Check your Pulse #42

why we aren't building and capitalism 2.0

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 42nd 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 each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy Monday, friends.

If you’re in tech, you probably read Marc Andreessen’s important, well-written and uplifting essay published last week: It’s Time to Build

It’s hard to see this essay as anything other than tautological - of course we should be innovating. The more important question is: why aren’t we?

There were lots of smart reactions. The VC business model is predicated on investing in infinite-upside, software-driven outcomes where marginal costs are zero. Ben Thompson of Stratechery argued that if we let go of the requirements to invest in companies with 90%+ gross margins, the possibilities are endless, but we need to figure out an investing model that is suited for this. Yoni Rechtman argued that we’re not building because we’ve stopped funding basic research. And Venkatesh tweeted that VCs don’t invest in new things, rather, they invest upon patterns they have seen before.

Many of us would agree that we don’t need Liquid Death or CBD dog treats, and that devoting our collective attention to an invite-only audio party app called Clubhouse is an inefficient use of our talent and time. But what’s our incentive to build anything else?

In Issue 29, I wrote: Too many of our smartest minds are working on trivial tasks and spending their time in corporations where they feel invisible. They're bored, unchallenged, and under-employed. I believe freeing these people is the most important opportunity of our lifetime.

People have an inherent capacity to build, but the vast majority ignore it. Why? Because their mental bandwidth is consumed by earning a living. People are tired, anxious, and broke. Without the economic freedom to be able to walk away from a bad job (or a partner for that matter) for fear of not being able to feed their family or make rent, how can we expect more people to build? 

We’ve structured a society where survival and dignity are tied to having a job, where workism is our unofficial religion.

Our imagination for how the nature of work can change is incredibly limited, but surveying history paints an always changing relationship to work:

in 1780, ~80% of human attention in the US was dedicated just to feeding ourselves. Today, that's <5%,.

Similarly, 80% of human attention today is on economic activity. In World After Capital (one of my favorite books - but you can start with this video), Wenger invites us to consider a world where capital still plays a role, but it shifts to ~20%.

Capitalism works well when you have markets that can have prices. 

But what is the price for you to discover your life’s purpose? Or to prepare for a pandemic? There is no market mechanism that will allocate collective attention to this problem.

Consider this:

The difference between whether we embrace automation or are afraid of it depends on whether we, as a society, decide to protect people in our transition to automation.

And to protect people, we need to break the link between work and dignity. Holding onto the relics of an old world won’t do us any good considering the kind of societal and technological disruption we face. 

Wenger states:

We did not remain foragers after inventing agriculture. We did not remain farmers having invented industrial machines. We should not remain laborers having invented digital technologies.

Today’s situation has shown that our prosperity was built on a shaky foundation. Suddenly, the idea of unconditionally providing all citizens an income floor sufficient for existence — a universal basic income — is not so crazy.

Already, 40% of workers in rich countries feel their jobs are pointless. If we let people decide for themselves how to best serve humanity, how could we possibly end up with a distribution of labor more inefficient than the one we already have?

One of my favorite all-time quotes is Charlie Mungers, “Show me the incentive, I’ll show you the outcome.”

So… how do we encourage more people to build? A good start would be incentivizing people to leave their bullshit jobs and to focus instead on realizing their potential, taking chances, creating, imagining, building.

Enabling people’s basic needs, it seems, is a prerequisite for this.

I’ve long believed business is the best tool for making change. But startups cannot solve everything. For more people to participate in building, we need to introduce meaning to our political and economic systems and have the moral imagination to embrace Capitalism 2.0 —where people are not workers, but humans with hopes, aspirations, and creative energy.

🙏🏼

Sari

(P.S. As a reminder, I’m donating 100% of classified ad revenue directly to families hurt by the pandemic. Scroll down to see this week’s supporters - they’re 👌🏽)

Creative Covid launches on my radar this week 🧠👇🏽

  • Mail This lets you skip the post office and send mail from your device. 📭

  • Design studio Neighbourhood Creative launched Take Away, a cookbook series that gives restaurants and chefs a way to earn much needed cash. 👨🏾‍🍳

  • Family Meal is making beautiful, downloadable recipes from some of the best restaurants in NYC. Download and donate. 👩🏽‍🍳

  • Hotel brand Zoku has launched Private WorkLofts – for €50 you get a workspace for the day, plus room-service lunch, stationary and supplies. 📝

  • Berlin-based florist up with a restaurant to create DIY dinner with flowers, a package with prepared food ingredients and flowers. 🌸

Watching this rooftop to rooftop tennis is giving me life 🎾

Here’s a great excerpt from an incredible interview with Larry David. 👇🏽

I love this explanation of why kids often write letters backwards: We mistake the direction of letters because nature is symmetrical. A butterfly, for example, looks the same on both sides, so there is no cost to reversing how something looks in your mind. 🦋

Another Pandemic Woe: Zoom Fatigue If you've found videoconferencing exhausting lately, you’re not alone.  😩

This just launched minimal corporate swag startup is 💯🥤

This made me laugh: a teacher taking attendance in 2026. 📝

Incredible portraits of life under lockdown. 📷

This is almost as good as Community Adjusted Ebitda 👇🏽

This poem is really very good 💯👇🏽

⚡Startups have laid off over 25k employees in the last month. If you are looking for talent, here’s a very good list of people affected.

Very thoughtful post that argues that the Internet tailwinds that propelled meteoric growth in Silicon Valley are stalling. What’s next? Internet company revenue will become zero-sum as companies compete over ever-shrinking slices of consumer attention. 🤔

A great list of KPIs and valuation metrics for 60+ public companies, sorted by specific business models such as ad-based, e-commerce, marketplaces/ listings, subscription, gaming and fintech. 📊

Thoughts from Mary Meeker, author of the annual Internet Trends report, on what will change the most post-COVID 🧠👇🏽

  • Scientists and engineers will get more seats at the table

  • Companies will get comfortable with new work environments

  • Digital transformation will accelerate in all industries

  • On-demand services will continue to drive economic growth

  • Governments will become better technology consumers

  • Healthcare delivery will improve, and healthcare data will finally become useful

  • Media will become more social and engaging


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

📸Evan Robinson is a photographer & director who works with startups like Magic Spoon, Four Sigmatic, Athena Club - all from a home studio that's conveniently, very isolated.

🏖️SORA collaborates with female artists to make beautiful multi-purpose towels from recycled material. Perfect on top of a yoga/gym mat, as a bath towel, or at the beach.

🏠Through its ingenious design process and unique client experience SDH Studio Architecture + Design works alongside their clients to create state of the art breathtaking designs!

🎥Learn how to become an expert video storyteller ⁣from an award-winning fmr. TODAY show producer. Video can be overwhelming but your brand needs it. Come for a free Masterclass.

🎁Want to send love while social-distancing? Small Packages has gifts for birthdays, sympathy, and more. They’re affordable ($35/$50/$100) & full of beautiful, premium items.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. 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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Thanks for being here!