USV’s Albert Wenger on the World After Capital


This post is curated by Keith Teare. It was written by Nathaniel Whittemore. The original is [linked here]

A blueprint for redesigning society as the world shifts from the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age.

Listen to our midweek chat with USV’s Albert Wenger


This post is by Alex Wilhelm from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Earlier this week TechCrunch caught up with Union Square Ventures‘ (USV) Albert Wenger. Wenger, a managing partner at the venture firm, is well-known in the New York startup scene. USV has invested in former startups like Twitter, Twilio, Etsy and Cloudflare.

TechCrunch is touching base with a number of investors during the COVID-19-driven economic slowdown. Everyone is already at home, in front of a computer, so why not get them on the phone? (Follow @TechCrunch for updates, we’re keeping the series alive over the next few weeks with more neat guests.)

We wanted to know what Wenger thought about the level of fear in his local market, and how much cash startups should hold during the COVID-19 era. On the latter point, Wenger noted that each company’s present situation is suitably diverse as to avoid any single rule, but implied that companies with healthy backers don’t have to hold as much cash, as they have access to more; the weaker a startup’s investing syndicate is, the more cash it should hold, as that might be all the money it has access to.

We also took time to talk about PPP loans, and what types of startups should apply for them, a subject that Wenger has written about. There’s a moral point in the discussion that’s worth understanding.

We also took a number of questions from folks tuned in on Zoom during the call and generally had a good time. We’ve preserved the audio, so take a listen. If you wanted to see the video of TechCrunch’s Jordan Crook and Alex Wilhelm talking to Wenger, every one of the three in a different state, you missed out. Come to our next public Zoom!

The recording

Calling All Billionaires: Fund Fusion Now

For any billionaire out there: fund nuclear fusion now! Consider this: the people who fund successful nuclear fusion are guaranteed a spot in the history books. And that spot will be immediately followed by spots for anybody else who spent serious money ($100 million+) and did not succeed. Why? Because clean electricity is absolutely crucial to fighting the climate crisis.

Is this realistic? Can we achieve nuclear fusion in our lifetimes? Having looked into the state of research, I believe it is entirely possible to get to deployed nuclear fusion within a decade provided that we take enough well funded shots on goal. We need to pursue many different technologies, including more attempts at inertial confinement using lasers.

The reason to be optimistic is that there has been important progress. Much of it has come from innovation in other fields that provide enabling technology. For example, something called REBCO tape Continue reading “Calling All Billionaires: Fund Fusion Now”

An Agenda for the 2020s: Inventing the Knowledge Age

In yesterday’s post I summarized the 2010s as fighting past battles that keep us stuck in the industrial age.

The agenda for the 2020s should be about inventing the knowledge age instead. The suggestions here draw heavily on my book World After Capital

So without further ado, here are six key areas to work on in the 2020s.
 

1. FIGHT THE CLIMATE CRISIS

If we don’t get on top of the climate crisis, nothing else will matter, so I am putting this one first.

Read: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells; Facing the Climate Emergency by Margaret Klein Salamon (pubs in April, pre-order now)

Do: Join or support Extinction Rebellion, the climate movement with the clearest theory of change rooted in non-violent direct action.

Start or join a climate solution startup. There are many people working on innovative ideas, ranging from the here Continue reading “An Agenda for the 2020s: Inventing the Knowledge Age”

The 2010s: Stuck in the Past

On this last day of the 2010s here is a recap with a single theme: we are fighting the battles of the past instead of inventing the future. We are doing that at a time when humanity is facing an extinction level threat in the climate crisis that also represents our single biggest opportunity for transformation.

The ongoing debate about capitalism versus socialism is fundamentally caught up in the industrial age. It assumes that ownership and control of physical capital are paramount at a time when our attention is the real scarcity. 

The application of antitrust to concentrated digital power is like using a hammer to drive a screw. It harkens back to scale economies at a time when network effects are the true source of power.

The push for privacy legislation fails to recognize that advanced technology and privacy are incompatible (e.g., we carry a personal Continue reading “The 2010s: Stuck in the Past”

Impeachment Vote

Today is the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives. It will be fascinating to see if any Republicans at all will support impeachment in the House. In an extraordinary display of abdication of any allegiance to the United States constitution, Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham have already indicated that they have no interest in conducting a fair trial in the Senate but will instead take all their cues from the White House.

The damage that the Republicans are doing here to our democracy is hard to overstate. Democracies work through the rule of law and the functioning of institutions. No matter how much you believe that this impeachment should not go to trial, once the House has decided on it, the Senate should live up to the oath of affirmation that the constitution sets out for this occasion (and this occasion only).

