In this episode, Erik Torenberg from Product Hunt interviews Peter Diamandis, author of the recent book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World. Peter is also a co-founder of the X Prize Foundation and Singularity University, and is involved with many other companies across multiple industries.
Peter explains what his new book is all about:
"If you want to become a billionaire, help a billion people. The world's biggest problems are the world's biggest opportunities."
Bold is a follow up to Peter's previous book, Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, which sought to show that the world is getting better at an extraordinary rate. Peter cites some of humanity's accomplishments during the past 100 years, including tripling the per capita income for every nation on the planet, doubling the human lifespan, and reducing the cost of food (13 fold), energy (20-50 fold), and communications (1000 fold). Bold is meant to show entrepreneurs how they can solve the world's biggest problems in this rapidly improving world. The modern era is unique in history because entrepreneurs have access to capital and to the world's most powerful technologies: "Literally, as an entrepreneur today, you have access to more capabilities than the United States government and top corporations had 20-25 years ago."
Peter thinks many people shortchange themselves by thinking they can't do something big and bold in the world. He says, passion for an idea is the only prerequisite: "That is probably the scarcest resource—the passionate and committed human mind." We live in a hyperconnected word where "if you've got a vision" you can find great coders, designers, mathematicians, or physicists who are brilliant at what they do but cannot raise a dollar, come up with a product, or market themselves. You can pull a team together.
How did Peter become who he is today?
"If you're not super passionate about what you're doing, you're gonna give up before you succeed."
Peter's parents were both immigrants from Greece. They were doctors and Peter grew up expecting to become a doctor as well. He never practiced medicine but did complete medical school. Space was his true passion. He grew up during the Apollo Program and the era of Star Trek: "I drank the Kool-Aid, or should I say Tang?" Peter's entire career has been driven by his passion to be part of humanity's expansion beyond the Earth. His question for other entrepreneurs is always: "What would you be doing regardless of your parents, your teachers, your employer?" "Find what you would die for and then go live for it."
Erik jokes that when he was 17 he would have answered "basketball". Peter says "you can make a career out of anything, including basketball—just not, probably, playing basketball." Peter talks about his friend Richard Garriott, who's father was an astronaut aboard Skylab and in the shuttle program. Richard, meanwhile, barely graduated high school and was only interested in playing video games, which worried his father. Richard never went to college, but instead started designing and building video games. He eventually sold one of his gaming companies for north of $100 million dollars. After the sale, Richard bought himself a private ticket to the space station, becoming America's first second-generation astronaut.
Peter describes the failings of our modern education system:
Peter has twin four-year-old boys. He wants to help them find a passion and develop curiosity by exposing them to as many things as possible, without having pre-expectations. "In a world where we've got artificial intelligence, and Google, and 3D printing, and robotics—memorizing facts and being an expert in solving equations isn't going to be the differentiator." The skills that matter are being able to ask smart questions, be curious, and work with technology. Peter thinks there's too much structured, rote learning in schools: "100 years ago, you would go to school, you'd get a degree by the time you were 22, and that would serve you for the next 25 years because nothing would change that much until you died [around age 50]." He contrasts that to today, "where by the time you graduate college, what you started learning in the beginning is out of date, and our life expectancies are going to double and triple again."
Peter says the cost structure of paying over $50,000 per year to attend university is "abhorrent." The educational component of attending college will be done better 10-20 years from now by virtual reality or AI. He compares the way he learned medicine, with cadavers and textbooks, to what will be possible in the future when students can put on a headset and explore human cells from within.
Peter provides an overview of the startups he's actively involved with right now:
- Singularity University: A 10 week program in the Bay Area for graduate students to study all of the world's exponentially growing technologies. They have 5-8 thousand applicants per year and select 80. Students pick a major problem that's faced by at least one billion people and then create a new product or service to impact that problem.
- X Prize Foundation: X Prizes are global competitions where the first team to solve a specific problem wins an amount of money, usually around 10-30 million dollars. The first X Prize was for a three person spaceship to reach an altitude of 100 kilometers twice within two weeks. It was won by Paul Allen and Burt Rutan.
- Human Longevity (HLI): A company focused on adding 30-40 healthy years onto everyone's lifespan using machine learning and big data. Peter started HLI with Craig Venter and Robert Hariri. They've built the world's largest genome sequencing facility in the world and have sequenced more human genomes than the rest of the world combined. They're also sequencing the genomes of the bacteria that comprise the human micro-biome.
