Theses for 2019 (and beyond)

a non-exhaustive list of stuff I’ve been thinking about and want to invest in

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of stuff I’ve been thinking about and want to invest in. I was considering longer post on each and still may do that for some but I’m also lazy.

I hope there’s some value in just putting this out there both to force myself to commit my ideas to paper and hopefully to start some conversations with anyone (interested in) building these kinds of things.

If these are things you also care about or if these wrinkle your brain, I’d love to hear from you.

Consumer privacy:

Cambridge Analytica. Russia hacked the election. Data breaches at Marriott and Target and Equifax and everywhere else. These all get wrapped up into one big flashing red warning light. Now I think there’s beginning to be enough awareness, fear, uncertainty, and doubt about data privacy and security that regular people may be getting the point where they’re willing to pay for it. Whether that means that privacy and security will be incorporated into more businesses and used as a differentiator and/or that there will companies specifically offering privacy and security as a service, I don’t know for sure.

People are beginning to care more and they can only care even more than that over time. Sure VPNs and adblockers and password managers are a good starting place, but when surveillance is the primary operating model of our economy, the change to put users back in control of their own data and safe in their digital lives will have to be profound. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this can really mean. I honestly have no idea what this will look like but I’m excited.

Digital health:

There’s really cool stuff happening in consumer health/digital health (like Ro, a Tusk portfolio company) but I’m especially interested in one concept in particular: condition-specific companies that focus on continuity of care for complex conditions requiring long term lifestyle adjustments in addition to medication. Quite the mouthful right? Things like hypothyroidism, addiction, diabetes, heart conditions, and mental health all require complex, specialized care that promotes substantive lifestyle adjustments and may or may not involve medication. Tele-psychiatry is especially interesting to me and, for personal reasons, tele-psychiatry for ADHD most of all. I’ll use myself as an example to show why: 

I have basically the best care money can buy and yet my psychiatrist doesn’t talk to my therapist, I have to pay tons of money to see him, the appointments are inconvenient, and we then mostly just shoot the shit and take my blood pressure. So expensive, un-modern, low quality care even at the high end of the market. Literally getting the medication is the easiest part of it and is legally complex for a startup because these are Schedule II narcotics. But show me a startup that treats adult ADHD via tele-psychiatry with a referral network for therapists, coaches, and tutors; and software tools for self-care and I’m seeing stars. Similar opportunities exist for focused consumer health startups in lots of conditions.

For some detail on what I hate in this category, you can revisit this January post on Basis.

Vice (pot and porn):

I’ve written before about how promising I think “adult” content and media is, and about the prospect of “Stripe for high risk” in particular. Sex work will never go away and creating better infrastructure would go a long way to help sex workers by bringing them into the mainstream, better regulated economy. Puritanism won’t help anyone.

Conversely, regarding pot, I believe less in infrastructure and more in brands, largely for regulatory considerations. Any cannabis-tech company promising a software/logistics solution is functionally selling compliance as a service - some facsimile of participation in the mainstream economy. But laws are fickle and asymmetric market to market, imposing high regulatory risks and unique scaling challenges (you need to localize your product for each market). Worse, federal legalization will throw all the existing businesses into a tailspin as they try to reengineer themselves for compliance. So until we have adult use recreational legal at the federal level, it’s gotta be the brands. Content/brands can scale across borders and jurisdictions.

As an investor, it’s hard to know if I’ll get to participate in either, at least in the short term. But I genuinely believe we’re due for a massive reckoning in each so I’m sure as hell gonna try.

Affordable housing:

I tend to think there’s two kinds of approaches here: efficiency and value creation. To my mind, things like broker fees make rentals more expensive and replacing them with broker-less exchanges that charge less money and provide better services (like Flip, a Tusk portfolio company) make housing more affordable through productizing heretofore manual processes. Similarly startups doing innovative work in down-payment financing or guarantor agreements, for example, make housing more accessible through financial engineering. This all removes waste and can have huge impacts but, ultimately, there’s an upper limit on efficiency: you can’t get past 100%. The next big wave will have to be startups creating new supply or otherwise changing the housing denominator. Pre-fabricated housing is certainly one promising area and, as you likely know by now, I am very bullish on co-living (despite hating how it’s done today). I remain generally interested in anyone/thinking that can actually make housing more accessible/affordable  - and not just paying lip service to the concept.

Seniors and aging:

Americans are getting older. Obviously. The portion of (for now) retirement age Americans has already doubled in the past 50 years and could nearly double in the next 30. We’re looking down the barrel of a demographic crisis that will force us to completely re-shape every level of our social organization and challenge its basic operating principles. Some of that is already starting to play out as Baby Boomers come into retirement, often without adequate savings or support. So we’ll need to rethink everything from retirement homes/communities (see co-living above) to how we provide social services to how keep people productive longer and engaged in retirement. How do we export innovations for the young to older generations?


The above are just what I’m actively looking for and already know I really care about. The list of things that interest and excite me is much longer (natural/sustainable consumer products, primary care, technical schools, private social networks/affinity groups, petcare, telecomm services/ISPs, financial services for the alternative economy, and so on and so on) and always changing. And each of these categories consists of tons of sub-niches/ideas/opportunities.

