After a speech at Stanford University in late 2017, Chamath Palihapitiya says he realized that something in his life needed to change.
“In Italian, there’s a beautiful word, basta, which is basically like your way of saying, ‘Enough!’” the Social Capital CEO said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “And so I woke up one day and I was like, ‘Basta!’ Enough.”
And over the next year, Palihapitiya’s declaration that he had had “enough” would ricochet around Silicon Valley, as his well-regarded, traditional venture capital firm lost several of its most prominent partners, angered its investors, and scaled back several of its most ambitious plans.
Now, Palihapitiya is offering his explanation for how exactly Social Capital fell into such dramatic disarray: It was an “identity crisis” motivated by deep, personal failings that had to be dealt with. On this emotionally charged episode of Recode Decode, Palihapitiya told Recode’s Kara Swisher and Teddy Schleifer that he had the right to be happy and had discovered — despite being part of Silicon Valley’s rich and famous — that he wasn’t. So “basta” it was.
“I had been exploring why, after the accumulation of all of these things — more companies invested in, more funds raised, more notoriety, more television appearances, more this, more that, more everything — why am I not more happy?” he said. “In fact, I’m less happy. And in fact, I think that I’ve actually really bastardized some core relationships in my life where I’ve created hyper-transactional relationships in many areas of my life.”
Social Capital in 2018 would become defined by this drama, and Palihapitiya admits that it left behind many scorned people. But he dismissed the idea that he as a venture capitalist carried an outsize responsibility to others as “idiotic” and said that his right to be happy trumped all else.
And his message to those who claim to be upset with him?
“To all the people that worked for me and whose money I took, you’re fucking welcome,” he said. “We did the job we were asked to do. But just like Michael Jordan had a decision to retire and go play baseball, I chose to retire and go play baseball. Now, I may come back to basketball, but this is my decision. I am not your slave. I just want to be clear. My skin color 200 years ago may have gotten you confused, but I am not your slave.”
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara and Teddy’s conversation with Chamath.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, editor-at-large of Recode. You may know me as the founder of the venture capital firm Antisocial Capital, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
That can only mean — I said antisocial — that I’m here with someone who is one of my favorite people, though don’t tell him, Chamath Palihapitiya, the CEO of Social Capital. He’s been on this show twice before to talk about the state of venture capital, and he always says something crazy. The last time was August 2017, so we’ve got a lot to catch up on. There’s a lot going on in Chamath’s life. We also with us have Teddy Schleifer. He covers money and power and politics for Recode. Chamath, welcome back to Recode Decode.
Chamath Palihapitiya: What’s up?
KS: What’s up? What do you mean what’s up? What’s up with you?
KS: Chamath? Every time I turn around, you’re in the news.
KS: Let us say who you are. You are a longtime venture capitalist. You worked at Facebook. You worked at AOL. For those who don’t know the Chamath, so you’re a well-known figure of Silicon Valley. Don’t give me that look. And…
What’s been going on?
Well, a lot of things.
KS: Yeah. So last we met you had all these people you hired. Mark [Mezvinsky], Chelsea Clinton’s ...
I think it’s easier ... I mean, basically I hired a bunch of people, then I transitioned and let go of some people, and some people left and ... But it’s all more explainable in a bigger idea.
KS: All right. Okay. Because last time you had a big idea, you were going to change venture capital. I wrote a story about it and you had all of these concepts around this full-service. Is that correct? A full-service what?
The general idea was that I thought that there was too much emotion in the business, and the answer to that was just using data and information, and most of the information to make better decisions sat inside of a company. So the simple idea there was, if you, instead of having MBAs with spreadsheets, had data scientists working at a venture capital firm, they would be able to ask the company for the real data that mattered. They would be able to build models. They would be able to make much more precise predictions.
And then the investment decisions would be much more unbiased, meaning you wouldn’t necessarily care as much about the gender, the look, the ... All these other labels around a CEO. But instead, you would be able to see how good they were because it manifests in the business, ultimately. And that’s the organization I set out to build.
KS: And you had a relatively traditional venture capital firm to start with, right?
Not really. I mean, I had always been doing the job in that way. The team that I had hired from Facebook helped me do that. I had a couple of people that I hired that were very traditional, mostly because I wanted a patina of that world, in case it mattered. In case it mattered with fundraising, with LPs, because the first few funds, I was two-three hundred million of the money, but I still needed six-seven hundred million of other people’s money.
Teddy Schleifer: So it helped with fundraising to have ...
It helps with patina. Some crazy guy shows up, a basketball team owner out partying, all that. It doesn’t paint a great picture if you’re at a pension fund and this guy’s asking for $100 million. But you take a couple of straight-laced people who went to MBA school and it got the job done. But they were good people and they contributed to the organization, don’t get me wrong.
But something much bigger happened, which was at the end of last year, I think I went through what I would call an identity crisis that I think ... I will predict that not only Silicon Valley will go through, but I predict most every human in the world will absolutely feel in the next five to 10 years. And I think it goes along the following lines... And I’m a byproduct in many ways of having built a lot of the social media infrastructure that I think exacerbated some of these feelings.
I had in the last nine years ... Basically, I was a billionaire at 32. I owned a sports team at 33 or 34 ...
KS: That’s a bummer, Chamath, but go ahead.
I was seemingly ... People would say, charismatic guy, interesting guy, funny guy. Married, three beautiful kids, living in the most expensive zip code in the United States, blah, blah, blah. And I was so confused about what it took to make me happy, and I was getting increasingly confused every day. And so, the cycle was, “Oh, maybe it’s more deals. Maybe it’s more money. Maybe it’s more vacations. Maybe it’s a fancier vacation. Maybe it’s, I fly on a better plane. Maybe it’s a nicer pair ...” It just kept escalating, but at the end of it I was emptier and emptier.
So the counter-effect was, I would either be spending time with people that weren’t necessarily nourishing me, I was spending time in ways that amplified my anxiety and my feelings that I was somehow missing out or inadequacy or insecurity. And instead, what would be left over is not filling a void but a void that was equal in proportion to how fake all those experiences were. And it was all around me.
KS: Can I ask, what set it off? Was there anything? It just was a growing, gnawing sense of emptiness?
It was a growing, gnawing sense, but I know what the spark was that lit the match, and that was my speech at Stanford in 2017.
KS: All right. Talk about that.
TS: What do you say then?
It was, to some people, me at my best, but in my interpretation, it was me at my worst. And I was a really good person about never really ... Being authentic around my insecurity, but not wearing it on my vest or on my sleeves to such a degree that I would lose sight of the person I was and how I should behave. And if I look back on that, and on many of the speeches that I’ve given, or the talks that I’ve given, I look back because I like to see where I was in my point of evolution because my presumption is I should be evolving.
