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Can we build the dog?

I work at the intersection of technology, media, and democracy.

I've been a Director of Investments, a CEO, a CTO, and an engineer.
I co-founded Elgg and Known, worked on Medium and Latakoo, and invested in innovative media startups to support a stronger democracy at Matter.


I’m part of a team that invests in startups changing media for good. Ask me anything.


This piece seems to be attracting a lot of attention again. What *is* Silicon Valley? How does it work?


If you're interested in Silicon Valley, or critical of it, you should know how it works. I wrote a primer:


What is Silicon Valley, exactly? How does it work? And why is there so much money? An explainer:


An open listicle to startup founders: here are some ideas to avoid.


Casual intelligence has the potential to change how we build software: AI for apps.


Interested in media startups? Don't miss @mattervc's live AMA one hour from now:


In New York? Want to change media for good? Go meet @mattervc for some drinks.


So much activity. I'm learning from the team at @MettaVR, who you should follow too: @CeciMetropolis @JacobTref @guisabran


Great post by Erin about how she designs product sprints for success.


Re-sharing: my thoughts on "market source" as an evolution of open source for business.


Have you raised funding for a startup with an end-user product with an open source core? I'd really love to have a chat.


Replied to a post on :

Doing user research, paper prototyping, financial modeling, application design and development, sales, marketing, PR, lunch runs.


My episode Shoplifers and Thieves showed up in a post today. On revisiting, I'm really proud of it:


Finding that I'm occasionally having more trouble breathing lately.


A giant, heavy penny just dropped, killing a litter of puppies in the process.


Outsider leaders are the agents of change

3 min read

One often-seen trope in tech industry commentary is: "the geeks will inherit the earth".

It's a nice idea, which appeals to a lot of people in this ecosystem; there's even a lovely symmetry to the idea that the people who were probably bullied and ostracized in school, at least to some extent, are the same people who go on to change the world in meaningful ways. And in a lot of ways, it's true.

It's not because geeks are in any way better, or more intelligent, people. Instead, my theory is that it relates to being an outsider. People who don't change themselves to fit in are, almost by definition, more likely to think independently. If an effective leader is one who creates stand-out strategies and is able to creatively and intelligently react to circumstances, it makes sense that independent thinkers would fit the role more readily. The popular kids at school are much more suited to be followers - they've essentially taught themselves how to follow fashions rather than create them.

MBAs are not traditionally good at startups for similar reasons. They've been taught cookie cutter business methods, which make much more sense as management tactics in larger businesses than in the do-what-you-have-to context of getting something off the ground. Here in San Francisco, arguably tech startup central, besuited MBAs are often thought of as not bringing much to the table.

But geeks have their own popular kids now. Startup culture has created its own norms; brogrammers swarm San Francisco and cities like it, following the fashions dictated by outlets like TechCrunch and PandoDaily. Not a single one is likely to change the marketplace, let alone the world - and with them comes a pervasive culture of entitlement and even bigotry that isn't a million miles away from the cool kids.

Outliers are always going to be the people who bring about real change: people who can't easily be described, and whose actions can't easily be pattern-matched to an archetype. Often, these are people who don't take direction well. They might come across as weird, or antisocial. But their ideas are like nothing you've ever heard, and given the tools, they will create things you've never thought of.

Someone once said to me, in reference to someone who they thought was weird, "one way of looking at it is that they don't think mainstream culture is good enough for them." Damn straight. Being mainstream shouldn't be good enough for any of us. There's nothing to be gained by trying to be like everybody else, or by fitting yourself into a pre-defined pigeonhole.

Me? I like weird people, and I like working with them. I wish I was weirder myself: it's a sign of creativity, independence, and intelligence. San Francisco has a name for people who follow; they're called "normals" - or, sometimes, "consumers". It's not a label to aspire to.

In fact, none of us need to be normals or consumers. Once upon a time, we were needfully forced into demographic categories, so that products and media could be created that would broadly appeal to us. The Internet has created a world where anyone can connect to anyone else, whether it's to talk, to inform, or to sell. Fashions of all kinds are meaningless in a world where products can be viably created for an audience of one. They're an artifact of the age of broadcasting; one that's long since gone. We're in a post-demographic age, and if you're still trying to follow the crowd, you're a decade behind.