What is the long-term impact of the decisions and products we make today?
I think a lot about the world we will leave behind. Apps focused on addictive usage patterns aren’t making us happier or making the world a better place. There are many more consequential things I’d rather work on. For example: Technology has pulled us further apart in some ways — could it instead be used to help us become more human? How will our ideas of work and a sense of purpose evolve in the age of AI and robotics? How can technology assist us in living more sustainably? How can technology contribute to giving people more agency over their lives?
In early 2018, we founded Spero Ventures (formerly part of Omidyar Network, which I joined in 2015) to invest in purpose-driven, product-centric founders. We’ve been fortunate to partner with a number of entrepreneurs who are building companies that inspire. In 2016 we invested in Skillshare, an online platform that wants to make continual learning available to everyone. In 2017 we partnered with Bunker, which is providing insurance to the growing class of freelancers and gig-economy workers. SafeTraces, which we backed in 2017, makes it easier for people to eat safely and know the true origins of their food.
My first job in Silicon Valley was doing industrial engineering – optimizing manufacturing lines at a large facility in Redwood City. I soon joined a startup called shoppinglist.com where I had the opportunity to design software, and felt that’s where I belonged. Later, I led product at a digital goods marketplace called Sparter, and did two tours at eBay totalling 11 years. Along the way, I went back to school and earned an MBA from Northwestern.
The common thread is that I’ve always been drawn to technology and what it can enable at scale — especially if it helps bring people together and expands their set of available opportunities.
What got you interested in tech?
My father worked in tech. I remember visiting him at work, checking out the mainframes in their chilly rooms, and playing with punch card programming when I was a toddler. At six, I was coding simple games in BASIC. In college I studied computer science and majored in civil engineering. When I graduated in 1998, it was the heart of the first internet boom. I wanted to be part of building the future, so I packed my car and drove cross-country to Silicon Valley.
Why do you invest in the future of work?
I grew up in Endicott, New York. It was a company town; IBM started there and it seemed every family had at least one person working for Big Blue. In the early 1990s, IBM downsized considerably, and with the concurrent end of the Cold War, the defense industry companies shrank, as well. It has been a difficult economic environment there ever since. All around the country, other towns with similar stories are awaiting their revival. I want to support makers of new technologies that promise to bring more opportunity and resilience to more places.
What do you think about when you think about wellness?
For me, the most compelling issue related to our health is the sustainability of our planet. What can we do to reduce our impact on climate change? How are we going to feed 12+ billion people in under 100 years? How do we produce more food and energy, yet consume fewer resources to do it? Literally nothing else matters for human beings if the earth dies off.