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There was a super insightful fireside chat with @vkhosla and @NandanNilekani, moderated by @sharads, yesterday in Bangalore. My notes. Long thread.
@vkhosla: I have this fear that you can grow old when you retire, not retire when you grow old. So I hope I never retire. As long as you have interesting problems to work on, there's nothing more exciting to do than work on that.
@sharads: Do you prefer being David in David Vs Goliath battle?
@vkhosla: You want to be the underdog. You want problems to be hard. If they were easy to solve, somebody would have solved them.
@vkhosla: The problems are very large when you look at them initially. If you apply exponential learning to that you can catch up with any problem very quickly. If you get on the right path to exponential solutions, they're not as hard as they seem.
@vkhosla: Just starting to solve the whole problem in one step is like trying to climb Mount Everest in one step and go straight to the top without going to base camp 1, base camp 2 along the way.
@sharads: I think India doesn’t have a David Vs Goliath mindset. Does it? @NandanNilekani: India didn’t get Independence without thinking big. India’s first elections is another example of thinking big. I think it’s all there. Now, we are applying it in new ways.
@NandanNilekani: We shouldn't be daunted by the size of the problem. Whether you're solving a small problem or a large problem, it requires the same amount of thinking. So, you might as well solve the large problem. There’s much more value for your time and money.
@NandanNilekani: Today, you've, on one side, an extraordinary array of things that need to be fixed. And, you've an extraordinary array of tools & technology that can fix those problems. You've access to enormous amounts of capital & great talent. There’s no better time than this
@vkhosla: Most people, most of the time, are limited by what they think they can do, not what they can actually do. Most people limit themselves. It's a surprising thing to say, but I almost always find it to be true.
@vkhosla: Have the courage to take one little step at a time on this exponential climb. You don't have to figure out the whole journey at the start. You figure it out along the way. When you create new ground, you will find new problems w/o solutions. You just have to be creative
@vkhosla: I look back at 40 years & I can't find one major innovation that came from a large company. Not one. @GM, @VW couldn't design an electric car. @Boeing & @Airbus couldn't do space like @SpaceX could. None of the media companies did media like @Twitter & @Facebook did.
@vkhosla: I always say ‘my willingness to fail gives me the ability to succeed’. Most people fail to try, instead of trying and failing.
@NandanNilekani: So far entrepreneurs’ successes have been built on huge investments in public infrastructure by govts - Internet, GPS etc. We need to Invest in long term digital infrastructure. Only govts can afford it or have that vision. Then open it for private innovation.
@NandanNilekani: It’s a philosophy we have adopted in India. Just as the US invested in internet, GPS etc, we will invest in identity, payment infra, etc. And API-fy them, allow innovation to happen on top of that. Combine the best of public investment & private innovation.
@vkhosla: Almost all entrepreneurs build on things that are already there. In fact, how much you orient that infra towards entrepreneurial ventures makes a huge difference. There are lots of startups in the US based on the govt funding in Sci & Tech in US Universities.
@NandanNilekani: The advantage we have now is the technology that has been democratized. You have all kinds of open source stuff, you have the cloud. It's all there and it's all free. And it’s for us to take that and mix & match. That's where we can do a lot of work.
@NandanNilekani: When you look at the #Aadhaar Stack that people like @snjyjn & @pramodkvarma designed, it’s entirely on open source stack. We built the cheapest ID system in the world, using completely open source, commodity hardware, highly scalable architecture. Same with #UPI
@NandanNilekani: What we have is not a technology problem. It is how we reconfigure all these things, and apply them to solve things at scale
#Philanthropy @NandanNilekani: Where there is a market failure, or where the innovation dimension is so high that governments will not do it that well, I think philanthropy has a huge role to play.
@sharads: What do you look for in an entrepreneur when you fund.
@vkhosla: Not one formula. As a tech investor, you're looking for a unique solution where one can create an advantage over time. It's as simple as that. The biggest ingredient is the quality of team you assemble
@vkhosla: If it’s a great team, we will fund it, whether it has an interesting business plan or not. Team matters the most. And then how clever you are, how differentiated your technology is, how far ahead are you of others in thinking through how you want to build it.
@vkhosla: When you jump into an area and start iterating you can iterate for a long time without results and then you get to a good enough solution that it takes off. If you start that process, you will do better than others.
@vkhosla @vkhosla: Nobody can say what's the right level of money. It feels like a lot of money floating around in Silicon Valley. But that's because there's been a lot of really good ideas. When new platforms emerge, new applications become possible. Then great entrepreneurs build them.
@vkhosla @vkhosla: If you look at your mobile phone, and the touch interface, there really hasn't been a huge start up in the US in the last five years. If you look at @Uber or @lyft or @Airbnb, or @Pinterest -they're all done. We have to see where are new platforms coming along?
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @vkhosla: I do think AI is a new platform and offers lots and lots of opportunity. Fortunately, other than ads, it offers opportunity in lots of societal impactful areas. Medicine is my favourite. 3D printing is another new platform that people aren't using enough.
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @vkhosla: One of my favorite startups right now is trying to 3d print whole houses. What's the advantage of that? Much, much lower cost, 24 hours to print a house, but more importantly, its environmental footprint is much better.
