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From the Eric Ries Show:

Lessons From Co-Founding Facebook, And Now Asana | Dustin Moskovitz
Listen on:

Welcome to The Eric Ries Show. I sat down with Dustin Moskovitz, founder of not one but two iconic companies: Facebook and the collaborative work platform Asana. Needless to say, he’s engaged in the most intense form of entrepreneurship there is. A huge part of what he’s chosen to do with the hard-earned knowledge it gave him is dedicate himself and Asana to investing in employees’ mental health, communication skills, and more. All of this matters to Dustin on a human level, but he also explains why putting people first is the only way to get the kind of results most founders can only dream of. We talked about how to get into that flow state, why preserving culture is crucial, his leadership style and how he decides when to be hands-on versus when to delegate, and how Asana reflects what he’s learned about supporting people at all levels.

Dustin sums up the work Asana does this way: “Our individual practices are meant to restore coherence for the individual, our team practices are meant to restore coherence for the team, and Asana, the system, is meant to try and do it for the entire organization.” I’m delighted to share our conversation, which also covers:

• How he uses AI and views its future

• Why he founded a collaboration platform

• How he applied the lessons of Facebook to building Asana

• Why taking care of your mental health as a founder is crucial for the company as a whole

• His thoughts on the evolution of Facebook

• The importance of alignment with investors

• His philanthropic work

• And so much more

Brought to you by:

Mercury – The art of simplified finances. Learn more.

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Where to find Dustin Moskovitz:

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmoskov/

• Threads: ​​https://www.threads.net/@moskov

• Asana: https://asana.com/leadership#moskovitz

Where to find Eric:

• Newsletter: https://ericries.carrd.co/

• Podcast: https://ericriesshow.com/

• X: https://twitter.com/ericries

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eries/

• YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@theericriesshow

In This Episode We Cover:

(00:00) Welcome to the Eric Ries Show

(00:31) Meet our guest Dustin Moskovitz

(04:02) How Dustin is using AI for creative projects

(05:31) Dustin talks about the social media and SaaS era and his Facebook days

(06:52) How Facebook has evolved from its original intention

(10:27) The founding of Asana

(14:35) Building entrepreneurial confidence

(19:22) Making – and fixing – design errors at Asana

(20:32) The importance of committing to “soft” values.

(25:27) Short-term profit over people and terrible advice from VCs

(28:44) Crypto as a caricature of extractive behavior

(30:47) The positive impacts of doing things with purpose

(34:24) How Asana is ensuring its purpose and mission are permanently enshrined in the company

(41:35) Battling entropy and meeting culture

(44:31) Being employee-centric, the flow state, and Asana’s strategy

(47:51) The organizational equivalent of repressing emotions

(52:57) Dustin as a Cassandra

(56:51) Dustin talks about his philanthropic work and philosophy: Open Philanthropy, Good Ventures

(1:02:05) Dustin’s thoughts on AI and its future

(1:07:20) Ethics, calculated risk, and thinking long-term

Referenced:

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email jordan@penname.co

Eric may be an investor in the companies discussed.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:00:00):
No matter how well you're doing, people will tell you you're not and that you're about to fail. So even when I was leaving in 2008, the narrative was like-

Eric Ries (00:00:09):
Oh, I remember.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:00:10):
Yeah. It was like, this is a fad. It's going to be replaced by these other up and comers, later Snapchat came around. And so that gave me some armor going into entrepreneurship the second time of like, oh yeah, everyone's going to tell me it's a terrible idea, it's never going to work. And I just have to judge for myself and judge with the founder.

Eric Ries (00:00:30):
[00:00:30] Welcome to the Eric Ries Show. Today I sit down with my longtime friend, Dustin Moskovitz, one of the founders of Facebook and Asana. Founding Facebook would be enough entrepreneurial success for many of us, but Dustin didn't stop there. He created the company Asana, maybe the leading project management software tool in the world. In its own way, both Facebook and Asana defined an entire era of technology startups. First, the social media era, and the SaaS era. [00:01:00] And in addition to his success as an entrepreneur, Dustin has become a significant philanthropist, working behind the scenes on countless causes, significant and many obscure. You may not know it, but you owe a lot to Dustin.

(00:01:13):
In this episode, Dustin and I have a wide-ranging conversation. We talk about what he's learned as an entrepreneur, how he took what he learned from Facebook and applied it to Asana, how he's built an incredible team-first employee-centric culture, how he manages his own mental health [00:01:30] while running a publicly traded company, even what he thinks of Facebook's current state, how he's built a value-driven culture, what he sees next in AI, and so much more. I'm really excited to share this conversation with Dustin Moskovitz.

(00:01:44):
I've started a lot of companies and I've helped a lot more people start companies too, and therefore, I've had a lot of banks and a lot of bank accounts. And so I'm really delighted that this episode is brought to you by Mercury, the company I trust for startup banking. Every time someone on my team uses [00:02:00] their Mercury Link debit card, I get an email with the details. And just that little bit of financial intelligence always in my inbox gives me a much clearer understanding of what we're spending. That's what Mercury is like through all its financial workflows. They're all powered by the bank account. Everything's automatic. And for those of us that remember the recent banking crisis, Mercury was there for a lot of startups who needed them. They've since launched features like Mercury Treasury and Mercury Vault with up to $5 million in FDIC insurance through their partner [00:02:30] bank and their sweep networks.

(00:02:32):
Certain conditions must be satisfied for pass through FDIC Insurance to apply. Apply in minutes at mercury.com, and join over 100,000 ambitious startups that trust Mercury to get them performing at their best. Mercury, the art of simplified Finances. Mercury is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group and Evolve Bank & Trust members, FDIC. This episode [00:03:00] is brought to you by DigitalOcean, the Cloud loved by developers and founders alike. Developing and deploying applications can be tough, but it doesn't have to be. Scaling a startup can be a painful road, but it doesn't have to be. When you have the right cloud infrastructure, you can skip the complexity and focus on what matters most.

(00:03:19):
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(00:03:51):
Dustin, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming on.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:03:53):
Absolutely. It's great to see you, Eric.

Eric Ries (00:03:55):
Always a fun time. Might you start by telling me about, you've been doing an interesting creative project [00:04:00] with AI recently? Let's start with that.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:04:03):
Sure. I've actually been doing a number of creative projects with AI, and feel like I kind of have this new access to a bunch of creative tools that weren't available to me before, including things like Midjourney and Dali, that allowed me to actually draw and paint and just a skill I didn't have at all, but especially with writing. And so there are a lot of workflows I do day-to-day, where [00:04:30] I take just some ideas and I jot out some bullet points and then I work with an AI to build it out into a strategy memo or discussion doc.

(00:04:39):
And it's particularly good at the more generative creative aspects. So I am talking about Asana functionality and then I want a customer use case. We struggle a lot with that, or at least I do. Partially because I know some, but maybe I don't have permission to talk about them, or I know our internal Asana use cases, but [00:05:00] you don't want to talk about your own use cases, you want to talk about somebody else's, and Claude can just do a better job within those constraints and give you something pretty rich and detailed.