- Planetary Resources: A company building cheap, capable, deep-space drones that can go out and mine near-Earth asteroids for fuels and for precious metals like platinum. These asteroids contain "trillion dollar assets." Chris Lewicki, who was involved with the Mars Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix missions for NASA, was their first hire.
- PHD Ventures: PHD manages Peter's speaking engagements, books, and events. Peter runs Abundance 360, an annual coaching retreat for about 250 CEOs.
Peter discusses the lessons we should learn from today's tech luminaries:
- Elon Musk: Elon founded SpaceX and Tesla not to compete with the Defense Department and Detroit, but because "their products sucked" and he wanted something better. Elon takes a "first principles" approach to solving problems. He looks at the boundary conditions of physics and tries to figure out what is possible. He'll look at batteries and ask what's the supply of lithium on the planet? What is the cost of taking it out of the ground?
- Richard Branson: Richard is extremely good at "reducing risk." When he sold Virgin Music and spent the money to start Virgin Atlantic, people criticized his risk taking. What he did, though, was buy a 747 from Boeing and negotiate the rights to sell them back their airplane a year later if his new company wasn't working. Thirty years later, when Richard bought the rights to Paul Allen and Burt Rutan's X Prize-winning spaceship technology to create Virigin Galactic, he immediately turned around and sold one third of his stake in the company to Aabar Investments, thus recouping his entire upfront capital exposure.
- Larry Page: "He's a massive optimist... He believes the world is getting better and there is no problem that can't be solved." Larry always asks the question: "How can you go bigger?" At Google X, the mindset is "where can we go 10x bigger, when everyone else is going 10% bigger?"
- Jeff Bezos: Jeff always talks about the "importance of experimentation." Amazon's success is dependent on the number of experiments they can do per year, per month, per week, and per day. Experimentation leads to lots of failures, so you need to be tolerant of that.
Is going "bold" ever the wrong direction?
Peter says "we live in a very dystopian mindset" where "the job of today's news media is to deliver their drug—which is negative news—to everybody's eyeballs in high definition in their living room." People don't realize how much better the world is getting. One place he's less optimistic is in the realm of politics and government: "They've been designed to be self-perpetuating." In politics, "fundamental change requires revolution, so it's really hard to do." He thinks many services we used to rely on the government for will soon be done by private companies for much cheaper.
Does Peter's vision of the future scare him at all?
"Nope." Peter is more excited and optimistic about the future than he's ever been. We're on a trajectory over the next 20 years to "get rid of extreme poverty on the planet completely," he says. Also, he doesn't worry about overpopulation because when countries get healthier and wealthier, their growth rates go negative.
Peter predicts we are heading toward a world of brain-computer interfaces, in which humanity will be able to share thoughts with each other. He believes this world will enable "intimacy" beyond what we have today. He thinks people could end up much happier in the future. He's working on an X Prize that will challenge teams to build wearable sensors that can reliably measure how happy a person is at any given moment. If we can better understand the things we enjoy doing, we can do more of them. A company CEO could test a policy change in the workplace and receive instant feedback about how it is affecting happiness among employees.
"There are so many extraordinary, fun, billion-person, off the charts, Star Trek universe opportunities out there—I think we should never be bored."
Some quick thoughts:
What Peter would be doing if he was 25 years-old: "It's not just becoming an expert in AI or 3D printing or synthetic biology—it's the convergence of these technologies where the interesting stuff lays." Machine learning and blockchain technologies are huge areas of interest.
On finding the right people to hire and partner with: "The best predictor of someone's future is what they've done to-date." What kind of risks have they taken? How hard have they worked? Peter says surround yourself with people with a positive mindset. "You can stop hanging out with the person who's bumming you out all the time and you can identify who in your circle of friends are the ones pushing you and opening your mind."
On balancing his time: Peter often helps start companies and finds great people to run them. He tries to figure out where he'll be the most useful. He's typically not the person studying budgets. He loves brainstorming, solving big problems, and bringing people together. Peter believes in focusing on strengths instead of shoring up weaknesses: "You can always find a partner that's great and passionate about the areas you're not."
On raising capital: The key thing is "really, truly believing in what you're doing." Someone deciding to invest in you "is a transfer of confidence." You have to be a great storyteller in the positive sense of being able to capture a person's imagination. In Bold, Peter discusses how to succeed using crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The SEC is also opening up avenues to equity crowdfunding, which Peter finds exciting.