Balaji S. Srinivasan

CEO of 21 and Board Partner at a16z

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON April 27, 2017

Discussion

Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
Hi, I'm Balaji S. Srinivasan. I'm currently CEO of 21.co and a Board Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Prior to that, I was the cofounder and CTO of Counsyl. I also ran a popular Startup Engineering MOOC in 2013, and taught stats and CS at Stanford prior to getting into startups. I'm happy to answer questions, and would be particularly interested in what you'd like to see from the new 21.co paid inbox product. EDIT: Thanks everyone! We've run out of time to answer more questions today, but do go ahead and follow us @21 to hear more! Thanks for all the great questions.
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community, Product Hunt ⚡️
How much can an individual expect to earn a month signing up to 21?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@jacqvon Hi Jacqueline! Short answer: ideally at least $100 per month or $1000 per year. Possibly more if we hit it out of the park. Our goal is for people to have fun making money on 21.co in their spare time on the internet, rather than simply wasting time on social networks :) Longer answer: we have a bunch of new features coming out that will allow you to apply to join lists of users, like Python developers, BItcoin holders, or Stanford students. By joining a list, even regular people should be able to attract significant paid traffic.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
Do you and @pmarca hold each other accountable to remain on Twitter break, is it easier or harder than it looks to stop tweeting, and will the two of you ever come back? 😰
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@nivo0o0 @pmarca Quitting Twitter was amazing and I don't regret it at all! I don't think Marc does either -- this is a "diet" which is pretty easy for both of us to stick to. With that said, I will probably come back to social media in long form at some point. In particular, I've been slowly assembling all my years of past tweets and lectures into a series of essays, to be published at a later point. These essays synthesize political and philosophical topics with a lot of math/stats/graphics, and I'm looking into the right tool to generate them. For my old MOOC essays, I used Emacs org mode. I'm exploring the use of that again, but also two other tools: http://jupyter.org/ http://distill.pub/guide/ Distill in particular is very impressive and I'm playing around with that.
Michael Goldstein@bitstein · Engineer, 21, Inc.
What is your answer to Peter Thiel's contrarian question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@bitstein I'll make a meta-observation here -- the more popular the answer I give to that question, the less arbitrageable the answer is if it's true. That is, if you state something that is true which only 0.1% of the population agrees with, it may well be true but (a) most people will wrinkle their nose at the statement and (b) even the open-minded won't simply concur that it's insightful without significant empirical proof that is best provided interactively (rather than via a broadcast medium). With that said, here is one thing I think is an important but non-obvious truth: it does not matter whether or not you have the scientific or historical evidence to prove a truth if people do not have an economic incentive for adjudicating and then spreading the truth. For example, for many years people talked in the abstract about things like public choice theory, polycentric law, distributed order, fiat currencies, and the calculation problem. And then we got Airbnb and Uber and Bitcoin and so on, which actually gave a demonstrable short-term economic incentive for people to understand that yes, there can be failures of regulation, and yes, we can have money without the involvement of state actors. And even if they don't grant or grok those deep philosophical points, they can understand the concept of "buying digital currency and making money when it goes up", which is often enough. So the other meta-observation is: it doesn't matter so much what I think is true that others don't agree with me on. It matters whether one can use that non-obvious truth as the basis for an economic engine, one that works to produce value even if people don't really fully understand or acknowledge the underlying truth.
Paulo Marques@pauloemarques
[deleted]
Abhilash Jain@findabhilash · Product Marketing / Growth
Do you think the blockchain will change businesses the way we know them today?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@findabhilash Hi Abhilash! Yes, I do think distributed ledgers / blockchains will change businesses (and governments) in several ways. Some predictions, possibly obvious: 1) Within 5 years, 10-20% of startups or more will use some form of ICO to raise funds, rather than seeking angel funding. 2) Within 10 years, a blockchain of some form will start being used for attribution tracking, such that two partially trusting parties (like an advertiser and a content owner) can both see when a conversion occurred and calculate CPA in a different way. 3) Within 20 years, we'll see many kinds of government agencies adopt blockchains in some form to provide greater transparency and programmability for public records. Plenty more to say on this topic; let's see what we can do through the vehicle of 21.
