Geng Wang is the CEO and cofounder of Civic Champs, a software startup focused on creating s seamless and rewarding volunteering experience for both volunteers and service organizations
This is Geng’s third commercial venture. He’s previously co-founded two companies; RentJungle.com, an apartment search engine which sold in 2014 to The Rainmaker Group and Community Elf (rebranded as Cosmitto), a social media management firm which we sold in 2017 to a PE firm, Topanga Partners.
Given his past successes, Geng is looking to both create financial and social impact with his latest company. He has leveraged a number of startup incubators, including TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield, Elevate Ventures, Innovation Works, TechStars Iowa, and Mass Challenge, to get it off the ground.
In this episode, Geng and Aaron discuss how motivation changes through an entrepreneur’s career, the nature of product development, and how to design a startup’s culture.
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Geng Wang’s Challenge; For National Volunteering Month, get out there and go find an avenue to help your community.
Connect with Geng Wang
Civic Champs Website
If you liked this interview, check out episode 12 with Scott Rogerson where we discuss Community Elf, social media management, and their software spinout UpContent.
Text Me What You Think of This Episode 412-278-7680
Sanjiv Singh is CEO and cofounder of Near Earth Autonomy, a technology company focused on autonomous flight.
Sanjiv has 25 years of experience working on autonomous ground and air vehicles. He came to Pittsburgh 30 years ago to participate in the DARPA challenge and has spent decades exploring different applications for self-driving and self-flying robots.
Near Earth Autonomy started by developing self-flying technology for the United States Government and has expanded to bring their technological capabilities to a variety of enterprise customers.
In this conversation, Sanjiv and Aaron discuss applications for self-flying vehicles, the origins of the company, and the difference between working with the military and the FAA.
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Sanjiv Singh’s Challenge; Imagine a world in which you could autonomously fly from point A to point B.
Connect with Sanjiv Singh
Near Earth Autonomy Website
If you liked this interview, check out episode 306 with Bryan Salesky where we discuss autonomous vehicles.
Text Me What You Think of This Episode 412-278-7680
Demetri Kofinas is a media entrepreneur and host of Hidden Forces, a podcast devoted to exploring the underlying forces driving the most powerful changes we see in the world.
His show covers a qide range of topics, including culture, philosophy, economics, technology, social science, and the hard sciences.
Demetri has previously co-founded Guerilla Gaming Concepts, an interactive entertainment company focused the middleware of gaming. He has also reported on financial news and told stories to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
In addition to his show, Demetri consults blockchain and distributed ledger technology companies, helping them anticipate security vulnerabilities by building theoretical attack frameworks against token-based systems, and he consults hedge funds and venture capital firms on how to invest in and around these same emerging technologies.
In this episode, Aaron and Demetri have a far reaching conversation about truth, technological progress, and geopolitics.
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
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Demetri Kofinas’s Challenges; 1. Hold yourself to a higher standard.
2. Put space between your thoughts/emotions and actions.
3. Try not to judge people
Connect with Demetri Kofinas
Hidden Forces Website
If you liked this interview, check out episode 463 with Jeff Booth where we discuss the deflationary nature of technology.
Text Me What You Think of This Episode 412-278-7680
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Aaron Watson: Demetri, thanks for coming on the podcast, man. I'm excited to be talking with you.
Demetri Kofinas: My pleasure to be on Aaron. Thanks for having me.
Aaron Watson: So there's a bad habit in, in podcasts generally, where hosts kind of have to figure out a novel way to blow smoke up the butts of their guests and you know, say these different nice things to them, but I can very earnestly and genuinely say that your show is one of my absolute favorites. It is one of the podcasts that I look to as a model, really from an interviewing and a topic standpoint for people to explore. And so one of my, you know, hopes or goals with this conversation is that if anyone is listening to me, aware of me, and not yet aware of Hidden Forces that they'll at least give it, give it a try.
And I think that maybe the kind of best entree here into a conversation I want to have with you is just the name of the pod itself, Hidden Forces. This idea that, you know, generally, if you've taken a civics class, if you've read a headline, you could articulate the very apparent frontline forces that seem to be acting on people. But the exploration of those that are less legible, less right there in your face, but having an enormous impact is a kind of really cool intellectual pursuit. So take me to the audience a little bit deeper into that name specifically of the show and how you came up with it.
Demetri Kofinas: Yeah. I mean, I think that's, it's kinda right. It was just a recognition that most of what we experience in our life is, is surface layer phenomenon. So that's absolutely true in financial markets, which is where I experienced it most in my media career, because I started with on radio and in TV, on the finance media side. But it's true across the board.
I mean, all these conversations that are sort of in vogue lately around simulation theory, deal with that as well. The, the idea of being that, we really don't know whether or not we, we don't know really what reality is. We sort of approximate it through the use of models or so we could be living in a simulation and not know it.
So it's the kind of map and the territory. But the underlying reality, if, if you believe this does influence what we experienced on the surface. So the idea is what are those deep down the vector forces, which are, which if you move them slightly. Cause massive changes in our experience of the world.
And so the idea of Hidden Forces was to apply the kind of framework that I had been using in financial markets to everything else, which is why when I started the program, the episodes that I started with were episodes on postmodernism, philosophical mathematics, television history, and culture. I mean, television history is a really fascinating one because. We don't realize just how much impact, let's say movies like Rambo or shows like not Murphy brown, I'm confusing Murphy Brown with someone.
Aaron Watson: Cheers?
Demetri Kofinas: No, it was that - it was a movie with a working woman that was very popular. I can't, I'm blanking on it now, but, or like, you know, Night Rider, for example. Night Rider. What it told us about our relationship to technology and what we were, we felt the future was going. But anyway, the reason I brought up Rambo is cause Rambo, even though it's not TV, it's a, it's a movie, is that it reframed our relationship to the Vietnam War. Like if you look at the movies and, and a program that came out in the seventies around that, again, I'm talking now movies and not television. Apocalypse Now, Platoon came out in the early eighties. Our relationship to the war was very dark. And if it was seeped very much in the language of the 1960s late sixties, early seventies, and the anger against the government for the war for bombing, Cambodia, Laos, et cetera. And what you saw later was that through Hollywood, the culture telling itself a new story about its role in the war.
