The Two Hour Workday

This weekend I read an article about Gen Z in the workplace with a funny title: The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them. There was a choice quote that stood out to me:

Mr. Kennedy [a millennial] interviewed a Gen Z candidate for a full-time position who asked if she could stop working for the day once she’d accomplished the tasks she’d set out to do. He responded that her role was expected to be a nine-to-five.

CEOs and managers are going to have to radically change the way they think about employment in order to adapt to today’s world and succeed. In my mind, when an employee has finished the work they need to accomplish for the day, they should do whatever they want. They can go to the spa. Take the kids fishing. Work on their side-project. Even work another job. Several years ago I’d have balked at what I just wrote, but why the hell not?

One of the things I’ve come to understand over time is you need to be crystal clear about the expectations you have for employees. Like write-them-down-and-share-them-and-review-them-every-month-type-clear. It makes life super easy when it comes to performance management and to objectively tell when someone is living up to your expectations and doing their job well, or falling short. Writing them down and regularly reviewing them is also a great way to stay on the same page and course-correct if needed.

So when someone is living up to expectations and doing the work they need to do on a day-to-day basis, it really shouldn’t matter if they put in two hours a day or fifteen hours a day. In a world where things are becoming increasingly remote and virtual, outcomes matter most (they always did, but this is increasingly amplified). Meeting expectations matters. The raw number of minutes hunched over a keyboard doesn’t mean shit.

Now that doesn’t mean a two-hour day is for everyone. But for someone who wants to get the job done and then do other stuff, this option will become commonplace. Because why not? It makes sense. Other people will want to drastically exceed expectations and give their all to a thing and work tirelessly. It doesn’t necessarily make them better, it’s just different. You need both types of people when building a company. I’ve talked to several founders and technology execs recently that are internalizing this. It’s impacting the way people think about hiring and constructing teams and they’re rethinking roles especially for IC positions where it’s totally cool for someone to get the work done and that’s that. For people who want to do this, employers are going to have to quickly adapt because the most talented people who want variety and particularly prefer the IC route are going to likely pursue this option.

The world changed fast in the past two years, and this is a welcome evolution that will free a lot of people from the silly construct of a 9 to 5. So if you’re hiring for a role where you know exactly what you need and a candidate asks if they can leave after they’ve done the job, I hope you happily answer Yes.

The World After Capital

I’ve been reading Albert Wenger’s blog for around a decade, so I was excited to read his book The World After Capital. The premise is rather bold: we are exiting the Industrial Age in which the key scarcity was capital and entering a new epoch, one Albert calls the Knowledge Age, in which the key scarcity is attention. In previous transitions (i.e. Forager > Agrarian > Industrial) things were not smooth (e.g. lots of violence, death, tumult, etc.), and Albert proposes that our transition to the Knowledge Age need not follow suit. In order to do so we must invest in three types of freedoms for everyone: economic, informational, and psychological.

If you’re interested in reading the book you can do so here. Albert shared it on GitBook which is the first time I’ve used the service. He also tweeted the TLDR version if you want to quickly get a sense for the major themes.

There were a lot of things that stood out to me. For one, Albert is rather audacious in his proclamations and I like that. This is a book about how to exit the Industrial Age by following a high-level roadmap for how we should evolve as a global society – that’s an undertaking that requires a certain level of confidence and a broad set of knowledge to do well. Several topics that I suggest digging into:

  • We are terrible at allocating our attention. We need to do a better job at this, but the Industrial Age Job Loop will be difficult to escape.
  • The Knowledge Loop is an extraordinarily powerful concept. It should inspire everyone to share more. This has given me immense appreciation for the blogs I’ve read that have impacted the course of my entrepreneurial career like Albert’s, Fred Wilson’s (USV in general), and Chris Dixon.
  • If you’re a fan of UBI, Albert goes to great lengths to demonstrate how this is the cornerstone of economic freedom. I’d have liked to see him talk about other concepts here, too, such as the federal job guarantee espoused by MMT advocates.
  • Albert’s words on Privacy as something that is “fundamentally incompatible with technological progress” will likely push you way out of your comfort zone. That’s good.