Eric Ries (00:05:09):
Okay. So let me take you back, because frankly, there aren't that many people on this planet that have started a multi-billion-dollar company, let alone two of them. And I want to just, first of all, I would like to just give you a chance to reflect on that process. You've been at this long enough. I don't know what it feels like where people are trying to talk [00:05:30] to me, especially AI founders talk to me about the social media era and how it went and the SaaS era and how it went. How does it feel to have been a leader of iconic companies now? You've at this long enough that multiple of these companies have become iconic companies, define an entire era of entrepreneurship.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:05:46):
Yeah. It is really interesting because my story is people kind of project on this idea that I've been at Facebook for 20 years and then I recently started Asana. And the reality is there was a bush [00:06:00] in the White House the last time I worked in Facebook. And so that was a much different company than we have now. It was just at the very beginning of newsfeed, but well before... Maybe an Instagram acquisition was right as I was leaving, but before Instagram and WhatsApp and Oculus. The empire that has since been built is totally after my time. And even in the last year I was at Facebook, I was working on internal communication tools and not product. [00:06:30] So it's a little weird to get credit for building that behemoth, when really I built a particular app that was important and is honestly not even that important to their strategy anymore. And then almost my entire career has been building Asana. And so I think of myself as a SaaS CEO first and foremost who used to do stuff in consumer.

Eric Ries (00:06:51):
I got to ask, how do you feel about how the empire has unfolded, if you think about the original intention the founders had for Facebook and [00:07:00] what it's become?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:07:01):
Yeah, it's interesting. There are a lot of things I really quite love. It's no secret I'm a big fan of Threads, for example. And I think in some ways, I think Threads will do a better job of realizing the real potential of the vision we had at the beginning of a global connected community. Whereas Facebook ended up more in little silos. I think most of the activity that still exists [00:07:30] on Facebook happens in groups, so it's a lot more Reddit than people understand. They go to their newsfeed and they're like, "Where's all the content?" Well, it's in the groups. And there are a lot of groups that are actually quite good and active, but it's not the same thing as the one global conversation like people experienced at Twitter. And I think that's quite valuable, and some of the most interesting conversations I've ever had were there.

(00:07:52):
Now we're seeing that rebuilt at Threads. I'm just like, "This is phenomenal. Thank you, Zach, thank you team for building this." So that's really great. [00:08:00] I really love the Quest. I know there's a lot of strong opinions on it, but I think it's just a quite good device, and I've been able to do valuable things with it like starting to learn to play piano. Quest AR stuff I think is really cool. And then of course there's been a lot of controversy and it's been tough watching that. In a lot of cases I think Facebook is misunderstood, in a lot of cases I think they're really just running up against the reality [00:08:30] of having something really powerful that has consequences that are hard to predict and hard to manage. And so that's been tough to watch. I can see it both ways. Mostly I think the problems are really big and really hard, and they do a pretty good job with them considering.

Eric Ries (00:08:50):
I've heard you say that because opinion about them is so polarized, they're in a lot of no-win situations.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:08:57):
Yeah,. Yeah, totally. So a lot of the [00:09:00] controversies that we're talking about are about content moderation. And there can be a feeling reading the news of everyone disagrees with Facebook, and therefore it's obvious what Facebook should do. And there's a trick going on there, because actually everyone disagrees with Facebook in different directions. Some people want more content moderation, some people want less. And so there's not actually anything they could do that would resolve that. And right now, they're just kind of somewhere in the middle. And it's multidimensional. [00:09:30] There can be Pareto efficient wins and things like that. I think they look for them, but mostly I think they're caught between a rock and a hard place. And Congress doesn't agree on what they should do in the public, and it's because the public doesn't agree either. And I don't think people appreciate quite how difficult a situation that is as a company.

Eric Ries (00:09:48):
So Asana is another one of these overnight successes 10 years in the making, where you've been working on it longer than people realize. And I wonder if you could tuck us back to the founding of Asana. [00:10:00] You had, had the experience of the rocket ship of Facebook and the lessons that you learned from that, and you got your chance to really start from scratch with a new company, new ethos, new philosophy, all those learnings pile into it. So just tell us a little bit about the story of how you started the company and what in particular you had in mind as your intention for what you wanted the company to become?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:10:21):
Oh, yeah. This is a big question. We have to unpack it into a few.

Eric Ries (00:10:25):
No problem.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:10:26):
So the founding of Asana starts with [00:10:30] Justin and I solving the problems of collaboration inside our own teams. And there's a history of him doing that at Google before he came to Facebook. And then when he came to Facebook, we started collaborating on it to help coordinate, especially the R&D teams of Facebook, but also teams across the entire company. And we ended up building a number of internal tools for this, one of which was effectively a collaborative work management system like Asana, but there were also other things. I built performance management system, [00:11:00] discussion and decision-making tool, a suite of ideas. And we came to feel that what we call the task system was the most interesting of these and the most novel, and that we had implemented it in a different way. And at the time, there were a couple competitors, there was Track, Basecamp, Jira, but they're still pretty new. This is like 2006, 2007.

(00:11:28):
And so vast majority [00:11:30] of people just use spreadsheets and documents and whiteboards and meetings and long email threads. And this database way of thinking about communication really changed what was possible and how effective it was and how you could align around shared sorts of truth about who was doing what by when. So we eventually decided this was not a Facebook-specific thing, this was a universal problem, [00:12:00] and we left Facebook to build it out for real. So we didn't take that internal tool, we just started over and thought about the basic vision of trying to make collaboration as effortless as possible. And that led to the product vision, but it also led us to think a lot about corporate culture and what makes the softer parts of collaboration effortless as well. Because a lot of it is just the messiness of human communication and conflict.

(00:12:30):
[00:12:30] And so we not only sat down and thought about product design architecture and things like that, but also things like our values and investing in communication practices like nonviolent communication from Marshall Rosenberg. Honestly, I mean, we recruited you as an advisor, because we wanted to adopt Lean Startup methodology. We cared a lot. One of the things that Facebook did really well I think was a focus on leverage, which I think comes across in Lean Startup, and [00:13:00] so that became a big part of how we thought is what is the most impactful thing we could be doing with our time and with the product and with our purpose. And just tried to start building a culture that was built to last because we were trying to engage with all of that stuff head on, and then using some of the product principles to reinforce it. So for example, we work with [00:13:30] Conscious Leadership Group.

Eric Ries (00:13:33):
They're great.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:13:34):
Yeah, they're great. So they have a bunch of practices for how teams collaborate, and one of them is just having clarity around decision rights, which is similar to clarity around ownership. And also the inverse of that is taking responsibility for things. And so one of the outcomes you get in Asana is if you use it this way is you have very clear assignment, and [00:14:00] you have very clear due dates, and that creates a clear expectation between you and your manager about what's expected. And a lot of the conflict that happens in those peer-wise relationships is just as simple as that. "I thought you were going to do this thing by Friday and you didn't. I thought this was the priority and you did something else instead." And so just by using Asana, you can kind of avoid some of those landmines. And then if you hit them, then we'll also try and help you with the communication aspect of it. And only some of that exists [00:14:30] in Asana right now, but I have plans to build in quite a lot more.

Eric Ries (00:14:33):
Oh, yeah. What I think characterized that approach was just a very unusually long-term perspective about what you were trying to do, which I think reflected a certain confidence that you and Justin had, that these things were not going to be a distraction, but were going to be the foundation for a really strong company. And I'm just curious where that confidence came from and if you ever had doubts about it as you were doing it?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:14:57):
Has an entrepreneur ever had doubts? "No, [00:15:00] Eric. Just have one foot in front of the other."