You know, we went from being the bad guys who were bombing Vietnam, Vietnam to being the good guys who were going to rescue our POW's. Who were being held captive by these, you know, really awful communists. And so it's, there's an interesting, it's an interesting example of the interplay, both what we want, but then also what we tell ourselves and how we can move so far away from actually what we knew to be empirically true. Right, which was our role in the Vietnam war. That's just one example, but it's true across the board. And that it's sort of, it's another way of talking about taking an epistemic approach to truth, to fact finding, to understanding the world. And I think this is more important than it's ever been in my lifetime because the world feels more propa - my, my world. So to speak, the world that I inhabit.
It feels more propagandized than I ever remember it. And it feels like a giant battlefield of narratives where you're constantly getting hustled. And so I think it's more important than ever to be an independent thinker and Hidden Forces started as a show that was meant to give you the tools that you needed in order to come to your own determination of what the world was. To be able to differentiate between the map and the territory. And that was up to you. What I wanted to do was bring the tools to make that happen. And to, to help you challenge consensus narratives about what I now call the structures, the power, the powers that structure our world. So the forces that structure our world. So that's what Hidden Forces is. That's sort of the origin story of the name.
Aaron Watson: Right on, and it has the capacity to splinter into so many different directions. So you start with the economics and I've always been of the mind that, you know, often, particularly for folks that, that kind of don't focus on that side, that field of study, that it's actually influencing way more than one might suspect.
So I started with a degree in political science and we're breaking apart. Like how did this war, you know, get set off? And so often there were these just kind of like fundamental economic realities, underpinning those which drew me away from the political study of political science to economics. And so, you know, to me, just even being able to point at, to use another, you know, metaphor, the signal versus the noise in the sense of what is actually the catalyst for something. What is actually, the driver is exceptionally hard to do because in addition to being propagandized, it's exceptionally complex between the digital revolution. The, you know, the dangerous kind of footing that certain, you know, bellwether blue chip, historically companies find themselves on in the present day. Globalization. Geopolitical unraveling. An arguably new cold war, at least in narrative between U.S. and China.
There's, there's an immense amount of complexity to try and absorb which it, like it basically creates the scenario for that propaganda to happen because there's so many people just trying to make sense. It scales so far beyond what we're biologically optimized to be able to deal with when our biology is like, hey, 120 person tribe. Do I trust these people? Are we okay? And kind of looking outwards. And now that's being scaled to these just numbers that don't really make sense in a human.
Demetri Kofinas: Yeah, that's a really great point. So, I mean, a few thoughts, one in terms of the economic reasons for war that's absolutely true. The civil war is a great example. It was a war that, that it was founded on a moral quandary between slavery and abolition. But there were economic forces that made the war possible. That actually pushed the north towards outright confrontation with the South where I would argue it wouldn't have either wanted to, or been able to do that, had it not been industrialized.
So there were, there were very different economic interests that were diverging, and tariff policy reflected that us tariff policy reflected that. So there were economic components of the war. So I totally agree. In terms of what you're getting to, which is the complexity of the world, it's a really interesting observation.
I mean, it makes the thing that immediately came to my mind was because I'm havingSergey Nazarov on the show, or Nazarov . I don't know how you pronounce his last name. The founder of Chain Link, which is a decentralized oracle that's used, it's the primary oracle that's used in DeFi applications and other smart contracts. And it made me think of the world of blockchain and decentralized computing because, I do think that there's this desire to bring simplicity and order to the complexity of the world. And, you know, I think what's important there, and I'm still in the process of meditating on this cause I just started prepping for this today. Again, you know, I'm of the view that you can never know what reality is like in an ontological sense. You can never actually be clear on it. Perhaps it's possible to know it, but you won't know that, you know it. So you won't have an epistemic view of it. So what I, I sort of, I think what it's important for the con - one of the things that I think is important to develop clarity around this in the blockchain community is to recognize that when we talk about truth, when we talk about these centralization or the truth machine, Michael Casey's great book. What we're really talking about is and I think this comes across sometimes in the conversation, is consensus. It's a consensus view of reality. It's not reality. I said, do we agree that this is the map of reality? So I think what we're struggling with right now is because the world is changing so rapidly, our models of the world no longer work as effectively.
And so we need new models in order to understand. We've seen this in the field of economics. I mean, you know, how many more people talk about behavioral science today than they used to? You know, Daniel Conaman was nowhere 20 years ago. I mean, I took economics in college. We didn't even. There were like no banks. Like we didn't learn about the financial system. We didn't know. I mean, when we were taught interest rates, it didn't make sense. You know, I had a huge aha moment in my life. I've talked about this before on the show, I think, I was failing intermediate macro. Failing. Right to the final. I was heading into the final, like the night before the final with that wasn't failing.
That's not correct. I was, I was gonna fail, because I had no clue what, like the course was about the teacher was this, it was also awful because the teacher had the worst Italian accent ever. Every time he said focus to the class, he would say, fuck us. And everyone would laugh because we're teenagers, we're not teenagers, but we're in college, so. And then I got it. He came to me and I saw interest rates where the price of money and boom, everything just made sense. So you know, and post financial crisis, this there's been so much work on this front right? And you've seen like the rise to celebrity of people like Nasim Caeleb and others. So I think that's kind of where we are today.
We have this, the world is changing rapidly. We're one of those in one of those periods of, of rapid change and the models that we've used, the structural reality artificially in order to make sense of it so that we can move through it, aren't as predictive. They don't work as well. And so again, bringing it back to Hidden Forces. One of the reasons that I started Hidden forces was because I felt that we were in a world where those models are less valuable. The education that you get from college are less useful. And so you need to rely more on yourself and you have the tools to do it. People are far more intelligent and able to learn than they realize. So so yeah, that's, that's kind of what I was thinking about in response to your question. Well, your comment.
