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AI Alignment with Brian Christian of 'The Alignment Problem'

July 25, 2023
Written By
July 25, 2023
Season 4 Episode 7
33:56
Written By

What does ‘AI alignment mean? Can philosophy help make AI less biased? How does reinforcement learning influence AI's unpredictability? How does AI's ‘frame problem’ affect its ability to understand objects? What role does human feedback play in machine learning and AI fine-tuning?

An acclaimed author and researcher who explores the human implications of computer science, Brian Christian is best known for his bestselling series of books: "The Most Human Human" (2011), "Algorithms to Live By" (2016), and "The Alignment Problem" (2020). The latter explores the ethical issues in AI, highlighting the biases and unintended outcomes in these systems and the crucial efforts to resolve them, defining our evolving bond with technology. With his deep insights and experiences, Brian brings a unique perspective to the conversation about ethics and safety challenges confronting the field of AI.

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Welcome to The Closed Session, How to Get Paid in Silicon Valley, with your host, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya.

Vivek Vaidya:

Welcome back to season four of The Closed Session Podcast. I'm Vivek, and with me I have...

Tom Chavez:

This is Tom Chavez.

Vivek Vaidya:

Today we have another special guest with us. Our guest is an accomplished and acclaimed author of many books. He's a researcher too. He's at Berkeley right now and on his way to Oxford. Welcome, Brian Christian.

Brian Christian:

Thanks for having me.

Vivek Vaidya:

Brian, we hosted you a couple of months ago actually at Super Summit and we had a keynote that you delivered where you delved into your most recent book, The Alignment Problem. Everybody in the Hive as a copy, and they're all raving about it.

Tom Chavez:

Everybody went bonkers. They loved it. Seriously. It's great.

Brian Christian:

Yeah.

Vivek Vaidya:

Tom was bonkers about it even before.

Tom Chavez:

I'm a big fanboy. There's that.

Vivek Vaidya:

So as we start this, can you give us an overview of the book and explain what exactly The Alignment Problem refers to?

Brian Christian:

Sure. So The Alignment Problem refers to a situation specifically in the context of machine learning systems, systems that we've trained by data, by example. There's this pattern that machine learning systems often fall into where they do the thing that we specified, but that was not the thing that we actually wanted. I think anyone who's worked in ML, whether that's on the industry side or in academia, has those stories of, "Yes, okay, it technically did do exactly what I programmed it to do or incentivized it to do, but that wasn't what I was intending. It wasn't what I was going for."

This is an idea that has a really long history back into the 1960s, if not earlier. Norbert Wiener at MIT was writing about this at a time when machine learning systems were barely playing checkers. He was already saying, "If the purpose we program into the system is not the thing we truly desire, we're setting ourselves up for disaster."

I think this was something that you started to see bubbling back up in the computer science community initially through philosophers like Nick Bostrom and folks like that as this scary specter as AI systems start to get more and more powerful. You started hearing it from the computer science community, people like Stuart Russell. And then really in the second half of the 2010s, you saw AI safety and AI alignment becoming like a proper academic discipline in an actual research agenda.

I would say we're now at a stage where this isn't even really an academic research agenda. This is just applied engineering work that is happening in real time at places like OpenAI that are serving hundreds of millions of customers. So we've really seen AI in, I think, a breathtakingly short span of time, go from kind of a thought experiment to this thing on the whiteboards of places like Berkeley, Stanford, et cetera, to now being a major part of the policy conversation, but also a major part of what some of the largest companies in the world are up to.

Tom Chavez:

Yeah, and as we were plugging in here getting ready for the podcast, we were talking with you, Brian, a little bit about it, and we were reminiscing. I was reminiscing on when I was in graduate school and there was a class on this kooky stupid thing called genetic algorithms and another kooky stupid thing called neural networks. At the time, why would you waste your time? There's nothing axiomatically grounded about any of that. It's an oddity. Don't waste time on it. And oh my goodness, to your point, it's shocking how fast it's taken root and overtaken us all. Well, it hasn't yet overtaken us, but it has overtaken the industry we're in certainly-

Brian Christian:

Absolutely.

Tom Chavez:

... where Vivek and I live all day long. So can you fix ideas with a couple of examples of The Alignment Problem, like here on earth, ground level examples for our listeners to help them understand unintended consequences, and what this actually looks like in practice?

Brian Christian:

Yeah. I can give a few ranging from comic to tragic. On the comic side of the spectrum, one of my favorite examples is from Astro Teller who today runs Google X. Back in his graduate student days at Stanford, he was working on the RoboCup soccer competition and trying to develop this reinforcement learning system that was going to play soccer. In effect, if you're trying to teach a reinforcement learning system from scratch to play soccer, you have to be insanely patient for it to discover something that's going to actually score points. And so in practice, what you have to do is something called a shaping reward where you basically give this kind of intermediate incentive for going in the right direction. And so he gave it something like 1/100 of a goal for taking possession of the ball, which seemed like a very reasonable thing to teach a system to do in order to score goals.

But what happened was his system learned to basically just approach the ball from a safe distance and then vibrate its paddle as quickly as it could. So taking possession of the ball like 50 times a second and just doing that forever. This was much, much more effective strategy than actually playing the game.

Tom Chavez:

This reminds me of a scene from Semi-Pro, if you've seen the Will Ferrell movie.

Brian Christian:

I haven't.

Tom Chavez:

Okay. Well, it's one of his best in my view. He's a semi-professional basketball player, and all he does is get on the court and have people pass the ball back and forth to him so he looks good. That doesn't ever actually score any baskets, but it looks good.

Brian Christian:

It looked good by the lights of the incentive that he had given the system, but that wasn't the behavior that he actually wanted. So I think that's a very, very classic failure mode.

Now, bringing this forward into the real world, we've seen systems like there was the Uber autonomous vehicle that unfortunately struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018. There was a case here of misalignment, I would argue, both with the training data and the objective function of the system. So with the training data, if you read the National Transportation Safety Board report, it seemed to heavily imply that there were no pictures of jaywalkers in the training data that the system was built on. So it really only ever expected to encounter a human being at a crosswalk. And so that's a misalignment of the distribution of the training data versus the distribution in the real world.

But then you also have this subjective function misalignment where the motion planning system for the Uber was built on top of this very classic image classification system with this cross entropy loss of basically minimize the amount of time that you miscategorize something. And so it's all about putting objects into the correct categories. One of these categories was bicyclist, one of these categories was pedestrian. And unfortunately, this woman whose name was Elaine Herzberg was walking a bicycle across the street. And so the classification system didn't know which classification to use and then never gave a clear verdict to the motion planning system. I think that is a case where you have this intuitive objective, which is like, first classify the object, then determine if we need to swerve to avoid it. But that's not actually the way that it works in real life. So either of these classifications would've been plenty of reason to avoid.

