Ryan Schiller: Librex and the Free Exchange of Ideas on College Campuses | Lex Fridman Podcast #172 | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Ryan Schiller: Librex and the Free Exchange of Ideas on College Campuses | Lex Fridman Podcast #172".


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Opening Remarks

Introduction (00:00)

The following is a conversation with Ryan Schiller, creator of Librex, an anonymous discussion feed for college communities starting at first with Yale, then the Ivy Leagues, and now adding Stanford and MIT. Their mission is to give students a place to explore ideas and issues in a positive way, but with much more personal and intellectual freedom than has defined college campuses in recent history. I think this is a very difficult but worthy project. Quick thank you to our sponsors, AllForm, Magic Spoon, BetterHelp, and Brave. Click their links to support this podcast. As a side note, let me say that Ryan is a young entrepreneur and genuine human being who quickly won me over. He's inspiring in many ways, both in the struggle he had to overcome in his personal life, but also in the fact that he did not know how to code, but saw a problem in this world in his community that he cared about. And for that, he learned to code and built the solution in the best way he knew how. That's an important reminder for us humans. Let us not only complain about the problems in the world. Let us fix them. I also have to say that there's passion in Ryan's eyes for really wanting to make a difference in the world. His story, his effort gives me hope for the future. There is hate in this world, but I believe there's much more love, and I believe it's possible to build on the world. To build online platforms that connect us through our common humanity as we explore difficult, personal, even painful ideas together. This is the Lex Friedman podcast, and here is my conversation with Ryan Schiller.

Discussion On Librex And Freedom Of Speech

Librex (01:48)

Let's start with the basics. What is Librex? What are its founding story and founding principles and looking to the future? What do you hope that you have with Librex? Sure. Let me break that down. So what is Librex? Librex is an anonymous discussion feed for college campuses. It's a place where people can have important and unfettered discussions and open discourse about topics they care about, ideas that matter. They can do all of that completely anonymously with verified members of their college community. We exist both on each Ivy League campus and we have an inter-IV community. Actually, this week, we just opened to MIT and Stanford. No, really? MIT? Yes. So we have MIT and Stanford communities, and I expect you to sign up for your MIT account. That's very interesting. What are, for people who are not familiar, like me actually, which are the Ivy Leagues? Sure. So we started at Yale, which is my, I don't know, can you call it Alma Mater because I haven't technically graduated? What's that called when you're actually still there? My university? Yeah, I guess. I guess what's called it home. That's my home. Educational home. Started at my educational home of Yale, and then we moved to, and we could get into the story of this eventually, if you'd like. And then we went to Dartmouth, and then quarantine hit, we opened to the rest of the Ivy League, and now we have, and the Ivy League for those who don't know is Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, and Penn. I got it all in one breath. What's the youngest Ivy League, Penn? No. Columbia. I can't say it. I'm on the camera. We'll edit it in post. I don't know. I'll just say each of all eight of them, and then you can just like, cut it in. Yeah. I'll be like, "Penn, Harvard."

Deep Fakes (03:41)

There's actually a really nice software that people should check out, like a service, which is using machine learning really nicely for podcast editing, where you can, it learns the voice of the speaker, and it can change the words you said. It's like some deep fake stuff. It's deep fake, but for positive applications. It's like the only deep fake positive application I see. Have a friend who's obsessed with deep fakes? What's great about, I think, deep fakes is that it's going to do the opposite of sort of what's happening with our culture, where everyone will have possible deniability. Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's the hope for me is there's so many fake things out there that we're going to actually be much more skeptical and think and take care of. And think and take in multiple sources and actually like reason, like use common sense and use my deep thinking to understand what is true and what is not. Because, you know, we used to have like traditional sources like the New York Times and all these kinds of publications that had a reputation. There are these institutions in order to source the truth. And when you no longer can trust anything as a source of truth, you start to think on your own. That gets part of the individual. That goes, it takes us way back to like where I came from the Soviet Union, where you can't really trust any one source of news. You have to think on your own. You have to talk to your friends. Tremendous, my intellectual autonomy. Don't you think? Think about the societal consequences. Absolutely. I mean, we see so much decentralization in all aspects of our digital lives now, but this is like the decentralization of thought. Yes. You could say it's sadly, I don't think it's sad, it's decentralization of truth. Where like truth is a clustering thing. Where you have these like this point cloud of people just swimming around like billions of them and they all have certain ideas. And what's thought of as truth is almost like a clustering algorithm when you just get a bunch of people that believe the same thing. That's truth. But there's also another truth and there may be like multiple truths and it's almost would be like a battle of truths. Maybe even the idea of truth will like lessen its power in society that there is such a thing is a truth. Because like the downside of saying something is true is it's almost the downside of what people like religious people call scientism. Which is like once science has declared something is true, you can't no longer question it. But the reality is science is a moving mechanism. You're constantly questioning and the maybe truth should be renamed as a process, not a final destination. The whole point is to keep questioning, keep questioning, keep discovering. Kind of like we're going backwards in time to like back when people were sort of finding their identities and we were less globalized. Like people would get together and they'd get together around common value system, common morals and a common place. And those would be sort of these clusters of their truth. And so we have all these different like civilizations and societies across the world that created their own truths. And so we talk about the Jews and the Talm and Toro, we look at Buddhist texts we can look at all sorts of different truths and how many of them get at the same things. But many of them have different ideas or different articulations. Yeah, Horari and Sapiens, we're winds that even farther back into like gay men times. That's the thing that made us human special is we can develop these clusters of ideas, hold them in their minds through stories, pass them on to each other and they grow as and grows. And we only have Bitcoin, which money is another belief system that has power only because we believe in it. And is that truth? I don't know, but it has power. It's carried in the minds of millions and thereby has power.

Silencing of ideas (07:48)

But back to Librex. So what's the founding story? What's the founding principles of Librex? Sure, so I was on campus as a freshman and I was talking to my friends. Many of them felt like it was hard to raise your hand in class to ask a question. They really felt like even outside the classroom it was hard to be vulnerable. And the thing you have to understand about Yale is it's not that big a place. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you basically. And people come to these schools, first of all they're home for people and they want to be themselves. They feel like they can be authentic, they want to make real friendships. And second of all it's a place where people go for intellectual vitality to explore important ideas and to grow as thinkers. And fortunately due to the culture my friends expressed that it was very difficult to do that and I felt it too. And then I could even talk to my professors and I remember I talked to one specific global affairs professor. I was studying this class and his area of expertise was in the Middle Eastern conflict. And I went to him and I said, "Professor we've almost finished this class and we haven't even gotten to sort of the reason I originally wanted to take the class was to hear about your perspective on the Middle Eastern conflict." Because something I'd learned at Yale, and this is maybe a sort of a tangent but I'll flush it out a bit. Something I'd learned at Yale is that you can learn all sorts of things from a textbook. And what you kind of go to Yale to do is to get the opinions of the experts that go beyond the textbook and to have those more in-depth conversations. And so that's sort of the added value of going to a place like Yale and taking a course there as opposed to just reading a textbook. But also interact with that opinion. Exactly. It interacts with that opinion to hear it, to respond to it, to push back on it and to have that with some great minds. And there really are great minds at Yale, don't get me wrong, it's still a place of tremendous brilliance. So I'm talking to this professor, right? And I'm like, "I haven't heard your area of expertise." And I'm like, "Are we going to get to it? What's the deal?" And this is during office hours, mind you. So we're one-on-one. It says, "Ryan, to be honest, I used to teach this area every single year. In fact, I would do a section on it, which is like a small seminar like break away from the class where he would talk to the students in small groups. And explain his perspective, his research, and have a real debate about it, like around a harkness table. And so I used to do this, and then about two years ago, a student reported me to the school, and I realized my job was at risk. And I realized the best course of action was basically just not to approach the topic. And so now I just don't even mention it. And he's like, "You can say whatever you want, but I'm not going to be a part of it." And it's a real shame. It's a real loss to all of the students who I think came to the school to learn from these brilliant professors. In that context of these world experts, the problem seems to be that reporting mechanism, where there's a disproportionate power to a complaint of a young student, a complaint that an idea is painful, or an idea is disrespectful, or ideas creating an unsafe space. And the conclusion of that, I mean, I'm not sure what to do with that, because it's a single reporting, maybe a couple, but that has more power than the idea itself. And that's strange. I don't know how to fix that in the administration except to fire everybody. So this is to push back against this storyline that academia somehow fundamentally broken. I think we have to separate a lot of things out. Like, one is you have to look at faculty, and you have to look at administration. And like at MIT, for example, the administration does tries to do well, but they're the ones that often lack courage. They're often the ones who are the source of the problem. When people criticize academia, and I'll just speak to myself, you know, I'm willing to take heat for this, is they really are criticizing the administration, not the faculty, because the faculty oftentimes are the most brilliant. The bolder thinkers that you think, whenever you talk about we need like the truth to be spoken, the faculty are often the ones who are in the possession of the deepest truths in their mind. In that sense, and they also have the capacity to truly educate in the way that you're saying. And so it's not broken like fundamentally, but there's stuff that like needs, that's not working that well, and you need to be fixed. You kind of took my words, that's what I thought you were going to ask me if I think the idea is broken. That's totally, that's exactly it. So you don't think, yeah, so on the question, do you think that I really just broke it? Do you think that I really just broken? Like what, how do you think about it? The academia in general, I suppose, but Ivy League still I think it represents some of the best qualities of academia. Yeah, what more is there to say there? I think the Ivy League is producing tremendous thinkers to this day. I think the culture has a lot that can be improved, but I have a lot of faith in the people who are in these institutions. I think, like you said, the administration, and I have to be a little careful because, you know, I've been in some of these committees, and I have talked to the administration about these sorts of things. I think they have a lot of stakeholders, and unfortunately it makes it difficult for them to always serve these brilliant faculty and the students in the way that they would probably like to. Yeah, okay, so this is me speaking, right? The administration, I know the people, and they're oftentimes a faculty holding positions in these committees, right? Yes. But it's in the role of quote unquote service, they're trying to do well. They're trying to do good. But I think you could say the mechanism is not working, but I could also say, my personal opinion is they lack courage and one courage and two, grace when they walk through the fire. So courage is stepping into the fire, and grace when you walk through the fire is like maintaining that like, as opposed to being rude and insensitive to the lived quote unquote experience of others or like, you know, just not eloquent at all, like as you step in and take the courageous step of talking and saying the difficult thing, doing it well, like doing it skillfully. So both of those are important, the courage and the skill to communicate difficult ideas, and they often lack them because they weren't trained for it, I think. So you can blame the mechanisms that don't, that allow 19, 20 year old students to have more power than the entire faculty, or you could just say that the faculty need to step up and grow some guts and skill of graceful communication. Really administration? Yeah, and the administration. That's right. That's the administration. So faculty are sometimes one of the most brave outspoken people within the bounds of their career. So that takes a, that's like the founding kind of spark of a fire that led you to then say, okay, so how can I help? Yeah, and I explored a lot. I explored a lot of options. I wrote many articles to my friends, talked to them, and I realized it sort of needed to be a cultural change. It sort of needed to be bottom up, grassroots, something. I knew the energy was there because you just look at the most recent institutional assessment from Yale. This was basically the number one thing that students, faculty, and alumni all pointed to, to the administration, was cultivating more conversations on campus and more difficult conversations on campus. So the people on campus know it. And you look at a Gallup poll, 61% of students are on Ivy League campuses afraid to speak their minds because of the campus culture. The campus culture is causing a sort of freezing effect on discourse. Can you pause on that again? So what percentage of students feel afraid to speak their minds? I think it's only one percent nationally. And you're talking about places, nothing like the Ivy League, where I'd say, I'd imagine it would be even worse because of just the way that these communities kind of come about and the sorts of people who are attracted or are invited to these sorts of communities. That's nationwide that college students, and it's going up, that college students are afraid to say what they believe because of their campus climate. So it's a majority. It's not a conservative thing. It's not a liberal thing. It's a group thing. We're all feeling it. The majority of us are feeling it. And basically, it doesn't even necessarily need to have anything to say. You just have a fear. That's right. So when you're like teaching, you know, metaphors are a really powerful thing to explain, you know, and there's just the caution that you feel that's just horrible for humor. Now comedians have the freedom to just talk shit, which is why I really appreciate somebody who's been a friend recently, Tim Dillon, who gives zero part of my French fucks about anything, which is very liberating, very important person to just tear down the powerful. But, you know, inside the academia as an educator, as a teacher, as a professor, you don't have the same freedom. So that fear is felt, I guess, by the majority of students. And you were getting at something there too, which is that if you're afraid to speak metaphorically, if you're afraid to speak imprecisely, it can be very difficult to actually think at all and to think to the extremities of what you're capable of because these are the mechanisms we use when we don't have quite the precise mathematical language to quite pinpoint what we're talking about yet, this is the beginning, this is the creative step that leads to new knowledge. And so that really scares me, is that if I'm not allowed to sort of excavate these ideas with people in the sort of messy, sloppy way that we do as humans when we're first being creative, are we going to be able to continue to innovate? Are we going to continue to be able to learn? And that's what really sort of scared me.

