Something Ventured Notes

People talk about the Paypal mafia, but before that, there was the Fairchild Semiconductor mafia (‘Traitorous 8’), from which came Intel, AMD, & firms from Sequioa to KPCB. It literally incubated Silicon Valley



Arthur Rock, one of the first VCs capitalists, was instrumental in seeding & starting up Fairchild Semiconductor. From 1961-1968, he returned $100mm on $3mm invested.


Why he quit investment banking on Wall St for the barely named ‘venture capital’ in the 60s:



Rock: “I wanted to do more of these venture capital type deals, but the money was all in the east. The scientists who had moved from the east to the west had all the ideas. I saw a great opportunity in bringing the East Coast money out backing these people on the West Coast.”


Tom Perkins on a philosophy I heard Josh Wolfe echo on InvestLikeTheBest:

“My idea in everything has always been to try to put the risk up front … and get rid of the risk as fast as you possibly can.”


Perkins helped make Genentech possible this way:



Sequioa founder Don Valentine on his approach when investing:

“These are very fragile companies with a lot of things missing and the approach we have always taken is, If we make this investment, is our rolodex strong enough to help these people?”


Underscores that this is such a relationship driven business. Keith Rabois on monopolizing, packaging, recruiting talent echoes Valentine:



When Don Valentine started investing, he’d already spent 13 years as an operator, including as an early executive at Fairchild and then National Semiconductor. Tom Perkins spent years as an engineer then manager at HP

 Operating → Investing


Goldmine –– the transcripts at length:

The Don Valentine ones (esp. part 3) are great for how tactical they are – ex. how he approaches board meetings, etc.

Adventure: pursue fear and interest into uncertainty

A life well-lived is an adventure. A pursuit into uncertainty of that which is most fearful or interesting for you.

That means:

Learning. “You can generate learning by creating situations where you’re not sure about the outcome.” Learning follows.

Success. Success is the continued pursuit of mastery.

Presence: We cling to the known, our mental accumulations, out of habit, their comfort in their familiarity. They are security against the unknown. In facing into and holding ambiguity, these are relinquished.

Shed self-conflict: In pursuing interests, shedding self-conflict and socialized, internalized judgements

These are as much byproducts as complementary lifts, a tight network – strengthening the same compound movement.


An experiment is the easiest, smallest specific form of adventure.

Notes – Gratitude (Oliver Sacks)

80 year old clinician and writer Oliver Sacks on his impending death.

  1. “I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at eighty as I was at twenty […]”

    1/ What a reminder. To be as shy at eighty as at twenty – that’s 60 years worth of missed opportunities to share experience, to connect with other human beings.

    2/ When I think about the future, I’m often imagining a different version of myself living that life – more confident, more present, more accomplished. But, none of that happens without doing the work to get there. And nothing takes care of itself on its own. After all, how many times have I failed to tend to my health, or relationships, or career? How many people do I know like that? The adults who […] and anesthetized by comfort – I doubt it was their conscious plan, either. But it didn’t just happen.

  2. On a friend who passed away: “I often dream of him and of my parents and of former patients – all long gone but loved and important in my life.”

    Freud: “Love and work … work and love, that’s all there is.” Love through relationship. And what is work, but a way we contribute value to the people we have relationships with? Not (just) making money to feed the family – but the value your work creates – how what you build or do adds value for those who use it; the health/comfort a nurse makes possible for patients; etc.

  3. “My father, who lived to ninety-four, often said that the eighties had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.”

    1/ A different way of aging than the stereotype. I’ve learned so much from being exposed to those older than me, from seeing where the different ways of being take people 30 years down the road. Yet we live in such an age segregated way.

    2/ Einstein: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

    Stephen Cohen: “We tend to massively underestimate the compounding returns of intelligence. […] When you recognize that intelligence is compounding, the cost of that missing long-term compounding is enormous. They’re not giving you the best opportunity of your life. Then a scary thing can happen: You might realize one day that you’ve lost your competitive edge.”

    We can grow our intelligence in a compounding way – why not our equanimity, our tendency to be grateful, the quality of our relationships, the quality of our lives? Personality form according to learned response from early (ex. childhood) experience – ex. I do this, it gets me attention – and the rest of it accumulates according to experiencing the world from these early lens. Compounding.