Aaron Watson: Right on. So, the other part here, you mentioned TV, you mentioned this previous time and talk about a model. There were just a couple of channels, just a couple of airwaves and the just sheer girth of the attention that could be funneled across a narrative in that kind of very concentrated way was exceptionally powerful. And you've, I don't know the exact percentile of the Hidden Forces show, but you are at the very least in the top decile. Who knows exactly where that lands, just in terms of an audience that you can reach -
Demetri Kofinas: Decile, like that.
Aaron Watson: - within the landscape of podcasts, but we know that, you know, even the biggest podcast is a fraction of the scale that could be reached with a story that's being told. So it's simultaneously this amazing opportunity for the individual to influence the narrative, to contribute for bad actors, all sorts of other stuff. Taking it back to Hidden Forces and where with this, you know, on a relative basis, smaller hosts and the old TV channels, radio stations of yore but in the context of today, an exceptional power and candidly responsibility, where are you most drawn to bringing people's attention and having them be aware of in the context of these Hidden Forces, the things that, you know, I don't know how you sleep, if it's something that keeps you up at night, or if it's something that, you know, you feel a sense of responsibility. I know for me, I just feel like the conversation around deep fakes is not happening to a degree that I would like to see, but I'm much more interested in, in you, the conversations that you're hoping more people will latch on to.
Demetri Kofinas: Well, I mean, you know, today could even further down the vector, you know, when you bring up deep fakes, what you're really talking about is truth. And epistemology, and how do we know what's true? But how can we know if Joe Biden came out and told the country that we're under cyber attack or that were, or whatever?
I mean, how do we, how do we validate content today? Or how do we know something was said today when the way in which we've definitively been able to prove it is through let's say video or audio? You know, like, like go to the videotape. Was that the broadcast or used to say that in sports, let's go to the videotape.
I mean, that is deeply embedded in the culture. So to your point, I agree. I think questions of truth and reality. What is truth? What is real? I think that is very fundamental to where - so one of my deepest sort of interests, I think even deeper than that for me, I think has I realized looking at the episodes that I've done and where I think I've done some, my best work with the show and where I think we've led both in terms of quality and in terms of lead time over others, is at the intersection of humanity, humanity and culture, and technology.
So our, how our brains. We're like incredible builders and in this way, I've also, it's why I love - I am Greek and I'm not one of those Greeks that's like, Greeks are the best at everything. I hate when people do that. I really do. I hate it. But I do, you know, I do value the Greeks in a way that I don't value the Romans.
The Romans were incredible builders. They were incredible architects. The Greeks couldn't match that. Of course, the Romans also came after that, but the Romans imported so much of what's the, what of what ancient Greece created culturally. And so what I, what we're really great at, and there's another great quote by, I wish - I need to start anything, actually grabbed the book and have it here cause I've been thinking about it a lot recently. Edward O. Wilson, the entomologist. The scientist who developed a theory of use sociality, wrote his most recent book. Maybe his last will be able to turn out to be his last cause he's in his eighties. The book was called on the mea - I think it was called the Meaning of Human Existence.
And in the book he talks about how, if an alien species were to visit earth, you know, what would they find interesting in our society? You know, you could think about this as a thought experiment. Like if we were going to go to a different planet and we're going to visit a society that was supposedly inferior to ours. Right. At least technically. What would we find valuable? Well, you know, his point was, it certainly will not be our mathematics or our science because this species will have, you know, progressed far beyond anything that we have, but they will find value in our arts and our culture. And yeah, if you think about it, this is also what fascinates us about other species.
And aboriginal societies were not interested in our technology. And it's like, oh, they have a really great bow and arrow. Like, did you see just how tightly they want while on that string? How did they do that? That's not what interests us, what interests us is what makes them who they are and all the, the, those, the, the cultural aspects of it. So for me, to me, it's really, we're so exceptional at building things or using our minds to create a world around us. That's different than the one that we inhabited just prior. And then that world begins to influence us. And so for me, the question is how has that influence happening? Well, who are we, what do we value? What makes us who we are? What do we value in ourselves? And what is worth holding onto is who we are so that when we get through this cycle of innovation, we go through constant cycles of innovation. Is there something that's central that's important that's not, that's too important to lose under any circumstances that we want to hold through that transition?
And I think that that's what comes across to me when I, when I do different episodes, whether it's digital minimalism with Cal Newport, or especially with my episode on surveillance, capitalism was Shoshana Zuboff. What does it mean to be a human being? What do I value? What am I unwilling to give up? And what am I willing to fight for in the face of people telling me that the future is that we're all going to become digital avatars. That we're going to transcend our bodies and upload our brains to the cloud and that this is the future of humanity. And that, that the soul is really just a network of connections that can be replicated into a virtual space.
And they're all really as the brain. And I think that's, you know, my personal view is that sort of view of immortality that you just upload your brain. You've created a virtual version of it, is Hell. I mean, a horrible movie is that there's a movie called Transcendence with Johnny Depp. It's a horrific movie. It's a movie that I only watched in part because I was on an airplane. But there is that one part where, you know, he uploads to the cloud and he has changed. He's a different person. There's also a great, great scene, similarly, also that captures this, and this is why movies and stuff like this is so valuable because it really, it captures something that can't be expressed in words that the culture isn't even fully able to understand, but it's coming out like Black Mirror. But in the HBO series, Westworld, have you seen the series?
Aaron Watson: Yeah, loved it.
Demetri Kofinas: Okay. Okay. So, I mean, remember the Scottish guy who was the father of William's wife?
Aaron Watson: Mmhmm.
