Innovating on the Infrastructure of Innovation

We’re here to innovate on the infrastructure of innovation. There is so much innovation going on, and there are lots of people who fund that innovation, but there is very little innovation on that infrastructure for innovation itself.
— Naval Ravikant

This was the most memorable line from the AngelList company offsite in Tulum. Naval spoke in front of the entire company, a much larger group now that we were acquired and the Product Hunt team joined the AngelList crew. For many of us, it was the first time hearing our company mission statement and why we do what we do.

I wasn’t the only one who found that line memorable. A few days later:

It’s a funny phrase though, “innovating on innovation.” I tweeted it from @AngelList when Naval got off stage, and quickly realized that without the proper context… it’s the kind of phrase Twitter loves to sarcastically overdo.

So I tweeted this a day later.

Describe something that most people can relate to, while making it ambiguous enough they think it could apply to them.

(I was referencing AngelList).

It was an exciting week, for sure. On Tuesday we announced Angel Funds, on Wednesday Naval spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt, and on Thursday we launched CoinList, an ICO platform for making token based investments (the technology of the future).

But it was no different than what I thought about AngelList back in 2013, when I watched Naval talk about the company on YouTube. I didn’t really know anyone back then and was still trying to break in to the tech world. So I’d talk anyone who would listen about what AngelList was doing.

Mentored by Silicon Valley Luminaries” (2013)

Why AngelList Exists

AngelList started as a blog called Venture Hacks, which Nivi and Naval started in 2007. The goal was to help people in the startup world do better, by providing a resource of how not to get fucked by your investors.

The content was good. It ages like a fine wine, no matter what happens in the tech world.

Venture Hacks’ goal of helping people in the startup world is ingrained in everything AngelList does today too.

I asked: “What is the goal of the @AngelList Twitter account” (May 2017)

The reason the venture blog for startups turned into a company was to help startups save the world.

From Nivi’s popular 2013 blog post: Startups are here to save the world

Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon all deliver innovation at scale: they reliably bring it to the whole world at once. I call them super companies. (And there are many more in information technology, hardware, healthcare and energy.)
It might seem impossibly difficult, but super companies can be built. And the only way they get built is by starting a startup.

Here is Mark Zuckerberg in his Harvard commencement address, calling for the graduating class of 2017 to work on our “generation defining great works” (super companies) while suggesting a few:

  • Stopping climate change before we destroy the planet
  • Curing all diseases
  • Modernizing democracy so everyone can vote (online)
  • Personalizing education so everyone can learn

In other words, “request for startups” that make a meaningful impact on the world.

Nivi continues:

If super companies are saving the world, and every company started as a startup, then it is our moral duty to remove the frictions along the startup’s way.
That’s our duty at AngelList: to serve the startups that are saving the world. By eliminating the frictions along their way, in the most meaningful way possible.

If “saving the world” is the why and “removing the friction” is how AngelList plans to do it, what does AngelList actually do?

“We like to innovate on that infrastructure to help companies and create more tech companies, because I think tech is a universal good for humanity.” — Naval

The Infrastructure Layer

Startups need to raise money, hire talent, and find customers. If you can help startups with their most critical needs and build the software so you can do it at scale — more startups will get started, which leads to more innovation, and more good for society as a whole.

AngelList is building the tools to help startups with the most critical needs, the infrastructure founders rely on to raise capital, launch, and recruit.

Raising Money

Not every startup should go out to raise money, but every company that operates at a scale that makes a meaningful impact raises outside capital to do it.

AngelList started out with helping startups raise money. Syndicates were happening on the platform long before Syndicates the product made it more efficient to do so.

Nivi getting a syndicate together for a company called “UberCab”

The story of Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick reaching out to Naval to kickstart Uber’s first round of funding in 2010 is described in Brad Stone’s new book: “The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World.”

Although, as the first line of Nivi’s 2013 blog post goes: “Startups aren’t here to change the world, they’re here to save the world” and, while the story of Garrett and Travis reaching out to Naval is true… it was Nivi who made the deal happen and syndicated it to those first 165 investors on AngelList (150 didn’t respond, 1 unsubscribed after the email about Uber).

The recently announced Angel Funds are a natural extension of Syndicates.

While the fundraising business is working on making startup investing more efficient as a whole.

Finding Talent

AngelList Talent was born out of the reality that most startups fail and that people move on to something new. They may start another company, join a small team, or become a first-time founder, but the process of helping people find the right people to work with desperately needed a software upgrade from the old model of shifting through a stack of resumes from a recruiter.

This is particularly true as the pace of innovation continues to increase and traditional job titles become less and less important. What weight does the job title hold in a field that may have only been invented 12-months ago? What matters is what you know how to do, from the experiences you gather, and the people you surround yourself with to do the next thing, learn more from, connect with, and offer to introduce.

AngelList facilitated over a million introductions last year alone. These are mutual matches between companies and candidates. The best tech recruiters in the world combined cannot do that kind of scale, but using software (and data, there’s lots of data) makes it possible make the process more efficient for both sides of the marketplace. It’s also free for everyone. Use it.

(and if you have more money than time and want a curated list of the best candidates on the platform who are ready to interview, AngelList also has a premium offering that you pay for only if a candidate is hired).

Getting Customers

Product Hunt is the third piece of the puzzle. With more than 90,000 product launches, millions of product discoveries every single month, and a community of early adopters that love to give feedback and try something new, Product Hunt moved beyond just being “the place to discover your next favorite thing” and into an essential product launch tool.

Makers from all over the world, with no press contacts and no built-in network, can post their products, get an audience, and go head to head with teams from Snapchat, Facebook, and Google.

Small startups, individual makers, and even fictional characters use Product Hunt when launching something new.

HBO Silicon Valley Season 4 Episode 5

Memorable

When Naval spoke in-front of the whole company at the offsite, he was asked a hypothetical: If you were to ever leave AngelList, what would you work on?

He started by saying that 7 years is a long time, and that AngelList is now more mature, which changes the time we spend on innovating (searching for something new) versus executing on the three separate business AngelList started (Fundraising), acquired (Product Hunt), and stumbled into but couldn’t not pursue (Talent).

He then went on to say why this was meaningful.

By building the tools that startups use to raise money, find people to work with, and get their first customers, AngelList is innovating on the infrastructure of innovation itself to create more successful tech companies. If we succeed, the impact this could have on what startups can achieve and the collective impact of the tech industry as a whole, is greater than the impact that any one company can do.

(before adding that Elon’s series of companies may be the exception) only to change his mind right afterward. There was no recording allowed and no live-tweeting during the talk, but that was roughly the answer.

Perhaps that was an overly optimistic outlook, and I don’t know if Naval really believes AngelList can have more impact on the world than SpaceX and Tesla — and regardless what turns out to be true — that added detail helped put into context why AngelList exists and why we do what we do, which made the part about “innovating on the infrastructure of innovation itself” the most memorable part from Tulum.