So the pre-announcement by Republican leadership Continue reading “Impeachment Vote”

Electricity and the Climate Crisis: Moving to EVs

Last week I started digging into electricity as part of my posts the climate crisis. Today’s post continues that by looking at the potential increases in the demand for electricity from moving transportation to electric vehicles (EVs). To start with, it is quite difficult to wrap one’s head around just how much we drive in the US. In one year there are about 3.25 trillion (yup trillion) vehicle miles. I have found it difficult to find a recent breakdown of that by vehicle type, but in 2016 about 9% of that was trucks (I will use 10% as a first approximation) and the rest passenger cars.

There are fewer than 2 million EVs on the road in the United States today, which is less than 1% penetration. So again as a first approximation I will simply assume that all the vehicle miles have yet to be converted from gasoline Continue reading “Electricity and the Climate Crisis: Moving to EVs”

Electricity and the Climate Crisis

In order to understand solutions to the climate crisis, including the potential role of nuclear energy, it is essential to understand our current and future demand and supply of electricity. There are of course entire books that have been written about just small subtopics of electricity, so please consider this post as a guidance.

Electricity is the most refined and concentrated form of energy available to us. We can adjust its use in extremely small quantities. We can store it. We can generate it directly from sunlight without moving parts. We can transmit it in automated fashion over long distances (admittedly with losses). We can use it to easily create light, heat, force, computation. We simply have no other form of energy that comes even close to it. Electricity is a fundamental aspect of nature (it is one of the quantum fields) and our abilities to understand and

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Continue reading “Electricity and the Climate Crisis”

On Growth

The word “growth” has become one of the focal points of the climate crisis debate. There are those who are worried that pricing carbon will slow down economic growth. And there are those who believe that the only way we can overcome the climate crisis is through degrowth. I fear that most of those debates will be people shouting past each other as the word growth has come to capture entire philosophies of thought. And so instead of having meaningful in-depth arguments about what kind of society we want, we dig into entrenched positions that suggest there simply cannot be common ground between people who disagree about growth.

In my podcast episode with Jason Jacobs I said that we have to stop praying at the altar of GDP. That could be interpreted as putting me in the “degrowth” camp. I want to unpack what I meant and how I think Continue reading “On Growth”

Nuclear Power and the Climate Crisis (Introduction)

People who want to fight the climate crisis tend to agree on a lot of things, but nuclear power turns out to be a highly divisive issue. In this series of posts I will use nuclear power to refer to fission – I will write separately about the prospects for fusion

There are several reasons given by people who object to nuclear power, including high cost, risk of accidents and concerns about storage/usage of radioactive materials. Conversely, advocates of investing more in nuclear power point to the need to replace coal and gas plants in providing base load electricity.

Of course a great deal has been written about these questions by people far more knowledgeable than myself. So why write YMBP (yet more blog posts)? First, because writing is a way for me to wrestle down information so that I better understand it myself (and I also tend to Continue reading “Nuclear Power and the Climate Crisis (Introduction)”

Harvard and the Climate Crisis

I just nominated five candidates for the next election of the Harvard Board of Overseers as part of an effort organized by Harvard Forward. The school has made the process comically complicated by requiring that each nomination be submitted in a separate signed PDF (admittedly this could be explained by incompetence rather than malice but is not a good look in either case). A crucial goal is to have Harvard take a leadership role in fighting the climate crisis. If you are a Harvard grad and want to support this effort, head on over to Harvard Forward for instructions (warning: you will probably need half an hour of time). For everyone else, here is a great piece from Bloomberg about the push for divestment at both Yale and Harvard.

Climate Crisis: Humanity’s Biggest Opportunity

So far I have been writing about the climate crisis primarily as a threat, an extinction level threat for the human species. But the climate crisis is also humanity’s biggest opportunity. It is our opportunity to leave the Industrial Age behind and enter the Knowledge Age (that’s the term I use in my book World After Capital).

Expect a series of blog posts expanding on this idea, but to start things off I want to paint a picture of what that might look like:

I imagine clean air and quiet cities with lot of public transport options — serviced by electric vehicles on dynamically optimized routes.

I imagine a dramatic reduction in agricultural land use with huge areas freed up for biodiversity — enabled by a move to vertical farming right where food is consumed

I imagine reliable access drinking water anywhere in the world — through massive improvements Continue reading “Climate Crisis: Humanity’s Biggest Opportunity”

Minor Medical Mystery (Solved)

A few weeks ago I started having a strange sensation in my right thigh. When I moved my leg, it felt as if something was slithering between my skin and my muscle in the marked area (these are not my legs, just a convenient image I found on the internet)

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The feeling wasn’t painful, just a bit creepy. The creepiness probably being the result of having watched one too many Alien movies.

