Scarcity / Abundance

From Wall Street to Main Street

My TED Talk on the Magic of Crowdfunding

Why Crowdfunding Changes Everything

I have a new column on Unreasonable.is, which is where this five part series is published:

  • Part 1: The JOBS Act will unlock $30 Trillion in long-term investment capital that can legally be invested in startups and small businesses through crowdfunding portals.
  • Part 2: Currently, investors have a stranglehold on the fundraising process. Once the JOBS Act is implemented, there will be a leveling of the playing field in which entrepreneurs and citizen-investors control the process.
  • Part 3: Investment crowdfunding enables individuals to invest in companies they are passionate about, and in so doing, outperform professional investors.
  • Part 4: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?”
  • Part 5: There is a second revolution coming: investing directly in people. When it collides with crowdfunding, this will create a perfect storm….

Revenue Sharing

In my last blog entry I talked about the perils and evils of debt for both the lender and debtor.  Here I’d like to discuss an alternative which I believe could replace the entire concept of debt.

Revenue sharing, sometimes referred to revenue-based finance and income-contingent loans, is just recently starting to take off. The White House is making a big push for income-based repayment of student loans.*  And at least two private (and highly capitalized) startups are launching soon to provide revenue-based financing options for individuals who agree to pay a portion of their future income in exchange for cash upfront.

With U.S. consumer debt topping $2.5 Trillion and student loans now totaling over $1 Trillion, it’s no wonder that there’s a lot of interest in revenue-based finance. Let’s look at several common debt scenarios and see how they could be different — and better for all parties — if they were based on revenue-sharing instead.

There are many ways to structure a revenue-share …

Lo@n, D*bt and Other Four-Letter Words

Prior to the mid-19th century, those who could not pay their debts were routinely tossed into prison.  Actually, you can still go to debtor’s prison in Germany, Greece, China and Dubai.  In the United States, two of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence (James Wilson and Robert Morris) were incarcerated for their unpaid debts.  In theory, the U.S. abolished such practices in the 1830s.  But six states still allow you to be arrested and detained indefinitely until you “work it out” with your creditors.

And while we humans seem to have a visceral negative reaction to welshers, our disdain for bad faith lenders goes deeper.  Condemnation of usury dates back to the Vedic texts in ancient India, and is condemned as well in all the other major religious texts in the world.  Islamic law (Sharia) prohibits the charging of interest at all, and considers the practice to be one of the seven heinous sins, right up there with murder and “unlawfully taking an orphan’s …

The Economics of Abundance

Here are some things I used to believe:

  1. The power of the free market comes from competition
  2. If you are nice to someone, you will be rewarded commensurately
  3. A penny saved is a penny earned
  4. The more scarce something is the more valuable it is

I no longer believe these statements to be true.  To understand why, I’d like to share a little of my journey as an entrepreneur and investor.

In the mid to late ’90s I was working on a startup and getting my feet wet as an angel investor in Silicon Valley.  I, like everyone I knew, was an adherent of the Chicago School of Economics and the Efficient Market Hypothesis.  One of the mantras of this religion is that

The invisible hand of the marketplace will feed us all, but we have to compete vigorously with one another for it to work its magic.

Signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement on a first date — that’s not just good business, but a moral …

Investing in Superstars, part 4

[NOTE: I updated this post with more detailed examples]

Background: part 3part 2 and part 1.

In the interview with Jon Gunn in Part 3, I mention that I’ve been thinking of what “version 2” of the Personal Investment Contract might look like.  Here’s the model:

  1. Investment Amount – Same as before, intended to give the individual some time to pursue their passion (or figure out what that is) without having to worry about how to support themselves.
  2. Maximum Return – The cumulative total amount that the investor can receive as return on their investment.  If and when this amount is reached, the contract is over.
  3. Annual Exclusion – The amount of annual income the entrepreneur can make without having to share any of it with the investor.
  4. Minimum Revenue Share – The minimum percentage of gross income the entrepreneur returns to the investor after deducting the Annual Exclusion.

Following are some examples of various different career paths and uses for a …

Investing in Superstars, part 3

For the background to this post, start with part 2 and part 1.  The follow up is part 4.

I get a lot of questions from folks who are interested in learning more about Personal Investment Contracts and so I felt it was time to synthesize some of the most common ones and give you some answers.

Who is the first person you invested in?

A film maker named Jon Gunn.

