115: Minn Kim – Industrial Progress, Immigration and the American Dream

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode we’re joined by early stage investor Minn Kim to talk about Industrial Progress, Immigration and the American Dream. We also cover the future of frontier tech, and how to enable more successful hard tech companies through better policy. :

William Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways it is worse in the past, where it’s a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.


Will Jarvis 0:37
Well, man, how are you doing this afternoon?

Minn Kim 0:39
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me. Well, I’m really excited to be here.

Will Jarvis 0:43
Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show. Do you mind giving us a brief bio and some of the big ideas you’re interested in?

Minn Kim 0:51
Sure. Let’s see. My name is Minn. I am an early stage investor. I’ve been an early stage investor and venture for the last four and a half years or so primarily focused on what I call critical industry development. And so I’ve been backing founders transforming industries across like shipping and logistics, aerospace manufacturing AI, first at a firm called bluebird beta, which is early stage like $75 million, pre seed and seed stage firm. And then most recently launched an accelerator at a company called ondeck. That does, that looks for the most talented, ambitious people all around the globe, and best helps them start companies. I often think of it as what do I like investing in building people building at the intersection of Bits and Atoms, right? Software is kind of magical. We all most of us probably grew up on the internet, like our generation. But we do live in the physical world. And then big ideas. Oh, gosh, so many. But let’s see a couple other things that are probably been really top of mind for me lately. Immigration and talent, attracting and retaining the very best minds for the US. I think it is not just a good thing to do, but actually of national interest and importance that we maintain technological leadership and economic competitiveness by making sure that the very best minds want to come here. Right and stay here. More importantly, along that line, I think there’s a thread around how do you encourage people to have higher ambitions? I see that a lot with early stage entrepreneurs, and people who are thinking about starting their next thing, how do you create an environment that encourages them to actually think bigger? Because I think that is what pushes progress, industrial progress on that thread. There’s so much we can talk about which we can dive into over the next like, you know, 3045 minutes. But there’s a ton of energy and policy changes that I think make right now a really exciting time to be building and investing in things like biotech, climate, energy, advanced manufacturing, longevity, women’s health. So many of these areas, again, that kind of intersect between the Bits and Atoms. And I’ve been calling that I’ve been referring to it as industrial progress. I think there’s a couple different names for it American dynamism, national. An AF, there’s like a couple of other ways of describing it. But all of that I think, is pointing towards this return to investing in like what makes America great. And then just one other. One other thing is like thinking machines, I spent a long time looking into machine intelligence and AI. And I think there is a really unique opportunity right now where there’s a tremendous amount of really interesting research and commercialization happening on how we’ll interact with our digital products in the near future.

Will Jarvis 3:41
I love that a lot. No, that’s great. That’s great. I love that it’s a great breadth there. I want to double click on ambition a little bit first, because you said some interesting things there. What can you do to raise the ambition of an individual? Is it putting them in environment with other ambitious individuals? Is that just telling them it’s possible? Is it you know, coaching the set, go read these books? How do you think about that? And how do you raise the ambition of people in the early stages of starting companies?

Minn Kim 4:08
Amazing. I think there’s a couple of different ways. I’m a really big, I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the work that Daniel gross and Tyler Cowen have done over the last several years. Daniel is the co founder or the founder of a company called pioneer, where I think a lot of his hypothesis was how do you find really, really entrepreneurial, wonky, talented people from all around the globe, put them into a digital environment. And so he, I think he’s an immigrant from Israel. If he’s listening, please correct me. But, you know, he was solving I think, his own problem of how do you he came from, you know, abroad to the states and found this community of people that were really ambitious, and therefore expanded the notion of what was possible. And I think that’s a consistent theme around how do you put yourself in an environment so I totally think that’s players in the world. But I also think there’s something to be said about models. I think when you can see someone else who feels like you, but maybe one or two steps ahead, it makes the it makes the, it makes whatever you want to do next, like much more attainable, achievable, right. And it’s a little bit different than having like celebrities, which is like, like one step more removed, where sure you can have like role models on television or movies that make you excited and make it feel possible. But I think there’s something a little bit more grounded where yeah, if you know, like a friend of a friend who went to Harvard, and you’re, you know, you grew up in like Middle America, and like, you know, in, in like a small town, and you didn’t know that going to an Ivy League institution, for example, like was possible or achievable for you, having a model of somebody who had done it before, I think, makes such a big difference. So like environment, having models, and then just finding that really, like critical person who actually believes in you, right? And then that’s usually the reason why people want to keep paying it forward, because somebody took a chance on you. And so there’s like this interesting nexus of how do you find that person? And do you need to put yourself in a different environment to be able to find that person.

Will Jarvis 6:15
I love that. I love that. I want to move on now and talk about industrial progress. We’ve seen a lot of, you know, talking to discourse recently about American diamond ism, and wanting to focus on building new industrial capacity within this country, kind of reshoring a lot of what we traditionally done here. I’m curious, it seems like almost like a counter cyclical for that to be happening, because interest rates are rising. Now, it seems like capital is going to get more expensive, it feels to me like a lot of these businesses will be more capital intensive, significant more capital intensive than more traditional software businesses. Do you think that there are some headwinds that need to be overcome there? And is that just is there still enough capital available? It’s not really gonna matter that much? Or do you think there will be significant headwinds to big companies in the industrial space that are trying to get spun up? Now?