Eric Ries (00:15:04):
It's like I read in that book or that TV show or in the movie, everything just works out.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:15:09):
Yeah. Well, I'll answer the question about is a distraction second. But one of the lessons I took away from Facebook is that no matter how well you're doing, people will tell you you're not and that you're about to fail. So even when I was leaving in 2008, the narrative was like-

Eric Ries (00:15:28):
Oh, I remember.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:15:29):
Yeah. It [00:15:30] was like, "This is a fad. It's going to be replaced by these other up-and-comers." Later Snapchat came around. Even in 2012 around the IPO, it was like there's this huge dip and it's always the end of Facebook. Now, 20 years on, they seem to be seen as a going concern. And so that gave me some armor going into entrepreneurship the second time of like, "Oh yeah, everyone's going to tell me it's a terrible idea. It's never going to work. And I just have to judge for [00:16:00] myself and judge with the founder." But I take for granted that, that will not match reality. It's just going to happen regardless. So yeah, I think a lot of the hard work of entrepreneurship is really managing your own psychology. This is something like Ben Horowitz says I think, it's the number one job of CEO, and I think that's right.

(00:16:21):
And so I also think a lot about how you integrate work into your life in healthy ways and have boundaries [00:16:30] and just try and invest a lot of time into my own physical health and mental health, because it's the easiest way for the company to die. It's like I burn out or I get discouraged and my psychology kind of gets the better of me. So that's just really critical. And then why did we have confidence? Well, for one, we had seen a prototype system deployed and we saw it working and we saw how good it was.

Eric Ries (00:16:56):
Yeah. [inaudible 00:16:58]

Dustin Moskovitz (00:16:57):
And I think that's just something a lot of entrepreneurs don't [00:17:00] get to have, but it's really nice if you can. It's like basically we proved product market fit before we started the company. Core-related product, again, not the same code, not the same URI.

Eric Ries (00:17:14):
Not to give you conviction.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:17:16):
Yeah, not to give us conviction. And then why would it not be a distraction? So we had a really important design principle based on our observation of the other tools, which was this had to be not only the team collaboration product, [00:17:30] but also the individual productivity platform. Because what was happening is a system, some of the older systems and some of the systems today, they're just too high friction to get a piece of work into the system. And so you only do it when you have a big enough piece of work to warrant it. You're like building a house, and so then you need Gantt charts, and this results in basically having a centralized project management team [00:18:00] that is running those systems, and then everyone else has something else. They've got a legal pan on their desk, they've got sticky nuts on their monitor, they've got a VIM file if they're an engineer. And the PMO is basically trying to synchronize that status information into the centralized repository. And then it's always out of date.

(00:18:18):
They've got it for one minute when they first hear it directly from the engineer, and then they've got to talk to the engineer again to get a status update. But Asana is built to be your personal [00:18:30] command center. It opens up into my tasks, not into the team page or the project page. And we had a design goal of faster than Notepad, faster than them. Which sounds hard, because they're just text boxes. But you can enter a line into Asana, press enter, enter a new line, press enter. And then something you can't do in those text editors is you can reorder them with keyboard shortcuts, you can select multiple and do batch actions, like adding a follower, changing the due date or assignee. [00:19:00] And so that's how you get to faster than notepad for an individual productivity system. And then as a byproduct, you're collaborating with people, you're able to organize it into projects and portfolios and goals. You get this shared collaborative structure. It's also a problem, by the way, in a lot of the document systems, is people are reinventing their hierarchy and fighting over it.

Eric Ries (00:19:18):
Oh, yeah.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:19:19):
Yeah. And Asana breaks out of that.

Eric Ries (00:19:20):
Well, I remember even the early days, and I wonder if this is still true, one of the hard things about getting people to try Asana, and I'm sure there's people who are listening who have tried it because they think they know what [00:19:30] a task management system is and they know it's bad and cumbersome and annoying. And it's actually very challenging to explain that once you try something where the fit and finish with the attention to detail is as it should be, where speed and the single player mode is really good. People don't go back after they've made that switch, but getting them to switch initially is kind of a challenge.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:19:51):
Yeah, that's totally right. And in fact, we screwed it up, because we misbuilt our architecture at the beginning, and had to rebuild it in kind of the 2015 to 2017 timeframe. [00:20:00] And so we were not meeting the design principle for a while and it was very sad.

Eric Ries (00:20:04):
Do you remember how frustrating that was?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:20:07):
Yeah, it's frustrating. And so we lost some customers then, and I'm sure we lost a lot of first impressions that we made poorly. And so if you used Asana then and it felt slow to you, I definitely encourage you to come back and try again.

Eric Ries (00:20:18):
Yeah, give it another try really. It really is quite an engineering accomplishment and a design accomplishment, apart from its other many virtues.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:20:26):
Yeah, thank you.

Eric Ries (00:20:26):
The reason I was asking about the distraction and the commitment [00:20:30] to those values from the beginning is I think there's kind of a narrative floating around in entrepreneurial circles that doing the nice stuff, the soft values, treating people with respect, being responsible, being a trustworthy counterparty, it's almost like that's wishy-washy or it's like almost like that's for nonprofits. If you want to really compete and create value, you should be a ruthless exploiter. And there's kind of like a macho, I don't know, squash buckling ethos about work as hard as you can, work your people into the ground. [00:21:00] That's how you create value. That's how you make money. And anyone who's talking about something else doesn't understand that. And you've obviously built Asana a totally different way.

(00:21:10):
And what's interesting to me is I don't... It's a very heart-centered approach, the very compassionate approach, but I don't really see it as a weak approach. In fact, it's been an incredibly value-creating approach. And I don't know that you could have sustained this level of ambition and therefore some of the things you're talking about took a really long time to build out and to accomplish. I don't think it [00:21:30] would've been possible if you had gone the conventional way. So I'm curious how you react to this idea that treating people with respect, taking your responsibility seriously is a sign of weakness or somehow takes away from value creation?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:21:42):
Yeah. I think that's the right way to think about this... Is it Simon Sinek that wrote the Infinite Game?

Eric Ries (00:21:48):
Yeah. We'll have a link in the show notes, don't worry.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:21:50):
Okay. These are repeated interactions. And so you can be successful in the short run, but eventually your reputation catches up. [00:22:00] I am surprised how long it can take, but there has been a lot of eventual justice and eventual karma lately. And I think we can improve on how long it takes too. I think this is partly a journalism issue, it's partly a governance issue. But ultimately, people eventually see who is a good and trustworthy business partner and who isn't. So for example, there was recently a well-known company that went through an acquisition. And post acquisition, the new owner stopped paying vendors. [00:22:30] Just like existing legal contracts, there's no ambiguity about whether they continue to need to be paid by the new owner. And I saw this as a vendor and said, "Well, that's crazy. Why would we give advanced terms to a company like that, at least until they show that they're able to operate more normally?" Which then eventually happened.

(00:22:52):
And so that's a very quick cycle of there are consequences if you don't honor your contracts. Another one from the same company [00:23:00] is they violated the severance agreements of the old employees. And so now, if you're a new employee signing, you shouldn't trust those contracts at all. They don't mean anything. And so maybe that's fine. Maybe the company doesn't care about the employee trusting, but I think it has real consequences for them when you're trying to compensate them with employee equity especially. Because if it's a private company [00:23:30] for example, and you have constraints on whether they can sell on secondary model markets, if they're an alumni versus a current employee, then I think it is rational for those people to be like, "I should just assume this equity doesn't exist. Only my cash comp exists. If I get lucky, I'll be able to turn the equity into liquidity."

(00:23:48):
And I think a lot of companies in the 2010s were doing this in other ways. They're just staying private for 15 or 20 years and had transfer restrictions and all that stuff. [00:24:00] And if you don't meet employees on the other side with the commitment of like, yeah, we're restricting you, but we're going to help you get the liquidity that you were promised because this is part of your compensation, then eventually it becomes really hard for you to hire that next round of people. And the pressure is building and people are discounting their compensation. And the way you're going to have to fix that in the short run is with cash, which will create a burn problem. So basically, these are all various stories and how I think it's short-sighted to operate that way, [00:24:30] but the lesson that some people have taken away is if it works well, it works, and you can fool some of the people a lot of the time.

