Check your Pulse #61

on my mind

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 61st edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. Today’s issue is sponsored by Intent, a dev shop that has built over 160 apps and 50 MVPs for some of the most exciting startups, including Oura, Block Renovation, and Keeps. If you’re building something, reach out to them here.


Hello, friends.

For most of last year I was able to let an idea rattle around in my brain for a day or two, and then like magic, a fully formed think piece or even a whole essay would pop into my head. I can’t seem to find the headspace for that these days, but I’m trying something different today. Instead of a fully formed essay, I’m sharing a collection of evolving notes and things on my mind. More half baked ideas, less friction to hitting that SEND button.

🧠 I spent a lot of time going through old photos on my phone when I was in the hospital. One thing I noticed - there’s a big gap between seeing a photo of myself and appreciating it. It’s only days (or years) later that I appreciate how happy I was in that moment, or how fabulous I looked. We are so used to being grateful, but this often happens in the form of nighttime rituals (like the one I practice with my kids every night) that, while worthwhile on some level, are just an abstract reminder that on paper we have it pretty good. Gratitude and happiness, when we do genuinely feel it, arises from experiences we are currently having. I love the Kurt Vonnegut quote that goes: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” When you feel pain, for example, simply remembering that you have been healthy in the past is a dull comfort compared to how wonderful it feels when you luxuriate in feeling good right in the moment. For me, right now, it’s wonderful that I have this warm drink. This laptop is so quick; it doesn’t lag like the old one. This chair is comfortable. The sunset views from my backyard are insane. There's nothing to say here to round it out — all I know is I’m spending more time noticing when I’m happy, and less time evaluating my life in my head. On that note, here’s a photo of my extremely pregnant self, taken yesterday.

🧠 Believing that things last is the root of our unhappiness. Nothing, no matter how good or bad, is going to last. In pain? It will pass. Sleep-deprived with a newborn? It will pass. There's a Jewish folktale about King Solomon asking a counselor for an adage that would make the happy man sad, and the sad man happy. The counselor, perplexed, asked a jeweler in the bazaar for advice. The jeweler inscribed on a ring: 'This too shall pass.' Call it obvious, but it’s taken me my entire life to half-master this axiom.

🧠 Status symbols change: Idleness and leisure were considered virtues in the ancient world, where today being busy is a badge of honor. Owning a car used to represent freedom. We’re now transitioning to a world where not having a car is freedom. In the past, going online was a luxury. Now, going offline is a luxury. There was a time when a feed full of selfies was cool. Now it’s lame. One of the most fascinating things about Poparazzi is that it shot itself to the #1 spot in the App Store by building its entire product around one of Instagram’s least important features: tagged photos. Status symbol changes represent new product opportunities.

🧠 On the topic of Poparazzi, it’s clear that the design space for even seemingly trivial software is huge. We’ll continue to see successful new product variants in many categories. Why? Because software today is as much a utility as it is an expression of psychology and culture. For example, Startupy is my own interpretation of how the world of work/collaboration is changing, what new information graphs are missing, and how people might want to search in conditions of information abundance. The product itself reflects how I see the world. If product is art and philosophy, it follows there’s room for many interpretations and dynamics are less winner take all than we’ve been led to believe.

🧠 The more my career takes me in the direction of creative projects that require peace and quiet, alone time, and imagination, the more I realize that being productive has very little to do with high-stakes, high intensity conferences, back to back meetings, can't-catch-a-breath to-do lists, or endless projects I’ll half-ass due to exhaustion. What makes work good is time to read, think, slow down, and create a rich inner life. In other words, good work comes from slowing the fuck down and trusting that good ideas will come through if we give ourselves enough time and space to see them. The biggest lie founders tell themselves is that if they slow down they’ll get left behind.

🧠 As I’m spending more time on Startupy, I’m thinking about how I want to build this company. I’m just as interested in what I’m building (the product) than in how I’m building it (the process). I’m still thinking through what matters to me but I keep coming back to one thing: strip away the bullshit. For customers - it means no default on notifications, or unskippable ads. It means calling them humans, not consumers. For us as a company it means no meetings when an email will do. It also means keeping the team as small as possible and finding a way to do things without hiring more people. It means building the business at a pace that suits my sanity. And it means really, really caring. I want everything we do to be tasteful.

