Who Wants To Start An Important Startup?

SUMMARY: Let’s col­lect peo­ple who want to work on for-profit com­pa­nies that have sig­nifi­cant pos­i­tive im­pacts on many peo­ple’s lives.

Google pro­vides a huge ser­vice to the world—effi­cient search of a vast amount of data. I would re­ally like to see more for-profit busi­nesses like Google, es­pe­cially in un­der­served ar­eas like those ex­plored by non-prof­its GiveWell, Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute and CFAR. GiveWell is a non­profit that is both work­ing to­ward mak­ing hu­man­ity bet­ter, and think­ing about lev­er­age. In­stead of hack­ing away at one branch of the prob­lem of effec­tive char­ity by work­ing on one av­enue for helping peo­ple, they’ve taken it meta. They’re pro­vid­ing a huge ser­vice by helping peo­ple choose non-prof­its to donate to that give the most bang for your buck, and they’re giv­ing the non-prof­its feed­back on how they can im­prove. I would love to see more prob­lems taken meta like that, where peo­ple in­vest in high lev­er­age things.

Beyond these non-prof­its, I think there is a huge amount of low-hang­ing fruit for cre­at­ing busi­nesses that cre­ate a lot of good for hu­man­ity and make money. For-profit busi­nesses that pay their em­ploy­ees and in­vestors well have the ad­van­tage that they can en­tice very suc­cess­ful and com­fortable peo­ple away from other jobs that are less benefi­cial to hu­man­ity. Un­like non-prof­its where peo­ple are of­ten try­ing to scrape by, do­ing the good of their hearts, peo­ple do­ing for-prof­its can live easy lives with lux­u­ri­ous self care while im­prov­ing the world at the same time.

It’s all well and good to ap­peal to al­tru­is­tic mo­tives, but a lot more peo­ple can be mo­bilzed if they don’t have to sac­ri­fice their own com­fort. I have learned a great deal about this from Jesse and Sharla at Re­ju­ve­nate. They train coaches and holis­tic prac­ti­tion­ers in sales and mar­ket­ing—en­abling thou­sands of peo­ple to start busi­nesses who are do­ing the sorts of things that ad­vance their mis­sion. They do this while also be­ing multi-mil­lion­aires them­selves, and main­tain­ing a very com­fortable lifestyle, tak­ing the time for self-care and re­lax­ation to recharge from long work­days.

Less Wrong is read by thou­sands of peo­ple, many of whom are brilli­ant and tal­ented. In ad­di­tion, Less Wrong read­ers in­clude peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in the fu­ture of the world and think about the big pic­ture. They think about things like AI and the vast pos­i­tive and nega­tive con­se­quences it could have. In gen­eral, they con­sider pos­si­bil­ities that are out­side of their im­me­di­ate sen­sory ex­pe­rience.

I’ve run into a lot of peo­ple in this com­mu­nity with some re­ally cool, unique, and in­ter­est­ing ideas, for high-im­pact ways to im­prove the world. I’ve also run into a lot of tal­ent in this com­mu­nity, and I have con­cluded that we have the re­sources to im­ple­ment a lot of these same ideas.

Thus, I am open­ing up this post as a dis­cus­sion for these pos­si­bil­ities. I be­lieve that we can share and re­fine them on this blog, and that there are tal­ented peo­ple who will ex­e­cute them if we come up with some­thing good. For in­stance, I have run into countless pro­gram­mers who would love to be work­ing on some­thing more in­spiring than what they’re do­ing now. I’ve also per­son­ally talked to sev­eral smart or­ga­ni­za­tional leader types, such as Jolly and Eve­lyn, who are in­ter­ested in helping with and/​or lead­ing in­spiring pro­jects And that’s only the peo­ple I’ve met per­son­ally; I know there are a lot more folks like that, and peo­ple with tal­ents and re­sources that haven’t even oc­curred to me, who are go­ing to be read­ing this.

