Now that I’m looking for work, was pursuing my startup worth it?

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My name is Joshua Davis. In 2016 I took a four year leave of absence from a salaried position in order to research peer-to-peer architecture. My intent was to build an app for decentralized insurance. During that time I gained many things, but unfortunately market share in the financial app sector was not one of them. Now I’m looking for work. Its a bit of a challenge right now, but after attempting “impossible” for four years, I’m really grateful to work on something in the realm of “really difficult.” I’m definitely making progress in the types of problems I choose to work on🤣😂!

My resume is embedded in this post and it is also located at joshuad31.com. If you know of any open positions I’d love to talk with you.

Why this post?

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Mistakes were made 😄

TL;DR: It’s healthy to look at past decisions and realize that we erred because we believed things that we now know are false. With a lighthearted approach one can find a lot of humor in one’s own cognitive biases. There is no need to cover up the past or to engage in self deception. We all make mistakes, at the very least we should attempt to learn something from them. We may all have a lapse in rational judgement occasionally. If we can accept that we are fallible, we can both learn something and have a good laugh.

In a previous post I explained why I started this journey. In this post I provide perspective as to what I’ve gained at the end of this stage in my career.

  • Part 1: Cognitive biases which shaped my decisions from 2016–2017.
    Skim this section (1200 words)

Part 1: Hindsight being 20/20

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The ICO craze of 2016 and 2017 was fueled by intense speculation and all that money went to people’s heads. Being an early investor in cryptocurrency definitely strengthened my own delusional views 📈🤑. Gaining hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars within a year without having earned it felt like a vindication of my intuitive prowess 🤣😂.(illusory correlation)

No harm in the memes

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I‘m not Neo and this isn’t the Matrix

Now that I look back, I can clearly see how the integration of memes into the discussion of cryptocurrency played a role. Changing an idea into a meme makes it much easier to change a person’s inner narrative.

Bitcoin and things like it are the equivalent of the red pill.” — Chamath Palihapitiya (Facebook 2007–2011)

This is speculation on my part, perhaps future researchers will become convinced that the community effectively brainwashed itself. People are being told that they are the equivalent of Neo from the matrix. If you are the star of your own inner narrative, the hero of the world, the one that has “taken the red pill,” how can you then go back to your life prior to crypto? That would be like saying, “you know what, I just realized I was never really that special, and all these ‘newfound friends’ are not really my friends.” This is the power of groupthink (aka collective self-deception). If you ever woke up from the dream (nightmare) then your friends would immediately gaslight you into thinking that you were crazy for wanting to “plug yourself back into the matrix.” I suspect that this is the real power of memes, they change our inner working narrative. When memes are integrated into Reddit alongside scholarly whitepapers they have all the more authority to keep people down the rabbit hole (authority bias).

The value of confirmation

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the Dunning-Kruger effect

I somehow deluded myself into thinking that I just needed to publish a my brilliant insights on an obscure internet forum. This was how Bitcoin and Ethereum started! I never even seriously considered the value of publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. I used to wonder if failing to publish in a reputable journal made my ideas seem more crackpotty. Then I’d immediately invoke the Bitcoin whitepaper as if that was the ultimate vindication of publishing to an obscure internet forum 🤣😂(anchoring bias). I’m laughing as I write this because I’m reminded of the Dunning–Kruger effect. Developed by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger; their poster child was a man who “robbed banks while his face was covered with lemon juice, because he believed it would make him invisible to the surveillance cameras🤪.” People can make themselves believe anything and I’m definitely no exception.

Calling someone a crackpot may not be very nice, but we’ve all had the feeling that some teaching or some person is crackpotty. The term is used to describe a person who emphatically promotes an idea that most people would likely believe is false. Is it impossible that someone without formal training in insurance markets would ever develop a viable model for peer-to-peer insurance? No, it’s not literally impossible. But, we shouldn’t place a very high credence in the likelihood that such a person exists either.

You have to convince people as to the validity of the your work. This is where the value of a peer-reviewed publication comes in. The platform on which you publish adds to or subtracts from the credence that what you are writing is of significant value. Publishing one’s “research” on Medium and Reddit doesn’t exactly lend a great deal of authority to the author. Someone who has only published on these platforms should be viewed skeptically. What are the odds that their publication will someday advance the development of the field in which they are studying?

Is it impossible that some significant insight might be published on these platforms by somebody who was previously unknown? Although it’s not impossible, it’s just so unlikely that no one should believe it’s true.

Satoshi Nakamoto (the creator of Bitcoin), and Vitalik Buterin (the creator of Ethereum) are truly brilliant individuals who have contributed to their respective fields. But 99.99% of people (myself included) are not like them. The funny part is how long it has taken (plus the financial cost) for me to figure this out. I still hear a little voice inside saying,

“what’s hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to the opportunity to pursue your dream? It’s only money.”

🤣😂 I’m gonna kill that voice someday🔪.

Visionary or crackpot

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Succeed and you are a brilliant visionary. Fail and you are a delusional loser.

The difference between a crackpot and a visionary is largely based on the perceptions of other people. Some people are initially labeled as crackpots and later generations relabel them as visionaries. I know that people will usually cite someone like Galileo who was convicted of heresy for teaching that,

the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”

I personally find the story of Georg Cantor to be more interesting because it highlights how drastically public opinion about someone’s work can change. Cantor after being labeled a crackpot came under severe emotional distress, he later died in a sanatorium. His theories however were later vindicated, to the degree that set theory has become a fundamental theory in mathematics. There cannot be a better archetype for the misunderstood visionary. Here was a man whose ideas were so strongly rejected that he lost his sanity, but after his death his ideas avenged him by tormenting his critics😏.