(00:24:40):
And that's very frustrating for me to see that it sees as much as it does, but I see how the reputation builds and how it becomes a problem and how you get into a corner where all of a sudden you need a $400 million bond and nobody trusts you with that kind of thing. And it can cause much bigger problems for [00:25:00] you. I don't know if you know what that reference is about.

Eric Ries (00:25:02):
Yeah. We're [inaudible 00:25:04] there. But yes, I do. Okay. Yes, I know exactly all these stories you're referring to, but I feel like we'll let that go.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:25:13):
Or say $10 billion to bail out your auto company.

Eric Ries (00:25:19):
Karma is real. But, I guess, apart from there's the negative side of you burn your reputation,. And I've had plenty of VCs especially tell me so what? [00:25:30] As long as we cash out before the reckoning, it's still a good business model. I had somebody, a very prominent VC tell me the other day that their explicit advice they give to entrepreneurs is squeeze all the value out you can before you take your company public, and let the public have the burned out husk because once you go public, your ability to innovate. And it was just a very sociopathic antisocial perspective. But also, I don't think it's really good advice if your goal is to really accomplish something in this world. Yes, you could make [00:26:00] money in the short term, but I think it's funny you mentioned founder mental health as a critical responsibility.

(00:26:06):
I know, I'm sure you do too, quite a lot of people who have had nominal success with their entrepreneurial career, made quite a lot of money and are totally miserable because of the compromises that they had to make along the way. So maybe talk a little bit about the positive side of this. That's the negative side of if you do this, if you behave in this short-term way, you're going to regret it. But talk a little bit about for Asana and for other companies [00:26:30] that you've counseled or invested in, talk about the ways in which trustworthiness is an asset that allows you to accomplish your goals.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:26:38):
Yeah. Well, let's go there, but I just want to understand the VC thing. You said it's not a good strategy if your goal is to accomplish something, but is their goal that?

Eric Ries (00:26:48):
No, clearly not. He's definitely very much like, listen, if I get my money in and out, I mean this person made a fortune on crypto, you won't be surprised to know, on projects that ultimately delivered [00:27:00] no value to the world. But they got in and got out with good timing, and they're every day praising the press for they're savvy for pulling off this deception. But, I guess, the founders that they're counseling, I think generally have different goals. For sure you have the occasional scam, like true scam artists who come to the entrepreneurial fold. But most founders that I meet have some kind of sincere desire to accomplish something with their life. And they've started a company not just to make money or maybe not even primarily to make money, but because as you did, they [00:27:30] see there's a problem with the way that work is done by human beings and have a vision that could be better. And so for them to sacrifice that vision on the altar of a quick buck is actually kind of painful to watch and leads to a lot of regret.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:27:44):
Yeah, totally. Well, you just have to keep in mind that they have misaligned incentives with these VCs, because the VCs only care about what happens up to the IPO. These VCs, that's not true of all VCs.

Eric Ries (00:27:52):
Yeah. The very best ones, certainly not.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:27:54):
Yeah. And so as an entrepreneur, you should not take what they're saying at face value. It's not necessarily good advice for you. [00:28:00] And I also think there's a problem where you don't necessarily know how your VC is going to act until you are a public company. And in the meantime, they've raised four funds and forwarding generations of companies. And so again, there's this reputational issue of the facts don't come out until very late and it's kind of too late for it to feed back into self-correcting the system. And I hope it eventually does, but I don't know for [00:28:30] sure.And again, I think there is a role for the legal system here. Crypto is like... What's the word for comical drawing?

Eric Ries (00:28:43):
Caricature.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:28:43):
Yeah, caricature. Yeah. Crypto is a caricature of the sociopathic behavior, just totally extractive. I heard there was a new crypto offering where they literally said they were going to rug pole at the beginning. And it spiked like 40%. And you're [00:29:00] like, great, we want to be in on that rug pull. And it's like nobody's trying to do anything here, create value.

Eric Ries (00:29:07):
We read from these prospectuses. There's one obviously in the news at the moment where it's the prospectus is just like we intend to defraud our investors and fleece them for their money. And it's like somehow we've lost the thread that because the scam is being disclosed, it's okay. I think we've actually gotten really confused in our governance of our society [00:29:30] about what are we trying to accomplish with these businesses?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:29:33):
Yeah. And so I think this is a legal issue. I think most reasonable people would be like, "This is predatory behavior. It should be illegal, just like certain kinds of telemarketing." And that will happen. And there may be a lot more of that kind of legal nuance that we should be exploring like with SPACs. And I'm hopeful, but it won't happen quickly. [00:30:00] So crypto is the most perverse version of this. And I'm in two minds on the psychology part, because I do worry that some of these people are genuinely sociopaths in the psychological sense, in which case they don't actually feel guilt and remorse. That's the definition. And so I'm not convinced they retire and lament how they wasted their career or anything like [00:30:30] that and feel bad about it. Maybe they're just sociopaths. But if you're not a sociopath, that is going to happen. You're going to feel guilty.

Eric Ries (00:30:37):
Yeah.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:30:38):
And so you should be careful not to use sociopaths as role models, because they may actually be a different kind of human than you. And so if you're a more normal human, there are many positive mental health aspects to doing things with purpose. In fact, I have felt this even in the past few weeks where I was [00:31:00] unsure about the Asana vision. I directionally knew where we were going and I was excited about it and trying things, but then the past few weeks, it just all crystallized and became super clear what was important. And that has been so useful for me, because now I'm going into meetings and I'm just like, "This is not the important thing. I'm going to leave." I delegate more roadmap ideas come up, and I'm just like, "That's a good idea, but it's not as good as this other idea, and so we're not going to do it." [00:31:30] And it's just become a lot easier and a lot easier for my health. I'm just not second guessing everything.

Eric Ries (00:31:42):
It's a great time when you have it, that clarity.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:31:42):
Yeah, it's a great feeling when you have it. And then actually having the collaboration be effortless is also a great feeling, because the work about work is part of what makes work miserable. And so a big part of our vision was improving the individual subjective experiences of knowledge workers at work. And I think we're [00:32:00] really living up to it and have a lot more that we can do. And I think that will have positive mental health aspects for people. Hope it doesn't make it easier for the sociopaths to collaborate. We can talk about how to address that as well. But yeah, so there's a lot of personal benefits to clarity of purpose. There's also obviously a lot of personal and interpersonal benefits to being able to communicate well and resolve conflict and not have that be [00:32:30] a thing that's between you and is an energy vampire in every conversation.

(00:32:36):
And honestly, so we work with Conscious Leadership Group at Asana, and also basically I work with it in my marriage. Carrie is quite trained on it, and it's just like our natural language for working through conflict. Are you above the line, below the line? Are we on the Jama Triangle right now? And our marriage has never been better. It's great. Yeah. So just a lot of positive benefits I think from being [00:33:00] well-grounded and having coherence to your culture and values and integrity. I think part of what happens psychologically is anxiety comes from that de-coherence, like something in my brain isn't fitting well with something else in my brain. And so our individual practices are meant to restore coherence for the individual, and our team practices are meant to restore coherence for the team, and Asana the system is meant to try and do it for the entire organization.

