I have some exciting news.
But before I share it, let me ask a question: what is the most important invention in human history?
This is a question that will never really have a definitive answer, and yet I am still trying to find one. When I’ve asked people what they think, their answers have usually ranged from fire, to language, to nuclear fission.
Those are good choices, but the Gutenberg Printing Press also deserves serious consideration, because it changed religion, countries, culture, and so much more. It irrevocably changed the world.
But what most astonishes me is that we could have had it a few thousand years sooner.
When Tech Doesn’t Work
This is a picture of the Phaistos Disk. Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier discovered it in Crete in 1903, and while most archeological findings are momentous, this was monumental, because it shattered our understanding of technological advancement entirely.
We’re essentially looking at a clay tablet that was created by a set of standardized stamps that could be used to mass produce written work. It was an early version of the printing press.
We haven’t found any other disks like this, which means it never spread to other places. It wasn’t adopted by other people. Which tells us that while the innovation itself clearly worked, the technology didn’t because it died in its infancy.
And that leaves us with a tantalizing question of what the world would look like today if we had the printing press 3,000 years sooner.
We will never know, instead it became one of the many What Ifs of history.
There’s a reason I’m sharing this story: most people have not heard of this disk. It was so close to changing human history, and yet today most barely know it exists.
I have a replica of this disk sitting next to my bed. Every day it reminds me that technology is never guaranteed to succeed — which motivates me. Because the more you read and learn about human history, the more you realize that when technology works, it does so often because of a multitude of random factors. It requires a delicate balance between focus and fate. Which brings me back to today.
I want to help today’s technologies succeed, and do what I can to make sure we don’t have to wait another few thousand years before they work. And it turns out that there’s the perfect job out there for doing just that. And today is my first day doing it.
A New (Ad)Venture
Perhaps one of the greatest questions of life is figuring out what you want to do with your time here. Not everyone gets to ask, let alone answer, that question — and that is a true tragedy. But if you do have that option, I think it is important to (at least try to) answer it. It stems from Playing the Cards You’re Dealt.
I’ve documented my personal journey answering that question, and now I’m at the point where I know What I’m Here For.
And as I created this new story to tell myself, about myself, I realized there was a career path that aligned all my interests, and did so in a way that allowed me to not only advance the rate of human and technological progress, but actually make a difference in the Big Problems I have written so much about.
That's what excites me about venture capital — the idea that I can find these amazing founders, and help them share their gifts with the world, so that we don't have to wait another few thousand years for a technology to reappear again. We can fight to avoid the Phaistos Disk’s fate.
But not all venture-backed companies are alike. Importantly, I don’t want to invest in social media startups or dog walking apps. I want to tackle the Big Problems, like healthcare, housing, education, energy, agriculture, and much, much more.
Back in 2020 I wrote this:
The biggest VC-backed companies in the last decade reflect our lack of vision. They revolve around personal comforts. “Drive me here. Bring me food. Find me an apartment for a week.” Comfort and convenience. Undeniably valuable, but invariably uninspiring.
I still feel that way. We are at a unique moment in human history where the cost of capital is quite low and there are ample opportunities for us to make massive leaps forward in human progress. But that means we need to be serious. We need to build. And we need to dream about becoming better.
And to that end, I am truly ecstatic and humbled to share that I’m joining Andreessen Horowitz — specifically, I’m joining as a partner on the American Dynamism team.
You’re probably wondering what American Dynamism even is.
To answer that, let’s first set the stage.
The past few years have demonstrated that the world of the past 80 years is no more. I don’t need to regale you with all the things that have recently happened. We’ve all been living through them.
But the takeaway is that many things that we have not broadly experienced as of late are starting to creep back into the picture: health crises, trade dislocations, inflation, energy shortages, war, and famines.
We told ourselves that all of these things wouldn’t happen anymore. But now they’re all happening again. Volatility returned. Geography struck back. Uncertainty resurfaced.
One of my takeaways from the last few years — which I’ve written about frequently — is this idea that the world does not care how we think it should work.
The inability, or in some cases, refusal to accept how the world actually works has led to an accumulation of disfunction and institutional decay. Part of this is from a lack of focus, but even the things we focused on have issues.
Housing, healthcare, and education are the canonical examples, but in reality our problems extend far beyond those industries. But this isn’t new information.
Regardless of how the data actually shakes out, or whether you personally agree or disagree with what’s presented above, it’s crucial to comprehend that what most matters is how people feel. And we continue to see that Americans think the future will be worse than today. And if history is a guide, that sentiment is not something that can be simply ignored.
Too many people feel that the American Dream is unattainable now. Which brings us back to American Dynamism.
The way I like to describe American Dynamism is that we are solving America’s problems with startups. We find and invest in founders that are working in everything from aerospace and defense, manufacturing, energy, agriculture, healthcare, housing, education, and more.