Minn Kim 7:05
I mean, it is capital intensive. I think the headwinds are a little other some like, actually, they’re two headwinds that I probably see as really important things to overcome. One is basic r&d. I think there is there’s a trade off that America as like that we made as a country and as a world when we decided to globalize, right. And some of these things are cyclical, where and this is just happens to be, I think, one of the most globalized economies we’ve ever had in human history, which is why it is the way it is right now. But we made a trade off, which was great, we can, we could make trade cheaper by working with a lot of other countries outside of the US. Because we have access to cheap labor, and therefore, like offshore, a bunch of like, how we actually make the goods that we use, eat, you know, rely on now, you know, after like 3040 years of that the cost is we’ve forgotten how to use our hands and how to not like you and mean necessarily specifically, but like as a as like a culture that we don’t know necessarily how to build things. So that’s a headwind where I think there’s like knowledge that was lost, that we need to actually like, retrain a lot of people, because many of the individuals who have have had this knowledge previously, are well into their 60s, right, like 50s and 60s, I started my career actually, as a data analyst working at a financial services company called Bloomberg LP. And I worked on this big r&d migration project, it was like eight months of work. And one of the things that we were trying to do is, Bloomberg serves a lot of like really high frequency trading companies and like our clients are like, you know, they’re making decisions based on like Milla milliseconds of data transfer. And so it’s like relatively high risk, because millions of dollars are, are at hand. But a lot of our software infrastructure was written in COBOL, which is like a programming language that like nobody really knows how to write anymore, because it was written literally by the founder, like the CTO had written this back in like, the 70s. And so, you know, things like that, where we’ve just forgotten how to do some of those things. I had another similar analytic related anecdote about how the New York City I used to live in New York, I currently reside in San Francisco but I’m a big fan of the MTA and I heard this story recently about how the MTA has pushed off like upgrading a lot of their transportation infrastructure because they because literally nobody knows how to like move the dials to like figure out like how how the trains work, and so they have to make this trade off at some point where okay, it will be so broken that we have to just rip the whole thing on replace it because to repair it we don’t we like literally don’t know how. So there’s a knowledge headwind and then, like r&d headwind where I think like we’re still I Having to do like basic science research into, like, how do you make like the most advanced chips? How do you do, like novel like biotech research to be able to do like genetic modifications on like our food, for example. And then labor, right, I’m sure we’ll touch on that in an event too. But I think again, it kind of comes down to like, well, you can pour billions and billions of dollars into building factories, and, you know, changing making policy incentive changes, but we literally don’t have enough people to do the jobs that we want them to, then we’re kind of at a loss.

Will Jarvis 10:34
It’s a huge, huge problem. I was in Norfolk last week, and I went past the naval shipyards up there. And you know, they just everyone has been begging for labor. But the problem is like a lot of these programs, they get cut, you know, let’s say littoral combat ship with a cap that I believe there’s a big example of this recently with it was one of the submarines or maybe was the littoral combat ship, I’m not sure. But they they cut all the experts, you know, the cuts program, all those people retire, they go do something else. And then you want to spin up a new ship project, and you just can’t do that, because there’s people they don’t exist anymore. How do you think about how we solve these kind of labor issues? You mentioned? Is it more immigration? Is it? Is it more high skilled immigration? Is it better training? upskilling? What do you think that looks like?

Minn Kim 11:15
I mean, the short answer to that is like it’s not one, one size fits all right, like there’s no silver bullet and a panacea to solving like labor shortage issues across the country. That’s the nuanced take. I thought a lot about this. at Bloomberg Beta. We were investing in what we call the future of work, I think we are we are the only venture firm to to establish that as our core thesis or the first rather. And so we’ve invested in lots and lots of different kinds of like Future of Work companies. You think about Code Academy, raploch masterclass, so on and so forth. And I really think that solving workforce challenges comes down to three things, you either have rescaling companies, the cost of that is that it’s often it’s often time intensive, and especially for the things that are not knowledge base knowledge work based to is you literally have to like grow more workers. And we happen to have a bit of a global fertility crisis on our hands. So that one’s like a very long time horizon solution. And then the most tractable and most exciting to me, solution to workforce challenges is like importing, like the very best people, right, like immigration. And so, you know, we used to, I mean, the United States was literally if anybody is a fan of Hamilton literally built by immigrants, right. And so I think it’s a return to like American ideals and the brutes where you want to attract and retain the very best, smartest people to come here, do research, commercialize it, build companies scale them. I am the daughter of a number of entrepreneurs, immigrant entrepreneurs. I was born in South Korea, and like we literally came here to pursue the American dream. Right. And I think it’s the most tractable solution to solving a lot of our workforce challenges today.

