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Morning Walk #42
Balancing between quick returns and solving meaningful problems
Hi. I’m Stepa Mitaki. I’m a product person and an entrepreneur. I’ve been working in 🏙 govtech for eight years and currently work at a UK-based 🏦 fintech startup Silverbird while building a new company in 👩🏼⚕️ health tech on the side.
Morning Walk is a personal weekly newsletter where I share some musings on tech, digital healthcare, working on startups, productivity, some nerdy stuff and an occasional share of reflections on the Ukraine war and how it feels being Russian at this moment in history.
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🤑 Balancing between quick returns and solving meaningful problems
If you asked me back when I was 25 years old what’s the best path to success I would have laid out a plan that looks something like this:
Step 1. Educate yourself in an area of high demand.
Step 2. Work for free to get some initial experience in that area and learn from great people.
Step 3. Have some starting career to learn from the inside out and get money to cover your first needs.
Step 4. Start your own business (or join at an early stage) with high/medium-risk but quick returns to access more extensive capital.
Step 5. Use that capital for something meaningful and long-term.
Translation: make money on something straightforward and then use that money to build something truly meaningful and more complex.
In my life, I’ve seen many people going that path. And the part about quick returns usually means some meaningless destructive bullshit. Mainly because it’s where the money usually is. I won’t say it’s easy, but let’s be honest, if you’re building a business by selling pornographic films, you have a fairly higher chance of making a quick buck rather than when you’re trying to find a cure for cancer. This is an extreme example, but you get the point.
This week I watched this phenomenal interview with Chamath Palihapitiya. Chamath is a controversial character, but his straightforwardness and ability to speak truthfully are spot on.
I highly recommend you take time to watch the whole interview. There are many great thoughts on our modern culture of fast dopamine hits, his long-term view of his venture objectives, etc. But I was especially enthralled by his perspective on money being an instrument of change.
Here are a couple of quotes:
Money drives the world, for better or for worse. Economic incentives drive the entire population swaps to behave in predictable or unpredictable ways.
In the absence of capital, you are irrelevant. With capital–you decide in any way you want.
If you have a point of view that matters and want to reflect it–you should get the money. Get the money, and don’t lose your moral compass when you do.
My goal is to be in a position to aggregate enough of the capital of the world to reallocate it against my worldview. And don’t say it’s the best one, but it is mine.
The concept “fail fast” works in the consumer internet business. But it doesn’t work in anything that really matters. “Fail fast” is not how you solve diabetes, it is not how you use precision medicine to cure cancer, it is not how you educate broad swaps of the population. It’s just not.
I probably lived my whole life with the setting that you could make big money quickly only when you exploit society’s bad habits. Porn, sugar, drugs, alcohol, narcissism, insecurities of any kind, you name it. And in the last decade, we’ve seen many new similar destructive habits adding to that list that could easily allow you to make some quick return: short videos, clickbait journalism, freemium gaming, and many forms of quick dopamine shots. Not to mention dark patterns and other tricks. These are highly profitable industries with quick returns.
So the whole concept that Chamath laid out seems relatively straightforward. Where it gets complicated, I believe, is finding that balance of good and evil when getting your first capital. It’s your own choice and, sometimes, even a moral dilemma. Chamath himself made his fortune by helping build Facebook. Which, ironically, he now doesn’t use and doesn’t allow his kids to use. Frankly, I don’t think it was some evil plan all along. No one envisioned back in 2007 how Facebook might become destructive in some ways to society. But still, you get the point.
This is where this life plan, which I outlined at the begging of this post, didn’t work out for me. I’ve been struggling with this my whole life. I knew I needed to get some initial capital, but I knew I’d be able to work my best only on something I’m genuinely passionate about and strongly believe in. And you can’t solve a meaningful problem quickly. When we were building MyCity, that was precisely the case. We soon realized that our vision was a very long shot, and to become profitable relativity soon, we needed to pivot in a way I didn’t want to. Then, at Moscow City Government, I was solving a truly meaningful problem. But that was non-commercial, which had its complications.
There are still some exceptions to this rule, but they are rare. And usually, these are some of the most brilliant people on Earth.
Fortunately, many venture capitalists, philanthropists and companies today who have a different worldview than most traditional VCs. They believe in long-term solutions to meaningful problems and are willing to fund them without expecting quick returns. More and more people are trying to solve some major problem instead of focusing on another photo-sharing and social media app. But still, we have a long way to go as a society to celebrate these people who are working in the dark, don’t close enormous rounds of funding.
My favorite yet relatively trivial example here would probably be Google Maps. Without Google Maps, our current life wouldn’t be the same. Even so, you’d rather chat about a new Instagram filter rather than a phenomenally innovative Google Maps update. It’s mundane, but the amount of work and the effort they put in is inexplicable.
And imagine if Google Maps would have asked people to start paying $5 a month to use it. I’m not sure many people would accept that. Yet, they are totally fine with paying $500 for an NFT.
Things I've been reading/watching/enjoying
📊 Consumer Trends: 2022 Mid-Year Update (report)
The New Consumer published a mid-year update to its infamous consumer trends report. Highly recommend to anyone building a business today.
Here are my favorite takes:
Apparently, Generation Z and Millennials (ages 10 to 40) now represent ~40% of the US population. But what’s interesting is that they are now entering their prime spending decades. Gen. X’s spending will slowly decrease as they age, but Gen Z and Millennials are just getting started.
The company that I’m working at, Silverbird, was featured in the a16z blog this week. Wow! 🤩 So proud of this team’s achievement. I’m sure it’s just the beginning. Happy to be a part of it.
📑 Developers documentation at Awell (website)
Rik Renard, partnerships lead at Awell (care pathways automation for healthcare organizations), shared this quote from one of their prospects. Struggling myself with making really good developers’ documentation, I was hooked.
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That’s it for today. Thanks for reading. Until next week 👋🏻
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