Building Librex (18:42)

So you've explored a bunch of different ideas, you've heard a bunch of different stuff, how did Librax come about? It basically came to me that it had to be kind of a grassroots movement and it had to be something that changed culturally. And it had to be relatively personal, people meeting people, people finding out that, no, I'm not the only one on campus who feels this way. I feel alone and there are a lot of other people who feel alone. I believe this thing and it's not as unpopular as I thought. You know, basically creating heterodoxy of thought and it's creating that moment where you realize that your politics are personal and that your politics are shared by a lot of people on campus. And so I just started coding it. I didn't have much coding experience but went head first in and figured how hard could it be. You know? I mean, this is really fascinating. So I talked to a lot of software engineers, AI people. Obviously that's where my passion, my interests are, my focus has been throughout my life. The fascinating thing about your story, I think it should be truly inspiring to people that want to change the world is that you don't have a background in programming. You don't have even maybe a technical background. So you saw a problem, you explored different ideas, and then you just decided you're going to learn how to build an app without a technical background. You didn't try to... That's so bold. That is so beautiful, man. Can you take me through the journey of deciding to do that, of learning to program without a programming background and building the app like detailed? Like, how do you start? Sure. I mean, you want to buy a Mac? I learned... You had to buy a Mac. I'm just going to go step by step, right? I'll be as dumb as possible. It was truly leading by your feet. So you need a computer for this? I had a PC at the time, and I was Android at the time, and I realized I realized it should be an iOS app. That was a decision, but I knew these days they were always on their phone. I wanted you to be able to say a passing thought in class, make a passing. You're walking around and you have a thought, and you can express it. Or you're in the dining hall and you have your phone out, you can express it. So it was clear to me it should be an iOS app. By the way, yeah. Android is great. Definitely check that out. We are also now available on Android, but we'll get there for the Android users from MIT Stanford or the Ivy League. So, back to how it happened. So I realized I had a Mac, so went out and got back. I realized I had an iPhone for testing eventually, got an iPhone. So those were the real robots to start with. From there, I mean, there's almost too much information out there about programming. The question is, where do you start and what's going to be useful to you? My first thought was, I should look at some Yale classes, but it became very clear very quickly that that was not the right place to start. That would probably be the right place to start if I wanted to get a job at Amazon, but Michael was slightly different. And I definitely had it in mind that what I was trying to make was I'm trying to prove out an idea. I'm not trying to make a finished product. I'm just trying to get to the first step. Because I figured if I keep getting to the next step, at least I won't die now. At least things will move forward. I'll learn new things. Maybe I'll meet new people. I'll show a degree of seriousness about what I'm doing and things will come together. And that is as you'll see what ends up happening. So I start with Swift, right? And I find this video from the Stanford professor that had like a million views that was like how to make basically Swift apps perfect. And you just like, so you got this Mac and you go to google.com and you type in -- Download Xcode. And then I type in on YouTube. And I'm like, Stanford, iOS, Swift, enter. First YouTube video has a million views. I'm like, it has to be good at Stanford has a million views. I got lucky. I mean, that turned out to be a very good video. And it's basically like introductory course to Swift. Yeah, I mean, you say introductory. I think most of the people in that class probably had a much better background than I did. The software developers probably, the computer scientists. And it was slow for me. I don't think I realized it fully at the time just how far behind I was from the rest of the class. Because I was like, wow, it seems like people are picking this up really quickly. So it took a little longer and a lot of time on Stack Overflow. But eventually I made a truly minimal viable product. The most minimal. Like we're talking, put text on screen, add text to screen, comment on top of text, make a post, make a response. And anyone with a yell email can do this. And you plug it into a cloud server and you verify people's accounts. And you're off. You have to figure out how to, like the whole idea of like having an account. So there's a permanence. Like you can create an account with an email, verify it. Okay. So that's not, you know, and that's literally how I thought about it. Right? So what do I need to do? And I'm like, well, the first thing I need is a login page. And I'm like, how to make a login page and Swift. I mean, it's that easy. If someone, this has been done before, of course I, and then the first page that pops up was probably a pretty damn good page. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't perfect. But like maybe it got me 80% of the way there. And then I came into some bugs and then, you know, I asked Stack Overflow a few questions. And then I got a little further and then I found some more bugs. And then I'm like, maybe this isn't the right way to do it. Maybe I should do it this way. Yeah. I'm sure my code isn't gray. But the goal isn't to make great code. The great wasn't to make scalable code. It was to understand, is this something my friends will use? Like, what is the reaction going to be if I put it in their hands? And am I capable of making this thing? That's awesome. And so you're focusing on the experience, like actually just really driving towards that first step, figuring out the first step and really driving towards it. Of course, you have to also figure out like concept of like storage, like database. You know, something funny. What's that? I just made the database structure with no knowledge of databases whatsoever. And I start showing it to my friends who have been experiencing CS now, like, you used to heap that's so interesting. You're like, why did you decide to store it in this way? I'm like, bro, I don't even know what a heap is. I just did it because it works. Like, I'm trying to make calls and stuff. And they're like, yeah, they're like the hierarchy is really like, I'm like, what? But there's a deep profound lesson in there that I don't know how much you've interacted with computer science people since, but they tend to optimize and have these kind of discussions and what leads what results is over optimization. It's like worrying is this really the right way to do it? And then you go as opposed to doing the first thing that's that overflow. You go down this like rabbit hole of what's the actual proper way to do it. And then you're like, you wake up five years later working on Amazon because you've never finished the login page. Like it's kind of hilarious, but that's a really deep lesson. Like just get it done. And what's a heap, bro? Is the right, that should be a t-shirt. That's really the right approach to building something that ultimately creates an experience and then you iterate eventually. That's how some of the greatest software products in this world have been built is you create it quickly and then just iterate. What was by the way in your mind the thing that you were chasing as a prototype? What was the first step that it feels like something is working? Like, do you see you interacting with another friend? Yeah, I think the first step was like it's one thing to tell someone about an idea, but it's another thing to put in their hands and kind of see like the way their eyes kind of look. And when I'd go, I'd walk around Cross Campus, which is part of Yale, and I'd literally just go up to people and run up to them and be like, try this, try this. You gotta try this. This is pre quarantine, by the way, of course. This would never be the same post quarantine, but like you gotta try this, you gotta try this. Like what is it? And I'd be like, and I'd explain it's like an anonymous discussion feed for our Yale campus. And you'd see their gears turning and they just, some people would be like, not interested. I'm like, fine, not your target demographic. I get it. I get it, actually. But some people, like you could see it, they got it. They're like, yes. And that's when I was like, okay, okay, there is, and you don't need, I mean, you don't need 50% of people to like it. You need what? 5%, 10% to love it, and then they'll tell 5%, 10%, 10%. Yeah, worn a mouth. Yeah. And you're good. Of course, the first version was very, very crappy, but seeing people trying despite all the crappiness, it was sort of enough to be the first step. And since then, all of my code has been stripped out. I now have friends who basically have told me, don't bother with the coding part. You do the rest, you just make sure that we can code because they want to code. Great. I mean, I'm not an engineer. I never intended to be an engineer and there's a lot to do that's not engineering. Yes. But the point was just to validate the idea, so to speak.

How Librex took over Dartmouth (28:29)

When was the moment that you felt like we've created something special? Maybe a moment where you're proud of that this has the potential to actually be the very implementation of the idea that I initially had. There's so many little moments. It's like, and I bet there'll still be moments in the future that make it hard to like totally say. Yeah, we should say this is still very early years of Librex. Yeah, it's literally, it's only been a year since we've had like actual like a lot of people on the app. Yeah, about a year. Oh, wow. Okay. I mean, there's some crazy moments I could talk about sort of going to Dartmouth because it's one thing to like get some traction at your school. Yeah. People know you and you know, it's your school, you know. It's another thing to go to another school and where no one knows you and sign up 90% of the campus overnight. Wow. So tell me that story. You're invading another territory. It was literally like that. Did you buy it like a Dartmouth sweatshirt? A purposefully, I didn't want to fraud anyone, but I was purposefully nondescript to my clothing. Yeah. No yell stuff, no Dartmouth stuff. Just blend in. Um, I'll get, I'll go back there. So what happened was this was like March of last year. So almost, almost a year ago today. And I really wanted to see if we could go from sort of one campus to two campuses. So I didn't know anyone at Dartmouth campus, but I kind of had some cold emails, some warm ish emails. And I went to people and I was like, basically, can I sleep on your floor for two days during finals period? Yeah. I had a lot of people who said this is crazy. Like no one's gonna, no one wants to down on the app during finals period, a social after day finals period. But I, he mounted a few people and I was like, you know, can I sleep on your floor? And one of them was crazy enough to say, sure, come to my dorm. I have a nice floor. Um, and he ended up, today he's still really close. He's really close friends. But anyway, I take a train knowing nothing about this guy besides his first and last name and I arrive and Dartmouth is really, really remote, way more remote than you think to the point where I'm like, he's like, he warned me. He's a really hospitable guy. He warned me like, it's gonna be hard to get to campus from the train station because it's really remote. I'm like, I'm sure it's fine. I'll just get an Uber. There are no Ubers and Hanover's. What do you think this is? New Hampshire. So Connecticut, I mean Yale is pretty remote as well. No? Yeah. Yale is, well, I mean, Yale's in New Haven, which is a real city. It has Ubers. It has food. It has culture. Has a nightclub even. Yeah. Like we're talking about real city. It's not New York. It's not Philadelphia where I'm from, but it's a city. New Hampshire is something very different. Yeah. Beautiful campus, I'm sure. Beautiful. Oh my gosh. I could talk so much about, I was blown away by Dartmouth. I started wondering why I didn't apply legitimately. Between the people and the culture, it was a beautiful vacation. So I arrived there, no Uber, but eventually I call this guy who's the only guy who can get you to Dartmouth and takes a couple hours, but we get there. I sleep on this guy's floor. I wake up. I ask him if there's any printing. He's like, "Oh, Dartmouth happens to have free printing in the copy room." I print out like 2,000 posters. Until the guy in the copy room literally ghost me. He's like, "Kid, I don't know what you're doing, but you need to get out of here." I'm like, "I don't know what I'm going." I'm on the limits. I know, yeah. I'm on the limit. I think a lot of startups are about finding the limits. That's a little piece of advice socially. He's like, "You gotta get out of here." Then, go to every single dorm door. I put a poster under every single dorm door advertising the app with a QR code. I walk around campus saying hi to everyone and talking about the app. I go from table to table in the cafeteria, introduce myself, say hi, and thumbs down at the app. It's exhausting to have so many steps, so many just crouching down to slip the poster into the dorm door. My legs were burning. By the end of it, 24 hours later, I'm sitting in a bus and I'm just pressing the refresh button on the account creation panel. It's going up by hundreds. I'm like, "Oh my gosh." The corner mouth is working in a sense. I mean, certainly your initial seat is powerful. Just a piece. Yeah, but then the word of mouth is what carries it forward. What was the explanation you gave to the app? An anonymity of fundamental part of it, like saying, "This is a chance for you to speak your mind about your experiences on campus." Yeah, I think people get it. What I've realized is you don't need to tell people why to try it. They know. It doesn't hunger for this. Exactly. So all I do is I'm very factual. I said, and this is where I ended up pointing the line that I now used to say it because I said it so many times and that was 24 hours. I just said it's an anonymous discussion feed for Dartmouth. And they're like, "Yes." They've been waiting for it. Some people were more skeptical, but a lot of people were like, "Great. I'm excited to try this. I'm excited to meet people and connect." I mean, the way Dartmouth is taken to is incredible. Everything from professors writing poems during finals period to be like, "Good luck in finals period. You're going to rise like a Phoenix or whatever." So yeah, it's crazy. I heard about two women meeting on Librex and starting a finance club at Dartmouth to significant others meeting. There's an article recently written up at Yale as well about two queer women who met on Librex and started a relationship, which was pretty interesting to see. People throwing parties, pre-COVID. Yeah, it was just amazing to see how when you allow people to be vulnerable and social, they connect. People have this natural desire to connect. Yeah, when you have whatever natural desire to have a voice, and then when that voice is paired with freedom, then you could truly express yourself and there's something liberating about that. And in that sense, you're connecting as your true self, whatever that is. What are the most powerful conversation you've seen on the app? You mentioned people connecting. I heard part of that is the sorting, figuring out which one am I going to put it to? Mom, mental sorting. I just have to stand out to you. Sorry. I don't mean to do the top 10 conversations ever of all time ever on the app. I just mean stuff that you remember that stands out to you. I remember this one really amazing comment from this. He was a Mexican international student who spoke out and this post was super edgy, but yet it got hundreds and hundreds of upvotes within the Yale community. It was a Yale community-specific post. And we should point out that there's a school-specific community now and there's an all-ivy community. So this was specifically in the Yale community. This was a little while ago, but it stuck with me. This Mexican international student comes to Yale and he starts talking about his experience in the La Casa, which is the Mexican Latina X as they would say, cultural center at Yale, and how he doesn't feel welcome there because he's Roman Catholic basically and international and how he doesn't feel like he fits with their agenda. And as a result, this place that's supposed to be home for him, he feels outcasted and feels more alone than he does anywhere else on campus. That's powerful. That was powerful to me. Yeah. It's hearing someone, someone who should be feeling supported by this culture say, "Actually, this is not doing anything for me. This is not helping me. This is not where I feel at home."