Will Jarvis 13:05
That’s great. That’s great. I’m curious, do you see technological solutions to the immigration problem? It seems like the political angle is somewhat intractable and very difficult to deal with, at some level. I mean, hopefully, we’ll make some progress there. But it seems like like very difficult some level, it’s a hot button issue. Are there things we can do with technology to make it easier to get more people over here into the United States?

Minn Kim 13:31
I think so. There are a bunch of really like technological solutions. There’s ways to automate a lot of the work that goes into making immigration more accessible and transparent. Right. And I think, and then, and I think like, that’s very that’s happening today, right? Like the digitization of a lot of the paper or manual processes. That kind of bogs down a lot of like the administrative work that is that is involved in these pathways. There are companies that are building like Legal Information Services, right. I’ve been looking into a lot of companies that are doing this right now. There’s, like companies like legal pad, and boundless and obviously, like LegalZoom existed well before, like years ago. And there’s a number of different startups at least from like, the Silicon Valley style of like, yeah, we can like tech solve our way through a lot of these problems. And so that’s exciting. There are like technological advances that I think knock on wood could be very interesting, where you have like language models, and like AI, like research into new like AI techniques around like, how do you how do you manipulate text, right? And so for example, if you are a talented researcher who is like a postdoc that we think that we should need to stay here and continue to contribute to the US economy. There’s probably like, so much like that you’ve written and published and like there’s like a whole history of like your work. available on the internet somewhere in some shape or form. Today, even like we can crawl all of that we can crawl the web for you and the work that you are that you are attributed to. And then craft like the very best like biography about your work and your contributions, that maybe we can, you know, turn over to USCIS and say, Hey, this was why this person’s extraordinary, right? And so you think about GPT, three, like Dali, like all of these, like new tech, like core tech evolutions that I think could really contribute to it. And then there’s an I kind of want to touch on one thing you just said, which was, policy feels like an intractable problem. But I think what makes me really optimistic right now is that we’ve had a wave of really big wins from the policy side that I think, make it really exciting to sit at the intersection of like Silicon Valley entrepreneurial. When I say Silicon Valley, by the way, I don’t necessarily mean like, tied to the Bay Area, but more of like the ethos of Silicon Valley of like, we can say, tech solve our way out of big problems. Yeah, yeah. But optimism, that the intersection of that and like the old guard, like historically Old Guard, like DC legislative, like government, collaboration. And so you know, you think about the chips Act and the inflation Reduction Act, like both of which are respectively focused on manufacturing and semiconductor and reshoring American manufacturing to climate energy, reducing the cost of moving over to a more like, energy efficient economy. Both of those are huge wins, and kind of like, you know, years and years and years in the making, that tell me at least that there is this like Zeitgeist and cultural appetite, to make policy changes that also work in tandem with technological advances.

Will Jarvis 16:53
So maybe the baby, these immigration challenges may be more tractable than they first appear.

Minn Kim 16:59
Correct? Yeah, I mean, the really, literally, at the beginning of the year, in January, the Biden administration announced a couple of key public policy actions. And I’m going to talk about them because like, I feel like more people should totally know about this. And, but, so there are a couple of visa pathways, particularly for what we like to call extraordinary persons. These are like the O one, the EB one, the J, one, which is like a trainee visa, and then the national interest waiver, these are the four these are for like underused visa pathways that the Biden administration made explicitly, much more clear about the qualifications and evidence required to to, to, like, be eligible to receive them. So when you think about immigration, I think most people, especially from like a public, political, you know, like media frenzy thing, think about the h1, B, right, which is like, if you’re employed by a big company, you apply for an h1, B, and then the, the, the unfortunate part of the HNB, is that there’s actually, like, so many people that apply, there’s like hundreds of 1000s of people every year that apply, and it’s capped, and there’s only like 60, there’s only 65,000 spots, basically. And so you’re kind of like out of luck, if you don’t get it that year, and I’ve had a number of friends who have been, unfortunately, like deported, right. But the cool part is that these other visas are underutilized, much more clear. And especially for high skilled, like STEM talent, or like entrepreneurial talent, it’s a lot more accessible than people might think. And so I’m really excited about some of the both like policy and like side projects, like in the entrepreneur ecosystem, that are really trying to take advantage of these of these new recent changes.

Will Jarvis 18:43
That’s great. That’s great. It’s a that’s very encouraging. It’s very encouraging to hear that there are there are options there. Then I’m going to change gears a little bit and and I’ve got a question for you. What is common knowledge in your field that lay people might find surprising?