What is your relationship with Jon outside of this investment?

He is my brother-in-law, and a former business partner of mine in an instructional DVD company we co-founded with Phil Gordon.  I’ve also invested in a couple of his independent films.

Why did you invest in Jon directly?

I have been a big believer in his talent for a long time.  None of the ventures I just mentioned though have made me any return on my investment.  Phil had been suggesting for a while that if we simply invested directly in …

Complex Adaptive Monetary Policy

Complex Adaptive Monetary Policy (CAMP) is, in essence, a reconciliation of Keynes’ top-down view of macroeconomics with Hayek’s bottom up view.  The particular details of the proposed policy below are not as important as the recognition of the fundamental forces at play and empirical evidence that we are at a very dangerous chaos point in history.  Both Keynes and Hayek have deep truths to tell, and we discount one or the other at our collective peril.  For those who want a primer on the great debate, this rap battle sums it up better than any text book could.  Now on to the idea…

The fragility of the global financial system (as measured by the US dollar) is a function of the gap between rich and poor.  In the past, only a small ruling elite could decide to use capital to purchase all of the following: food/clothing/shelter; savings; insurance; personal free time; investment; starting a business; buying a private jet; leverage/volatility; political influence; fame.  Today an …

Mutual Disclosure Agreement

When I was in Silicon Valley in the 90’s the joke was that you couldn’t go on a first date without having your love-interest sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement; after all, they might be working on a competitive venture.

These days when I’m hit with the “I’d love to talk to you about my startup, will you first sign this NDA?” my first reaction is to laugh in their face.  I know instantly that they don’t get it and are doomed to failure.  While the NDA may once have been a necessary tool, in today’s environment (and increasingly so) it’s a hinderance to ultimate business success.  If you don’t get this, I’m not going to waste your time trying to convince you otherwise.  You’ll either learn the hard way or prove me wrong.  Either outcome is fine by me.

But if you do get it, and you also encounter this old-school naiveté, I invite you to do what I do, which is to thank the person …

Investing in Superstars, part 2

For the background to this post, start with part 1.  The follow up is here: part 3part 4.

In a subsequent post, I’ll talk about some lessons we’ve learned.  In the mean time, what questions would you have, either as a prospective investor or investee in the above scenario?…

The Safety Net

The following story is true, I’ve just changed the names and told it in parable form.  The material numbers and circumstances are roughly accurate, and Alice is a friend of mine who may tell the story herself on video here soon…

A True Story

Alice was feeling particularly poor at a certain time in her life and because of this she was under a lot of stress.  Her friend, Bob, was a billionaire many times over and he disliked seeing his friend in pain and so he wrote her a blank check and said, “Alice, whatever amount you cash this for, it will relieve me of the burden of figuring out what to do with it.  Will you do me the favor of accepting this gift?”  Alice was stunned because she knew she could have cashed the check for $30 Million and Bob would not have missed it at all.  And she knew Bob was sincere in what he was saying.

Alice was overwhelmed with …

Towards an Economy of Abundance

In A World of Goodies, I tried to explore the implications of creating a currency based not upon scarcity but on abundance.  The concepts in that piece were only half-baked and I’d like to bake them a bit more here.  I’m hoping you will help.

The first task is to make the sharp distinction between the economics of scarcity and the economics of abundance.  Books could be written on the topic, but I’ll sketch what I mean and hope you get the basic idea.  All economic theories you are likely to have heard of are based on the assumption that we live in a world of scarce resources.  Commodities markets allocate those resources based on price equilibrium, but in the end the market does not actually create any new value.  The supply of oil in the world, for instance, is already set, and it’s limited.  As we approach that limit it becomes scarce, and the price (i.e. marginal value) goes up.  More fundamentally, with …

The Adjacent Possible

Stuart Kauffman has a concept called the Adjacent Possible which I find incredibly useful in understanding the world.  Simply put, if you think of the space of possibilities from the present moment forward and just concentrate on those that are achievable today — adjacent to the present moment — that’s the Adjacent Possible.

What’s interesting about possibility-space is that tomorrow’s Adjacent Possible depends on the actions and choices we make today; it’s not symmetric and it’s nonlinear.  Certain actions generate more future possibilities than others.  In my experience, those actions tend to be the cooperative ones, ones that produce network effects: financial, social and otherwise.