Tom Chavez:

One of the early pioneers of AI, this guy McCarthy at Stanford, had what he called the frame problem. And so he would illustrate it with this cannibals example. You have 20 people on one side of a river and there's only 10 seats in the boat, and you have to get them back and forth across the river quickly. And so people would start doing the puzzle solving, how do I get these people across the river? And then McCarthy would come in and say, "Well, why don't you just take the helicopter?" And they'd say, "Well, you didn't tell me there was a helicopter." And with a twinkle in his eye was like, "That's the point." Machines only know what you tell them. In this case, machines only learn from the examples they're given. It's a funny kind of carrying forward of this essential AI issue that they were wrestling with in the logic chopping rule of space systems of the day, but it carries on now today.

Brian Christian:

That's really interesting. I mean, I think humans in that similar situation, we would have a certain Spidey sense of the very fact that we can't identify what the object is in front of us is already reason enough to slow down. And so you are starting to see the computer science community now trying to carry that forward and say, "Okay, can we have systems that are essentially uncertainty aware?" They're calibrated to their own uncertainty and they can act on that basis. So hopefully we're going to be able to bring some of that forward.

Vivek Vaidya:

It's interesting. In hindsight, of course. Any object you detect, change the classification algorithm or the algorithm to say any object you detect as opposed to a pedestrian or a bicycle with this amount of certainty, then you stop. But then when you're programming it, you have to anticipate all of these corner cases. Oh, it's a bicycle. It's a pedestrian. What if it's a pedestrian on a bicycle? What if a pedestrian is walking a bicycle? What if it's bicycle just lying flat on the street? All of these things need to be taken into account. I think you're talking about misalignment that occurs in not just the training data, well, perhaps in the training data, but also in the way the rules are specified to deal with the various scenarios.

But now as we think about all the latest and greatest AI technology that's taken everything by storm, generative AI, large language models, that misalignment problem just gets exacerbated when it comes to large language models. So how does misalignment or the alignment problem manifest itself in large language models?

Brian Christian:

That's a great question. I think misalignment is one of the, in a way, most salient things that's happening right now in the large language model space. The way that these models are built is you start with essentially this pre-training stage, that's the PT of GPT, in which you have this fill in the blank objective. You've got a giant corpus of text and you're just feeding it to this self supervised system and saying, "Predict the next word, predict the next word." That alone turns out to be sufficient to train these incredibly general, incredibly powerful systems. You can frame all these different problems as essentially fill in the blank problems. It's like, "Here's a paragraph of English. The corresponding French translation is colon," and let your auto complete system essentially function as a machine translation system. And so that's already interesting from an alignment perspective that you train something for this narrow objective, but you're using it now in this very generic, open way.

And despite the incredible flexibility and power of just those pre-trained systems, they have a number of, at this point, quite familiar failure modes, everything from bias and toxicity. So the internet is full of horrible things. And so any system trained to minimize its predictive loss on the internet is going to make these predictions about encountering that sort of speech. And so when you treat those predictions as if the system is actually writing or outputting those things, then you get all these terrible things.

I think it's even to me interesting that we use language like hallucination to talk about the fact that also some of what comes out of these models is not truthful at all. But the fact that we call it hallucination to me is a little bit intellectually dishonest because the system, as far as it's concerned, is just predicting a document that as far as it knows already exists. It doesn't think that it's writing something, but we're using it to write something.

Tom Chavez:

That's right.

Brian Christian:

And then we hold it to this standard of truthfulness, all the normative aspects of language itself.

Tom Chavez:

And as you point out in the book, and the big fancy philosophical word is, there we are anthropomorphizing the machine.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. Right.

Tom Chavez:

A hallucination is something that human beings do. Now we're saying the machine's doing it. And then it gets into this whole rich terrain. Maybe we can kick this around as well, around, "Well, what does a hallucination mean for me in my human brain?" It's a bunch of faulty crazy connections that maybe shouldn't have been made, but Van Gogh made some crazy connections and then made great art. I'm a musician. Jazz is a series of mistakes and hallucinations that people have conducted along the way to create a new possibility. So it's just a fascinating kind of topic, for me at least, around, I don't know. On the one hand, we shouldn't be anthropomorphizing the machines like that. Out of the other side of my mouth, let's not give our human brains too much credit because they are associative machines that just draw weird connections, and maybe that's the hallmark of intelligence.

In fact, let's use that to switch gears now. Let's talk a little bit about reinforcement learning from human feedback. So RLHF as it's called in Silicon Valley, by the way, I've noted recently, I think it's more prevalent than LVMH as a four letter acronym.

Brian Christian:

That's really saying something.

Tom Chavez:

Acronym, right? But the point of reinforcement learning for me, and I was wondering if you could just explain it to our listeners here, but what's interesting is that this great sort of Cambrian explosion of technology and possibility from AI was when we let these kinds of techniques unfurl and let them just kind of mimic and emulate the things that were going on in the human brain. Back to me in graduate school, like, "Oh, it's not axiomatically grounded." Who cares?

Brian Christian:

Right. Yeah.

Tom Chavez:

I mean, if you can't explain how associations work in my brain, but they kind of give us results and outcomes that we like, well maybe there's something in there. So can you explain for our listeners what reinforcement learning is all about? How it actually works?

Brian Christian:

Yeah. Reinforcement learning at the simplest level is taking sequences of actions to maximize some kind of reward. I think of reinforcement learning really as the carrot and the stick. How do you minimize punishment, maximize reward? And the fact that it's a sequence of choices is also very distinctive. That contrasts with some of the machine learning systems we've been talking about in terms of text classification, object recognition, things like that.

So there's this temporal problem of needing to do a sequence of things after which you maybe get some points or some punishment or something. And then, you have to do what's called credit assignment of, "Okay, what part of what I did was good, or what part of what I did was bad?" Reinforcement learning has a lot of connections to the sort of early, mid 20th century animal behaviorist studies. People like B.F. Skinner who were saying, "I'm going to put a rat in a maze. Can the rat figure out how to get the food pellets? Or can it figure out which lever to push?" That sort of thing.

In many ways, reinforcement learning was taking that idea and trying to create an algorithmic framework for how computer systems can learn to take these sequences of actions, whether that's moves in a chess game, or sequences of motor motions if you're in a robotics context. We might talk more about some of the connections to neuroscience, but there is a very fascinating way in which reinforcement learning has sort of rediscovered or recapitulated some of the very same mechanisms that evolution has found.

Tom Chavez:

Right. I guess that's the point I was driving to inexpertly, Brian, but I show up in the world, free associatively, stumbling from one decision to the next. We like to have this idea of ourselves as logic-based machines reasoning from first principles, sometimes, but usually not. What strikes me about reinforcement learning, a lot of it based on the stochastic gradient, the ascent algorithm I learned in graduate school and operations research where they're local, they're greedy algorithms. There's not an uber global control. And once we let go of that idea of global control is when it seems to me it all really started to work.

