lincolnq

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Which non-EA-funded organisations did well on Covid?

Patrick McKenzie isn’t a “group”, and he probably doesn’t need your money, but he did get ahead of coronavirus impacts in Japan successfully: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2020/04/21/japan-coronavirus/

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

I read your Overview and several of the other materials and feel there is a lack of examples. Your idea seems large and abstract, and even after reading a bunch of your materials, I don't feel that I really understand what your career guidance is -- or especially what it isn't.

The only hook I have to compare this to is 80000 Hours, and the comparison you seem to be pointing at is "80k but for more kinds of people". Instinctively, this feels too broad: 80k is presumably doing well in part because they chose to focus instead of do everything. To help with this, it might make sense to answer strategic questions like: if you were to merge with 80k, would it be better or worse for the world? why did 80k choose their focus one way, and why are you choosing differently? What sorts of impact can you make that 80k will never be able to achieve?

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

I really like these questions!

I'll answer your middle question first. When we were writing our first version in 2014, I logged probably 60+ most weeks. When living in Africa, I probably also logged around that many hours, since I had little else to do :). But now I start work around 8am and end around 5pm daily and usually take an hour for lunch, and don't work on weekends, so probably close to 40 hours. I am vaguely thinking about reducing my hours even more.

Transitioning to your first question:

The stage of a company really really matters, and it also matters what you consider to be "good" work-life balance. My cofounder is fond of saying, "there's no such thing as too busy, just poor prioritization." And I think that is ultimately how all work-life balance questions should be answered. First, decide on your priorities, then act accordingly :)

Classic startup advice always says that startups need to "move fast", speed is how you beat much more established competitors. But "move fast" is what it looks like from the outside when you have good prioritization -- when you're writing only the code that matters to get the marginal increment of growth rate, so you can learn what you need to learn in order to keep that growth on an exponential trajectory. It doesn't have to mean work yourself to the bone: on the contrary, I've found that when I spend many hours writing code, I have exhausted my capability to do the prioritization work which could save me many hours writing code :). So, I would say that great work-life balance in a startup starts and ends with great prioritization, not just at work but across your whole life. The 4 Hour Workweek is a well-loved treatise on the subject, as is Derek Sivers' Anything You Want. I put in 60+ hours in the early days because Wave was my life priority (and was able to get away with it because Drew was able to take most of the prioritization work out of my head and leave me with just code).

How do I take care of myself: I see friends and family, I take vacations, I have a coach/therapist person, I cook dinner and light candles and drink beer, I have tons of bright lighting in my office :)

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

Yes, we've been doing remote work in some form since 2014.

Ben mentioned meeting cadence, but I would add to that, designing meetings to build relationships. With remote, voice communication is much more deliberate and only happens when people make it happen. And human relationships aren't really built over Slack, they are built via voice. So we're thinking a lot about how to make more of the right sort of relationships happen. Some examples of this would be:

  • focusing 1:1s on relationship building with your lead (mostly by being careful to avoid the 1:1 being a "status update" meeting)
  • having weekly team meetings which are small enough (<10, preferably closer to 6), with time designated for everyone to contribute and share something about themselves. we've done this by going around and asking each person to answer a question, e.g. "how are you doing really?" to "what fictional place would you most like to visit?"
  • randomized 1:1 cross team chat events -- we use https://icebreaker.video/ (if this looks lame, don't write it off, it was surprisingly fun)

Beyond that, simpler stuff we do around communications transparency seems to help: nudge people strongly to put their message in a public Slack channel in almost all cases they intend to communicate with someone else. If you have a call to clarify something with someone, post the summary in slack. @-mention people when & only when you need them to read the thing you are writing. (If you have some tough feedback it's fine to keep it private, but even tough feedback can often be phrased in a way which is easy to share with others). We chose these defaults of communication transparency for the remote team because we wanted Slack to feel as much like a collaborative office as possible, in the sense that "stuff is happening, people are here and you can listen if you want to learn, and contribute if you have relevant knowledge." Many Slack teams default to "locking things behind DMs" in a way which makes that feeling a lot harder.

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

Fair question, and your comment elsewhere (about the narrow slice being the only slice that exists if the market is efficient) was enlightening.

However: my philosophy for startups is that I would nearly always take a different approach to solving these sorts of problems in the world. I would prefer to start Beyond Meat, and try to solve the nonhuman animals problem in an oblique way, instead of attacking it directly by starting a nonprofit. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs think like this as well: look at Elon Musk's startup strategy -- he tends to go for something which has a business/profitability angle from the first version, but with a big long-term mission (Tesla Roadster, early non-reusable SpaceX rockets). And as Ben writes elsewhere, I think the startup market is highly and obviously inefficient, so efficient market considerations are not very relevant.