We are focused on finding and backing the founders building the next great iconic American companies. Ones that build durable businesses that solve very real problems. And they solve these problems with technology, not because the world needs another SaaS business, but because technology is uniquely suited to solve these hard problems.
Some people grimace when they hear “Silicon Valley will solve this.” There are real reasons for that, and I’m acutely aware of the ways that technology has and has not helped people in the past few years. Even so, the American Dynamism team firmly believes that many of today’s problems can be solved with technology. The founders we are and will continue to back all believe in building a better future, and they are deliberately diligent in making sure they don’t just use technology for the sake of it. They use technology because it’s the best and most effective tool.
You might call this wishful thinking, youthful ignorance, or oblivious naiveté. And rightfully point out all the ways these companies won’t work. That’s great, constructive criticism is useful. But demeaning rhetoric is cheap, and mostly just sounds like excuses to me. Actions are what matters most. Even if you don’t agree, recognize that all the major companies around the world today originated from people pursuing new frontiers. They endeavored forward in times of turbulence and now we must do the same.
American Dynamism is focused on creating new iconic American companies, but it’s also about fostering a movement that reclaims our country’s North Star of celebrating people who dare to build great things. Increasingly, America has fallen short of its lofty expectations. That means we need to re-establish our vision — reinvigorate ourselves. American Dynamism requires optimism and a belief in growth and opportunity. It’s about elevating our aspirations. And rebuilding our belief in us.
And this belief is essential, because none of this will be easy.
Earlier this year, I talked about my greatest personal failure, and how I always ask myself two questions now before I set out to accomplish anything:
What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
Is this still worth doing even if I fail doing it?
The first question expands your mind, and the second sharpens it to focus on things that still matter — it clarifies what is still worth pursuing and doing. And what I want to do, the companies I want to back at American Dynamism, are not destined to succeed. They are playing on hard mode. They are navigating the most regulated, most challenging industries in the country. But those are the founders I want to work with. The ones that know that even if there’s no guarantee of success, what they’re doing is worth fighting for. They’re audacious enough to make their dent in the universe.
I’m joining the American Dynamism team because I believe in this vision for America, and I want to do what I can to make it a reality. I’m truly grateful, and I’m deeply committed, excited, and resolved to make the most of this opportunity.
Venture is all about taking bets on exceptional people building a better future. The United States of America was perhaps one of the greatest bets in history, and in order for this country to continue to succeed, we must embrace this emboldened entrepreneurial ethos. This is our country’s DNA.
I visited Washington D.C. last week before I started this job. I hadn’t been there since middle school, and I wanted to remind myself of our country’s past as I got ready to help people build its future.
America is a very precious place. Other countries have aspects of what we have, but the U.S. is unique among them.
Now as many people will point out, we are unique in many bad ways too. I don’t run away from these discussions, in fact I run towards them, because if there are viable ways technology can capably solve these problems, then we will back them at American Dynamism.
I’m not an apologist either. No country has a purity to it, and America absolutely has its dark moments. But you must Look in the Dark, because it shows you what needs to be solved. America was founded upon the pursuit of perfection — of improving the qualities of life for everyone. We have not been perfect in executing that vision, and we will continue to stumble at times, but when you look back at our brief 250-year history, we’re left with a stark example of how far we’ve come.
And we still have a way to go.
The American Dynamism team fiercely believes in what America stands for. We’re proud to be Americans and we are committed to backing the people who share that vision and are building a better future.
Our country was built by a huge assortment of different people. And our job is to help the next generation of builders bring us to the next chapter of the American experiment.
Some will be correct to point out that there are plenty of global problems that need solving. To that, I’d say two things. First, there’s a reason why you’re supposed to put your mask on first before helping others. If you aren’t stable and secure you cannot support someone else. Our country has plenty of challenges and we need to rectify them. But this isn’t chauvinistic. There is no reason why an investment in American Dynamism precludes us from also solving global problems too.
Whether we recognize it or not, people around the world still look up to America. Even if we aren’t a pristine paragon of virtue, we are still a global leader. As a country, we need to ensure we are on the cutting edge of advancing the principles and freedoms this country was founded upon. The technologies and ideals we advance should be exported to make other people’s lives better. We’ve recently seen what happens when adversaries are allowed to operate freely, and regardless of your personal political leanings, I think we all can agree that we have a responsibility to help others when they ask for it.
American Dynamism understands that the entire world is intimately connected, and that’s why we’re focused on these Big Problems. Because one of the best ways to solve them is to responsibly and astutely allocate capital to people and projects working to create new solutions based on the world we are (and are about to be) living in.
Words to Live By
All great things started with a pen on a piece of paper.
Writing is not the same as building, but I’ve found that most things start with ink to paper. Maybe the full business plan isn’t there to start. But the general contours are. Whether it’s goals, a startup idea, or business strategy — we always initiate ideas and movements this way.
I’m writing this essay while sitting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. As I watch the sun begin to rise, I find it fitting that this is where I’m proverbially putting pen to paper.
