Optimistic Notes Heading Into 2021

Generally, I am not optimistic about the short term future of the US or the world. I’m not writing songs about it, but there are large problems I don’t see a clear path to resolving. Still, as we head into 2021, there are a few areas where I am cautiously optimistic.

Finance

Unlike most FinTech companies that are creating a better UX for the same services of old, companies like Stripe, Affirm, and Pipe are building creative, new solutions. These companies will enable new opportunities for entrepreneurs and consumers. When everything is online, everything is data. Internet-native financial engineers are just getting started making use of this data, and I’m excited for what it could mean. Pipe looks like it could be capital-as-a-service at scale, helping companies grow and founders maintain equity, and Affirm is making it easier for both sides of large transactions. Stripe truly seems to just be getting started building the financial rails of the internet. As similar product offerings mature to become more accessible, I’m optimistic the global impact, especially from supporting or enabling small businesses, will be significant. Stripe’s continued global focus alone is responsible for much of this optimism.

Passion Economy

Substack, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, Teachable, and others are continuing to prove how individual or small collectives of creators can be incredibly successful. ACX is seeing incredible growth. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, but I continue to be impressed by the unique ideas of the up and coming creative class. I expect more thought leaders, of all shapes and sizes, to monetize their passion in new ways. Supported by advances in financial engineering and new distributed resources (like MrBeast leveraging cloud kitchens to sell burgers nationally), I’m optimistic for how these creators will be growing and opening up new opportunities in the 2020s.

2020 Acceleration

2020’s acceleration of ecommerce and work from home trends have been written about ad nauseam. The flight from cities will have negative environmental impacts that shouldn’t be ignored. However, I’m hopeful for the positive social impact that a wider distribution of tech earnings could have, and increased optionality in both where one works and who one works for. There will be a realignment period that will be tough for cities and companies that are slow to adapt, but I’m confident the long term impact, globally, will be worth the short term local disruptions.

Health and Genetics

Many more informed than I have written about the advances AlphaFold2 is responsible for and what the successful use of mRNA vaccine development could mean. These advances feel like the step change in BioTech that we have been expecting, and both can potentially unlock new, unprecedented treatments. I am optimistic both will lead to further advances, and the coming years could also be the time CRISPR starts having real impact.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk alone is a reason to be optimistic. He has taken incredibly hard engineering challenges and made generations worth of impact in the last decade. $TSLA has been ridiculous to watch, but the excitement, among the market and retail investors, for clean energy technology is undeniable. Kara Swisher’s statement that the first trillionaire will be a CleanTech entrepreneur seems almost inevitable at this point. One of many things that need to go right to minimize climate catastrophes, but the insanity of $TSLA’s rise the last few years does have a ring of optimism to it.

Beyond Tesla, it is hard not to be optimistic seeing what SpaceX has accomplished. When I was teaching elementary school, I would make a big deal out of SpaceX launches and would watch them live with students. Now, they happen so often that they are getting boring. Additionally, starlink might be able to generate the cashflow to get SpaceX to Mars, and if it goes well it will also have a huge impact here on Earth. Combined with working-from-home trends, Starlink could leapfrog the rural broadband infrastructure much of the world, including the rural US, is missing. Friends I grew up with in Big Sur could immediately benefit, and it would make my father’s house hunting in rural Northern California much simpler.