Brian Christian:

I think there's also a distinction within the reinforcement learning literature between what they call model based reinforcement learning and model free reinforcement learning. The basic idea here is, are you explicitly thinking ahead about the effect that your actions are going to have? Are you planning? Or, in a what's called model free context, have you just kind of internalized a certain set of habits, muscle memory? And to your point about humans are mostly not logic-based systems. Most of the work that your brain is doing in terms of regulating your body homeostatically or staying balanced as you walk around the world, and even so much of the things that we do, the habits we have, brushing our teeth or reaching for a snack or whatever it is, these are not really model-based decisions. We're not thinking ahead; we're just kind of doing it.

Tom Chavez:

That's right.

Vivek Vaidya:

It is all local optimization. Like, "I'm hungry right now. I'm going to eat this bag of chips." Globally, I know it may be bad for me, but I'm still going to eat the bag of chips right now.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. You find yourself reaching for it before you've even consciously decided.

Vivek Vaidya:

Correct.

Tom Chavez:

That's right.

Vivek Vaidya:

Correct. But we were talking about RLHF. We talked about the RL part. Where does the HF part come in?

Brian Christian:

Right. Okay. This is really the set of techniques that, as of this conversation, is considered the gold standard way to address the alignment problem in large language models. So we can create these really powerful systems that predict the missing word with an incredible level of power, and we can use them for machine translation, we can use them as our personal therapist, as our digital assistant, et cetera, et cetera. But they have these hallucination problems, bias problems, et cetera, et cetera.

So the way to go from this pure prediction system to something that's doing what we want is essentially to create a formal model of what people want. That sounds very underspecified, but there's a process for doing this. It starts with basically contract workers who are given pairs of outputs and are asked, "Which one do you like better?" And that could be in the most generic sense. It's like, "Well, this one has better grammar." Or, "This one has a more professional tone." Or, "This one says a true statement instead of a false statement." But all you do is you just ask people, "Which of these two things do you like better?" And behind the scenes, a machine learning system, a second machine learning system, which is called the reward model, has been given the objective of minimizing the prediction error of which of those two things you will prefer.

And so under the hood, it is creating actually an Elo score. So this numerical score for each output of the model that is literally an Elo score, the same way that chess grand masters have this Elo rating that predicts who's going to win in a game of chess. Every text completion is given this rating, and generally the higher rating is going to be preferred over the lower rating.

After some tens of thousands of these data points, there is this kind of magic of generalization that kicks in, and you have this reward model that can reliably with certain footnotes predict which model outputs will be preferred by this pool of labelers that you have. And so the RLHF part is that now that you have this formal model of human feedback, you can retrain your original system to this new objective of rather than producing outputs that are likely to have been found on the internet, instead, you produce these outputs that are likely to be preferred by your focus group.

Vivek Vaidya:

But then doesn't that create another sort of alignment problem where now you're aligning to your focus group?

Brian Christian:

Oh yeah. Yes, indeed.

Vivek Vaidya:

Meta alignment.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. Yeah. So you're seeing some of these original OpenAI papers on RLHF had what resembles like a nutrition facts label that says, "These are the demographics of the people that we use to provide these labels." They're mostly, if I remember correctly, males between the ages of 25 and 34 from Bangladesh and the Philippines. And there's kind of this disclaimer that says, "We can't vouch for whether these people's preferences are your preferences." And in some ways, I mean, this is gesturing towards the entire project of politics. It's like, to what degree do certain people's preferences apply to other people?

Vivek Vaidya:

On the one hand, it's fascinating that the preferences of 25 to 34 year old males in Bangladesh and Philippines have been used to train AI that can produce content that is being used by the rest of the world. And on the other, it's damn scary.

Tom Chavez:

Be afraid.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. Right.

Tom Chavez:

Be very afraid.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. There's a hegemonic power to these systems, that they take a set of, in this case, values or norms.

Vivek Vaidya:

Yeah. Exactly.

Brian Christian:

And there is kind of a values sandwich. There is an effect that the Silicon Valley product managers have. So in some of these language models, they use a slightly different system called constitutional AI where there's a set of values that are articulated as like, "We believe in fairness, we believe in this, that, and the other thing." And then the labelers are simply asked, "Which of these continuations uphold those values better or worse?" And so you have kind of a mishmash of Silicon Valley product managers' values, the people that wrote the constitution, then the values of the labelers who decided whether it upheld the constitution or not. So it can get pretty layered and pretty complex. But as you say, there is this fundamental philosophical and political question of, "Whose values get enforced at scale?" And then constrain what all these other groups of people can do.

Tom Chavez:

And for folks listening, look, there are the shiny advocates out there who like to swat aside these issues. Move on, nothing to see here, we're good. And there's a couple little glitches on the data and a little de-biasing, but we're good. We're not good. You really can't brush this stuff under the rug. These are tectonic really core issues. And what I love about how you talk about these elements, Brian, is that it's in recognizing that is it a computer science problem or is it a political science problem, or is it a human problem, or is it a philosophical epistemological problem?

Brian Christian:

That's right.

Tom Chavez:

It's all of the above. I remember at the summit I asked you about this. As we were assembling today, I didn't know that you were a computer science and philosophy major undergrad, as was I. So it makes total sense that you're attacking these questions now from that posture. But I take a more, I'm worried, when I say you can't swat it aside. And by the way, don't leave this just to the computer scientists. I appreciate that more of computer scientists are slowing their roll and being a lot more thoughtful about this, but how do we close this gap? Because you really need a renaissance engineer or a number of renaissance engineers to embrace the whole enchilada and think broadly about these topics. I worry that our curricula and the students who are coming out aren't as broadminded as they need to be, but maybe I'm too skeptical. How do you look at this, and how do we close the gap?

Brian Christian:

I see this as one of the fundamental human projects of the next decade. I mean, really, I think it's an all hands on deck kind of situation. And there's a question of, how do we instill a sufficient ethical or philosophical grounding into the computer scientists that are being trained? There's also the question of, it may be the case that you simply can't put all of the relevant expertise into a single person, but rather you need to think about how do we assemble diverse teams to work across those levels of expertise? One of the things I find reasonably encouraging is that AI companies at this point are actually one of the biggest hirers of philosophy PhD students.

Tom Chavez:

I can't say I knew that. That's encouraging.

Brian Christian:

Yeah. There is this kind of career path, at least at the moment, from academic philosophy departments to the ethics group at DeepMind, for example, or at Anthropic, places like that.

Tom Chavez:

Those are lucky philosophers. If they weren't going to get jobs before all this happened, that's wonderful.

Brian Christian:

Yeah, so a good friend of mine named Iason Gabriel is in the ethics group at DeepMind, and he has a PhD in philosophy.

Tom Chavez:

I've heard that name.

