Who Wants To Start An Important Startup?

by ShannonFriedman3 min read16th Aug 2012408 comments


CareersEffective AltruismStartups

SUMMARYLet's collect people who want to work on for-profit companies that have significant positive impacts on many people's lives.

Google provides a huge service to the world - efficient search of a vast amount of data. I would really like to see more for-profit businesses like Google, especially in underserved areas like those explored by non-profits GiveWell, Singularity Institute and CFAR. GiveWell is a nonprofit that is both working toward making humanity better, and thinking about leverage. Instead of hacking away at one branch of the problem of effective charity by working on one avenue for helping people, they've taken it meta. They're providing a huge service by helping people choose non-profits to donate to that give the most bang for your buck, and they're giving the non-profits feedback on how they can improve. I would love to see more problems taken meta like that, where people invest in high leverage things.

Beyond these non-profits, I think there is a huge amount of low-hanging fruit for creating businesses that create a lot of good for humanity and make money. For-profit businesses that pay their employees and investors well have the advantage that they can entice very successful and comfortable people away from other jobs that are less beneficial to humanity. Unlike non-profits where people are often trying to scrape by, doing the good of their hearts, people doing for-profits can live easy lives with luxurious self care while improving the world at the same time.

It's all well and good to appeal to altruistic motives, but a lot more people can be mobilzed if they don't have to sacrifice their own comfort. I have learned a great deal about this from Jesse and Sharla at Rejuvenate. They train coaches and holistic practitioners in sales and marketing - enabling thousands of people to start businesses who are doing the sorts of things that advance their mission. They do this while also being multi-millionaires themselves, and maintaining a very comfortable lifestyle, taking the time for self-care and relaxation to recharge from long workdays.

Less Wrong is read by thousands of people, many of whom are brilliant and talented. In addition, Less Wrong readers include people who are interested in the future of the world and think about the big picture. They think about things like AI and the vast positive and negative consequences it could have. In general, they consider possibilities that are outside of their immediate sensory experience.

I've run into a lot of people in this community with some really cool, unique, and interesting ideas, for high-impact ways to improve the world. I've also run into a lot of talent in this community, and I have concluded that we have the resources to implement a lot of these same ideas.

Thus, I am opening up this post as a discussion for these possibilities. I believe that we can share and refine them on this blog, and that there are talented people who will execute them if we come up with something good. For instance, I have run into countless programmers who would love to be working on something more inspiring than what they're doing now. I've also personally talked to several smart organizational leader types, such as Jolly and Evelyn, who are interested in helping with and/or leading inspiring projects And that's only the people I've met personally; I know there are a lot more folks like that, and people with talents and resources that haven't even occurred to me, who are going to be reading this.

Topics to consider when examining an idea:

  • Tradeoffs between optimizing for good effects on the world v. making a profit.
  • Ways to improve both profitability and good effects on the world.
  • Timespan - projects for 3 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10+ years
  • Using resources efficiently (e.g. creating betting markets where a lot of people give opinions that they have enough confidence in to back with money, instead of having one individual trying to figure out probabilities)
  • Opportunities for uber-programmers who can do anything quickly (they are reading and you just might interest and inspire them)
  • Opportunities for newbies trying to get a foot in the door who will work for cheap
  • What people/resources do we have at our disposal now, and what can we do with that?
  • What people/resources are still needed?
  • If you think of something else, make a comment about it in the thread for that, and it might get added to this list.

An example idea from Reichart Von Wolfsheild:

A project to document the best advice we can muster into a single tome. It would inherently be something dynamic, that would grow and cover the topics important to humans that they normally seek refuge and comfort for in religion. A "bible" of sorts for the critical mind.

Before things like wikis, this was a difficult problem to take on. But, that has changed, and the best information we have available can in fact be filtered for, and simplified. The trick now, is to organize it in a way that helps humans. which is not how most information is organized.


  1. Please keep the mission in mind (let's have more for-profit companies working on goals that benefit people too!) when giving feedback. When you write a comment, consider whether it is contributing to that goal, or if it's counterproductive to motivation or idea-generation, and edit accordingly.
  2. Give feedback, the more specific the better. Negative feedback is valuable because it tells us where to concentrate further work. It can also be a motivation-killer; it feels like punishment, and not just for the specific item criticized, so be charitable about the motives and intelligence of others, and stay mindful of how much and how aggressively you dole critiques out. (Do give critiques, they're essential - just be gentle!) Also, distribute positive feedback for the opposite effect. More detail on giving the best possible feedback in this comment.
  3. Please point other people with resources such as business experience, intelligence, implementation skills, and funding capacity at this post. The more people with these resources who look at this and collaborate in the comments, the more likely it is for these ideas to get implemented. In addition to posting this to Less Wrong, I will be sending the link to a lot of friends with shrewd business skills, resources and talent, who might be interested in helping make projects happen, or possibly in finding people to work on their own projects since many of them are already working on projects to make the world better.
  4. Please provide feedback. If anything good happens in your life as a result of this post or discussion, please comment about it and/or give me feedback. It inspires people, and I have bets going that I'd like to win. Consider making bets of your own! It is also important to let me know if you are going to use the ideas, so that we don't end up with needless duplication and competition.

Finally: If this works right, there will be lots of information flying around. Check out the organization thread and the wiki.