    Addition, March 2019: Compounding in the way most people talk about it just means focussing on something and continuing to improve at it over time. But it’s really meant in a way that enhances itself — how do we get to that vs. just linear improvement? How do we even get a framework or example for those two things compared against each other – ex. the linearly improving engineer vs. the compounding-ly improving engineer?

  4. “One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’ too.”

    Freud, again. How you relate to yourself and to others.
  5. “One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities.”

    A reminder to ask oneself – you may be seeing from the sidelines, but what are you experiencing? What are you contributing to? What are you a part of?

    Also – at the end of the day – most of these things don’t matter. “Booms and busts, revolutions and wars […]” – life goes on anyway – until it doesn’t. Paying attention to this kind of material, “news-material”, isn’t that important – depending on what you prioritize in your life.

  6. “I do not think of old age as […] but as a time […] freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.”

    (i) The point of meditation, of mindfulness, of therapy – to bind thoughts and feelings and actions – to connect to what you are emotionally experiencing, instead of rejecting, denying, hiding from or coping against it.

    (ii) What qualifies as a lifetime? Some pregnancies are miscarried. Newborns, infants, kids, teenagers, adults, the elderly – all die.  The point is – being free to explore whatever you wish – don’t wait.

    (iii) Addition, March 2019: Why not create this for myself today? If I really want to learn, isn’t this the most crucial thing? Worth adding in thank-you to Haseeb re: his advice.

  7. “Now that I am dying, I must […]” and later in another essay, “I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.”

    The moment you’re born, you’re dying. Saying “I must” to ourselves is a way of creating false urgency. We always have a choice – and one day, we might wake up at eighty and find we’ve been making it all wrong for all that time. As long as you’re alive, though, you can learn.  If you wouldn’t do it dying at 80, why do it dying at 20? (excepting those values, interests which change with age. But I don’t know that watching the news, or buzzfeed are a part of most people’s values at 20.)

  8. “I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever ‘completing a life’ means. Some of my patients in their 90s or 100s say nunc dimittis — ‘I have had a full life, and now I am ready to go.’”

    This is happiness – the sense that nothing is missing. It doesn’t have to take 90 years to get there. If it ends, it ends. Ajahn Chah on the already broken glass. Also: Gratitude without a need for reason. There’s so much internal resistance to this at first – so much needs to be done; this and that must be accomplished. Not really – it’s normal to go and do those external things, and build this and that – but at some point, you might ask – is it OK to give myself permission to be happy now? Is it OK to feel complete now? Happiness deferred will never be happiness.

    To remember well is to have lived twice. There’s value in having gratitude for this rich lived experience – that’s a major theme of these essays.

    But there’s also immense value in gratitude without cause. Simple gratitude for whatever is happening right now – if there’s a breeze, gratitude for the breeze; if birds are chirping, gratitude for that. It’s gratitude for the experience of experience, not gratitude because of any particular reason- it just is. And then there’s nothing to feel sorry about, either – any experience is gratitude.

    Addition, March 2019: feeling that something needs to be done and then doing it also allows peace, and is healthy and useful. With focus on the right things, this is useful and good.

  9. “I have to say that I am not too exercised by the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness – indeed I do not see it as a problem at all […]”

    Peace at its core – “indeed I do not see it as a problem at all […]”

  10. “I am looking forward to being 80.”
  11. “A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are).”

    I want to go camping again. Or be alone for a week, in this kind of environment. What an experience. (But whatever peace I can find there and then, I can find here and now.)

  12. “Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death.”

    Coping is natural. But all coping is temporarily separating ourselves from our emotions – which are only the province of living things that, in being living, are dying. When we eat, why do we overeat? Because we don’t want the experience to end – end means facing, again, what we’re escaping. It’s disconnecting from what we’re feeling, the opposite of his earlier comment – “to bind the thoughts and feelings” – to connect to what he’s feeling.

  13. On lemurs: “I love their leaping vitality, their inquisitive nature.”

    Like kids. Kids are happy. Kids ask questions.

  14. “Uncles and aunts and cousins would visit us for tea, or we them; we all lived within walking distance of one another.”

    This is such an alien thing to me – having so much family so close around, visiting so often. But for most humans, for most of time, this kind of closeness would have been the norm – living with the tribe. Family is annoying, but there’s something to be said for this closeness and what it does for our health, our feeling of connection. (Isn’t that spirituality, after all – dissolving the illusion of being a separate self.) Especially a great foundation to socialize children, internalize in them a sense of belonging.