🧠 Products we’re using at Startupy that I’m obsessed with: Mercury (banking), Linear (project management), Figma (design), Typeform (forms), Webflow and Zapier (for a drop we’re launching next week), Airtable (database), Stripe and Memberful (payments and member management). What we’re still looking for: Analytics (we’re using Fathom but I’m not sold and I hate Google Analytics), Budgeting/Finance (waiting for Runway to launch), Community Software (am I the only person in this world who profusely dislikes Discord?) and better ways to coordinate and distribute equity/revenue to contributors (looking at Fairmint, Rally, Sourcecred, and others… but the solution space still feels ripe here).

🧠 Changes in tech and culture have opened the possibility space for how groups can work together (Packy wrote a bang post yesterday exploring this). A core part of the long-term thesis for Startupy is that a new form of organizing that makes it easy for groups of people to collaborate is not just possible, but optimal. Corporate legacy structures are outdated. Old social technologies like coops are ready to be paired with modern technologies (like tokens) that can align the incentives of collaborators in new ways. For many people, the idea of a long-term career is being replaced by a string of interesting projects and flexible ownership will power this shift. A lot of the conversation around “redefinition of teams” and new employment models is happening in DAOs but we need more user interfaces to help us understand the possibilities, and to help us bridge the gap between web2 and web3.

🧠 Self-organization and decentralized power are one of the strongest themes of the blockchain/DAO/decentralized movement. I’m drawn to the ideals of governing collectively, where decision-making power is shared among those doing the work. But I have a hard time reconciling the idea of no top-down control with the reality that a good product requires a certain degree of “founder dictatorship” to embody a singular and coherent identity.

A Union College study found that fraternity students saw a 0.25 drop in GPA, but a 36% rise in lifetime income known as the “Bro Wage Premium.” Personal networks matter. 🍹

I enjoyed taking this just launched personality test, by Ray Dalio. 🔮

Great Marc Andreessen interview. I was particularly drawn to his remarks on Reality Privilege, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The vast majority of humanity, lacks Reality Privilege -- their online world is, or will be, immeasurably richer and more fulfilling than most of the physical and social environment around them... Most people will be able to express far fuller versions of themselves and have richer and more fulfilling lives online than they would have in the old purely offline world… We should build -- and we are building -- online worlds that make life and work and love wonderful for everyone, no matter what level of reality deprivation they find themselves in. 🖥️

This: The goal is resonance - resonated. When two people work on a shared project – a joke, gossip, a product, an essay – and are able to understand and build on each other, that’s the peak of the human condition. 💯

Whoa. Jumping from 25,000 feet without a parachute and landing safely. 🪂

Mare of Eastown is the best show I’ve watched in a long time. Kate Winslet deserves all the awards! 📽️

This list of the 28 best affordable hotels in the world is giving me serious wanderlust. ✈️

LOVE the idea of a human library. 📚

Startups on my radar 🚀

  • MeetsySoftware that automatically pairs your community members for 1:1s - scaling intimacy.

  • June: Instant analytics, on top of Segment.

  • Marco: Curated experiences that bring teams together

  • Party by Numbers: A NYC-based events company that delivers a whole party - food, bev, decor, and flair - direct to your door.

  • Blank Street: A small format coffee-shop that is actually a platform to launch your own business.

A brilliant Twitter account that resurfaces fascinating discussions that shaped the tech industry. 📝

So real. What MVP really means. 👇🏾


If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy (coming soon). My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram. Or get access to my second brain. 🧠

Thanks for being here!

#60 I minted something

and you can own it

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 60th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every few weeks(ish).  Join me, with probably no regular cadence, while I spiral.

Hello, friends.

Yesterday, I shared an essay I co-authored with Jad Esber on the future of the Internet. The core thesis is that several cultural and technological trends are converging that make us optimistic about the future of the Internet: a renaissance of individualism, the unbundling of Internet communities, a shift away from ad-funded models, and Web3 technologies that unlock infinite remixability.

READ THE ESSAY

Our hope with the essay was to not only share a conceptual vision for a better Internet (where more people can participate in the upside), but to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, and come up with an example of how this future might work in action.