Minn Kim 18:58
Oh, feel like this is like waiting for hot take tweet. Um, I mean, an early stage venture, I think there’s this notion of quote, unquote, being contrarian. And it’s become a little bit of a trope as like the best way to make returns. And, and I think, what is less or less so that’s common knowledge that some of the very best investments by the very best investors in this field have not been obvious on day one, right. And so I think about that often, because I don’t think it’s about being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, but it’s remembering that some of the very outlier companies you think about that are no like SpaceX, Tesla, Amazon, Google, like these big iconic companies that have been around now for almost 20 years. They were like really weird and not obvious. And a lot of the times it took like a very special like Forward thinking person to just take a leap of faith, right? One of my favorite stories, this is like Silicon Valley lore. And I’m sure someone will correct me on the details here. But you know, like way back in like 1999 Larry Page and Sergey Brin were researchers who met John Doar, who is a partner at this, like storied Silicon Valley like sand hill firm called Kleiner Perkins. And when they had the meeting, they had like no business plan, like no revenue. And it was like technology like this was way before they thought about AdSense and AdWords as like a business model. So it was just like literally, like research that they wanted to organize like information on the web. And John Doerr, actually, I forget what book this is in, but his recollection or his recounting of the of that meeting was like, how big do you think it could be? And he himself was like mentally thinking, I don’t know. Like, maybe it’s like a billion dollar business, you know, like, these guys are really smart. Like, I’ll put a small check in. And Larry Page and Sergey Brin were like, oh, no, this is like a $10 billion business. Like for sure. Like, they were just like, really confident about it. And now, you know, post facto, we know that it’s actually like, nearly like a trillion dollar business. You know, more could be. And so I think about stories like that, where, yeah, it took just like a special person to meet the entrepreneurs and be able to take a leap of faith. Bezos is this is now like a John Doerr like tribute. I’m a big fan. But Amazon is like a similar story. You know, Amazon’s a little bit different, because like, Jeff Bezos, like came from a finance background. And, you know, he is like a businessman. He’s a proper businessman. And so he had like, notions of what a business model would be. But he had raised he had basically exhausted like, all of his, like friends and family financing, like personal dollars, before he went to a couple of like other like, early, like what we now call it angels. I don’t think we call them that back then in like, 1995. But he raised like, a million dollars, which roughly would be like the equivalent of like, two today, it was like a, quote, unquote, pre seed round. And that was like him selling this notion of like, I’m going to sell books on the internet, which now we look back, and it’s so obvious that it could have it was that and then some, but could you imagine, like, 1995? I mean, I was like, a baby at the time. But, but like, could you imagine 1985 somebody’s thinking, like, I’m going to sell books on the internet. Like, that’s weird. Um, and so, yeah, I just think that, and I’ve had this experience, personally, where, you know, when I was investing in lower beta, like we, we actually invested in a transportation company, that is called a to b. And they do payments infrastructure for trucking, trucking. And Trucking is a massive industry. But when we invested in that company,

my partner rode the hot lead that deal and it was intended to be a commuter Transit Company, between like, for like Googlers, basically, or everybody else, but Googlers, because Google have their own bus. But it was to take people from San Francisco down to Palo Alto, or Menlo Park, and they were going to build a business around that. And so it was transportation related, but we invested in that company, within three months, COVID hit. And so to be honest, I think we were all thinking, Oh, my gosh, we basically lost our money within three months like this, there’s no way this is gonna like how do we how are we ever going to recoup this. And, like Vignon, and harshita, the co founders are extraordinary. And they went out and they spent like two months during the bunch of IDEA validation, like literally going to gas stations and talking to truckers, and then came back with a new idea. And like, pivoted the entire business, which has now become like, wildly successful. And I think it was recently like, you know, on Forbes is, you know, like companies to watch to become like, next unicorn, bla bla bla. And it was it’s an extraordinary story and a testament to I think, when the original investment, we were making it, like, it was really weird, and like, not everybody around the table was a fan. And there are several several stories like that across our portfolio. And it is a and it only makes sense. Like in hindsight.

Will Jarvis 24:17
What do you think? What do you think sets apart? A team like that founded ATB versus another team lightly? Like what’s there something special? Is there something special about the founders, that team that that really? Yeah, yeah. Because I don’t think many people would survive that kind of challenge, right? In the business caught totally,

Minn Kim 24:37
totally. I love love, love this question. Because I do early stage investing, right? And so I’ve done mostly like pre seed and seed. And so I think about this from like, a day one like day negative one almost. And I think what I have observed consistently, time and time again, is that the most extraordinary people that start companies have been problem solving, like our natural problem solvers and have been problem solving for years and years and years. And they you see it, and you see it not just from like a business perspective, it’s not necessarily the case that they’ve like, they’re like, serial entrepreneurs. And you know, instead of, instead of like selling lemonade, they were like, you know, building like, like online businesses when they were 16. Like, that’s not what I’m talking about. But rather, they’ve just been problem solving. So what and so the consistent observation I’ve just seen is a lot of founders are like obsessive about something. And then they’re like, I just think it could be better. And they just go do that thing. Whether or not it makes sense for it to be a business, right. And so, yeah, I think like the ADB founders are like that. We also invest in a company called Flexport, which does shipping and logistics, and build software for Super shipping and logistics. It’s called Flex for, like, they’re just a number of these companies that are that are led by problem solvers.