Anonymity (36:55)

So what do you make of anonymity? Because it seems to be a fundamental aspect of the power of the app, right? But at the same time anonymity on the internet protects us, right? It gives us freedom to have a voice, but it can also bring out the dark sides of human nature, like trolls or people who want to be malicious, want to hurt others purely for the joy of hurting others, being cruel for fun and going to the dark places. So what do you make of anonymity as a fundamental feature of social interaction, like the pros and the cons? Yeah. Just to break that down a bit, I would say a lot of the same things about a place like Twitter where people are very unanonymous. Having said that, of course, there's a different sort of capacity people have when they're anonymous, right? In all different sorts of ways. So what do I make of anonymity? I think it can be incredibly liberating and allow people to be incredibly vulnerable and to connect in different ways, both on politics. And there was a lot to talk about this year regarding politics. And personally, being vulnerable, talking about relationships and mental health, I think it allows people to have a community that's not performative. And of course, there's this other side where people can sometimes break rules or say things that they wouldn't otherwise say that people don't always agree with or that people might find repugnant. And to an extent, these can facilitate great conversations. And on the other hand, we have to have moderation in place and we have to have community guidelines to make sure that the anonymity doesn't overwhelm the purpose, which is that anonymity, first of all, anonymity is a tool in Librex. It was not the purpose of Librex. It is a way that we get towards these authentic conversations given our campus climate. And second of all, I would say it's a spectrum. It's not just Librex is anonymous, right? Because Librex isn't totally anonymous. Everyone's a verified Ivy League student. You know exactly what school everyone goes to. You only have one account per person at Yale, meaning that, I mean, what that amounts to is people have more of an ownership in the community and people know that they're connected and they have a common vernacular. So the anonymity is a scale and it's a tool. But you can also trust, I mean, this is the difference between Reddit anonymity, where you can easily create multiple accounts. When you have only one account per person, or at least it's very difficult to create multiple accounts, then you can trust that the anonymous person you're talking to is a human being. Not about.

Private vs public life (39:46)

I try to be completely unanonymous. Not only my public interactions, I try to be as real in every way possible, like zero gap between private, me and public me. Why exactly did you? It seems like this is an intentional mission, what made you want to sort of bridge that gap between the private sphere and public sphere? Because that's unique. I know a lot of intellectuals who would make a different decision. Yeah, interesting. I had a discussion about, when the vol about this actually, with a few others that have a very clear distinction between public and private. Something I'm struggling with, by the way, personally, I'm thinking about. One, on the very basic surface level, is if you carry with yourself lies, small lies or big lies, it's an extra mental effort to remember what you're supposed to say, not supposed to say. That's on a very surface level of like, it's just easier to live life when you have the smaller, the gap between the private, you and the public, you. And the second is, I think for me, from an engineering perspective, like if I'm dishonest with others, I will too quickly become dishonest with myself. And in so doing, I will not truly be able to think deeply about the world and come up and build revolutionary ideas. There's something about honesty that feels like it's that first principle thinking that's almost like overused is a term, but it feels like that requires radical honesty, not radical asshole and lishness, but radical honesty with yourself, with yourself. And it feels like it's difficult to be radically honest with yourself when you're being dishonest with the public. And also, I have a nice feature, honestly, that in this current social context, so we can talk about race and gender and what are the other topics that are touchy. ethnicity and nationality. All those things. I mean, like family structure. Maybe I'm in eloquent in the way I speak about them, but I honestly want to look in the mirror, like I'm not deeply hateful of a particular race or even just hateful particular race. I'm sure I'm biased and I try to like think about those biases and so on. And also, I don't have any creepy shit in my closet. I wasn't like, I haven't done it seems like everybody. It seems like a lot of people got like did a lot of creepy stuff in their life. And I just feel like that's really nice and liberating and especially now, you know, it's funny because I've gotten a bit of a platform. And I think it all started when I went, there's a famous female comedian, Whitney Cummings. And you know, I've gotten a lot of amazing women writing me throughout, but when I went on Whitney, it was like the number of DMs I get on Instagram. When women, it's just ridiculous. And I think that was a really important moment for me is like, I speak and I feel, you know, I really value love long term monogamy with like one person. And it's like, I could see where a lot of guys would now continue that message in public and in private just start sleeping around. And so like, that's an important statement for me mentally. He's like, nope. Straight narrow. Just go straight and not out of fear, but out of like principle and just like live life honestly. And I just, I feel like that's truly liberating as a human being. Forget public, all that because then I feel like I'm on sturdy ground when I say difficult things. And at the same time, sorry, I'm ranting on this apology. I'm interested personally and stuff. Keep going. I honestly believe in the internet and people on the internet that when they hear me speak, they can see if I'm full of shit or not. Like I won't be able to fake it. Like they'll see it through. Yeah. So I feel like if you're not lying about stuff, you have the freedom to truly be yourself and the internet will figure it out, like will figure who you are. People have a natural tendency to be able to tell bullshit and it makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Right. Exactly. Like why, why wouldn't why like of all the things that we could evolve to be good at being able to detect honesty seems like one that would be particularly valuable, especially in the sorts of societies we developed into. And then also from a selfish perspective, like a success perspective. I think there's a lot of folks that have inspired me, like the Elon is one of them that shows that there's a hunger for genuineness. Like you can build the businesses as CEO and be genuine and like real and do stupid shit every once in a while. As long as it's coming from the same place of who you truly are, like Elon is inspirational with that. And then there's a lot of other people I admire that are counterinspirations in the sense like they're very formal. They hold back a lot of themselves. And it's like, I know how brilliant those people are. And I think they're not being as effective of leaders, public faces of companies as they could be. I mean, to be honest, like not to throw shade, but I will is like Mark Zuckerberg is an example of that. Jack Dorsey's also a bit of an example that I like Jack a lot. I've talked to him a lot. I will talk to him more. I think he's a much more amazing person than he conveys through his public presentation. I think a lot of that has to do with PR and marketing people having an effect. Listen, it's difficult. I think it's really difficult. It's probably many of the same difficulties you will face as the pressures. But it's hard to know what to do. But I think as much as possible as an individual, you should try to be honest in the face of the world and the company that wants you to be more polished and that being more polished turns you into a politician and politician eventually turns you into being dishonest, dishonest with the world and dishonest with yourself. Something I noticed, which was the people of the people you mentioned, those things have had ramifications in terms of letting things go too far, get out of hand. You wonder, it's an aspect of lying. You say one lie, goes to another lie, you push it down. It doesn't matter. You can talk and figure it out later. You can figure it out later. Pretty soon, you've dug a pretty big hole. I think if we look at Twitter and we look at Facebook, I think it goes without saying what sorts of holes have been dug, perhaps because of a lack of honesty that goes all the way up to the leaders. So yeah, there's two problems. Within the company, it doesn't make you as effective of a leader, I think. That's one. And two, for social media companies, I think people need to trust, it doesn't have to be the CEO, but this is how humans work. We want to look to somebody where like, I trust you, if you're going to use a social media platform, I think you have to trust the set of individuals working at the top of that social and social. I was really quickly, one of the lessons throughout the startup was that people don't totally connect to products as much as they connect to people. And I mean, I don't know if you've had much. You've found on Librex, you've only been here the last couple of weeks, like last week, but I mean, I love the product. And one of the aspects of me loving the products is that I was super active and I've been super active throughout the entire time. And the amount of support I've received has made that very easy to do from the community and the fact that I could, I mean, so I came to Boston for the center view, right? I came to Boston. I got off the train. Yeah. It was around 5.30pm. I check Librex. Someone is writing, "Hey, I'm in Boston. Does anyone want to get dinner?" Yeah. 30 minutes later, I'm getting dinner with them. That's amazing. And I mean, it's incredible. First of all, as an entrepreneur, the amount of stuff I learned from these people and when they reiterate and I hear that they got the message through the product, I mean, that's incredibly validating. But also, I mean, I think it's just important to be able to put a face to a brand and especially a brand that's built on trust because fundamentally, the users are trusting us with some really important discussions and some really and a movement to some degree. It's a community and a movement.

Building a sense of community (49:13)

I'll tell you actually why I didn't use the app very much so far is there's something really powerful about the way it's constructed, which I felt like a bit of an outside because I don't know the communities. It felt like it's a really strong community around each of these places. And so I felt like it made me really wish there was an MIT one. And so there's both discussions about the deep community issues within Columbia or Yale or so on, Dartmouth. And there's also the broader community of the Ivy League that people are discussing. But I could see that actually expanding more and more and more. But which is a powerful coupling, which is the feeling of the little village of this little community we're building together, but also the broader issues as you can do both discussions. One thing that was important to me is talking about social media as a concept, right? I think the way people socialize is very much context dependent. So we're talking about people understanding each other through language, through English. And these languages are constructed in a very nuanced way, in a very sort of temperamental way, right? And you kind of need a similar context to be able to have productive conversations. So to me, it's really important that these groups, they share something in common, a really big lived experience, the Ivy League or their school community. And they have a similar vocabulary. They have a similar background. They know what's happening in their community. And so having social media that is community connected to me was fundamental. Like you talk about anonymity. To me, community is the thing that when I think about Librex, I think what makes it different. It's the fact that everyone knows what's going on. Everyone comes from a similar context and people can socialize in a way where they understand each other because they're been through, you use the word lived experience. They've been through so many of the same lived experiences. One like clarification, is there an easy way if you choose to then connect in a meet space, in physical space? So I guess the sort of magic of it. And I was talking to a bunch of Harvard Librexers who I met off the app while I was in Boston. And every time they told me, "This is my favorite part of the app. This is what I love about the app." We have this matching system which is an anonymous direct message that you can send to any poster. So I was talking to this guy who was really into coin collection. And he met other people who were really into coin collection through a post and he would make a post about coin collection. And then someone would come to him and they could direct message him anonymously and it would just show him their school. And then they could just text chat, totally anonymously direct message if he accepted the anonymous request. Do they see the user names, right? There are no user names on Librex. It's all just school's names. So he made this post about coin collection and he got a direct message. Yeah, I guess so, right? No user name. Because I was just looking at the text. Yeah. That's interesting. That's right. And I can tell you, I can go into why. That's really interesting. Yeah, I can go into. So truly is anonymous. It's well, I mean, but it's not by anonymous. Exactly. It's a very different kind of anonymous. And the reason the reason that we made that decision is because we wanted people to connect to ideas. We wanted people to connect to things in the moment. We don't want people to go, oh, I know this guy. He said this other thing and we didn't want people to feel like they were at risk of being docked. So it's just these are small communities, right? We talked about this. Everyone knows someone who knows you. And in 2021, it would not take much to be able to figure out who someone might be. Just do a couple of posts. So suppose safety and about the ideas in terms of not adding usernames. Anyway, we have this anonymous direct message system where you can direct message the original poster of any post, the OP, if you're a writer of any post. And that makes it really easy to meet up because once you guys are one on one, you can exchange a number. You can exchange a Snapchat. You can exchange an email, probably not very often, but good. And then that's how people meet up. Notching.

