I was honored to be invited to Webstock 2014 to speak, and decided to use it as an opportunity to talk about startups and growth in general.

I prepared for this talk by collecting links, notes, and references in a flat text file, like I did for Eyeo and Visualized. These references are vaguely sorted into the structure of the talk. Roughly, I tried to talk about the future happening all around us, the startup ecosystem and the pressures for growth that got us there, and the dangerous sides of it both at an individual and a corporate level. I ended by talking about ways for us as a community to intervene in these systems of growth.

The framework of finding places to intervene comes from Leverage Points by Donella Meadows, and I was trying to apply the idea of 'monstrous thoughts' from Just Asking by David Foster Wallace. And though what I was trying to get across is much better said and felt through books like Seeing like a State, Debt, or Arctic Dreams, here's what was in my head.

"Surveillance systems ultimately consist of technologies, people, and the vast network of material resources that supports them."
Trevor Paglen, footage of the NSA Headquarters

Horse_ebooks is Human After All

Amazon Prime Air
A Swarm of Nano Quadrotors

Google Acquisitions:
Bot & Dolly
Industrial Perception
Meka Robotics
Schaft, Inc.
Boston Dynamics

"The only essential thing is growth.
Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth."

Paul Graham, Growth

"Venture capitalists are no longer practicing capitalism."
"Not every restaurant has to be McDonalds. Not every hotel has to be a Chain."
Maciej's talk at Web Directions South

"It is one suburbia to another suburbia, as though too many houses is the problem with the cul-de-sac."
Mills Baker, Snapchat & the Path to the Personal

"The book’s message is clear: not only is a purely merit-based system unachievable,
it is also undesirable."

Mandy Brown, You Keep Using That Word

Dan Hon, The Tyranny of Digital Advertising
Thomas Baekdal, How In-App Purchases has Destroyed the Industry


"This is not a glitch in the system.
It is the system."

Luke O'Neil, The Year We Broke the Internet

"Net points are sometimes referred to as 'monkey points', a term attributed to Eddie Murphy, who is said to have also stated that only a fool would accept net points in his or her contract."
Hollywood Accounting, Net Points, First Money
Liquidation Preference / Liquidation Overhang

"In 1996 and 1997, there were 24 initial public offerings of restaurant companies, a stretch of offerings that’s never been equaled. Some of the restaurant companies that went public then, such as Famous Dave’s and Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, are
still in business. However, the majority of restaurant companies
that issued new shares in that era, like Ciao Cucina and Big
City Bagels, disappeared only a few years after going public."

Irrational Exuberance In Restaurant Land

Github Raises $100 Million From Andreessen Horowitz
Blue Bottle Coffee Raises $25 Million
Philz Coffee Raises $15-25 Million as Specialty Coffee Market Heats Up

Our Incredible Journey
Geoff Manaugh, Forensic Topology

"It’s called capitalism. We are proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this."
Google's Tax Avoidance is Called Capitalism
See also: The Double Irish, or Dutch Sandwich

"We have no obligation to make history
We have no obligation to make art
We only have an obligation to make money"

— Michael Eisner, 1981 internal memo to Paramount

"Shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.
Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy."

— Jack Welch, CEO of GE 1981-2001, in an interview in 2009
From The Origin of the World's Dumbest Idea

"Even though Facebook reported $1.1 billion in pre-tax profits from U.S. operations in 2012, it will probably pay zero federal and state taxes—and even receive a federal tax refund of about $429 million"
Facebook Gets a Multibillion-Dollar Tax Break
Calculating Apple’s True U.S. Tax Rate
Google 2.4% Rate Shows How $60 Billion Lost to Tax Loopholes
15 Corporations Paying Taxes At A Lower Rate Than Mitt Romney
Tim Wu, The Oligopoly Problem

"You don't want your privacy."
John Foreman, Disney and the Meatspace Data Race

"In Iain's view, popular access to information was decisive to any hope of progress, and control of information was central to the power of the ruling class."
Ken MacLeod writing about Iain M. Banks

"If you're wearing glass, you've turned yourself into a sense organ for a corporate being. Not even a metaphor, that's the real situation."
Fred Scharmen