Demetri Kofinas: Short barrel chested guy? Guy was amazing. He said he amazing actor. Did play that role perfectly. And he dies unbeknownst to him. And he had said that he wanted to be brought back and he's brought back and I was in this little glass, you know, case or whatever, basically a room. And he wakes up every morning and he goes through the same thing and he plays that, you know I think it was, he was the song that he played. It was a Role, not a Rolling Stones. Yeah. Was it Rolling Stones? Yeah. It was a Rolling Stone song and he's like, that guys living in Hell. You know, he's like living in Hell.
He can never actually, because he was changed. So anyway, that was a long winded response to what you said about what started as a question about deep fakes.
Aaron Watson: Yeah, but I think that the, you know, the other analogy is, you know, the, we shaped the tools and then the tools shape us is another one of the little pillars of what you were saying there. And so to me, what I'm always struggling with is, yes, there is, there is real capacity at the individual or the small community or the team level to go make your impact, make your debt on the universe, a whatever kind of metaphor that you and speak. If you can be really focused and, and patient and disciplined, what have you. But there are these. You know, goliath shifts in the tools and the things that we're interacting with. So, you know, whether that be the deep fakes or just the existence of blockchain based cryptocurrencies or these other things that they're now part of the world. There's not something that, you know my parents, my parents had their own things that they were navigating in the seventies that were their own shifts of the time.
But these are the shifts and the changes. That are in front of us today. And, you know, without getting into the argument of like, is there like an ultimate kill switch that could take that stuff down. We need to just have an inventory of the things in front of us. And I am, I'm struggling to, to bring it to the question there, but the idea that, you know, even having legibility into those things that are happening right now in the present, I don't know.
I think that that's, it's getting, it feels like it's getting rarer.
Demetri Kofinas: Legibility into the things that are happening in the present. What do you mean exactly? Do you mean just do you, are you basically expressing a sense that reality feels hazy, that the world feels hazier than it used to, and we need to just have a more deterministic sense of what's happening.
Aaron Watson: Yeah, not that maybe need is, is not the right word there, but yes, there there's, there's a haziness in like the feeling of you use the map and the train analogy. I'm talking to the people and I don't even think they have the same models. Like I can maybe kind of like insinuate our guests, the model that they're bringing and kind of see how that's maybe, you know, tied to a complete lack of understanding that this force is here in the present right now today. It's not, it's not futurism. It's not, hey. Imagine if there was an artificial intelligence that could perfectly differentiate every single image in a photo, that's here today in the present right now. Like, are we even just cognizant of where we are, where we currently stand?
Demetri Kofinas: Yeah. That's a great point. I mean, I do. I said hazy. You didn't say it, but I did say it and it does. I mean, there does seem to be a fog. And that does, that's something that makes me nervous. I mean, I've become increasingly nervous when I started the show. Like it was way more embracing of the future and excited, and I would, you know, call it optimistic.
I mean, I always liked doing those shows that were meant to scare the shit out of my audience. Like I did an episode on cyber warfare, like episode eight. I had an editor before Stianos came on, who's my amazing editor who I love to death. I think he came on an episode, a firmly, he came on episode 10, I think. So he was almost the very beginning, but they had another editor who had said that he was doing my shows and he said that he, the way he understood what my show was about was that it was, it was meant to, it was basically meant to terrify my audience, which I don't think is true, but it was true for some episodes.
So like I was, you know, I started this show in part because I had been, you know, I had. As I said, I had a radio show and a TV show. My TV show ended in 2013, both were financial and I had a brain tumor that I had been diagnosed with years before that, that eventually became just really, how do we say highly symptomatic. And I had no choice, but to undergo surgery in 2013. And so I kind of just went into this long hiatus from the world of media and technology and finance and, and actually before finance, I'd gotten my start in tech. I had started a video game company that was a middleware skill gaming company for the console game industry.
And then I moved into application development and design for the television industry, developing on the set top box environment. So I had some interest in tech to begin with. And so what I was really not interested in getting back in finance and around 2015, I started going to meet up groups. So I was going to all these, like, you know, do it yourself, like IOT stuff or like machine learning or AI or blockchain or whatever. And it was getting me excited again. And so when I got, when I really started Hitting Forces, they didn't start it with the, with the thing of like, I want this to be a financial program. It was actually much more drawn to the philosophy, neuroscience, technology and science.
But as it's progressed, I've become more and more focused on the social dimensions, political, economic, and the whole thing about, you know, the fog and the haze. I see it and it worries me and I, I also see kind of a mob mentality on social media and elsewhere where people just can't seem to agree on anything. Everyone's hustling, everyone's pushing their own agenda and there's no unified sort of narrative about anything. And that I think does contribute to part of this sort of sense of haziness. We're just kind of, not sure, like who are the authority figures. You know, whether or not for example, you are, I'm a, I'm a sort of someone who I've always been very, I've always really not taken well to authority, but it still matters who the authority figures are to know who they are.
So we're in a period of dramatic change when it comes to authority. You know, whether it's at the international level with the U.S. led global order or whether it's domestically people are challenging norms, everything again is changing. And in that change, it's almost like the world that was so clear, begins to break apart into smaller and smaller pieces that sort of float in front of your face and it's coming together. And as it's coming together, that's an enormous opportunity because an opportunity to influence, and shape the world. Which is why you see so many people out there pushing their agenda and hustling. And there's so much propaganda. And at the same time, it's a very risky world because in those, in that sort of period of change, a dramatic change can occur.
For example, a dictator of sorts can emerge in the society because there's a huge vacuum for that, or very huge, very big decisions can be made that are going to impact, you know, the next a hundred years. And if we're not really prepared to take them correctly, that can be dangerous as well. I guess I don't know what I was responding to. Exactly. But yeah.