Refusing to sell user data (53:56)

And then a lot of people connect in this way. Let me just take a small step into the technical. I read somewhere. I don't know if it's true that one of the reasons you were rejected from YC Y Combinator in the final rounds is because one of the principles is to refuse to sell user data. Can you speak to that? Why do you think it's important not to sell user data? Which draws a clear contrast between other, basically any other service on the internet. I mean, to be honest, it's quite simple. I mean, we talk about this platform. People are talking about their most intimate secrets, their political opinions. How are they feeling about what's going on in their city during the summer? How are they feeling about the political cycle and also their mental health, their relationships? These are some of the most intimate thoughts that people were having. Like, I don't think it was ethical to pawn them off for a profit. I didn't think it was moral. I don't think I could sleep at night if that was what I was doing is turning these people's most intimate beliefs and secrets into a currency that I bought and sold. There's something very off about that. I tend to believe that there is some room. Like Facebook would just take that data and sell it. But there's some room in transparency and giving people the choice on which parts they can... I wouldn't even see it as sell, but share with advertisers. Are you going to give them a profit? This is so right. You have to monetize. You have to create the entire system. You have to rethink this whole thing. If as long as you give people control and are transparent, I mean, it could be easy. I think it's really difficult to delete a Facebook account or delete all your data or to download it. I tried. It's very difficult. So, just make it easy and trust in that if you create a great product, people are not going to do it. And if they do it, then they're not actually a deep loving member of the community. So, we very quickly realized that user privacy was something that was not only a core value, but was something that users really cared about. And we added this functionality. It's just a button that says, "Forget me." You press it. Yeah. Like two clicks. It's not that hard. We just removed your email from the database. Yeah. You're good. Beautiful. I think Facebook should have that. I honestly... So call me crazy, but maybe you can actually speak to this, but I don't think Facebook, well, now they would. But if they did it earlier, they would lose that much money. If they allow, like transparently, tell people, "You could just delete everything." They also explain that in ways that's going to potentially lessen your experience in the short term, like explain that. But then there shouldn't be multiple clicks of a button that don't make any sense. I'm trying to hold back from ranting about Instagram, because let me just say real quick, because I've been locked out of Instagram for a month. And there's a whole group inside Facebook that are supporters of... Lex... Freelax? Freelax. I wasn't blocked. It was just a bug in the system. Somebody was hammering the API with my account, and so they kept thinking I'm a bot. Anyway, it's a bug. It happens to a lot of people. But first of all, I appreciate the love from all the amazing engineers in Instagram and Facebook. All of those folks, the entire mechanism, though, is somehow broken. I put that on the leadership, but it's also difficult to operate a large company once it scales all those kinds of things. But it should not be that difficult to do some basic things that you want to do, which is in the case of Facebook that's verify your identity to the app. And also in the case of Facebook, in the case of Librex, disappear, if you choose. There's downsides to disappearing, but it should not be a difficult process. And I think people are waking up to that. I think there's a lot of room for an app like Librex with its foundational ideas to redefine what social media should look like. Like you said, I think beautifully anonymity is not the core value. It's just the tool you use. And who knows? Maybe anonymity will not always be the tool you use. If you give people the choice, who knows what this evolves? From the login page that you initiated, the key thing is the founding principles. And again, who knows if you give people a really nice way to monetize their data, maybe they'll no longer be a thing that you say do not sell user data. Yeah, all those kinds of things. But the basic principles should be there. And also a good, simple interface design goes a really long way, like simplicity and elegance, which Librex currently is, Clubhouse is another app. It's a lot better, by the way. I don't mean to go too deep into the history, but the... It was bad. I didn't look at the early pictures. Oh, thank goodness. I read somewhere that it was like a white screen, like with black, like HTML-based. There were these up-vote and down-vote buttons were like these big, these big freaking boxes. And I could go on, but it was my genius design skills. I almost failed art class when I was in first grade, and I think I still have some more skills to my first grade self. But it's kind of a lot better, and thanks to a lot of my friends who have sort of chipped in here and there. Oh, I love the idea of a button. They just forget me. I don't know. It's really moving actually, that's actually all people want. They want, I think, okay, I'll speak to my experience. I will give so much more if I could just disappear if I needed to. And I trusted the community. I trusted the founders and the principals. That's really powerful, man. Trust and ease of escape.

Moderation (01:00:46)

I've also kind of mentioned moderation, which is really interesting. So with this anonymity in this community, I don't know if you've heard of the internet, but there's trolls on the internet. So I've heard. And even if they go to Yale and Dartmouth, there's still people that probably enjoy the sort of being the guerrilla warfare, contrary, revolutionary and just like creating chaos in a place of love. So how do you prevent chaos from an hatred breaking out in Librex? So the way I think about it is we have these principals. They're pretty simple and they're pretty easy to enforce. And then beyond the principals, we have a set of moderators, moderate from every single five-ealych school, seem of diverse moderators to enforce these principles, but not only enforce the principles, but kind of clue us in to what's happening in their community and how the real-life context of their community translates to the Librex context of their community. And beyond that, we have conversation with them about the standards of the community. And we're constantly talking about what needs to be further elucidated and what needs to be tweaked. And we're in constant communication with the community. Now, if you want me to get into the principles that underlie Librex's moderation policy. Yeah, please. Maybe you can explain that there's moderators. What does that mean? How are they chosen and what are the principles to wish they operate? Sure. So how are the moderators chosen? The moderators are all volunteers. They're Librexers who reach out to me and respond to the opportunity to become moderator. And the way they're chosen is basically we want to make sure that they're in tune with their community. We want to make sure they come from diverse backgrounds and we want to make sure that they sort of understand what the community is about. And then we ask them some questions about how they would deal with certain scenarios. Ones that we've had in the past and we feel strongly about. And then also ones that are a little more murky, where we want to see that they're sort of thinking about these things in a critical way. And from there, we choose a set and they have the power to take down posts. Of course, everything at the end of day pens my review, but they can take them down and we can reinstate them if it's a problem. But they can take down posts and they can advocate for different moderation standards and different moderation policies. So for now, you're the Linus Torval does community. Meaning you're able to, people are actually able to email you or like contact you and get a response. Like you respond to basically everybody. And then you're like really, you're living that live on people's floor life currently. That's not necessarily, this is the early days folks. And you rhyme more. He was a billionaire and it was cool. And then he was in a mansion making meats on his barbecue. No. Okay. But how does it scale? Like what? I suppose how does it scale is the question. I mean, with Linus, I don't know if you're familiar with the Linux open source community, but he still stayed at the top for a while. It was really important. Like leadership there was really important to drive that large scale really productive open source community. What do you see your role as Libra grows and in general, what are the mechanisms of scaling here for moderation? I see it open discourse is fundamental to the purpose of the app. Right. So as the, I guess you could say founder, CEO, what have you, part of my purpose has to be to enforce the vision, right? And part of the vision is open discourse. And that does come down in part to reasonable moderation and community guide reasonable moderation. So I imagine that will always be something that I'm intimately involved with to some degree. Now the degree to which the way in which that manifests, I imagine will have to change, right? And hopefully I'll be able to just like you can hire a CTO. I'll be able to be in integrated and hiring people who are who understand the way that we are sort of operating and the reasonable standards of moderation. And there can be a sort of hierarchical structure. But I think when you have a product whose key purpose is to allow people to have these difficult conversations on campus that need to be had, I can never. Yeah, that's my reason to core to that. Yeah. And I don't think I can fully ever abdicate that responsibility. I think that would be like, I mean, that would be like Bezos abdicating e-commerce, right? Like that is part of the job. Yeah. Of course you can run companies in different ways. I think because he might have abdicated quite a bit of the details there. It's hard for me to say. Because the Amazon does so many things. I think probably the better examples like Elon would rock as he's still at the core of the engineer. And he's at the core of the engineering. There's some fundamental questions of what he probably does way too much of the engineering. Like he's like the lowest level detail. But you're saying like the core things that are that make the app work is the moderation of difficult conversations. And by the way, I'm 21 years old. Let's remind us everyone of that. If this thing does scale, then if this thing continues to be a positive force in a lot of people's lives, who knows what will happen in the next, what I'll learn. I'm still growing definitely as a leader, still growing as a thinker, still growing as a person. I can't pretend that I know how to run a business that is worth, you know, up to $1 billion whatever. I can't pretend I know how to run a business that's, you know, going to have millions and millions of users. I expect that there are going to be a lot of amazing people who will teach me and that a lot of people who have already kind of stepped into my life and helped me out and taught me things. And I imagine that I'll learn so much more. I just know that moderation is always going to be important to me because I don't think Librex is Librex unless we have open discourse and moderation. Reasonable open light touch moderation is at the heart of creating that, right?

Freedom of speech (01:07:35)