"The prison industry is using the number of children currently in third grade as a basis to determine the number of beds they will build for future incarceration."
— Allan Nance, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer

"We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you're doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you're doing. By the way, we don't supply that data to anyone."
Jim Farley, VP/Marketing and Sales of Ford
(recently, Potential Mandate for Vehicle to Vehicle Communications by 2016)

"If you want to understand why governments are acting and reacting the way they are, and as importantly, how to shift their course, you need to understand what they're reacting to, how they see and fail to see the world, and how power, money, and idea of rule of law actually interact."
Eleanor Saitta and Quinn Norton's talk, No Neutral Ground in a Burning World

"We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them."
Apple on the NSA iPhone security compromises

Adam Greenfield on Data Driven Advertising, the Aura of Approach
SMBC on Privacy
How Reality Caught Up with Paranoid Delusions
Manna, a short story by Marshall Brain

"Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance"
— SMS from protests in Kiev. Atlantic, New York Times

"We are irreversibly politicized."
Engin Ayaz, Capturing Occupy Gezi

"The Wire is angry, and it's dissent."
"Anger is not an irrational response to this if you're a citizen. It's not particularly useful, but it's not useless either. It is worthwhile to pick one or two places that you think you can assert on behalf of a better outcome, and to fight, with whatever means are at your disposal."
"To commit to a righteous cause in the face of overwhelming odds is absurd. To not commit to a righteous cause in the face of overwhelming odds is equally absurd, but only one option allows for human dignity." — Camus

— David Simon, The Audacity of Despair via Tricia Wang, Kevin Slavin

"If I defected at all, I defected from the government to the public."
Edward Snowden

"Distinct from a classical fluid because of the property that a crowd has the capacity to think, interesting new physical ideas are involved in its study."
Fluid Dynamics of Crowds

UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident, Four Perspectives videos timesynced by Andy Baio
James C. Scott, Seeing like a State
George Packer, The Unwinding

"Have you ever looked someone up in a database? Did you find what you were looking for?"
"Every kind of user information relates to privacy"
Nicole Fenton, Power and Responsibility

"Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety?"
— David Foster Wallace, Just Asking

"But I will always. Tell you. The truth.” This is McCain’s closer, his last big reverb on the six-string as it were. And the frenziedstanding-O it always gets from his audience is something to see. But you have to wonder: why do these crowds from Detroit to Charleston cheer so wildly at a simple promise not to lie?"
"Well it’s obvious why. ... Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts."

— David Foster Wallace, Up, Simba
The link is to a collection of essays, the essay is also here.

"When we are with our friends and family and those to whom we feel some sort of connection, we mediate that connection by refusing to define down our relationship to strict monetary value, refusing to exploit our connections for strictly monetary gain."
David Graeber's Debt, My First 5000 Words

"Batman needs Alfred."
Christina Xu's talk at XOXO


What was unspoken was a general idea around the difference between the people who make money from direct work (designing, coding, building companies — generally, the Webstock audience) and people who make money from money. The people who make money from money craft and control systems, require massive power.

"The goal is not wealth, per se, the goal is power, and power depends not so much on the level of wealth, but rather on the structure of wealth."
— Dmytri Kleiner, It's the Macroeconomy, Stupid

"The farmers farm the land, and the businessmen farm the farmers."
— Adam Curtis, What the Fluck

"When rich people present the idea that they’ve learned to live lightly as a paradoxical insight, they have the idea of wealth backwards. You can only have that kind of lightness through wealth."
— Charlie Loyd, Wealth, Risk and Stuff

"70% of all trading is done by computers, owned by a couple of corporations that can afford them, completely without human interaction"
No attribution

"From the capitalist’s perspective, artists are great tenants until there is someone else willing and able to pay more."
Surviving Rent: Why Artists Can't Afford Critical Neutrality

"Unemployment is not only the loss of a job. It is the loss of dignity. It is the loss of the present and, over time, the ability to imagine a future."
— Sarah Kendzior, The Men Who Set Themselves on Fire

"Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain."
— Linda, Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, Poverty Thoughts via Erin Kissane

