just_work = true

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One of my former colleagues, Rob Marianski, and I used to have a running joke — we would be building and debugging something, and he’d finally say, “Oh, so you just want me to set just_work = true?”.  That was over 10 years ago, but it still gets me every time for some reason.  (as an aside, I have always thought justworkequalstrue.com would make a great blog name, and actually bought the domain for Rob a few years back — still waiting for that first post, Rob…).

But the idea of things “just working”, automatically, and without friction, is magical and exciting.

I mention it because of where we are today in the crypto/blockchain space.  99% of the attention recently has been on ICO hype and the financial use cases of crypto (fundraising, trading, payments, tokenized assets, etc) — but I believe we are about to turn the corner and get a taste of what kinds of new online user experiences will become possible because of this technology.  This is where it’s going to get fun.

just_work = true will be the foundational element of this experience.  Here is what I mean, by way of a few examples:

1) Browsers with identity and money built-in:  the browsing experience will be directly tied to identity and payments, and any app will be able to natively, frictionlessly, tap into both.  Users of Toshi, or Brave, or Metamask, or Blockstack are already getting a taste of it.  Because all cryptonetworks are built around public key cryptography, and the private key is both your identity and your wallet, when you have a public/private keypair built into the browser, you can do lots of things — be “logged in” everywhere, control & provision your own data, make seamless and flexible payments and payment arrangements (e.g., subscriptions).  Imagine the entire web working as seamlessly as Amazon and Apple do today.  As you surf the web, there will be less logging in, fewer passwords to remember, fewer forms to fill out — it will just work.

2) Portable digital assets: I wrote about this previously, but the interoperability of blockchain-based digital assets is going to be a big thing.  Because assets on blockchains are public, open and available, they can exist across many websites and applications.  The suit of armor you build in world of warcraft could be used as collateral for getting a blockchain-based mortgage — maybe that’s a ridiculous example, but the idea is that these assets are open, interoperable, and natively portable — which means things will “just work”, across the web, in ways that aren’t possible today.

3) Automatic dev / deploy environments: my colleague Albert described a story recently where his son participated in a Solidity hackathon — the time from setup to deploy was vanishingly short, since all of the deployment infrastructure is part of the open Ethereum network.   No need to set up accounts at amazon, heroku, stripe, etc to get started — just write a contract, buy some ether for gas, and publish it, and you’re online.  We’ve never had a development / deployment environment this drop dead simple, and as blockchain dev tools mature further, it will get even easier.

I mention all of the above just as a thought exercise.  It is easy for folks in this space to focus on issues like privacy and “freedom” — and while these things do matter to some users (especially technically-minded power users), I don’t believe this technology will unlock mainstream opportunity until we begin to surface the magical capabilities that make everyday users feel like “wow, it just works”.




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Ryan Caldbeck is on fire on Twitter right now.  Ryan is the CEO of our portfolio company CircleUp, and he just joined Twitter for the first time earlier this year and is, I may say, feeling very comfortable in the medium.  Over the weekend he put up a great diagram-oriented tweetstorm with a bunch of gems… Read more »

Digital scarcity

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As readers of this blog can tell, I’ve been spending a lot of my time recently focused on cryptonetworks and blockchains, and in particular, working through the complex legal and regulatory issues involved. Explaining what cryptocurrencies, cryptonetworks and blockchains are is hard to do.  As Naval recently said on twitter: It is the mark of… Read more »

Zombies eating kitties

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On Tuesday we announced our investment in Cryptokitties, and, as you might expect, received a combination of enthusiasm and skepticism in response.  Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies already sound ridiculous to most people, and virtual “real” kittens made out of cryptocurrency take it a step further. But, as with many new technologies, these first use cases just… Read more »

A bigger container

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An idea I like from Zen Buddhism is becoming a Bigger Container.  My understanding of the idea is this: There are a lot of difficult/bad/sad/scary things going on in the world, ranging from serious global issues, war, famine, terrorism, etc; to things in your city like homelessness or joblessnes; to things in your family, like… Read more »

Cryptonetworks and why tokens are fundamental

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“Cryptonetworks” can help us build a more competitive, innovative, secure and decentralized Internet.  “Tokens” (also known as cryptocurrencies or cryptoassets) are integral to the operation of cryptonetworks.  As we design new laws and regulations in this emerging space, we should keep these concepts in mind, beyond the financial aspects that are today’s primary focus. In… Read more »

Teaching kids to invest

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I’ve written a bunch about why it’s expensive to be poor, why we need better tools for managing money, and how to move from a labor mindset to a capital mindset.  A big takeaway for me is that accumulating wealth isn’t just a functional activity, it’s a mindset that needs to be learned, and taught…. Read more »

How to make big problems small and small problems big

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Avoidance is to be avoided. — Nick Grossman (@nickgrossman) February 22, 2018 I’m on a plane right now.  I always find plane/train rides to be some of the best times to focus and get work done.  On this trip, I managed to get two “monkeys” off my back — little tasks that have been lingering… Read more »

You need a budget

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I’ve written for a long time about my desire to re-build personal finance infrastructure in ways that benefit people with the least money.  We see new personal financial products all the time targeting high value customers, but it still feels like they are ignoring a huge, and important part of the market: people scraping by… Read more »

The weakest link

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We have spent a fair bit of time over the past year working on security at USV and across the USV portfolio.  Anyone who has spent time working on personal or corporate security — and in particular information security, knows that there are a million ways in, and you’re never “finished”. Fred wrote a bit… Read more »

From a labor mindset to a capital mindset

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I’ve been quiet on the blog lately — writing is one of those things that’s hard to build a habit for, but always pays big dividends when you do it.  Every time I’ve gotten into a good blogging rhythm I am undoubtedly surprised by the feedback I get (good and bad!), but more importantly, by… Read more »


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The week before last, we lost a dear friend to cancer.  Deb was an incredibly sweet, caring and giving person.  The memorial service last weekend was held at the elementary school where she taught first grade for the past 15 years.  The room was decorated — to the hilt — with hearts, butterflies, and ribbons,… Read more »

Changing seasons

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Today is the last day of September, and I’m happy and relieved to see it go. I’ve been holding my breath. September is a violent month.  That may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but I think there’s some truth in it.  Something about the end of the summer and the abrupt change to… Read more »

Labor Day: Project Repat

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Yesterday, in the process of cleaning out my closet and donating a bunch of old clothes, I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: got going creating a t-shirt quilt for my old “sentimental” t-shirts.  I’m a bit of a t-shirt hoarder, especially when it comes to shirts that memorialize some special… Read more »

Optimizing for energy

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In the world of startups and investing and ideas, things are always chaotic and fluid, and as such a key skill is to somehow cut through the noise and find focus.  That’s on a micro level, like what do I do for the next five minutes, and on the macro level, like am I (or… Read more »

On the blockchain: platform first or app first?

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I was emailing with a friend recently, who asked: “On the web, in order to build a platform you first need a hit app. Do you think this dynamic is different in blockchain?” It’s a great question, and one I have been thinking about a lot lately.  First, let’s unpack the idea that the way… Read more »

Who should police content on the Internet?

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The beauty, and the danger, of the internet is that it’s open to everyone.  Anyone can put up a website, about pretty much anything.  This “open platform” is an amazing thing, and means that innovation can come from all corners, without barriers or gatekeepers.  It also introduces new challenges for how to deal with the… Read more »

Learning by doing

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I had lunch yesterday with someone who has been investing in the crypto / token space recently — having pooled together a small “fund” from friends and family.  It’s a short-term vehicle (like, 6 months), and a large part of the goal is simply to become hands-on familiar / capable investing in token sales /… Read more »