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Great Founders

By necessity, Founders are rooted in the “here and now” mental framework required for launching a new startup.

But *great* Founders do something different at the same time: They are obsessed with what will endure 10 or 50 years from now.

Kevin Kelly helps you rise to that level. He is the legendary tech thinker who lives in the future — he co-founded Wired back in 1994 when only a few saw the digital revolution coming. In his best-selling books he told us all our future before it happened (The Inevitable , What Technology Wants , and New Rules For The New Economy ).

What Can You Do Now, That Will Pay Off In 20 Years Or More?

  • long-term research. To last more than four years
  • No vehicle for funding some kind of basic research that you have no expectation of making sense or being developed at least for 20 years — and maybe during your lifetime.
  • You might need another kind of an institution that would protect that research for the duration.
  • This may not be front of mind for the entrepreneurs starting things, but it should be. If they have any level of success, someday they’ll be the reigning, dominant tycoons.
  • And by the way, your ancestors will thank you.

A Startup’s Chief Advantage Today

  • In conversation with Pete Flint, Adam Grant called this a cognitive entrenchment — when Founders get too attached to their existing patterns of thinking, they become prisoners of their own prototypes.
  • They’re imprisoned by their success because the truly disruptive game-changing innovation breakthrough business is going to come from outside of their core success.
  • There’s an old Jewish saying that any problem that can be solved with money is not really a problem. And so what happens is that big companies try to buy solutions.

What We Saw At Wired, That No One Else Could

  • The major parents of Wired were Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe. I was trying to put out a magazine, a similar kind of magazine. It was called Signal. But the difference was I was talking about ideas and tools in this new emerging world. And Louis and Jane, their creative genius was saying, “No, no. We want to talk about the people who are making the ideas. We’re going to have people on the cover.” That was absolutely right. That was the genius thing.
  • The editorial proposition was very blunt. It was, “There is a revolution coming and you’ve got to wake up to it.

Defining your niche

  • Both as an individual and as a company, you want to work on something that nobody has a name for. When there’s no name for what you’re doing, that means that there’s no category and you have difficulty explaining to people what it is that you’re doing. That means that you are on the path to the only because there’s no category.
  • But, you have to be doing something that you are equipped with talent and skill to do.
  • When you try and do that as a company, that’s a high bar. Not only do you have trouble telling people what you’re doing or convincing investors that you will succeed.

The Long Arc Of This Force

  • You, me, and the smartest 50 people that we knew, we could not make an iPhone, right? From scratch, it just requires so many other technologies, which themselves require other ones. That is “The technium,” which has all the technologies in the world tied together. There’s this long arc of this force.
  • What the technium wants is very similar to what evolution wants. It’s headed towards increased complexity, increased diversity, increasing specialization, increasing mutualism.
  • One of my goals is to listen to the technology, how people actually use the technology, versus what it was invented for.

Startups and Tech Companies, Are You Being A Good Ancestor For

  • One of my missions is to be a good ancestor — this is counter in some ways to the mission of a young startup
  • I think that taking a longer view of things can set you apart.
  • you think more about civilizational scale, infrastructural necessities, and feeding the network
  • We can invent institutions that have the legal, social, and economic power to do things in the world that have a longer term horizon.

“Don’t Be The Best, Be The Only”

  • all classes from actors, singers, musicians, business people, and writers …. Almost none of them have a direct path. Anybody on a direct path I would be skeptical of.
  • I resonate with this idea that is often attributed to Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, which is “Don’t be the best, be the only.”
  • The only would be this guy who does “Magic for Humans”, Justin Willman. He’s a magician with a very special style. He’s a street magician that’s wrapped up his magic into themes about fatherhood or motherhood or telling the truth. He’s not really competing against other magicians.

The Underestimated Network Effect Of Giving

  • The secret of this world of network communications is that they exhibit network effects in all dimensions. If you can tap into one, it’s wonderful because you can go for quite a ride. All kinds of aspects of our lives are affected like this.
  • It’s true not only for ideas. There’s a universal truth buried even deeper that is a network effect of giving: The more you give, the more you get — and the more you get, the more you give
  • Luck is a huge component that’s not talked about often enough.


  • What happens is the startups are left to keep doing things until they pass some threshold of basic viable customer satisfaction. And at that point, it’s too late, they’re off to races.
  • That’s the advantage for startups. What that means for startups is you need to amplify, augment, and enhance the fact that you have a lack of resources. That is actually your chief asset.
  • True innovation you can only get to if you don’t have the resources. You have to be scrappy and ingenious. You’ve almost got to be a desperado.

Stewards Of The Future

the people running big networking companies have to emerge from their chrysalis of short-term thinking into being more of a steward of the future.


  • Now, the startups would like to do that too, but they don’t have any resources. So they have to be really scrappy and they have to invent. That’s the solution that is going to spread and succeed because they have used genius to solve it instead of money.
  • The problem is the new innovation is always in a territory where there are low profits. The excellence that they’re all working toward is not useful here.
  • To move a successful big company down into that crazy innovation territory requires devolution. It means doing less excellence.

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