“The value of what you are building is the sum of all the problems that you solve” – Daniel Ek

Periodically, I’ll read or hear an idea where my brain stops, goes into reverse, and idles on the concept for an extra minute. I found myself doing that several times throughout this audio interview (with transcript) with Daniel Ek, founder/CEO of Spotify. Ek touches on a range of topics, from technology-led exponential growth, to the grand vision of Spotify’s quest to reinvent streaming audio, to self-reflections on his approach to management, research, and innovation. “The single biggest virtue that I probably have,” Ek says, “It’s not that I’m smarter than anyone, it’s not that I’m more driven than anyone, but I have one super trait—and that is that I’m insanely patient.”

“If you know you’re serving a mission and if that mission is worthwhile doing, you can look at almost any problem in the world and you can see improvements to be made day by day. And I focus on that and if you focus on that, you realize that the value of what you are building is the sum of all the problems that you solve. That is the thing that grounds me and gets me to keep building the things that I’m doing and I still think we’re early days with Spotify. There’s so many problems left to be solved.”


The Contrarian: An exploration into the life of investor Peter Thiel

My friend Max Chafkin, a features writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, has just published a biography of Peter Thiel. (Its apropos title: “The Contrarian.”) The book—excerpted here by Bloomberg—is a detailed foray into Thiel’s early rise in 1990s Silicon Valley and, increasingly, his political and ideological incursions around Capitol Hill. Thiel is a fascinating, enigmatic, and occasionally controversial subject to unpack—an investor who always seems to be a couple steps ahead of the pack, even as he largely operates as a power broker behind the scenes. As Max writes, “Thiel isn’t the richest tech mogul, but he has been, in many ways, the most influential.”

“Thiel is sometimes portrayed as the tech industry’s token conservative, a view that wildly understates his power. More than any other living Silicon Valley investor or entrepreneur—more so even than Bezos, or Page, or Facebook co-founder and Thiel protégé Mark Zuckerberg—he has been responsible for creating the ideology that has come to define Silicon Valley today: that technological progress should be pursued relentlessly, with little if any regard for potential costs or dangers to society.”


The quest to genetically resurrect the woolly mammoth

I thoroughly enjoyed this story about Dr. George Church’s quest to resurrect the woolly mammoth — a real-life spin on the central conceit of Jurassic Park. Church is longtime Harvard geneticist (and now recent entrepreneur) whose work on the gene-editing tool CRISPR was featured in last year’s Netflix excellent documentary, “Human Nature.” To me, the most intriguing element of this story is how Church and his co-founder, tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm, plan to commercialize their methods in ways that could—theoretically—help extend and improve life for humans down the road. 

“And Colossal’s investors may have questions of their own: How will these mammoths make any money? Mr. Lamm predicted that the company would be able to spin off new forms of genetic engineering and reproductive technology. ‘We are hopeful and confident that there will be technologies that come out of it that we can build individual business units out of,’ Mr. Lamm said. ‘But in the short term, our focus is really just making those technologies that we know will speed up the process and the efficiency of not just bringing back the mammoth, but in the rewilding of the mammoth.'”

In case you missed it: This week, we published a long-form memo: It’s an inside look at our firm’s culture, our values, and our structured strategy around concentrated, long-term investing during periods accelerating change and technology-driven disruption. Link here.


A few more links I enjoyed: 

“Once in space, the crew will be kept busy. Proctor will be the pilot—effectively Isaacman’s second in command and responsible for calling up checklists, monitoring systems and executing commands. Sembroski is mission specialist, responsible for repairs as well as proper stowing of cargo to avoid weight and balance issues. Arceneaux is the chief medical officer and will oversee most of the scientific experiments; she’ll take blood samples, for instance, to study the crews’ microbiomes.”
“There is an important underlying trend here of price deflation driving these enablers’ and disrupters’ growth. This is very close to what we have seen as industries, such as retail and advertising, have been disrupted by digitisation as Moore’s Law drove exponential improvements in computing power. Swanson’s Law is a similar trend – for every doubling of solar generating capacity, the price of the resulting energy drops by 20 per cent. There is no reason for this trend to stop soon, either. The fact is that renewable, sustainable products benefit from a substantially lower ‘floor’ price than fossil fuel alternatives. Fossil fuels have an effective minimum cost that reflects the costs to find and exploit these resources, but sunlight and wind power are free and the technology used to capture their energy is constantly falling in price.”
“In my view, the recent education regulation and housing prices adjustment are all part of a fundamental restructuring of Chinese society. As bullets have stopped flying, there’s less risk of hurting future innovations, and more focus is given to equality over efficiency of growth. To promote ‘common prosperity’, regulations have been coming to limit the biggest buckets of a Chinese household’s expenditure. It’s what Deng would have wanted and good for internal circulation.”

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