Krishaan Khubchand@krishaan_khubchand · Student
Thank you for doing this AMA Balaji. I have a few questions: 1. Other than 'The Sovereign Individual', what are your other favourite books (both technical/non-technical)? 2. What advice would you give to students, other than maximising personal runway? 3. What would be the best way to start learning how to develop Blockchain applications, now that the infrastructure is coming through?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@krishaan_khubchand Hi Krishaan! 1a) Some of my favorite technical books: - The Princeton Companion to Mathematics https://www.amazon.com/Princeton... - The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics https://www.amazon.com/Princeton... - The Nature of Mathematical Modeling https://www.amazon.com/Nature-Ma... I love books like those because they are both surveys and yet quite deep. I also love the entire Schaum's series of books, which I think illustrate a completely different approach to pedagogy: try the problem and fail/succeed, and then learn what you need to learn. Here is one of those: https://www.amazon.com/Schaums-O... 1b) Some of my favorite nontechnical books: - Seeing Like a State https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D8J... - Reputation and Power http://press.princeton.edu/title... In general, I like nontechnical books with a lot of factual/historical data. I read them with an eye towards ultimately mapping them to some kind of technological implementation. 2) What advice would I give to students? - As I've said before, the highest priority is to maximize personal runway (savings divided by burn rate) - Today this will likely mean moving overseas using something like nomadlist.io or teleport.org - Aside from that, I would get very good at computer science and statistics fundamentals - You can learn plenty of libraries, but you won't have time to learn fundamentals on the job - Do as many solved problems as you can. I highly recommend the Schaum's style of books to learn quickly. 3) What would be the best way to start learning to develop Blockchain applications? - First, I'd master database and cryptography fundamentals, with something like Dan Boneh's course for the latter - Then, I'd read the Bitcoin.org and Ethereum documentation - Then, you should write short Python or Go scripts to do things like printing out the blockchain, formatting and signing a transaction by hand, managing private keys, that type of thing. This will give you a feel for the raw data structures. - After doing all this, I'd take a look at application libraries like Ryan Shea and Muneeb Ali's new blockstack.org The reason I'd do it in this order is that you would learn fundamentals first before proceeding to the cutting edge.
Krishaan Khubchand@krishaan_khubchand · Student
@balajis the answer exceeded my expectations, thank you! I just have one last question: what does your personal learning routine look like? I'm really curious.
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@krishaan_khubchand Here's my personal learning routine: 1) Find the equivalent of Schaum's in any domain, a book of problems with worked answers. 2) Grind through a bunch of representative problems *without* studying. Just give it your best shot, you might be able to figure it out. 3) Check your answers and use this as a form of placement test to identify deficiencies. 4) Specifically, if you're getting the complex questions right, you understand the domain. If not, go back to the source material and read it. You'll have a new focus in reading it as you know exactly what you got wrong and you know what points to fix. Doing it this way is (IMO) the most efficient way of spending your learning time. First do problems with worked answers to find out what you don't know, then fill the gap with focused effort.
@balajis @krishaan_khubchand I pulled this into an Amazon list for future reference that anyone should be able to access. Be sure to copy them over to your own list! http://a.co/2xQAdyR
Cherepukhin@ivandothetrick · Head of Product @Round.nyc
How do you sell 21.co to the busiest persons in the room: Ben, Naval and other famous entrepreneurs and investors?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@ivandothetrick My recipe was: toil for 10+ years doing work in fields like clinical genomics (https://www.technologyreview.com...), and build relationships along the way. Then try to add value with what we're doing with 21.
Cherepukhin@ivandothetrick · Head of Product @Round.nyc
@balajis So, are you selling 21.co to someone busy&famous outside your friends circle? My question was more about the value for them, not for 21.co 😊
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@ivandothetrick Ah. Right, busy people in particular want to save time while still remaining accessible, so the ability to set up a sort of charity paywall in front of their inbox is an attractive experiment.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Will you be offering ways for businesses to make money on 21?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@ems_hodge Hi Emily! Yes, absolutely. Stay tuned, we have several blog posts coming out that announce a number of new features. As a preview, one of these features is a way for any business to easily monetize its email list.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What’s your morning routine?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@jakecrump The most productive days are when I get up, exercise, and start working for at least 1-2 hours without answering any messages or reading any news. The notifications can wait!
Kesava Mandiga@k3sava · Curious cat. Writer. Explorer.
There are a lot of comparisons to LinkedIn's InMail when describing 21.co as a product/service. What exactly sparked the idea?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@k3sava Hi Kesava! We think this might be the first application that actually uses digital currency for something useful in every day life. We built it with the two1 micropayments library that we open sourced a while back (https://github.com/21dotco/two1-...). Email is a decentralized protocol, and people have wanted some kind of "stamp" on email since the 90s. LinkedIn InMail shows that there is large demand for senders to pay to reach people, but logistical issues up to this point have prevented recipients from getting a cut. And a big intellectual precedent for Bitcoin was Hashcash, which was initially an anti-spam measure. So it's an obvious application in a sense to use a decentralized currency (Bitcoin) to add features to a decentralized protocol (email), but the details do matter. Let's see what happens!
Kesava Mandiga@k3sava · Curious cat. Writer. Explorer.
@balajis When you put it like that, it makes sense in a way that makes you think "Why did no one come up with it earlier?" 😋 Appreciate the straight answer. I'm signing up today and hope 21.co becomes a standard in business communication. Lots of potential in the marketing and sales aspect alone, not to mention recruitment - LinkedIn's bread and butter. 👍
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
This is a two part question: 1. What are the best ways to drive people to my 21.co inbox? Any stellar examples out there besides @pmarca? 2. Once people come, how do you make it frictionless to get them to send you an email? FYI, I've posted my 21.co inbox on social a few times and will include it when I redesign my website/blog in June. Also, how much does this question normally cost? 😂
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@kunalslab Hi Kunal, 1) Go ahead and follow @21 on Twitter as we'll be announcing several tools for driving traffic to your profile soon. In the meantime, take a look at this: https://medium.com/@21/how-to-mo... 2) For now, make sure that your profile has a good headshot, title, and a well written but short bio. Again, follow @21 as we'll be giving more tools to optimize conversions once people land.
