@andrewchen

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Heading into 2024 – Life update, books, links, and more

Hi readers,

Doing a short round up on various links, books, a quick life update, and other stuff going on. First, I did not write much in 2023 (I was busy!!) but am proud of what I published…

Blog posts from 2023

  • How to design a referral program. I headed up Uber’s driver and rider referral programs at various points of my time there — I provide a framework to think about referrals as an ask/target/incentive/payback, and break down the components of each one. Maybe most importantly, there’s a question of how often you ask for the referral — this is what people sometimes forget. I also discuss the weaknesses of referral programs rather than products that are intrinsically viral.
  • The pitch deck for a16z GAMES FUND ONE. My main thing these days is starting up and leading the new Games fund at Andreessen Horowitz. It’s what I’ll blame for not writing as often as I’d like :) But I was able to get the vast majority of our pitch deck for the fund — launched in mid 2022 — published. You’ve seen a lot of startup pitch decks, but this is an interesting example of one for a fund.
  • What to do when product growth stalls. A lot of companies are dealing with reduced spending on marketing and growth, and many of their users/customers are less likely these days to engage with products. Sometimes the founders (and their marketing/growth teams) come to me, and I lay out a framework to try to diagnose the core issue and figure out next steps.
  • The Next Next Job, a framework for making big career decisions. I often talk to folks about their next career move, and here I lay out a framework stolen from one of my best friends, Bubba Murarka, on thinking about the next next job rather than just what’s in front of you. I used this to consider my hop to Uber, which led me to a16z (yes, VC was my next next job, and I planned 5+ years ahead!)
  • Creator Economy 2.0: What we’ve learned, why it’s hard, and what’s next. Creators are without a doubt one of the most important players in the new social media landscape. Many startups were formed specifically to cater to their needs. However, we’ve learned a lot from the first generation or two of Creator Economy companies — why creators are so hard to work with, why the revenue is so concentrated, why things are more fragile than they often look from the outside.
  • How I use AI when blogging and writing. I’ve been experimenting (along with all of you!) on using ChatGPT, Oasis AI, and other tools as part of my writing. It’s OK at some things, and terrible at others. I have some thoughts on this which I’ll share here.
  • Lessons from launching SPEEDRUN, the Games x Tech startup accelerator. As another part of my “building in public” writeups about the a16z Games Fund, we kicked off a new program in 2023 called SPEEDRUN which is meant to be a startup accelerator focused on the intersection of games and tech. It’s been a super interesting experence — and we’re doubling down — and thought I’d share some lessons and thoughts here.
  • When AI is too verbose, full of repetition and says sorry for being an AI. I often hate the replies from ChatGPT so I added some instructions to it, and now it’s much better :)

Separately, I also have a ton of random X posts — tbh I’ve been more active there. Sometimes I cross pollinate posts between there and here, but if you want things in real time, here’s a list of some of my more highly favorited posts:

Life update
I also wanted to share a brief life update, which I posted to X, but will repeat here:

2023 has been an incredible and eventful year.

some personal highlights:

  • I’ve married Emma Waldron!
  • Spent tons of time with family (both mine and Emma’s), more than usual – always good as my folks are getting older
  • year two in LA and loving it, though we’re still in SF every month or so
  • first time in the middle east, morocco, ireland, several other places
  • was in my/our first serious car accident (no injuries, but our RV + the other car was totaled)
  • honeymoon in Japan, and yes, Naoshima is very special and everyone should go

work wise, so so much has happened:

  • built out the Games Fund team at a16z, making a dozen hires this year in Marketing, Investing, Talent, etc
  • we launched SPEEDRUN, our new accelerator, garnering 1000s of startups applying and we’ve already invested $20M+ via the program
  • a16z repeated Tech Week in SF, NYC, LA with 1000+ events and tens of thousands of people
  • big wins (and challenges) across our portfolio, but lots of mark ups and key saves in tricky situations
  • tons of energy and excitement in AI — we went from being curious on what’s out there to doing over a dozen investments in Games x AI startups
  • happy new year everyone, particularly to all the wonderful people around me — my family, my new extended family, the lovely team I get to work with every day

And appreciate y’all following and listening to my thoughts from time to time!

Books and other stuff
Finally, I wanted to list some of my favorite (mostly non-work) reads from the past year, in case folks are interested:

  • The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles. Nice history of Los Angeles starting from 100+ years back, focusing on getting water from eastern California into an arid desert, some of the early religious movements in town, and the formation of what would become Hollywood
  • Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry that Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East. Part of a Middle East deep dive that I did after visiting the region, and this was before all the recent tragedy. This reframes a lot of the conflict over the past decades as a rivalry between Iran/KSA — they are two oil powers, different religious sects, lots of proxy wars, etc.
  • Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. This book has gotten a lot of attention as the Decel/Doomer Bible — the first half is an interesting thought experiment and worth reading, and it defines the AI safety language that is part of modern discourse. On the downside, the back half I think it goes off the rails and makes a ton of assumptions (why will AGI come suddenly? Why just one?) and makes much weaker arguments.
  • The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams, and the Making of Modern China. I’ve started to do a China history deep dive and this was on the list — interesting to contrast this to Japan’s Meiji restoration which was happening ~concurrently and it reflects from the dangers from not embracing progress and technology.
  • Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity. Lots of folks have read this — tldr; you should exercise an hour a day, and alternate between Zone 2 cardio and strength training. Sadly this book convinced me to start running again, and to begin amateurishly cycling when I have time.
  • Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. The TV show was great so I read the book — it’s fun but I think a lot of it probably made up. Still fun. Read it as sort of as true-ish story about a foreigner turned journalist turned yakuza expert. This was part of our deep dive on Japan before heading there for our honeymoon.
  • Elon Musk. The man of the moment. First half is great, particularly some of the details about his childhood, how much he poured into SpaceX, etc. The back half is kind of a hit piece on his Twitter acquisition in way way too much detail, and is overtly negative when we don’t know how it’ll all turn out? I think the real definitive biography is yet to be written, given that Elon is in his prime.
  • Chip War: The Quest to Dominate the World’s Most Critical Technology. Great history of the semiconductor industry, starting in Silicon Valley and ending in Asia. The book covers the topic cohesively – for a very complex industry – and discusses a lot of the modern geopolitics between the US, China, and Taiwan
  • Solaris: The Definitive Edition. Classic scifi. Guy shows up on a research station above a planet with a strange (alive??) ocean, people are dead, he needs to figure out what’s going on.
  • The Cold War: A New History. Concise summary of the Cold War from the end of WW2 to the fall of the USSR. I was a kid through most of the final years, and the book touches on some of the modern scholarship on what was going on inside the Soviet Union, which is only now available.

Hopefully some of the above are new and interesting to y’all! I hope to read more next year — I think the cheat code might be to stop watching Netflix/Max/whatever (making it weekends only). And instead take the last 1-2 hours of the day and get back into a reading routine, and take notes, to help inspire more writing too. Hard, but I will try :)

We are also planning to spend more time in SF for 2024 so I hope I get to see some of you that I’ve missed in the past year as I’ve mostly relocated to LA. With SPEEDRUN 2 and 3 happening next year in SF, I’ll be around for at least a third of the year just working in person with all of our new Games x Tech companies.

Happy 2024! Leaving you with a final internet meme that I thought was funny.

(Let’s not take ourselves too seriously next year)

 

sincerely,
Andrew
writing from Venice Beach, CA

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