David Lee

Trying to bring something to the table.

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My Favorite Quote, Recently

“I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”

-Charlie Munger

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Shameless and Shameful

I tweet frequently about our portfolio companies’ products. It’s a little shameless and shameful at the same time. I get annoyed when others do it so I don’t know why I still do it. But whatever.

The main reason why one would get annoyed is two-fold. First, there’s an obvious financial self interest in doing it. Second, you don’t know if the person actually likes or even uses the product s/he’s tweeting about. So there’s that.

Having said that, here are a few products built by SV Angel portfolio companies and why I like them and use them every day.


The first app update that I love is Snapchat’s new text feature. I use Snapchat regularly even though I’m of American Beauty age. Communicating with pictures was a fun way to chat (along with Stories, which I like). But by simply swiping right, I can text as well as snap.

The prior two sentences sound like marketing BS. But I’m

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The Best Thing I Learned in Law School - David Boies

David Boies is one of - if not the - most brilliant lawyers in the past 20 years. He’s certainly one of the most celebrated, having argued US v. Microsoft, the landmark case that decided that Microsoft was liable as a monopolist and Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the US 2000 Presidential election.

I can’t remember where he said the following. But I recall his saying effectively that he would take any complex litigation and boil it down to five key issues. If he didn’t win on those, the rest didn’t matter. He needed to master those issues, understand the other side’s arguments better than his and win on those issues. The rest didn’t matter.

That left a lasting impression on me. Boies essentially made the complex simple - something that is really hard to do without making it simplistic. For example, not that I am a master negotiator but the first sign of an inexperienced

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Back to the Future

The number of startups doing really hard stuff has skyrocketed recently. Bitcoin, drones, food substitutes, 3D printing, bioinformatics, deep learning. We used to see these “science fiction” or “moonshot” startups only occasionally. Now it feels like every other startup (or at least 30%) is working on something pretty wacky.

These ideas are like old school Silicon Valley startups: Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, Sun and Silicon Graphics. In order to work at those places (let alone start one), you needed to have one big brain - and back then, that was usually validated by an advanced technical degree. Deep technical expertise and know-how (i.e., being a smart motherf*cker) created a barrier to entry.

Similarly, the startups in today’s “moonshot” areas require unique intelligence, dogged patience and deep domain expertise (or at least, the capacity and patience to acquire that

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Productivity, by Ron Conway

I’ve tried every system to enhance my productivity. I’ve read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen a few times. I’ve used Evernote, Wunderlist and all the others. I read that email was a bad place to process “to do” and I’ve also read that it’s the best place.

I finally settled on a system. I asked Ron what he does. It’s pretty simple. In the morning, he sets three things to do for the day. If he does all three, then it’s a good day. If he doesn’t, then it’s a bad day.

It’s been a decent system so far - about 15 days in. The binary approach can be pretty judgmental but it’s been effective so far. Tactically, I take 3 things from my Asana and label them with “@TODAY.” If I get them done, it’s a good day. If not, then it’s a bad day. Simple but not easy. We’ll see how long it lasts

A more advanced level of this approach is “Agile Results” described here: (link).

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My 2013 Listicle

The best moment in 2013 was the safe, healthy arrival of my 2nd daughter

The biggest letdown in 2013 was Homeland, Season 3.

The best book I read in 2013 was “The Success Equation” by Michael Mauboussin. Helped change the way I think about my day-to-day job.

The biggest tech story in 2013 was the growing skepticism around hierarchies, authorities and governments - i.e., NSA/Snowden, healthcare.gov, decentralized money.

The second biggest tech story in 2013 was the emergence of crowdfunding and the future of money. About ten years ago, the story was about the changing way that people created, shared, consumed media (‘real-time’ or ‘social media’). A few years ago, the story was about one way that people were changing the way they consume stuff and services (collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer commerce, etc). The next few years could be about the changing way that companies

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Bill Belichick: Below The Line

Jack Dorsey recommended “The Score Takes Care of Itself” as one of his top business books. I think Keith Rabois referred it to him. Even if you don’t like sports, it’s a fascinating read into how Bill Walsh transformed a dormant loser into a durable franchise.

I’m from Boston and am an insufferable Boston sports fan. So I put Bill Belichick in the same category as Bill Walsh. The fact that the New England Patriots have always been one of the top 5 professional football teams over the past 10 years in a salary cap era that discouraged such longevity is a pretty incredible managerial feat. As a sports fan, studying long-term, durable franchises like the Patriots or 49ers is as interesting as studying Amazon or Google.

From ESPN today, here’s how Bill Belichick talks about ‘below-the-line’ mistakes. He categorizes those as mistakes that you just can’t tolerate. They are different for each

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Nonlinear Optics

The last class I needed to take from graduate school was “Nonlinear Optics” taught by Nobel Prize winner Stephen Harris. I struggled. I was a decent scientist/engineer but not elite. And beyond that, nonlinear optics was really freaking hard. Not only was the math complex, but it was nearly impossible for me to picture the concepts in my mind. “Linear” or Physical Optics was much easier - you could picture everyday use cases like the laser and why the sky is blue. Nonlinear optics was much different. It was too abstract.

I won’t find the source but many smart thinkers like Nassim Taleb and Daniel Kahneman basically make the point that the nonlinear stuff is hard for humans to imagine. Humans like stories; we like cause-and-effect, we are told. That’s linear thinking - “if/then/that” statements. Technology changes are nonlinear. They move in step functions. It’s impossible to predict or

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Paint it Black, Friday

I wrote earlier about my impressionistic thoughts on bitcoin. I’m still learning as much as I can about bitcoin, currency systems, protocols and platforms. My brain hurts. I feel like Billy Ray Valentine.

In order to be a currency (i.e., money), bitcoin needs to serve three functions: store of value, medium of exchange, unit of account. (I’ve written before about why “bitcoin as a currency” may be a local maximum - a powerful application but only scratching the surface of its potential.) But if you look at this classic “money test”, bitcoin currently succeeds as a store of value but is less successful as a medium of exchange and even less so as a unit of account.

A “store of value” is something that has value, as Randolph Duke might explain to Billy Ray Valentine (go to 0:51 of video above). The classic examples are houses, stock or art. These things have inherent value but may not

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Beginner’s Mind

When I was really sick with cancer in 1994, I was freaking out emotionally. My emotions were super volatile - some days I was upbeat and in a fighting spirit and some days I was scared shitless and paralyzed with fear. My doctors eventually told me that I needed to get on a more emotional keel. It was a long journey and I would burn out with these ups and downs, and this “burn out” could make my condition even worse.

I tried everything to “calm myself down.” My initial tactic was to watch as much television and movies as possible - I watched every episode of The Simpsons, Wings, and Seinfeld - all on VHS. I watched the OJ trial, the NBA finals, the car chase. I hoped that by tuning in, I could tune out.

None of that worked. So one day a nurse practitioner suggested that I meditate and do yoga. She talked about the “mind-body connection” and how your mind and emotional self can affect

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