"Ran out of money. Ran out of credit. Losing house in two months (already foreclosed). Wife pregnant. Three kids all under 6. Pretty sure I am the opposite of everyone here. I am no man. Just a statistic. Everything is gone. Selling spare parts to keep the lights on. It was a nice fantasy, HN. To the rest of you: fight hard and good luck."
Comment on HackerNews

"The Big Fear is that your play, the one that’s only one draft away from a possible showcase, will stay in your drawer. The Big Fear is thinking about all the poor stiff civil servants who have been sorting letters at the post office ever since the last Depression and all the great plays they could have produced. The Big Fear is that, after 20 years of schooling, they’ll put you on the day shift. The Big Fear is you’re becoming a cabdriver."
Mark Jacobson's depiction of cabdrivers in the 1970s

"These are the challenges I want us to focus on as creators and people who value independence. And it's not merely to be contrary, though of course that's appealing, too. Rather, it's because those who define our culture, who dominate our economics, who control our political systems — they don't shy away from being popular. They don't look with skepticism at people wanting to be commercial. They don't try to force an orthodoxy on the products and people they exploit."
Anil Dash, XOOX and Reckoning with Nice

"Artists are not intellectuals either. They're nerve endings."
Wayne White, Talking to Wayne White About Cartooning

Investment Manager Explains Why 99.5% Of Americans Can Never Win
Housing in the Bay Area
High frequency trading of Apple stock
Everpix, Snapchat, and the Startup Lie
Depression and Entrepreneurs
Jessica Hische, Thinking Thoughts About Pricing

Leverage points comes from Donella Meadows' paper, the idea of the various levels at which we can intervene in systems.

"The past guides us; the future needs us."
Rebecca Solnit on bending the long arc

"The price of privilege is poverty."
"The only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. Not out of some woolly, bullshit tree-hugging piffle but because we live on it, currently without alternatives."
Russell Brand, We No Longer Have the Luxury of Tradition

"I never viewed money as being "my money" I always saw it as "The money" It's a resource. if it pools up around me then it needs to be flushed back out into the system."
— Louis CK, from Dustin Moskovitz answering "How does Dustin Moskovitz Feel About Being a Billionaire?"

Places to Intervene in a System (in increasing order of effectiveness)
- Constants, parameters, numbers
- The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows
- Structure of material stocks and flows
- Length of delays, relative to the rate of system changes
- Strength of negative feedback loops, the effect they are trying to correct against
- Gain around driving positive feedback loops
- Structure of information flow
- Rules of the system
- Power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure
- Goal of the system
- Mindset or paradigm that the system arises from
- Power to transcend paradigms

Leverage Points, by Donella Meadows
See also: You Can't Fuck the System if You've Never Met One by Casey Gollan

"Utah has reduced its rate of chronic homelessness by 78 percent over the past eight years, moving 2000 people off the street and putting the state on track to eradicate homelessness altogether by 2015. … In 2005, Utah calculated the annual cost of E.R. visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670, while the cost of providing an apartment and social worker would be $11,000."
Utah to End Homelessness by 2015

"When transportation projects take as many years as they do in the U.S., 'It just ceases to feel like a real thing — it’s hard for the general public to understand what’s at stake or how they’re going to benefit from something.'"
— Judson True, On Mexico City's BRT and Bike Share

"It’s time to dispense with the opportunism and adolescent fantasies of a crypto-powered stateless future and return to the work of building technology and social services that meaningfully and accountably improve our collective quality of life."
Alex Payne on Bitcoin

"I love the software developer community. I love being a part of it and I’m constantly excited about what we are doing. But I’m also frustrated. We seemed to have been coerced into working for a future that we didn’t sign up for."
James Darling, They may have the money, but we have the tools of technology.

"Starting a school from air goes like this: First, clear a space. A floor of a building. Ten weeks of your time. Fill the space with people. Don’t let the flies get the best of you. Ask all the questions. Build some answers. There you have it."
Jen Lowe, Clearing Space

"The process is the sediment, the deep root system where we store up knowledge over time."
Wilson Miner

"Most people rush after pleasure so fast that they rush right past it."
— Søren Kierkegaard, via Sarah Kathleen Peck

"Keep on loving and caring for each other."
Sign from traveling in New Zealand.

The unedited version of this is essentially here and the visual stuff is often saved here. I'd love to hear what you think as well.