And in all of the things that I look at, I’m actually relatively proud, except that one, and that’s the one that has millions of views and it’s the one where I said, “Social media is ripping apart the fabric of society,” all of which is relatively true. The forum on which I did it, I think, was misplaced, and the way I did it was in such a dilettante way, and it was wrapped in all this other nonsense about the people that run the world and their wealth, and that it was just so contorted and contrived.
What it was was just me almost barfing out this last burst of unhappiness and insecurity, and it was my way of saying, I had been told or had convinced myself that that is what we were all struggling for. And I have finally gotten behind the curtain to realize that is a complete farce and it’s a joke, and now I’m left completely confused and almost alienated because I’m like, “Where do I fit in? What do I fit into? What am I trying to do?”
KS: Well, let me ... One of your brands has been not fitting in. That’s one of the things you’ve been most proud of is that you are ... Counter, contrarian is one of your things. You say what you think. You pull the cover off of venture capital. Or these guys are ...
But those are all superficial things. Those are easy to do because, honestly, if you have even one vertebrae of a backbone, that’s easy because most of those people are fake and they live in a very superficial, sad definition of what depth is. But at some point, if you’re lucky enough ... Like, for example, my parents were deeply dysfunctional. Alcoholism, psychological issues, depression, abuse, all of that stuff. They didn’t have time to unpack. Job to job. Housekeeper, photocopy store clerk, unemployed, vacuum salesman, encyclopedia salesperson. That’s what they did.
KS: I understand. My grandfather and grandmother didn’t have time to be unhappy.
My parents did not have ... They had time to be dysfunctional.
KS: Or happy.
And completely fucked up, but they didn’t have time to be unhappy. They didn’t have time to be introspective. They didn’t have time to protect their kids. They didn’t do any of that stuff, what parents, if you’re in a position, can and must do. So my point is, I’m in a different situation, which is, I do have the time ...
TS: You have the ability to have an identity crisis.
I wouldn’t even ... I have the ability to introspect and actually ask myself these questions. Who am I? And this is where I got confused about what makes me happy and how do I define my core happiness.
And for a long time, in my naiveté, my definitions were very superficial. They were the things that other people would also value, whether it’s a job title, a promotion, working at one company over another, the money you make, the trips you take, the experiences you have, because they’re all relatable to other people. And in today’s environment, they’re very relatable in a post, in a tweet, in a picture. And so it amplifies the short-term feedback that tries to tell you that life is good. But at some point, when it gets so perturbed and perverted ...
KS: So what is it about the speech that did this? You gave this speech ... And it was quite a humdinger of a speech.
Well, my point was, I had been exploring why, after the accumulation of all of these things: more companies invested in, more funds raised, more notoriety, more television appearances, more this, more that, more everything.
TS: The question is, why weren’t you more happy?
Why am I not more happy? In fact, I’m less happy. And in fact, I think that I’ve actually really bastardized some core relationships in my life where I’ve created hyper-transactional relationships in many areas of my life.
KS: That’s a good way of putting it.
And I don’t think that’s what I wanted. And so, it was in almost that low, when I was at Stanford, I just let it all out. And it was from there that I started to make these systematic decisions in my life that I felt were lingering and I hadn’t had the courage.
First, I would say — and I would put most people in this category — I didn’t have a toolbox to even address it. And that has nothing to do with rich or poor. It has a lot to do with your condition when you’re growing up. I have a funny thing that my friends and I talk about, which is white people have a right to be crazy. You guys can live on a spectrum of normal and crazy. Brown people, black people, Chinese people, we are all normal on the outside and fucking totally nuts on the inside. That’s what we do.
KS: Right. You have to present.
We have to present. We show up normal, but we’re really nuts.
KS: I always thought you were nuts, Chamath. But moving along.
Thank you. So I didn’t have the toolkit. Then when I had a toolkit, it’s like, okay, use the toolkit and figure out what did I want to do to actually get emotionally healthier. Build a sense of self-worth and an identity that was divorced from a lot of these outside signals.
It is so much harder to do than I thought, and it’s an ongoing process. And in that, what I did was I profoundly made change. One of them was in the organization, because I said, “I’m raising all these funds. I’m bringing in all of this money. I’m flying around the world to the Middle East, to China, to all these places, not for my own validation and happiness, but to get the validation of other people who then don’t make me happy even when they do validate me.” In Italian, there’s a beautiful word, basta, which is basically like your way of saying, “Enough!” And so I woke up one day and I was like, “Basta!” Enough.
KS: Let me just stop you. You had done the public offering of the ... the transaction.
TS: The SPAC [Special Purpose Acquisition Company].
The SPAC, yeah.
KS: Of that thing, and I remember being at dinner with you with that fancy grill.
Yeah, the grill. The day of.
KS: The day of. This was before this revelation, correct? This was … That was one of the craziest dinners I’ve ever had. You had a ridiculous ...
TS: It was like mid-2017? Late 2017?
KS: Yeah. They had a bottle of wine that was like a zillion dollars, and you were like, “Would you like some of that?” I’m like, “No, it’s $1,000 a glass. No, no thank you. I can’t take that, ethically speaking.” But that was a crazy dinner, and I remember walking away thinking, “What the fuck is going on with Chamath?”
KS: Because it was manic, actually, I would call it. It was a manic dinner of all these people, and you were manic and the SPAC had just happened. And obviously you all were elated by it, but it was ...
I was very euphoric at that time.
KS: Yeah, euphoric.
Euphoric, I think, is a better word than manic.
KS: Well, manic is what I thought.
But I think you’re right. I was definitely living out ... And look, I would not take those experiences away from my life. I think that those were really interesting, but they were interesting for me now as learning, and it’s given me more courage to be who I want to be.
So who did I want to be? I wanted to run an organization that made really thoughtful decisions in industries that I really cared about, even when all the people around me didn’t understand or didn’t care. That required a different set of people, a different organization. And the beautiful thing is, at this point now, it did not require anybody else’s money.
TS: Isn’t that one of the challenges here, though, that part of being a venture capitalist, and maybe as the firm becomes effectively a family office, you guys are doing different things, but isn’t one of the challenges that ...
I don’t like the term family office, because I don’t think that’s what it is.
TS: All personal capital.
Well no, I think it’s a holding company.
TS: A holding company.
It’s a company that has the ability to buy and build anything it wants.
TS: Isn’t one of the challenges that there are folks out there who depend on you, or who are other VCs of social capital, LPs? One of the challenges when you already have an existing infrastructure like a firm is then, when you want to change things, it can be pretty dramatic.
KS: How did you feel about that? Because when you say basta, I think about that a lot myself. I know what you mean.
Look, we’ve taken a couple billion dollars in and we’ve compounded that money at between 30 and 40 percent a year. So to all the people that worked for me and whose money I took, you’re fucking welcome.
KS: You’re fucking welcome, meaning what? That you gave them stuff and that was enough?
I hired them and LPs hired me to do a job. We did the job we were asked to do. But just like Michael Jordan had a decision to retire and go play baseball, I chose to retire and go play baseball.
KS: All right.
