Check your Pulse #21

🌵 in the desert, zip-up pajamas, and why we can predict the future 🔮

Welcome to the 21st edition of Check your Pulse, a weekly newsletter that curates thought provoking reads at the intersection of tech, startups, society, and culture and has been described by readers as “a yoga class for the mind”. If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can subscribe here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

I’m currently in the most magical place in the middle of the Utah desert on a nature high, admiring 165 million year-old rock formations, sun-gazing, yoga-ing, and meditating to breathtaking views that can only be described as otherworldly.

During the holiday break last year, I read Tim Ferris’ Tools of Titans where he interviews billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. I was struck by how, regardless of industry (surfers, CEOs, professional dancers, cryptocurrency experts, etc…) the vast majority of the people he interviewed had a mindfulness or meditation practice.

Since then, I’ve made half-hearted, sporadic attempts to meditate daily, but in truth, I haven’t sustained it.

This week, I came across Oshan Jarow’s thoughtful and poetic post Why I Meditate which is the most convincing I’ve read. Here’s what he had to say:

"I meditate because attention is my art form. I’d even wager that much of what we call art — paintings, novels, poetry — are secondary, byproducts of rarefied attention. Attention, then is the primary art form."

Isn’t that beautiful?

I hope wherever you are, you are finding time to be present.

🙏🏼

Sari

"People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

Joseph Campbell

caught my attention

links to love this week

I’m intrigued by A Kids Book About, a collection of beautifully designed books that kickstart challenging, empowering, and important conversations for kids and their grownups. Kids are amazing creatures, with endless curiosity and incredible resilience. They need grownups to dive into complicated and uncomfortable topics earlier than you think. 👇🏽

This is a great list of internal memos. I love memos, because they are raw and real, and highlight how people think inside organizations, not just the stories manufactured for the outside world. Howard Schulz memo to Starbuck’s leadership is great, and so is Sequoia’s internal memo laying out an investment thesis for Youtube. 📝

Despite the not so good reviews, I’m enjoying Modern Love (an adaptation of the iconic New York Times column), which premiered last week on Amazon Prime and is star studded: Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Anne Hathaway, John Slattery and more. 🎬

How big a deal was the Industrial Revolution? is a long, dense read, but it is one of the best and most educational pieces of historical writing I’ve read. It delves into how large the differences in human well-being were before and after the industrial revolution and has some interesting findings about future transformative developments. The gains in human well-being observed since the industrial revolution are vastly larger than pre-industrial fluctuations in human well-being. No other transitions in recorded history, either positive or negative, are remotely similar in magnitude. When thinking about which future developments might be most important, we should not forget that the size of their likely impact may differ by orders of magnitude. For example, a universal cure for cancer would bring a huge benefit to human well-being, but its expected impact seems likely to be vastly smaller than (for example) the likely impact of AI systems capable of automating most human labor, or the counterfactual benefit of preventing large-scale nuclear war. 🏭

It’s All Process is an illustrated, thought-provoking reminder that everything you do is - and always will be - a work in progress. "We celebrate starting projects and finishing them. But we don't draw attention to messy or incomplete parts of things." ⏳

Never thought I’d care about cement, but this is a great thread 👇🏽

Why I think we can predict the future is a great read from Bill Gates. It can be daunting to look at the health inequities that still exist in the world. But if we continue to fund innovation, we can close those gaps. We can solve nutrition, and we can make sure the entire world broadens its focus to include improving lives. There’s a catch, though: technology is easy to predict. But progress doesn’t just depend on technology. It also depends on people—who are very hard to predict. 🔮

I loved reading this article by Paul Jarvis. He talks about the onslaught of advice available about everything—from monetizing your passions to significantly growing your user base. Like Paul, I don’t think advice is inherently bad, but I do think it’s important to understand who is delivering the advice, and their motivations behind doing so. Is it to further their own industry standing, to prime you into buying something, or to actually help you with some first-hand experience? Are they speaking their own truth? Or are they regurgitating tired industry advice? 🗣

