Request For Feedback: EA Venture Fund 2019-01-02T22:00:57.504Z


Comment by atlasunshrugged on Selfish Reasons to Move to DC · 2022-09-07T19:49:10.517Z · EA · GW

I mostly agree but a few counterpoints (I've been in DC for about 1yr total now). 

  1. The summers are absolutely miserable if you dislike humidity. 
  2.  In general compared to SF and even Berlin I've found people (outside of the EA community) to be much more reactive and zero sum in their thinking than people who dream big and have visions of the future they want to build towards.
  3. Echoing the company town comment- I feel like every conversation is about politics/policy/international affairs, which bugged me in SF about tech (there's so much more to life! ) and was one of the things I loved about Berlin where I felt there was a much better mix of artists, tech people, government workers,  etc.
  4. I have mixed feelings about OP's #4 as I have met quite a few mission oriented people, but I also meet a lot of very cynical and burnt out people, especially at work. 
  5. Many meetings feel very transactional (I see jokes all the time about people wondering if they're on a date or networking) and people cycle in and out of the city quickly and often.


On net however, I think it's a decent American city to live in and it certainly does punch above its weight for museums, architecture, restaurants, and even flights given its status as the capital. 

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Fix Prison Telecom · 2022-08-13T16:42:27.902Z · EA · GW

There are substantial kickbacks (called “site commissions”), where a large percentage of the per-minute rates are paid to the facilities for the right to the contract. A typical rate is 50%, and these can run as high as 96%. Given they get a percentage of every dollar spent, the facilities also have an incentive to keep costs high to increase their revenue, not to give the end consumer the lowest cost of connection.

Does any of this money also get sent back to the county/state too? Just wondering what other stakeholders are benefitting from the status quo.


Given the way these prisons are run (it seems often poorly with a profit motive rather than one trying to help reduce recidivism) why not just start a nonprofit private prison from scratch and manage the whole thing? Palmer Luckey mentioned this in an interview a while back as something he'd be working on if he hadn't decided to build Anduril:

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Some concerns about policy work funding and the Long Term Future Fund · 2022-08-13T16:06:48.827Z · EA · GW

An offshoot of lead emission in the atmosphere might be the work being done at LEEP (Lead Exposure Elimination Project)

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Military Service as an Option to Build Career Capital · 2022-08-10T23:31:44.423Z · EA · GW

Thanks! Sorry for the ignorance but for #4 then, how would you go about figuring out 1) what job you would be good at if you joined (and in which branch to try to join) and then 2) how to make sure that you actually were assigned to that job when you do join?


An unrelated q- is there any additional upside joining a new branch like Space Force?

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Military Service as an Option to Build Career Capital · 2022-08-10T17:40:02.229Z · EA · GW

This was a fantastic read, thank you for putting it together! Have you seen many situations where it makes sense for someone later in their career to join the military? Almost every person I've met who served started relatively early in their career rather than joining later. Do you think there are negative potential career impacts for people who work in specific fields (e.g. tech)? While I'm in DC doing policy work now and military service is venerated by almost everyone, I think it was quite rare to meet someone when I worked in tech in SF that had served and I think there could be situations where people see military service as a downside (e.g., this person was willing to work for the "war machine") rather than something heroic. Also, how concerned were you with getting assigned to do work that you would be uncomfortable with? I seriously considered serving at various points in my life and also have no problem with location (and actually would prefer to go to places I'd have a low chance of going as a civilian) but one of the main hangups for me is whether I could trust the recruiter when they talked about what job I'd have and that I'd end up having to do something either morally fraught or that wasn't aligned with my career goals.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on The Reluctant Prophet of Effective Altruism | The New Yorker · 2022-08-09T03:39:19.881Z · EA · GW

Also thought it was really interesting, there's an ongoing thread on Hacker News which is also a good place to look to see an outside view of how people perceive EA in a (usually) thoughtful way

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Grantees: how do you structure your finances & career? · 2022-08-04T23:26:56.370Z · EA · GW

Not currently funded by an EA grant, but I am a fellow for an organization the classifies me as an independent contractor (IC), which in essence is what most people who receive a grant are likely to be (in the eyes of the IRS anyways). This is obviously not tax advice, always consult an attorney, etc. but as someone who has done this a few times in their career, I wanted to share some high level thoughts (also, this is going to be very focused on the U.S. and as an American taxpayer).