To that end, the essay is the first ever experiment (actually, the second - of course Packy beat me to it) in Attribution+, where we not only cite sources of inspiration, but route economic value to them.

How? That’s where NFTs come in.

We minted the essay as an NFT and are splitting the proceeds of the NFT sale with the group of people who inspired the ideas we share, and with YOU, if you help us share it. Quote tweet this and you will be entered to share in 10% of the upside of the NFT sale. This is only possible because of our collaboration with Mirror, a startup changing the way writers fund and sustain their work.

Why would I (or anyone) want to own this NFT?

Good question. There are several benefits, from the intangible to the very tangible.

  • Be a proud owner of an experiment that honors the original ideals of the Internet - users and creators, unconstrained by intermediaries, sharing ideas and economic upside

  • A powerful signal to the world that you support the “win and help win” worldview, and are, unabashedly, an Internet optimist.

  • A 1hr Zoom call with Sari and Jad to dive deeper into the thesis (all bidders are invited to participate)

  • A lifetime Startupy membership

  • The prospect of turning a profit by reselling the NFT down the line (Patronage+)

  • Own the underlying illustrations we created for the essay.

  • We’ll send you physical prints of the four illustrations we created for the essay - below. They’re 1:1 because this is the only time we’ll ever print or sell them. And tbh, I’d hang these in my powder room - they’re also great dinner conversation starters for the intellectually inclined.

Who gets the money?

The funds will be split as follows:

  • 55% goes to the authors (Jad and I).

  • 30% goes to the thought partners we cite throughout the post. Full list here.

  • 5% goes to my dear friend, Josh Nissenboim, the man behind the illustrations.

  • 10% goes to readers and supporters who help us spread the word. If you want to be part of this pool, Quote Tweet this and add your ETH address. The more clever the tweet, the more likely you are to be selected.

Sounds complicated. Why do we need crypto to do this?

  • Crypto makes it easy to distribute value across stakeholders in more granular ways. That’s legitimately useful; it automates something that can be onerous in the web2 context. Imagine trying to compensate all of the people we cite in the essay using Venmo or PayPal + a spreadsheet to track? Crypto and NFTs are built for this new world. Writers win by earning money for their work. Thought partners win by earning money for their ideas. Collectors win by owning a piece of Internet history. And you, my readers, can also win by sharing the essay here. WIN AND HELP WIN.

  • An NFT is simply a unique token representing a digital file. And because you can have a limited set of tokens, it introduces scarcity to digital life. Scarcity in the physical world is what drives value - there’s only a limited set of any physical thing, but until now, there was an infinite amount of anything on the web. What this unlocks for creators is powerful: creators can capture value without limiting propagation of their work. When you buy this essay you are not buying this essay you are buying an entry in a ledger that associates your identity with this essay. A lot of people seem to think that it is completely insane to spend money for something that is freely copyable or accessible. But that misses the point: humans are status-seeking social creatures; we are driven by the need to assert our identity and belonging through what we own. NFTs make public access and private ownership of any digital media file possible.

  • Questions of provenance, authenticity, and scarcity are solved by using the blockchain which is transparent and verifiable. Each NFT has a unique ID and metadata, which you can think of as a digital passport. Moving forward, anytime this essay is distributed on another platform, anyone can "check its passport" and see its entire history, without the need for any third party to intermediate that ownership.

  • Perpetual royalties - this is perhaps my favorite advantage of all. The ability for creators to automatically gain a percentage of every sale of their work in the secondary market in perpetuity.

Crypto is hard. How do I bid on this NFT?

Anyone with an Ethereum wallet can place a bid by clicking the Place a Bid button here. If you don't have a crypto wallet yet, don’t be intimidated. Follow the steps below and consider this your foray into this weird, wonderful world:

1.  Turn your regular $ into Ethereum (Cryptocurrency). For most of you the easiest way to do that will be via Coinbase. On iOS you can do this with Apple Pay by using Rainbow Wallet.

2.  Once you’ve setup a Coinbase account or Rainbow Wallet (iOS) purchase some Ethereum.

3. On desktop Install a browser-based Ethereum wallet called MetaMask. (Click here for a tutorial on how to install Metamask). On iOS you should already be using Rainbow Wallet.