    John Gatto: “We live in networks, not communities, and everyone I know is lonely because of that.”

  15. “After I qualified as a doctor in 1960, I removed myself abruptly from England and what family and community I had there, and went to the New World, where I knew nobody. When I moved to Los Angeles, I found a sort of community among the weight lifters on Muscle Beach, and with my fellow neurology residents at U.C.L.A., but I craved some deeper connection — “meaning” — in my life, and it was the absence of this, I think, that drew me into near-suicidal addiction to amphetamines in the 1960s.”

    Easy to scoff at seeking “meaning” – but we’re all doing it. What do we get from pursuing meaning? He specifies it as connection. There’s Freud again. What does connection feel like? Affirmation. A feeling of being approved of. A sense that our work and, through it, we ourselves – matter.

    That meaning is subjective doesn’t make it something to escape or “transcend.” Experience itself is subjective. Best to pick meaning(s) that work for you, ones that enrich your life, and don’t preclude your happiness. “Success” – too broad. “Happiness” – too broad, too easy. “Making my parents happy” – among the worst, but how many of us live that, unconsciously, anyway?

    How to align meaning (i.e. purpose) with connection? Shep Gordon talks about being of service as his mission. All our suffering comes from a focus on self – being of service shifts the focus from self to others. Then there’s the adage – if you want to be a billionaire, help a billion people. Business is simply people exchanging things they assign value to. Service is adding value to people’s lives. So, being of service isn’t just a way to be happy – it’s a way to give back to the community (Freud on work and love) – and to thrive in that way. But these are all choices we must come to on our own. Life is subjective; so is meaning.

    The whole book is, in a way, an answer to this question – see #2. Service and connection and work. Meaning.

  16. “He was full of entertaining stories about the Nobel Prize and the ceremony in Stockholm, but made a point of saying that, had he been compelled to travel to Stockholm on a Saturday, he would have refused the prize. His commitment to the Sabbath, its utter peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns, would have trumped even a Nobel.”

    What an example of knowing yourself, and living a commitment to your values instead of chasing success, chasing what everyone else wants. If our professed values are theories, the hard choices are the experiments that prove our commitment to them – or disprove it.

  17. “The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything,”

    This is real presence. Time us just in our head – remembering the past is just daydreaming about something outside our immediate experience – same for contemplating the future. “When” is really “what-if.” The only thing that’s real is right now. What a thing to share with others.

  18. “I felt embraced by my family in a way I had not known since childhood.”

    As we get older, we separate ourselves more and more – more network, less community. I wonder if this also speaks to how his mother rejected him so harshly for his sexuality. After so consciously separating himself from his family, in part probably to avoid the pain of that rejection, was it cathartic to find a home among relatives again? That pain of separation, rejection was a place he never let himself “bind thoughts and feelings” – and here he did. Makes it apparent how everything can compound – including pain. Left unaddressed, it compounds into the fault lines in our personalities that fissure under pressure.

    Addition, March 2019: Wow, how dramatic was that note^. True, but life is love – this is a joy too.



Brilliant thread by Julien Smith. Reposting here as long-standing reminder to myself.

1/ there is this sense when you are young that your accomplishments need to be a list of things that seem impressive to others. A list of several items you did.

This isn’t actually right, so here is another suggestion.

2/ I remember being 26 and writing about reading 52 books a year. I wrote blog posts about it. They got copied. It became “a thing.” Now it’s in Twitter bios. It looks impressive but it’s insanely useless and I shouldn’t have done it.

3/ what I should have known at that time is that only young idiots like myself, with no accomplishments, find list of tiny achievements impressive. Anyone who has actually done anything of substance doesn’t gaf

4/ what is actually difficult, and worthwhile, instead is to do ONE single thing for a very, very long time. It’s much harder and much rarer and results in outlier outcomes much more often.

Of course you can find this out too late if you are chasing the dragon of Ted talks etc

5/ if I had only worked on a startup for a year, I would’ve gotten nowhere, the same way that if you lift for 3 months, it achieves nothing. Everything good in life comes from perseverance, but at the beginning, you’re just like “I need to be somebody!!!”

