The Flakiest Places to Do Business

Austin, TX and the entire state of California.

I think about the geographical and cultural effects places have on their inhabitants a lot.  I have worked with people and businesses from every state for almost a decade, and I love noticing (and exaggerating) the traits.

So why Austin and California?

It’s undeniable that Austin and San Francisco are unique hubs of startups and innovation.  I think that’s part of the problem.  90% of the innovating is done by a tiny fraction of the people there, and everyone else gets the benefit of the reputation.  It’s a moral hazard.  Like how Lonzo Ball can get away with mediocre play because of his dad’s amazing and outsized reputation.  If your entire city is universally acknowledged as innovative, you get a piece of that reputation, whether you earned it or not.  This results in a lot of big talking conference junkies who parrot the innovators, like the kid who shows up to the playground with all the right basketball apparel but can’t be trusted to hit a shot.

The South, where I live now, isn’t flaky, it’s just slow.  No one is in much of a hurry.  They roll with the tides, wait for the weather to clear, have plenty to drink, and enjoy themselves in a unique form of polite hedonism.  It’s a good pace of life for raising kids and gaining a calm mind, but definitely annoying when it comes to getting shit done in a hurry.

The Northeast (From Main down to DC) is pretty decent to do business with.  Yeah, people are a bit rude and full of themselves (sometimes to comical proportions, blissfully unaware that the rest of the world doesn’t really know anything about Boston or care), but they’re not slow, not flaky, and pretty clear and blunt.  They may not be 100% honest all the time, but at least they’re quick and clear.

Everything west of the Mississippi (save Austin and the Pacific coast) is pretty solid too.  Trustworthy and honest.  Overly concerned about doing things slow and right, wary of “move fast and break things” mentality, and a little boring.  But genuine, reliable, and without pretension (except maybe a little pride in knowing they’re more righteous than the coasts, even if underestimated by them).

Then my favorite, the Midwest (basically, Big Ten conference states).  I’m probably biased because I grew up there.  But Midwesterners are not arrogant or blind to their flaws, they are not flaky in the least.  They do what they say when they say.  They’re not rude.  They’re not slow.  They work hard, take ownership, and move fast.  Their big weakness is small thinking.  This manifests in several ways, from not giving themselves permission to try bold ambitious things, to not giving themselves permission to move away from their boring post-industrial home towns.

My dream combo are people with the wild bold dreaming of Silicon Valley (“Hey, let’s cure aging!”) with the reliable, no BS work ethic of the Midwest (“Why the heck would I pay $200 to go to a conference. I’ve got work to do for real customers” (and yes, they prefer “Heck” to “Hell”)).  I call it “Blue Collar Entrepreneurship” and all the best business people I’ve met have it, regardless of where they’re from.  It’s a combo of pride in the grunt work and willingness to take massive swings.  It’s like Drew Brees on the football field.  Willing to take what you can get play after play just to move the ball, but fearless about chucking a deep ball in the clutch.

These are of course massive, playful simplifications.  I’m not labeling the people in these regions so much as the personality or spirit of the regions themselves as I experience them.

We Are Defining a New Category

It’s not easy to place Praxis on the existing industry map.

We’re not precisely an educational program.  We’re not precisely a job placement program.  We’re a new category that could only emerge after the information age dropped the cost of info to near zero, and rote jobs became the province of software instead of humans.

For decades the surface level correlation between more formal education and a better job was strong enough that no one realized education is not the same as prep for career success.  90% of education purchasers are buying the wrong product.  They think they’re buying career prep, but they are not.

Not only is the dominant formal ed conveyor belt model not doing anything to help prep people for career success (in many cases it rewards mindsets and habits that make career success harder), but the correlation no longer means you get a strong signal of potential either.  Even those who knew college didn’t teach market relevant skills still saw value in getting the paper because so many jobs seemed to want it.  Seemed is the key word.

Employers want evidence of value-creation potential.  If you have nothing else to show, a degree shows something.  But it signals so little so weakly that almost anything can be a stronger signal.  This is due to the radical drop in information costs.  You can produce more reliable proof of your value today without any trusted third parties than ever before.  A university stamp of approval is not a valuable signal compared to your own provable body of work.

Given these realities, innovations in “education” are not that radical, and not that big of a change.  Online, different courses, etc.  New ideas in an existing category.  And new forms of helping companies recruit talent is not a new category either, just innovations in an established industry.  Lots of businesses sell talent to companies.

Praxis creates a new category.  We are defining the new industry of Career Launch, Professional Apprenticeship, Job-and-Future-Proof Career Starts, or Personal Accelerator.  Those names aren’t catchy or clear, but the category is.  Young people need a way to get from kid to career; from consumer to producer; from student to startup.  We do that.