So as a creator of this kind of community in place with anonymity and difficult conversations, what do you think about this touchy three words that people have been tossing around and politicizing, I would say, but is it the core of the founding of this country, which is the freedom of speech? How do you think about the freedom of speech, this particular kind of freedom of expression? And do you think it's a fundamental human right? How do you define it to yourself when you're thinking about it? I went down, especially preparing for this conversation down a rabbit hole of just how unclear it is philosophically, what is meant by this kind of freedom. It's not as easy as people think, but it's interesting, pragmatically speaking, to hear how you think about it in the context of Librex. Yeah, it's a tough one, right? There's a lot there. So I come from the background of being a math major. Maybe it's important to start with that. And I found myself in the middle of this question of freedom of speech, one of the wonderful things is that the Librex community is filled with PhDs and governance majors who have taught me a ton about this sort of thing. I'm still learning, I'm still growing, I'm still probably going to modify my perspective to some degree, hopefully. Don't worry, I imagine I'll always support free discourse. Like learning, how to speak about stuff is critical here because it's like, I'm learning that this is like a minefield of conversations, because the moment you say like, even saying freedom of speech is a complicated concept, people will be like, oh, we spot a communist. Like they'll say there's nothing complicated about freedom, freedom is freedom, bro. It is complicated. First of all, if you talk about there's different definitions of freedom of speech, if you want to go constitution, if you want to talk about the United States specifically and what's legal, it's actually not as exciting and not as beautiful as people think of. Complicated. It's complicated. I think there's ideals behind it that we want to see. What is that actually materialized itself in the digital world where we're trying to communicate in ways that allows for difficult conversations and also at the same time doesn't result in the silencing of voices, not through like censorship, but through like just assholes being rude. Spam. Spam. So it could be just bots. Racism. Racism. Going back to the name of the app, Librax. Libra, free. X was support onto for free exchange and the free exchange of what? My purpose was to create as much inner communication of ideas, be them repugnant or otherwise as possible. And of course to do that within legal bounds and to do that without causing anyone to be harassed or docked so to keep things focused on the ideas, not the people. And then no BS crap, you know, stuff. And so to me the easiest way to moderate around that, because as you said, figuring out what is hateful and what is hate speech is really hard, was to say no sweeping statements against core identity groups. And that seems to work on the whole pretty well, to be pretty light touch. And you know. Hard to do though. It's difficult. We like to generalize we humans. It's difficult, but what it comes down to is be specific. Yeah. And when you think about what are sweeping statements against core identity groups, right? Oftentimes these are sort of hacknite subjects. These are things that have been broached and we've heard them before. They don't really lead anywhere productive. So we had so it goes on to this principle of be specific in the ideas you're discussing. So even for like positive and humor stuff, you try to avoid generalizations against core identity groups. Sorry, what are core identity groups? We're talking. You know, race, religion. Okay. Got it. Even positive stuff. Against negative. Against. Sorry, against against. Okay. Very, very, we've learned to be very specific. Very few words, but the community gets it, you know. Yeah, they get it. I mean, this the thing, the trouble with rules is that the community grows. They'll figure out ways to manipulate the rules. Absolutely. It's human nature. It's creativity. Yeah. Something beautiful about it, of course. Unlike in from an evolutionary perspective. Yes. But people are so creative and so looking to, and because people are genuinely interested in figuring out these things about social media and so they'll 100% like see like where's the edge and I mean, part of that's maintaining some level of vagueness in your rule set. Yeah. Which has its own set of questions and something we could think about. And I'm not implying I have all the answers, but there is something really interesting about people being so engaged that they're looking to figure out where those edges and what does that mean? What does that edge mean? You know, so one of the things I'm kind of thinking about like from an individual user of Librex or individual user of the internet, I think about like that one person that is on Reddit saying hateful stuff or positive stuff doesn't matter or funny stuff. One of the things I think about is the trajectory of that individual through life and how a social media can help that person become the best version of themselves. I don't mean from like a Orwellian sense, like educate them properly or something. I just mean like we're all I believe we're all fundamentally good and I also believe we all have the capacity to do to create some amazing stuff in this world. Whether that's ideas or art or engineering all those kinds of things just to be amazing people. I kind of think about like, you know, a lot of social media mechanisms bring out the worst than us. I try to think like in the long term, how can the social media or how can a website or to you that you create can make the best like you take a trajectory that makes you a better, better and better and like the best version of yourself. So I think about that because like, you know, Twitter can really take you down some dark trajectories. I've seen people just not being the best version of themselves. Forget the cancel culture and all that kind of stuff is just like they're not developing intellectually in the way that's going to make the best version of themselves. I think Reddit, I'm not sure what I think about Reddit yet. Because one positive side is all the shit posting on Reddit could be just like a release valve for some stress in life and you almost have like a parallel life where in your in meat space, you might be actually becoming successful and so on and growing and so on. But you just need sometimes to be angry at somebody. But I tend to not think that's possible. I think if you're shit posting, you're probably not spending your time the best way you could. I don't know. I am torn on that. So do you think about that with Librex of creating a trajectory for the for the Yale, for the Dartmouth, the students to where they grow intellectually? One thing that I think about a lot is how do you incentivize positive content creation? How do you incentivize? Well, but yeah, really intellectual content creation. It's something that frankly, you know, I think about every single day. And I think there are ways that, I mean, one thing that's great about humans is that they can be incentivized, right? And I think there are ways that you can incentivize people to make the right kind of content. If that's your goal. So you think such mechanisms exist for such incentivization? I do. I don't want to let the cat out of the bag. Sure. So to speak. So you have already idea like concrete ideas in your mind and you're really concrete ideas that I'm very, very optimistic about. Yeah. You don't even need to share them. The fact I understand totally, but like the fact that you have them, that's really good. Because I feel like sometimes the downfall of the social media is that there's literally not even a thinking or a discussion about the incentivization of positive long term content creation. Twitter, I really was excited about this when they said like when Jack has talked about like creating healthy conversations. He does seem to care. I've listened to him. I mean, he's very, he has a very particular way of saying things, but you get the impression that he's someone who actually cares about these things within the limits of his power. Yeah. And that's the question, the limits of the power. Librex is growing not just in the number of communities, but also in the way you're incentivizing positive conversations, like coupled with the moderation and so on. So you think there's a lot of innovation to be had in that area. There's a tremendous amount. I think when you think about the reasons people post fundamentally people want to make a positive impact on their community, to some degree. Now there'll always be bad actors and part of the benefit of sort of our moderation structure is that we can limit some of those bad actors, you know, nobody counts, no brigading. At the same time, the more you incentivize a certain type of behavior, the better it's going to be. And it's we don't see this art role as the platform to force the community in a direction. And frankly, I don't think it would be good for anyone, the community or the conversations, if we forced a specific type of conversations, conversation, we just need to make the tools to allow people to be good and to incentivize good behavior. Yeah. I think if you, you don't need, you will not need to censor if you allow people at scale to be good. The good will overpower the assholes. That's my fundamental belief. I'm very optimistic about that.

Scaling (01:18:27)

But currently, Librex is small in the sense that it's just, it's a small set of communities that I believe, and you mentioned to me offline that by design, you're scaling slowly. That's right. And carefully. So how does Librex scale? Is it possible? You know, Facebook also started with a small set of communities that were schools and then now grew to be basically the, if not one of the largest social networks in the world. Do you see Librex has potentially scaling to be beyond even college campuses, but encompassing the whole world? So it's a long timeline. I'll say this. This gets back to like where did Facebook go wrong? Because clearly they did a lot, right? And we can only, we can only speculate about what the objectives were of the founders of Facebook. You know, I'm sure they've said some things, but it's always interesting to know what the, what the mythology is versus what the truth is of the matter. So perhaps they've been very successful. I mean, they've taken over the world to some extent. At the same time, the goals of Librex are to create these positive communities and these open conversations where people can have real conversation and connection in their communities in a vulnerable and authentic way. And so to that end, which I imagine might be different than the goals of a Facebook, for example. One thing that we want to do is keep things intimate and community-based. So each school is its own community. And perhaps you could have a slightly broader community. Maybe you could have a, I know the California system is an obvious one, Pac-10 might be an obvious one. And we can think about that. But fundamentally the unit, the unit of community is your school or your school community. So that, that, that's one difference that I think will help us. The other thing is that we're scaling intentionally, meaning that when we expand to a school, we have moderators in place. We have moderators who understand that school's environment in a very personal level. And we're growing responsibly. We're growing as we're ready, both technologically but also socially. You know? But as we think we have the tools to preserve the community and to encourage the community to create this sort of content that we want them to create. And, you know, there's a lot of ways to define community. So first of all, there's geographic community as well. But the way you're kind of defining community with Yale and Dartmouth is the email, right? That's what gives you, there's a power to the email in the sense that that's how you can verify, efficiently verify yourself with being a single individual in the university. In that same way, you can verify your employment at a company, for example, like Google, Microsoft, Facebook. Do you see your potentially taking on those communities? That'd be fascinating getting like anonymous community conversations inside Google. 100% crossed my mind. To some extent, this is, this is something where I understand the college experience. I understand the need. And I've never worked at Google. I don't know if they would hire me. Hopefully the name is Product Manager. I think if there's a community that needs this product and has that will, which I think especially as Librex continues to grow and expand and change and learn. Because that's what we're doing is we're learning, right? With each community, it's not just about growing. It's about learning from each of these communities and iterating. I think it's quite likely there are going to be all sorts of communities that could use this tool to improve their culture, so to speak. So forgive me.

Various Topics

Yik Yak (01:22:43)

I'm not actually like that knowledgeable out the history of attempts of building social networks to solve the problem that you're solving. But I was made aware that there was an app or at least a social network called Yek Yak that had a similar kind of focus. I think the thing you've spoken about that differs between Librex and Yek Yak is that Yek Yak was defined, am I pronouncing it right even? You're good. I'm good. I'm at the founder, so I can confirm. You can confirm cool. It was constrained to a geographical area versus to the actual community. That somehow had fundamental actual differences in social dynamics that resulted. But can you speak to the history of Yek Yak? How does Librex differ? What lessons have you learned from that? I should say that I guess there was controversial, I don't know, I didn't look at the details, but I'm guessing there's a bunch of racism and hate speech and all that kind of stuff that emerged on Yek Yak. That's an example of like, okay, here's how it goes wrong when you have anonymity on college campuses. How does Librex going to do better? You're getting a lot of problems, content problems. The content problems go deeper than maybe what the press would reveal. There's a lot to say. Because part of it is parsing exactly what to talk about when it comes to Yek Yak. When you talk about startups, I mean, you know startups and you look at the post-mortem, it's almost never what people think it is. Oftentimes these things are somewhat unknowable. The degree to which people seeking confirmation bias, seeking closure, look to find a singular attribute that caused the failure. It feels like the little details often make all the difference. Yes. I think the details are so little that as humans, we are not capable of parsing even what they are. But I'll tell you also in my perspective on it, knowing that I'm also a human with biases. In this particular case, very significant biases. So I started building Librex for its own merits. At first, I wasn't aware of Yek Yak, but as I started to talk to people about this platform I was building. I was made aware of Yek Yak and I built it from day one with a lot of the issues Yek Yak had in mind. So as you said, the one difference between Yek Yak is the geographical versus community-based aspect. Going along with that, one thing I realized by researching social media sites is that the majority of the negative content, the content that's terrible and breaking all the rules, created by really, and the people who are not reformable, so to speak, the people who are not showing the best part of the human experience. It's a really small minority, right? I remember I was listening to the founder of 4chanMoot talk about this, how like one guy was able to basically destroy like large swaths of his community. Yeah, that's part of what makes it exciting for that minority is how much power they can have. So if you're predisposed to think in this way, it's exciting that you can walk into like I mentioned the party before. You have a party of a lot of positive people and it feels, especially if you don't have much power in this world, it feels exceptionally empowering to destroy the lives of many. And if you think this way, it's a problem. I'm hopeful that you're right that in most cases it's going to be a minority of people. I think it is, and that's what the research has shown. And one really powerful thing is that we can really actively control who comes in and out of our community based on the .edu verification. And we can also control who's not in our community because we have that lever where each account is associated with a .edu. So that's the first point I would point out there. Second point is controlled expansion, meaning that we have community moderation. We have this panel that allows the moderators to see all of the highly downloaded content, all of the reported content, all the flagged content and look through it and decide what they like and what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. And we have, we ping every moderator when there's a report, so things are taking them pretty quickly. And we have our standards and we have, I think above all of that, we have a mission and it's a community based mission. Yigyak was more of a fun app and by its own mission it was a place where people could enjoy themselves and could sort of... Yack. Yigyak, you know, chit chat. We have a bigger purpose than that, frankly. And I think that shows and the people who self select Beyond That app to be on Librex and to be on Yigyak, respectively. Last thing I'll say is Yigyak was very few characters. It was a Twitter-esque platform. And that doesn't allow for a tremendous amount of nuance, it doesn't allow for a tremendous amount of conversation. Librex is much more long-form and so the kind of posts that you'll get on Librex can spam pages. They're like... What people are starting to realize is that they can reach a lot more people at a lot more pertinent of a time, a lot more quickly by posting their thoughts on Librex than if they went to their school newspaper. And I think the school newspapers might be a little worried about that, but more importantly, we're connecting people in this way. We're at long-form communication with nuance that takes into account everything that's happening in the community. Temporally is really available at Librex and, you know, not really communicable in 240 or 480 or whatever the number of characters the acts were bound to. And then, you know, I could talk about the history of Yigyak if you want me to go further. They started, I think, they were at 12 schools and then spring break it. People told their friends, "Look at this app." A thousand schools signed up and we had active communities. They had a problem on their hands. And then the high schools come on board. Yeah. I think a lot of the things you said are being true to me, but especially the vision one, which I do think having a vision in the leadership, having a mission, makes all the difference in the world that that's both for the engineers that are building, like the team that's building the app, the moderation and the users because the mission carries itself through the behavior of the people on the social network. As a small tangent, let me ask you something about Parler, but it's less about Parler and more about AWS.

