsuits claiming fraud and deceit
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- Holmes was evangelical in her mission to revolutionize blood testing but her knowledge about science and medicine was weak. She was able to convince investors, employees, customers, and partners that Theranos would eventually have the capabilities needed to revolutionize the blood testing industry do so but her ambition got the better of her. She ended up having to lie and deceive everyone involved to keep the company going. Elizabeth was wildly ambitious since she was a child and idolized Steve Jobs and his impact on the world.
- People are more lemming-like than they would like to admit. Dozens of very intelligent people were mesmerized by Holmes’ charisma, ambition to change the world, and intellect. They wanted her to succeed so badly and help the world (and get rich too) that they ignored blatant signs and warnings that things were off. Be careful of what your biases are and what you are too emotionally attached to. They can blind you and make you irrational if they’re not kept in check
- Few people truly do the difficult work necessary to understand things. In this case, people saw Theranos’ Board of Directors such as General Mattis, Henry Kissinger, famous lawyer David Boies, George Schultz, and others and assumed that their involvement was a stamp of legitimacy. At its height, Theranos reached a valuation of over $9 billion which made Holmes’ stake worth nearly $5 billion
- Amazing to see how outright lies, deceptive marketing, and hiding of information still didn’t keep people from investing and going all in on Theranos. It was clear to many both inside and outside the company that their claims and projections were wildly overblown but when greed, envy, FOMO, and a desire to change the world overlap, you get extreme behavior (lollapalooza effects)
- Tyler Schultz, grandson of Board Member George Schultz, started at Theranos full time after graduating from Stanford. Not long after starting, he realized that not all was right. He asked questions and wanted to quit but his grandfather urged him to stay a little longer. He did eventually quit and was a key resource in exposing the details. His family spent over $400k just in legal fees but his courage allowed for the word to spread and potentially saved many lives since Theranos was in the process of rolling out their mini-labs to partners such as Walgreens and Safe Way.
- She may not have set out to defraud investors or injure patients, but her blind desire to be the next Steve Jobs and to revolutionize the world made her susceptible to cut corners, lie, manipulate others, and do whatever it took to try to make Theranos successful.
What I got out of it
- Extremes in outcome, good or bad, often instruct best (Munger). This is definitely the case here. Holmes and Sunny Balwani ran an oppressive, secretive, bullying, fear-based, and dictatorial company which fired or marginalized anyone who wasn’t blindly committed. They promised the world but ended with lawsuits Beware of what your biases are and what you are very emotionally attached to. They lead to blindspots which can cause mistakes