Eric Ries (00:33:28):
Yeah. It's really interesting you pick [00:33:30] those two words, coherence and integrity. Because when I've been developing this new theory of corporate governance, we've obviously talked about it many times, to really put human flourishing at the center of the purpose of a corporation. And one of the things I've noticed is that people are really confused about what the purpose of governance is. What are we trying to accomplish when a company is well governed? And there's even people who think governance and operations are like two separate and separable disciplines. And so you get these really incoherent outcomes. So to me, those are the two critical dimensions [00:34:00] at that organization level of a well-functioning culture and a well-designed governance system is that coherence. We have alignment of the stakeholders, alignment between employees and customers. Our business model is aligned with our customers' best interests. The economics are aligned with what our investors seek. And so we've kind of built our own little bubble of utopia that we're trying to grow and expand.

(00:34:22):
A nice thing about the bubble of Utopia is that when the company is successful, we literally transmute more of the world into utopia. We actually make the world [00:34:30] better, not in some abstract activist way, but in the way of we literally transform it into a different form of human relations. And integrity is simply the dimension to which we can be influenced or not knocked off course by outside factors. Think of it like structural integrity as well as personal integrity. The promises we make are kept, and even if you had to take an extended absence, if you were ill or something, God forbid, the company would preserve its purpose and mission. It wouldn't just fall apart at the first sign of adversity. [00:35:00] And so I'm curious if you can talk a little bit about the steps you've taken as a leader to structure the company such that it has both coherence and integrity.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:35:10):
So one thing is we have the Asana map for the work. And so this literal thing you're talking about of someone leaves or perhaps someone joins, what normally happens if you're not using a system like Asana is that they go through an onboarding process and might go to lectures, and then they have a manager or mentor that's showing [00:35:30] them the work. And it's easy to just have a lot of things lost in translation there, and your onboarding materials go out a dates and things like that. In the Asana world, you come into the team workspace and you can see just like, here are the goals, here's the next milestone, here's what my teammates are working on.

(00:35:49):
And so it's much easier to jump in without having to create some new starter project on the side so you have your own little sandbox to learn in. [00:36:00] And then similarly, when somebody leaves, hopefully it's a mutual conversation and they hand off work, but inevitably they're going to hand off work in the form of just reassigning tasks. And then all that history of the prior conversations and the assets and how decisions were made is all right there. And it's there not only for the stuff they're working on, but anything in the company. And so you can be a new employee at Asana and you can just go splunking in 2014 conversations.

Eric Ries (00:36:27):
That's so fascinating.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:36:27):
And see how our values [00:36:30] came to be and what they... B six of them, what was the B two, and reconstruct any decision you want. And then of course we also have a heavy Google Doc and discussion culture, and same thing, just less structured. And that's part of what we do too is in recruiting, you want people to really rock the company, not because they need to homogeneously fit into it, but they need to be compatible. And then there will be [00:37:00] some self... What's the word?

Eric Ries (00:37:04):
Self select.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:37:04):
Yeah, self-selection into trying to make the company a bit more like itself because people are joining who are like it. But it's not going to really be like that because there's still going to be heterogeneity and people coming from different cultures and bringing in their own practices. So we're always evolving, but we want to be continuing to evolve in a continuously coherent way as much as we can. And also, I have a pretty [00:37:30] strong point of view that a lot of companies try and resist. So I often get the question, how do you scale your culture?

(00:37:35):
And I'm just like, I'm not trying to scale this culture. I just want to actively steer it, but we should embrace the change. In fact, we recently hired some new go-to-market executives from Salesforce, and there's been a lot of fear internally about that, are we going to become more like Salesforce? And I'm like, "Yeah, that was the point. They know the things we don't." [00:38:00] And it's just a different mindset to evolve in culture, but you have to be very grounded in what is most important to preserve? Well, your mission, your values, everything else I think is scaffolding, basically.

Eric Ries (00:38:12):
How do you preserve those things?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:38:17):
Well, it's the same things we've been talking about. It's the slow boring boards, right? And so it's a lot of storytelling and a lot of correcting, and maybe you have to correct bad hires or [00:38:30] a manager director makes an exception somewhere that was out of line with the values and you got to not let that cut scar. It's easy for things to set precedent, and then all of a sudden, one manager made an exception here to or values or a policy, and other managers see that's a thing you can do .and you got to pick your battles, but some of those battles are very much worth fighting.

Eric Ries (00:38:55):
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(00:40:02):
I'm going to make sure I give credit to the right person. I can't remember now who I originally heard this concept for, but there's this idea called the culture bank. Basically, we want to create a strong culture. You have to adopt a very simple rule, which is there's going to be these moments in the company's life when somebody has to make a decision that's for the customer's benefit at the expense of the company, or has some short-term pain, some sacrifice in defense of a value. And whenever you do that, that's like you're making a deposit [00:40:30] in the culture bank. But you do the reverse, it's like you're making withdrawal. And a simple advice that he gave me was only make deposits, never make withdrawals.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:40:40):
I thought you were going to say, just have a surplus.

Eric Ries (00:40:41):
Yeah. If you just have that rule that that's never appropriate to do that, just don't do it. Of course, people still make mistakes, but it's just as an intention you say, "Look, that's how you build a strong culture." Does that resonate with you?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:40:53):
Yeah. I often tell a very similar story with respect to trust, which is like you build trust by putting [00:41:00] one ball in the jar at a time. But whenever you lose trust, you just turn the jar over and throw out all.

Eric Ries (00:41:06):
You lose all of the. Exactly right.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:41:07):
Yeah. And so there is a offense-defense imbalance here for sure.

Eric Ries (00:41:11):
I've been likening it to the flow state you can get into as an individual, extremely difficult to get into, so easy to get out of.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:41:19):
Yeah.

Eric Ries (00:41:19):
And there's an organizational version of that. Just tell me what it's like to work at a company that's in that flow state. Most people have never experienced it. You've gotten to live it for many years now.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:41:29):
Well, it's interesting, [00:41:30] because I think my subjective experience is I'm just constantly battling entropy. And so reliving it, but it's only some of the time. And I don't even have a good sense of how consistent it is. When something's happened in a meeting that I'm in, and I'm like, "Oh, wow, this was so not the flow state I wanted." I'm like, "This was with the [00:42:00] CEO. People don't even understand that they need to do it a certain way with me." What's happening in all the meetings I'm not in?

Eric Ries (00:42:07):
Oh, yeah. That's a very wise.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:42:08):
Yeah. So I don't want to be too pessimistic, but I'm like, the thing I have in mind here that I think really works against flow is readout meetings.

Eric Ries (00:42:17):
Tell us what a readout meeting is, because most companies it's the only kind meeting they have.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:42:22):
Yeah, it's the only kind of meeting you have. So somebody comes with a slide deck or document and they're basically, they're reading a bunch of facts to you. In [00:42:30] the most perverse version, they're literally reading what is on the slide verbatim. It's like the worst way to run a meeting. And I think the right way to run a meeting is you just send that as a pre-read, everybody reads it on their own. And then you have a discussion in the meeting. And the discussion is where flow happens and where progress happens. And I have been surprised how often I find myself in a readout meeting no matter how hard I push on it, and I'm just going to keep pushing on it because I think it's so important [00:43:00] and it's a big unlock. Because I also think they're slow and not having value, and there's a better way, there's a smarter way is me saying our corporate marketing.

(00:43:10):
And so I'm still motivated to fix it and also just, yeah, it's a lot. And then, yeah, when I'm in flow, it's with the people who have been here the longest, they know me the best. They know my modes of working and how to talk to me and even when to come to me with certain kinds of requests. [00:43:30] And it's like being in a great relationship or a friendship, or as Justin would say, in a band or something. We're just really in harmony with people and yeah, it feels really good. It feels like co-creation.