Aaron Watson: I'm riding with you. I like this. So in that same sense, you know, the crumbling of the U.S. led global order. Once again, it's something you're either, you know, you're reading, Peters Zeihan. You're, you know, following Ian Bremmer. You're, you're listening to these folks that have kind of laid out that framework, so, to make it legible. Or it's just not, you know, that there's a whole universe of headlines and media outfits that that's not the, that's not what the missionaries are pushing forward. That's not the kind of core discussion that's being had. And yet, if you're able to take a more global view, and I think I'm particularly guilty of this. You know, born and raised here in Pittsburgh, have done some traveling and to try and expand my mind, but to even just see things globally, as opposed to seeing them through, you know, an overly U.S. centric lens. lends itself to being able to appreciate not just China, but you know, Greece is immediately adjacent to Turkey. Turkey is, you know, going to have an immense influence on the coming decades. Talk a little bit about, you know at a geopolitical level, the narratives forces that you think people need to be paying more attention to.
Demetri Kofinas: Yeah. Great, great observations. First, I do want to say this is the one area where, I mean, I loved. I majored in both political science and economics. And I loved political science. I mean, in my us foreign policy class, I've talked about it so many times on the show. It was my favorite class at NYU. I just loved it. And and I studied it so much on my spare time, but there came a point in time where I, I made this realization, which was that if I really wanted to talk about foreign policy and make this my career, would I be willing to do that if I were not someone who had spent ample time on the ground in conflict zones. And I realized I didn't. I didn't. Because I felt that I couldn't sort of speak about it in a way that felt credible. You know, I just didn't, I, I, everything was secondary, right. I wasn't actually experiencing the conflicts for myself.
And so I decided that as much as I loved it, I would move into other fields that would be, you know, where I could, where it wasn't as important to sort of get that external data that said, it's a way of saying, you know, take everything I have to say in context with a grain of salt. But, given all the time and attention that I spent trying to understand the world through secondary sources or primary sources, but not through my own sensorium.
Yeah, I would say again, to this point, it is changing dramatically. The world is changing dramatically and you know, Greece is a perfect example, Greece and Cyprus and their security Cyprus, especially, but Greece as well, this, their territorial security threatened by a NATO member. This is you know, up until a few years ago, maybe 20 years ago, the conversation was really even 10 years ago, the conversation was really about how quickly can we get Turkey into the union? Greece wants Turkey into the European Union. Other countries in Europe didn't. Me, as a Greek citizen, I certainly understood the case for Turkey being part of the union geopolitically. And it was increases national interests. I actually didn't think it was a good idea because I do think Europe should have borders.
And if you were to allow in Turkey, well then, what stops Syria? What stops Lebanon? Why is Turkey? Is it just because Constantinople was there? So that's a larger point, I guess, about you know, it kind of fits in. I mean, so the world was moving in this direction that was still being driven by the forces of the end of World War II.
The European Union expansion enlargement. That's been on hold now. No, one's enlarging anywhere. They're just trying to keep it together. So that's like obviously a great example. Where's that going to go with Turkey? Not clear. My, my hope as a Greek citizen, again, is that Turkey ends up getting sucked into and bogged down in conflict.
On their Eastern and, and Southeastern fronts in the middle east, basically. And that's perfectly possible. The alliances in the region are changing. Israel has forged a much closer relationship with Saudi Arabia now. That's both a political and an economic relationship. Well, the Israelis and the Saudis do a deal with the Turks to create a new economic zone?
To pipe oil and natural gas into Europe. How will that impact Greece? So there's a lot. I mean, Greece is in a tough situation geopolitically, you know, you mentioned Ian Bremmer and Peter Zeihan. Ian Bremmer is someone whose work I studied as a college student, I believe. I think senior year, perhaps. Well right out of college, I was watching tons of, yeah, it was probably in college.
I was watching tons of shows like C-SPAN all the time. For years actually I did this and there was a great feed that would come on every now and then. It's actually amazing to think about this now. It's so I'm feeling very fortunate that I grew up in this intersection of growing up without internet as a little kid, but more importantly, not having mobile internet until I was out of college and not having social networks until I was out of college. I mean, that's really, to me the difference, it wasn't the internet. It was the switch to ubiquitous connectivity that has transformed society in a way that is, you know, good and bad. But it's funny. Cause like CSPAN would, you know, you'd get like the guide function would drop on the screen and say like, you know, this is what's going to be coming up in the next, you know, 24 hours on C-SPAN and the Nixon Center would broadcast their meetings for the National Interest Magazine. And Ian Bremmer was there with Demetrius Sams and and, and lots of other people. So I first became aware of his work. Then he was, he's always been a brilliant thinker and he's been remarkably successful.
He's very interesting how we've now seen. We had it during the Bush era, the celebrity financial policy thought leader. But we didn't have what Ian Bremmer has done. And now Peter Zeihanis doing, which is building this really powerful business around, you know, providing analysis to foreign policy issues and geopolitical issues.
So you know, Peter Zeihan’s view, you know, Ian Bremmer's view is, is less I think, developed or definitive on this front. But Peter Zeihan’s view on this and it's compelling is that in this new world that we're moving into where America really takes a back seat, and the world becomes more multipolar America is going to thrive. And America's going to thrive in his view because America benefits from all the strategic advantages it has.
And also it also has besides all the strategic geopolitical advantages, it has an exceptional body of legal history. A culture that embraces freedom and privacy. Again, these things have been challenged, property rights, and so it'll become a destination for capital. I think that's a very compelling argument.
I would tend to agree with it. And I, but I think in - to Zeihan’s point, because I think Zeihan’s theories and people like, but basically a view of view of geopolitics that really puts geography front and center. Which again, this will go, this, this is strongly opposed by one of my recent guests, Balaji Srinivasan, whose view of the network state is that actually it's going to be the opposite that borders don't really matter. Geographies matter less and less. And eventually we're all just going to be our digital relationships that are going to be primary to the physical world. So, but I think that, you know, areas like the middle east are in trouble. Border areas, traditional frozen conflicts, whether it's in Azerbaijan and Armenia, or whether it's in Kurdistan or weather or Kashmir or in Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait.