  • Is a 50K grant as an IC better or worse than 50K as a W-2 (traditional) employee?: In purely financial terms, you're going to likely be worse off as an independent contractor as 1) you will have higher tax liability from self-employment taxes and 2) you will probably not have any benefits that are standard with traditional employment (medical, dental, 401k match, etc.) that you will have to manage yourself.
  • Should you incorporate yourself?: I had talked to an accountant about this a while back and my takeaway is if we're talking about sums like 50k or 100k, there isn't really a serious benefit. If you're dealing with larger amounts per year, I would recommend speaking to an accountant and figuring out how to create an optimal structure, but for a regular salary, I think it's better to just simply take it as a sole proprietor. That said, if you have concerns over legal liability of the services you provide, you might consider working through a legal structure, but this is not really a financial consideration.
  • How do you deal with things like healthcare?: If you're in the U.S. there is a healthcare marketplace for each state now through ACA (Obamacare) that you can use to shop for private plans. For my 401k for simplicity I use Wealthfront, I also keep a life insurance policy that I used a broker to find, for other things I just pay out of pocket at cash prices (e.g. getting a teeth cleaning).

As far as how to think about it- I'm not a great person to respond as I've generally been pretty comfortable with a high level of personal career/financial risk, but I would just remind yourself that you probably have valuable skills and that even if you found you weren't going to get renewed for a grant ~3 months before you run out of funding, you could probably find a new gig by the time it ends (that said, always good to have a few months of buffer just in case). 

Comment by atlasunshrugged on EA Shouldn't Try to Exercise Direct Political Power · 2022-07-21T13:05:00.557Z · EA · GW

This was really interesting, thank you for writing @iamasockpuppet.  I don't agree with all assumptions but think many of them are logical and express similar concerns to some I had during the Carrick campaign. One point I was hoping you could expand on was the below:

"The *concrete outcome* of Effective Altruism exercising direct political power would be for EA to become a faction of the Democratic party." In which you say that R EA's would then not be interested in joining EA (or at least engaging in EA politics) but to me that seems off because as you mentioned many of the issues that the average voter and indeed party cares about aren't things most EA's would prioritize. To me, this means that for the issues that EA's do really care about (e.g. X-risks mitigation) an EA D or R would be happy to collaborate because they do share the values on those issues even being in different parties which are opposed on other "bread and butter" political issues. 

Also, a note on your assumptions for Carrick's influence- I totally agree he would have had little opportunity to do much in his first term (but not because he'd be an outsider like a squad member who I think have less  influence despite their general popularity because they are perceived as not good team players in the caucus) because that's the nature of an institution based on seniority where one has to pay their dues to move up and a huge amount of value is based on the committee you are in or especially chair. But, given how much the odds go up for an incumbent in their election, I think if he (or anyone else) got in, even if they didn't have power in that first term, they would be much more likely to be able to stick around for many more and exert power that way.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on U.S. EAs Should Consider Applying to Join U.S. Diplomacy · 2022-05-18T12:23:47.284Z · EA · GW

That's really interesting, as an American who has been active in EA in the US and Europe I usually felt that England had an outsized weighting on EA stuff, not the U.S.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on How many EAs failed in high risk, high reward projects? · 2022-04-26T13:12:19.302Z · EA · GW

I can say that I failed at what I would consider a high risk, high reward project. I was a member of a charity entrepreneurship cohort and worked on an a nonprofit idea focused on advocacy for a pigouvian tax but unfortunately couldn't really get things off the ground for a few reasons. That said, I still highly recommend trying something ambitious. That failure taught me a lot and got me more into the policy realm which helped pave the way for my current work doing policy advisory in Congress which I think is relatively high impact. 

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Go Republican, Young EA! · 2022-04-14T01:04:17.710Z · EA · GW

As someone working in a Republican office in Congress doing tech policy this really resonates with me. I think for folks who are libertarian or just apolitical/ambivalent generally about culture war issues then this is a solid way to go, especially on the tech policy front which skews heavily D and means it'll be easier to stand out. As a warning though, these labels stick, so just think hard about whether you're ready to commit to a pathway (not that you can never cross the aisle, it just becomes significantly more difficult to do so after a few years in one party).

