It was a great year for me.
Starting the year, my goals were to (1) explore frontier/climate tech startup ideas and (2) find like-minded people to do this with. I thought publishing my thoughts on areas of interest would help with both. That ended up being true, but I underestimated by how much.
Bigger picture, these goals matter to me insofar as they help me do my life’s work. What my life’s work is not yet super clear. However, the last two years, and 2022 in particular, have been incredibly helpful in developing clarity and conviction towards that.
I do know I want to build a startup in the world of atoms that is being unlocked by one or more technology s-curves. I know I want to work for several decades on problems and products I care about. I know that I am more willing and able than most to go from zero to one in a new domain that truly interests me, and I might come up with ideas that are useful to people along the way.
The 2020s is an incredible time to build with so many disruptive technologies that are all still early in their adoption. Even better, they are mutually reinforcing each other in ways that are hard to see a priori, though history does offer us some guidance. All told, the incredible whitespace ahead of us has helped level up my aspirations in what is possible to build.
The rest of this piece will be a high level outline of my progress this year, before I call out some learnings, and finally touch on what’s next in 2023.
Familiar readers will know I like writing LONG deep dives — my three long reads, all written this year, combine for close to 40,000 words. I sometimes joke my startup explorations have been my alt-MBA. This will be brief.
In 2022, I explored many frontier and climate tech ideas, all from close to zero background.
Early in the year, I looked at the unstoppable rise of solar PV and wind energy, the incredible growth of lithium-ion batteries and some implications for mobility and energy storage and carbon removal and utilization.
After diving into synthetic biology (truly from zero), I also explored CO2 as a feedstock for biomanufacturing, before diving into how biology and graphene are enabling a new materials paradigm and enabling new performance materials. Along the way, I developed conviction as to why direct to consumer distribution will be a key driver new products which integrate these technologies.
As mentioned and linked to just now, I wrote deep dives on these topics. These articles and my tweet threads have accelerated my progress. To a lesser extent, my LinkedIn posts have too. Because of what I shared online in 2022, I connected with over 150 like-minded people over Zoom as well as dozens more IRL in Austin (where I now live) and the Bay Area and Barcelona at conferences. I have made new friends and will continue to discuss startup ideas with more than few of them.
Thanks to everyone I met this year, especially the engineers who put up with my naive questions about technical aspects of ideas and topics I explored. I will have many more questions ahead! My wife continues to the biggest believer in what I do, despite being in the process of building her own startup. People who think that having a partner, or family for that matter, is a red flag or somehow slows down a cofounder are wrong.
My articles were read by about 30,000 people, my three tweet threads summarizing my long reads had over 200,000 impressions, and my new podcast has had about 3,000 listens in two months despite having to postpone recordings due to COVID.
I had over a dozen offers of jobs and other various roles, which spiked after publishing articles. The only roles I took on, both in the last two months, were as a venture partner with Collaborative Fund and Climate Capital Bio. So far, being a venture partner has been a light touch way to meet more like-minded folks whilst still focusing the vast majority of my efforts on my startup ideas.
My biggest setback was in finally getting COVID. Or two things to be more precise: overworking for a month before it, and becoming a little complacent about the need to rest after I started to recover. The latter triggered a relapse of fatigue and cough that I’m still recovering from, six weeks after onset. Being worn down for so long is, I think, a direct result of stress that I could have avoided. Aside from better prioritization of work, which I touch on below more generally, I should have also taken Paxlovid early in my infection.
Trusting my instincts. This is the biggest learning for me in 2022. I had no idea whether writing about frontier tech ideas and trends that interested me would actually help. I have been surprised that by consistently doing the work, my results have exceed my expectations.
This learning also applies to more tactical decisions like how long an article should be. For example, several reviewers told me to shorten my pieces. I listened, but did not take their advice. I knew that to convey what I wanted to, in a way that I would be happy with, I needed as many words in my articles as the end products.
I am doubling down on trusting my instincts in 2023.
Zero to one velocity. I realized a superpower of mine is speedrunning from zero to one in a frontier tech domain. I learn fast, put it in a narrative (that is somewhat cohesive), and unlock distribution so people see it. Themes, synthesis and vision come naturally to me, which is extremely valuable in this exploratory phase I am in.
Integrating tech seems a sweet spot. I explored and wrote about many ideas this year at various levels of industry value chains. A few examples, some of which I considered more seriously than others: electromicrobial synthesis/biomanufacturing of small molecules like CO2 into chemicals, electrochemical or HVAC-coupled DAC units, biomanufacturing performance materials and consumer applications, novel approaches to home battery backup, electric mobility and many more.
As much as I like to get into the technical weeds in any given tech stack, I like products that I can use myself. In other words I am most drawn to ideas that integrate technologies, especially those I have already looked into and see potential before most people do. The best analog for this is the Tesla Roadster, which integrated commercialized technologies that were to keep improving like lithium-ion batteries, electric motors, software and hardware.
Saying no to good opportunities. As Steve Jobs has said, this is the only way to really focus on what is most important. I honed this skill this year, but as my rate of inbound increased, I did slip up a little. As mentioned above, I think stress and not saying no enough led to a prolonged bout of COVID. This is one of the most important skills I will keep honing in the year ahead.
My main priorities are to fully recover from COVID and to continue exploring startup ideas.
I can’t rush my COVID recovery, as much as I’d like to, but I have put myself on a protocol that does not overexert myself. If you have any recovery tips reach out!
On startup ideas, there is one that I’ve actually been looking into rather closely. For now, I will say it combines the shape of a company and vision I am looking for and it also entails building a physical product. The first product would leverage technologies that are early in their s-curves, integrate them in novel and technically possible ways, lead to what could be amazing experiences for customers and could enable an exciting, sustainable future. I have much to dive into both technically (at a high, intuitive level) and in having more conversations with engineers about it.
Of course, I will continue to write and experiment with my podcast (and reschedule some great guests I had to postpone recordings for) along the way.
Happy 2023! Lfg.
The most influential resource for me in trusting my process has been Paul Graham’s How to Do What You Love. This in particular: “"Always produce" is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you're supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. "Always produce" will discover your life's work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof.”
When starting new ventures for the fastest growing companies and unicorns, the mean founder age is 45. Silicon Valley young founder myth busted. To be clear, I have nothing against young founders.
Happy New Year and well done for 2022! I was really inspired by your long read articles and will build on that thinking for 2023. The intersection of Materials revolution and a real Energy transition is a key area to look at. While I focus much further back in the supply chain ---primary product production and distribution, a transition away from incumbent energy sources will accelerate only when consumers have an equivalent choice (convenience + cost) for the end product. The conventional energy sector is so far removed from the Customer; operating primarily B2B, it is difficult to envision a radically shift in the business model. The main exception is your friendly utility which is very focus on the retail customer and their preferences.
On the COVID front---please take special care. My husband got severe covid in early 2021--pre-vaccine and it was very touch and go even with the high flow O2 treatment for 8 days in ICU. His rehab was 6 months and his immune system was really compromised. He got COVID again in August and it created even more complications despite taking Paxalovid. COVID is a novel virus and all its effects are unpredictable on all systems even with the vaccine and boosters. Rest, eat healthy, exercise and if worried- stay home and mask up. Good luck. Look forward to seeing your work in 2023.
Happy new year! Wishing you a full recovery soon, and may 2023 be the best year yet! 💚 🥃