Comment author: Jon_Behar 25 May 2018 05:59:23PM 9 points [-]

1)Thanks for writing this, it’s a very helpful case study for the community.

2)You absolutely earned career capital and I 100% disagree with your claim that you “walk away with no cool story, no CV points.” Let’s say you wanted to earn to give (because I can speak to that from experience). I’ve screened thousands of resumes and conducted hundreds of interviews for highly competitive finance jobs (consulting is similar too). Most of the resumes look very similar, and there are likely more philosophy and other humanities PhDs from great schools than you’d expect. I’ve heard hundreds of people tell me about their investment banking internships, which is as excruciating as it sounds. People who screen resumes and conduct interviews are desperate to talk about something different, and Hippo is a perfect example. So you do have CV points that will help get you in the door.

And you have a cool story too. You’ve reflected a lot, and learned a lot about your interests, strengths, and weaknesses. That is valuable to you, and to prospective employers. You’ve also taken the time to share it so others can learn, which speaks to your character. You just need to learn how to frame your story right (let me know if you want to have a quick chat about how to frame this experience in a job interview).

3) I’ve heard a lot of stories about various “EA apps”. A lot of them have had significant resources invested in them. And the vast majority never actually get finished, let alone widely used. My suspicion is that your experience is pretty typical. So folks with plans for an EA app may way to think about pooling resources and/or there may an opportunity to have a repository where failed EA apps can share experiences, code, etc. so that future efforts aren't starting from scratch.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 29 May 2018 11:38:04AM 2 points [-]

Hello Jon

Let’s say you wanted to earn to give

I agree, if I wanted to do that, my start up failure would be interesting. As it is, it's probably of very limited use. My appeal is to get people to consider what they would do if their start up failed and how useful that would be for their other line of work. Entrepreneurial experience is of basically no use in academia, as far as I can tell.

Comment author: Nicholas_G 25 May 2018 03:47:13AM 1 point [-]

Have you given any consideration to open sourcing what you do have?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 25 May 2018 12:31:48PM 1 point [-]

Can you explain how I might do that? You can just provide a link if it's easier. The source code for the current app is held by David, my co-founder, who seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth (at least with regards to my emails to him). The list of happiness-suggestions is just in a spreadsheet.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 25 May 2018 10:13:54AM 0 points [-]

If you want to make something to randomise the text suggestions, you might be able to do it pretty quickly and easily with Guided Track. Personally, I think I would find it more helpful looking at the whole list than being given a random suggestion from it. If you wanted to give people that option without making it publicly available for free, you could put the list on the private and unsearchable Facebook group EA self help, with a request not to share.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 25 May 2018 12:29:20PM 0 points [-]

you might be able to do it pretty quickly and easily with Guided Track

Interesting. Will think about this. Not sure I should prioritise this pre-thesis submission. The reason I wrote the post-mortem was so I could move on from Hippo.

If you wanted to give people that option without making it publicly available for free, you could put the list on the private and unsearchable Facebook group EA self help, with a request not to share.

Also interesting. I might be too paranoid/precious to do this, but will think about it.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 25 May 2018 01:42:19AM 0 points [-]

Maybe turn it into a quick self-published book or something?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 25 May 2018 12:26:27PM 0 points [-]

Can you elaborate? I'm not really sure what you have in mind. 'Quick self-published book' sounds like an oxymoron. I'd like to publish a book on happiness at some point, but would hope for it not to be self-published.

Comment author: Daniel_Eth 24 May 2018 06:42:07PM 4 points [-]

"I’d compiled a list of 40-odd evidence-based activities and re-thinking exercises, i.e. behavioural and cognitive interventions, that I’d come across during my research"

Have you made this list public anywhere? I'd be interested in seeing the list (and I assume others would be too).

Comment author: MichaelPlant 24 May 2018 10:18:05PM *  0 points [-]

Ah, I wondered if anyone was going to spot this Easter egg! Yeah, the list isn't public. This might sound outrageously petty, but having spend so long compiling it, I feel strange about giving it away or making it freely available for other people to copy.

I've trying to work out what to do with it and the rest of the algorithm I designed. If I wasn't so un-enthused about start ups I'd want to build something that just randomly gave you one of the suggestions (the suggestions are just text) as that seems to be the easiest version to do. Maybe that will happen at some point. Honestly I'm not sure what to do.

Comment author: Lila 24 May 2018 05:46:02PM *  1 point [-]

Really interesting. I appreciate you sharing this and your attitude toward this. Good luck with your career in philosophy - epistemic honesty will take you far.

You might consider cross-posting this on a site like Medium to reach a larger audience.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 24 May 2018 10:03:51PM 1 point [-]

Interesting thought puting it on medium. Someone put it on Hacker News here were people were, um, not terribly nice about it, so I had some reservations about that.

Comment author: amb 24 May 2018 03:06:35AM 1 point [-]

Thank you for sharing! This type of critical feedback is much needed in the EA community (for many of the reasons you stated).