First, we show them how to take ownership of themselves, create value for people, and build a signal that proves it in the market.  We show them that on the job learning is the only path to career discovery and mastery.

Then, we actually give them an apprenticeship in which to do it.  We don’t sell talent to startups, we present startup apprenticeship opportunities to talented, prepared individuals and help them crush it.  We show them how to leverage that first great experience into an awesome, flexible, dynamic career.

I think it was Ray Kurzweil who said the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.  We are distributing the future.  We are helping young people see what’s already true; that they don’t need to wait and wonder and hoop-jump and go into debt searching for some nonexistent job guarantee.  They can prep now, build a signal now, get real experience now, and turn those into a career and life they love.

The category is the bridge between you and a career start.  It’s not education.  It’s not a jobs board.  It’s everything needed to become valuable in the market and signal it, plus a real first chance to make it happen and spin that into the rest of your life.  In one year, for zero net cost.

It’s an exponential leap.  When you add the opportunity + tuition cost of the dominant college model, the Praxis model is easily a $300,000 improvement to the average customer.

One year in the program at zero net cost, 96% of grads get hired immediately at an average salary of $50,000.  College is an average of 5 years with tuition averaging above $20,000 a year (and over 60% of grads get no job or a job that didn’t require a degree anyway).  That means five years earning no pay and $100,000 in direct cost.  An ambitious person choosing Praxis instead (assuming no pay raises) would have earned $200,000 by the end of that five years, and paid zero in tuition instead of $100,000.

That’s a $300,000 head start, not to mention beginning that year with 4.5 years professional experience under their belt vs. a degree holder with none.  Oh, and not having an average of $37,000 in debt hanging over your head which reduces the option to do things like launch a startup.

This is a new category with an exponential improvement over previous categories attempts to solve the problem of starting a career.  That’s why it’s hard, and that’s why it’s world-changing.

How to Make a Content Platform that Doesn’t Suck?

Most content platforms are full of content that sucks.

The tried and true way of ensuring quality content is to have an editorial team, paid creators on staff, strict submission policies, etc.  Of course, that works (unless the editors suck), but it’s also a very tough business model, harder to scale, and kind of boring.

The dominant approach today is the opposite, or “long-tail” approach.  A wide open platform where anyone can share any content, and the volume will be so high some % of good stuff will be in there.

YouTube, Facebook, Medium, Quora, Reddit, Twitter, etc. all adopt this approach, and employ various mechanisms for helping the cream rise above the massive milky mediocrity.  Likes, comments, votes, etc.  Sponsored content where creators can get some skin in the game and pay to get stuff to rise, incentivizing better content for ROI, etc.

Still, all the platforms mentioned still suck pretty bad when it comes to content quality.  Twitter may be the exception, but it acts more as a filtered, personal curation feed rather than a platform for original content creation.

Go on Medium, Quora, Reddit, etc. and the vast majority of content is crap.  It takes more work than most people would like to get the good stuff.  Used to be, you’d go to specific blogs of creators you liked.  You still can, but things are much harder to find without some kind of platform (still salty that Good Reader got nixed).  It takes a lot of work to be the curator yourself.

You can add human monitors to the open platforms to reduce spam, bots, etc., but that gets mucky too.  And controversial. has harnessed the power of Bitcoin Cash enabled real-time micropayments to lay the foundation for a pretty cool platform.  Rather than “free” likes, votes and tips and comments cost real money.  That’s a big step in the right direction, in terms of using automated, scalable mechanisms for incentivizing good content.

But there’s much room for improvement.  It’s still really small, and most of the content on Yours is still low quality (IMO, it got worse when they removed the pay to publish requirement).

Here are a few off-the-cuff ideas for making a content platform not suck without relying on human editors:

  • Pay for likes, votes, comments, etc.  Just like
  • Pay to publish. I think a larger amount, like $10 per post, could be excellent. It would require a large enough audience to where a reasonably popular article would be likely to earn it back and then some. But aspiring content creators who are serious about their craft would not balk at $10 to publish, compared with all the time and investment it can take to be heard elsewhere.
  • To enhance reach and payout for successful content, create a deal with distributors (edited magazine/newspaper sites with large reach) where they’ll run the top post every week.  So instead of submitting something to WSJ ed board and hoping they like it, you let audience reaction help it rise to WSJ.
  • Similar deals with book publishers to publish collection of top posts in various topics, etc. once a year.  Again, paying $10 for the chance to get into a high-profile publication or book might be well worth it.
  • Grammarly integration so that posts with more than some small % of spelling/grammar errors don’t get published until fixed.
  • Same for formatting.  Block on publishing paragraphs too long, etc.
  • 30 day ban if creator doesn’t reach minimum engagement/tip/vote level for most recent 3 pieces of content
  • Niche topic areas with real power, rather than just one giant pool with need for least-common appeal.  Subreddits do a decent job of keeping content curated to tight niches.  Genuine unique, tight communities around tight topics, where you can be a top influencer within that niche even if your content has no mass appeal.  Great tie-in to distribution deals too.  Imagine a Gardening section with deals with Gardening mags, HGTV, etc. to get top creators wider distribution.