Topics to con­sider when ex­am­in­ing an idea:

  • Trade­offs be­tween op­ti­miz­ing for good effects on the world v. mak­ing a profit.

  • Ways to im­prove both prof­ita­bil­ity and good effects on the world.

  • Times­pan—pro­jects for 3 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10+ years

  • Us­ing re­sources effi­ciently (e.g. cre­at­ing bet­ting mar­kets where a lot of peo­ple give opinions that they have enough con­fi­dence in to back with money, in­stead of hav­ing one in­di­vi­d­ual try­ing to figure out prob­a­bil­ities)

  • Op­por­tu­ni­ties for uber-pro­gram­mers who can do any­thing quickly (they are read­ing and you just might in­ter­est and in­spire them)

  • Op­por­tu­ni­ties for new­bies try­ing to get a foot in the door who will work for cheap

  • What peo­ple/​re­sources do we have at our dis­posal now, and what can we do with that?

  • What peo­ple/​re­sources are still needed?

  • If you think of some­thing else, make a com­ment about it in the thread for that, and it might get added to this list.

An ex­am­ple idea from Re­ichart Von Wolfsheild:

A pro­ject to doc­u­ment the best ad­vice we can muster into a sin­gle tome. It would in­her­ently be some­thing dy­namic, that would grow and cover the top­ics im­por­tant to hu­mans that they nor­mally seek re­fuge and com­fort for in re­li­gion. A “bible” of sorts for the crit­i­cal mind.

Be­fore things like wikis, this was a difficult prob­lem to take on. But, that has changed, and the best in­for­ma­tion we have available can in fact be filtered for, and sim­plified. The trick now, is to or­ga­nize it in a way that helps hu­mans. which is not how most in­for­ma­tion is or­ga­nized.


  1. Please keep the mis­sion in mind (let’s have more for-profit com­pa­nies work­ing on goals that benefit peo­ple too!) when giv­ing feed­back. When you write a com­ment, con­sider whether it is con­tribut­ing to that goal, or if it’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to mo­ti­va­tion or idea-gen­er­a­tion, and edit ac­cord­ingly.

  2. Give feed­back, the more spe­cific the bet­ter. Nega­tive feed­back is valuable be­cause it tells us where to con­cen­trate fur­ther work. It can also be a mo­ti­va­tion-kil­ler; it feels like pun­ish­ment, and not just for the spe­cific item crit­i­cized, so be char­i­ta­ble about the mo­tives and in­tel­li­gence of oth­ers, and stay mind­ful of how much and how ag­gres­sively you dole cri­tiques out. (Do give cri­tiques, they’re es­sen­tial—just be gen­tle!) Also, dis­tribute pos­i­tive feed­back for the op­po­site effect. More de­tail on giv­ing the best pos­si­ble feed­back in this com­ment.

  3. Please point other peo­ple with re­sources such as busi­ness ex­pe­rience, in­tel­li­gence, im­ple­men­ta­tion skills, and fund­ing ca­pac­ity at this post. The more peo­ple with these re­sources who look at this and col­lab­o­rate in the com­ments, the more likely it is for these ideas to get im­ple­mented. In ad­di­tion to post­ing this to Less Wrong, I will be send­ing the link to a lot of friends with shrewd busi­ness skills, re­sources and tal­ent, who might be in­ter­ested in helping make pro­jects hap­pen, or pos­si­bly in find­ing peo­ple to work on their own pro­jects since many of them are already work­ing on pro­jects to make the world bet­ter.

  4. Please provide feed­back. If any­thing good hap­pens in your life as a re­sult of this post or dis­cus­sion, please com­ment about it and/​or give me feed­back. It in­spires peo­ple, and I have bets go­ing that I’d like to win. Con­sider mak­ing bets of your own! It is also im­por­tant to let me know if you are go­ing to use the ideas, so that we don’t end up with need­less du­pli­ca­tion and com­pe­ti­tion.

Fi­nally: If this works right, there will be lots of in­for­ma­tion fly­ing around. Check out the or­ga­ni­za­tion thread and the wiki.