Brian Christian:

He had worked doing global humanitarian work, ended up ultimately finding a place at DeepMind. I'm thinking, "Okay, actually there is a sort of humanitarian perspective to thinking about the ethical issues in something like AI." So yeah, I'm encouraged that there is a role for people who have spent their career doing global development work at the UN and things like that to come on board and be part of that conversation, and literally work elbow to elbow with the engineers.

Tom Chavez:

You're much closer to this than just about anybody. Are the philosophers kept up in the attic? Or are they down on the floor with the team?

Brian Christian:

We're seeing them on the same papers. So this constitutional AI which I had mentioned, that came out of Anthropic. Amanda Askell is an ethical philosopher. She's on the paper. Iason is on the Sparrow paper, which is DeepMind's sort of ethical rules-based language model. I think that's meaningful. There is this question, I think, in any organization, AI or otherwise, of just as the organization grows, how do you prevent folks from getting siloed into different departments? I think that's just a universal human resources kind of problem. But at least for now, we are seeing literal co-authorship between the engineers, the research scientists, the ethicists, which to me is really encouraging.

Vivek Vaidya:

I think that is very encouraging. I can see a parallel with think about things like design and user experience and user research. That became a big thing 10, 15 years ago. I think I can see how these philosophers, right now they are co-authors of papers. In a few years they may very well be in the product management teams helping product management and designers design user interfaces and figure out the right kind of text to put in when people are providing input, and how to present the output, and all of those things. So that's very encouraging actually.

The other side of this governance question, if you will, is one of regulation. What do you think about that? Do you think about government coming in, tech companies regulating themselves? Where are you on that spectrum?

Brian Christian:

I wish I had a clearer view of exactly what regulation felt like it would do the job. I'm not clear on that myself. I think there is a sense that some kind of regulation is appropriate. It's much less clear to me and to most of the people in the community what shape that will actually take.

I've been very interested recently to talk with folks from the aviation industry, because I think that offers us a model of, at least to my way of thinking, a pretty successful way to deal with this extremely complex system that has lives on the line in a way that's incredibly safe. And so there is a mixture there. I'm not an expert. I've hung out with a couple experts and tried to learn what I can. There's a mixture of regulatory groups like the FAA, but also kind of industry groups, there's a role for the insurance sector to play here on enforcing safety norms.

There are also kind of industry partnership groups where, for example, to do code sharing. If two airlines get into a code sharing relationship, well now they have a stake in how safe each other's planes are. And so there are these third parties that will come in and audit everyone such that, "Okay, we all feel comfortable. You've been audited by the same auditor that audited me, so now we're cool to fly each other's passengers."

I'm expecting that we're going to see something like this in AI where there's going to really be... People like to use the Swiss cheese analogy of no single layer is sufficient to do everything that we want, but through some combination of insurance, government regulation, these kind of peer-to-peer incentives, industry groups, I think it will take a little bit of everything. I wish I had a clearer view of what those pieces were going to be, but it's coming.

Vivek Vaidya:

No, I think nobody does right now. I think we're all trying to figure out. It's like the seven blind people with the elephant, right? We're seeing different parts and trying to say, "It's this, it's that." I think together we can, by putting these multidisciplinary people together, like philosophers and designers and computer scientists and all of that, I think we can find a solution.

Brian Christian:

Yeah.

Tom Chavez:

Absolutely. Absolutely. On that forward looking note, Brian, I really want to thank you for being with us today. This was a fun conversation.

Vivek Vaidya:

It really was. Thank you, Brian. Thank you for joining us.

Tom Chavez:

It covered all the bases.

Brian Christian:

It's been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Tom Chavez:

Really thought provoking. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. Please don't forget to sign up for our newsletter. Stay up to date on latest episodes and news at Superset.com. Thanks for listening. We'll see you all soon.

Vivek Vaidya:

Thank you.

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Harpal Sandhu, a Silicon Valley veteran and friend of super{set}, joins Vivek and Tom and explains what the excitement about SPAC's is all about. How did we get from IPO's to SPAC's? What's a PIPE? And why does the $10 price show up? In this episode you'll understand why entrepreneurs might prefer a SPAC and how they navigate its possibilities and pitfalls with investors.

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From Watsonville To The Moon

This post was written by Habu software engineer, Martín Vargas-Vega, as part of our new #PassTheMic series.

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Not Just On Veterans Day

This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

This post was written by Ketch Sales Director, Sheridan Rice, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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The Studio Model

What’s a startup studio? Is it just “venture capital” with another name?

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We don’t critique, we found and build.

The super{set} studio model for early-stage venture It is still early days for the startup studio model. We know this because at super{set} we still get questions from experienced operators and investors. One investor that we’ve known for years recently asked us: “you have a fund — aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

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New Venture Ideation

Where do the ideas come from? How do we build companies from scratch at super{set}?

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Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

This post was written by MarkovML Co-Founder, Lindsey Meyl, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

In our last post, we discussed how data is the new general-purpose technology and that is why at super{set} we form data-driven companies from scratch. But new technologies are a promise, not a sudden phase change.

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VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

When a VC decides to invest in a company, they write up a document called the “Investment Memo” to convince their partners that the decision is sound. This document is a thorough analysis of the startup...

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People, First

What does it mean to be a super{set} co-founder and who do we look for? Why is the Head of Product the first co-founder we bring on board?

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The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

Has someone looking to make a key hire ever told you that they are after “coachability”? Take a look at the Google ngram for “coachability” — off like a rocket ship since the Dot Com bubble, and it’s not even a real word! Coaching is everywhere in Silicon Valley...

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Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

At super{set}, we stand side-by-side and pick up the shovel with our co-founders. Our first outside co-founder at a super{set} company is usually a Head of Product. Let’s unpack each portion of that title....

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, describes his Big Tech and startup experience and his journey to starting a company at super{set}.

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Too Dumb to Quit

The decision to start a company – or to join an early stage one – is an act of the gut. On good days, I see it as a quasi-spiritual commitment. On bad days, I see it as sheer irrationality. Whichever it is, you’ll be happier if you acknowledge and calmly accept the lunacy of it all...

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The Product Heist

Tom and Vivek describe how building the best product is like planning the perfect heist: just like Danny Ocean, spend the time upfront to blueprint and stage, get into the casino with the insertion product, then drill into the safe and make your escape with the perfect product roadmap.

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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Early Stage Customers

Tom and Vivek discuss what the very first customers of a startup must look and act like, the staging and sequencing of setting up a sales operation with a feedback loop to product, and end with special guest Matt Kilmartin, CEO of Habu and former Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Krux, for his advice on effective entrepreneurial selling.

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Overheard @ super{summit}

Vivek Vaidya's takeaways from the inaugural super{summit}

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How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

Reflections after a summer as an engineering intern at super{set}

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Why I Left Google To Co-found with super{set}

Gal Vered of Checksum explains his rationale for leaving Google to co-found a super{set} company.