I’m just trying to put out some good vibes to see what comes back. Hmu.

-Yoni

Mostly garbage

Reading and ruminating

Hey friends. Back at it again with news you can use (not really at all) and some 🔥🔥 links as per usual.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health and old people/aging recently. I already wrote one longer rant on the former but have more to say, especially with regards to what “tackling stigma” really means. I’ve only touched on the later in passing before but I’ve got one WaPo story linked below that’s been rattling around my brain a bunch (for careful readers the reasons will be obvious). Expect more soon.

  • Watch: Fyre on Netflix. It’s pretty gleefully fucked up. (trailer) I’m planning on watching the Hulu one as well and will report my findings. And beyond the indictment of celebrity, influencer culture, extractive tourism, etc. there’s a lot to be said about what Fyre says about how startup funding works.

  • Subscribe: to Meatspace a “weekly digest of weird/wack/need-to-know tech news.” It’s some tasty stuff.

  • Give a rye chuckle for: a good twete from me:

How PayPal Escaped Dot-Com Obsolescence - Drake Bennett and Julie Verhage, Businessweek

This is a good article on executive shuffles and reinvention at the digital payments giant. But with time, I think it will look overly rosy. PayPal’s salvation is by no means fait accompli. The company has had every opportunity to beat companies like Stripe and Square but moves to slow on each new opportunity, even after getting its independence from eBay. Venmo, their best chance to really push into consumer fintech has floundered under PayPal and they’ve done fuck all on product innovation elsewhere. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I’m very bullish on Square and Stripe; I’m very willing to bet against PayPal every time.

In the late 2000s, almost a decade after it first went public, PayPal was drifting toward obsolescence and consistently alienating the small businesses that paid it to handle their online checkout. Much of the company’s code was being written offshore to cut costs, and the best programmers and designers had fled the company. The result was a slow site whose rickety infrastructure made updates and new features laborious and rare. […]

The turnaround started with David Marcus, a French-born entrepreneur who came to EBay when it bought his mobile payments startup in 2011. He’d been there less than a year when he was asked to run PayPal, and he quickly set about rebuilding the software platform, replenishing the ranks of programming talent, and softening the corporate persnicketiness about disputes and suspicious transactions. He invited customers to tweet their complaints at him. He also began to push the digital payments processor into new markets. He oversaw the development of PayPal Here, which uses a plastic card reader that plugs into phones and tablets, turning them into digital cash registers. (The idea was pioneered by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s other company, Square Inc.)

Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire - Noah Smith, Bloomberg

We’re totally fucked without more immigration and/or more support for parents. I vote both.

The U.S. bounced back from falling fertility once before, in the late 1980s. But as economist Lyman Stone has written, there are reasons why history may not repeat itself. High and increasing costs of housing, child care and education show no sign of reversing. The need for ever-higher levels of education in order to thrive in the U.S. job market is causing families to delay childbirth, which results in fewer children. Stone projects that U.S. fertility rates could fall as low as 1.5 or 1.4 — the levels that prevail in Japan and some European countries.

There is one more source of population growth that the U.S. has traditionally depended on — immigration. Low-skilled immigrants make it easier to raise kids by providing cheap child-care services. High-skilled immigrants earn more and pay a lot of taxes, while using few government services themselves, meaning that their fiscal contribution is enormously positive.

Gay Priests and the Lives They No Longer Want to Hide - Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine

Say what you will about Andrew Sullivan generally (there’s a lot to say) but he does a really great job on this feature. Sullivan explains/explores the rich history of gay men in the Catholic Church and how it does/does not relate to the pedophilia crisis. Homosexuality, being tacitly acknowledged but expressly forbidden in the Church, creates the perfect pretext for extortion and blackmail, perpetuating a culture of silence. This article is too long and too nuanced to really be well teased with a blurb that’s not just trolly but I promise it’s well worth your time:

But most had some kind of past incident or failing that could be used against them if made public, even if it were only their identity as a gay man. And so a poisonous kind of omertà took hold, the priesthood acting as a forum of mutually assured destruction. Since many fellow priests know about each other’s sexuality and/or lapses, they all have the ability to blackmail one another. Mundane failings — like a brief affair — can become easily blurred with profound evils like child abuse. If you expose a child molester to his superior, for example, he might expose your own homosexuality and destroy your career.

This dynamic has made the clerical closet — not the fact of gay priests but the way that fact has been hidden — a core mechanism for tolerating and enabling abuse. On top of all this, the vow of obedience to superiors gives gay bishops and cardinals huge sway over their priestly flock. Some, of course, realized this power could be leveraged for sex and abused it.

Black Hebrew Israelites: New York’s Most Obnoxious Prophets - Steven Thrasher, Village Voice

This “retro” (from 2011) read feels timely. The Black Hebrew Israelites were pretty central to the Covington Catholic incident in DC (WaPo) and are a pretty likely candidate to replace the Nation of Islam as the next great boogeyman of the American right wing.