Now, I may come back to basketball, but this is my decision. I am not your slave. I just want to be clear. My skin color 200 years ago may have gotten you confused, but I am not your slave.
KS: But how hard was that, still? Come on, you know that.
It was not that hard.
KS: Yeah. You just were like ...
It was not that hard. But this is because ... When you realize that you are living somebody else’s life ... Listen. It’s not to take away from these accomplishments. They are meaningful. But if I don’t value them, then let somebody else do it because they will value it and they will be more honorable with those things. And if I couldn’t do that, then I didn’t want to be in that role.
KS: So when you say ...
And by the way, I have that right. This is what shocks me.
KS: No, I’m not saying you don’t, obviously. But it’s that it has repercussions that cause ... Because nobody does that. Nobody walks away.
Nobody also pays millions of dollars to their ex-partners and gives them severances. I mean, sure, but does that get reported? Are these people out on the street? Are these LPs licking their wounds thinking, “Oh my gosh, we’ve lost money?” No. What are we talking about? You gave me 50 million, I give you hundreds of millions back. You worked for me. I’m giving you millions of dollars. In some cases, tens of millions. What is the issue? Please go find something else to do and we’ll all be okay.
KS: Come on, Chamath. Come on. The leaving bothers people. Look, you have the right to do it, but it does create repercussions of people that depend on you. I get that it’s easy, but it’s not as easy for everybody else when the center person does that.
If you were ... It’s not easy emotionally. It’s not easy psychologically. I acknowledge all of that. My point is, it’s a right and we all have the right to do it. You could also say no employee should have the right to quit a company because you’re leaving all your fellow employees in the lurch. Guess what? People do.
So should I feel a different level of guilt than other people feel individually for making decisions to optimize for their life? What about a doctor who works in a really impoverished part of the United States who says, “You know what, I paid my dues. I’m moving back to New York City.” Is that guy’s decision worse or better than mine? Is the person that ... The critical security engineer at Facebook that quit one day. Is that person’s job when he goes to quit worse or better than my decision?
TS: So you don’t feel as a VC that you were somehow ... These folks are more dependent on you than a patient of a doctor is, or a client of a lawyer. You have the right to be happy?
What is the argument? You’re telling me all of a sudden you should legislate who cannot quit their jobs?
KS: Nonetheless, it created ...
It’s idiotic, what you’re saying. I mean, it sounds really fucking stupid.
KS: All right. Now, it still creates acrimony with the people left.
KS: How did you deal with that?
I went to Italy, spent the summer there. Had a fabulous, fabulous time.
KS: Where’d you go?
KS: Everywhere? Italy’s a great place.
My girlfriend’s Italian.
KS: I know that. It’s amazing.
Yeah. So I just detached and decompressed.
KS: Now you also changed your personal life. You just mentioned your girlfriend.
Incredibly, part of the process was just realizing that when I got married ... I was married to a wonderful woman and she’s an incredible person. But I had such a limited toolkit. And what I mean by that is, I didn’t even understand what it meant to be emotionally intimate with somebody. I had really good friends, or my definition of good friends, but they were friends that I’d be partying with or gambling with. Never sharing my emotions with, really. And so, I had no ability to build really any emotional intimacy. And relationships, whether they’re romantic or not, are hard if you’re really going to invest in them. And in such a long time of knowing my ex-wife, it’s just, you have these meaningful changes.
And what I would look back at and say, the spark that lit that fuse was in around 32, 33. It was just so much capital that gives you so much optionality, and sometimes optionality is good. Choices are good, but too much choice can be very destabilizing. And then, you make decisions in your life which you can’t unwind. What job do I do? Where do I work? Where do I not work? And all of these things at some point can create, if you can’t talk about it, resentment and issues. And unfortunately, my wife and I were not able to work through them. But she’s an amazing mom. She has been an amazing partner to me. But it was a decision that I think we felt was the right thing to do.
KS: Yeah. Which also destabilizes people. Listen, you know I got divorced. I get what you’re talking about.
But what I found was in my divorce, none of my friends were upset that I had gotten divorced. They were deeply offended that I hadn’t told them and that they didn’t know that it was coming. And in it was how I realized how emotionally broken I was, and incapable of really connecting with people. People would always say, “Chamath, you’re candid.” And then candor would transition to, “Oh, you’re pretty authentic.” But what I realized is, those are still very superficial, and the ability to be really authentic and emotionally present with somebody is super hard.
KS: It is.
And I didn’t know how to do it. Not as if you said, “Hey, be emotionally intimate.” I would have been like, “What are you talking about?” How to share, how to listen, how to be a good listener to a friend, and how to ... For me, even just to share some really deeply intimate things that I had been dealing with or have dealt with people that I hadn’t before. It’s not what we did in my family growing up. You push it down, put it in a little box, put it far away.
KS: Bury it.
Show up, go to work, make the white man proud.
KS: Well, my family’s Italian. We don’t do that, just so you know.
Now, one of the things I’m thinking about when you’re talking like this, is that ... This culture, the Silicon Valley tech culture, talks about change and disruption a lot, but they don’t like it that much.
In fact, they don’t.
KS: They hate it.
If I can thread what I was saying before into the business part. I think there’s a lot of profound ... So I am now much happier than I’ve ever been, but in my happiness, what I’ll tell you is I actually have more moments of happiness and elation as well as sadness. I actually feel the ups and downs, and the totality of it. I’m actually more present in it and as a result I’m actually just happier because I’m more grounded in my values, OK?
KS: There’s an old saying, if you don’t feel the pain, you’re not going to feel anything else.
Anything else. Yeah, I think that’s a really good saying. I think a lot of people are very repressed and they live in this halcyon days here of just like, “It’s great. Disruption, disruption, yeah, yeah.” But really what I think is at the underlying part of it is — which is why I think churn is so high, employees are so dissatisfied — is that they are all so deeply unhappy. Silicon Valley people are much much unhappier.
TS: They might be rich, but they’re not necessarily happier.
Or they perceive that they may be rich because of stock options, which we can talk about later, which may not be actually worth much of anything. But the point is that I think people in Silicon Valley, in this point in time, are the most unhappy they’ve ever been personally. They’re the most, probably, detached. They’re the least civically engaged. They’re the least emotionally intimate. It’s all of these things that conflate to just making people really feel empty. That exists here in spades.
How it manifests into businesses is that at some point you need to have a real emotional spark to do something really meaningful, at some point. I think that a lot of people play the kabuki theater, the charade, of a startup, but if you’re just so preoccupied with your own happiness there’s a general malaise that you bring into the office. I think as a result the things that one does at these offices aren’t as good, and so the companies themselves don’t end up being that meaningful. I think we’re in that wave right now. How do we address it?
KS: I wonder why it happened first, before ...
Well, I think it’s because you have a lot of really really young people who grew up in front of phones who are completely disconnected from their real, tactile lives. They don’t know how to define happiness, Kara. Your kids, my kids, Teddy and probably Teddy’s ...
