What’s your medium?

Yesterday, I caught up with my old friend Gary Chou.  Gary was the first General Manager of the USV Portfolio Network (predating Brittany and Bethany), and has since been running Orbital, a community space and “studio for building networks” (which happens to be in the original Kickstarter building on the Lower East Side).  We got to talking about the different things that have been going on at Orbital and the ideas Gary is working on now.

One of the things he said that really stuck w me was the question of “what medium do you want to work in”?  Like, bits & pixels (design, coding), or dollars (investing), or people (events, teaching), etc.  I had never really thought of it this way, but it does make sense to think of things in terms of the medium, or put another way, the tools and objects you have at your disposal.  Or yet another way, what is the craft you really want to hone.

At USV, our primary medium is dollars, or more accurately, investments, which includes dollars but also things like deal terms, corporate structure, etc.  And it’s also ideas – we need to absorb ideas from the market, develop our own ideas (conviction around investing themes) and trade in ideas (influence within companies, attention in the market, etc).  And my personal medium has always included a healthy dose of bits and atoms, as my background is as a builder, designer, and hacker.

I never really understood money/investing as a medium until I joined USV, but now I see that there is real artistry to be developed here.  So much nuance involved in making situations “work out”, and the tools at hand are the tools of finance, corporations, leverage, and dealmaking.  It has been really incredible to see those play out from the inside, and I feel like I have the privilege of observing masters at work.

As a personal strategic question (from the perspective of someone working to develop their career path or professional identity), I find the framing of “medium” to be really clarifying and helpful.  What medium do you really want to be devoted to?  Where do you have the most leverage?  And as such, how should you be prioritizing your time, and what skills should you be focusing on developing?  Where are you dedicating to perfecting your craft, and honing your art?

This is a useful frame because, at least in certain fields like startups where things are often under-determined and fluid, it can help you prioritize and focus, which is perhaps the #1 most important overall skill.

So, what’s your medium?



  • Bits for now!

  • Twain Twain

    Atoms. We’ve been doing bits for ages and they can’t get the machines to “human-like” intelligence — especially in natural language understanding.

    The reason is that language doesn’t reduce to a 0 OR 1 and a %.


    • cavepainting

      i presume you mean teaching bits to behave like the atoms in the brain so as to better approximate human intelligence…

      • Twain Twain

        It’s impossible to teach bits to behave like atoms. The reason is bits only have one of two states: 0 or 1. This was something inherited from Leibniz’s causal determinism theories (either there is nothing = 0 OR there is something =1).

        Meanwhile, in atoms, states are 0 AND 1, quantum entangled (pls see Bohr, Pauli, Schrodinger and others).

        Moreover, neuroscience research indicates our brains are much more multidimensional than the two 0 OR 1 dimensions of bits.

        * https://blog.frontiersin.org/2017/06/12/blue-brain-team-discovers-a-multi-dimensional-universe-in-brain-networks/

        @nickgrossman:disqus — This affects the medium of money. Not that investors would be aware of it because the data tools available are stuck in the classical Cartesian model of the world. That includes Blockchain, by the way.

  • awaldstein

    Market behaviors and how brand interacts with them.

  • The only medium that really counts is people. Everything else bits, dollars…ect. Are tools used by people.

    However, people and tools aren’t enough for success. I have discovered recently that my new medium is “pathways”.

    I search for pathways that I can use with people and tools that I have access to and once I have the pathway the dollars are easy, because you don’t need them anymore.

    It used to be ideas, then teams, then traction. Pathways are next! :)

  • This is an original way to look at things

    Mine are: bits (engineering + design) + words (writing).

    They’re both highly flexible (can be used for work & art), highly leveraged (can reach +1B people), and are complements to one another (one is used to build, and the other to distribute what you have built)

    • great way to think about it re: flexibility and leverage