Due to our evolutionary heritage, having come from a resource-constrained world, we may be predisposed to see the more competitive actions which tend to shrink the Adjacent Possible.  Whether or not this is a bias or an actual state of affairs, much of our thinking is based on scarcity, so we are drawn to actions that become self-limiting.

Here’s …

TED Prize Wish: Teach Every Child About Food

How Many Calories for a Dollar?

Michael Pollan, as always, making perfect sense:

Now watch Will Allen on urban farming…

Egyptian Mummies Yield Ancient Secrets of Good Journalism

This is based on an LA Times article here

What strikes me most is how athlerosclerotic the science itself is.  Or perhaps it’s just the reportage?

The opening line of the article is “CT scans of Egyptian mummies… show evidence of… hardening of the arteries, which is normally thought of as a disease caused by modern lifestyles….”  One of the researching cardiologist draws this conclusion: “Perhaps atherosclerosis is part of being human.”

The LA Times reporter covering the story (Thomas Maugh) rightly points out at the end, “The high-status Egyptians ate a diet high in meat from cattle, ducks and geese, all fatty.”  Which of course entirely negates the hypothesis of heart disease being part of the natural human condition.

It’s clear why the researchers — both cardiologists — would want ancient evidence to support the notion that heart disease is normal.  But the fact is that the preponderance of evidence around the world in epidemiology as well as cardiology indicates that …

Daniel Nocera’s Gift

I just saw the most important talk I have seen in 300+ TED, Pop!Tech, etc talks that I’ve watched.  And at the risk of hyperbole, I will say that the worst case scenario is that Daniel Nocera simply wins a Nobel Prize (and yes, I’m willing to bet at even odds that it happens in under 10 years from today).  But if the system is able to scale through replication, it will be at least as important as penicillin in terms of ending human suffering and will have a bigger impact on the world as a whole.  Here’s why:

  • Input: Water (clean, saltwater or dirty water)
  • Outputs: Electricity + Pure drinkable water
  • By products: nothing (other than what was in the water)
  • Resources required to assemble: all abundant and most have substitutes
  • Knowledge required to assemble: simple
  • Cost to assemble: relatively cheap

Essentially what Nocera has done is reverse engineered and re-created a super-simplified photosynthesis process.  It’s a closed loop (i.e. autocatalytic) so …

If You Had A Billion Dollars…

If you had a billion dollars to make the world a better place, how would you spend it?…

Providing Global Energy Needs

Derek Abbott says Australia alone could solve the world’s current and future energy needs using solar thermal and liquid hydrogen.  Saul Griffith says, practically speaking this is not feasible and we need to use all available clean energy technology and reduce and conserve substantially or we are doomed.  Who is “less wrong”, Derek or Saul?…

Is Hunger Really a Problem in U.S.?

Given everything I hear about obesity stats in the U.S. and malnutrition in the developing world, the last thing I was expecting to find in my inbox this morning was a plea to join a Facebook cause to help end hunger in America.  Really?

I’m usually not skeptical in this way, and I’m loath to focus on the negative when it comes to philanthropy, but I can’t get these thoughts out of my head and I’d like some perspective from those who are better informed about the alleged U.S. hunger crisis.  In the mean time, here’s my food for thought:…

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A few articles on the economy that were sent my way recently.

The Good: After Capitalism (Geoff Mulgan)

The era of transition that we are entering will be disruptive—but it may bring a world where markets are servants, not masters.”  I urge you to read this entire article, and leave your ideological biases at the door.  Despite the title, this is no polemic.  Here’s the punchline:

Contemporary biology and social science has confirmed just how much we are social animals—dependent on others for our happiness, our self-respect, our worth and even our life. There is no inherent contradiction between capitalism and community. But we have learned that these connections are not automatic: they have to be cultivated and rewarded, and societies that invest large proportions of their surpluses on advertising to persuade people that individual consumption is the best route to happiness end up paying a high price.

Designing for Generosity

Clay Shirky is always a great speaker.  Here’s his Pop!Tech from last year:

Global Economic Constitution?

Homelessness

foodonfoot

This is a picture of what Food on Foot did on Christmas. …

Eben Pagan’s Birthday Webinar

This year for his birthday, Eben decided to host this webinar and invited all his contacts to join him online in lieu of a party and gifts.  What a brilliant concept and even more brilliant execution.  Eben (and Scott Brandon Hoffman, founder of CharityWater.org) truly epitomize the new philanthropy.  Watch the video here.…