David Lee

Trying to bring something to the table.

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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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10 Things I Think I Think on Bitcoin

I’m relatively late to Bitcoin. I’m probably more current than 99.9% of the general population but less informed than the hackers, hobbyists and investors who have been studying this since its inception in early 2009.

I’m no payment systems or cryptography expert. So I went back to first principles and studied the Khan Academy lectures here during this past summer. If you’re interested, I’m happy to send you my notes.

With that as a backdrop, here are 10 things I think I think; the format is one I’ve used before and a hat tip to Peter King, whose Monday morning column I read religiously.

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  1. I think Bitcoin is just a bet that the world becomes more multipolar. In this world, there will be stages of heightened instability and chaos economically and politically. In this world, something like Bitcoin (or “Gold 2.0”) backed by no sovereign makes eminent sense.
  2. I think whether it is...

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Homeland and The Long Game

Because Abu Nazir is playing the long game. This way no one expects a thing. -Carrie Mathison, Homeland

I missed the Season 3 premiere of Homeland last night. It’s one of my favorite shows in recent memory. For those that don’t watch it, the main plot is this: a POW returns home after 7-8 years from the Iraq War. One CIA agent (Carrie Mathison) suspects that the POW is actually a Manchurian Candidate-esque operative of Abu Nazir, a fictional Osama Bin Laden-like character. Mathison’s hypothesis is that Abu Nazir is an evil genius willing to do what the other guy isn’t. In short, he’s playing “the long game.” If you watch both Seasons 1 +2, Nazir proves that he is willing to do some Keyser Soze-like shit.


The term “building a long-term business” has become as much as a punchline in Silicon Valley as “changing the world.”...

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Pitching SV Angel: The Executive Summary

This post will give a small glimpse into how we evaluate opportunities. It’s more about process than substance (i.e., what we look for).

When we receive an email from a referral source introducing us to a founder, we typically ask the founder if they have an executive summary. This may sound tedious and old-school. But it is a quick and easy way for us to decide if a call or meeting is a good use of both parties’ time as a next step. It’s also a decent way to evaluate the founder(s). The ability to communicate your idea concisely and articulately is essential. It not only shows a potential to persuade (i.e., sell) but also shows clarity of thought and priorities.

Below are some tips on how to create a good executive summary. There is no generic template or “one size fits all.” The goal is to simply persuade your reader that taking a next step is worth everyone’s time.

The best...

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Photo-sharing Fatigue

Photo-sharing gets a bad rap in startup worlds. The conventional wisdom is that there are too many and that bright entrepreneurs should work on something more significant than “just another photo-sharing app.” Douchebag investors pontificate about how bright founders should use their gifts to solve hard and valuable problems. This obviously implies that photo-sharing isn’t hard or valuable.

For me, I don’t have any fatigue when it comes to photos or “photo-sharing” apps. The reality is that photos are the new cheap, abundant data. And cheap, abundant data leads to or is a foundation of big technical breakthroughs. I am speculating here but I would imagine that applications like Google Earth, self-driving cars, Google Glass, etc. all rely on the explosion of abundant, freely available photo data.

Another take on this is that “another photo-sharing” app is just another way of...

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Richard Feynman and FoundationDB

Richard Feynman is one of my heroes. He was a true original thinker and probably one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. He was the Michael Jordan of physicists. In his day, NBA All Star players said Jordan was on a different level. They were great but he was different. That’s a staggering admission - the top .00001% of all basketball players who ever lived said he was that much better. Nobel Prize-winning physicists said the same about Feynman.

I was a Physics major in college. I struggled; I got a “B-” in Newtonian Mechanics. Not promising. I then picked up the “Feynman Lectures on Physics,” or “the red books” as known in the Physics circle. They are online here (hat tip, Hacker News).

Feynman’s great skill was to communicate complex ideas in clear, simple and penetrating ways. He made the complex simple. No jargon. All plain English. Powerful use of analogy. He...

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Peter Thiel on Mapping A Life

A good intermediate lesson in chess is that even a bad plan is better than no plan at all. Having no plan is chaotic. And yet people default to no plan. When I taught at the law school last year, I’d ask law students what they wanted to do with their life. Most had no idea. Few wanted to become law firm partners. Even fewer thought that they would actually become partner if they tried. Most were going to go work at law firms for a few years and “figure it out.”

That’s basically chaos. You should either like what you’re doing, believe it’s a direct plan to something else, or believe it’s an indirect plan to something else. Just adding a resume lines every two years thinking it will buy you options is bad. If you’re climbing a hill, you should take a step back and look at the hill every once in awhile. If you just keep marching and never evaluating, you may get old and finally realize...

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