Eric Ries (00:43:50):
Yeah. There's been this conversation about so-called stakeholder capitalism and ESG and a lot of this stuff, it's kind of very... I think it's well-intentioned, [00:44:00] but very vague, almost like you just kind of compromise between the stakeholders. I just feel like you're like, oh yeah, a little food, a little poison. You don't want too much of one or the other. And it's like, that doesn't make sense. Whereas I feel like when you started the company, even from the very beginning had almost a fanatical devotion to your employees and their experience, just this idea that if you made that commitment to them, if you were a trustworthy employer, they would return that, they would reward the company with a lot of benefits.

(00:44:27):
So can you just talk a little bit about... [00:44:30] And I remember Asana showing up on Best Places to Work lists way earlier than most startups could ever conceivably qualify for such a thing. So you got a long track record of being very employee centric. And I always got the sense it was like, yes, it's part of your personal approach and how you would like people to be treated, but it's also a critical part of the company's strategy. So just can you talk about that?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:44:54):
Well, yeah, I think you said it earlier of I think it's good business. And so [00:45:00] when employees feel well taken care of. And also, we were talking earlier about when they have clarity of expectations from your manager, things like that, they have higher engagements, which means they have lower attrition, they do better work. One of the things Asana does is it helps you see which work is most important. So it's not just that they're doing more work or working harder, but they're working in a more focused directed way, pointed at the right goals, and you get into flow state more often. [00:45:30] Whereas if you're in a high -conflict relationship with your employees, you're in flow state less often, and you have lower engagement and higher attrition, and these things have business consequences.

Eric Ries (00:45:42):
One thing I've found talking to a lot of people steeped in conventional business culture is when I talk to them about, and I've pitched them the Asana way of working on many occasions because it's a touchstone for me in how to run a company. People often look at me and they're like, "Oh, my business is already so hard and now you want me to do extra. And [00:46:00] that sounds like it's even more, I got to do conscious communication and I got to treat my employees well, and I got to be good to my customers and create products that are actually of high quality. It seems so hard. Business is already too hard." And I often tell them, "Look, maybe you consider the possibility that maybe the reason you find business so hard is because nobody trusts you. If they trusted you, maybe you wouldn't have to over communicate 92,000 times the strategy that your employees don't even understand, let alone doesn't resonate with them at a deep level. Would you be willing [00:46:30] to try it?"

(00:46:30):
And they hear, I tell them stories about companies like Asana and others that I feel like do just have a totally different experience of being in the company. Not to say that it's easy to build a company like Asana. I know it's been quite a challenge at many times, but the problems that you experience are so different than what other people experience. You swim in that water. You may not even appreciate how rough it is out there. So I'm just wondering if that resonates with you, the idea that in some ways counterintuitively harder is easier. You hold yourself to a higher standard, [00:47:00] you make the investment to do things right, and you actually get these counterintuitive benefits that then make life easier when you're trying to accomplish something important.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:47:09):
Yeah. I think you made the whole pitch.

Eric Ries (00:47:12):
Well, thank you.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:47:13):
Yeah, no, I think that's right. And I guess I just want to start by saying the time trade-off, yeah, that was real. That's hard for us too. That's hard for me day-to-day. And so it's hard to invest in it until you've reaped of the rewards [00:47:30] and you're like, "Oh, okay, your mind learns if I do this thing, this conversation's going to go better. If I grounded goals with the team and build some buy-in the project's going to execute better."

Eric Ries (00:47:39):
Yeah, well, just like you're saying the marbles in the jar, right? It's just...

Dustin Moskovitz (00:47:43):
Yeah.

Eric Ries (00:47:43):
Yeah, totally. You keep emptying it all the time. You never find out what it's like to have a full jar.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:47:47):
Totally. And I think this, again, I like to relate the team psychology and the personal psychology. This is really at the root of a lot of anxiety and actually lower back pain too. I don't know if you know the Sarno [00:48:00] stuff. But basically, a lot of anxiety and back pain comes from people not feeling their feelings and repressing emotion. And the Sarno theory is basically your body is trying to express this thing, and it's doing it by constricting your oxygen flow in your lower back. And the way that I solved my back pain, well, I did multiple things, but one of them, and the way I've heard from a lot of other people is basically [00:48:30] just by doing the inner work and processing my emotions and feeling my feelings all the way through. I was actually having this experience a few weeks ago where some stuff was happening in the world, my life, and I was just in a really bad place, kind of burnt out and just spent a weekend just fully dedicated to, I did a long meditation.

(00:48:56):
I probably haven't meditated in six months, but I did a 40-minute meditation, [00:49:00] did some yoga, and did some emotional work, which we won't get into, and just felt so much better after. I just needed to lean into it rather than try and work around it or compartmentalize. And I think the same is true for teams. They're compartmentalizing their conflict and that's causing lower back pain from them.

Eric Ries (00:49:28):
Yeah. The organizational equivalent of those [00:49:30] pains is very severe. You get used to it, you don't even realize that it's there anymore.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:49:36):
Yep.

Eric Ries (00:49:36):
I appreciate you being so honest, and you always have been in your leadership style just about the spiritual dimension, the interpersonal dimension of work. And I'll be just really honest. When I first encountered these ideas and that idea that they're going to somehow make my life better, I was extremely skeptical and I hadn't experienced it myself.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:49:55):
Isn't your wife a coach?

Eric Ries (00:49:57):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got [00:50:00] a long, long exposure to them and have found it well worth my time. But I think it's important. I still meet people all the time for whom these ideas are new. And it just sounds like you go to a typical MBA program and they teach them corporate finance, and they teach them modern portfolio theory and theory of mergers and acquisitions, and there's a missing interpersonal dimension except by the way, at the very best school. I just wonder, for those that are experiencing this with skepticism for the first time, do you have a [00:50:30] go-to resource that you recommend or how people want to start learning about that? Is there an accessible place that you tell them to begin?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:50:38):
Well, I really like The 15 Commitments to Conscious Leadership. I think it's a very easy read. I'm only a third of the way through it, but Tim Ferriss' answer is this book Awareness. It's a pretty short read, but certainly more spiritual, but it's also very funny, and there's a live audience that's responding to it on the audible version, [00:51:00] so that's really good. I like Brene Brown's work. Maybe Dare to Lead would be a particularly good one, or her Netflix special, which I think of as a comedy special that is also very wise and deep.

Eric Ries (00:51:12):
Yeah, very accessible.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:51:13):
Yeah. That's probably the best answer. If you want to just laugh and have a good time and learn some really deep things, watch Brene Brown's Netflix special or her TED Talk, which kind of started it off.

Eric Ries (00:51:24):
Let me switch gears a little bit, so you're well known because of your work at Facebook and [00:51:30] your work at Asana, but you've also been a really important philanthropist, and one who doesn't seek the public limelight, which I think is really interesting. Most people don't know this, but I've gotten to witness the work you've done behind the scenes in helping so many. We could do a whole episode just on all the people that you've helped get their thing started or made a critical investment or backed them. And unlike almost anybody else, never demanded the credit for it, don't feel the need to impose your will on the thing, but really have [00:52:00] supported them and allowed them to flourish. I think it's an awesome way to use the privilege and the power that you have. But I got called the other day by a journalist who were doing a profile of you.

