Catch and Release

@stefdvb

My name is Stefan and this is my personal blog. I'm interested in almost everything so the topics will vary.

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On communication and structure

Having worked in small, startup environment in the last 3 years, I fee like I've learned a lot about the basics of successful communication and information flow in a company. Here are some guiding principles that I've found useful:

1. Communicate early and often

This one seems obvious, but I've experienced people only communicating when a problem has already happened. I suggest following up with your team/colleagues/supervisors weekly on what you've achieved, what you're working on, what you need help with, etc. Create a template and just send it out once a week.

Taking a lead is great, but not if you're keeping everyone else in the dark.

2. Be brief and clear

In this age of global and remote work, you'll often find yourself working with people for whom English is not a first language. A few guidlines that I follow to deal with this:

-    Write the shortest senteces possible

-    Avoid passive tense - you're not writing an academic paper

-    Avoid jargon when working with cross-functional teams, you want to be understood

-    Communicate with a purpose - if you're sending an email, state clearly what you want and what the goal of it is

If you're having issues with a particularly complex piece of writing, I suggest using Hemingway to keep it short and to the point. I've used it myself for writing customer support articles for an international customer base, and I've found it incredibly useful. 

3. Find a balance for structure and processes

This is a tricky one. Essentially, you don't want key information to get lost in the chaos, but you also don't want to end up spending most of your time building a bureaucratic mess that prevents people from getting things done. 

In my experience, when you're just starting a company, aim to hire people of the highest caliber, as those kinds of people exibit leadership and can get things done without a strict strucutre in place. Eventually, you'll start hiring people who need a good process to be productive, and your company will naturally grow to a point where you want things to be defined. At that point you want to dedicate some time in establishing proper processes - and by proper I mean the least restrictive and burdensome as you can. Above all, don't be a paper pusher, and don't ask others to be either.

 

Lazy post

I have a few ideas for my next post, but non of them have matured enough in my mind, so I'll keep you updated with the laziest type of post - a collection of what I'm reading, watching, listening, etc. You know the drill.

Reading:

  • Meditations on Moloch

    This is a cult essay on incentives and feedback systems from a few years ago. I'm late to the party in reading it, but it's really good and has cemented my belief that designing incentives is possibly the most important problem to work on. It gets a bit too much towards the end with the implications of AI, but I highly recommend this to everyone.

  • The Perils of Tech Partnerships (for Pre-Chasm Startups)

    a16z has a lot of really useful business education content. I found this article interesting mostly because I've been involved in evaluating some tech partnership opportunities recently, but I recommend it to anyone who's interested in general business education.

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

    I wanted to get back into reading fantasy more so after some research I settled on this book, for which the author won a Hugo award. I've just started reading it, but both the premise and the writing style are really curious, so I'm hooked. I'll write about it more if I really like it.

Listening:

  • Jon Hopkins - Singularity

    This is great ambient techno/electronic music for doing just about anything during the day. I don't listen to much of this type of music because I get bored of the genre really easily, but this is stellar.

  • Columbia Energy Exchange Podcast - The Global Energy Outlook

    If you're interested in global energy use and our ongoing battle to reduce GHG emissions you should listen to this podcast. It's full of insights based on the latest data analyzed by the International Energy Agency. I have detailed notes on the podcast that I might publish separately.

Watching:

  • The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 - available on Hulu

    The opening sequence of the season is insanely good, and it maintains the quality later on, even if it's brutally slow at some points. Elizabeth Moss is just amazing in this show, I'd probably watch it just for her performance alone.

  • Atlanta Season 2 - available on FX and (not sure) Hulu

    Atlanta is probably my favorite discovery of the year. Equal parts funny, brutally real, and (in Season 2) spooky. Great acting, great characters, wonderfully shot. I love this.

So there you go, now you know what my media consumption has been like recently.

Stay cool,

Stefan

Disrpution

Let's say you wanted to build a product that disrupts an existing market. What do you need to do? It might sound complex, but the way I see it there are also a few cookie-cutter answers to this question. Just complete the following sentence with one or more options below:

"My product should be ____________________________ compared to market incumbents."