These are gonna flare up. But I think these are the, these are the canaries in the coal mine. That's where you need to look for, for the beginning of, and it's already happening. So I think security is going to become increasingly important and citizens are going to demand a higher premium on security may have been putting on it, which I think empowers governments, which is why I've also said that in this new century, I'm actually bullish on government's. Contract - I suppose this is - strongly opposed to the block, to the blockchain writ large and particularly Bitcoin community, which believes that the power will now move towards the merchant classes and towards an independent monetary sovereign. And I actually think that misses the larger point that people will feel more insecure today than they did under the U.S. global order. And the reason why we've been able to have all these experiments around money is because the U.S. has provided this umbrella of safety. So that's sort of my initial answer to your question.
Aaron Watson: And, that security generally has all sorts of ramifications. So in a, in a more or less peaceful, series of decades because of that global order you take for granted that that has become so sublimated behind the narratives, behind the stuff that we're consuming on the surface. It's hard to really consider all the assumptions of something like that. Switching, something like that, changing, which, you know, someone like Zeihan does a great job of, or at least, you know, pointing to, and then articulating what the potential ramifications of that could be. But the hard, hard thing to do is to number one, we're all mimetic creatures. You hear a great story. It's really hard not to just latch onto that and be like, hell yeah, give me more of that. I'm going to completely adopt that. And be someone who is taking information from high quality sources, how do you, how do you even judge that? I don't, I don't wanna get into that, but like taking permission from high quality sources so that you can start to make some conclusions.
And I find myself having the instinct to be more globally aware. Partially because of the pandemic, it's a great catalyst for something like that, but that also is a kind of awakening that needs to happen. And not just because, you know, I have a family friend that's being deployed to Okinawa and is going to be right there by the Strait, you know, near Taiwan. If something happens, I'm going to be involved in some way, shape or form. You know, there's stuff that pulls you like a magnet that you must pay attention to it. But then there's the opportunities to just actually, you know, bring your head up and try to have that larger, more global view.
Demetri Kofinas: Yeah. You know, what, what I, what came to mind while you were saying speaking was, well, I just love these conversations. I got to say, like, I love engaging and interesting thoughtful discussions about things because it, it, first of all, it really helps me besides the fact that it just is pleasureful. And I, and I'm, and I thought about how wonderful it would be if we just had more and more of these conversations, because there are so many issues to work through. And, again, to something I mentioned earlier on about feeling a bit fearful and dark, sometimes. The cacophony makes me feel anxious. It creates a, and this, this might also have to do with just, you know, the way I grew up. And, you know, I didn't grow up feeling very secure for all sorts of reasons. And I think that when I. The environment today. And I'm going a little bit off of what you said. I didn't mean to sort of go take a tangent, but the environment today that cacophony, the constant arguing, there was a tipping point for me recently with the, or maybe, or maybe around the time of the storming of the Capitol building.
I think actually, I think when I think about it now, I'm pretty sure the moment was the day that I had the block works guys. Jason Yanowitz and Michael Ippolito. And we talked about it a bit in the overtime. I think it was around that time. I just, it was a tipping point for me, where I felt like this has just worked in a, too much of an unsafe environment. And they're just, they're not enough adults. There are two people who do many people running around, and this is an issue that I have with the Bitcoin community or with certain elements of the Bitcoin community, which I don't find to be true with like Ethereum people, which is that there's a strong impulse to burn it all down.
And you know, I just think that would be a universally awful idea, but at the same time, I kind of get where they're coming from, because when I was in my early twenties, you know, with the Iraq War and everything, there were, I had a strong impulse to say, you know, fuck it. The state is corrupt. You know, we need to burn it down more or less.
Cause I wasn't as concerned. I hadn't built so much. I hadn't. Lived so much and learned so much in and created so much in the world that I loved and saw value in what existed and wanted. Didn't want to just, you know, burn it all. You, you mentioned, you know, at the very beginning of your answer about, I think something along the lines of like, trusting sources of data or something like that. Again, that makes me think a little bit about oracle's, decentralized oracles, and chain link and this conversation that I'm going to have. But it also makes me think about how people like me and you and other people with podcasts or television programs or a regular, you know, sub stack destination have grown much more powerful in today's world than we would have been 10 years ago or five years ago. Joe Rogan's a classic example. Although, it's not Joe Rogan's primary function. And I think that's because in this world where the sort of authority, figures and institutions that we had, you know, a consensus view on that we sort of, oh yeah, the New York Times says it. We all more or less agree that that's true.
In a world where that's coming apart, ironically, even though the world is becoming more digitized, what we're relying on is more of our more innate biological tendencies to trust other people. And so, we see Joe Rogan was saying, I believe Joe Rogan. If Joe Rogan says something, maybe he's wrong because he doesn't understand it. But I know that he's not lying to me. And I think people are looking for people that they can trust in a world that feels increasingly untrustworthy. And I, and I would argue unsafe. And I think that might also be a little bit why if you'll notice, I mean, I did, I wrestled in school throughout high school and I picked up jujitsu and then Muay Thai when I was in college, and I did it up until my brain surgery pretty much.
I - when I was doing martial arts, not many people knew how to fight. And there was a sense that, you know, if you ever did get into a fight, especially if you didn't start it, you can feel pretty safe that, you know, you, you were going to know what you're doing. And the other guy wasn't necessarily going to be like, you know, some expert MMA fighter.
That was not like a common thing today. Lots of people know how to fight. And lots of people are interested in martial arts and lots of people are also interested in hunting. There's this whole, you know, thing about hunting and killing your own animal and cooking, skinning it and cooking it, preserving it. And Joe Rogan's at the center of both of those trends.