(00:52:10):
We chatted about it, but I tried to get him to use this quote. He didn't use it in the piece. I'll tell it to you, see what you think. It didn't occur to me until I was talking to him about it. He was asking me to make sweeping generalizations about your life as these folks do. One of things I realized was that you've been [00:52:30] right about a lot of stuff, big important issues that talk about being a contrarian. You were the first person to ever talk to me about the importance of preparing for pandemics, long before that was before, I think even SARS-CoV-one, let alone the one we just lived through. You were totally right about what was going to happen in AI. You were the person who gave me the heads-up at this massive society level changing thing is happening anyway. I could do this all day.

(00:52:57):
There've been so many things like that where you've done the work to find [00:53:00] out the thing that needs to be done, and gotten serious about it at a time when nobody else was interested. And that was a niche weird topic, and now it's something that everyone's going around taking credit for how smart they were. And I was saying to this journalist, if you were a different person in your position who spent a lot more time on your own publicity, there'd be a hundred... You'd be lauded as a super genius right about all this stuff. Because I know plenty of people who've been half right about one thing and they milked it for 10 years. That's the thing that they've become famous for, [00:53:30] and I wanted to get into what's your process for getting into these topics and going deep on them before it's a consensus thing that that's something that's interesting. Because I feel like it reflects a level of intellectual curiosity and rigor that's frankly unusual. I'm curious if you'd be willing to talk about that a little bit?

Dustin Moskovitz (00:53:52):
Yeah. Unfortunately, I may have to de-pedestal myself a bit here, because I don't actually think I came up with any of that. I think it was entirely [00:54:00] open philanthropy, and it's because it's their strategy to try and almost find the alpha in knowledge or find the alpha in doing good opportunities. And the pandemic thing is really depressing from our point of view, because this was no secret. It wasn't for SARS-1. There had been plenty of pandemics, Ebola, bird flu, the Obama administration was on this before COVID-19. [00:54:30] And just the problem was the rationality, not only of the government, but I think of the public. I think Congress defunded that stuff because they were representing the American view, which is like you don't plan ahead for disasters, you just provide relief for them, and you just, the disaster is an act of God that can't be mitigated.

(00:54:55):
And that is the real insight, which just seems very obvious to me and [00:55:00] applies across all of our global catastrophic risk work. And then once you have that pattern, you just apply the pattern over and over. And AI risk for me was a long journey. I sound like a Cassandra now, but it's because everyone else sounded like a Cassandra to me 10 years ago. And I just kept engaging with the conversation and trying to really understand it and really understand what they were saying. And I [00:55:30] came up with a bunch of what I think of as the straw man rebuttals to AI. We'll keep it in an air-gapped location, we won't hook it up to the critical infrastructure. All these things that I now see as just totally nonsensical, not viable in the slightest.

(00:55:49):
And I was the guy advancing and having my team just very patiently explain why they wouldn't work, until I kind was left with nothing except for their arguments that [00:56:00] were really compelling. And then observing the progress of AI, which is outpacing my expectations. And so yeah, I think the process is much more about holding my own stories lightly enough to change them, to be able to update on new evidence and new reasoning. And I do think that goes back to the inner work, because for most people, that is an ego issue. The opinion is tied to their identity. And so to change the [00:56:30] opinion would mean also changing their identity. And then you put up all kinds of walls.

Eric Ries (00:56:35):
We're very good at resisting that. Yeah.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:56:37):
Yeah, very good at resisting that. And so I think the inner work was important for being receptive to the dialogue that lets me align with the very good advice of the Open Philanthropy team.

Eric Ries (00:56:50):
Talk about the origins of Open Philanthropy, if you're willing.

Dustin Moskovitz (00:56:53):
Yeah. So there's a few steps to it. And I apologize in advance, it's a confusing [00:57:00] family of brands and people. But Kerry and I have been on a philanthropic journey for a while, and we founded a foundation Good Ventures about 10 years ago and basically started with the principle of leverage. We wanted to try and find the most important work that we could do. And had some trouble finding other people who could collaborate with us with that mindset, until we met Holden Karnofsky and Ellie [00:57:30] Hassenfeld who were the GiveWell founders, because that's exactly what they were trying to do with global health and well-being with GiveWell is find not just really great charities like Charity Navigator might do or GuideStar, but the very best. And so they only recommend a handful every year that they think just have unusually large ability to create great health outcomes. And so we started working with them in 2011, and we basically have been the prime supporter [00:58:00] of GiveWell ever since.

(00:58:03):
I think that may have changed in recent years, because they want to diversify their funding, and they also have a very large number of individual investors that are not foundations, just people giving as part of their paycheck. So that's GiveWell. And then their MO is proven cost-effective, neglected. And so that's really great for global health because there's often a lot of great research that can tell you say, what [00:58:30] is the life-saving value of deploying an additional Hilaria bed net on the margin? But it doesn't work as well in other areas like pandemics, because you don't know if there's going to be a pandemic or you might be advocating for a piece of legislation, and it's just probabilistic whether you'll succeed and probabilistic whether you influence the outcome at all. And so that's not a good candidate for the GiveWell donor base.

(00:58:59):
And so we [00:59:00] decided to start a new organization that became Open Philanthropy that is basically the same principle of trying to find the most important work we can do, but without the constraint of proven. So it's much more about expected values and probabilistic math and reasoning than it is about the GiveWell side, randomized control trials and scaling up things that work. Does that make sense?

Eric Ries (00:59:24):
Yeah. Well, the reason I ask is because although I do enjoy putting you on the pedestal. I think you're right [00:59:30] that what I think is actually special about your story is not so much that you had some kind of unique insight by living on a cave, but that you've set up these systems to help you follow the evidence wherever it goes, and to attract to yourself really deep systems thinkers with a long-term view to help you figure out what's right. And you've had the, as you say, because you've done the inner work, you're able to not get too attached to your own opinions, but really to learn from a wide range of people. So that I think very clearly guided you into your [01:00:00] thoughts about AI. I'm curious where you think this is all headed. If those are the things you were learning about 10 years ago that now the rest of us are all learning about now, what are the things that are on your... what's on your radar for the future now? What are the things that you're thinking about that maybe are not as well known

Dustin Moskovitz (01:00:15):
In philanthropy?

Eric Ries (01:00:16):
What's that?

Dustin Moskovitz (01:00:16):
In philanthropy?

Eric Ries (01:00:16):
In general.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:00:20):
Well, so in philanthropy, one of the things I'm really excited about right now is less inventing of new institutions. So I described [01:00:30] three effectively new institutions, Good Ventures, Open Philanthropy, and Givewell. Good Ventures actually doesn't have any staff. It's basically there are some contractors that work for us basically, but mostly they're taking recommendations from the Open Philanthropy staff and just writing checks. SO Good Ventures is pretty thin. But even open philanthropy, we would rather have not created it, WE'D rather it just existed and we became an additional funder on the margin for it. And we are starting to get there now. We are partnering more with other large [01:01:00] funders. I think by the time this goes out, we'll have announced we're doing an elimination project that we're with another very large foundation.

(01:01:10):
And then additionally, we've started re-granting program. So we're giving grants to other existing organizations that we think are really good. So we just did $45 million to USAID. We actually did a $50 million grant, I think it was 50 million to the Gates Foundation, which is crazy. They have plenty of money, but they actually think quite a lot like us, [01:01:30] especially in global health. And so often it's like, well, we think this program should exist, but actually the Gates Foundation's already equipped to do it better than we could. So we'd rather just help motivate them to do it and co-fund it, rather than create a bunch more bureaucracy unnecessarily. So I'm hopeful that's where philanthropy is going and that there will be more funders working together rather than carving out unique visions. And I admit we're on poor moral ground there [01:02:00] having carved out a unique vision, a trap we often get into with people.