  1. Significantly cheaper
  2. Much easier to use
  3. Of much higher quality
  4. Technologically novel

If you get one of these right, you might have a chance. If you get two or more, you're golden. Let's see some examples:

2 + 3 = Facebook
2 + 3 + 4 = Apple, Tesla
1 + 2 + 4 = Uber, Lyft
1 + 2 + (partially) 3 + 4 = Amazon, Google

You get the idea.

Fighting tsundoku

Tsundoku (n) : Japanse word for the constant act of buying books, but never reading them. Specifically, it is letting books pile up in one’s room so much that the owner never gets a chance to read all of them.

In addition to this classic definition of tsundoku, there are many forms of digital tsundoku on the web, and I'm victim to quite a few of them. Here are a few ways I collect too much digital stuff:

  • My Pocket list is full of articles from throughout the web. I've probably saved 30+ just this year.
  • I use Twitter likes as a sort of bookmarking feature, but rarely return to them.
  • There's quite a few video games that I either haven't finished or haven't started yet.
  • I have a relatively small list of bookmarked Medium articles that I have to read.
  • I have a decently sized list of YouTube videos that I have to watch.

So in an effort to stop doing this, I'm introducting the following rules:

  1. For the next 30 days I can only read/watch stuff I've already bookmarked, and not add new items to list. This includes Pocket, Twitter, Medium and YouTube.
  2. I can only buy a new video game once I'm done playing the current one.

I'm hoping that I can implement Rule 1 a few times a year and in that way stop piling up digital information I don't need. Let's see how it goes.

My favorite Medium articles

Like many of you, I'm on Medium. I enjoy the occasional honesty I can see there from people in tech, and a few publications have good long-form stuff as well.

But like most social apps out there, it's also full of toxic content I find both obnoxious and hilarious. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite types of articles I like to get annoyed about:

  • I get up at 3.30 AM and so should YOU!
  • I've founded 27 companies before I turned 12 and you're garbage
  • Here are 42 apps you should use at the same time to increase your #productivity
  • I will put 10 gigantic images of people staring into the horizon in this article
  • A beginner's tutorial for something (it's actually not for beginners and you need to be technical to do it)

I can't wait to get up at 2 AM tomorrow and conquer the world!

Thoughts on Eco and digital currencies in general

I've just finished reading the design proposal of Eco, a new idea for a digital currency powered by a network of verified organization which would run the network nodes. The design paper is relatively short compared to the usual technical white papers I've seen flying around, but it's actually full of good ideas.

First off, I'm glad that a digital currency is finally not stubbornly insisting on a hard limit of coins in distribution. I wrote briefly about this before, but the essence is that too small of a supply of money leads to nothing. In the Eco case, we have an initial supply of 1 trillion Eco coins, and the paper states that this will enable users to work with hundreds of Eco coins in their accounts, compared to the current trend of dealing with tiny fractions. I really like this idea and I think it improves usability a lot. In every transaction I've had so far with Bitcoin/Ethereum and the like, I've had to triple check the amount of zeroes and decimal places before a transaction - it's really annoying and ruins the user experience.

Next, the distribution system seems to put a lot of emphasis on fairness.

Eco plans to distribute 50% of the token supply to the first 1 billion unique, verified human users on the platform (with equitable demographic and geographic representation) to allocate value created to a large community of users. 20% will be allocated to verified nodes (partner universities) and their network of researchers and developers. 10% will be held by the Eco Foundation to fund operations and community grants, and 10% to active contributors and advisors.
The remaining 10% will be allocated to strategic partners worldwide.

Of course these numbers are fairly arbitrary right now, and we're not sure if this exact distribution will in reality result in a fair/equitable distribution of wealth, but it's great that they are thinking about this issue, and that they want to prevent the Bitcoin scenario where a tiny amount of players in the market have seized control of the vast majority of coins. This distribution system is definitely a step in the right direction compared to the competition.