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@balajis thanks for the recommendations! Following @21 on Twitter already. Going to use the strategies in the Medium post now (starting with LinkedIn!). 🙏
Larry@larry_lawal
The White House recently announced an unprecedented 18% budget cut to the NIH for next year. How do you think 21 can help build an alternative to the NIH and allow users to directly fund promising research that may otherwise not get done? Also, does 21 make a distinction between charity and social enterprise (often charities are not the most efficient way to direct funds to effect change)?
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
How can companies best make use of 21?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@jakecrump Hi Jake! It depends on the business. 1) Business utility: if you are doing enterprise sales, recruiting, fundraising, or market research, we have new features that we've already soft launched that allow you to rapidly send mass emails or run surveys on large lists of people. For example, if you go to 21.co/vcs you can send out a quick yes/no survey to a large number of VCs to see if they are interested in hearing your pitch. Or if you go to 21.co/founders you can send out a mass email on your new SaaS product to try to solicit feedback. We'll be putting more details out on this soon. 2) Direct monetization: if you own an email list, we will be rolling out some features soon that will enable you to turn your list into monetizable inventory. Every recipient can opt-in and get a cut of the messages/tasks sent to your list. 3) Charity: we can also help your company set up a charitable giving program, where some portion of proceeds earned by your employees are directed to a charity of your choice (we're steadily adding more, and you can request more charities at charities.21.co).
Kunal Bhatia@kunalslab · Co-founder & Design Lead @SlidesUp
@balajis @jakecrump Regarding business utilities, it would be great if I could search through all the 21.co profiles to find people that I might be interested in sending questions to (e.g., conference organizers and speakers in my case). Any plans for such search/filtering tools?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@kunalslab @jakecrump Yes, all of that is definitely coming. Stay tuned -- and ping us at support@21.co and slack.21.co if you have specific conference organizers/speakers you'd like to see us speak with.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · Words @ProductHunt & @AngelList
Hey Balaji, you've talked a lot about the Machine Payable Web recently -- can you talk about the startup investment landscape as it relates to it, and how the concept relates to 21.co in particular? 🤔
How diverse can we expect 21's list feature to be? And, will there be a reputation component at all for those who give great answers?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@mbmott Hi Michael -- yes, there will definitely be a reputation component coming. Right now most of the users on the system are pretty well behaved, but it's on the roadmap!
@balajis To clarify my Q about diversity of lists... will lists ever been community created? Will we see a librarian list, a plumber list, a museum curator list?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@mbmott Yep :)
Nirmal Raj S@nirmalrajs
While paid inbox works well for influencers, is there something in pipeline for normal users?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@nirmalrajs Yes, follow @21 and we'll have an announcement on this soon!
Bal Kam@fidodido93 · Ninja @ SmartKai
Why was 21.co's work on the hardware front (embedding devices with bitcoin computers, sensor data marketplace, etc) suspended? What prompted the company to pivot there? Lack of opportunities with bitcoin/blockchain enabled hardware, IoT solutions?
Kurt Kumar@kurtkumar · Founder
Are you taking up any role within the government/FDA?
Paulo Marques@pauloemarques
What are your thoughts on the current Bitcoin governance?
Kunal Roy@kunalroy · Developer
What do you think of Indian Startup Market ?
Balaji S. Srinivasan@balajis · CEO of Earn.com & Board Partner at a16z.
@kunalroy Hi Kunal! 1) First, I'm super impressed with the Indian diaspora. China plays a mean home game, but India's away game may be the best in the world. The older generation has produced giants like Vinod Khosla, Satya Nadella, and Sundar Pichai. And there are tons of 20- and 30-something Indians (and other South Asians) who are coming up quickly in the global technology industry, impressive folks like Apoorva Mehta at Instacart and Suhail Doshi at Mixpanel. So the raw talent is certainly there. I can probably find a link, but I've seen figures that indicate that Indian immigrants are the most common demographic for immigrant startup founders in the US (somewhat expected based on its size, but still quite interesting). 2) In terms of India itself, I'm cautiously optimistic. Just like China ascended the value chain from plastic Walmart goods to genome sequencing, WeChat, and iPhone manufacturing, so too it appears that India is moving from outsourcing and call centers to much more interesting businesses like Flipkart and (especially) Mu Sigma. There are fits and starts and reversals, but overall smartphone installations keep accelerating and economic modernization continues. The market size has to grow, though, to compete with China and the US, and it's not there yet. Overall, I'm very bullish on the diaspora and cautiously optimistic on tech within India itself.