Are super unhappy. Tell the truth. I mean honestly, Teddy, tell the truth.
TS: Do I think people in my generation are unhappy? I think that ultimately there’s ... Yeah, I think there’s the experience of growing up with through a device, all the time. I think you’re right about that.
My generation, we were pretty gung-ho, kind of like found ways to be happy. When I’m talking about my unhappiness before, it was a level of core emotional unhappiness that came after a long period of exploration, but at some point, you just got to be happy during the day. I just think that I don’t see that as much anymore.
I wonder why there’s just so much ideological extremism, why there’s just so much vilification. It think at the root of it is deep dissatisfaction with oneself. That’s what comes out. You see the world as you live it, and so if you live it as someone who’s getting increasingly resentful and bitter, you lash out and you are increasingly resentful and bitter. If you see the world as trusting and happy, you kind of see the positive side of a world that is trusting and happy. You can take the same health care stat and one person will say, “My gosh, we’re all doomed,” and the other person says, “Look at the advancements that we have had, and thank god that this is happening.”
Company-building today, I think, needs people who are generally happy because I think it allows you ... Especially startups, which don’t overcompensate necessarily, although now that’s not true, which is working on these lofty goals, needs belief. Belief is rooted not in anger.
KS: Well, did they start off happy? Do you think a lot of these companies started out with that concept?
I think if you look at the generations of the companies when you and I were first here, in the 2000s, why were we here? We were not here for Silicon Valley profiles on HBO, books, and all this stuff.
KS: Yeah. It wasn’t cool.
It was uncool to be here, and so you had to be happy to be here.
KS: It was very exciting.
It was very exciting. The lower-slung the building, the better. Right? The dorkier and dirtier and smellier the engineering pit, the better.
Now, it’s like all this pristine gleam and shine, and it’s all packaged to look like something that should be in a movie. But underneath, to a lot of people it’s just a charade and a nightmare.
TS: You think the wrong types of people are coming to Silicon Valley these days?
No, no, no. I think people are coming ... You need the people, but the people are fundamentally unhappy. Part of the reason why people are unhappy these days is that they’ve been fed a bill of goods that ... they’re turning out to not actually help them. Meaning, you were prophylactically doing things in a way in which you thought would get you informed, more engaged, more understood, more sympathy, more empathy, and it’s the opposite. Those things are really sacred things to be playing with.
Right now, you’re not playing with them in a one-on-one. Imagine how those things went up and down in a relationship you had in high school, and how devastating or exhilarating it was. You had two or three of those interactions, maybe, maximum in your life. Now, you have 50 to 100 of them a day. They’re much more small scale but they happen day over day, day over day.
Take a step back and just ask yourself honestly, “Do you not think this stuff impacts your psyche and your definition of yourself, your core happiness? Don’t you think that that’s happening?” I will tell you that it happened to me. I tend to think if it happened to me, it’s going to happen to the rest of you.
KS: What is in place that creates that? One is money. Or is that not the problem?
No. I think money is an accelerant to finding your true self, so if you’re bent to be a jerk, you’re going to be a jerk just faster.
KS: Right, with more stuff.
With more stuff. I think the thing that’s accelerating all of this is we haven’t really done a good job yet of creating a new generation of heroes that show a set of values and choices that are worthwhile.
I’ll give you a different example. When I was single, I was shocked at what it means to date in 2019. Not shocked like I’m some puritanical guy, but I was shocked at just how valueless it all was, both the hookup culture and even the dating culture, because nobody understood how to build a bloody relationship. Nobody really knew how to share and actually create a bond. I was just like, “This sucks. How did this happen?” Because that’s not what I remember dating to be like, as a simple example.
And then I thought, “But these are all good people, how did they end up just so detached and broken?”
I think that there’s an entire suite of experiences, a whole suite of them that are combining in unforeseen ways to just rewrite the norms of society. I think that we haven’t done a good enough job in saying to ourselves that, as that happens, the mental health of me as an individual also matters.
It’s as if, for example, let’s just say Whole Foods didn’t exist and all it was was a candy store. Let’s just say all Safeways and all A&Ps, every single grocery store was replaced with only candy. And we lived in a world where you could only eat candy. Some was healthier for you, some was not, some had protein, so you could roughly get what you needed. It would be completely non-stigmatized to say, “Well, all I can eat is candy from a candy store. There are better candies and worse candies, but I realize what it does to my body, and so I’m also going to get a membership at the gym or I’m going to create a regimen of workout to help me deal with the implications of my food intake.” It seems really like a de-escalated conversation.
Now, if I said, “Well, there’s all of this information that I’m consuming that has positive and negative impacts on my mind, still not clearly well understood, so I’m going to prophylactically do something to help manage my mental health,” you sound like a crazy person.
That’s the tragedy of what, Teddy, your generation, and Kara, your kids and my kids are going to feel head-on.
KS: What about the business of here? What happens there? Because right now Silicon Valley has gotten a lot of pushback on a lot of the things it’s made, as you know. You’ve talked about it.
TS: This is the Stanford speech, right. Facebook ...
The Stanford speech was more about just talking about what the impacts of some of those things were.
KS: But this is precisely what you were saying, in a different way. You’re saying the same thing.
Look, I think that people would be crazy to say that, for example, like Google hasn’t advanced humanity by 10 to 100x. Have they done some things that are at points sketchier or could they have done better? Sure.
Would you want to be in a world without Google? I would not. I don’t think anybody really does or understands the implications of ...
KS: So you feel the negative impact is overestimated?
I think that the thing that has happened is that there has been a transition from achieving a mission to optimizing a business model and maximizing a business model.
KS: Right, and advertising.
It happens when growth slows. To think about in a company, how a company works, a company is just a complex set of interpersonal relationships, and you need to transition from ... You need to keep everybody motivated at all times. First in motivation is, “Oh my gosh, look at all of these new things that we’re building that people want. People want us. We’re popular. We’re popular. Make more of the things. The things are amazing. These things are delicious, delicious. Make the things.”
Then at some point, people stop buying the things because they have the things. Then the team is like, the employees are like, “Should we be sad now that nobody wants our things?” “No. Because we’re going to charge more for those things, and now you’re going to count those things, and those things are called money!”
It’s always a game of hot potato around motivation and morale. As it transcends and filters into a company, that’s how you first focus on product-market fit. Then you focus on growth, then you focus on revenue. In these transitions to revenue, what has happened to all these companies is that they’ve done what they were supposed to do as a for-profit public company. Go and maximize revenue. Go and maximize profits.
The implications are not, in my opinion, for them to bear. The implications are for society to bear and for governments to bear.
KS: And then what? So, this is naturally the way that ...
Two-fold. I’ll tell you two-fold.
KS: This was naturally the way that it was going to happen, is what you’re saying.
KS: What a surprise?
This is normal. What a surprise. This is not new news.
KS: Right. Well, it is a little bit because they said they weren’t like that.
