Geoffrey Woo

founder/ceo @hvmn. biohacker. @stanford computer science and @ycombinator alum.

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Four lenses for reading metaphysics and ethics

There are four lenses one should use when reading systems of metaphysics and ethics. It’s difficult to internalize and gain intuition around these systems; especially when fidelity is lost through translation and the evolution of word meaning and connotation over time. I’ve found that reading with the following four lenses is useful for extracting the most value out of such effort.

1. Through the mind of the thinker

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.”

  • Ender in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Reading philosophy is far from waging war, but Ender’s notion of fully internalizing his enemy’s mind to understand them and then to exploit and destroy them...

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Evolution of human societies and the organization of ventures

I Survey of human societies

The earliest human functional groups were hunter-gatherer tribes of 100-150 people. This is several extended family groups banded together. The core characteristics of the hunter-gatherer tribe unit were:

  1. small and tight-knit: Each individual can still understand the relationship and politics between any two individuals in the tribe (see Dunbar’s number).
  2. relative equality: each person was expected to contribute towards the basic need of food production either through hunting or gathering food. No individual contributor was orders of magnitude more efficient that any other individual e.g. a really efficient berry picker doesn’t pick 10x more berries than a bad berry picker.
  3. information symmetry: information was quickly distributed amongst a tribe since the bearer of news was within a hop or two of everyone else in the tribe.
  4. social over explicit...

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The blockchain story (Part 2)

In response to the broad and active discussion on The blockchain story is bullshit, I clarify and expand on my thoughts here:

My focus is from a Computer Systems and Engineering perspective on the blockchain as a distributed database with trustless write access and its potential as a major component for new applications. Bitcoin, the application it was designed for, isn’t the focus here.

From a technical standpoint, the blockchain doesn’t open up any new ‘technical’ attributes. The blockchain does not enable any new sensors, nor does it enable an order of magnitude increase in bandwidth, storage, affordability, that doesn’t also apply to any other types of distributed stores of data. In fact, performance will be most likely be worse and at best cannot be better than existing trustful distributed datastores. In other words, any system built on a blockchain can be built on any other...

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The blockchain story is bullshit

There are a lot of smart people who assert that blockchain technology will be a protocol revolutionary on the scale of the initial Internet technologies. While the blockchain is indeed a clever solution to the Byzantine Generals Problem (a fault tolerance problem in distributed systems), I argue that its practical applications are rather limited. The story that blockchain technology will re-shape significant components of the Internet is bullshit.

The allure of the blockchain story is that the technology enables transactional systems (e.g. money transmitters, domain name providers, deed repositories etc.) that require placing trust in a single authority can instead be replaced by a network of equals that no single entity controls. The distributed, authority-less system is thus immune to corruption and abuse of institutions and owners. Now let me explain why that story isn’t as...

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Three beautiful business models

Silicon Valley puts tremendous focus and attention around products and their interfaces, interactions, and form-factors. And with good reason because it’s really hard to 1.) distill abstract human wants and needs into actionable insights, and then 2.) productize those insights into apps, websites, or devices. Within the last 5-10 years, the technology component in many classes of products have become more and more of a commodity. In conjunction, the target demographics have expanded from just geeky early adopters to virtually everyone in the world. As a result, companies today compete more and more on design and interface. In fact, the very best products have an essence of aesthetics ascribed to them. They’re elegant and beautiful, and even sometimes get put into modern art museums.

But with one hand that gives, the other hand must take. Behind every product is a business, and in...

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A new adventure

Today is my last day at Groupon. It’s been fun these past 13 months – with all the highs and lows that come with selling a startup to and working for a company re-discovering its legs after falling out of favor with commentators that once hailed it as the fastest growing company in history. But it’s not only my last day with Groupon, it’s also really the close of the Glassmap arc, an adventure I embarked on with a couple friends just over 3 years ago.

I’m truly honored to have had the chance to work alongside and learn from some of the most talented people in the world. The opportunity that Groupon is doggedly pursuing is extremely ambitious. Perhaps it’s not yet understood by the general public. Local brick-and-mortar commerce, the businesses and restaurants run by the folks in your neighborhood, hasn’t really changed since the introduction of the Internet and mobile. Meanwhile...

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The best way to make consumer internet products

Most popular consumer social internet products sound stupid when they first started. I’d argue that most of them are still stupid. The only difference is that the popular ones gained enough social proof to not look stupid.

So if they’re all stupid, what then separates the products that take off and the ones that don’t? Well, this reminds me of the old ‘hedge funds are all luck’ theory: take 100 hedge funds. They’re run by the same white-shoe, pedigreed types, and they’re all investing according to their own arbitrary ‘investment theses’. 80 of them suck, 10 match the S&P500, 9 beat the market, and 1 looks like Midas. Statistically, someone’s going to luckbox their way to the top. The problem is that you can’t play too many of these at the same time because it’s hard to raise a few hundred million dollars.

Consumer internet startups are like hedge funds. A consumer internet founder...

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Tech startups as an asset class

Early-stage technology (especially software) start-ups today are over-priced as an investment class. Over the last decade, technology development techniques have matured, the costs are well-understood, and all infrastructural problems now have commodity solutions. I argue that most technology startups created today are structurally similar to brick-and-mortar small businesses and manufacturing-based ventures, and therefore should be priced at multiples similar to those businesses.

Defenders of current valuations might argue that the technology component opens up vast scaling opportunities and capabilities that brick-and-mortar and manufactured goods companies cannot. I’m not convinced that there’s particularly more real estate for a business to conquer in the technology space than in any other domain. There will be tech startups that capture large markets very quickly, but for every...

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