Eric Ries (01:02:04):
So critics have called your position on AI doomerism, and I know you have kind of pushed back on that. And I also know there've been moments when you have felt like the opposite position is really bordering on irresponsible in the way that we're counseling this next generation of founders who are working on these new technologies, and especially because there's so many AI founders who are actively seeking guidance for how to build their companies in a responsible [01:02:30] way. So what's the advice that you're giving to the builders of these new systems who often would like to hear from you on how you think that should be done?

Dustin Moskovitz (01:02:39):
Yeah. So first of all, reject the false trade off. So our opponents are deliberately creating a polarized frame that does not exist. There's the doomers who think everything is awful and they want to ban math and ban AI. And then there's the libertarians who think AI is going to [01:03:00] be amazing and why would you ever want to get in the way of it? And it is purposefully rejecting the third frame, which almost the entire safety community actually exists then, which is AI is going to be great and we need to mitigate some very real problems. And there are just some unknowable risks. I'm not going to say they're probabilistic risks because that gets you into your own kind of language trap. But there are risks that I [01:03:30] think are non-trivial, it's very plausible they could manifest. And there are very good reasons to think if you don't change anything, the thing that is likely to happen will be that they manifest.

(01:03:44):
But of course it is a dynamic system and people are in conversation and they're identifying the risks and they're trying to battle them. And so for me, my personal view is all of the concern lies in how quickly that might play out, [01:04:00] and whether there is a race to the bottom on ethics and safety because everyone's just scrambling to be out on the frontier. So the types of things that I think are good solutions are things that can align those organizations and get them out of the game theoretic traps so that they can cooperate and lead to the better outcomes for them and for the world. That means slowing down a little bit, being a little more deliberative, having... At this point, I feel pretty [01:04:30] confident we need some regulatory enforcement of the red teaming that happens before a new model is released because otherwise it's just clear as day that you're going to have a lab on the frontier that just doesn't do it or cuts the corners or certifies something safe that they haven't really tested.

(01:04:47):
And so I think that is the highest purpose of government is to look out for those kinds of negative externalities and do the things that cause the companies to do what needs to be done. However, [01:05:00] government is slow. And so a lot of my concern is maybe the danger is playing out in the next few years while we're all arguing about the governance. And so what happens in the meantime? And my advice for AI entrepreneurs is be ethical in the meantime because we need you to be, and we don't have any other defenses, other than the anthropic approach, which is to try and create a race to the top culturally and mimetically. [01:05:30] And more power to them, but I don't want to hang my hat on that.

(01:05:36):
And so I would much rather have every single lab leader saying this is important, and ideally tying their own hands through things like responsible scaling policies so that you don't get to a place where you're always making a judgment, do we go forward, Jim here or not based on the evidence? You've agreed ahead of time where the danger lies and where the red lines are. And so [01:06:00] that I think is really important. I think we're very fortunate that many of the lab leaders, not just anthropic do think this way, but they also live inside corporate environments and have investors and various contracts, and it's just very easy to get to pathfinding outcomes.

Eric Ries (01:06:18):
From a philosophical point of view, conventional thinking about this when we talk about regulation in any technology, but certainly with AI, there's kind of this idea that it's the government's job to say what is allowed to be done. And then our [01:06:30] expectation is that businesses will both do, be as exploitative as they possibly can within the boundaries of the law up to and including lobbying to have the laws changed to allow more exploitative behavior. And I feel like it skips over a really important question that I spent a lot of time with founders who are asking these questions now, which is like, "Okay, the law says I can do these things, but what should I want to do as a founder? What should my goal be?" And I wonder if you can just talk about that, not as a nanny state restrictive, [01:07:00] like, oh, you shouldn't be ambitious, oh, we can't develop the technology, but rather as a source of strength to be the trustworthy vendor who's actually developing the technology in a responsible way.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:07:10):
Maybe I'm misunderstanding the question. Is the question about how do you know when you want to go beyond the law with ethics? Or is the question why will that benefit you?

Eric Ries (01:07:19):
Well, my question is more like what should companies want to do?

Dustin Moskovitz (01:07:22):
Well, that was very philosophical. On some level, my answer is they should want to be built to last and [01:07:30] they should be pretty long-sighted about that, but it can be difficult. So I had a conversation, we haven't talked about this recently, and this is another dangerous topic area, but there's this idea of which customers should you support and should you have any red lines around that? Like Cloudflare engaged very heavily with this a few years ago. And I had a conversation with one of our investors Generation, and we were talking about oil companies as an example. [01:08:00] And they were like, "Well, you shouldn't want oil companies as customers because their business is dying. And so your LTV calculations basically are wrong for those customers." But it really depends on timelines. Maybe our LTV calculations are wrong in a 15-year timescale, but they're not wrong in a 10-year timescale. And so it kind of doesn't matter because the future's so discounted.

(01:08:23):
And then it also depends on what they do, because in some cases they're trying to convert into renewable energy companies. [01:08:30] And so we got into all these weird discussions around, well, I guess we kind like to support this part of Shell, but not this part of Shell. I'm like, "We don't actually have agency to implement those kind of roles. And it creates a really weird relationship with the customer." And so I'm left having a light touch on that kind of thing. But I think it's a good principle to bring to other ideas. So again, like your relationship with your employees, maybe you can do something exploitative in the short run [01:09:00] and maybe you'll get away with it, but if you're not a sociopath, you're going to feel bad about it later. And also those people are going to tell the next generation of employees and they're not going to trust you and that'll cause problems for you in the end of the game.

(01:09:11):
And so just really encourage people to play that out. And I think we're seeing this a bit with some of the companies on the public market who I think are running into the borders of regulation and causing a big outcry, [01:09:30] and they may really not like what comes for them after that. Like with TikTok where they messaged all of America with push notification and people are like, "Well, that's legal, but I probably should not have done that." And so now it won't be legal anymore. And there's a calculated risk that I think businesses and entrepreneurs take there. And some of it is always, will I get caught? [01:10:00] Will I get found out? And I think that will happen more often than you think, but you'll always know. And I think again, if you're not a sociopath, you have to pay that tax.

Eric Ries (01:10:11):
To me, the canonical example is SVB lobbying Congress during the Trump administration to have the rules relaxed that would have prevented them from going under in the end.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:10:21):
So crazy.

Eric Ries (01:10:22):
That's seen as good governance. Everyone applauding them, of course, be as exploitative as you can.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:10:28):
Or like crypto, right.

Eric Ries (01:10:29):
Crypto, yeah.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:10:30):
[01:10:30] All of these non-securities shouldn't be securities, and they could have played that very differently. So great while it lasted and now I think it'll be a different world.

Eric Ries (01:10:41):
That's really terrific. So Dustin, I want to say thanks again for all your leadership. Congratulations again on the set you're having with as I'm very excited to see what happens next. And thanks for taking time to have this conversation.

Dustin Moskovitz (01:10:52):
Yeah, of course. Looking forward to it.

Eric Ries (01:10:54):
You've been listening to The Eric Ries Show. Special thanks to the sponsors for this episode, DigitalOcean, [01:11:00] Mercury, and Neo4j. The Eric Ries show is produced by Jordan Bornstein and Kiki Garthwaite. Research by Tom White and Melanie Rehack. Visual designed by Reform Collective. Title theme by DB Music. I'm your host, Eric Ries. Thanks for listening and watching. See you next time.

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