KS: I know, but you know there was a whole ...
And you believed them?
KS: They believed them. I didn’t. I never believed them.
TS: Basically, the argument here is these were companies that were always set out to make money, and now they’re making money, and to a certain extent, that’s not their fault.
They’re doing their job.
TS: Doing their job. Right.
KS: You know they didn’t start out ... You know their game. They weren’t hucksters, for sure.
No, they were not. They believed that they were doing the right thing. We believed we were doing the right thing. I think we’ve realized that it’s a much bigger thing than we thought it was.
Here’s my point, though. Society has a responsibility. The society’s responsibility is to do what I just said, which is, how do I optimize for my mental health? I’m just going to put it bluntly. The people that think they ... I’ll put it differently. Let me just tell you the scale of the mental health crisis. I’ll just use the United States as an example: Men.
Men. Men live somewhere between seven to 10 years less than a woman. Same zip code, same education, same health… Now, you’re asking my personal theory? How is that possible? I’ll tell you. Women have a much better path to mental health than men do. Women talk. Women learn that it’s okay to be emotional.
At a very young age, women learn about emotional intimacy. They’re taught that it’s okay to have relationships where you share intimate details. You may get betrayed. You may not. You’ll get supported. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you feel really low. Sometimes even depressed. Sometimes you’ll feel amazing. It’s all normal, and you’re normal. There’s an enormous number of people exactly like you in the world.
Guys: “Hey, this is cool. Hey, yeah, sports is cool. Dunk a basketball. Yeah, let’s watch this football. Hey, that girl, she’s hot. Yeah. How you’re doing? Good. Hungry? Yeah.”
KS: This was in my last headache with my sons.
“Beer? Yeah, Beer.”
KS: Not the beer part, but yeah.
Now you see this duality, and it builds. As a result I think what happens are, in my opinion, men, why do they live less? Because they have just taken in so much toxic garbage into their body.
KS: They’ve also spewed it out, Chamath.
Yeah, but they don’t know how to deal with it, and so they compartmentalize and they tuck it in, and I think it destroys men bottoms-up at a very cellular level. I honestly think so. That to me is the state of the mental health crisis in America. It’s at least 175 million people, and it’s growing. We got to just destigmatize it and make it okay for people to talk, and for people to be able to be emotionally connected to other people, and not value obvious things, and also then not vilify the things that were obvious before.
I look at all this stuff around AOC and what’s shocking to me is like, why is it all of a sudden so bad to be successful? It should never have been bad before. If you think about the progress that we’ve made, Civil Rights, medicine, politics, all the things that have happened were fueled in part by money that was created out of a capitalist system. We have a political philosophy in America that works which is capitalism plus democracy. They’re inexorably twined. You can’t have one without the other.
And all of a sudden we have a counterfactual and say, “We would have been the same.” It’s disingenuousness, but the reason why people get so angry is because, a, they don’t like what they are, nor do they like what anybody is that they see. I think step one would be to really fix who one is and try to make oneself a little bit happier around the things that they care about.
KS: I think she’s talking about inequality, which has never been great. She’s absolutely talking about it.
TS: She’s tapping into anger.
She’s tapping into anger. Kara, I know AOC. You know why? I was her. I am her. I’m just a less angrier version than her.
KS: She’s not angry. You’re wrong. You’re 100 percent wrong. You’re missing her completely.
No, I don’t think so.
KS: I think you’re all terrified of someone who is actually ...
KS: Talking about something that’s important, which is the enormous inequality of wealth and opportunity in this country.
I’m not actually scared of her at all.
I really don’t. I think that’s she’s an impressive person. If I was able to do what she could do, I would do it too, but I also am smart enough to know how I would do it, and I would do it exactly the way that she’s doing it.
I think a lot of it is tapping into a lot of latent anger.
KS: No. I think she’s saying, “Enough,” is what she’s doing. She’s doing exactly what you’re doing. She’s saying “that’s enough of that.”
KS: That’s enough of the #MeToo. It’s enough of this. A lot of women are saying it, for sure, about the behavior of men in Silicon Valley. That’s fucking enough. We’ve had it. People did it 20 years ago. Enough.
I’m not trying to take away from that.
KS: No, but I’m saying ...
When I think about 70 percent taxes or like the Green New Deal ...
KS: That’s not what she’s talking...
Like a non-binding thing ...
KS: It’s the beginning of a conversation. That’s what it is. I think she’s obviously more sophisticated than you at this point because she’s starting a conversation that you know she’s going to come to a compromise about. You have to start saying, “I will not sit in the back of the bus. I will not do this. I will not do that.” It has to start with those kinds of things.
I think we’re saying the same thing then.
KS: Well, I guess.
It starts from a more angry point, Kara, and then you chill the fuck out.
KS: Yes, but you have to, you have to get angry.
Guess what? Kara, I started in a really angry place.
And now I’m a lot less angry. And I bet you I’ll be a lot more effective.
KS: Let me just tell you the strides that gay people had started with silence = death. It started with Act Up.
I’m not saying it’s wrong.
KS: I get it. I get it.
I’m just saying it is.
KS: But you’re not getting it.
You’re getting so offended by the fact that ...
KS: Because you’re attacking someone who I think is talking about critical issues in our society.
I’m not attacking it. I was investing in climate change and health care since 2000 and fucking ...
KS: Right. You were. That’s true.
2011. I was putting in hundreds of millions of dollars of my own money, so I put my money where my mouth is. Her agenda I agree with, but the tactics, all I’m saying is I’m just looking at it and I’m like, “Oh, I’ve been there before. I was the angry person spouting off about climate change in 2011.” I didn’t do it as eloquently as she did.
My version of that was maybe blathering on at TechCrunch. Her version of that is a non-enforced ...
KS: You’re not as charming as she is.
TS: She’s also 29 at this point, so I mean it’s possible there’s a generational thing. Yeah.
All I’m saying is that I’m just observing her toolkit as my toolkit.
We’re doing the same thing.
KS: We’re going to get into the next section about what we’re going to do about all of this, Chamath. I like the happy Chamath but there has to be some ... A lot of stuff that pushes Silicon Valley forward is dissatisfaction, anger, insecurity. Those kinds of things do create, the irritation does create good things.
I think anger is a fantastic motivator for the zero-to-one path. I think it’s probably the best. I’ve never seen people who like, happily, are like, “It would be nice to do this.” I think it’s more like, “Oh, I don’t like that. Oh, this could be better.” Maybe anger is not the right word ...
KS: Right. Irritation.
Irritation, whatever. So those kinds of negative motivators tend to work really well in that zero to one, but at some point your philosophy has to transition because most people are motivated by irritation and anger. They’re motivated by positivity, and an additive sense to be able to do things.
Right now, Silicon Valley, if you take away the emotional well-being of the employees — which again, I think is in a very precarious state. Ask the big tech companies how many of their folks take them up on the free mental health checks. I bet you’ll be shocked that it’s probably 30, 40, or 50 percent now. But if you take that off of the table, then there’s a structural business issue that we have here now, too.