For me personally, one of the big takeaways is how venture capital can be an entrepreneurial tool for systemic change. While reading the book you’ll notice that there are plenty of references made to portfolio companies. At first glance, it may seem like a plug and that perhaps some of the themes are shaped around the USV portfolio. However, if you’ve followed the history of USV and the knowledge the partners at the firm have disseminated, you’ll know that the inverse is true: the portfolio follows the themes and theses. To me, this is such a powerful concept.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve spent my entire professional career focusing on solving one problem at a time. It’s a lot of fun and unbelievably rewarding when you get to help people. One thing you have is control: ultimately, you are responsible for success and/or failure. As a VC you relinquish that control to the entrepreneur, but if you are thoughtful enough you are able to support many different problem-solving threads that can tie together to create thematic change across the world, perhaps even by strengthening economic, informational, and psychological freedom as the catalyst to a peaceful transition to a new era. This is not to say this is what VC is broadly – I think 99% of firms and investors are not this and simply focus on investing in good businesses/entrepreneurs in their areas of expertise to generate returns – but it is what it can be, and that can be world-changing. 

90% Of the Way to Mars

The first conversation I hosted with Keith Rabois and Frank Rotman received such positive feedback that we decided to do a back-to-back follow-on (see what I did there?).

Frank and Keith cover a lot of ground in this one, and there are plenty of topics that I think are particularly relevant to anyone who participates in the VC / entrepreneur ecosystem. I continue to learn from these two and have already found myself referencing their knowledge in my day-to-day conversations.

Give it a listen if you want to know what they think about:

  • How the future of the VC industry will play out
  • Banks entering the M&A landscape and the implications for investors and entrepreneurs
  • How investors reference for their portfolio companies that are “middle of the pack” during diligence
  • Why “Oh Shit!” board meetings are becoming more commonplace
  • The unbundling of capital and advice and how to win as a VC
  • And a lot more!

While the last conversation stuck to one theme (i.e. the valuation environment and its driving factors), we weaved around a lot of different areas that I think most investors and entrepreneurs will appreciate.

80% Of the Way to Mars

Several weeks ago I stumbled on an exchange on Twitter between Keith Rabois and Frank Rotman.

We did the podcast and you can listen here.

For the better part of the past decade, I’ve thought the valuations of startups have been astronomically high and divorced from reality and fundamentals. I’ve come around to the fact that it is what it is and there are a lot of reasons why this is the case (i.e. the distribution of outcomes has meaningfully changed with many more large winners today than a decade ago, we are still in the early innings of the unstoppable secular trend of technology changing every industry, there’s tons of capital – lots of dumb money – sloshing around in private markets, and blah blah blah…).

When I saw Keith and Frank talk about how they and their firms were adapting to this, I was intrigued. They’re two of the smartest investors and people I know. I’ve worked with Frank for many years (he was a Fundera board member) and I’ve known Keith since he joined Khosla Ventures where his partner, David Weiden, backed my previous two companies GroupMe and Fundera. I wanted to hear their thoughts in more detail and thought others would likely enjoy learning from them, too.

I don’t have a podcast, but maybe I will one day. It’s fun to learn from exceptional people, it’s one of the things that brings me great joy in life. One of the hardest things about doing interviews like this is to get out of the way and talk as little as possible. I have great respect for people who are able to do this. I hope you get as much out of this interview as I did.

Every company is a shit show

One of the things I continually find myself saying to friends, founders, and colleagues is that every single company is a shit show.* Founders, execs, and employees like to think that there’s a better way of doing things and point to other companies as if they’ve discovered the holy grail on how to smoothly operate. It’s a grass is always greener mentality. Sometimes it’s good because it forces us to aspire to continually improve. Other times it’s bad because it gives us things to complain about that really aren’t a big deal at the end of the day.

But the fact of the matter is that once you get under the hood, every company is a shit show in its own unique way, and often times in non-unique ways (there’s a very broad spectrum here on the chaos scale). Nobody has “nailed it” and everyone is making things up. The sooner you come to accept that the sooner you realize imperfection is a good thing and riding the ups and downs and dealing with the idiosyncrasies and inherent dysfunctions of companies is just the way it goes. And depending on how companies handle this, it’s the difference between having a joyous amount of fun along the way and having a losing culture.

If you run into founders who think this isn’t true of their company, they’re probably lying to themselves or sociopaths. And if you run into employees who think everything is fabulous, they’ve likely drank the Kool Aid or aren’t privy to just how messed up things really are.

Every company is a shit show and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Or else that would probably be…boring.

*Except for the company I’m currently employed by – that one is perfect.