a16z Podcast: The Taxonomy of Collective Knowledge

What do disease diagnostics, language learning, and image recognition have in common? All depend on the organization of collective intelligence: data ontologies. In this episode of the a16z Podcast, guests Luis von Ahn, founder of reCaptcha and Duolingo, Jay Komarneni, founder of HumanDX, a16z General Partner Vijay Pande, and a16z Partner Malinka Walaliyadde break down what data ontologies are, from the philosophical (Wittgenstein and Wikipedia!) to the practical (a doctor identifying a diagnosis), particularly as they apply to the field of healthcare and diagnosis.

It is data ontologies, in fact, that enable not only human computation -- but that allow us to map out, structure, and scale knowledge creation online, providing order to how we organize massive amounts of information so that humans and machines can coordinate in a way that both understand.

a16z Podcast: Centers of Power, War, and History

"When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, shit happens." It's true of people, it's true of companies, and it's even more true of countries. It's also the fundamental insight captured by ancient Greek historian Thucydides in his History of The Pelopennesian War. But where he was describing the war between Sparta and Athens, modern historian and political scientist Graham Allison describes how U.S. and China can escape this rising vs. ruling power "Thucydides trap" in his new book, Destined for War. Allison -- advisor on U.S. national security and policy to several secretaries of defense spanning decades -- was former dean of the Kennedy School and most recently Director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Based on an internal policy series lunch speaker event earlier this year (and moderated by a16z partner Matthew Colford), the conversation touches very briefly on centers of power and creativity; tech in China; North Korea; and finally, the role of applying history -- "applied history", much like the field of engineering could be considered applied physics -- to our thinking about the future. By analyzing the analogs and precedents in the historical record, what clues or insights or lessons might we draw? Because business as usual will produce history as usual argues Allison... but only those of us who fail to study history will repeat it.

a16z Podcast: The Strategies and Tactics of Big

What happens when companies grow exponentially in a short amount of time -- to their organization, their product planning, their behavior towards change itself? In this "hallway conversation", a16z partners Steven Sinofsky and Benedict Evans discuss the business tactics and strategies behind four of the largest tech companies -- Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon -- and how they work from an org perspective.

From the outside, these giants can seem composed of disparate entities literally strewn around the globe; it can be hard (sometimes purposefully so) to understand or detect the strategy that knits them all together. But in fact each of these large companies have very specific approaches to organization and strategy, and what's good for Google isn't necessarily right for Amazon or Apple. Evans and Sinofsky discuss the rationale behind each company's org, looking at the tactics and strategies that are best for the underlying platform, how each thinks of its varied product entities, and how their organizations are all designed differently around their core capabilities and products.

a16z Podcast: Independents on the Board

with Anne Mitchell, Lars Dalgaard, and Scott Kupor

"Orthogonal thinking" but "shared core values" -- that's what makes an ideal board... especially when it comes to "independents", i.e., board members who aren't also investors. But how do you get the most out of those independent directors, who are often in the minority? How do you bring in the best board member for the company, team, product -- not just as another box to check on the road to IPO, but to ensure a fresh and/or missing perspective? And finally, how can the existing board -- and CEO -- best prepare for the changing dynamics? Leaders have to evolve with the company after all.

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, moderated by managing partner Scott Kupor, general partner Lars Dalgaard (formerly CEO and founder of SuccessFactors) and executive coach (and former investor) Anne Mitchell -- both of whom have served on boards for companies all the way from private stage to IPO -- share their thoughts and experiences. The conversation took place as part of our annual Director’s College at Stanford University in April 2017.

a16z Podcast: From Mind at Play to Making the Information Age

with Jimmy Soni, Rob Goodman, and Steven Sinofsky

Modern technology owes much to the introduction of the binary digit or "bit", first proposed by Claude Shannon in "A Mathematical Theory of Communication”, a paper published in 1948. The bit would go on to transform analog to digital, making Shannon the father of the information age. His contemporaries (and collaborators) included Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, and other architects of the digital era.