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Awards for the Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-24T21:11:51.554Z · EA · GW

Posting a comment because I expect people who read this to also be somewhat entrepreneurially aligned. If anyone is interested in the below areas and wants to kick ideas around, potentially cofounder match, etc. I'd love to chat as I'm considering doing something in one of these spaces after I finish my fellowship in Congress:

  • Charter Cities (e.g. SEZ near the U.S.); especially those that could also serve as a stopgap while other orgs advocate for domestic immigration reform for critical areas (e.g. AI researchers from India or China who would have a hard time getting a visa)
  • Purchasing coal mines in order to 1) preserve them for future generations in case of a catastrophic event and 2) prevent the near-term use of coal to prevent additional harmful emissions and 3) to see if there are other things we can do with them that would be interesting... unsure what that is yet. Underground bunkers next to the mine for biological weapons shelters?
  • Any startup ideas around defense, helping make humanity multiplanetary, or anything far future that is closer to a venture backable company than a nonprofit.
Comment by atlasunshrugged on Awards for the Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-24T19:51:47.398Z · EA · GW

I think the lead exposure project is quite interesting but isn't this already done by LEEP which spun out of Charity Entrepreneurship a while back? What's the rationale for another organization here? Or is RoryFenton already involved in that project.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Brain preservation to prevent involuntary death: a possible cause area · 2022-03-22T16:56:36.469Z · EA · GW

Are there any other products that could be leveraged by current cryonics facilities that could also help decrease those costs in the interim before moving to plastination? I know sperm storage is becoming increasingly popular; maybe there are other products that someone already interested in cryonics would also be interested in that could leverage the facility?

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Brain preservation to prevent involuntary death: a possible cause area · 2022-03-22T15:54:15.551Z · EA · GW

Not sure if you considered it as a potential benefit but my understanding is that right now the government and health care systems/insurers spend an inordinate amount of money mainly to extend life for the last 5-10 years of an elderly person now. This imposes broad costs on state run health systems and private insurers which need to charge people more from younger ages to cover these expected costs. It's possible that more elderly people are inclined to engage in cryopreservation just before they enter this "sickly period" (for lack of a better term) if they believe in the future they could be revived helping to spare a huge amount of costs on medical systems today. 


P.S. Great writeup; I've thought occasionally about trying to build a business in the space focused on longevity and making cryo more approachable for the average person. I know some folks in Germany started a startup around it which gives me some hope that it isn't too crazy an idea for venture funders and has some potential for returns.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on U.S. Executive branch appointments: why you may want to pursue one and tips for how to do so · 2020-11-29T18:31:10.324Z · EA · GW

Echoing Ian's comment, I'd appreciate if you could share more information about your background. I understand that you want to remain anonymous but maybe you could share how you're connected to folks on the transition team, potentially how influential you expect your recommendations to be, if there are any departments you have more or less influence in, etc. so folks can judge whether they want to expose all of this info to you.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities · 2020-06-24T20:30:04.888Z · EA · GW

Agreed, from the foreign policy folks I follow who focus on the region that one seems especially dangerous, especially if you care about stopping the usage of nuclear weapons which would be somewhat more likely in an India v. Pakistan conflict given it's likely Pakistan would lose a war waged with purely conventional weaponry

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities · 2020-06-24T17:47:04.616Z · EA · GW

Because of the likelihood of it occurring or because the potential for human/economic damage or both? It also is concerning to me given that India would probably be somewhat more inclined to use nuclear weapons in a China v. India conflict than America would be (although who knows with the current admin), especially if Pakistan started making moves at the same time as India was focused on China. But I'm not sure why China would really push a conflict, that means they have to move huge amounts of men and materials to the west and potentially leave an opening on their coasts, plus they import huge amounts of energy products that flow past India that would surely get massively disrupted in the case of a conflict and don't have that strong of a blue water force projection capability as the US and others who would probably come to India's aid

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities · 2020-06-24T17:43:25.148Z · EA · GW