Sorry for the delayed response on the New Yorker made me laugh. I hate how accurate this is (my email response rate is either 4 minutes or 4 months): You e-mailed asking for my opinion, and I wanted to give a really thorough, well-thought-out, articulate response, so I starred your e-mail, and over time it became a mascot for my illogical but oppressive sense of dread in the face of slightly annoying tasks. 📩

I love this old video of Steve Jobs (4 min long) describing what sets humans apart. Humans aren't special when it comes to calories burnt to move 1km. Other animals win easily.  But no animal can compete with a human on a bicycle. We are a species of leverage - that's what makes us special. "The computer is the bicycle of the mind." 🚲

Beautiful video of a crowd in the NYC subway singing Dancing On My Own, a song about loneliness, but the moment you hear it, you instantly feel less alone. 🎤

venture corner

a roundup of startupy things from around the web

Great thread on the current state and opportunities in the online education market. If you just naively create a course, offer it for $99, and get no traction, it’s easy to conclude that the market isn’t there, that the space is crowded, that ppl are too price sensitive, etc but it’s really that you’re missing the current context of online education. 🎓

A useful analysis on the state of DTC startups. 🛍

Morgan Housel (@morganhousel) on Why New Technology is a Hard Sell is very very good. It was years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight before people paid attention, let alone considered flying. Same for the car, the telephone, the computer, the internet, the index fund, solar power, and virtually every other great technology you can think of. It usually takes more time to convince people that your technology has changed the world than it does to invent a world-changing technology. This is easy to overlook because we implicitly assume a technology began around the time we started using it. But most were created years, even decades, before they caught on. Creativity, engineering ability, and leadership are all great traits of entrepreneurs. But none matter without the endurance and patience necessary to see it through. 👩🏽‍💻

Great interview of Andrew Chen (partner at A16Z) by the Managing Editor of Techcrunch discussing emerging trends in consumer internet. 🗯

A great article on the WeWork debacle and irony: SoftBank will give ex-CEO Adam Neumann a $185 million consulting fee, let him sell up to $970 million of his stock as part of a larger offering to investors and employees and extend a $500 million credit line to him that replaces one from a set of banks. Meanwhile, the $8 billion valuation is below 80% of the employees’ strike price for their stock options, which means their stock holdings are zeroed out. In the high-growth startup world, employees join startups in the hope that they’ll have a big cash out moment at a liquidity event, so they are really the ones left holding the bag when Adam walks away with $1.7 billion. Oh… and 4,000 of them are about to be out of a job. 🏢

have you heard of?

Knowable is building the first platform for audio-first learning. It’s similar to Masterclass, but audio only. The idea is to tap into podcast listeners who want to learn new skills from top instructors, delivered screen-free. The platform launched with six courses to start — launch a startup, start a podcast, sleep better, speak with confidence, become a climate change hero or invest in real estate. Each course costs $100 and there are no ads. While it’s true that most online courses are delivered through video, which limits when and how you can learn, I think the true test is whether Knowable can deliver better content than the plethora of free podcasts. Podcasts are typically meandering and unstructured conversations, and there’s an opportunity to package knowledge into carefully thought out lists and frameworks and layer accountability and community. In the U.S. advertising is still the dominant business model for media but if you look at China, which leapfrogged the infrastructure phase to go mobile-first, the market seems to have no problem paying for content. The verdict is out there on whether consumers in the U.S. would rather have ads or pay for content. Whether Knowable can reinvent audio learning or simply be a more expensive podcast remains to be seen. They recently raised a $3.75 million seed round from Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront, First Round and Initialized.

overheard on twitter

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, storyteller, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r Labs. 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

I always like to hear from readers, so don‘t hesitate to share your thoughts and feedback with me.

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Thanks for being here!

Sari