In this podcast, moderated by a16z board partner Steven Sinofsky, the authors of the new book about Shannon, A Mind at Play -- Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman -- discuss the life and mind of the mathematician, engineer, and cryptographer from his roots as a precocious tinkerer in Gaylord, Michigan to the halls of MIT and Bell Labs. But this conversation is also, more broadly, about how genius and innovation happens... beginning with play.

a16z Podcast: The Curious Case of the OpenTable IPO

There are the things that you carefully plan when it comes to an IPO -- the who (the bankers, the desired institutional investors); the what (the pricing, the allocations); and the when (are we ready? is this a good public business?). But then there are the things that you don't plan: like the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression... as happened before the OpenTable IPO. There's even a case study about it.

And so in this episode of the a16z Podcast, we delve into those lessons learned and go behind the scenes with the then-CEO of the company -- now general partner Jeff Jordan -- and with the then-banker on the deal, J.D. Moriarty (formerly head Managing Director and Head of Equity Capital Markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch), in conversation with Sonal Chokshi. Is there really such a thing as an ideal timing window?

Beyond the transactional aspects of the IPO, which relationships matter and why? And then how does the art and science of pricing (from the allocations to the "pop") play here, especially when it comes to taking a long-term view for the company? What are the subtle, non-obvious things entrepreneurs can do -- from building a "soft track record" of results to providing the right "guidance" (or rather, communication if not guidance per se) to the market? And finally, who at the company should be involved... and how much should the rest of the company know/ be involved? In many ways, observes Jordan -- who got swine flu while on the road to the OpenTable IPO -- "your life is not your own" when you're on the road, literally. But knowing much of this can help smooth the way.

a16z Podcast: Making a (Really) Wild Geo-Engineering Idea Real

Here’s what we know: There’s a pair (father and son) of Russian scientists trying to resurrect (or rather, "rewild") an Ice Age (aka Pleistocene era) biome (grassland) complete with (gene edited, lab-grown) woolly mammoths (derived from elephants). In Arctic Siberia (though, not at the one station there that Amazon Prime delivers to!).

Here's what we don't know: How many genes will it take? (with science doing the "sculpting" and nature doing the "polishing")? How many doctors will it take to make? (that is, grow these 200-pound babies in an artificial womb)? What happens if these animals break? (given how social elephants are)? And so on...

In this episode of the a16z Podcast -- recorded as part of our podcast on the road in Washington, D.C. -- we (Sonal Chokshi and Hanne Tidnam) discuss all this and more with Ross Andersen, senior editor at The Atlantic who wrote "Welcome to Pleistocene Park", a story that seems so improbably wild yet is so improbably true. And while we focus on the particulars of what it takes to make this seemingly Jurassic Park-like story true, this episode is more generally about what motivates seemingly crazy ideas -- moving them from the lab to the field (quite literally in this case!) -- often with the help of a little marketing, a big vision, and some narrative. And: time. Sometimes, a really, really, really long time...

image: National Park Service

a16z Podcast: Addiction vs Popularity in the Age of Virality

In the age of virality, what does it actually mean to be popular? When does popularity -- or good product design, for that matter -- cross over from desire and engagement... to addiction? Journalist and editor Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction -- and NYU professor Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked -- share their thoughts on these topics with Hanne Tidnam in this episode of the a16z Podcast.

The discussion covers everything from the relationship between novelty and familiarity (we like what we know we like! and want more of it!) to what makes a hit. And what's going on when we suddenly fall in love with something "new" and can't get enough of it -- like playing a new video game or binge-watching a TV show.

a16z Podcast: The Golden Era of Productivity, Retail, and Supply Chains

This episode of the a16z Podcast takes us on a quick tour through the themes of economics/historian/journalist Marc Levinson's books -- from An Extraordinary Time, on the end of the postwar boom and the return of the ordinary economy; to The Great A&P, on retail and the struggle for small business in America; all the way through to The Box, on how the shipping container made the world smaller and the world economy bigger.