What are some other ideas to build a platform with consistent, world-class quality content?

On Noprofits and Risk

One of the ideas behind a nonprofit organization is to fund things that the market wouldn’t.  Activities some deem beneficial, but where it is presumed there is too much risk for a for-profit enterprise to pursue it and not enough clear, quick return, too high a rate of failure, etc.

The reality of nonprofits is the opposite.

They tend to be vastly more cowardly, timid, and short-sighted in their endeavors than venture capital funds and other for profit ventures.  (Not to mention almost entirely ineffectual at achieving the modest aims they do select.)

Nonprofits tend to fund very safe things.  Why?

There is no upside for them, really.  It’s all downside.  Fund stuff that doesn’t pan out, and you look foolish.  Since profit and loss aren’t involved, looks are it.  People involved in nonprofits are in it for the reputation, not the profits, so PR wins over payout.  Donors prefer PR wins.  They are rational, and they invest for profit elsewhere.  Nonprofits are their bucket designated for good feels, social signaling, defensive reputation management, or to give a relative something to do that won’t muck up the family business.

So instead of funding things too risky for markets, where you might expect a very low hit rate, nonprofits go for big, easy, feel-good wins and throw resources behind things that were happening anyway, with or without them, or things with little to no way to lose.

The theory that nonprofits are needed to promote high-risk pursuits falls apart when examined.  Nonprofits exist for tax write-offs (nothing wrong with that; I wish government would stop taxing for profits too!) and to provide something to do with all the money people earn but don’t know how to spend in ways that don’t make their lives worse. (It’s more complicated than you might think for wealthy people to do something with their wealth).

That’s all fine so far as it goes.

But they also provide a dangerous honeypot for people who want to be less risky and hardworking than the market would demand of them.  For the people who work there, nonprofits are a wonderful, dangerous vacation from the feedback of reality.  They provide a sort of cushy anti-moral hazard, where people take less risk than they would if they faced direct market feedback from customers.  An environment like that is good at slowly stagnating or even corroding the human spirit, as safety nets tend to do.

Be careful.  The incentive structures you put yourself in are vastly more important than your principles or willpower in shaping who you become.  Think about the kind of person you want to be, and move out of incentive structures that reward the opposite.

The First World Problems Foundation

For once, I’d like to see a very wealthy person create a foundation dedicated to solving First World Problems.  Everybody is trying to feed the hungry, house the homeless, cure cancer and so on.  But first world problems get totally neglected!

People denigrate first world problems, but they are worth solving!  I mean survival and pain avoidance are great, but if we’re all just trying to help each other not get sick and die, who will push humanity forward?

Plus, solving first world problems tends to have all kinds of wider benefits over time.  While all the Good People of the world were doing things like helping poor people get better shoes so they could walk everywhere in less pain, some guy thought, “You know the real problem? Rich people need more toys. I’ll invent a horseless carriage for them to mess around with!”  That horseless carriage, a luxury for the rich, did more to help the poor when it bloomed into a world-changing automobile industry than any amount of free shoes.  Who worries about walking shoes when you can ride the bus?

Cell phone?  First world problem solver.  Most people could use payphones, or if they had a phone, couldn’t afford long-distance calls.  Somebody decided the big problem with the world was that rich people needed to get that annoying phone cord out of the way, and also put phones in cars to be able to call their limo driver after dinner so they could make a timely exit, and also be able to walk on the beach while making business deals so they could demonstrate their dominance in movies scenes from Wall Street.  The cordless, then the car phone, then mobile phone come along.  Totally ridiculous bauble for the rich.  Who needs to talk on the phone in the car?

Now cell phones are the lifeblood of people in even the poorest countries and they conduct banking and business on the cheap, plentiful devices!  Solving that first world phone cord problem did more for the poor than all the charity of the age combined!

Just one more reason our best minds should be working on solving first world problems.  There are many, many more first world problems left to be solved, and the list grows every day.  Like how to stop Starbucks employees from always putting the siphole in line with the little paper seam in the latte cup so I spill a few drops on my skinny jeans when I take a sip.  Whoever solves that deserves a Nobel Prize!  This is the kind of work that will drive humanity forward!