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The Era of Easy $ Is Over

The era of easy money - or at least, easy returns for VCs - is over. Tom Chavez is calling for VCs to show up in-person at August board meetings, get off the sidelines, and start adding real value and hands-on support for founders.

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The super{set} CEO

Tom and Vivek describe what the ideal CEO looks like in the early stage, why great product people aren’t necessarily going to make great CEOs, and what the division of labor looks like between the CEO and the rest of the early team. They then bring on special guest Dane E. Holmes from super{set} company Eskalera to hear about his decision to join a super{set} company and his lessons for early-stage leadership.

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How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

o11y - What is it? Why is it important? What are the tools you need? More importantly - how can you adopt an observability mindset? Habu Software Architect Siddharth Sharma reports from his session at super{summit} 2022.

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

Head of Infrastructure at Ketch, and Kapstan Advisor, Anton Winter explains a few of the infrastructure and DevOps headaches he encounters every day.

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Calling BULLSHIT

Tom and Vivek jump on the pod for a special bonus episode to call BULLSHIT on VCs, CEOs, the “categorical shit,” and more. So strap yourselves in because the takes are HOT.

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Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

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Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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When and Why to Bring on VCs

Tom and Vivek describe the lessons learned from fundraising at Rapt in 1999 - the height of the first internet bubble - through their experience at Krux - amid the most recent tech bubble. After sharing war stories, they describe how super{set} melds funding with hands-on entrepreneurship to set the soil conditions for long-term success.

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Startup Boards 101

Tom and Vivek have come full circle: in this episode they’re talking about closed session board meetings in The {Closed} Session. They discuss their experience in board meetings - even some tense ones - as serial founders and how they approach board meetings today as both co-founders and seed investors of the companies coming out of the super{set} startup studio.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

Arthur Patterson, founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call. Arthur and Tom cover venture investing, company-building, and even some personal stories from their history together.

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Arthur Patterson on Venture Investing

Arthur Patterson, the founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call.

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Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

This month we pass the mic to Sagar Gaur, Software Engineer at super{set} MLOps company MarkovML, who shares with us his tips for working within a global startup with teams in San Francisco and Bengaluru, India

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Arthur Patterson on Company Building

Arthur Patterson, legendary VC and founder of Accel Partners, sits down with Tom Chavez to discuss insights into company building. Tom and Vivek review the tape on the latest episode of The {Closed} Session.

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7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

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Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics

Kicking off the fourth season of the {Closed} Session podcast with a great topic and guest: Frida Polli, CEO and co-founder of pymetrics, which was recently acquired by Harver, joins us to talk about the critical role that technology and specifically AI and neuroscience can play in eliminating bias in hiring and beyond.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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Alysa Hutnik, Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect @ Ketch

We are delighted to share our new episode of the {Closed} Session podcast with guest Alyssa Hutnik. Alyssa looms large in the privacy world, and she’s been thinking deeply about the intersections of data, technology and the law for nearly two decades. She’s also the Chief Privacy and Data Security Architect at Ketch, a super{set} company, as well as a lawyer. Hope you enjoy the episode!

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The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

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boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

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Building the Creator Platform for Music Makers at Boombox.io

On the heels of boombox.io's $7M seed fundraise led by Forerunner, Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya sit down with boombox co-founders India Lossman and Max Mathieu for a special episode straight from super{summit} 2023 in New Orleans!

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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Generative AI + Creative Work with Big Technology's Alex Kantrowitz

Alex Kantrowitz, journalist and author of Big Technology, joins Tom and Vivek in the studio to discuss his road to journalism, ad tech, and the business and ethical considerations of generative AI.

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan on How ChatGPT Works

MIT Professor Rama Ramakrishnan joins Vivek on the pod to delve into the evolution of Generative AI and ChatGPT, as well as his own journey as an entrepreneur turned business school professor.

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Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

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The Future of Work and Talent in Tech

Does it matter where you go to college? Should the SAT be abolished? Do you have to have a degree in computer science to work in tech? What are the differences between higher education in the US and in India? Why did Tom and Vivek ban Harvard and Stanford degrees from working at their first company?

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AI Alignment with Brian Christian of 'The Alignment Problem'

What does ‘AI alignment mean? Can philosophy help make AI less biased? How does reinforcement learning influence AI's unpredictability? How does AI's ‘frame problem’ affect its ability to understand objects? What role does human feedback play in machine learning and AI fine-tuning?

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Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

read more

An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

Want to grow your product organically? This blog post breaks down understanding costs, setting up starter plans, and pricing premium features using MarkovML as an example. Learn how to engage new users and encourage upgrades, enhancing user experience and fueling growth through actionable insights.

read more

Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

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AI Hot Takes: Deepfakes, The Big Stakes, and What to Make

Is AI our salvation or is it going to kill us all? Tom and Vivek roam widely on others’ takes about artificial intelligence, adding their insight and experience to the mix. Along the way they consider Descartes, Ray Kurzweil, Salt Bae, Marc Andreessen among others. If you are looking for a down to earth conversation that tempers the extremes at either end of the debate, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.

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Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

Are you a launcher, or a finisher? The balance of conviction, a guiding vision, and the right team to execute it all make the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure. Tom Chavez delves into his journey as a first-time CEO and the invaluable guidance he received from a key mentor.

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Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

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High-Velocity Personal Growth

What's the price you put on personal growth? In his most recent note to founders, super{set} Founding General Partner Vivek Vaidya outlines 7 points of advice for startup interviews and negotiations. Vivek explains his compensation philosophy and the balance between cash and the investment in personal and career growth a startup can bring. Here’s the mindset you need to reach your zenith at a startup.

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Harvard Computer Scientist James Mickens on The Ethical Tech Project

Are we walking a tightrope with AI, jeopardizing humanity's ethical core? Is AI more than just algorithms, acting as a mirror to our moral values? And when machine learning grapples with ethical dilemmas, who ultimately bears the responsibility? Harvard's Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, James Mickens, joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya on "The {Closed} Session."

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How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

read more

ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

ActiveFence, the leading technology solution for Trust and Safety intelligence, management and content moderation, today announced its successful acquisition of Spectrum Labs, a pioneer in text-based Contextual AI Content Moderation.

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How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

Do you get an uneasy feeling anytime you get added to a customer call? Do you ever struggle to respond to a frustrated customer? Peter Wang, Product lead at Ketch, discusses how customer feedback can help drive product development, and how engineers can use customer insights to create better products. Learn best practices for collecting and interpreting customer feedback.

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Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

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Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

Justin Davis and Josh Newman, Co-founders of Spectrum Labs (acquired) launch Nurdle to get AI into production faster, cheaper & easier.