4. Next send your purchased Ethereum from Coinbase to Metamask (Click here for a tutorial on how to send Ethereum to your Metamask wallet.) On Rainbow wallet you should already have the Ethereum you purchased with Apple Pay.

5. Once you have ETH in your Metamask or Rainbow address, voila, you’re good to go. Click here to bid.

The NFT auction closes at 9pm EST tonight. Until then, if you have any questions or comments, tell me everything.

That’s all for now. Let’s see how this goes.

Internet, do your thang! 🔮
Sari

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for being here!

#59: From Winner Take All to Win and Help Win

An NFT experiment in Attribution+ and how the original vision of the Internet is making a comeback

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 59th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human.

Hello, friends.

It’s been a while, and it’s also been WILD. And by that, what I mean to say is, since you last heard from me, I’ve had a collapsed lung, spent 14 nights in the hospital, undergone lung surgery at 25 weeks pregnant, and come out of the rubble more alive and with a mad deep appreciation for the things that humans (like ME) are capable of enduring. I think of that saying: a woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water—and actually yes. This past month I’ve felt very much like a tea bag in boiling-ass-hot water.

But I’m back in business and I’ve got some fun things cooking up in the next few weeks. Today is no exception.

Longstanding CYP readers know that I am a relentless optimist. I’ve long had a theory that we're sorely lacking in solutions journalism; that if we convert all of the journalism complaining about the status quo into positive inspiration and let it flow through the veins of the Internet, we might just change the world.

Now it’s one thing to write about something, and an entirely different thing to live it.

Which is why what I’m about to share is so cool.

Today, I’m excited to publish an essay I co-wrote with my Internet friend Jad Esber: From Winner Take All to Win and Help Win: How the Original Vision of the Internet is Making a Comeback

READ THE ESSAY

PLEASE READ THE ESSAY

LAST OBLIGATORY BUTTON TO READ THE ESSAY

The catch? This will be the first ever experiment in Attribution+ where we not only cite sources of inspiration, but route economic value to them. 

In practical terms, this means we minted the essay as a NFT (here if you’re wondering what the hell that means), and the proceeds of the NFT sale will be split between the authors, the people that influenced the essay, and YOU (if you RT this with a comment and give me your ETH address). It doesn’t get more participatory than that!

If Web2 was about social graphs—where a tagged photo connects the people who attended last night’s wedding—Web3 is about economic graphs, where a simple tag can route money to anyone who collaborated or participated in a project. Imagine the possibilities!

Today, I encourage you to read the essay.

Tomorrow, I’ll send an email before the NFT auction closes with details on how to participate, in case you’re interested in owning this piece of Internet history. I’ll also explain why you (or anyone) might want to own this thing. Crypto is hard, I know. My hope is to demystify it by showing real use cases beyond weird markets for JPEGs, and help you find meaning in the madness.

That’s all for now. Let’s see how this goes.

Internet, do your thang! 🔮

OH, AND READ THE ESSAY

Sari

If by now you didn’t read the essay, I gather you’re more of a get-to-the-takeaways person. The key insights, for you:

  • The assumption underlying today’s winner-takes-all  Internet dynamic relies on creators being judged by a talent standard. But talent is the name we give to people who best deliver what we prefer, and we don't always agree on what's best. Winner-take-all outcomes happen in markets with forced standards and received expert opinion. Today, platforms and a select few “influencers” have taken on the role of “expert” taste-making.

  • We’re currently witnessing a renaissance of individualism on the internet and an unbundling of internet communities, and with that, a breakup with singular, discriminatory platform algorithms and the opinion of the ‘few’ that arbitrate taste. The unbundling of Internet communities means people can decide on “what’s best” for themselves, allowing for the talent power law to play out across more taste vectors and spreading the opportunity to be perceived as “the best” to more people.

  • It's hard to understate how profoundly the shift in the business model of the Internet from ad-revenue to direct-to-creator monetization alters incentives - platforms are now less focused on driving eyeballs and more focused on building tools that make creators money.

  • High willingness to pay creators, along with better methods to monetize creative output is a potent combination that will lead to a massive rise in the number of people making money online, and new ways to scale income without scaling time.

  • Every idea/content/project is just a remix of what came before it.  In the past, it hasn’t been possible to track their provenance or to compensate the originators. The true power of Web3 technologies is the potential to reshape how value is created, shared and distributed.

