4 min read

The Two Adventures (1/2): the outer, or "materialist" path

The Two Adventures (1/2): the outer, or "materialist" path
Possibly the most underrated drama about entrepreneurship: Halt & Catch Fire

This blog will be about what I consider the two adventures open to us in the modern world: the outer, or "materialist" adventure, and the inner, or "spiritual" adventure. This the first post of two and deals with the outer adventure.

The materialist adventure takes many different forms. To some extent it has always been about discovery: taking part of the unknown world and integrating it into the known. Even from the very beginning, what looked like "inventions" were really discoveries latent in the structure of reality: language, fire, tools, society. All these make order from chaos and contain the potentiality of making further order from a seemingly endless supply of chaos. If you understand this, you also understand the need to beware the wolves preaching the gospel of entropy as destiny.

Social structures, in the whole, were discovered and not made: "thou shalt not kill" is a "God-given" commandment even from a materialist perspective insofar as it has been discovered as a necessary condition for society to function in the concrete reality of the universe in which we find ourselves. This may also be worth exploring further as part of this blog: the teleology, or purpose, of each of us as part of the larger group of the family, the tribe, the nation, and the world, the implications of such a purpose and the consequences of rebelling against it.

Later materialist adventures take the form of exploration: voyages of map-making, yes, but often underwritten for purposes of trade, conquest, and evangelization, and of course the response of the conquered, evangelized, and often exploited.

This blog begins at the point where the map has been largely filled in. The materialist adventures open to us are more limited. The resources required e.g. for space exploration are much more significant than what Columbus raised (approx. $10M in today's money).

Scientific discoveries are still very much open as a materialist adventure, and their impact can be massive. However with the increased silofication of the academy, the incremental progress in many disciplines, and the replication crisis especially in the softer sciences, it feels to me that even a profound discovery is the beginning point and not the end point of a materialist adventure.

Similarly, one could argue that becoming the best in the world at a particular craft or profession or e.g. athletic discipline is a worthwhile materialist adventure. I also think this is true: becoming your region's best IP lawyer, the country's foremost expert in water desalination systems, or the nation's top sports ball player could be a hierarchy worth climbing.

The problem with these hierarchies, to some extent, is that they have been both flattened and made transparent and thus steep by the internet. This is a very discouraging thing. It used to be sufficient to be the best in the village or the region to live a (relatively) prosperous and respected life. Now the hierarchies are at least national and often global and the rewards disproportionately accrue to the top 1%.

That said, I also think that while developing an outstanding skill in a discipline and profession may be an end in itself, it also serves as a starting point for the great materialist adventure.

The greatest materialist adventure open to us, as I'm sure will not surprise you, is entrepreneurship. I think entrepreneurship is greater than just a classical startup: I'd include movements, charities, NGOs, religious groups, political parties, perhaps even clubs – really any new endeavor that seeks to organize people in order to achieve a stated end.

That said, startups are a particularly interesting sub-class within this adventure, because they are intentionally set up from the beginning to be scalable, a euphemism that really has ceased to mean much more than "to grow fast."

Many other organizations, often because the motivations from which they are founded are quite varied and sometimes conflicted, are much less interested in rapid growth versus e.g. correct growth or sustainable growth etc.. Startups intend to make a product or service and then bring it to as many people as possible. Full stop. There's a lot of elegance in this simplicity, because this is an objective function that is stable and that we can solve for. This is not to say that startup-type entrepreneurship is impossible in other areas. In fact, I'd argue that folks starting political parties or charities should learn the lessons from startup entrepreneurship because starting a startup is inherently different from e.g. starting a service business.

You've probably heard the "make a dent in the universe" quote from Steve Jobs. It is widely misunderstood to mean something like "purpose is important", but it is really about believing that you have the capability of influencing the future if you become a part of an organization like Apple's.

I've never liked the quote as it sounds weirdly destructive when what you're really doing is taking (their) chaos and making (your) order. Entrepreneurship means shaping the universe, no doubt, but hardly banging it up.

There are so many things to talk about from this point onwards. What is a good idea? How fast should a startup grow to be a startup? When and how should you raise money for this? Who makes a good co-founder? And I hope to address many of these questions here.

One caveat. I am not great entrepreneur. I have helped build one of Europe's premier early-stage venture capital firms, Heartcore Capital. But I did not create a Google or a Spotify or even a Tink. In fact, my entrepreneurial endeavors MyBlog and Qwerly were so-so outcomes. Hence my observations are a decade-plus of watching founders, cheering from the sidelines, coaching, and often simply willing their good. So take all that I say with a grain of salt: I am the coach, not the athlete.

Entrepreneurship is the greatest outer adventure that exists in the modern world. Anyone who takes the plunge should be applauded. But our future depends on encouraging the right entrepreneurs to start the right companies and make good choices. I hope to be a small part in helping them do so.

Copenhagen, June 2023