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Spotlight Series: Gal Vered, Co-founder of Checksum.ai

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio every episode. Up first: Gal Vered is co-founder and Head of Product at Checksum (checksum.ai), end to end test automation leveraging AI to test every corner of your app.

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

Ever find yourself scratching your head about product management decisions? Join India Lossman, co-founder of boombox.io, as she unpacks the product mindset for engineers. Unravel the art of synergy between PMs and engineers and delve into strategies to enhance collaboration and craft products that users will adore.

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Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

Co-founder of Headlamp Health, Andrew Marshak, describes the frustratingly ambiguous state of mental health diagnoses - and the path forward for making mental health a precision science.

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Marketing in the Age of AI with Rex Briggs

How is AI steering the future of marketing strategy? With the convergence of AI and marketing tactics, Rex Briggs paints a compelling picture of what's possible: AI agents that revolutionize user interactions, and generative techniques that craft persuasive content. Drawing from his deep expertise in marketing measurement, Rex joins Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya to explore the cutting-edge of AI-driven marketing strategies. Listen for insights on harnessing AI's potential in modern marketing.

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Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

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Developer tools that are worth their while: KEDA and Boundary in action

Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

Sandeep Bhandari, Former Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Risk Officer at buy now, pay later (BNPL) company Affirm, joins Vivek Vaidya, Founding General Partner of super{set}, in conversation.

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Spotlight Series: Andrew Marshak, Co-founder of Headlamp Health

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio every episode. Up now: Andrew Marshak is Co-founder and Head of Product at Headlamp Health (Headlamp.com), a healthtech company bringing greater precision to mental health care.

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Philosophy, Data, and AI Ethics with NYT Best-selling Author + Data Scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

From unpacking Google search patterns to understanding the philosophical underpinnings of big data, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz offers a unique lens. As the NYT Best-selling author of “Everybody Lies” and a renowned data scientist, he delves into the ways data mirrors societal nuances and the vast implications for tech and its intertwining with everyday life.

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Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

read more

Ringside Tales from Serial Startup Champion Omar Tawakol

Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the fiercest competitors can sometimes become friends. Omar Tawakol is a prime example. As the founder and CEO of BlueKai, he went head-to-head with Tom, Vivek, and the 'Krux mafia' for dominance in the Data Management Platform arena. A serial entrepreneur with roots in New York and Egypt, Omar eventually steered BlueKai to a successful acquisition by Oracle before creating Voicea, which Cisco acquired. Today, he's pioneering a new venture called Rembrand (rembrand.com), which innovates in product placement through generative fusion AI.

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Spotlight Series: Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder of RevAmp

The {Closed} Session Spotlight Series showcases a different co-founder from the super{set} portfolio in every episode. Today's guest is Lindsey Meyl, Co-founder at RevAmp (rev-amp.ai), a "Datadog for RevOps" platform that offers observability across the revenue engine, monitoring performance, flagging when something is amiss, and determining the root cause of how to fix it.

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

read more

What Consumers Think of AI and Their Privacy

Everyone’s talking about AI - so The Ethical Tech Project decided to listen. Joining forces with programmatic privacy and data+AI governance platform Ketch, The Ethical Tech Project surveyed a representative sample of 2,500 U.S. consumers and asked them about AI, the companies leveraging AI, and their sentiment and expectations around AI and privacy. On the latest episode of The {Closed} Session, get an inside look at the survey results in a deep-dive conversation with the team at The Ethical Tech Project.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

read more

How Boombox Nurtures Customer Collaboration for Success

In a conversation with boombox's co-founder India Lossman, the discussion pivots to the art of fostering customer collaboration in music creation. Lossman unveils how artist-driven feedback shapes boombox's innovative platform, with a glimpse into AI's empowering potential. Understand the synergy between technology and user insights as they redefine the independent music landscape.

read more

super{set} Celebrates First Exit: LiveRamp to Acquire Data Collaboration Software Startup Habu for $200M

LiveRamp Enters Into Definitive Agreement to Acquire Habu, Reinforcing super{set}'s Unique Company Building Model of Founding, Funding, and Scaling Data+AI Businesses

read more

Silicon Valley’s Greatest Untapped Resource: Moms

This post was written by MarkovML Co-Founder, Lindsey Meyl, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

read more

Understanding The AI “Alignment Problem”

Vivek Vaidya recaps his conversation with AI researcher and author of "The Alignment Problem" Brian Christian at the 2023 super{summit}.

read more

Why Head of Product is Our First Co-Founder

At super{set}, we stand side-by-side and pick up the shovel with our co-founders. Our first outside co-founder at a super{set} company is usually a Head of Product. Let’s unpack each portion of that title....

read more

Forbes: Why A Collaborative Approach Trumps "Lone Genius" In Company-Building

Off the heels of super{set}'s first exit - the acquisition of data collaboration company Habu by LiveRamp for $200 Million - Tom Chavez writes how the super{set} approach to collaboration in company building leads to successful outcomes.

read more

Why Headlamp Health is Bringing Precision to Mental Health

Co-founder of Headlamp Health, Andrew Marshak, describes the frustratingly ambiguous state of mental health diagnoses - and the path forward for making mental health a precision science.

read more

The super{set} Entrepreneurial Guild

Has someone looking to make a key hire ever told you that they are after “coachability”? Take a look at the Google ngram for “coachability” — off like a rocket ship since the Dot Com bubble, and it’s not even a real word! Coaching is everywhere in Silicon Valley...

read more

Overheard @ super{summit}

Vivek Vaidya's takeaways from the inaugural super{summit}

read more

Pivots and Possibilities

Discover how lessons from law enforcement shape a thriving tech career. Ketch Sr. Business Development Representative Brenda Flores shares a bold career pivot in our latest "Pass the Mic" story.

read more

How To Avoid Observability MELTdown

o11y - What is it? Why is it important? What are the tools you need? More importantly - how can you adopt an observability mindset? Habu Software Architect Siddharth Sharma reports from his session at super{summit} 2022.

read more

An Intro to Product-Led Growth from MarkovML

Want to grow your product organically? This blog post breaks down understanding costs, setting up starter plans, and pricing premium features using MarkovML as an example. Learn how to engage new users and encourage upgrades, enhancing user experience and fueling growth through actionable insights.

read more

The Balancing Act For Women in Tech

This post was written by Ketch Sales Director, Sheridan Rice, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

read more

Building Tech on a Moving Regulatory Target

In an interview with Ketch co-founder Max Anderson, the focus is on data privacy laws and AI's role. Anderson discusses the global privacy landscape, highlighting Ketch's approach to helping businesses navigate regulations. The conversation also emphasizes data dignity and Ketch's unique role in the AI revolution.