From the Wikipedia entry:

Leopold Kronecker’s public opposition and personal attacks included describing Cantor as a “scientific charlatan”, a “renegade” and a “corrupter of youth”. Kronecker objected to Cantor’s proofs that the algebraic numbers are countable, and that the transcendental numbers are uncountable, results now included in a standard mathematics curriculum. Writing decades after Cantor’s death, Wittgenstein lamented that mathematics is “ridden through and through with the pernicious idioms of set theory”, which he dismissed as “utter nonsense” that is “laughable” and “wrong”.

No one working on a startup thinks, “this is going to fail”

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Kevin from The Office

“Obviously everyone’s terrible when they start (doing something) … you need to have a certain amount of self-delusion to persist despite all evidence to the contrary … If you haven’t got enough self-delusion you won’t persist, you’ll give up. But, if you got too much and you never get any good you just get stuck in this loop of doing terrible gigs. Thankfully I was delusional enough, or you know adamant enough, (to say) I’m gonna do this and so I think I would have definitely persisted.”Matt Parker

When it comes to working on one’s own startup, one rarely make choices based upon the rational odds of success (optimism bias). The media we consume internalizes a very strong survivorship bias. We only hear about those founders who made it and were successful. This is why most founders internalize that their project will also be a success. It goes without saying that no one wants to hear about the various startups which have failed. That’s why I’m so glad you’re here🤣😂! If you’re working on a startup let me be the first to pat you on the back and tell you, “when you wake up it’s going to be OK, we’re still here for you.”

Part 2: The outcome of four years

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This post is not an exercise in choice-supportive bias. I have written over 150,000 words on the topic of peer-to-peer insurance and I’m still writing because it’s still an important topic. Although my findings have yet to be confirmed by a reputable authority, I don’t think it’s hard for someone to reach the same conclusions I have.

Traditional Insurance is flawed

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health insurance trap

TandaPay’s approach was developed in response to a fundamental flaw in markets for healthcare insurance.

The most obvious flaw in healthcare insurance markets

Traditional insurance is flawed in that it uses one premium to both pay claims, and provide profit for the insurer. In healthcare this has led to a volume-based payment system. Such a system incentivizes insurers to focus on the total number of tests, operations, surgeries and treatments administered to patients. This focus on volume seems to confuse patient outcomes with the volume of services required to reach those outcomes.

rewarding desirable outcomes should not mean rewarding an excessive volume of services to achieve those outcomes.”

If you are an insurer and you want to increase your profits what do you do? Insurers cannot make their slice of the pie bigger by increasing the share of a premium that is used for administrative costs. The Affordable Care Act places specific limits on what percentage of a premium goes to administrative costs. Insurers can only make the entire pie bigger which gives all of the providers in the system (the insurer included) more pie. This requires an insurer to increase the total volume of services consumed by policyholders.

The framers of the Affordable Care Act tried to curb insurers’ profits and their executives’ salaries, which were some of the highest in the U.S. health care industry, by requiring them to spend 80 to 85 percent of every premium dollar on patient care.

When the ACA fixed the percentage of a premium which could be used for administrative costs it didn’t lower the total cost of insurance. On the contrary it resulted in an increase in consumption of healthcare services. After the ACA passed the only way an insurer could increase their profit was if the total spent on healthcare increased.

These insurers and providers have a symbiotic relationship, There’s not a great deal of incentive on the part of any players to bring the costs down.

The chart below gives you a clear visualization of this effect and you can watch this video if you need further explanation. If you want to watch a great documentary on this subject I highly recommend Money and Medicine and the associated viewer’s guide.

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The most obvious solution

It’s clear that we need to decouple premiums used to pay claims from administrative fees paid to providers. This change would require that 100% of every premium dollar must be used to pay claims and rebates to policyholders. It means that an insurer can’t make more profit simply by increasing the volume of services consumed.

What would happen if we built a system where 100% of the premiums were used to pay claims and rebates?

This was the starting point of all of my research into peer-to-peer insurance. What would happen if we built a system where 100% of the premiums were used to pay claims and rebates? Once I started down this path, however, the results led me in a totally unexpected direction.That direction became TandaPay.

An unexpected result

If you are curious to see what makes TandaPay a really unique protocol you should start with this post:

Once you finish that post you are primed to read the most important thing I’ve ever written:

The post I wrote on sexual harassment data was a completely unexpected result. The significant limitations which constrained the protocol likely helped to produce this finding.

These are just a few of the constraints which limit the protocol:

  • Insurance pools must be small groups of 50 to 100 policyholders.

As a result of these limitations the protocol isn’t very good at providing coverage which is comparable to a traditional insurer. This forced me to research other use cases. The use case which holds the most promise is completely unrelated to insurance.

Given our recent political turmoil most people are familiar with the term “whistleblower.” What people may find unfamiliar is that some companies use software solutions to protect the anonymity of individuals who attempt to file complaints. The TandaPay protocol is a special variant of a whistleblower complaint system. It uses financial incentives to guarantee that the content of complaints submitted by whistleblowers are true. It requires that participants, within the group from which the whistleblower complaint originated, verify the facts of the complaint.

There are no publications on the internet which I have found that provide a description of a software system like TandaPay. TandaPay functions by combining a system for complaint validation with a system of financial incentives. I believe that if this type of system could be deployed, it would represent a new innovation which has never previously existed. My final conclusion is that the TandaPay protocol would provide more value when integrated into whistleblower software than it would as a protocol for insurance.

If you can understand what I wrote and reach the same conclusions about what the protocol does then the value of my research is self-evident. One only needs to read what I wrote to understand why this is true. More information regarding my research into TandaPay can be found in this post.

Written by

Incentives architect for TandaPay

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