In this hallway-style conversation, Levinson and we (with Sonal Chokshi and Hanne Tidnam) touch on everything from productivity growth & GDP to the "death of retail" -- to finally connecting all the dots through logistics, transportation, infrastructure, and more. How are supply chains changing? How does all this, taken together, affect the way we work? And what can -- or can't -- policymakers do about it? Perhaps, Levinson argues, a lot of the improvement to our living standards really comes out of "microeconomic improvements at the private sector level rather than as a matter of great policy". But that's a bitter pill to swallow for those seeking solace in easy answers from governments, whether at a national or city level. Maybe it's just a matter of managing our expectations -- or resetting our clock for when the new normal begins... and ends.

a16z Podcast: The Cloud Atlas to Real Quantum Computing

A funny thing happened on the way to quantum computing: Unlike other major shifts in classic computing before it, it begins -- not ends -- with The Cloud. That's because quantum computers today are more like "physics experiments in a can" that most companies can't use yet -- unless you use software, not just as cloud infrastructure for accessing this computing power commercially but for also building the killer app on top of it. What will that killer app be? With quantum virtual machines and special languages for connecting and trading off classic and quantum computing, companies and developers may be able to help figure that out, not to mention get ahead of this next computing platform (before it surprises them).

Ok, sounds great. Only the old rules don't all apply: You have to fundamentally rethink algorithms for quantum computing, just as with previous waves of high-performance computing before it -- from CPU to GPU to TPU and now to QPU. Because as chips evolve, so do algorithms, and vice versa, in an iterative way. But the chicken-egg question of which came first (the algorithm or the specialized hardware for running it?) doesn't matter as much because the answer itself involves herding chickens: "You're trying to get all of these independent processes to run and cooperate with each other to produce an answer and do so in a way that was faster" than the other way before it, observes Jeff Cordova, interim head of software engineering at quantum computing startup Rigetti Computing. "In hindsight, we really care about the statistical model, not watching the entire movie", shares general partner Vijay Pande, based on his own experiences in the world of high-performance computing.

In this episode of the a16z Podcast (in conversation with Sonal Chokshi), Cordova and Pande talk all about the realities of engineering -- and using -- the next computing platform beyond scientific research and hardening it into practical, commercial, industrial-scale reality. Luckily, the cloud provides a map to get us there, today.

a16z Podcast: Companies, Networks, Crowds

Is a network -- whether a crowd or blockchain-based entity -- going to replace the firm anytime soon? Not yet, argue Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in the new book Machine, Platform, Crowd. But that title is a bit misleading, because the real questions most companies and people wrestle with are more "machine vs. mind", "platform vs. product", and "crowd vs. core". They're really a set of dichotomies.

Yet the most successful systems are rarely all one or all the other. So how then do companies make choices, tradeoffs in designing products between humans and machines, whether it's sales people vs. chatbots, or doctors vs. AIs? How can companies combine the fundamental building blocks of businesses -- such as network effects, platforms, crowds, and more -- in a way that lets them get ahead on the chessboard against the Red Queen? And then finally, at a macro level, how do we plan for the future without falling for the "fatal conceit" (which has now, arguably flipped from radical centralization to radical decentralization) ... and just run a ton of experiments to get there?

We (Frank Chen and Sonal Chokshi) discuss all this and more with Brynjolfsson and McAfee, who also founded MIT's Initiative on the Global Economy -- and previously wrote the popular The Second Machine Age and Race Against the Machine. Maybe there's a better way to stay ahead without having to run faster and faster just to stay in place like Alice in a tech Wonderland.

a16z Podcast: Lobbying Tech

What is lobbying, really? Is it “white", "heavy-set" men "playing golf" and making arrangements in "smoke-filled back rooms”? It's not like that anymore, according to two lobbyists who join this episode of the a16z Podcast to pull back the curtain on this practice… and share what’s changed: Heather Podesta, founder of Invariant (and a lawyer by training), and Michael Beckerman, President and CEO of the Internet Association (an industry trade association that also has lobbyists on staff).