  • An underexplored undercurrent of Web 2.0 monetization tools is that creators have been incentivized to publish good enough content frequently vs. great content sporadically. But what if instead of being paid as labor, ideas became capital, making you $ while you sleep? What if the ROI of an essay that took 100s of hrs to write was orders of magnitude higher than those designed for disposability? That’s exactly what Web3 technologies make possible.

  • Out of the turmoil of the last 20 yrs new possibilities are emerging.  A renaissance of individualism, a shift away from ad-funded models, and Web3 technologies that unlock infinite remixability make us optimistic that the original vision of the Internet is making a comeback.

This got me like… WHOA 👇🏾

Solid business card design👇🏾

A really good collection of psychological tricks here

  • Saying 'You're right!' instead of 'I know' makes you look less like an asshole and doesn't diminish something someone else may have just found out."

  • Instead of asking, 'Do you have any questions?' I ask, 'What questions do you have?' The first almost always results in silence, while the second helps people feel comfortable asking questions."

I like this, on effort 👇🏾

Can’t seem to find the original source, but this is good 💯👇🏾

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for being here!

#58 friends > communities

the freedom, the flexibility, the likes give us status, but a lingering sadness lurks. 

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 58th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every few weeks(ish). 

Hello, friends.

In one of the most memorable pieces of writing I read last year, David Brooks writes: If you want to summarize the changes in family structure over the past century, the truest thing to say is this: We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families.

What led to this departure from community? Essentially, agriculture and industry allowed people to make more individualistic choices about their lives, and those choices diminished group efforts towards a common good. 

We still depend on people. But technology makes these dependencies less tangible, as we rely on one-click, algorithmically managed gig contracts to get our food and groceries delivered, our images photoshopped, our databases deduplicated. The packages don’t deliver themselves, the meals don’t just arrive at our doors, and the work doesn’t do itself. But since we don’t meet the people on the other side, they are reduced to nameless servants.

An undercurrent of both the gig economy and the creator economy is that the individual lifestyle that it spawns ignores the science of human psychology. The creator economy is lonely. The freedom, the flexibility, the likes give us status, but a lingering sadness lurks. 

Neighbors used to help deliver babies, cook us food, watch our kids. Today, we check into the hospital, we can get any food we can imagine delivered to our home within thirty minutes, and we pay people to look after our kids. 

Tribalism gave us strong social bonds, at the expense of quality medical care, excruciating manual labor, and a very narrow definition of shared interests. Hyper-individualism made us richer and gave us more choice than 18th century kings had, but at the expense of strong social bonds and increased anxiety.

Where do we go from here? Do we go back to being poor with strong social bonds? Or do we create new mechanisms and social contexts for meaning, belonging, and connection? 

I think the next step is a subtler balance between individual freedom and collective responsibility. I don’t have a good name for it, so for argument’s sake, I’ve called it collectivism. 

If blindly adhering to your tribe’s goals or working bullshit jobs at a corporation is about somebody else’s goals (“other”), and the creator economy is about you (“me”), this collectivism I speak of is about a redefinition of “us”. 

This new thing acknowledges our primal drive for both autonomy and belonging. It is grounded in the well-being, both financial and emotional, of people, not a shallow culture that glorifies individualism while downplaying how the resulting self-reliance has deeply tarnished the human spirit.

It bears a resemblance to tribalism, with one big difference: this time, you choose your tribe.

For much of history, if you asked someone to define “community,” they’d give you an answer that involved a physical location — a school, synagogue, church. Today, the word community invokes something more intimate: identity. It’s not something we’re born into, but something we choose.

Software opens up a new design space for experiments in collectivism.

In a fantastic piece, Toby Shorin writes:

The group is the basic user class for the tools we need today as a society, yet few pieces of software allow the squad as a whole to produce cooperatively and generate wealth together.

In Issue #51, I addressed the trust shift away from institutions and towards individuals. The reasons for this are varied — but tools have a lot to do with it. We didn’t have easy to use tools to make an independent career possible before, we do now.

The devil is in the defaults - what we need next is tools that create new, digitally native formats for small groups of people to create wealth and form strong social bonds. 