Will Jarvis 26:06
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I have you know, when you meet someone that they’re a problem solver, is it you know, you just like you hear them talking about stories where they like that they started describing problems and how they were thinking about solving them and think you think they can really rise to the challenge? Are there any common thread threads there you’ve seen?

Minn Kim 26:23
So I forget who this is our I might be misremembering, but I think it’s Mark Sue ster, who had this great blog post from years and years ago called invest in lines, not dots. And I think what’s nice is my preference, and every investor might feel differently. But my preference is that you get to know someone for long enough, that you get to see them in a couple different environments over a handful of different interactions. And you get to start seeing like how they respond to the questions that you ask, maybe it’s a little bit of a tough question, do they get defensive? Do they actually have they thought about it? Can they even preempt or preempt? Like the constructive criticism that you might have about their business? Where the market that they’re going after? Why are they why do they have such high conviction, right? And so I really subscribe to that notion of like investing in lines, not dots, because I think it’s really hard, you can get a really great sense for do you vibe fit with the person within like a 1520 minute meeting? Or like a 30 minute coffee? But do you can you find, can you find enough pieces of interactions that give you conviction about their ability to problem solve? That happens, I think over the course of some time, and that could be two weeks that could be two months can be two years. But for me, I’ve always really appreciated when I’ve gotten to know somebody over the course of several interactions. Because this is because the moment that we say that we’re going to work together, and I’m going to work with you as to help you make sure that you can build this company into something successful. That is like a tenure, potential commitment that we’re making to each other. And I hope like I don’t take that lightly, lightly. And I hope founders also don’t take that lightly. So yeah, so I think like, there’s a lot level of consistency that comes with it.

Will Jarvis 28:15
Makes sense? Like it’s everything like that. I really liked that. Another question here? Why now? Yeah, this is a great question you often get if you’re starting a business, you know that why now? When does it matter? And when does it matter less?

Minn Kim 28:32
Oh. So part of it depends on the kind of business that you build? It’s a great question, actually. Because if you’re building a, quote, unquote, deep tech company, which like, generally tends to be and it is something based on like fundamental research, or some deeply technical hard challenge. I think the why now matters a lot, because it literally tells you whether or not this technology is viable. I’ve been spending a lot of time in like, women’s health and reproductive health in particular, or the intersection of reproductive health and longevity and biotech. And there’s a lot there’s a dearth of just basic research, right? And so we only started really doing research on women’s bodies for the last like 20 years, like 30 years, maybe, basically, I think it was with the NIH is right Revitalization Act in 1993. And so it’s only been like 30 years that we really like included women in clinical trials, clinical research. And so we just don’t really know and we still don’t include, like pregnant women in most clinical research, because they’re considered vulnerable populations. And so we just don’t know, right? There’s just a lot of stuff that we don’t know about hormone levels and like our field tonality and reproductive health, and how that all works together in our bodies. And so that to me is an example of like, you need to have a really strong line now because there’s Probably like some fundamental research that’s going to lead to some breakthrough. And so more recently, I think that’s been top of mind for a lot of like, scientists and researchers and entrepreneurs trying to tackle, like the fertility crisis, whether it’s from like, really basic research on tracking, like your home hormone levels over the course of life, similar to how we all track our health health now, right? Like our blood glucose, blood blood glucose levels, but can you do that for like your hormone levels, because it might have some impact on like, your general well being or some way or your general overall health? All the way to something that feels a little bit more like science fiction, which is like cool, can we like grow babies outside of the womb? And like, and do you start maybe with building like bio bags for like, really, really early prematurely born babies? Maybe, right? But all of that is that is really hard to do? Well, if you don’t have fundamental research underpinning it. So like, I think why now for hard tech, deep tech, whatever you call it call it is really important for that reason. And then for other markets, sometimes it’s not that relevant, right? Like, if you think about Uber Eats DoorDash, like Instacart interests, like a couple, a couple of these, like consumer social type companies, it’s not necessarily the case that you needed to why now, maybe you could make the case that it was like smartphone adoption, because this is like, you know, 2010s, and enough people owned an iPhone, and enough people had a cultural appetite for on demand services. I think you see some of that now with, like, web three and type, you know, companies where, yeah, there’s enough of a cultural shift on in wanting to like own parts of the internet, right? But it’s not enough to just be creators. But why don’t you also be able to have a stake in the things that you build mine. But, but it’s not necessarily obvious to me that like, it has to be underpinned by some novel technical, you know, shift that happened. So that’s kind of how I think about it. And it is additive in other businesses that are not deeply technical. But how would I say, like, necessary, but not sufficient, in deeply technical fields, either.

Will Jarvis 32:19
That makes sense. That makes sense. I want to talk more about deeply technical fields in frontier tech. Now. You mentioned some of the areas you’re excited about. But But can you talk about a couple of the others like, like, what areas are you excited about? And frontier tech? What is frontier tech? And why do you think there’s been a renaissance of recently, people being interested in it and investing in it?

Minn Kim 32:39
Yeah. Can I ask you, what you how you define frontier tech? I feel like you’ve spoken to a number of people who actually pay attention in this world, too.