No worries, I was just curious - I've tried to find data on things like projections of lives lost in combat between the US and China and can't find anything good (best I found was a Rand study from a few years ago but it didn't really give projections of actual deaths) so was curious if you had gotten your hands on that data to make your projections. Sorry for the misunderstanding, I had assumed China/US conflict but makes sense - probably anyone with nuclear capabilities who gets into a serious foreign entanglement will create an extremely dangerous situation for the world.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities · 2020-06-23T17:10:29.819Z · EA · GW

For the author, please correct me if I'm wrong, but the reference to Great Power Conflict is most likely the U.S. vs. China - is that right (just inferring based on the Graham Allison recommendation)? I'm curious if you a more in depth rationale or data available for this? Mostly, I'm curious about some other outcomes and how harmful they are - for instance, what happens if we avoid great power conflict but in doing so allow China to become the dominant world power and spread their authoritarian governance model even further than they do today? What are the expected deaths and the level of economic destruction of a conflict with China today? If the likelihood of a conflict is significantly high and the level of potential destruction continues to rise as China gains more and more military and economic capabilities, is it better to initiate a conflict early?

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Concrete Foreign Policy Recommendations for America · 2020-01-21T06:54:22.483Z · EA · GW

In the first paragraph you say "Effective Altruists are often not leftist, because leftist politics may be incorrect." Can you expand on what leftist politics are incorrect and how you judge what is correct or not?

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Announcement: early applications for Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Incubation Program are now open! · 2019-12-16T16:06:07.935Z · EA · GW

Ditto on this - I went through the program and am working on tobacco policy, happy to chat with folks who want to ask about what it's like

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Managing risk in the EA policy space · 2019-12-13T11:48:39.309Z · EA · GW

There's an EA and Policy FB group

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Why and how to start a for-profit company serving emerging markets · 2019-11-06T09:46:23.738Z · EA · GW

I second this - really interesting post and I would love to hear much more about this!

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-12T05:46:34.032Z · EA · GW

Just wanted to write that I've seen your comment, I'm on the road and don't have time to respond well now but will try in the next week or so.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-11T19:55:56.192Z · EA · GW

Hi, when you say I don't seem to take that into account, do you mean something on the blog post I shared? That's not my research, just some of what I'm using as the basis for considering an intervention into taxation but happy to comment on what I can or at least link to other studies I've read that have been useful too if you're interested.

It depends on your perspective I suppose, and if you think that regulating/taxing anything is paternalistic and believe that everyone is rational, not addicted, truly knows the health effects, etc. then I agree there would be a percentage of the population where consumer surplus would be taken into account and who enjoy smoking (although this population who says they enjoy smoking today may not say that X years later). But given how many people try to quit many times after starting, how many smokers say they wouldn't mind taxes being increased, how many people wish they never started, etc., for this product in particular I think it'd be relatively low. For other products like alcohol, sugar, etc. for non heavy users I think it's a less clear cut case.

On newer forms of tobacco consumption, again it depends. On an individual level it seems like vaping is net positive for health if you're switching from smoking, but may be a net negative to the world if it leads many people who never would have started smoking to get addicted. But overall I'm a fan of innovation in the sector and much less pessimistic about things like vaping than it seems like the global health community is (I'm generalizing but from what I've seen the prevailing wisdom is that it isn't worth the risk of 1) new smokers 2) unknown long term effects 3) playing ball with notoriously bad actors like the big tobacco companies who are offering products in this space as they try to diversify their product portfolio). I personally think probably the thing that would do the most good is a product that mimics the effects (social, chemical, etc.) of smoking but has none of the health risks and that could be sold as a replacement. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any such product out there, nor have I seen any research on something similar.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on What should Founders Pledge research? · 2019-09-11T17:27:21.234Z · EA · GW

Just wanted to mention that I also think that improving political institutions and wisdom (and general capacity building) is quite interesting. I think policy in general is a semi-neglected EA area that could be highly valuable. Everything from advocating for known high impact policies to be put in place where they aren't (ex. tobacco taxation) to examining new policies that could be implemented (ex. novel ways of stopping illicit financial outflows from developing countries). I think GiveWell has also been looking into this field so I'm sure they have some thoughts here. I've been researching tobacco tax policy mainly in LMICs (and tobacco policies more broadly as a byproduct of that research) and am happy to chat about that if it's helpful, but I'm a relative novice in the field.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Effective Pro Bono Projects · 2019-09-02T17:13:02.678Z · EA · GW