Words matter. And Thomas Jefferson is true testament to that. The Founding Fathers chose him to chiefly author the Declaration of Independence, and the resulting document changed the world, perhaps more than any other letter in history.
But words alone are insufficient. They cannot be vacuous — they must be accompanied by action.
Jefferson’s words mattered because they were backed up with action — Herculean ones at that.
Those words created this country. Hopefully these words help create new companies.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience. But where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Most people have heard this iconic quote before, and while these words deeply resonate, I’d actually invoke another quote from Dr. MLK Jr.: If you commit yourself to a noble cause, you will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.
After visiting D.C. last week, I now realize that all of our monuments intrinsically embody this quote. They invoke the selfless actions of audacious Americans from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Those people gave us the world we are living in today, and now it’s our turn to live those words Dr. MLK Jr. proclaimed.
I’m unashamedly American. In spite of our shortcomings, I believe in what this country stands for. So I humbly erect this piece as a beacon for what the 21st century can and should be. And the sunlight cascading onto the National Mall matches my optimism.
The Audacious American Experiment
Eighty years ago today — on June 7th, 1942 — the U.S. won the Battle of Midway. This massive, multi-day naval contest became a definitive turning point in the Pacific Theater. And it was one that we should never have won.
Looking back now upon our country’s history, we often see a series of apparently inevitable outcomes, but that’s not true. In this instance, Japan was the dominant naval and aerial force, and they had definitively demonstrated that six months earlier when they destroyed Pearl Harbor.
America had its back to the wall, and yet it fiercely persevered forward. And that fearless resolve in the face of apparent failure was what made the difference. The Pacific Arch at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. contains a quote illustrating the astoundingly small odds of success:
“They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war… Even against greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit, a magic blend of skill, faith and valor — that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.” — Walter Lord, Incredible Victory - The Battle of Midway (1967)
Insurmountable odds are the constant of American history, and of humanity’s history broadly. Anything worth doing is never easy, and for some reason we’ve forgotten that.
So consider this a reminder that the future isn’t preordained, and that there are builders out there right now toiling away to bring about a better future.
That’s what this country was founded upon. The belief that we can and should become better. Some said it was foolish, others that it was doomed, and yet here we are — reading this together, as Americans.
America was built on a vision of improvement — a delineation from the status quo. America does not have a monopoly on innovation, but its foundational aspirations are unchallenged. The world is full of people dreaming about making the future. We give them a destination for their goals.
We must remember that this country was never destined to succeed. Our history is built upon those who stood up and solved problems when they presented themselves, and had the fortitude to take action in the moments that mattered.
It’s easy to feel disheartened and overwhelmed by today’s State of Affairs, but I’m reminded that moments like this provide opportunity. We’re at a special point in history, and while there are many obstacles to face, this situation isn’t new for this country. The U.S. has seen terrible days, and yet it’s emerged each time, stronger than before. This isn’t necessarily revelatory, but it’s important to recognize nonetheless.
It’s become fashionable to proclaim all the ways the U.S. has faltered and how it will fail. Recent events show us that these bad things can and will happen. But at the same time, there are people who have committed themselves and their lives to uphold an absurdly ambitious idea of a government of, by, and for the people — one that had never been tried before. And without continued effort, this experiment will end. An unknowable number of people have paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of this idea, and many more will do the same.
The world is quite crazy right now, and the past few years have been hard to stomach on multiple fronts. America has faced many of these dark moments before. There’s no guarantee this experiment will continue, but it has because people believed in this vision and did what they could to keep it going. I know that people still feel this way.
That should give us hope — we’re living in this very moment because people made astounding choices in service of a vision of something greater than themselves, in far more dire and turbulent times.
I’m optimistic about the future, because I’ve met the people building it. And they’re devoting their lives to creating new companies that will not only change our country, but the world as well.
There’s an abundance of things to work on, and I’m grateful that today I get to officially begin working to help extraordinary people create the future.
See no matter how bad or dire things may be, there will always be people who persevere ahead with ferocity. People underestimate the power they have in a country like America. If you take agency and use that power, own your actions, you’d be blown away with what you can achieve. Accomplishing anything great takes time and hard work. But that is how this audacious American experiment came to be.
So if you too seek to solve today’s Big Problems, you know where to go. Because no single person can solve them alone. But you don’t have to — because we’re here to help you achieve your dreams. After all, is that not what this country is supposed to be? A place where you can realize the American Dream.
We’re doing our part to make sure more Americans can do just that. That’s what American Dynamism means to me.
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Congratulations, best of luck to you and the team! One of many things I hope you can accomplish is to help destroy the myth that serious startups only happen in Silicon Valley. As I'm sure you know, there's plenty going on in other parts of the country, this needs to be better understood and there needs to be a lot more of it.
As a non-American, I find the passion that American people have for their country truly inspiring.
Congrats on the new job, Grant. Beautiful essay. Can't wait to see what startups you invest in and what American problems you help solve.