AWS and Parler (01:30:03)

So AWS removed Parler from his platform for whatever reasons doesn't really matter. But the fact that AWS would do this was really, really bothered me personally because I saw AWS as a computing infrastructure and I always thought that part could not put a finger on its scale. And I don't know what your thoughts are, like, were you bothered by Parler being removed from AWS? And how does that affect how you think about the computing infrastructure in which Librex is based? I was bothered not so much by Parler specifically being taken out of AWS, but more the fact that something that's like a highway, something that people rely on, that people build on top of, that people assume is going to be somewhat position agnostic, like a road that people drive on is becoming ideologically sort of discriminatory. I just, and of course, mind you, Amazon can do what it wants. It's a private company and I support the rights of private companies. I just, on an ethical and sort of a deep moral level, I wonder, like, at what point should a company sort of be agnostic in that regard and let developers build on top of their infrastructure and where does that responsibility hold? Yes. It makes you hope that there's going to be, from a capitalistic sense, competitors to AWS who say, like, we're not going to put our finger on the scale. I mean, on the highways, a good sort of example is like if I'll privately owned highway, exactly, said, you know, we're no longer going to allow, we're only going to allow electric vehicles. And a bunch of people in this world would be like, yes, because electric is good for the environment. And, you know, yes, but then you have to consider the slippery slope nature of it, but also like the negative impact on the lives of many others and what that means for innovation and for like competition, again, in a capitalistic sense. So there's some nature. There's some level to this hierarchy of our existence that we should not allow to manipulate what's built on top of it. It should be truly infrastructure. And it feels like compute is storage and compute is the that layer like you shouldn't be messed with. I haven't seen anybody really complain about it, like in terms of government and I'm not even sure government is the right mechanism to policy and regulation to step in. Because again, they do a messy job of fixing things. But I do hope there's competitors to AWS to make AWS and step up. Because I do think, you know, I'm a fan of AWS, except this service. It's a good service until this. So yeah, until they rip out the rug. And the point is it's not that necessarily their decision was a bad one with parlor in particular. It's that like the slippery slope nature of it, but also the it takes the good actors that are creating amazing products and makes them more fearful. And when you're more fearful, it's the same reason that anonymity is a tool that you don't create the best thing you could possibly create. When you're fearful, you don't create. I think we kind of talked about it a little bit, but I wonder if it can kind of revisit it a little bit. I talked to a guy named Ronald Sullivan, who's a faculty at Harvard Law Professor. He was on a legal defense team. He was the lawyer for Harvey Weinstein and Aaron Hernandez for the double murder case. So he takes on these really difficult cases of unpopular figures because he believes like that's the way you test that we believe in the rule of law. But he was there's a big protest in Harvard to get him basically censor him and to get him to no longer be faculty dean, all those kinds of things. And it was by minority of students, but it was a huge blowback obviously in the public, but also inside Harvard, like that's not okay. He stands for the very principles at the founding of Harvard and at the principles of the founding of this country and the law and so on. But the basic argument is that it was about safe spaces, that it's unsafe to have somebody who is basically supporting Harvey Weinstein. What do you think about this whole idea of safe spaces on college campuses?

Safe spaces (01:35:07)

Because it feels like the mission of Librex is pushing back against the idea of safe spaces. I think safe spaces are fine when they're within people's private lives, within their homes, within their religious organizations. I think the problem becomes when the institution starts encouraging or backing safe spaces because what are people being safe from? And oftentimes it seems like there's this idea that the harm that's being attempted to be mitigated is the harm of confronting opinions you disagree with, opinions you might find repugnant. And if this is conflated with a need for safety, then that's where the idea of liberal arts education sort of dies. Of course, it's complicated and we still want to have safe intellectual environments. But the way that I hear the term safe space used today, I think it doesn't really have a place within the intellectual context. Yeah, it's funny. I mean, this is why Librex is really exciting is it's pushing those difficult conversations and I'd love to see. Ultimately, there does seem to be an asymmetry of power that results in the concept of safe spaces and hate speech being redefined in the slippery slope kind of way where it means basically anything you wanted to mean. And it basically is used to silence people, to silence people that are like good, thoughtful experts. Also, on that, I would say it has not just a pragmatic purpose, which is the silencing, but also sort of an ideological purpose, which is an allinguistic purpose, which is to conflate words with unsafety and harm and violence, which is what you kind of see on a cultural linguistic level is happening all around us right now is that this idea that words are harm is very dangerous and slippery concept. I mean, you don't have to slip that far to see why that's a problem. Once we start making words into violence and we start criminalizing words, we get into some really authoritarian territory, things that I think I mean myself and my background, I don't know how much we have to go into it, but things that my ancestors certainly would be worried about. What's your background? I'm a child of Holocaust survivors and program survivors. So yeah, I mean me as well from different directions that come from the Soviet Union. So there's, well, like in most of us, hate and love runs through our blood from our history.

Jeffrey Epstein (01:38:04)

You mentioned MIT is being out of Tilly Breaks. Has it already been added? Yes, it was added today. Today. Okay. So let me ask you this is exciting because I don't know what your thoughts are about this, but I'll tell you from my perspective, if you're an a lot of MIT folks, listen to this. I would love it if you join Libreks. It'd be interesting to explore conversations on several topics inside MIT, but one of the most moving that hasn't been discussed at all, except in little flourishes here and there is a topic of Jeffrey Epstein. Now there's been a huge amount of like impact that the connections of various faculty to Jeffrey Epstein and the various things that been said had on MIT, but it feels like the difficult conversation haven't had been had. It's the administration trying to clean up and give a bunch of BS to try to pretend like let's just hide this part. Like nothing is broken, nothing to see here. There's a bad dude that did some bad things and some faculty that kind of misbehaved a little bit because they're a little bit clueless. Let's all look the other way. Harvard did this much better by the way. They completely. It's almost like people pretend like Harvard didn't have anything to do with Jeffrey Epstein. But I think I'd be curious to hear what those conversations are because there's conversations in the topic of like, well, obviously sort of sexual assault and disrespecting women on any kind of level within academia, but just women in general. That's an important topic to talk about various, many sets of difficult conversations. The other topic is funding for research. Like what are we okay taking money from and what are we not okay taking money from? There's a lot of just interesting difficult conversations to be had of work with people who refuse to take money from DOD, Department of Defense for example, because in some indirect or direct way you're funding military, industrial complex, all those kinds of things. I think what Jeffrey Epstein is even more stark, this contrast of like, well, what is and isn't ethical to take money from? I just think, forget academia. I think there's just a lot of interesting deep human discussions to be had and they haven't been. There's been somebody, I don't know if you're familiar with Eric Weinstein who has been outraged by the fact that nobody's talking about Jeffrey Epstein. Nobody's having these difficult conversations and Eric himself has had sort of complicated journey through academia in the sense that he's a really kind of renegade thinker in many kinds of ways. I'm not sure if you know who Eric is by any chance. Heard the name. I actually checked out Zev. Zev. It was heartening for me to see that I was not the youngest person. You're the second youngest. The second youngest. That's hilarious. But Eric has, he's kind of a renegade thinker. He's a mathematical physicist with a believer PhD at Harvard and he's spent some time at MIT and so on. He speaks to the fact that there's a culture of conformity and so on and if you're somebody who's a bit outside of the box, a bit weird and whatever dimensional weird that makes you actually kind of interesting that the system kind of wants to make you an outcast, wants to throw you out. He kind of opposes that whole idea. He's the perfect person to have conversations with in this kind of Librex kind of context of anonymity because I'll tell you the few conversations that came across and they were very quickly silenced. I'm troubled by it. I'm not sure what to think of it. There's a few threads inside MIT, like on a mailing list discussing Marvin Minsky. I don't know if you know how that is. He's an AI researcher. He's a seminal figure in AI before your time. But one of the most important people in the history of artificial intelligence and there was a discussion on a thread that involved the interaction between Marvin Minsky and Jeffrey Epstein. That conversation was quickly shut down. One person was pushed out of MIT, Richard Stallman, who's one of the key figures because of that because he wanted some clarity about the situation. But he spoke like we were mentioned earlier without grace. But he was quickly punished by the administration because of a few people protesting. Just that conversation, I guess what bothered me most is it didn't continue. It didn't expand. There was no complexity. There was a hunger that was clear behind that conversation, especially for me. I'd like to understand Marvin Minsky was one of the reasons I wanted to come to MIT. He's passed away. He's one of the key figures in the field that I deeply care about artificial intelligence. I've thought that his name was dragged to the mud of that situation and without ever being resolved. It's unclear to me what am I supposed to think about all this. The only way to come to a conclusion there is to keep talking. It's like the thing we started this conversation with about truth is conversation. In that sense, I'd love if people on Librex, perhaps in other places, but it seems like Librex is a nice platform to discuss Marvin Minsky, to discuss Jeffrey Epstein, to learn from it, to grow from it, to see how we can make MIT better. I'm still one of the people. I've always dreamed of being at MIT as a dream come true in many ways. I still believe that MIT is one of the most special places in this world, like many other universities. Universities in general is truly special, man. It hurts my heart when people speak poorly of academia. I understand what they mean. They're very correct, but there is much more, in my opinion, that's beautiful about academia than that's broken. I don't know if you have something to comment. It doesn't necessarily need to be about Jeffrey Epstein, but there's these difficult things that come up that test the academic community. It feels like conversation is the only way to resolve it. I think people have a natural need for closure, and it's not just, I'm not as plugged into the what academics are talking about as you would be lax, but even- Case these days, no respect for Minsky. Exactly. I mean, especially in the AI community, I'm not necessarily a programmer. But what I will say is that people come to Librex and we always see a huge spike in users whenever there's a tragedy on campus or something where people need closure. Recently, there was a suicide just the other day on Yale's campus, and people were just coming to pay respects and to say rest in peace and speak also about what might have led to an environment where people are drawn to these terrible results. So just having a conversation is important there. Because it brings closure. People need the space. Especially when no one wants to go out and put their head above, you know, be the longest blade of grass on that one. Yeah. Because of the stigma, people need to be able to speak. Yeah, that fear really bothers me. The fear that silence is people, like were they self-sensor? Were they self-silence? Well, you've created an amazing place. I'm kind of interested in your struggle and your journey of creating positive incentives. Because it's a problem in a very different domain that I'm also interested in. So I love robotics. I love human-robot interaction. So I believe that most people are good and we can bring out the best in human nature. Social networks is a very tricky space to do that in. So I'm glad you're taking on the problem and I'm glad you have the mission that you do. I hope you succeed.

Chess and poker (01:47:31)

