Jade Leung

Topic Contributions

Comments

What we learned from a year incubating longtermist entrepreneurship

Really glad to hear, and in turn, really appreciate your engagement with the post! 

What we learned from a year incubating longtermist entrepreneurship

Thanks for the comment An1lam, and apologies for the delay! Really appreciate the engagement. 

Some thoughts in response: 

On (1), I agree that fostering an ecosystem doesn’t require a load of experienced people; you’re very much right that that’s the whole problem that we’re trying to solve in the first place! What we mostly mean to say in terms of pointing to the lack of requisite experience is that we found that there weren’t that many individuals who are ready to hit the ground running with founding a substantial longtermist start-up right now; hence a lot of LE activities that we would have been excited about pursuing instead (and which are mentioned in the “what we’d be excited about” section) are targeted at making up for this lack of experience by e.g. fostering a community, bringing folks in-house in a foundry. 

On (2), as you say, it’s difficult to talk about this in the abstract, and certainly I feel sympathetic to the worry that we might be being too cautious (that was one of the motivations for me starting this project in the first place). With that said, I do think thinking thoroughly through downside risk considerations and treating them more seriously than is the norm among founders writ large is something that I want to encourage of all longtermist entrepreneurs, and I’d worry about not doing it enough more than I’d worry about doing it too much given what’s at stake. The thing that I’m interested in advocating for here, though, is something like demonstration of thought, care, and consideration, rather than avoiding projects with downside risk altogether (I think the two often are conflated); for example, if it turns out that after a reasonable amount of thinking there is some amount of downside risk, but the EV of the project is still high & the founder has identified reasonable things they could do to mitigate this downside risk, I (and I imagine most EA funders) would be supportive of that project going ahead.

On (3), seems right that EAs in general, and particularly folks trying to start new projects, have a fair amount that they could learn from ‘traditional’ start-up best practice (that was a big part of the framing that we took in designing curricula materials for the fellowship, for example). I’m not sure where we disagree here; I do also think that strategic thinking and introspection are important, and perhaps uniquely so for start-ups which don’t follow the usual product-fit dynamic (although I think several do, even something like a new research org), or where there are very slow feedback loops to use in the interim, hence why it might be unusually important for longtermist entrepreneurs to have this trait. But I don’t think thinking this is important is mutually exclusive to thinking that learning from more mainstream start-up practice is useful. 

On (4), advisors were a combination of experienced entrepreneurs (some of whom also happened to be quite engaged with EA, some less so) and domain experts. 

On (5), basically Jonas’ comment captures the main thing - that given our epistemic state in longtermist cause areas at the moment, it just seems quite difficult to come up with start-up ideas that fit the typical YC model (find product-market fit, then scale), which means that the idea generation process I think needs to be quite a bit more involved, be advised by domain experts, etc. and the build-iterate cycle necessarily needs to be tweaked from the usual dynamic expected for e.g. software products. I.e. mostly leaning on (2) of ‘the requirements are different’ rather than the pool being small. 

Two additional high level things that come to mind in response: 

1 - We definitely don't want to discourage promising longtermist entrepreneurs who are excited about starting something in this space, the intent was to clarify for future potential incubator founders what we tried and learned. 

2 - In terms of your overall concern that the program wasn't entrepreneurial enough, it's a bit hard to comment. At the end of the day, we do think that simply replicating traditional entrepreneurship in this space won't quite work, but also do think that the EA community could learn a ton from the entrepreneurship community (and designed our program with both of those in mind). It's possible you disagree, or possible that the tone and seriousness with which we centered entrepreneurship didn't come through in this post.