Will Jarvis 32:47
That’s great. That’s great. Yeah, let’s see, if I had to define it. It’s, you know, technology. I primarily think about it in the sense of usually physical like, you know, what can we do in the real physical world? I mean, it can’t be like, you know, GPT, three, we had this, we talked to the stable diffusion folks recently. I think they’re doing those kinds of things. It’s tough, I guess, when you look at things and you’re like, okay, there could be a real breakthrough, there could be a real discontinuous path of innovation that could be commercialized it soon. That’s kind of what I think of as frontier tech. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Minn Kim 33:23
Amazing. No, I actually, I think that’s great. I love that, like things that inspire like breakthroughs, right? Like, there’s some kind of stepchange difference that this like piece of technology or company makes, um, I have a pretty like, broad definition, which is anything that like really increases agency, which is like super broad, but that’s like my definition of it. And I think within it, it’s like a question of like, where where do you focus, right? Because I think lots of people have different interpretations of what frontier tech is. And so for me, like, I’ve spent a lot of my time in like AI, and robotics. And so that’s like, where that’s where I like started looking into these startups in this market. And then more recently, I’ve spent a lot of time in like longevity, which I think is also on longevity, and biotech, which I think is really, really exciting. And there is a lot of like commercialization of research that I think will happen over the course of the next 10 years that will like fundamentally change the food that we eat, like the health that we preserve, how long we live, right? It’s just an and then the last like two probably are around like space. You know, the last time we really had a space race was back in like the 1960s. Now, I think there’s just been really exciting like renaissance of how do we get people to Mars? Like how do we become a multiplanetary species? And that’s like, really a science fiction out there. But like that is basically the next frontier, right? Like, we don’t have other continents to conquer anymore on this earth. We have to go elsewhere. So that space and then obviously a lot of the work in climate energy and the overarching like Zeitgeist around making sure that we create like a much more energy efficient economy, sustainable future. The like, so many of my like smartest friends have basically gone into those fields. And so maybe that’s how I might differ five like frontier tech, it’s like, all the fields that whatever my smartest friends going into, like, that’s frontier.

Will Jarvis 35:29
I love it. I love it. I love it. I’m curious on the climate climate aspect that, you know, I’ve seen a lot of people pivoting into climate, thinking about climate, one of the big challenges I see is that it seems to be like mostly a public good to fix climate change. It’s tough to capture the upside in the entire lives, kind of the upside, if that makes sense. is especially so if we know carbon capture, it’s difficult, right? Because who wants to pay to capture carbon? You know, you can just produce it. I’m curious to hear your thoughts there. What do successful companies look like in the climate space? Is it more companies like Tesla, or something else?

Minn Kim 36:11
Oh, okay, I won’t be able to dive as deeply into like carbon capture. That’s like, not someplace that I spent a lot of much time in. But I think I have like two parts to this question. Two answers to this question. One of which is, I think that creating new markets takes time. And historically, I think you’re right, that a lot of like, climate activism was like, like, a lot of doing good, right. And it was very, like ESG impact, which, which is good, like, you know, like, net positive for the world, but not necessarily. Well, it incentivized for the very best entrepreneurial talent to go and work in them. Right. And so a lot of the companies that I’m most excited by, in like the climate, energy space, are or in the, in the carbon space, in particular, I think, are building like big r&d projects. And a lot of that research into like, literally, like direct air capture, right, like taking carbon out of the air, and then storing it underground. Like that is crazy, like, it’s crazy cool that we can do that. But that’s going to take time, and then you’ll have to build the proper like business model around it. And so, I do think that some of these things just like have to take on a tick decade long horizon, especially if you’re thinking about either building something in it or joining a company in it or putting money behind that. Like you really have to think long term. On the flip side, I think the other part that’s exciting about energy, maybe less like climate, per se, but is I love that you mentioned Tesla, because I think it’s a great canonical example of a company that isn’t obviously a quote unquote, climate company, right. But it is just fundamentally building the product that they’re building in a more sustainable or intentional, intentional way, and making it accessible to its end customers. And so, like, you don’t know, if all roads lead back to Bezos, but like, what do customers care about? Like you want it either cheaper, faster or better? Right? And so if you’re going to build a product, and you incentivize enough people who are building those things, to do it in a more energy efficient way, they probably will. Right. And then if you give enough incentives for the customers of the people building those products, enough reason to buy those, they probably will. And so the IRA, I think is like this really big tailwind for an entirely new generation of like industrial companies that just get built from the ground up in a much more energy efficient energy intentional way. So you think, you know, like, so you got Tesla instead of Ford. And so like, think about every other potential company that is like that was built 100 years ago, will get built today.

Will Jarvis 38:58
In a better and more robust way. Sounds like,

Minn Kim 39:01
yeah, yeah. Like, it’s, that’s my hope. I mean, and I have friends who are working in like battery technology building like industrial like appliances. And they’re just doing it there. It’s the same output, but the output just happens to be like, cooler and better.

Will Jarvis 39:15
I love that. I love that. That’s great. Can you talk about language models and human computer interfaces and some of the excitement around that, that you’ve seen recently?