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest On @ImpossibleFoods @vkhosla: About 30 to 40% of the planet’s land area is used for animal husbandry of one sort or another. I think about 90% of it could be freed up if the same meat was produced using the techniques like impossible burger. /1
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @ImpossibleFoods @vkhosla: Plant proteins are the best way to save the planet. It's healthier than meat proteins for humans because they come with cholesterol and other negative things. So it's a beautiful solution. We now we just kind of scale.
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @ImpossibleFoods @vkhosla: The more money you raise Initially, the less likely you are to succeed. There's some beauty & elegance in very small amounts of money because it forces you to think about your problem much harder.. you're much more creative with your solution.
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @ImpossibleFoods @NandanNilekani: Every innovation in the planet came out of some necessity. All innovations come out of constraints - financial, product or market. It's only when you constrain someone they will think their way over the problem. You've to set impossible goals.
@vkhosla @Uber @lyft @Airbnb @Pinterest @ImpossibleFoods @NandanNilekani @vkhosla: @elonmusk hadn't worked in cars. Automakers laughed at the Silicon Valley startup with no experience in auto making. Now, he made lots of mistakes, but he fixed them quickly. And he figured out a better way than they would have figured out applying conventional wisdom.
😂 @vkhosla: I have a strong belief that people with expertise in the area, apply old rules old biases. Experience is one of the largest biases there is
@NandanNilekani: It sounds like a Trumpian argument
@vkhosla @NandanNilekani @vkhosla: Entrepreneurs have a unique combination of arrogance (because you've have belief in yourself) & paranoia (because you're trying to learn and you keep failing.) They're confident, not that they know, but they will figure it out through a series of iterations and mistakes
@NandanNilekani: Values are very important if we want to build companies to last, if we want to build companies that sustain themselves over decades and really have an impact on society and the world. They have to be anchored in a core set of values.
@vkhosla: If you don't have values, the first time you run into a problem, people scatter. If you have values & you have a mission, people stick together & double their efforts as a team. Values play a big role during bad times.
@vkhosla: Most investors reduce risk to the point where probability of success is ⬆️, but its consequences are inconsequential. It's a good way to get predictable RoR. I find it much more exciting, where the prob of success is low, but consequences of success are consequential.
@vkhosla @NandanNilekani: You need a social fabric which delinks failure from the person; which recognizes that failure is a tremendous experience, which is likely to increase the probability of success the next time around. Here failure, person & institutions are entwined.
@vkhosla @NandanNilekani @vkhosla: An important characteristic when evaluating somebody who has failed is what's their rate of learning. That that's probably the most important way you evaluate an entrepreneur.
@vkhosla: When they move from job to job, do their teams, follow? What books do they read? Do they spend their time learning new things. There are half a dozen things like that, that I personally use in evaluating people. But it’s still the hardest thing you do.
@vkhosla @NandanNilekani: I'm intensely curious about things. And I like everything to be tested through filter and crucible of ideas. You have to rationally figure out why it's happening. I don't have hierarchy kind of issues.
@NandanNilekani: When you want to change something, if you bring in something which is too dissimilar to what you do, it doesn't take root. But if you can take something that they're familiar with, and insert that change to that, then that becomes the pathway to the change.
@NandanNilekani @NandanNilekani: How data is organized & managed is at the heart of what's happening today. Businesses aggregate data and monetize. Govts use for surveillance etc. Indian model is unique. Its data empowerment model has great societal benefits and will create innovation.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla: Much much of this privacy argument started in the US because of misuses during the election cycle, and I think there's technological solutions to that. The size question has mostly been raised by the Europeans, because there are no big European technology companies.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @NandanNilekani: When you have a winner-take-all situation, everybody else is a loser. Then one day losers gang up together. What we're seeing today is that everyone who has been affected by big tech are coming together, incl political class. They bring in constraints.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @vkhosla: There will be enough jobs for humans after AGI. We don't have enough humans for all the elder care we need and all the child care. We could deploy 10 times as many people and raise better children and look after elders much better. Those are just two examples.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla With no jobs, where do we find meaning? @vkhosla: I think relationships is the inherent human tendency that will not go away and meaning will come from relationships.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @vkhosla: I don't work for a living. I work because it's fun, because it intrigues me, because I learn every day.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @NandanNilekani: The assumption that AI will automate everything & there'll be no jobs left & therefore we need UBI & a way to keep them occupied is wrong. The way I think about it, AI amplifies human capability. The combination of human and AI is going to be very strong.
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @nikhilkumarks @kamyachandra What are lesser known public infrastructure we’ve today?
@NandanNilekani: You have DigitalSky. @tanujb can talk more about it. Once healthstack becomes prevalent there will be more applications on it. Just using identity, payments, AA platforms can create big opps
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @nikhilkumarks @kamyachandra @tanujb @vkhosla: We need to enable infrastructure like Digital Sky, Aadhaar and standards that iSpirt is starting and then have entrepreneurs come up with great applications. It's up to the entrepreneurs to do that. @India_Stack
@NandanNilekani @vkhosla @nikhilkumarks @kamyachandra @tanujb @India_Stack @nikhilkumarks: How do we build resilience against large competitors?
@vkhosla: Stepping stone approach works.
@nandannilekani: It's true India is hyper competitive. But a small group working together can still make a big difference. I'm very bullish.
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