Given the tech industry’s increasing engagement with policy, how does lobbying play out for tech companies in particular? What are the challenges when going up against deeply entrenched incumbents, as all startups inevitably do? And finally, how has tech itself changed the act of lobbying? Thanks in part to the internet, we're now in a new era of transparency and public engagement, where "lobbying" has shifted more to more open citizen engagement vs. only inside closed rooms. We cover all this and more -- including practical tips for influencing government -- on this episode (in conversation with Hanne Tidnam), recorded as part of our annual D.C. podcast roadshow.

a16z Podcast: Cybersecurity in the Boardroom vs. the Situation Room

"We're always fighting the last war" -- that's a phrase historians like to use because policymakers and others tend to be so focused on the threats they already know, and our mindsets and organizational structures are oriented to respond that way as well. And in the "situation room" of nation states (including the intelligence briefing war rooms in the White House), much of the security conversation is necessarily focused on the worst possible scenarios, broader context, and attribution as well. Companies, however, unlike nation states, do not have to worry so much about attribution (who did this? why) or even as much about the sexy, headline-grabbing threats. In fact, they may be better off focusing on security hygiene and basic metrics for assessing risk in the boardroom -- much like they review financials regularly -- argue the guests in this hallway-style conversation episode of the a16z Podcast.

Herb Lin, who is Senior Research Scholar for Cyber Policy and Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and is also at the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford University; David Damato, Chief Security Officer at Tanium; and a16z policy team partner Matt Spence (who among other things previously spent time at the White House working with the National Security Council) begin by sharing their views on the term "cybersecurity" ...and end up with practical advice for a security boardroom 101. No matter what, security should have a seat at the table.

a16z Podcast: Taking the ‘Cyber’ Out of Cybersecurity

Nearly every cybersecurity discussion/presentation follows this formula: We don’t know what we’re doing; the bad guys are getting smarter; our defenses are getting worse; everything's more connected than ever; we’re heading towards a digital . But even though security itself has obviously changed in many ways and not in others, we — as an industry — have actually gotten pretty good at doing our jobs, argues a16z general partner Martin Casado in this segment excerpted from a talk he gave at our recent Tech Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.

That’s not to minimize the seriousness or cost of cyber attacks! It’s just that changing the conversation here will let us pay attention to the fact that “cybersecurity” these days is really… “security”. Because we shouldn’t isolate the “cyber”; we need to always think of digital assets, physical assets, and human assets together. Especially as cyber — or rather, just security — has become more physical than ever (and not in the obvious Internet of Things sense).

a16z Podcast: Changing the Conversation about Cybersecurity

When individuals gain the abilities that only nation states once had, how do we put cyber threats in perspective for policymakers -- without unduly "inflating" the threats? As it is, security is an intense and important topic, so our job is to be scared -- and prepared -- but what's the scope of the actual threats, how do we talk about them, and what are the best analogies even? For example, we tend to think about "getting inside" as the big problem -- but in fact, the steady, "low-grade" degradation of trust and constant exposure is much more common and where we should be focusing holistically.

The guests in this episode of the a16z Podcast discuss all this in a conversation (with a16z's Matt Spence) recorded as part of our Tech Policy Summit in Washington D.C.: a16z general partner Martin Casado; Head of Cybersecurity Strategy at Illumio Nathaniel Gleicher; and former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and former General Counsel for the NSA Matthew Olsen.

a16z Podcast: Taking the Measure of Tech in Policy -- with Kamala Harris

"Slow down, cowboys" -- that's what Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) said when prosecutors in her office wanted to bring a case against companies that let apps download someone's entire address book, because surely that's a complete violation of privacy?! The issue was a perfect example of the perfect storm playing out right now between existing laws and new technologies that are evolving faster than laws can.

So how do we move forward, bringing transparency and even more openness --  while also protecting privacy and safety (especially of those who are vulnerable)? The problem is that many litigators and legislators are unfortunately faced with false choices: to be "soft" on crime or "hard" on crime, for example, when the answer is to be "smart" on crime instead.