read more

Four Tips for a Distributed Workforce

This month we pass the mic to Sagar Gaur, Software Engineer at super{set} MLOps company MarkovML, who shares with us his tips for working within a global startup with teams in San Francisco and Bengaluru, India

read more

Lessons from the Startup Circus

super{set} Technical Lead and resident front-end engineering expert Sagar Jhobalia recaps lessons from participating in multiple product and team build-outs in our startup studio. Based on a decade of experience, Sagar emphasizes the importance of assembling the right engineering team, setting expectations, and strategically planning MVPs for early wins in the fast-paced startup environment.

read more

Forbes: 5 Startup Studio Misconceptions

It's still early for the startup studio asset class - and we hear misconceptions about the studio model every day, ranging from the basic confusion of accelerators versus studios to downright incorrect assumptions on our deep commitment to the build-out of every company. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

read more

Too Dumb to Quit

The decision to start a company – or to join an early stage one – is an act of the gut. On good days, I see it as a quasi-spiritual commitment. On bad days, I see it as sheer irrationality. Whichever it is, you’ll be happier if you acknowledge and calmly accept the lunacy of it all...

read more

Building Fast, Scaling Globally

Harshil Vyas joined the super{set} Hive (i.e., portfolio companies community) in March 2023 as Co-Founder of Kapstan and employee number one in India. We jumped on a Zoom recently to talk about accelerated timelines, globally distributed workforces, and what is unique about the super{set} model.

read more

Former Salesforce SVP of Marketing Strategy and Innovation Jon Suarez-Davis “JSD” Appointed Chief Commercial Officer at super{set}

The Move Accelerates the Rapidly Growing Startup Studio’s Mission to Lead the Next Generation of AI and Data-Driven Market Innovation and Success

read more

Spectrum Co-founders Launch Nurdle AI

Justin Davis and Josh Newman, Co-founders of Spectrum Labs (acquired) launch Nurdle to get AI into production faster, cheaper & easier.

read more

Tom Chavez in Huffpost Personal for Hispanic Heritage Month

Writing in the Huffington Post: "My Mom Sent Me And My 4 Siblings To Harvard. Here's The 1 Thing I Tell People About Success."

read more

From Suitcases to Startups: Why Immigrants Innovate

How are immigrants like entrepreneurs? Peter Wang of Ketch arrived in the U.S. at age 7 with two suitcases and a box. Read his story in the latest "Pass The Mic."

read more

Data Eats the World

The wheel. Electricity. The automobile. These are technologies that had a disproportionate impact on the merits of their first practical use-case; but beyond that, because they enabled so much in terms of subsequent innovation, economic historians call them “general-purpose technologies” or GPTs...

read more

Hold Fast: Game-Changing Wisdom from Seamus Blackley

Creator of the XBox and serial entrepreneur Seamus Blackley joined Tom Chavez on stage at the 2023 super{summit} in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a free-ranging conversation covering the intersection of creativity and technology, recovering back from setbacks to reach new heights, and a pragmatic reflection on the role of fear and regret in entrepreneurship.

read more

How I Learned to Stop Optimizing and Love the Startup Ride

Reflections after a summer as an engineering intern at super{set}

read more

MedCity News: It’s Time for the Tech Revolution to Come to Mental Health Diagnoses

Headlamp Health co-founder Andrew Marshak writes in the MedCity News that "We need to take inspiration from the progress in oncology over the last few decades and challenge ourselves to adapt its successful playbook to mental illness. It’s time for precision psychiatry."

read more

The RevOps Bowtie Data Problem

Go-to-market has entered a new operating environment. Enter: RevOps. We dig into the next solution space for super{set}, analyzing the paradigm shift in GTM and the data challenges a new class of company must solve.

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ActiveFence Acquires super{set} Company Spectrum Labs

ActiveFence, the leading technology solution for Trust and Safety intelligence, management and content moderation, today announced its successful acquisition of Spectrum Labs, a pioneer in text-based Contextual AI Content Moderation.

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Why I Left Google To Co-found with super{set}

Gal Vered of Checksum explains his rationale for leaving Google to co-found a super{set} company.

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super{set}’s Spectrum Detoxifies The Online Space

We are living in a time of extraordinary concern about the negative consequences of online platforms and social media. We worry about the damage interactive technologies cause to society; about the impact to our mental health; and about the way that these platforms and their practices play to our most destructive impulses. Too often, the experiences we have online serve only to polarize, divide, and amplify the worst of human nature.

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The Product Mindset for Engineers

Ever find yourself scratching your head about product management decisions? Join India Lossman, co-founder of boombox.io, as she unpacks the product mindset for engineers. Unravel the art of synergy between PMs and engineers and delve into strategies to enhance collaboration and craft products that users will adore.

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VCs Write Investment Memos, We Write Solution Memos

When a VC decides to invest in a company, they write up a document called the “Investment Memo” to convince their partners that the decision is sound. This document is a thorough analysis of the startup...

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Founder and Father: A Balancing Act

Making It Work With Young Kids & Young Companies

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Why Proprietary Data Is the Linchpin of AI Disruption

Read Vivek Vaidya's latest in CDO Magazine and learn why in this new AI landscape, those who harness the potential of proprietary data and foster a culture of collaboration will lead the way—those who don't risk obsolescence.

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Watch: Sandeep Bhandari Fireside Chat

Sandeep Bhandari, Former Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Risk Officer at buy now, pay later (BNPL) company Affirm, joins Vivek Vaidya, Founding General Partner of super{set}, in conversation.

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Why I'm Joining super{set} as Chief Commercial Officer

Announcing Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) as super{set}’s Chief Commercial Officer: jsd tells us in his own words why he's joining super{set}

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Podcast: Tom Chavez on How AI Startups Can Show Us What’s Next in Marketing

Tom Chavez joins the "Decoding AI for Marketing" podcast published by MMA Global and hosted by well-respected international marketing & AI experts Greg Stuart (CEO, Author, Investor, Speaker) and Rex Briggs (Founder/CEO, Inventor, Author, Speaker).

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Infrastructure Headaches - Where’s the Tylenol?

Head of Infrastructure at Ketch, and Kapstan Advisor, Anton Winter explains a few of the infrastructure and DevOps headaches he encounters every day.

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From Chords, to Code, to Chords Again: The Story Behind Boombox.io

super{set} founding general partner Tom Chavez wasn’t always set on a life of engineering and entrepreneurship – music was his first love. For a time, he was determined to make a career out of it. With boombox.io, Tom has combined the best of both worlds into a product that inspires and delights both the engineer and the musician.

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7 Ways to Turn an Internship Into a Job at a Startup

Chris Fellowes, super{set} interned turned full time employee at super{set} portfolio company Kapstan, gives his 7 recommendations for how to turn an internship into a job at a startup.

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How Engineers Should Talk to Customers with Empathy

Do you get an uneasy feeling anytime you get added to a customer call? Do you ever struggle to respond to a frustrated customer? Peter Wang, Product lead at Ketch, discusses how customer feedback can help drive product development, and how engineers can use customer insights to create better products. Learn best practices for collecting and interpreting customer feedback.