But you mentioned offline that you used to be into chess. Tell me about your journey through chess. Sure. I was a very competitive tournament player growing up until about like 13. I got for the chess fans. I got through around 2000. USCF. So I was a competitive player, especially my age group. And that actually led me to poker. I was playing a tournament. And what happens is when you're like a very strong 13-year-old and you're playing locally, if you want to get maturing, I can end up playing a lot of adults. And I ended up playing this mid-40s guy who we played a really strong game. He actually beat me. I still remember the game and think, "Oh, I should have played that move." That one. But after the game, we had a post-mortem. It was this me, I think, out of 13 at the time, in this 40-year-old, like, hanging over this chessboard and looking over the moves. And even at my age, it occurred to me that this guy was absolutely brilliant. And after the post-mortem, not only by the way in chess, but just like in the way he articulates his thoughts as some people are. After the post-mortem, I went and looked him up online. I found out that he was a World Series of Poker champion. His name is Bill Chen. Oh, wow. And I haven't really kept up with him except one time there was another chess tournament when I was around 14. And I followed him into an elevator as he was leaving the chess hall. Like pretending that I was going to go up just because I wanted to talk to him. And I suggested a sequel or some changes that I thought he could make for his book. And he was like, "Actually, I was thinking of doing the same thing." Which was incredibly validating to my 14-year-old or 15-year-old self. But I really haven't kept up with him. So just shout out to him. And then he wrote a book called The Mathematics at Poker that I started reading. And that first of all, kick-started my interesting game theory and second of all, in poker. So I started from chess and then poker. And I started with Bitcoin poker and had a lot of success with that. Met a lot of amazing friends. Learned a ton about, I mean, I think about entrepreneurship as well as taking risks, reasonable risks, positive expected value risks. And also just growing as a person and mathematician. What did you say, Bitcoin poker? Yeah. What's Bitcoin poker? So you have to understand I was 14 years old, right? Yes. So how is a 14-year-old with wonderful parents who care about him? Yeah. And probably don't want him playing poker. Yeah. Going to start playing poker. Because I wanted to challenge. I love the challenge. I love the competition. And I realized the answer is probably Bitcoin because the implications of that. And they had these free-roll tournaments, which for those of you who don't know what free-rolls are, there's these promotional tournaments that sites put on where they'll put like a few dollars in. And then thousands of people sign up and the winners get like a dollar. And I started there and I worked my way up. That's amazing. It's your sense about from that time to today on the growth of the cryptocurrency community. I'm actually having like four or five conversation with Bitcoin proponents, Bitcoin maximalists. And like all these, I'm just having all these cryptocurrency conversations currently because there's so many brilliant, like technically brilliant, but also financially and philosophically brilliant people in those communities. It's fascinating with the explosion of impact. And also if you look into the future, the possible revolutionary impact on society in general. But what's your sense about this whole growth of Bitcoin? I'm definitely less knowledgeable on the currency. Again, like programming. It was a means to an end. Yes. Right. What I will say is that there was this amazing community that grew out of it. And you'd have people who were willing to stake me or have me be their horse and they're my backer for having never met me for literally full Bitcoin tournaments, like full Bitcoin entry fee tournaments. And I get a percentage of the profits and they get a percentage. And to have that level of community for that degree of money, I mean, it gives you hope about the potential for humans to act in mutual best interests with a degree of trust. Yeah. There's a really fascinating, strong community there. But speaking of like bringing out the best of human nature, it's a community that's currently struggling a little bit in terms of their ability to communicate in a positive, inspiring way. Like the Bitcoin folks, and we talk about this a lot, they, I honestly think they have a lot, a lot of love in their hearts and minds, but they just kind of naturally, because the world has been like institutions and the centralized powers have been sort of mocking and fighting them for many years that they've become sort of worn down and cynical. And so they tend to be a little bit more aggressive and negative on the internet in the way they communicate, especially on Twitter. And it's just created this whole community of basically being derisive and mocking and controlling and all those kinds of stuff. But people are trying to, as the big community grows, as the cryptocurrency community grows, they're trying to revolutionize that aspect too. So they're trying to find the positive core and grow and grow in that way. So it's fascinating because I think all of us are trying to find the positive aspect of ourselves and trying to learn how to communicate in a positive way online. So like the internet has been around social networks, haven't been around that long. So we're trying to figure this thing out. Let me ask you the ridiculous question. I don't know if you have an answer, but who is the greatest chess player of all time in your view? So since you like chess, you talk about- That's on how you define it. But if you're talking about raw skill, like if you put everyone across time into a tournament together, Carlson would win. I don't think that's particularly controversial. Oh, you mean like with the same exact skill level? Exactly. Magnus Carlson. Object now, if you talk about political importance, I think Bobby Fisher is, you know, he's the only one that people still- We used to go to someone on the street. They know Bobby Fisher because he was- because of what he represented, right? Who do you think is more famous on the street, Gary Kasparov or Bobby Fisher? Bobby in America, Bobby Fisher. Do you think so? Yes. That's interesting. I think we're going to have to put that to the test. Yeah, maybe it's maybe it's more reflective of the community that I was a part of. But yeah. So in the community, you're part of like young minds playing chess, Bobby Fisher was a superstar in terms of- Yeah. I think so because he's American and you know, he stood up against the big bad Russians at the time and you know, unfortunately he had a very bad downfall. But you know, for our geopolitical situation, he meant a lot. And then if you talk about compared to contemporaries, actually, I would say Pomerphy, who was a bit of a throwback, was- he's one of those geniuses that was just head and shoulders above everyone else. Is there somebody that inspired your own play like as a young mind? Yeah, I really like Michael Tall. So like you see you were- I think he was very aggressive, right? Yeah, very tactical. Yeah. Which is funny because I found that I was better at like sort of slow and methodical play than quick tactics. But I just- I mean, there's something beautiful about the creativity. And that's something I always latched onto as being a creative player, being a creative person. I mean, chess doesn't really reward creativity as much as a lot of other things, especially entrepreneurial pursuits. Which I think is part of the reason why I sort of grew out of it. But I always was attracted to the creativity that I did see in chess. So let me ask the flip the other, because you said poker. There's somebody that stands out to you, so it could be the greatest poker player of all time. Like who do you admire? That's the more controversial one because these chess players are such like- first of all, there's more an objective standard. And second of all, there's like almost like cultural figures to me. Whereas poker players are more like live living. They feel more like- Yeah. They're more accessible. But they also have like personalities. Yeah. The poker have like, feel- They have biases. They have biases. They have vices. They have quirks. They have humor. Like I guess we've seen videos of them. Yeah. Because it's such a recent development. That's like one person who I admire so much and like if I could like have a dinner list of people that I want to have dinner with, like maybe it'll happen now actually. I would love to have dinner with them. Um, Phil Galfant. Wow. Who I don't- most people probably won't know. Yeah. But on this podcast, but the way- first of all, he democratized poker learning in like the mathematical nitty gritty, how do you get good at poker type sense to the entire world in like an unprecedented way. He gave- he had this gift that he had learned and distilled by working with some of the greatest poker minds. He just democratized it through his website and I learned a ton from him. And not only that, but you just listen to him think and it's almost like a philosophical meditation. The way that he breaks things down and thinks about these different elements and has such a holistic thought process. It's like watching a genius work and you know, he's also just a nice, fun, sociable guy that like you can- you can imagine being at your dinner table. Yeah. Well that combined. Which is not true for a lot of poker players, right? A lot of them are dark souls. To say the least, yes. I like- I really like the- what is he? Canadian Daniel Nagrano. He's also a nice guy. He's also a nice guy, but he's also somebody who is able to express his thoughts about poker really well, but also in an entertaining way. He seems to be able to predict cards better than anybody I've ever seen. Like what- She watched the challenge. What's the challenge? He lost like a million dollars recently to Doug Polk. He lost a million dollars to Doug Polk heads up online. It's really interesting. Yeah. It's awesome to watch these guys work.

Advice for young people (01:58:11)

So I know you're 2021? 21. 21. So asking you for advice is a little bit funny, but at the same time not because you've created a social network. You've created a startup from nothing. As we talked about earlier, like without knowing how to program, you've programmed. I mean, you've taken this whole journey that a lot of people I think would be really inspired by. So given that, and given the fact that 20 years from now you probably laugh at the advice you're going to give now. Absolutely. I hope so. If I don't laugh at the advice I give now, something went desperately wrong, right? Yeah. So do you have advice for people that want to follow in your footsteps and create a startup, whether it's in the software app domain or whether it's anything else? So I'll speak specifically about social media apps. Yes. Try to keep it as narrow as possible so I can laugh as little as possible when I'm 41. And what I would say is that if you're like a 21, 22 year old who's looking at me and being like, I want to do something like this, what I would say is you probably know better than just about anyone. And if you have a feeling in yourself that this is something that I have to do, and this is something I could imagine myself doing for the next 10 years, because if you're successful, you are going to have to do it for the next 10 years and through the ups and the downs, through the amazing interviews with Lex and through the not so amazing articles you might have with other people, right? And you're going to have to ride those highs and lows and you have to believe in what you're doing. And I have that feeling. What I would say is listen to as few people as possible, because people are experts in domains, but when it comes to like what's hot and what's what makes sense in a social context, you are the authority as a young person who's going through these things and living in your sort of milieu. And I mean, I've talked to at this point, you know, so many experts, experts. So many investors, VCs. So you're saying... You'd be amazed at the advice I've gotten, advice I've gotten. So there's like a minefield of bad advice. That's the hardest part, I think, for young people. And it's the thing when people like I help, I help Yellies all the time who ask like I never turned down. When a founder asked me to have a conversation, I never turned it down. I'm always there for them. The number one thing I worry about is that at Yell, we're taught implicitly and explicitly that you listen to the adult in the room, you listen to the person with the highest, you know, pay grade. And it's devastating because that's how innovation dies. And you know... Yeah, it's intimidating to like you talk to VC who probably means worth a billion dollars. And they're going to tell you, you know, all the successful startups they have funders. Or even just a successful business owner is going to tell you some advice. And it's hard psychologically to think that they might be wrong. Yeah, what you're saying, that's the only way you succeed. Only way you succeed. Because if they knew what they were doing, they would have built it themselves. And what's especially hard is people go, "Oh, of course, you know, I'll listen to the people's, I'll listen to their advice, but I'll know why it's wrong. And then I'll do my own thing." And that sounds great in the abstract. But sometimes you can't always even put your finger on why they're wrong. And I think to have the conviction to say, "You're wrong and I can't tell you why." But I still think I'm right. It's a rare thing, especially at like, it's very counterintuitive. And you might even say it's hubris or arrogant. But I think it's necessary because a lot of these things are, they're not things that you can really put into words until you see them in action. Like a lot of them are kind of happy accidents. Yeah, it's been tough for me. Like as a person who, like I'm very empathetic. So when people tell me stuff, I kind of want to understand them. And it's been a painful process, especially people close to me. Basically everything I've done, especially in the recent few years, a lot of people close to me said not to do. And like my parents too, that's been a hard one, is to basically acknowledge to myself that you don't know, like you don't, that everything you're going to say by way of advice for me is not going to be helpful. Like I love my parents very much, but like they're just like, they don't get it. And as you put it beautifully, it's very difficult to put your finger on exactly why. Because a lot of advice sounds reasonable. That's the worst kind. Yeah. If it sounds really good, that just means it's an earworm. Like that's like a song that you hear on the radio and then you're like, "Mm-hmm." You're humming it in the car and it's like, it's the same thing. The more, the better it sounds, the more skeptical. Yeah. Reason is a bad drug. Like should be very careful. Because like, you know, the things that seem impossible, every major innovation, every major business seems impossible at birth. But even not just the impossible things, I think, you know, you look at like love for example, it's very easy to give advice to sort of point out all the ways you can go wrong or marriage, all the divorces that people go through, all the pain of years that you go through the divorce, like the system of marriage, the marriage industrial complex, all the money that's wasted, all those kinds of things. But that advice is useless when you're in love. The point is to just pat the person in the back and say, "Go get him, kid." Like, "What is it?" Good Will Hunting and went to see a bottle girl. Yeah. That's a good movie. I love that movie. But yeah, that's, that's, that took me a long time to figure out. I'm still trying to fight through it, but especially when you're young, that's hard. But nothing in life is worth accomplishing is easy. But I think it's really interesting you make that connection between like, startup advice and like your parents, because it's the exact same sort of mechanism where when you're young, your parents are usually like, "Right." Right? And the experts are usually right. And you know, if you listen to them and you, you, you follow their orders, you're going to go to a school like Yale. Yeah. And I mean, stops making sense and I've, I've seen my friends at Yale go down paths because they just continued listening to their parents that I know in their heart of hearts is not the right path for them. Yeah. You know what? That's how I see like the education system. The whole point is to guide you to a certain point in your life and everybody's point is different. And your task is to at that point, to have a personal revolution and create your own path. But no one tells you that. Nobody tells you that because they're, they want you to keep following the same path as they, they're leading it towards like they're not going to say your whole job is to eventually rebel. Yeah. That's how, that's how rebellion works. You're not supposed to be told. But that is the task. They can take you just like you said, and depending who you are, they can take you really far. But at certain point, you have to rebel that could be getting you know, that could be in your undergrad. That could be high school. Yeah. To be any point, one thing that I think played a pretty pivotal role and I've never really mentioned this, he might not even know the person about to tell you about in sort of me actually going out and making Librex was that I was taking this graduate level math class, my sophomore year, and I met this, I met this PhD student who was also in it and had considerable citations and also startup experience. And I think he actually ended up being the CTO of a unicorn later on. I've sort of lost touch with him, but we're still Facebook friends as it is in the 21st century. Right. So, and I was in a class and I was telling him I really want to, I really want to make this thing, but I have no technical background. And he disguised as computer genius. He worked under Dan Spielman. Hey, hey also. He's a good guy, right? And we were doing some math together. We were doing something on discrepancy for those of you who really care about math. So combinatorics. And he just turns to me and he's like, I think you could do it. Like, what do you mean? You think I could do? He's like, I think you could do it. And I was like, really? But I respected this guy so much. His name was Young Duck. Shout out to Young Duck. I respect this guy so much that I was like, if Young Duck says I can do it and Young Duck is a little bit genius and he knows, and he knows me because we were in two classes together and we'd spend a lot of time together. If he thinks I can do it, then who am I to say I can't do it? Yeah. You know, that's a lesson for mentorship is like, oh, he has no idea probably. Well, he might not even remember that interaction, which is funny. But the point is that when a crazy young kid comes up to you with a crazy dream, you know, every once in a while, you should just put him in the back and say, I believe in you. Like you can do it. If they look up to you, that means your words have power. And if you say, no, no, come on, be like reasonable, like, you know, finish your schoolwork kind of thing, like that's unreasonable to take that leap. Now just finish your education, blah, blah, whatever, whatever the reasonable advice is. Every once in a while, maybe often as a mentor, you should say, you know, go see about a girl in California or whatever the equal. That was my moment. That was my good, well, hunting moment. That's your good, well, hunting moment. Man, I miss Robin Williams. That was a special guy.