This isn’t about the Slack, Discord, Geneva or Circle groups you’re part of that start with a small version of a thing, but where the intention is to scale to hundreds or thousands of people that convene in a single public forum to discuss the topic du jour and get them to pay for the thing. This is about building the picks and shovels for intimate, intentionally small groups of friends and Internet friends to build things together, live together, and create wealth together. Unlike the Discord communities you’re part of, the small groups I’m thinking of have to stay small to survive — they’re small by design. Can you really be yourself in group chats with 50+ people?

CoAbode is a platform where single mothers can find other single mothers interested in sharing a home. Together helps people in tech organize or join a community focused co-living experience. Pacaso is a platform that enables co-ownership. You don’t meet your co-owners, so the value proposition is entirely financial. What if you could do this with friends instead of anonymous co-owners? 

Substack, for example, is designed for individual writers. Every, a writer collective that is somewhere between writing for the New York Times and writing on Substack recently announced their move away from Substack as the toolset was not serving their needs. In a Founder’s Letter worth reading, Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper write: When you write together, you don’t have to publish so often that you risk burning out. Instead, the group can share the load. 

The Every model is designed to give writers the autonomy and upside that they get from writing alone, and the support and security they get from working for a media company. 

It’s a matter of time before we see this dynamic applied to other areas. I don’t want to create a podcast on my own but it’d be fun to record a season with a few friends. I don’t want to deal with the tax mess, but it’d be fun to start an investment club with the Jacuzzi crew or collaborate on a merch line with fellow TypeHouse writers. A recurring theme in my mom friends group chat is childcare costs (or rather, how it’s often cheaper to stay home than pay for childcare) — what would a modern day Chama look like, where we pool money for childcare and take turns getting the payout? Collective helps you run your company of one on autopilot, what is the equivalent for helping you run a company of five? While none of the above things are impossible to do today, the options are surprisingly intense.

Braid lets you create flexible group accounts for shared spending. In an excellent piece, the founder wrote:

We live in the world of my money and your money. Our money isn’t quite here yet, except within the confines of romantic partnerships, families and businesses.

Stir is a platform that allows creators to launch joint ventures. From new merch lines to co-hosted podcasts, creators can track each project's performance in a communal space, which they describe as multiplayer mode for your business.

I haven’t demo’ed it and I don’t know how it works exactly. But I do know that as the boundaries of life and work become more porous and businesses transform into webs of interrelationships between people, we need software that takes new assumptions about group structures to heart. 

We may no longer be cooking food for our neighbor or watching their kids, but if a chat + memes + social investing club can create new contexts for people to care about each other and form strong social bonds, then we should embrace that. 

Lately, I’ve found myself consumed by the question of how we can scale intimacy in digital micro-communities. But what I’m coming around to is this — by thinking about community as a software product, we limit the possibility space and end up directing most of the effort towards a very specific view of where the impact will be. This also ignores the opportunity right in front of us: groups of <12 people are bubbles of peer-to-peer potential where we can be more fully ourselves.

Everywhere we go these days, there is talk about community - the developer SaaS tool, the soap brand, and virtually every product I interact with now prominently bears a Community link on their homepage. Personally, I don’t need more Slack groups or things to which I belong. What I want is deeper relationships with specific people where I can be more fully myself, and where our individuality provides the basis for the mutuality of the relationship.

🙏🏽

Sari

This, via Ted Hunt 👇🏽

A good thread on why jailed people should be allowed to have phones. 📱

I like this side project: Sponsor my Community. Community leaders are hungry for monetization, and communities remain one of the few exciting places to acquire customers cost effectively 💰

Haley Nahman on the difference between kindness and niceness is 🔥. Politically speaking, niceness is good, but kindness is urgent. Clapping for essential workers is nice, paying them a liveable wage is urgent. Using the right pronouns is nice; ensuring rights, safety, and protection for trans people is urgent. 💭

Fascinating deep-dive on the product and life philosophies of Allen Zhang, the founder of WeChat. “A good product requires a certain degree of ‘dictatorship’, otherwise it will embody all sorts of different, conflicting opinions and its personality will become fragmented.” (In stark contrast to the talk on decentralized governance these days) 🧠

Questions to ask before giving up

I decided Coney Island is my favorite Taylor Swift song ever 🎪

I found this essay by Jesse Walden to be the clearest examination of the potential of NFTs.