Minn Kim 39:24
Oh, okay. So the reason I love like, like computer human computer interaction, the reason I got into it to begin with, it’s because I am like one of those people that will raise my hand to have a brain implant. Maybe not like maybe not like clinical trial, maybe like after that, but like happily be a guinea pig for that kind of thing. And I’ve always felt that out. I’m a big believer that your environment shapes you like your physical environment, and that also includes like the things that you use on a day to day basis. For example, I like Like our devices, right? Like, you and I are talking right now on a laptop, I have an iPhone, I have an iPad. And each of these I kind of use slightly differently. Like, yes, I will do email on all of them. But I try not to, like I try to use like iPad for for like YouTube watching, right versus like, if I’m doing like deep work, I’ll use my laptop, versus like phone is like for on the go. And so I do have, I do think that like your devices kind of influence the behavior and like how you use them. But they’re all really constrained, right? Like, I grew up watching, like Minority Report, right. And like all these like science fiction movies, that detail, like different, like you can, like manipulate the air, and, you know, send data across the person, like in the next room, just with the swipe of your hand. And we don’t have that yet. But like, clearly, we have the imagination to build to, to want something like that. And so I’ve been really excited about a lot of the work recently around, like the intersection of language models, and AI and new human computer interface design. There’s this company called Restlet, that builds like integrated developer environments. It is a wonder beta portfolio company. And, um, that’s amazing. And he’s built this amazing, incredibly innovative, like entrepreneurial team that like turn out like projects truly. And one of their recent ones is called Ghost Rider. And it’s like, an AI assisted code like code generator. So it’s not like it’s self novel necessarily. Like Microsoft’s GitHub has been doing this for the last like, a couple years, I think, with copilot the but two things. One is that they’ve just gotten a lot better. And then two is the cool part about Ghostrider, that I was like, a little bit like, blown away by is, they do have this feature called swipe to code. And so like as, as the AI helps you like generate the code, you can either accept or deny by like swiping. And now that I’ve said it, and now that you’ve like now that if you see the demo, it feels obvious afterwards. But I love demos like that, where it kind of totally makes you think differently about what’s possible with our devices. Right? And that’s like a really simple example. But like, there’s no notion of like depth when you when we use our digital devices today, right? Like the, you know, I’m looking at you right now through a video screen. But there’s no real notion of like depth. And there’s not a real notion of like memory, right. And so, let’s say I was taking a picture of somebody. And then, you know, like, three weeks later, I came back to the same spot. And is there a feature that I could like toggle on? Because I want to remember, like, who was in the room when I went to that happy hour, right? And so there’s this like, notion of like, the memory palace that you have in your brain? And like, can we recreate that with our devices. And so that’s just been something that is not obviously yet, like a company to me right now. But there are a number of people like in like the tech ecosystem, that are thinking and working on, like, really good ways to demonstrate how this like how how, like, our tech can work for us, basically, in a way so that we’re not just like, yeah, like a lot of the language model, like autogenerated, like, Oh, my God, like is gonna take over our jobs like that feels really constrained to me. Because like, human beings are really, really creative. And when you give them new tools, I think we figured out ways to use the tools, right? And if, and if you give, there’s this amazing researcher named Linus Linus Lee, he’s on Twitter. But he said something recently, that really, really impacted me, which was our tools should evoke virtuosity. And so it’s great if you if people really, really constrained tools, they won’t evoke for virtuosity, and so great that like, you can use an auto generated copywriter, but you won’t know what’s like really fully possible, then.

Will Jarvis 44:07
I love that. I love that. It’s, yeah, I love that. For me, that’s a really good framing. I want to pivot a little bit, but I want to talk about this about frontier tech and what the big barriers are to getting more of it in the real world right now. What are those barriers, barriers, you see? Is it you know, money? Is it talent? Is it something else? What do you think?

Minn Kim 44:28
Um, maybe else? It’ll depend on the market. But I think it’s a combination of basic research, talent, capital and policy, right? It’s like all four of those forces working in tandem to make sure that we can continue innovating in these areas. Right. And so and we’ve touched on this so far, but you know, like a lot of foundational scientific capacity, like we just need like a lot more r&d, right, whether it’s like genetic engineering technologies to like reprogramming ourselves to like synthetic biology so that we don’t don’t have to necessarily so that we can like create cells out of like stem cells into like new cells versus having to like get them out of our bodies because it which is very expensive and like higher risk, things like that to talent, which you’ve touched on, which again, like I’m going to come back to immigration like that is like the most tractable near term thing that we can do to make sure that we can get people to do our research. Capital is an interesting one, because I think there’s a, there’s like different capital needs for when especially frontier tech goes from zero to one, one to two, and then two to like, whatever 100,000 Plus, right, zero to one can, in some regard, be cheap, can be cheaper than I think people think. Because a lot of like, the hardware components in, you know, in like robotics, and advanced manufacturing, like some of those things are now like off the shelf, right. And so they’re a lot cheaper than we thought than we than they were before. Right. And so instead of like your first prototype costing you $150,000, like, you might be doing it to be able to do it for 80, right, which is like non trivial. And so capital for zero to one, I think, in some ways is the barrier to entry is like lower than it was before, like, call it 10 years ago, one to 10, I think, is actually really hard. And so like, that’s where I think we need like lots more people excited, and investors excited to put in like, you know, that 1010 $15 million, because that’s when most that’s when founders are going from prototype to like, now serving and delivering to their first handful of customers, right? And like, only then after you’ve like proven that you can actually build those first 10, can you now attract enough capital and excitement and interest to be able to like really full steam ahead, go and like produce 100 100? Or 1000? Right? And so, that’s a little bit more of a nuanced answer. And like my opinion on kind of, like, how the level of importance to capital. And I think like that gap from like, one to 10 is actually like one of like, the most critical areas where we could use a lot more risk taking.