It’s something that I wrote in my letter last year, which is there’s an enormous tax that we’ve been quietly paying to the big tech startups without realizing it. Those are the costs to AWS, Microsoft, Google, and then for hosting and web services, and then the tax to Facebook and Google specifically for acquiring customers, it’s roughly about 40 cents of every dollar. Then, if you layer in the headcount costs, which is really about 50 to 60 cents of every dollar, you are already in a place where your real net margins are zero or negative.
KS: So, hard to become successful.
Kara, it’s hard to even grow.
It creates a really dangerous, precarious startup culture which is not one of “innovation wins” but one where the person who can get tricked for the most money will survive, and then a lot of the really good ideas won’t get capitalized because they’re too risky.
KS: Yeah. That’s a really important issue. We’re here with Chamath Palihapitiya having an intense discussion, which I’m super enjoying. I’m so glad we’re going to get to be girlfriends now.
I’m ready to be girlfriends!
KS: Oh really?
I am emotionally open.
KS: And braid my hair. Are you?
KS: Can we hug and stuff like that?
TS: I’ll tweet you. So Chamath, you’ve called this [startups] a Ponzi scheme.
TS: The whole startup world.
KS: Explain that.
TS: You released this letter three or four months ago. At this point, basically, I think there’s an element of truth to this, for sure, but talk about where ...
KS: He sort of believes it.
Thanks for your fucking millennial backhanded compliment, you douche.
TS: No, no, no.
It’s true. If you actually study the market, it’s true.
TS: The argument here is that ... who is getting fleeced? Who are the people who are losing in this Ponzi scheme.
TS: Employees of startups who are fed ...
Let me just explain it, so it’s easier. Let’s just say, the three of us here in this room, let’s just assume that we are the ecosystem, and there’s a company right there. The company comes first to Kara, and says, “Kara, invest in me.” She says, “Sure.” She gives him a million dollars and takes 10% of the company.
She then says to him, “Well, I gave you a million dollars, I know you have to spend around $500,000 for engineers. Please spend the other $500,000 on Google and Facebook ads. Grow as fast as you can.” The CEO might say, “Why?” Kara will say, “You have to grow at all costs, or it’s death.” What she’s really saying is, because it improves the odds that somebody now invests after me. That’s what she’s really saying. Okay.
A year passes, now that same company comes to me and says, “Chamath, I’ve taken Kara’s million and I’m growing super fast. I did exactly what she said. Will you give me $5 million? I want a $25 million valuation.” I say, “Okay.” Now, all of a sudden, I invested $5 million, now he has another $5 million. Kara looks like a genius because she’s got a 2.5x return in a year. Wow! That is amazing. She puts in a little bit more. I put in the most and then I say to the CEO, “Hey, this is all fine and good, but growth or die, dude. It’s all about growth. You’ve got to grow.”
He says, “Well, what does it mean? I’m spending so much on Google.” “No, spend more. Hire more engineers, build more features, hire more salespeople, spend more.” Then again, he starts to spend 50 cents of every dollar on Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc. Then he shows up and now the greater fool shows up — you, Teddy.
TS: Yes, I am the series C investor here.
Series C investor. And Kara calls you and then I call you. “Teddy, you have to take a look at this. It is going gangbusters. Remember when we would always have picnics at the Harvard School of Business and you know you held up my fleece vest one day right before it started to rain? Well, think of this as a payback.”
TS: Is that what the idea of the Harvard School is?
Think of this as the payback.
TS: And I talked to Kara. I talked to you. I see markups. Everyone’s happy.
Remember when we were strolling the quad in the Stanford School of Business ...
KS: I didn’t go to Stanford, my friend.
... and Kara, you lent me a pair of espadrilles, and I said, “Thanks, Kara.”
KS: Espadrilles? You’re not going to be my girlfriend now.
Consider this a payback.
TS: Relationship’s over.
So, you go and invest $20 million at a $100 million valuation. Now Kara’s investment has 10x. My investment is 4x.
TS: You guys are telling your LPs, “Everything’s great.”
Now Kara goes to her LPs and says, “I did amazing. I put in a million bucks and it’s worth almost $10 million. I want to raise a $10 million fund now and I’ll do it again.” I say to my LPs, “Hey, I put in money and I 4xed it. I want to raise a $300 million fund.” You eventually find somebody else and then you’re like, “I’m going to raise a billion dollar fund.”
So what has really happened? One, the company is not really any more incrementally successful. Okay? All we’ve done is inflated the cost of him running his business. Two, Kara’s raised more money, which means she has to put more companies to work, which by definition means unless the quality of the companies increases, she’s going to be putting more money into crappier companies.
I’m going to keep doing it. You’re going to keep doing it. So, this is all about passing the buck. Who gets rich in this scheme? Kara, me, and you get rich. Why? Because, we don’t put a lot of own money in the game.
TS: Working fees off the fund.
Yeah, if you’re an entrepreneur, here’s a great litmus test. Entrepreneurs, write this down. When you go and raise money, ask your GP when you get multiple term sheets, “How much of the fund is GP capital?”
KS: Almost none.
And you’re going to be shocked.
TS: Is it 1 or 2 percent on most funds?
Yeah. I was 30 percent. Thirty cents of every dollar was me. You should take the term sheet from the person that has the most skin in the game because they will be the most rational. Because now if they tell you to spend it all on Facebook and Google ads ...
TS: It’s your money.
... it’s my money. You know, I used to tell this to my team all the time. Hey, I get that you want to write a $30 million check, but do you understand that if you say, “Yes,” I’m going to wire out $10 million tomorrow? So, let me pay attention. It’s amazing how much more you pay attention when your own skin is on the game.
So, the VCs win, because you get paid a salary. Eventually, the dirty little secret is if you raise enough funds, Kara, and I raise enough funds, we make more money in his failure, because we’ll have many more of his kind of companies than if they’re successful. And then in some crazy, sadistic way, VCs actually want you to fail. And they want you to take a long time to fail, because by that point they’ve stacked up so many funds ...
KS: You can’t get out.
They’ve collected so much fees ...
KS: They’re a hit.
Your outcome is irrelevant. Think of how gross and misaligned that is.
KS: It doesn’t matter about the company.
So, No. 1, the company loses. No. 2, the VCs win. No. 3, the limited partners who then put in money in the future also lose. Why? The Muscular Dystrophy Association shows up and says, “My God, I’ve heard you’ve made money for Harvard and Stanford and Yale and Princeton and MIT. Can you help us, we’re just trying to help cure muscular dystrophy?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll take your $50 million.” But, they’re in like the seventh fund. I’m already tired and rich.
TS: They haven’t caught up to the Ponzi scheme yet.
KS: Tired and rich.