Born and bred in the world's 6th-largest economy -- that is, the state of California, where she was once District Attorney, then Attorney General, and is now U.S. Senator -- Harris shares not just "protocols and procedures, but perspective" in this episode of the a16z Podcast recorded as part our annual a16z Tech Policy Summit, in Washington, D.C., last month.

a16z Podcast: Modernizing Government Services, From Food Stamps to Foster Care

When people think of modernizing government, they tend to think of new IT, of improved procurement, of new infrastructure ... rather than social services like foster care or food stamps. But how can we actually help improve daily lives -- less in the abstract and more concretely -- by applying tools and lessons from consumer tech to help put food on the table, or to find a safe foster home for children?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, recorded from Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. as part of our D.C. podcast roadshow, Propel CEO Jimmy Chen describes the evolution of the food stamp program from paper stamps to an 800number and EBT card to an app that actually helps make easier and better decisions. Senator Todd Young (R-Indiana), whose district is "ground zero" for the opioid crisis, describes efforts to improve and modernize an interstate foster care placement process. Together, they discuss how the public and private sector can work together to experiment, iterate, and measure success and outcomes; think more holistically about people’s problems and therefore the best solutions; and how to combat poverty.

a16z Podcast: The Law (and Tech) of Warfare

Rules, guidelines, regulations, and “laws” are all sometimes used interchangeably — but what’s legal and what isn’t is far more complex when it comes to policy, especially when politics (and technology) enters the picture. Take encryption for instance: The debate has gone beyond the “Crypto Wars” of yore to a war of attrition playing out today as companies (like Apple) go head-to-head against law enforcement (FBI); but who wins and who loses if the battles play out differently in litigation vs. legislation? And what of cybersecurity more broadly, Russia and hacking, and other top-of-mind policy and politics topics, such as immigration? What are the legal and technical (not to mention moral) nuances of military drones … including the possibility of automating even government decision making in the future?

All of these issues share in common the power of technology to both “discriminate” — such as between military targets and civilians — as well as scale beyond borders. Technology doesn’t just level asymmetries; “It levels all asymmetries,” observes Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, and editor-in-chief of the (now) popular Lawfare blog that focuses on “hard national security issues”. In this episode of the a16z Podcast recorded while on the road in D.C., we (with Sonal Chokshi and Hanne Tidnam) take a quick tour through those issues — as well as the meta story of Lawfare as a story about the evolution of media and expert blogging on the internet.

a16z Podcast: The Living Museum

Every industry (for-profit, non-profit, government, private-sector) has been touched by tech, with most trying to lead the charge in order to stay ahead. But museums and memorials, by definition, lag rather than lead there. How is that changing as visitors increasingly expect to be a part of a dialogue, not just a monologue limited to a single interpretation of events or objects in a room? How are tech tools -- from VR/AR, RFID and beacons, and mobile apps to data, personalization, and prototyping -- changing storytelling around exhibits, artifacts, and experiences... even going beyond the museum walls?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast -- recorded as part of our annual D.C. podcast road trip 2017 (in conjunction with the a16z Tech Policy Summit in Washington, D.C.) -- Rachel Goslins, Director of the Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian; Sarah Lumbard, Digital Curator of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Adam Martin, Chief Digital Officer at the National Museum of African American Culture and History, in conversation with Hanne Tidnam, describe what happens as museums move from "cabinets of curiosities" to living spaces that are defined by interaction.

a16z Podcast: Giving and Getting Feedback -- for Bosses and Employees

There's feedback and there's guidance; there's praise and there's criticism. All of it is important to do better work, but to develop a better and more productive workplace and relationships -- especially given how much time we spend at work! -- the way we give and receive feedback really matters. "One of the great things about having a great boss," observes Kim Scott, "is that a great boss will help you grow as a person. And for a lot of people, a big part of what gives work meaning is personal growth." That's another reason why feedback matters.

But doesn't so much feedback take too much time when you're busy building things, especially in fast-growing startups where you're also focused on survival first? Or what if you're not so into the touchy-feely aspects of soliciting feedback? In fact, what is the best way to give feedback, so that you're not being obnoxiously aggressive or even worse, "ruinously empathetic"?

You actually don't have to choose between those two things, argues Scott, because the answer lies somewhere in between, with "radical candor". Finally, how does this fit with other management wisdom around how much to develop someone -- or when to just "call it" and fire them? How does this affect women and under-represented minorities in the workplace? Or how about creatives, millennials, and remote workers? In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Sonal Chokshi explores these questions with Scott, who came out of Google, Apple University, and her own startups... and literally wrote the book on Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

feedbackperformance appraisalstalent managementhuman resourcesculturework