[originally published March 7th, 2021]
One of the favorite past times of tech twitter during the pandemic has been predicting the next Silicon Valley.
Austin, with its natural beauty, weird-chill vibe, flagship university, killer BBQ, and long history of technology companies is an obvious choice. Francis Suarez, with the hustle of a direct-to-consumer CBD salesman and the political savvy of a future president, has been miraculously tweeting Miami into existence as a tech hub. And, of course, you can never count out San Francisco to be the next San Francisco.
[originally published March 3rd, 2021]
Last Wednesday at 4:00am, bleary-eyed and freshly caffeinated, I watched in awe as a dozen people, many who had never met before, descended on my property and worked together to build something that may be there for hundreds of years.
We are building a new Creator Cabin and I've been getting a crash-course in construction. I'm learning a lot about the invisible physical infrastructure that surrounds us: electric lines, plumbing, septic systems. I'm also learning about the construction industry, which I think is a compelling operating model for the future of work. That's because the future of work is the gig, and construction is the original gig economy.
I want to build a house, so I hired a contractor to build a foundation for it to sit on. He then turned around and hired subcontractors: one to bring trucks of concrete to the site, another to pump the concrete into the forms, a third to build the forms and shape the concrete into a foundation. There may have been more companies involved, I don't even know. All I know is that I hired a guy to deliver a completed foundation and he handled it from there.
[originally published August 21st, 2020]
Kevin Kelly described one of the first paths to becoming an independent creator employed by the internet in his classic essay 1,000 True Fans:
To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.
I believe Kelly's prediction of an internet of indie creators, now 12 years old, is just hitting its stride. It's one of those cases where enough positive forces combine simultaneously to create something extraordinary:
[originally published July 13th, 2020]
I signed up for David Perell’s Write of Passage class expecting two things: (1) some tips and tricks for online writing and (2) weekly homework assignments that would hold me accountable to start producing content. In short, I was looking for a traditional school experience. So far, that’s been about 10% of the value of the course.
I was surprised to find that the other 90% hasn’t come directly from David—it has come from other members of the class. As we’ve engaged in small group video chats and commented on each other’s drafts and started interest groups on Circle, a Facebook-like tool designed for this very purpose, it’s become increasingly clear that the value of this course has more to do with the community than the classes. And that’s not because David is a bad teacher, it’s because he’s a great community builder.
This idea is in the same ballpark as one popularized by Chris Dixon about building social networks: come for the tool, stay for the network. Instagram started as a way to get cool filters for your photos and only later became the dominant network for people to share photos with each other. Cold-starting social networks is notoriously hard, so you often need to figure out how to provide single-player utility before you can turn it into a multi-player game.
[originally published July 11th, 2020]
The great challenge of logistics has historically been the last-mile: in a fractal expansion of road networks, how do you traverse the last bit of distance to every home? It is an under-rated marvel of modern civilization that this challenge has been largely and quietly accomplished in developed countries like the United States (and is slowly but surely being solved even in remote corners of the world).
My parents live on a ranch in Texas, a two-hour drive from the nearest metropolis and then miles down a winding dirt road covered in cactus and cow poop. After crossing seven cattle grids, three creek beds, and a lot of desolate land, you arrive at their front gate to find a large mailbox designed to receive packages. The rest of the family rolled our eyes when my dad installed the mailbox a few years ago, but Amazon recently started delivering right to the front gate (!)
It takes a literal army of post office workers and Amazon delivery drivers to pull this off, a behemoth of coordination and corporate will. But the savvy American consumer, aided by the unyielding mechanics of modern capitalism, always wants more stuff faster and cheaper. People have increasingly decided they don’t just want things brought right to their house. They want those things right now. Last-mile logistics is becoming last-minute logistics, and solving for speed requires a very different approach than solving for geographic coverage.
[originally published July 6th, 2020]
When VC thought-leaders opine about the future of work on Twitter, they mostly just mean that people will use video conferencing more than they used to. And this, of course, is a big change with lots of second-order effects. As people have been forced into a rapid transition to working from home, society is having to quickly answer lots of new questions: what does it mean for second-tier cities? Pay scales? High-end lighting and video rigs?
But while it’s true that the future of work is remote, this is a very thin, not-even-wrong two-dimensional view of where we’re headed. The problem is that people describing the future of work are mostly sitting behind big, wooden desks in sleek, modern air-conditioned offices. Or, rather, now in home offices. With COVID-19, it doesn’t take a lot of vision to see that the remote future of work is here—at least for the 37% of people who can work from home in the US.
The truth is that the future of work is remote, but the Zoom boom is one small and not particularly meaningful or long-term example of what remote work will mean. The gig economy is the best harbinger of things to come. I’ve spent the last five years building software for gig workers, and I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about how this software is the first fully-formed example of the real future of work we’re headed towards.