And I don't think that's a coincidence. I think part of it is because people are trying to find, again, some sense of identity and foundation. What does it mean to be a person, a human being in this world is changing. And I think some of it also has to do with safety. And I think I actually, you know, I've had this thought in much more concrete terms because I, I remember when I was growing up watching movies, like, you know, Karate Kids, a great, great example or other movies that took place in the, you know, in the seventies or shows in the seventies or eighties, that's where that's when martial arts really became popular in the U.S. and I think a big part of that had to do with some of the security concerns in urban environments. Cities we're in a safe, like New York is a really scary place. And during the pandemic, when my building was broken into a number of times, I thought I could see now how MMA and all sorts of other self-defense forms and weapons will become more popular than they used to be. So I think that's a really interesting trend that I would keep an eye on, which is self-defense and all the whole economy that can come up around self-defense whether we're talking digitally or physically.
Aaron Watson: Yeah. I've - sent me down so many different rabbit holes that you started at the beginning of this conversation as we impose wrapping up on truth too.
And the beauty of both punting and self-defense is there's a lot of truth in it too. You can't lie about, Hey, I just got kicked in the head. He can't lie about where did this deer that I, you know, hunted came from. I was in the forest where it was. So I think that that also ties in really nicely to the kind of themes that we've touched on today, Demetri.
We're running up on, on the limits of the time that we set aside for this conversation. I'm really hopeful that we can do it again in the future. But before I ask the standard last two questions that I do with every interview, just wanted to check and see if there's anything else you were hoping to share today that I did and give you a chance.
Demetri Kofinas: That's a really great, no, that's a really great point that you made. I actually love what you said. One I'll take the one that I liked, but didn't, it just wasn't the one that I loved, but I really like it. And I agree on which one. That you know, where your food came from, it's definitive like theirs. And what does that really speak to?
And one of the things that speaks to is trust. I don't need to trust where the food came from. I know where it came from. There's less complexity in the food chain. And to your point, early on about the increase in complexity and trying to wrap our heads around it. But the one I really resonated with me was by getting your ass kicked or getting kicked in the head and you know....
I dunno, I, this maybe is a little too close to home or too literal, but which is that when I was growing up for all sorts of reasons, I moved a lot. I would, there were oftentimes where I would get into fights. And getting into fights with scary for all sorts of reasons. But the one thing that I always liked about it was that it was once it, once a fight broke out, there was a resolution.
The resolution was imminent. And what was one of the challenges for me is becoming an adult was that you had to navigate conflict in a much more different way. And which is fine and appropriate. We should not be going around and getting into fights with people, or physical confrontations. But what's happened today is this has gotten, gone to such an extreme today where you can be cursed at, maligned, and ultimately canceled and your life destroyed.
All through some words that are also taken out of context or manipulated or whatever. And you feel, and, and people who may have felt strong in their physical space, you know, over the course of their life, or even to this moment. Like if you, if you know that they're, you're not going to get pushed around. We live in a world today where a lot of people who are otherwise strong human beings can be easily bullied.
And I think that's a really, you know, it's an interesting observation and, and I think that's for me, the appeal of, I love when I, I, what I love about Joe Rogan. I really love that the most popular show in the world today is a guy who knows how to fight doesn't approach fighting as this thing that he's, you know, I'm sure Joe Rogan has his moments where I certainly had them growing up feeling cocky, but he's humble.
And he's been around really, really, I mean the biggest ass kicking people in the world. So like, I just love that that's being introduced into the zeitgeists cause I think it's really, really important. Any ending thoughts? No, I mean, this was a really great conversation. I think it was, this was awesome. I really enjoyed it.
Aaron Watson: Enjoyed it too. And I really want people to follow, find some digital coordinates where they can connect with you and, and check out episodes of the show. What coordinates can we provide for folks that want to do so, Demetri?
Demetri Kofinas: So I would say first and foremost, you can follow me on Twitter @Kofinas with a K. K - O - F as in Frank, I - N as in Nancy, A - S as in Sam. I learned that - my dad, when I was a kid, he would always be he's the doctor. And he would be on the phone and be like, go finesse with F as in Frank. But I've learned that I had to also do it for N and the S. So @Kofinas also @HiddenForcesPod on Twitter, both of those. And then obviously at our website, hiddenforces.io.
There's a pop-up where you can give your name, email, and zip and be added to our mailing list. We're gonna be, I've been saying this for a long time, that we're going to start using that soon, but we really are. I hired a team of consultants to help me sort of build Hidden Forces, to change it, to add structure around it, to make, to really grow it in a way that's more consistent with my vision.
Because up until now, it's been primarily kind of like a, it's been run almost like a hobby, even though it's not anymore. So those are my, those are my three recommendations. @Kofinas @HiddenForcesPod both on Twitter, and the website, hiddenforces.io. And then of course, anywhere on any podcast application, you just search Hidden Forces. You'll find, you'll find the show.
Aaron Watson: Wonderful. We're going to have that linked in the show notes for this. And every episode of the show at goingdeepwithaaron.com/podcast or in the app. We are probably listening to this episode right now, but before I let you go to Demetri, first of all, I'm going to just reiterate that I, for a podcast junkie like myself, there's like the, you know, the A tier,the B tier, the C tier of shows and the A tiers, when they drop, I know I'm listening to them. I just don't know exactly when. The B tier, once I get through the A tier, I get, I, you know, listen to my B tiers shows. And then the C ones for if it's a particularly, you know, a heavy week of driving or something like that.
And yours is firmly in the A tier. I learned stuff there consistently and have my mind experience. So I really appreciate that. And I want to give you that. One final time to issue an actionable personal challenge to the audience.
Demetri Kofinas: You know, you told me about this before the episode started. So I actually wrote some stuff down because this is actually, and I was surprised that what came out was not so much, I was surprised at what came out. I was surprised at how much came out. I had a lot of thoughts about this. You know, one of the things that I think is important for people to try and do is. To hold themselves to a higher standard to the, to the standard of their idyllic self when it comes to public interactions. So like, I, you know, I, I can use myself as an example here.