I'm not sure if it would fall into your wheelhouse but some of the folks at Charity Entrepreneurship (including myself) are looking into effective taxation models starting with tobacco and I'm sure we could find a place for some econ help. Happy to chat at - more info about tobacco taxation and why it's effective here

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Microsoft invests 1b$ in OpenAI · 2019-07-23T09:03:23.383Z · EA · GW

The HN thread was definitely interesting, since the pivot of Open AI to a limited for profit company occurred, I am certainly concerned about whether they're going to be allocating as many resources for safety as they were and will be much more focused on commercial application development (which I think is a fair, and probably correct, thing to do when you have shareholders who have invested in you for a potential return rather than as a donor to a specific mission)

A note - you can easily find Greg Brockman (the Cofounder and CTO of Open AI) in the thread by his username gdb. One of the more interesting things that he mentions is that they may keep more tech private or for commercial use, and gives a very soft maybe on being able to possibly eventually publish it.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on How to Get the Maximum Value Out of Effective Altruism Conferences · 2019-04-24T08:01:25.228Z · EA · GW

I'm biased as I was part of the Estonian delegation that attended the latest EAGxNordics event but I have to say that all of this was very useful for me. It was the second EA conference I've attended but I've attended many other conferences and I think that all of these points also hold true for them too.

I especially second the idea of creating goals before the event, finding people who you want to speak with from the attendee list, and contacting them and setting up a time to chat even before the event starts in order to make sure you are getting value even if you don't attend a single talk.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Profiting-to-Give: harnessing EA talent with a new funding model · 2019-03-04T19:46:14.295Z · EA · GW

I really like the second proposal in particular, the work charity entrepreneurship does is phenomenal and I think there is room for companies (not just nonprofits) to be launched that have a focus on generating returns that can be funneled into EA causes or just that have sustainable business models that can be run as for profit entities that do good while making money, employing other EAs, etc.

Comment by atlasunshrugged on Request For Feedback: EA Venture Fund · 2019-01-03T22:44:25.379Z · EA · GW

Hey Kit,

Thanks for the thoughtful response! Yes, I wholeheartedly agree the success of a fund like this is dependent on having someone experienced (and with a lot of connections) running it. I've worked for a YC/Andreessen startup from seed to Series B, Rocket Internet, and at a VC firm so I have a base level of understanding and network but I'd definitely either want to have someone more experienced managing it or have a killer group of advisors/partners around supporting.

As for your second question, how valuable is it to actually do this, that's a fair point and I haven't been able to quantify it. My thought was that as it's focused on the seed stage it would be a long term play to engage new groups into becoming EA's or involved in it (namely top founders, LPs, foundations) that wouldn't normally be interacting with EA in this way. This way even if there isn't a great immediate return with a company we've invested in, we could get the founder involved in EA and take the Founders Pledge which they may carry to their next company even if we don't invest, we would get a seat at the table when they're making strategic decisions and try to navigate them to focus on high impact areas we see or if they have giving programs later, direct funds from that, etc.

When you say that counterfactuals are quite bad at impact investing do you mean something like the scenario where a company like Google/Facebook has money thrown at it by VCs and others because they see it's going to be wildly successful? I totally agree with that but think there are areas that get spurned, not because they'd have a bad return but because they're not sexy or obvious to VCs (The story about how difficult it was for Airbnb to raise money in the beginning comes to mind). The startups I was thinking of would be of those sort, or ones in fields like Nuclear that nobody has invested in recently except for Gates and a few others.

I'll reread the Founders Pledge report and incorporate any ideas from there, thanks for reminding me about that!

I also think that the priority paths probably would lead to a higher impact (in fact they've helped dictate a good portion of my career, I'm currently working for the Estonian govt on a digital project to get experience in the govt world so I can get into something high impact in policy or fund allocation hopefully soon) but I was thinking this would be something someone(s) could do in their spare time or that a professional VC could tack on alongside their current fund and responsibilities