"A potential danger with an EA start-up is that you might, as I did, find a hypothetical solution and try to retro-fit a business case." This is a really important takeaway from your conclusion, and I'm glad to hear it mentioned. A good piece of business/entrepreneurship advice I'd heard thrown around in startup circles before is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Keeping a constant internal check to evaluate how a venture, whether it be a new startup or a non-profit working on a global health intervention, is tackling the problem as effectively as possible ensures that venture is on the right track and producing the right solutions. Optimizing for the solution itself can veer those ventures off course.

Finally, I'd like to point out that you did find success here, even if the mobile application itself was a failure. By starting work on the PhD and the app at the same time, you gave yourself much more career capital than if you'd worked on one alone. In this case, the capital was not transferrable across both sides, but there's an alternate universe that exists where the work on your app led to a industry career. You kept your options open, and that's led you to a place where you're more confident in the career you've chosen. If other EAs find themselves in a similar opportunity (i.e. working on a side business and academia at the same time), it's probably a good thing to gain experience in both for awhile. The incremental amount of improvements each individual project would see if you went at it full time (i.e. one more published research paper, a fully functioning machine learning feature) likely do not matter in the long term. If you take value from the experience, and not the outcome, I think there are many positives to be had from this kind of work.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 24 May 2018 11:23:11AM 5 points [-]

you gave yourself much more career capital than if you'd worked on one alone

I don't think this is true, and that's my main takeaway. It's true I gave myself two opportunities to acquire career capital - the PhD and the startup - but the latter never turned into actual career capital. In expectation, the start up looked promising (to my, possibly deluded eyes) but it turned out, in fact, to be much use to me. When i started it I thought "if Hippo works I'll be a tech billionaire. If it doesn't work, at least I'll have learnt loads" but in reality Hippo didn't work and I didn't learn much. That's the, somewhat subtle, cautionary tale.

The incremental amount of improvements each individual project would see if you went at it full time (i.e. one more published research paper, a fully functioning machine learning feature) likely do not matter in the long term.

I want to push back on this too. I can see how much more progress I'm making on philosophy now I'm just focused on that. I basically scraped through my first year review. One important thought is that you only get really good at X by focusing on X (e.g. see Cal Newport's Deep Work) and that most work is done by the top performers, e.g. 20% of academics get 80% of the citations, etc. Hence if you're not laser focused you're ruling yourself out of the top category where the real change happens. Again, I'm making a nuanced point: I'm not saying there is no value to exploration, but I am saying there is value to focus. I don't think I'd adequately recognised the trade-off. Would I have changed my choices? Not obviously, but this might be a useful lesson which could change what someone in a different position would do. Hence I'm sharing and hoping this is useful for someone else!

Comment author: MikeJohnson 23 May 2018 02:49:55PM 15 points [-]

I admire many things about this story, not least being your willingness to try & fail, and your brutal honesty in sharing what lessons you learned (or didn't learn).

There are many bad things about silicon valley, but one thing I think it gets right is giving partial credit for failed moonshots. Thank you for Really Trying to make this happen.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 23 May 2018 10:07:06PM 4 points [-]

Brutal honesty, the most useful and most painful start up lesson...

'Moonshots', great expression I'd not used! I edited the text to included that phrase, hope you don't mind the thievery.


Ineffective entrepreneurship: post-mortem of Hippo, the happiness app that never quite was

  60 word summary: I spent two and half years trying to start a startup I thought might do lots of good. It failed. I explain what happened, how it went wrong and try to set out some relevant lessons for others. Main lesson: be prepared for the fact you... Read More
Comment author: Denise_Melchin 20 May 2018 11:42:00PM *  25 points [-]

Thanks for trying to get a clearer handle on this issue by splitting it up by cause area.

One gripe I have with this debate is the focus on EA orgs. Effective Altruism is or should be about doing the most good. Organisations which are explicitly labelled Effective Altruist are only a small part of that. Claiming that EA is now more talent constrained than funding constrained implicitly refers to Effective Altruist orgs being more talent than funding constrained.

Whether 'doing the most good' in the world is more talent than funding constrained is much harder to prove but is the actually important question.

If we focus the debate on EA orgs and our general vision as a movement on orgs that are labelled EA, the EA Community runs the risk of overlooking efforts and opportunities which aren't branded EA.

Of course fixing global poverty takes more than ten people working on the problem. Filling the funding gap for GiveWell recommended charities won't be enough to fix it either. Using EA branded framing isn't special to you - but it can make us lose track of the bigger picture of all the problems that still need to be solved, and all the funding that is still needed for that.

If you want to focus on fixing global poverty, just because EA focuses on GW recommended charities doesn't mean EtG is the best approach - how about training to be a development economist instead? The world still needs more than ten additional ones of that. (Edit: But it is not obvious to me whether global poverty as a whole is more talent or funding constrained - you'd need to poll leading people who actually work in the field, e.g. leading development economists or development professors.)

Comment author: MichaelPlant 21 May 2018 10:12:54AM 2 points [-]

One gripe I have with this debate is the focus on EA orgs

I think this is a bit unfair. I took the OP to be referring the previous discussion of this by 80k, which was specifically about EA orgs.

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