Will Jarvis 47:08
Do you think there’s less risk taking bear that that one to 10? Stage?

Minn Kim 47:13
Oh, because I think like, it’s still a leap of faith. And so like, it’s the same, you know, if a founder came to you and said, Hey, I want to build this, you know, build this robot, or like, build a factory or build an industrial, a pilot appliance of some kind. Zero to One is like your, you’re investing on the basis of founder market fit, like founders domain expertise, or their capacity to actually build this. And like the market opportunity, potentially. But the zero to one is like, cool, I built the prototype, and it works. But now like, you still have to take the same leap of faith. And it’s not necessarily any more like market de risked, necessarily, because probably only been like 12 months. And so I just think that sometimes it’s like more of a yeah, just like a little bit of fear. Where, oh, okay, you hit all the milestones that we agreed upon. Okay, cool. But now we need to go from like putting in like to like a million or $2 million to like, five times that amount, right? It’s not, it’s not totally obvious to me that like your customers are going to pay or that you have a customer base that will pay hundreds of 1000s of dollars, if not millions, in the next like three to five years.

Will Jarvis 48:28
That’s just a lot more difficult. It’s just a lot more difficult to get that level of conviction.

Minn Kim 48:31
Yeah, exactly. And so, you know, capital. And then the last one is policy. But like I said, I think the exciting part is that the government seems like they’re really, really aware. And they care that these areas, especially around industrial progress, are really critical to the natural national interest. And so there’s both political will and dollars. And so the, you know, like, the administration, is putting their money where his mouth is.

Will Jarvis 48:59
Love that. Love that. Med. We’re running up on time here. What piece of the career advice, especially for people working in tech and startups, you know, do you think is important, but maybe underrated? Maybe something you could impart to the audience that they might utilize?

Minn Kim 49:14
Oh, two, I will say two pieces of advice. And I’m paying it forward, because they are two pieces of advice that I received early in my career, and they have, they have continued to be true. One is right online. You that doesn’t mean you have to tweet, by the way. But you know, I’ve been writing online for the better part of over a decade actually. And it’s always been a really great way to share ideas that are in my brain with other people and it gives insight to others about what I’m thinking about. And then and, and those ideas like propagate faster than if you were to try to have 10 conversations right? Versus you can reach 100 People just by writing a blog post about My latest thinking on like women’s health. I have not actually published that piece yet. But writing online, and then great cold emails. A really good cold email I started I got into startups. When I lived in New York, I just cold emailed a lot of people in like, tech ecosystem, not because I was trying to like be a VC per se, but because I was really excited about what they were building. I would like go on to the App Store, look up the top apps the day and I would like try them. And then write unsolicited feedback. Like, truly I was like, 23, and looking back and really cringey. But I would be like, Hi, I’m so and so like, just like some random person from the internet. And I would write unsolicited feedback to Pete to like, people building these products. And then lo and behold, like, they would invite me to coffee. Because they were, you know, they were like, who are you? But yeah, writing online and then sending great cold emails, like, they will take you a lot farther than you might think. Yeah, I

Will Jarvis 51:04
definitely second on the cold emails portion. If you can have a genuine kind of well written cold email you can get really far in life.

Minn Kim 51:12
Really help this whole podcast often into that.

Will Jarvis 51:16
Oh, I know. I know. It really is, you know, one day, you know, you just start writing emails and then you’re talking to metallic Butyrin. And min cam. And you know, who knows? What could happen? It’s pretty well, well, man, thank you so much for taking the time today. Where can people find you? Where should we send them?

Minn Kim 51:31
I am very online. You can find me on Twitter at mini cat i n e y underscore cat. And then I also write online at min kim.com. That’s great. Thanks, man. Cool. Thank you so much well.

William Jarvis 51:48
Special thanks to our sponsor, this Bismarck analysis for the support. Bismarck analysis creates the Bismarck brief, a newsletter about intelligence grade analysis of key industries, organizations and live players. You can subscribe to Bismarck free at brief dot Bismarck analysis.com. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives. Special thanks to Donovan Dorrance, our audio editor. You can check out documents work in music at Donovan dorrance.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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