As I accumulate wealth, I think I’ll get working on establishing the First World Problems Foundation.  Maybe you can join me.  Together, we can remove small annoyances from the lives of the super prosperous, and thus make the world a better place.

(I thought of this as a standup comedy bit, but since I don’t do standup comedy, I decided to post it here.  Doesn’t translate into writing as well as in my imaginary standup routine.  Just picture everyone laughing as I flawlessly deliver it.)

Market Outcomes > Expert Opinions

Manned flight is impossible.  Computers will never be smaller than a house.  Space flight is “Utter bilge”.  The food pyramid.

One doesn’t have to look far to find embarrassing, peer-reviewed, max-credentialed, decades-held-as-orthodoxy proclamations by the most respected experts in the world.

Every single successful business idea or invention heard orders of magnitude more, “Not interested”, “No”, “It’s doomed to fail”, or, “It’s impossible”, than “Yes”.

Usually, the greater the paper, “official” expertise, the more likely to be wrong about the future.  All that purchased prestige is backward looking.  Conferred by mostly stagnating bodies on those who’ve mastered and regurgitated the past with the most accuracy.  It’s not surprising that experts on the past, frozen in time and protective of their rear-view knowledge, would be most confidently blind to the possibilities of the future.

Does this mean expertise is a meaningless concept?

Of course not.  It’s tremendously useful.  Especially when two conditions hold:

  1. It’s earned by the value of outcomes produced
  2. It’s accountable to the ever changing market

The more it’s earned by politicking, rule following, Inner Ring seeking, and “paying dues”, the less trustworthy.  The less directly accountable to the right-now and shifting market – the more protected via subsidies, cult-like yes-man status, and competition killing – the less trustworthy.

Knowledge about what is and what works as demonstrated in practice is a sounder place to seek expertise than theoretical knowledge about what might or might not be possible.  I’d trust a mother of four’s expertise on the experience of childbirth more than a medical professional who’s studied birth but never been there live, let alone given birth.  Especially if that professional earned their accolades by sucking up to the stuffy status quo, protected from profit and loss signals, and automatically assumed to be right in the popular imagination.

Wherever possible, look for outcomes over opinions, and market accountability over stagnant status.

Recommended reading:

The Fatal Conceit (book)
The Pretense of Knowledge (speech)
Competition as a Discovery Procedure (paper)

On ‘Wage Slavery’ and Word Games

A friend mounted a defense of the concept of ‘wage slavery’ and asked what I thought.

I had several problems with his arguments directly, but I had a hard time getting really passionate about whether or not someone can be called a wage slave, and if so, what to do about it.  I tend to think it’s an incoherent concept from the outset, and whether it is or isn’t, completely free and open markets are the solution.

But what interested me more is a more subtle thing lurking in the discussion.  The use of words themselves impacts the outcomes desired.

Using the phrase “wage slavery” may make escaping it harder.

Metaphors and language matter. If you see yourself as a slave, your imagination shrinks, and your sense of what’s possible declines. Verbiage associated with victimhood, etc. have a powerful self-enforcing tendency.

This doesn’t mean you can happy-thoughts your way into a better life, but framing matters.

I think of all the people I’ve known over the years. The ones who see their work in terms of wage slavery never have 1/10 the opportunity or progress as those around them who do not. They don’t see it, or it never comes because they’re so damn down-trodden and negative.

Even the extreme case portrayed in the movie Shawshank redemption, where Andy Dufresne was a literal prisoner, and Brooks Hatlen was not, the latter felt so trapped he killed himself (because he defined himself as a prisoner and couldn’t see beyond it even when he wasn’t) and the other escaped – mentally and physically.

It’s also noteworthy that many of those we wealthier people see as wage slaves do not see themselves as such.

So it may be the case that, whether or not you can get away with defining something as wage slavery, you are more likely to overcome it (from the perspective within, or a third party) if you refuse to see it that way and instead define it as a shifting set of desires and choices about how to achieve them, no matter how few or unpleasant they may be.

The reverse effect is also possible.  If you define your situation as “the unpleasant result of limited options” you may in some cases be less likely to seek an extreme or risky exit necessary to move past it.  Starkly defining it as “slavery” may provide the raw framing needed to motivate escape.

My takeaway is that we are playing a series of games with language and metaphor (calling it a game does not mean it’s trivial!).  The games that best help us move closer to who we want to become are the best games.  So if playing the game “I’m a wage slave”, or, “Those people are wage slaves” makes you less likely and able to become a superior version of yourself, stop playing it.  If it helps, play it.  (But don’t expect or force others to play the games that work for you).

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