I've done all sorts of things in my life that I'm embarrassed of. That I felt like were not magnanimous, were particularly petty. Born out of insecurity. For example, that was, that's always been a thing for most of my life where I've let my insecurity and my emotions dictate my actions. And I see this a lot on social media and other places. People are really dickish. They're mean. They're gross. They're vindictive. They're jealous. They're envious. They're narcissistic. And I think people really need to try and be their best selves in public. Doesn't mean, it doesn't mean that you're, you know, you can't make mistakes, but try to try to keep those for your personal life.
And really try to set an example and say, you know, the person that sees what I tweet or the person that hears me on this podcast, what will they think? Who will they think I am? Is that person consistent with who I want to be? And I think there's a difference, there's a difference between being who you want to be versus being somebody else. You Should always be yourself.
But you should be yourself, I think at least in public circumstances, the person that you want to be. That you strive to be every day. So I think that's the first challenge I would tell people. The second one sort of applies to that, which is to put space between your thoughts and your actions. Or your emotions and your actions. Because that also will help you be a better person and be more of the person you want.
So that means again, when it comes to social media, don't tweet it right away, and ask yourself, why am I tweeting? What is the reason that I'm doing this and is the reason consistent with who I want to be? And that's true not just there, it's true in all sorts of other areas, but it's surprisingly easy to do on social media. If you just implement the practice because you know, it's, there's a digital interface here.
Also, I would say put boundaries around your mobile devices, and your connected devices. There are all sorts of ways to do this. I did it when I started Hidden Forces. That was, I wouldn't probably wouldn't be able to do it otherwise. I took an old iPhone. I swapped out the card with my new one. I made it so there was just phone and texts, no internet, nothing else. Just phone and text. And it helped me get unaddicted. I'll lose my addiction within a week. Now I'm back to being addicted and I'm trying to figure that out, but that's because, you know, I'm trying to navigate promoting my show.
I don't actually enjoy being on Twitter like I used to, when I was much more self-absorbed. But I was, you know, kinda on my TV program. Now I'd really do it for marketing and I really wish I would, I don't particularly enjoy it. But I do engage, I do enjoy getting feedback and engaging with people.
Another thing I thought of, I wrote was. And the last thing is to try not to judge people. You know, I think again, to my point about me having done things or said things in my life, and I'm not proud of, I think one of those things has been to be overly harsh in my criticism and judgment of people.
And again, a lot of that has, was, and has been born out of insecurity. I've heard Tim Ferriss talk about this when he says, you know, if someone doesn't get back to you, if you send an email to someone and they don't get back to you. A perfect example of, if you send an email to Tim Ferris and he doesn't get back to you, you know, don't take it personally.
Don't like, you know, take everything as an affront against you where it's what it says about you. It doesn't have to do with you. You know, people are busy. They're overwhelmed. You know, that's just one example, but there are all sorts of ways in which you're - that sort of concept of mind mapping, you think, you know what the other person's thinking, where their intentions are, you know, but most of the time you're just projecting.
So, you know, try not to judge people and, you know, just focus on yourself, focus on being a better person, focus on being accountable. And I'll, and I want to say there's someone who really does this in a beautiful way. A friend of mine, Grant Williams, who has a podcast that's very successful. He's been in media a long time.
I've only started now to become even as even close to as magnanimous. And good a public person as Grant is. Because for years in my interactions with Grant, he was always so giving. And Joe Rogan is like this as well. And Tim Ferris is like this also. They have reputations of being very giving. Joe Rogan transformed the comedy circuit, you know, comedians traditionally have been very selfish.
At least that's how they have been described to me. And Joe Rogan and now competitive Joe Rogan has really opened his eyes to that, and it's not surprising. He feels very secure. He's secure in his work. You are secure in yourself. And he's able to do that. Grant is a, is a, is a perfect example of that. He's a remarkably giving individual. And so I often ask myself and I also do this with, with Jim Grant as well, both Grants. Jim Grant is someone who I got to know early on in my career and we've become friends over the years and I, and he's such a gentleman the way he treats people. And so I think it's, you know, and to end it on that point. Look, to look, try to find the people who you think live an admirable life. It's not just about money or success, but whose character and values you, you value that you say, I want people to see me that way and try and measure yourself up to them every day. That helps me. So, you know, that's what I would say.
Aaron Watson: Beautiful. Powerful note to wrap up on and a lot to aspire to as we make our way in the world. Demetri, I am very grateful that you agreed to come on the show. I really enjoyed talking with you and look forward to doing it again soon.
Demetri Kofinas: My pleasure. Thanks, Aaron.
Aaron Watson: We just went deep with Demitri Kofinas. Hope everyone out there has a fantastic day.
Black Tech Nation Ventures is launching its first flagship venture fund in Pittsburgh, PA. The firm is founded by three managing partners, Kelauni Jasmyn, Sean Sebastian, and David Motley have come together to form an investment thesis focused on investing in black and other minority founders who have historically missed out on opportunities to raise venture capital.
As David outlines in this podcast, these represent an underutilized asset capable of creating outsized returns, not a charitable donation.
David brings experience from three decades in corporate America, sitting on the boards of multiple public companies, investing tens of millions of dollars into real estate, and a track record of venture investments through the Blue Tree Venture Fund. David has also raised a $207 Special Purpose Acquisition Vehicle (SPAC) called Deep Lake Capital.
David Motley has also co-founded 3 enterprises: The BlueTree Venture Fund, DLM-WCM (a real estate development company) and, MCAPS, LLC (a professional services company focused on Managed Services, Staff Augmentation, and Consulting).
In this episode, David and Aaron also discuss how to craft a fulfilling career, how to raise money from large institutions, and why SPACs are taking off.
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If you liked this interview, check out episode 265 with Kelauni Jasmyn about Black Tech Nation, episode 290 with Ned Renzi about Birchmree Ventures, or episode 405 with Matt Kesinger about his medical device startup.
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