Book recommendations (02:09:03)

I people love it when I ask about book recommendations in general. Of course, your journey is just beginning, but is there something that jumps out to you, technical fiction, philosophical sci-fi, coloring books, blog posts you read somewhere that didn't impact on your life? Video games. Video games. So you recommend to others, Minecraft, manual, manga. I mean, yeah, video you could mention video games too, if there's something that jumps out to you that just had like an impact. I guess I'll say, I really like the book, The War of Art, which is a book about creative resistance and the creative struggle and what it means to be creative. And part of what I see in this conversation and what you're doing, Lex, is so much of The War of Art's idea is that you just keep writing and writing and writing until you get to the new crap. And you just roll with it, right? And that's sort of what happens when you have like three hour conversations with people is you can only have so much scripted or societally constructed stuff until you get to the real you. And you have to show up. I mean, that book is kind of painful. It's really painful. It's not something I would recommend for every part of it, but for what it did in my life at the time. It also kind of normalized, I don't know, part of my coming of age story is part of it's about realizing that I'm a creative person and person who needs to create. That's sort of a God given thing, I think, for a lot of people. But it's something that I don't really feel like I can live without. And part of it was realizing that even within some of these more rigid structures, it's okay that I don't sort of fit in with them and to hear about the struggles of other creatives was something for my own self esteem and my own growing up that was really important to me. So I don't think the book itself might be perfect, but for what it did for my life, it was really impactful. Yeah, I think exactly the words may not be exactly right by way of advice, but I think the journey that a lot of creatives take by reading that book is kind of profound. He also has another one called Turning Pro, I think. I mean, he in general espouses taking it seriously. If you have a creative mind and you want to create something special in this world, go do it. Don't show up. And so many people would tell me, would encourage me either blatantly or, I think, through implicit means to basically take the app less seriously. It's a good signal, by the way. It's a good signal because my really close friends, the ones who have always supported me, they never said that because they got it. They understood that that was my path. And they might be skeptical. They might be like, I mean, one of my friends I remember told me, I was always taken aback about why you were so certain this would work out. And he was like, I finally got it once I saw it popping off. But before that, I just didn't get it. But he still supported me. And I think it's a really good signal. Actually, just the fact of going through this process has made me socially feel so much more connected. And I've somewhat consolidated my social life to some degree, but it's so much more vulnerable connected. And that's part of the creative process. I have to thank for that, I think. There's something that's unstoppable about the creative mind. It's like it's right there, that fire. And I guess part of the thing that you're supposed to do is let that fire burn in whichever direction. And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt. Fire will hurt. But on top of the video games, you mentioned Stanley Parable offline. Is there, you said you played some video games. Is there a video game that you especially love? Do you recommend I play, for example? Yeah, I'll mention it's actually really in keeping with what we've been talking about. It's the beginner's guide, which is what I was made by the same guide, Davey Rendon, who made the Stanley Parable, which I briefly saw you. I just clicked the video and then I went to sleep. It was 2 AM. And then, but I briefly saw that you were looking at. And it's a game that is better treated as art and I think I won't claim to understand the creator because that would be a cardinal sin to me as a creative person. But it gets to the heart of a lot of the things that we've been talking about, which is the creative mind. The game can be interpreted in a lot of ways in a feminist way. It could be interpreted as story of friends. It could be interpreted as the story of critics versus a creative. The way I like to interpret it and I don't want to give out a way too much is the story of the creative part of your mind that creates just for the sake of creating, meaning the part that creates for no rhyme or reason or clear meaning. You could call it the pragmatist. You could call it the necessary force of ego in our lives. We can't totally be egoless, right? But we need to be egoless to be creative and how that sort of internal censure, what role does it play? And how do we allow our creative minds to be creative and yet how do we still become useful? And it's funny that a video game could have this in. It's a fascinating intention, which reminds me about the ridiculous question every once in a while, I'll ask about meaning and death.

Reflection On Mortality

Mortality (02:14:57)

This whole right ends. You're at the beginning of the ride, but it could end any day actually. That's kind of the way human life works. You can die today. You can die tomorrow. Do you think about your immortality? Do you think about death? Do you meditate on it? And in that context, as the creative, but a pragmatist too, as running a startup, what do you think is the meaning of this whole thing? Yeah. So immortality, right? So about three years ago, four years ago now, I was excited to go to Yale. I was playing six hours of squash a day, which squashes the sport. I love so much. And I was really getting a lot better and I was even thinking I could maybe walk onto the Yale team. And I woke up one day. I felt really, really sick. I went and I decided not to go squash that day. And I know. I wanted to. I almost did. And you'll see how this story turns out. You'll decide if I made the right choice. I decided not to go squash today and I decided to get my driver's license. Or I had to get my driver's license because I wanted to get driver's license before I, you know, it's just how young I am before I went off to college because otherwise I might never get it. And I'm going back and I successfully got my driver's license, brush them. And I go back to my house and I decided I don't want to drive back because I just feel so sick. Things are spinning. I have the worst headache. I go home, I run right into my bed and feeling really sick to the point where I even like asked my mom who is the doctor. I'm like, should I go to the hospital? And she's like, you can just wait it out. I'm sure you should look up better. Young couple. Yeah. And then, you know, and then at one point I look at my arms and they're like covered in this like red splotchy stuff. Oh, yeah. And I'm like, well, I think she's like, yeah, we have to go. And so I go there and they're like, you've scarlet fever and they're like, there's nothing we can do. You should probably just go back home. So I go back home six hours later, I wake up in the morning. They let me out of like 3 a.m. They let me, I come home in the morning and I feel this like a spear through my chest. And I never felt anything like it. And I was very disconcerting when you have a, because we're all used to different sorts of pain, right? And that was sort of pain I never felt before. I suppose as an athlete you're used to like, you know, pain. So I told my parents and immediately we hop back in the car, we go up to the same hospital I was at six hours ago and they initially didn't want to let me in. And I was like, I have chest pain. And they're like, oh, come in, because they're like, you're a healthy guy, wait your turn. And I'm like, no, you don't understand. I have like a pain in my chest. And then they let me in. They start doing tests on me. They like put something like in my back, which is really scarce, huge needle. And I'm smiling because it's like one of the ways I reduce stress, I guess, or deal with this sort of thing and make light of it. But like, know that, you know, it's definitely very scary in the moment. Shocking and scary and they go and they do a bunch of tests and they determined that a virus like attacked my heart and I had myocarditis and pericarditis. And they said I had maybe 25 to 35% chance at one point of dying. And so I'm sitting in my, they admit me into the hospital. I'm in the bed in my bed for about three weeks. And I'm just, I'm just standing there and I had this moment also that I remember very specifically where I was in so much pain that like I was crying, not out of like emotional standpoint, but actually just purely out of the pain itself. Like I could feel my heart in my chest. And when I leaned back, I felt it touch my rib cage and feel horrible. So I couldn't go to sleep and lean back. I had to lean forward all throughout the night, right? And I'm feeling my, and I'm feeling my chest. I'm feeling this terrible pain in my chest and I'm crying unstoppable. And I mean, also maybe I should mention that at the time, I was someone who like refused to take anything into my body that wasn't natural. And so a lot of the time I tried to be unmedicated. Eventually I didn't allow them to add a little medication to my body, but there's just so much uncertainty and pain. And the first time I had to come to terms with mortality. First of all, I think you still should have gone play squash. I mean, come on. I mean, yeah. I thought you're serious about this. You still carry that with you. Sort of. There is power to realizing the ride can end, right? Very suddenly. Very suddenly. Yeah. And painfully. And you know, it has pragmatic application to like what you, to trajectories you take through life, right? Something else that is worth noting is that I, for the next year, couldn't walk to my classes. So I get to yell. They put me in a medical single alone. And I have to get shuttled to all my classes. I have to ask a few professors to even move classes so I could actually get there. I can't move my book. I can't lift my book bags. I can't, I can't walk upstairs. I spent like 12 hours a day in my dorm room, just like staring at the walls. And more so, and more than that, all this like, you, I got to watch my body like deteriorate and like the muscle like fall off of it because I was, I was taking these pills and they're kind of catabolic. And for an 18 year old, I mean, I think every 18 year old has feelings about their body. Man or woman. And you know, just seeing this, it's like you're watching sort of death transpire and you're also very fatigued because your heart's not at peak condition. And you're thinking about the future and a lot of the things you enjoy have kind of been stripped away from you. And I took up meditation practice, like started with like five minutes a day. My peak, I was at like 40 minutes a day, kept it up consistently for about two years. And I started thinking about like, what do I want to do? And like, what do I care about? And to get to your point, I think you're asking like, how does this carry forward, right? I think I realized that, you know, there's an end and I realized that there are things I believe and things that I believe that might not be so overtly popular, but that I truly think make the world a better place. And in spite of, and basically if my conditions provided, I wanted to make something that I wanted to do something that would make me feel sort of whole in that way. Yeah, I mean, that's an amazing journey to take that time and to come out on the other end. I mean, that's amazing. I did not realize like that there was a long term struggle. I think that's in the end, if you do succeed, we'll have a profound positive impact because struggle is ultimately like humbling, but also empowering. So I'm glad to see that. But from the perspective of the creative, the other ridiculous question about meaning, do you think about this kind of stuff? Is that the, you know, the meaning of life for you, the meaning of life for us, the descendants of apes in general? The first thing I'd like to say is that I think part of like when we talk about the meaning of life, the part of it is the fact that we get to struggle with this question and we get to do it together for a long time and we sometimes, I think it's accepting that there's no meaning at all. And sometimes I think it's accepting that we're even just parsing the phrase and thinking about the meaning of life. Sometimes I'm, look, I'm very young. Again, I hope that anything I say now is going to be very different in the future because I think life has so many meanings that it'll be crazy to see what I think in 20 years about the meaning of life. Yeah, rise from the future, cut them some slack. Please do. Perspective, perspective, perspective. Having said that, you know, I think part of what brings meaning to my life is things like this, where we think about these things with people who are really, really, really on the ball. And we get to connect with these people that certainly brings meaning to my life, human connection. Yeah, this conversation is just another echo of the thing you're trying to create in the digital space, right? Yes. That's the same kind of magic. What I understand about what you're trying to create is the same reason I fell in love with the long-form podcasting, like as a fan. That's what I listen to long-form podcasts. Is there something deeply human and genuine about the interchange through their voice? But I do think that connection through text can be even more powerful. Like I think about letters. I still write letters to Russia. You know, there's something powerful in letters. When you put a lot of yourself in the words you say, in the words you write, that's powerful. You can really communicate not just the actual semantic meaning of the words, but like a lot of who you are through those words and create real connection. So I hope you succeed there. And listen, Ryan, I think this is an incredible conversation. I'm glad that people like you are fighting the good fight for bringing out the best in human nature in the digital space. I think that's a battleground where the good will win. Like love will win. And I'm glad you're creating technology that does just that. So thank you so much for wasting all your time for coming down. I can't wait to see what you do in the future. Thanks for talking today. Thank you for having me. Bam. I mean, finger guns have you gotten at the end of vodka? Zero. Yeah. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Ryan Schiller. And thank you to all our sponsors, All Form, Magic Spoon, Better Help and Brave. Click their links to support this podcast. And now let me leave you with some words from George Washington on March 15th, 1783. If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter. Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.

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