If I had read one book 52 times – the right one – instead of racing through 52 books year after year, I think I would have been able to write Moby Dick by now. But the surface level stuff was too attractive, too shiny.

7/ all of this is because it’s the nature of the mins and the body to give up once things are hard- it’s why grit is so valuable. It’s why Jeff Bezos is the richest guy and not the dude who did 10 startups for that same period. Compounding efforts produce outlier results.

I’m lucky that I am 39 now and have done enough to feel that my monkey ambition brain is satisfied (for now). I was meeting a dude the other day and he goes “why did you start your company, did you get sick of writing New York Times best sellers?”

Like ha ha, but he’s right.

Now that I’m on the other side of it, I realize a ton of that time was wasted. Focus is what gets you places. Being deeply good at a single thing, or good enough at two things.

In case you’re wondering, for me, that’s a-product and b-getting people to believe in me + my thing.

10/ so conclusion- choose one thing and spend 5 years on it. At the end of one year you won’t have a ton of signal that it’s working.

Example – My gf is one year into her ceramic sculpting and she just did her first show. People like what she does but she wants it to go faster.

11/ if she quits now, it dies (and she proves herself right).

But year 2 is easier. Your network is wider. More people see your thing and recognize it. Your second set of pieces get seen enough to develop your reputation. Etc.

12/ so on with year 3, 4, 5, etc. Now you’re really somewhere! And most people have quit. So you’re now way ahead in a much less crowded pack!

PS this is her thing in case you’re wondering. …

13/ in startups, same issue. How credible is the guy who raised 100m$ vs the guy who raised 10.

Not 10 times more.

100x more.

14/ real conclusion now

When you feel like quitting, the thing you should really get out of it is not “I quit” but instead

“ah! Most people probably quit at this time. If I continue, good things will happen and it’ll be less competition.”

Have a good weekend, and get to work.


Unwillingness to face uncertainty kills decision making. And vitality.

Three variations on a theme: thinking tools to decide.


When meeting calamities or difficult situations, it is not enough to simply say that one is not at all flustered. When meeting difficult situations, one should dash forward bravely and with joy. It is the crossing of a single barrier and is like the saying, “The more the water, the higher the boat.”

1/ “What if this situation were *meant* to be an adventure?” – Reorientation: avoiding risk → joy in risk.

2/ When we do something that might not work, we’re on the hero’s journey. “What stage of the hero’s journey am I at?” – Orients self in this fundamental narrative with a before and an after, creating some sense of stability: a tracking for the emotional internal path.

3/ “Am I trying to solve for 100% certainty – i.e. to escape uncertainty – or to develop a hypothesis and test it?” You are CHOOSING to feel uncertain. See this.


You can tell inversion is important by how many variations on the theme we see.

  • Munger’s inversion, as described by Peter Bevelin:

“Thinking backwards, we can determine what actions must be avoided. As Charles Munger says, ‘If you were hired by the World Bank to help India, it would be very helpful to determine the three best ways to increase man-years of misery in India – and, then, turn around and avoid those ways.’ ”

Instead of asking how we can achieve a goal, we ask the opposite question: What don’t I want to achieve (non-goal)? What causes the non-goal? How can I avoid that? What do I now want to achieve? How can I do that?”

  • Tim Ferriss: “What if I did the opposite?”

And here, from complexity theory, counterintuition. (s/o Steeve for sending me the article)

People know intuitively where leverage points are,” he says. “Time after time I’ve done an analysis of a company, and I’ve figured out a leverage point — in inventory policy, maybe, or in the relationship between sales force and productive force, or in personnel policy. Then I’ve gone to the company and discovered that there’s already a lot of attention to that point. Everyone is trying very hard to push it IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!


Counterintuitive. That’s Forrester’s word to describe complex systems. Leverage points are not intuitive. Or if they are, we intuitively use them backward, systematically worsening whatever problems we are trying to solve.*

The systems analysts I know have come up with no quick or easy formulas for finding leverage points. When we study a system, we usually learn where leverage points are. But a new system we’ve never encountered? Well, our counterintuitions aren’t that well developed. Give us a few months or years and we’ll figure it out. And we know from bitter experience that, because of counterintuitiveness, when we do discover the system’s leverage points, hardly anybody will believe us.