They haven’t caught up yet. So, the really earnest LPs that are late in the game, they get screwed. And then the employees get screwed because the employees are left getting these options. The valuations go crazy because now once Teddy gives his entrepreneur $50 million, that entrepreneur goes to Dropbox or somebody else and says, “Hey, leave Dropbox. Hey, leave Square. Hey, leave Airbnb. Look at how fast my equity is going up.”
But, now what happens? If you’re not realized, that person gave up real money for fake money. So, now what is his or her choice? The next time is to be much more skeptical or to say, “Well, if I’m going to play this game, I’m going to be really promiscuous. I’ll be here for a year, I’ll be there for a year, because they could all be lying or they may all not know better and hopefully this whole thing just doesn’t catch up while I’m still in Silicon Valley.”
KS: So wait, one...
“I can make enough money and move to Austin.”
KS: When does it catch up? When does the bill come due, Chamath?
I think that we are going to have a non ... I think it’s probably in the next three to five years. It will not be from our industry. It will be in the debt markets and this is the way it plays out, I think.
If you thought the great financial crisis was a big deal, around mortgages, oh my God, wait till you see the amount of debt companies have. The complexity around all of that is far beyond what we can all talk about. But when companies start defaulting on their debt, what it really means is those same LPs, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, all these people, right? [They] will lose an enormous amount of money. Because in all of their asset allocation models, the debt part of their portfolios is much, much bigger than venture capital. Venture capital is like 1 or 2 percent, it’s an afterthought.
But if you start to suffer huge losses over there, huge, you’re going to start to just redeem, and you’re going to want to be super liquid.
TS: To pull money from venture and then ...
Well, you’ll pull money from everywhere. First, you’ll start with hedge funds because they have easier redemption cycles. But it won’t be enough, because take Harvard, just a simple example. They still have to pay teachers, buy buildings, pay tuition, whatever. Or the Knight Foundation, they have to pay their programs and then they’re going to look around and say, “Okay, well, sell this other portfolio.”
So when it hits venture, it’s going to hit it that way. That’s where I think people will say, a very dispassionate financial buyer will say, “These assets are worthless. Teddy, why did you think this was a $100 million company? The valuation is really somewhere between Kara and Chamath’s original value. This company doesn’t make any money. It loses money.”
TS: So at that point then, when Kara says lets raise her next fund, or you raise your next fund, or I’m raising my next fund, suddenly the LP doesn’t have as much cash to put in.
Yeah, and so that’s why. Why do you think Kara raises funds every two years now? Why do you think Chamath raises money every two years? Which means Chamath and Kara have to put the money out faster. Which is why you wake up every day and you see 50 deals a day and you think, “Where is all this money coming from?”
KS: There aren’t 50 good ideas.
This is the Ponzi scheme that we are living in.
KS: So, how do you get to the good ideas? One of the ways I think about it, when you talk about Amazon, Google, and Facebook is three semi trailers running down a highway that nobody can get around. You use the term tags ...
KS: I think of it as nobody can get around. How do you get the good ideas? Where are they? How you create ... you know, you mention some others, Airbnb, Uber, others. Good ideas, right? Interesting ideas.
Right now, I think you’ll be well compensated in looking at the parts of the American industry that have largely been nonprofit and making them for-profit. To me that’s roughly ... and I know health care, you’ll say, is for profit, but it basically behaves as a really horrible, pathetic nonprofit. Education. I think those two areas will really have enormous amounts of outcomes. Like big, big, big, multi-hundred billion dollar outcomes. Climate change will be enormous. And then making us less dependent on the earth in general, space, all that stuff will be enormous. So, those are like four areas that are pretty obvious.
The way that I look at things now is, I look at the product of two concepts. One, is this a hard thing? And I try to ask myself, “What is super hard about this?” And it takes a while because some things are non-obvious because when somebody presents you something it’s like, “Oh, I built this thing and here’s how it behaves.” You’re like, “Well, that’s pretty straightforward.” But you’ve got to find the hard thing.
And then what I like is this idea of how much courage does it take to start it? Right now I’m infatuated with this idea that you want really low courage to start something. Because then all of us take a shot on it, because we’re like, “Well, what’s the big deal?” But it has to have a path where it gets much higher, where you have to have more and more courage as it gets bigger. So, for example, I just saw Free Solo.
KS: Yeah, I’ve heard it’s great.
TS: It’s good.
So, that’s an enormous outcome because it’s the product of a hard thing and this initial courage threshold. Hard thing, HT, is just, it’s huge. I’m going to free solo El Capitan. It’s an enormous thing. It’s undebatable, right? But the initial courage is de minimis, it’s take the first step. You’re on the ground. Take the second step. You’re still on the ground. The tenth step. Nah, you’re still functionally on the ground.
By the time you’re 400 feet in the air, wow, your courage has to go way up. Every next step is incrementally harder. But the product of all of that, if you’re successful, is an enormous feat of humankind. I think that every time I look at a company now, I first look in only those four categories because I’m deeply infatuated ...
TS: Anything that’s nonprofit right now?
TS: Anything that’s the four categories?
No, no, I’m ... if I want to be specific: health care, education, space, climate change, and the fifth one for me is AI. Meaning like hardcore chips and chip design in AI. Those five areas, but I ask the same question. Is it relatively non-courageous to start but will it get deeply courageous to keep going? And, if it were to happen, is this an unbelievably hard thing that would just shock people? Both of those questions are relatively easy to answer, actually.
If you look at Airbnb, you can paint it in this example. What is the hard thing? Make every room in every building that’s not a hotel bookable and behavable like a hotel. That’s a hard thing. You could value it as high or low, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a hard thing. What’s the initial courage threshold? It’s super low. I scraped a bunch of listings on Craigslist and I stuck them on my website. But now, look where they are. You have to be much more courageous. “Oh my God, we may need to get into airlines.” “Oh my God, we may need to be into vacations.” Oh my gosh, now you have to have real courage.
Take Uber. What’s the hard thing? I’m going to eliminate all car ownership in the world. It should be a rentable usable resource like water. Okay, that’s super hard. Initial courage threshold, super low.
KS: Get some limos.
I’m taking a couple of these guys’ black cars. But now look at the courage threshold you have to have. How do you deal with passenger safety? Hey, how do you deal with autonomous vehicles? Hey, how ...
TS: How do you deal with New York City?
It’s complexity on top of complexity and you have to have more and more courage. So, I like to take those two ideas and apply it to those five markets and see if there’s things that I like.
KS: Are you just investing alone now? Right? We just have a few more minutes, but you’re just doing it by yourself? Do you have partners again?
I have partners, yeah. I have like 25-30 people that help me.
KS: That work for you. Just work for you.
Yeah, they’re my partners. They help me. They lead certain areas. I have a great partner that I work with that leads a lot of stuff in space. He’s wonderful. I have another partner that leads a lot of stuff in sort of marketing and then software and ...
KS: Is it different than before?
Well, it was more of acknowledging what it was before. It was a benevolent dictatorship in disguise as a democracy.
KS: Ah, those are the worst.
