when you need to bring big tools in a little car

I want to build wilder and more beautiful things with my friends. I’ve been trying to live this philosophy for a while. What does that actually mean though?

to build = to continuously be learning with and from those around me, be challenged, and to push myself to discover new places and possibilities. To participate in the process of ideating, designing, prototyping, experimenting with, and doing deep engineering, solo and together. Having the space to go off in a direction and explore a new primitive or paradigm, and bring something tangible back to examine together.

I would like there to be an agreed-upon direction, whether channeled from the future or given to us by someone we’re speaking to and empathizing with today. To be able to clearly state the need or problem we’re trying to solve, and to have them nearby as we solve it for them so they can tell us if we did it justice or not. To agree to hold some compass together to direct the way we are building the thing and what we are working towards, even if we can’t truly know what lies beyond the next mountain range of assumptions, questions, and experiments.

We should be individually empowered to maintain our grounding practices and connections to places around us, especially if we are far apart from one another. This means not letting whatever Messaging App we’re using to suck every ounce of attention out of us. But to let us plan our schedules with time outside, in nature, and off the grid as needed. To respect my autonomy and trust me enough to do what I say I will do, because I offer that respect and confidence in return.

pasquale's pad is a special place for building

with friends = people who I trust, admire, and respect. Those who I can communicate with, who are exceptionally good at what they do, have humility and respect and a level of grit and ability to hold things and work on things even if they are not perfect. These are people I feel safe yet challenged with.

We have enough space for playfulness, for depth of connecting and relating even beyond the specific thing we’re working on. The space to go on crazy hikes and go on adventures together, and then coming back home and dropping into some more engineering. My friends are people who I believe have integrity, a sense of right and wrong, and a creative playfulness.

things = ultimately, I want to build software that helps people be more human. Whether that’s communicating in a richer way with one another, understanding oneself in a deeper way through introspection or by having one’s creativity nurtured and explored and prompted. Or helping a group of people coordinate to create something together, to express some truth about who they are together.

I want to push the edges of what’s possible with computers; these phones we carry around with us, and the emerging networked mediums and surfaces we have to play with each day. And I want to do this with people I admire and love, in service of us and other builders, artists, sensemakers, and fellow human beings.

I want us to remember that technology is encoded philosophy and the way we think about what we are building will be felt by the people using it.

On funding such an endeavor #

How do we pay for food and housing while we do this? I see two viable routes:

  1. Make enough money outside the primary focus so it doesn’t need a direct connection to market right away (subsidy, sponsorship, client and contract work, grant models).

    • This is potentially problematic because the incentives aren’t aligned well: who makes the money to let the focus exist, and who builds the focus itself? What happens when the funding dries up or obtains certain stipulations for what it can be spent on that don’t align to the philosophical definition of the focus? It’s hard to get people to pay for something that used to be free.

    • The benefit of this approach however is having a level of separation from market, until the idea is established enough instead of trying to look for that from day 1.

  2. Integrate relationship to market from day 1 (monthly subscription, freemium, exit to community, pooled revenue models).

    • Incentives are more aligned here in the sense that the people who are benefitting from and excited about the focus, can offer a literal vote of support to sustain development and its existence. They become invested backers and have staked a tangible amount of value for the value they obtain from this creation.

    • Where this becomes tricky is if the builders get more concerned with the MRR growth over the development of the focus itself.

Other models exist out there. Can a group of friends be funded together? How do we build a modern XEROX Park for social tech? Token distributions can launch products and fund teams. So too can weird experimental art collective drops. We have the gamut of cooperative structures to collaborate within and worlds we can’t conceive of awaiting us.

Where to next? #

I’ve experienced this reality in streaks and bursts, at various times throughout the past 7 years. Sometimes it was part of a venture backed startup with friends I lived with. Others, a passion project spawned from bumping into someone on twitter during the height of the pandemic. All of them happened by playing higher and higher stakes games of playful emergent good-faith collaboration and sharing what we find together.

Each time I get on a call to help a friend to share a brain on some engineering task or ask someone for some feedback and notes on something I’m building, I see glimpses of it. When we go from seeing the sketches of an idea in our minds to having something tangible in our palms, I feel it. Every time we ship something and we each get a dose of knowledge about the world, ourselves, and each other.

If we’re going to stumble through the desert on our way to somewhere and something, why not go together?

If you’re building something that doesn’t fit the traditional models of venture capital or open source and want someone to share a brain with, let’s talk. I’m happy to lend a technical lens with a focus on community engagement and governance.

thanks to all the wonderful friends I get to build with every day. I want to ride the spice worms with you all. <3

see also:

I dream of being able to work with many people working on different areas in this space—from the base level protocols and infrastructure to speculative interfaces and provocative multimedia art—to dedicate myself to the questions that won’t get raised otherwise, to question ingrained expectations about the ways we’re allowed to relate to one another in digital spaces, to fight for all the humanity that the internet represents.

Spencer Chang: One Year of Independence