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

The Wave business is currently unprofitable, although Sendwave is profitable and has been propping up the mobile money business. We have plenty of runway at this point, but we are likely years away from becoming profitable: mobile money is a very expensive business to start, mainly due to investing in the agent network.

In terms of what EA ecosystem should provide: the best thing would be better support for entrepreneurialism. Support from others probably comes in the form of social encouragement -- I think Founders Pledge is one notable EAish org working on this, as they don't just get people to pledge but are working on building a network of founders who can support each other in various ways.

I think the ecosystem needs a more coherent theory of corporations doing good with their mission -- in particular, there's a dominant cynical ideology on e.g. Hacker News, where people see that the purpose of a for-profit corporation is to "create shareholder value" and then they assume that the leadership must be sociopaths. In fact, the bulk of companies are trying to do something great for the world and a ton of them succeed at it. I don't know how to change this perception quickly, but maybe an army of social-media commenters would work :P

What about money? EAs giving founders a little money to quit their job and get started makes a lot of sense to me as well, but I recommend capping "free EA money" to for-profits around $50k or so: money is fungible, and you have good reasons to be in the competitive investment markets by that point -- those markets create useful feedback loops for both startups and investors that it doesn't make sense to diverge from.

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

Unfortunately, it would not be prudent to share detailed stats publicly. However, we have over a million downloads of our Android app and are (or have been recently) #1 in the Play Store in Senegal. We still substantially trail Orange Money, our main mobile money competitor, in usage and volume though. We are still quite small in Cote d'Ivoire, though growing quickly there!

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

Good questions.

Regarding general startup barriers:

Ultimately, there are very few barriers to getting started doing the things that you want to be doing anyway: for most countries, if you are from a developed country, you can fly there as a generic visitor and start talking to people. (once COVID is over anyway. note: I definitely do not recommend violating any visa laws.) My first trip to Ethiopia to investigate mobile money's potential was only a week long -- stayed in a hotel, made a few connections, talked to a bunch of people in a marketplace. A subsequent month-long trip was a bit more involved, but still required no special visa, just a longer stay in some kind of temporary housing.

Once you are pushing up against the limits to generic visitors (often 3 months or so), hopefully you've learned enough to know whether it will be worthwhile to invest further, at which time you probably need to hire a local lawyer to start investing in figuring out how to do whatever's next most important (maybe your visa; maybe creating a local company, etc).

I want to emphasize that startups are hard. Entrepreneurship of any kind is going to put barriers in front of you. The question is, do you want to let these random barriers block you? Cross-border paperwork is one example of such a barrier--but so is getting a bank account, getting licensed, negotiating an IP deal, or whatever junk you need to do to get started in almost any industry. Paul Graham writes about this in Schlep Blindness -- in some sense, value is created when you decide to plow forward and solve the problems in front of you, despite them looking annoying to solve.

So yes, I think these barriers are a blocker for many, but they don't have to be a blocker for you :)

Stepping back to our experience: we started in Ethiopia, which is not an easy place to do business by any metric. And we got very far before we had to stop (it's a place that is unusually hostile to foreign companies) -- far enough that we had learned significant lessons about how to start mobile money which we were able to port over to Senegal (which we chose partially due to "ease of doing business"). So while I wish we had not decided to spend so much time and energy there, I also don't 100% regret it. Plus, it was a lovely place to be and I have some wonderful friends from that era.

I think if a given place is the best place to get started, you should just go to that place and try not to over-index on "ease of doing business". However, if you have many similar-looking places to start, it will likely save you quite a bit of energy choosing a place where it's easier to do business!

Oh, and in terms of raising money, I think you should go to Silicon Valley for that (if you have a scalable enough business anyway) unless you have strong local connections.

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

Yeah, that seems right to me, and is a good model that predicts the existing nonprofit startup ideas! My point is that it seems like a very narrow slice of all value-producing ideas.

We're Lincoln Quirk & Ben Kuhn from Wave, AMA!

One final thought: If you rank EA ideas on a continuum from "produces no value" to "produces a ton of value," it seems like the section of the continuum where nonprofit ideas are viable is quite small. Too low and your idea isn't worth working on. But once you start producing lots of value for the world, stakeholders start to be willing to pay for the solution, and then you can start a for-profit company to do it. So from this perspective, the best EA nonprofit ideas are weird and non-central examples of value-producing ideas -- they're ideas that produce a lot of value but you can't get anyone to pay for.

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