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Why the AI Revolution Will Be Data-Centric

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder of MarkovML, joins super{set} Chief Commercial Officer Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the role of data in gaining a competitive advantage in the AI revolution. Learn the difference between optimizing models and optimizing data in machine learning applications, and why effective collaboration will make or break the next-gen AI applications being created in businesses.

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Good Ideas, Good Luck

Coming up with new company ideas is easy: we take the day off, go to the park, and let the thoughts arrive like butterflies. Maybe we grab a coconut from that guy for a little buzz. While this describes a pleasant day in San Francisco, it couldn’t be further from the truth of what we do at super{set}. If only we could pull great ideas out of thin air. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.

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Jamming with Habu’s Matt Kilmartin on Partnership Strategy

Discover how Habu, a trailblazer in data clean room technology, utilizes strategic partnerships with giants like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS to expand its market reach and foster the potential of an emerging category. Learn from CEO Matt Kilmartin's insights on how collaboration is the secret sauce that brings innovation to life.

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Horizontal Scaling at super{summit}

Vivek gives us the rundown on what the hive is buzzing about after super{summit} 2023: how to 'horizontally scale' yourself.

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boombox.io Raises $7M to Build Out Creator Platform for Music Makers

super{set} startup studio portfolio company’s seed funding round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Ulu Ventures Raise will enable boombox.io to accelerate product development on the way to becoming the winning creator platform for musicians globally

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The Four Types of Startup Opportunities

In our last post, we discussed how data is the new general-purpose technology and that is why at super{set} we form data-driven companies from scratch. But new technologies are a promise, not a sudden phase change.

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The Information: "TikTok Is Not the Enemy"

Tom writes a nuanced take on the TikTok controversy and outlines ethical data principles that will restore people’s sense of trust and offer them true control over how and when they grant permission for use of their data.

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Navigating the Startup Journey from Launch to Finish Line

Are you a launcher, or a finisher? The balance of conviction, a guiding vision, and the right team to execute it all make the difference between entrepreneurial success and failure. Tom Chavez delves into his journey as a first-time CEO and the invaluable guidance he received from a key mentor.

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Not Just On Veterans Day

This post was written by Ketch Developer Advocate, Ryan Overton, as part of our #PassTheMic series.

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Developer tools that are worth their while: KEDA and Boundary in action

Running cloud platforms efficiently while keeping them secure can be challenging. In this blog post, learn how two of super{set}’s portfolio companies, MarkovML and Kapstan, are leveraging tools like KEDA for event-driven scale and Boundary for access management to remove friction for developers. Get insights into real-world use cases about optimizing resource usage and security without compromising productivity.

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Diamonds in the Rough

Obsessive intensity. Pack animal nature. Homegrown hero vibes. Unyielding grit. A chip on the shoulder. That's who we look for to join exceptional teams.

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Why I'm Co-founding @ super{set}

Pankaj Rajan, co-founder at MarkovML, describes his Big Tech and startup experience and his journey to starting a company at super{set}.

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Redefining Customer Experience in Data-Driven Tech Startups

Ted Flanagan, Chief Customer Officer at super{set}-founded Habu, sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to provide insights into how Habu's strategies in customer experience set it apart in the data collaboration market. Learn how customer experience strategies helped Habu land a $200 million after being acquired by LiveRamp in January 2024.

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Detecting Software Bugs with AI

Gal Vered is co-founder and Head of Product at Checksum (checksum.ai), an innovative company that provides end-to-end test automation that leverages AI to test every corner of an app. He sat down with Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) to discuss the exciting problem that Checksum is solving with AI and what Gal likes best about working in super{set}'s startup studio model.

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Why CTOs Should Care About Gross Margins, Cost-to-Serve, and Product Management

Why should a tech exec care about profit and loss? Aren’t our jobs to make the product great, and someone else can figure out how to make the numbers add up? That was my attitude for a long time until I finally appreciated the significance of gross margins for SaaS businesses during the early part of my tenure as the CTO of Krux.

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High-Velocity Personal Growth

What's the price you put on personal growth? In his most recent note to founders, super{set} Founding General Partner Vivek Vaidya outlines 7 points of advice for startup interviews and negotiations. Vivek explains his compensation philosophy and the balance between cash and the investment in personal and career growth a startup can bring. Here’s the mindset you need to reach your zenith at a startup.

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Q&A with Accel Founder Arthur Patterson

Arthur Patterson, founder of venture capital firm Accel, sits down for a fireside chat with super{set} founding partner Tom Chavez as part of our biweekly super{set} Community Call. Arthur and Tom cover venture investing, company-building, and even some personal stories from their history together.

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Forbes: Why The Biden-Xi Talks Should Put A Microscope On San Francisco

The prettifying and securing of downtown San Francisco, where super{set} is headquartered, should be the norm - not just for special state visits from the world's dictators. Here are 3 things the city of San Francisco should be doing all year round to make the city better to live, work, and invest in. Read Tom Chavez' latest in Forbes.

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When Inference Meets Engineering

Othmane Rifki, Principal Applied Scientist at super{set} company Spectrum Labs, reports from the session he led at super{summit} 2022: "When Inference Meets Engineering." Using super{set} companies as examples, Othmane reveals the 3 ways that data science can benefit from engineering workflows to deliver business value.

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CalMatters: Why visa reforms benefit not just California’s tech sector but the economy overall

Vivek Vaidya writes that America needs more H-1B workers. Common sense reforms to the program will even the playing field for startups, not Big Tech, to bring innovative talent to American's shores.

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Tech Crunch: Answering AI’s biggest questions requires an interdisciplinary approach

Tom Chavez, writing in TechCrunch, calls for new approaches to the problems of Ethical AI: "We have to build a more responsible future where companies are trusted stewards of people’s data and where AI-driven innovation is synonymous with good. In the past, legal teams carried the water on issues like privacy, but the brightest among them recognize they can’t solve problems of ethical data use in the age of AI by themselves."

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The Information: The People OpenAI Should Consider for Its New Board

Tom Chavez writes in The Information that "OpenAI’s board needs a data ethicist, a philosopher of mind, a neuroscientist, a computer scientist with interdisciplinary expertise and a political strategist."

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The Era of Easy $ Is Over

The era of easy money - or at least, easy returns for VCs - is over. Tom Chavez is calling for VCs to show up in-person at August board meetings, get off the sidelines, and start adding real value and hands-on support for founders.

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We don’t critique, we found and build.

The super{set} studio model for early-stage venture It is still early days for the startup studio model. We know this because at super{set} we still get questions from experienced operators and investors. One investor that we’ve known for years recently asked us: “you have a fund — aren’t you just a venture capital firm with a different label?”

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From Watsonville To The Moon

This post was written by Habu software engineer, Martín Vargas-Vega, as part of our new #PassTheMic series.

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