Following my main approach to all things medical – which I have learned from my amazing mother who worked in a pharmacy for many years – I ignored it. The idea being that the body is pretty good at fixing problems or at least routing around them. In this case though the symptom persisted. I tried stretching, foam rolling, massage, all with no improvement. As it turns out by treating the area in question, I was focused on

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Continue reading “Minor Medical Mystery (Solved)”

Thanksgiving: Family

I have written Thanksgiving posts in past years thanking entrepreneurs, teachers and my parents. Today I want to thank my immediate family: Susan, Michael, Katie and Peter. You are each amazing in your own way and bring so much joy to my life. Thanks for putting up with my overcommitment to work and various other projects. Thanks for letting me drag you onto steeper than you would like ski slopes and into windier than you prefer sailing days. Thanks for calling me out when I am wrong. Through you I have grown so much as a human. For all that and so much more I am deeply grateful. Now that you, Michael and Katie, are off to college (with you, Peter, not far behind), I cherish our getting together as a family more than ever. Happy Thanksgiving!

Living in a Horror Movie?

These days I often feel as if I am living in a horror movie of the twilight zone variety. People appear to be under some kind of mind control, that seems to be emanating from the handheld devices they all carry with them. Here is how this manifests itself: I tell someone about how severe and imminent the climate crisis really is, usually using the Alien Invasion Analogy. There is a brief moment in which they appear genuinely disturbed. You can see in their eyes that they grasp the magnitude of the problem, that they see the world clearly for at least an instant. Then just a few minutes later – often after consulting their little handheld device – they are back to where they were before. Oblivious to an extinction level threat to humanity.

Now you might say: there’s nothing new here. Don’t you remember Cassandra? You might also Continue reading “Living in a Horror Movie?”

Celebrating Dori (2011-2019)

We had eight glorious years with Dori, our beloved Goldendoodle. Just seeing her in the street put a smile on people’s face. She was alway up for a pet from random strangers and could be trusted with the youngest of kids. She made the big move with us from the suburbs back to the city as a pup (not pleased at first with the lack of grass but then happy with all the play time with friends). We will remember many fond moments with Dori, such as sitting on the stoop and watching the world go by or running wild on an empty beach. We are thankful for everyone who took care of Dori over the years when we were not there. She had a large family indeed. We are making a donation to a shelter in her memory.

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Leadership: Learning from Mistakes (by Finding Sources of Emotion)

It is a common idea that we should learn from our mistakes. In practice though I see many people making the same mistakes repeatedly. I myself have found that it often takes me making the same mistake at least twice before I really learn from it. Leading a startup is about personal growth and mistakes are that opportunity for growth, so how come it is so difficult to do?

The framing of “learn from your mistakes” suggests that this is entirely about a rational process. It is too easy to think of the mistake as a failure of rational analysis. There were several options available and for some rational reason, I picked the wrong one. If I am good at analyzing that mistake after the fact and understand the reason, surely I will not repeat it.

But most important mistakes, especially when it comes to leadership, have a strong emotional component Continue reading “Leadership: Learning from Mistakes (by Finding Sources of Emotion)”

Bad Takes on Taxing Wealth (Especially Billionaires)

The discussion around taxing wealth, and in particular billionaires, has been illuminating. Not in the sense of learning something new but rather seeing who is willing to make or defend bad takes instead of engaging in any level of critical thinking. To make it clear on where I am on this issue, I am in support of a wealth tax, although I think there is a lot of room for discussion on how to best accomplish this.

There are a few takes out there though that particularly bother me. The first is that Bill Gates deserves all his wealth. This is rooted in a near tautology “markets are good, so all the outcomes of markets are good.” Now I love well-functioning markets. They are amazing at information aggregation and capital allocation. Please note the important modifier: well-functioning. Most of the time real regulatory effort is required to wind up with Continue reading “Bad Takes on Taxing Wealth (Especially Billionaires)”

A Win for Ranked Choice Voting

In yesterday’s election New York City voters passed Ranked Choice Voting as a ballot measure. This means that in future elections such as those for mayor of the city, independent candidates will have a much better shot at getting elected.

In Ranked Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting, a voter can indicate their preference across multiple candidates instead of selecting just one candidate. So let’s say there is an independent whom I really like but who is a long shot. Historically I might be worried that by voting for that candidate my vote would effectively be useless and that could be a problem if I think it will take away from my second choice candidate.

A classic example of this situation in Presidential elections was the run of Ralph Nader in 2000. In Florida, Bush beat Gore by 537 votes, but Nader received nearly 100,000 votes there, Continue reading “A Win for Ranked Choice Voting”

Twitter Banning Political Ads: Woke but Wrong

Twitter is banning political ads. This is Jack sticking it to Mark while the latter is on the ropes in a one-two punch including a jab against Libra. This mast feel like sweet revenge for the many ways Facebook has messed with Twitter over the years including snatching Instagram. But is it the right thing to do?

Not running paid political adds is a self-imposed behavioral remedy, the way traditional antitrust regulators would impose on monopolies. A behavioral remedy requires or forbids some specific action. These are a last resort when a company has too much power and there is no other way of curbing this power.

But is there really no other way to curb the power of Twitter and Facebook? Of course not. We could have enduser APIs instead.  And for the first time in the US there is a bill proposing more or less that, the Continue reading “Twitter Banning Political Ads: Woke but Wrong”