Day one fan. The feeling of being a Day One Fan is unmatched, but also under-productized. There will be a new, defining social status that comes to the surface when solutions arise that prove to a fan they were an early follower. 💰

Startups on my radar 🚀

  • Waitwhile helps businesses delight their guests by letting them join a line remotely and then wait from anywhere. No more pointless waiting!

  • Nearby is a local commerce play by the former CPO of Slack.

  • Olive consolidates your shopping purchases into a single weekly delivery in a reusable package

This newsletter is free but not cheap. I don’t expect you to pay me anything, but if you’re feeling extra thankful, my venmo is @sari-azout

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for being here!

Check your Pulse #57

a pregnant pause, the erosion of place reflections > predictions

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 57th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get every two weeks(ish). 

Hello, friends.

I meant for this newsletter to return the first week of January. But I’ll get right to it: I’m pregnant.

I found out about a month ago, and since then, have been battling constant nausea and extreme fatigue. I have struggled to get through Zoom calls — from bed with the video off, pretending my camera didn’t work, taking 30 second breaks to throw up in the bathroom.  Still, I have pushed myself to maintain an outward sense of normalcy, mustering a “great, thanks for asking” when greeted with the usual “how are you?” at the top of each call.

This is not what I predicted this year would look like. 

In January last year, I shared a bunch of predictions.

This year I’m ditching my attempts at prediction in favor of reflection. Less certainty, more inquiry. 

Here are some loosely related notes on things I’ve been thinking about.

  • On digital micro-communities. Scaling intimacy is the million-dollar question for digital micro-communities. I’m surprised by how under-discussed this is. We talk about digital communities being the next big thing, but rarely about how the community software options we have today make it impossible to retain the feeling of closeness and empathy at scale.  Over and over I’ve seen the signal-to-noise ratios of these communities suffer as more people join. It’s network effects moving in the opposite direction — as more people join, the experience worsens. All of this has me thinking about what happens when we focus so much on disruption, and not enough on preservation, on building products and services that can withstand and improve with the passage of time. 

  • On the work of maintenance. The ordinary work that keeps our world going — cleaning the parks, caring for small humans, writing documentation and standards, testing the code. This stuff isn’t glamorous and doesn’t scale the way tech does, but it’s valuable. It’s easier for localities to attract federal funding for new infrastructure projects than to get support for maintaining what already exists. We praise startups like Culdesac and Marc Lore’s ambitious project to build the city of the future while ignoring the many ways in which small shifts in our existing infrastructure could make our cities more livable. As it becomes easier to build new things and replace what breaks, it’s worth thinking about the cost of chasing the new while neglecting the work of preservation. Our idolatry of startups and innovation has meant the focus for the past decade has been: what do we want to disrupt? The limitations of this focus have become apparent: creating online spaces without moderation, luring customers into half-baked solutions in critical industries like healthcare, systems designed for growth but not able to sustain uncertainty. How might the outcomes change if we asked a different question: What do we want to preserve?

  • On work that doesn’t feel like work. In the industrial era, output was determined by hours worked. In the knowledge era, output is determined by the quality of your thoughts. To improve our thoughts, we need to give ourselves space to think and refuel our minds without a set agenda. In this economy, the most effective work often doesn’t look like work —but it is the invisible labor that makes creative life possible. An engineer or a chemist can have a successful career knowing only engineering. But the same cannot be said about most other professions. If you are building community software, connecting the dots between ideas in psychology and sociology is just as important as knowing how to push code. How can we enhance creativity, multi-disciplinary thinking, and the quality of our thoughts is a question I am committed to exploring in my work. (My new project, Startupy, is built on the belief in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of places and combine and recombine them to build new things.)

  • On what we think is good but is actually good marketing. For example, the fear-mongering literature on what screen-time will do to children has very little of it rooted in research. Fortnite is a game where people shoot each other, but it’s also an online club where leadership and teamwork develop. The latter is rarely talked about. Debt can cause more problems than drugs, yet drugs are illegal and debt is tax deductible. Our relationship to products is deeply cultural. How much progress could we make if we re-branded screen-time, masculinity, debt, drugs, meetings, caregiving?

