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 famously used these skills to pierce through all the paperwork, bureaucracy and haze to explain to the world and a US Presidential Commission why the USS Challenger crashed.

Feynman taught me that truly gifted, passionate people often have the ability to make the complex simple and almost fun. It’s an infectious quality. I’m a sucker for this. When a founder can clearly, articulately and plainly explain complex and mind-numbing topics, I’m almost 80% of the way towards investing. It’s probably not the most helpful bias but I have it.

When I met the FoundationDB team, I didn’t have a good grasp of the “Big Data” landscape to say the least. “Big Data” is a nifty punchline but it takes some time, thoughtfulness and studying to truly understand the opportunities if you’re not initiated. These guys broke it down so simply, thoroughly and concisely. It was the first time I really started to understand the technology challenges and opportunities. They had exceptional domain expertise but until then, we had met many similar companies with a similar range of expertise. They still have a ways to go but as an early angel investor, their ability to communicate was a more important data point than any Gartner report I could read.