The idea of developing counterintuition is useful because it sits at the heart of the practice. It’s the work behind Munger’s point:

“Any year that you don’t destroy one of your best-loved ideas is probably a wasted year.”

The willingness to disorient ourselves, to unmoor from conviction into discovering, openness, learning.

So, instead of – rather in addition to – intuition, another skill: counterintuition.

Continue reading “Counterintuition”

Seeking clarity

The mistake is seeking clarity from the past. Grasping for the wisps and echoes of the clarity one had, the memory of clarity. Which is? Really, just memory of a feeling – the feeling of relief from cloudiness, of attainment, all that. But not clarity itself.

Clarity is right here, right now. It is in the dissatisfaction with this existence, this moment, this room, this apartment, this apparent lack of progress, this situation – ultimately with this experience, which is oneself.

Clarity is here, and it is what I was turning away from.

Adventures on the open sea

Seneca, on a journey by sea:

[…] I headed straight for Nesis over the open water to cut out all the intervening curves of the coast-line. Now when I had got so far across that it made no odds whether I went on or turned back, first of all the smoothness which had tempted me to my undoing disappeared.

I left home and school for a yearlong adventure a few months ago. Low risk because I’m returning to finish school after that, but now all the old choices and uncertainties are drawn into sharper relief. Which was exactly the intention, I remind myself.


[…] I was suffering the torments of that sluggish brand of seasickness that will not bring one relief, the kind that upsets the stomach without clearing it.

It’s supposed to be uncomfortable, because you’ve not yet forged yourself into the person who can do it comfortably. It’s about becoming that person.

When we do something that might not work, we’re on the hero’s journey.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s what it is, yes, that’s where they were, down in the belly of the whale.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the mythological significance of the belly?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: It’s the descent into the dark. Jonah in the whale, I mean, that’s a standard motif of going into the whale’s belly and coming out again.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The whale represents the personification, you might say, of all that is in the unconscious. In reading these things psychologically, water is the unconscious. The creature in the water would be the dynamism of the unconscious, which is dangerous and powerful and has to be controlled by consciousness.


What I endured, in my inability to endure my then self, is beyond belief. You can take it from me that the reason Ulysses got himself wrecked everywhere was not so much because Neptune was against him from the day he was born, but because he was given to seasickness like me – it’ll take me twenty years to reach my destination, too, if I ever have to journey anywhere by sea!

There is only one thing we ever endure: the burden of one’s own self.

The seasickness is the resistance, our unwillingness to face the water of our unconsciousness – that is, our circumstances as they are in this moment, not as we wish they were. It’s ourselves, our indecisions, our fears. We’re still clinging to the expectation of certainty.

The accumulation of fears, doubts, past patterns, past successes. But the hero’s journey takes us into that construct and through it, past the past, the known, into the unknown, into the new, into the now.

For me, there have been moments where indecision, in even my small deviations from the beaten track, has been paralyzing – a month of journalling around a possible future direction instead of acting with celerity. Until I realized – I was seasick.

That month of pseudo introspection eventually gave way to real introspection … which gave way to this insight. Along the way, I forced myself to just do something. And I had to sit with the seasickness, be in total silence without distracting myself from my fears, and really, honestly, look. Those two things – action and silence, led to a decision.

Sometimes seasickness is what happens when we cast ourselves out into open water. And it’s on us to recognize that it comes with the job.

So now, when I get seasick, I recognize it. I can grit my teeth and face into it, embrace it with a grin. And that’s made all the difference. This is, after all, an adventure.

Seneca, once more:

Remembering my training as a long-standing devotee of cold baths, I dived into the sea in just the way a cold-water addict ought to – in my woolly clothes. You can imagine what I suffered as I crawled out over the rocks, as I searched for a route to safety or fought my way there.



Another thing – I don’t expect to stop getting seasick, because I expect to cast out into greater seas. Each time, living a little bigger and better, learning more – it’ll always feel uncomfortable in proportion to the growth.

Hence, one of my favourite lines, here from The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs:

“Integrity becomes a mindful practice for the […] man who chooses to maintain it. He cannot rely on the momentum of his past nor his own intentions to make integrity a regular part of his life. He must consciously attend to all the ways in which he can maintain integrity.”

Doesn’t matter how good we were, how hard we worked, how honest we were. There’s only this moment, this challenge, this opportunity, this step. I am only what I do today.