Now, where things get tricky is with governance. Eco proposes an iterative approach where governance becomes more decentralized over time, with the goal of achieving full system self-governance in a few years, using something called weighted-reputation voting. I'm not really sure what to think of this as I don't really understand how it will work and if it will be successful in achieving desired outcomes and behaviors.

And that's the thing - we need a better understanding of the desired behaviors of a global currency system. A focus on fairness and usability is nice, but in my opinion it's not enough. If a system is truly meant to be global, it needs to be flexible enough to be able to react to tail risk events. Let's imagine the following scenario - the year is 2050, and we have a global digital currency (maybe Eco won!). What happens if we have a global recession like in 2008? What happens in case of a giant climate catastrophe? Which monetary policies will the system be based on? How will credit and debt work under this system; will you have crypto-banks or not? For people who want to design a truly global system where money is not controlled by governments, these are the problems you need to solve, or your projects will fail. I'm not saying the projects will fail completely, just that they will fail in creating a global, non-government controlled currency.

We also need to think about the interaction of digital currency and governments. In my opinion digital currency wallets won't stay anonymous for long. The risks of tax evasion, money laundering and other illegal transactions are too big. The goal of digital currencies should therefore be that they are more secure and easier to use than traditional banking, while at the same time keeping some flexibility of cash. It's a tough ask and the incumbent players won't give this space up without a fight. On the other hand, governments will remain better at providing and funding services like healthcare, infrastructure, science and research projects, and for this they will keep using fiat money, because they can get as much of it as they want and use it for whatever goals they seem fit. Therefore, I think we will have interesting discussions about exchange rates and crypto-fiats, that is officially authorized digital currencies that can be used in parallel with traditional fiat for most transactions.

Overall, I believe Eco is a step in the right direction. I'm excited to see how it's implemented and how the ideas upon which it is based on will evolve and adapt. You can find the design paper here. Go read it and let me know what you think on Twitter @stefdvb.

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Hypocrisy

I've recently noticed a group of people on Twitter who are able to hold the following convictions at the same time:

  • You shouldn't watch or read news
  • Uninformed people should be discouraged from voting or participating in a democracy
  • Free speech is under some sort of massive attack
  • New and innovative thinking is necessarily "challenging" and is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable

Here's to the cognitive dissonance of the modern "independent thinker". 🥂

The key question of cryptoeconomics

I've been following the rise of blockchain and cryptocurrencies with excitement over the last few months. Trying to understand the building blocks of blockchain has proved challenging, but at this point I feel like I have a decent, though still fairly abstract understanding of it. However, there is an issue I have with most major cryptocurrencies, and I can't seem to find a satisfying answer to it from the blockchain community.

Here's my question: What exactly is the benefit of having a hard limit on the number of coins that can be created for any given crypto currency?

For some reason almost everyone in the community seems obsessed with preventing price (economic) inflation, even though inflation hasn't been a problem in Western economies in decades (we can even see the opposite problem in Europe, with the European Central Bank struggling to stimulate it).

But it's not just inflation concerns, as it seems there's a key misunderstanding about how human economies operate. Here's the thing: credit and debt are older concepts than hard money. Much more than barter or physical currencies, humans operate on the basis of credit and debt, and we've been doing this throughout history. This is wonderfully explained in David Graeber's book Debt: The first 5,000 years. And guess what - credit and debt don't have hard limits, as they are limited only by our capability to do useful work and create economic output.

If we want our economies to grow (this is a whole other can of worms I don't want to open now), then in my opinion having a hard currency system is self-defeating. The gold standard proved to be a massive failure, as every time there was an economic crisis it had to be cancelled or altered. Moreover, a growing economy requires a growing money supply - I don't think I've ever seen an example of a growing economy with a fixed amount of currency in its system over a long period of time.

So while I'm very interested in figuring out the problems blockchain can solve, I don't think currency will be a successful use case unless we give up on the hard-money constraint. I'll be happy to be proven wrong.