  • On the things we assume are solved. “Data-driven” is the hottest buzzword in business yet it’s crazy to think how, after more than a decade of Data is the new oil we are fighting Covid with medieval measures — curfews, shutdowns, distancing. Where is the data to enable different restrictions for different people? We see terms like social commerce in Techcrunch headlines and assume it’s here, yet if I want to know what stroller my friends use, I just text them. We're still far from utilizing the power of people as true Multi-Level Marketers. There are many other examples. We are in the first inning of so many problems we assume are solved.

  • On the erosion of place. Covid made it harder to go anywhere at all, and then, removed the need to go anywhere. Today, less activities are constrained by place. At home, I can hang out with friends, work out, consult a doctor, collaborate with Internet strangers, start a company, sync with co-workers, build a community. Debates on our digital interactions typically assume a corresponding loss of real life, implying a trade-off between the virtual and the real. We see the online as authentic, and the virtual as fake. One of my contrarian views is that serendipity and authenticity can happen more online than in the physical world. Many of the communities I participate in digitally are brimming with energy and connection, democratizing access to opportunities that were previously only accessible in top-tier cities. That’s not to say there aren’t things we lose when we abstract our interactions into a placeless world. As sociologist Jay Bolter wrote, digital media appears to undermine rather than sustain our capacity to experience a common world. To be clear, to say that we ever had a real “shared reality” would be untrue. I like Erik Torenberg’s explanation: We’ve always disagreed, but at least we had the same coordinates by which we could disagree. Now we’re looking at different maps entirely.

I’ll explore these in more detail in future issues, but for now, I’m happy to be back.

Stay human 🙏🏽

Sari

Fascinating chart that shows if a job is widely considered immoral, you need to pay employees almost twice as much for them to be willing to do it. This is why even a billion dollars of capital cannot compete with a project having a soul. 💰👇🏽

This 8 minute commencement speech was the highlight of my week. The most radical act we can take is to make a commitment to a particular thing… to a place, to a profession, to a cause, to a community, to a person. To show our love for something by working at it for a long time — to close doors and forgo options for its sake. We often assume that some acute and looming threat — be it a foreign invader or a domestic demagogue — will be our downfall. But if we were to end, that end is just as likely to come from something far less dramatic: our failure to sustain the work. 🎓

The Ice Cream Principle states that if you tell 10 people to agree on an ice cream flavor, they’ll pick chocolate or vanilla every time. Groups of people don’t agree on what’s cool or interesting. “Consensus” is just another way of saying average. This made me think of how decentralizing governance can kill innovation 🍦

A hilariously sad website that speaks to the similarities between schools and prisons. I got a pretty bad score. 🏫

The benefits of being attractive are exorbitant. Beauty might be the single greatest physical advantage you can have in life and yet compared to other privileges that may arise from race, gender, or sexuality, we don’t talk much about it. 💄

A playlist from Startupy to you, for your listening pleasure. 🎶

The Startupy First Friends membership is sold out but CYP subscribers can access my second brain - a searchable database with thousands of early stage startups and incredible content (with highlights) - for $99 here. 🧠

I loved these rules for creators, especially the last one. 👇🏽

What an iconic performance of Iris by Goo Goo Dolls 🎶👇🏽

Startups on my radar 🚀

  • Together helps anyone organize or join a community focused co-living experience.

  • Tract: A for kids, by kids online community for student-directed learning founded by Esther Wojcicki (the mother of the CEO of YouTube and the founder of 23andMe)

  • Carro: A collaborative commerce network enabling zero inventory e-commerce cross selling.

  • OnGoody: Send a gift as easily as a text. No address needed. No payment up front.

  • Schoolhouse: A platform for families to kickstart their own microschool with other families they know and trust

Thought-provoking piece on the future of publishing and the opportunity to crowdfund publishing via NFTs. We imagine a world where writers on Mirror can publish an intention to research and produce high-quality writing, and receive crowdsourced funding. In this model, the contributors who fund the project also receive a stake in the future financial upside produced by the work, captured by subsequent sales of the NFT. ✍🏽

A good piece on the changing dynamics of how people earn prestige and what this might mean for traditional MBA programs. Schools are going to have a hard time adjusting to a world in which anyone in the world can now earn prestige from their desk. 🏫

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, early stage startup investor at Level Ventures, and founder of Startupy. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

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Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

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