It was never a ... those are the worst.
KS: I have a benevolent dictatorship, as you know.
TS: Constitutional reform right there.
KS: I love a benevolent dictatorship, as you know.
Now it’s more of a thing where what I would love to do is do what sort of Buffett and Munger have done. Be evolving my mind, be increasingly detached and dispassionate, be more emotionally aware of myself, make fewer much bigger decisions of impact.
KS: Which you have talked about.
And then not answer to anybody except my life partner and my children. That’s it. And everybody else can go fuck themselves.
KS: He’s a very happy person, Warren Buffett, I have to tell you. I just had dinner with him. He seemed the happiest.
KS: So happy.
KS: He’s happy. That’s exactly ... I’ve got to say.
He’s happy. I mean, honestly ...
KS: He did eat seven lamb chops during our sitting.
TS: This in Omaha?
KS: We had a good time.
I remember this lunch we had and he didn’t eat because he was just talking. He had a Caesar salad. It’s just funny. We were talking and he made some comment about Crestor or something. He’s like, “Oh, I take 20 milligrams or 30 milligrams of Crestor.” Or maybe it was something, Lipitor, I don’t know. He’s like, “It’s the most incredible drug that’s ever been.” As soon as he says it, the timing was impeccable. This enormous sundae lands on his table and he just starts digging into this.
KS: He likes his sugar. Oh yeah, he does.
KS: He likes ice cream.
KS: He’s happy.
I would love to be happy.
KS: He is a happy man.
I’m reasonably happy right now.
KS: All right. And then so, are you bullish on Silicon Valley or ... and then I’ll let Teddy ask the last question.
KS: What has to happen for everyone to undergo a Chamath? And that’s what it will be called. It will be a like verb. “Did you have your Chamath yet?”
No, I think that the way that people express this now is people, in their dissatisfaction and disillusionment with this place, leave. So you’ll see better and more companies get built outside of the Valley.
KS: A lot of people have left recently. Dan Rose went to Hawaii. A lot of people, you’re right, they leave.
They’re unhappy, Kara. All the money in the world doesn’t make you happier.
KS: Oh, I know that. “You’re so poor all you have is money,” that’s what I always say.
It gets you to the point of realizing how unhappy you are faster.
TS: What would you tell an entrepreneur out there who right now is like ...
KS: “What, Chamath?!”
TS: No, no, no. I think you correctly point out, there are a lot of people who are quietly unhappy. How do they deal with their unhappiness given, I think there’s a lot of pressure here, right? Everyone feels pressure, if you’re a CEO, if you’re a VC. What’s our two-sentence life advice default?
If your health is degrading and you’ve been eating chocolate every day, step one, stop eating chocolate every day. Step two, get some exercise. What is the version of that for being mentally healthy? I think it’s compartmentalize these things in a way so that you put them in context.
There should almost be a disclaimer, like on cigarettes, “The shit you are about to consume is not true. It may make you feel like somebody else is kicking ass while your life sucks ass. It’s not true. Now go on.” You know what I’m saying? You just really need to have good boundaries for yourself. That’s step one.
Step two is for me what I did was I read a book that profoundly changed my life. I grew up in an alcoholic family and the book is called The Adult Children of Alcoholics by Joan Woititz.
KS: Oh, great book.
It was fucking transformational in my life because it basically disarmed all of my dysfunction and said, “Chamath, you’re like everybody else.” It made me feel so understood and seen for the first time in my life.
So, there are either books or therapy or all this stuff that I think is just so profoundly helpful to people to disarm the things that right now they feel are exacerbated when they’re online, and that then will result in a much emotionally healthier and well-balanced person capable of being an incredibly productive founder.
TS: Because to some extent these are founders that are unhappy and think they’re alone and unhappy, right? But the reality is there ...
It’s not correlated.
TS: There are a lot of these folks who are ... there are a lot of people here who are unhappy. They just don’t really ... no one talks about it.
KS: Or they don’t express it.
TS: They don’t express it, right.
KS: They don’t have the access to express it, so they don’t feel it.
I think they express it. They express it by job-hopping. They express it by having a bunch of fleeting relationships. They express it by feeling relatively disconnected. They express it by being angry. They express it. It’s just that we’re not doing a good job of actually looking at these things and actually putting it all together into a mosaic.
KS: Can I ask you a personal question? What do people think of you? What are your real friends saying, like, “What the hell, Chamath,” or what?
They were shocked at how much I went through, personally. I think they’ve been really open to who I am now. What’s funny is that I haven’t lost the charismatic crazy guy part…
KS: That’s clear.
... but it’s much more compartmentalized and it’s more whole. It’s healthier. You have to understand, Kara, my life back then was nuts. It was not sustainable. Like fucking Vegas and LA and it was nuts.
KS: I’m telling you, that dinner I came back. I said, “Chamath has lost…”
TS: I remember you telling me about this time.
Kara, you went to bed! I’m telling you … if you had followed me around for the four hour ... it’s ...
KS: I went to bed.
That lifestyle ...
KS: I’ll be honest, I couldn’t wait to get away from you all.
Well, that lifestyle was me self-medicating my unhappiness. That’s what I was doing.
KS: Yeah, I called it forced fun.
There was all these people on the periphery that always wanted to be around that lifestyle. I get it. It can be really kind of intoxicating to see it, touch it.
KS: Michael Cohen talked about it yesterday.
But it’s not, it just leaves the person in it, I think, or it left me completely broken and unhappy.
KS: Well, can Silicon Valley change? Because a lot of things, you want to create beautiful things.
I think so. I’m working on a lot of things right now. One thing that I love is this idea of disarming the concept of mental health. Disarming it and then giving people a better, simple toolkit, and I think there are simple things that can work for a lot of people to make them feel like they’re not alone and that they’re seen and they’re understood. That’s it. Those three goals, and I’ve been working on something that maybe I can come back and tell you when I’m ready.
KS: All right, well, it’s a lot about self-reflection, right?
KS: The other day I was talking to some Silicon Valley people. I’m like, “It’s a miracle any of you can see in the mirror because you don’t have any self-reflection.”
The best thing that ever happened to me through all of this is my kids looked at me and they said, “Dad, you are so much nicer.” If you had talked to my friends, they would have said, “You know, he can be crazy from time to time, but he really shows up as a dad.” So, I always thought that I was really doing a good job not being my dad to my kids. But even when my kids saw the delta in the last 18 months, I was like, “Okay, I’m doing the hard work. Nobody else gives a fuck, but they care.” And that’s all that matters.
KS: Oh, Chamath, I like this new Chamath. I like new Chamath! I liked old Chamath too. Old Chamath was funny.
We’ll merge the two and then...
TS: Merge the two.
KS: All right, the best Chamath. All you Silicon Valley people, you’re going to undergo Chamath. Just so you know. Chamath, it was great talking to you. I hope you come back again. I want to hear the things you are working on all the time. You’re a very creative and interesting person.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.