The Westboro Church in Topeka, Kansas, comes to town but once a year. This freak show runs several times a week—and it’s free. If you want death-defying thrills and the possibility of bodily injuries, save the $200 Bono will charge to risk Reeve Carney falling on your head, and instead just ask a Black Hebrew Israelite, “Don’t you think Jesus said that God was a God of love?”

The N.F.L.’s Obesity Scourge - Ken Belson, New York Times

How the NFL punishes bodies even beyond the toll of CTE. I really just don’t think football has a future as a major American sport beyond the next few decades.

After 13 years in the N.F.L., ending in 1989, he had done lasting damage to his back, knees and feet. He had regular headaches, the result of about a dozen concussions. When he retired he took up golf to stay in shape. But the effects of his football injuries added up, limiting his activity. He had four degenerative disks in his back and no feeling in his right leg, and he had sleep apnea. His inability to exercise exacerbated his problems.

“It’s not like I gained 100 pounds right away,” he said.

The ‘Golden Girls’ trend could be a golden opportunity for retirees facing isolation - Adina Solomon, Washington Post

I have a keen interest in co-living and have been thinking about it as being potentially better suited for retirees for some time. I don’t have much more to say for the moment beyond that I really want to explore this idea at greater length. Peep this from WaPo while I ruminate.

The number of people 65 and older who live as roommates is small — just under 2 percent in 2016 — but rising quickly, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. In the decade leading up to 2016, the older population grew 33 percent, while the number of older home-sharers jumped 88 percent.

This practice could allow more people to live in walkable areas that support independence and mental health.

“We have a huge issue and problem with elders aging in this country in huge amounts, not living as we should,” said Marianne Kilkenny, founder of Women for Living in Community, an organization that brings women together to create communities for growing older. “We’re wanting the social cohesion, and know that we need to be connected and want to be, but the path isn’t there.”

Also where is the 65+ year-old influencer community? Feel like that’s a huge untapped opportunity.

Mental Health Basest

This is an ad on Instagram from Basis, a putative mental health startup. I do not like it.

According to the company’s website, Basis provides on-demand mental health support from “specialists… who have completed a comprehensive training program.” Users can book 45 minute phone or video sessions to talk to someone about stresses, fears, anxieties, etc. You know, like therapy.

Here’s the rub. These “specialists” aren’t mental health professionals. They’re just people who have completed Basis’s training program and then been deemed qualified by the company. From The Verge:

Basis does not offer traditional video or chat therapy. Unlike apps like TalkSpace, Basis doesn’t connect you to licensed therapists, who are governed by professional boards and have at least a masters’ degree in social work. The service connects you to Basis specialists that complete about 15 hours of online training and, according to its website, don’t need a healthcare background or formal training in psychology. A GED, emotional intelligence, and a desire to help might be enough. (For context, training for the volunteer suicide hotline Samaritans involves eight three-hour modules and observing a mentor for up to six months.)

Basis claims that this makes mental healthcare more accessible by making it cheaper and easier to navigate with a low-intensity solution suitable for most people. Not everyone needs some expensive doctor with a fancy medical degree after all, right?

The solution to our mental health crisis is not sham telemedicine. Licensure in healthcare is not a formality. It’s how we set and enforce standards for training and clinical practice.

You cannot simultaneously argue that mental health is important/should be valued and also that any old schmo can do it. You wouldn’t go to your buddy to figure out a heart condition or cancer if s/he weren’t a physician. Your mental health is no less important or delicate.

Basis CEO Andrew Chapin is right in arguing that there’s deep problems of stigma against treatment and lack of affordable options. And he’s also correct that not everyone qualified to provide mental health treatment has to be an MD or PhD. Social workers, counselors, and certain nurse practitioners are all trained and licensed to provide mental health treatment. It’s an insult to their expertise and dangerous to patients to pass off Basis’s fly by night counseling as real care.

Licensure is important because some outside body is enforcing a standard (however arbitrary it may be). Otherwise we’re left to self policing. So the standards may not be good enough but they exist for a reason. If Basis (or anyone else using unlicensed practitioners) is being sketchy there’s zero accountability or redress.

Mental heath care is too expensive. The need to improve access/affordability is tremendous. But this ain’t it. I think the most effective lever would be to improve insurance coverage and bring more practitioners in-network. There’s so much waste in healthcare. Eliminating waste is another way to improve CoGS and therefore improve access. Finally there’s tons of underemployed social workers and counselors who would love to pick up extra work they can do from home. That’s an available labor pool of qualified professionals for exactly what Basis claims to be building.

All of these are much harder than on-demand randos but hard things are hard.

Now I’m sure Basis’s lawyers have vetted their marketing communications enough that nothing the company is saying is illegal but that doesn’t mean it’s ok. Maybe the licensing standards are bad. Maybe they’re overly restrictive. Maybe anyone really can provide quality mental healthcare (NB: the research says they can’t). Maybe someone needs does need to challenge the status quo. Even if all that is true, one has to wonder the costs and risks of just plowing ahead.

One the most common questions we get at Tusk is whether it’s better to ask for forgiveness or permission. Should startups work to navigate the system or should fight to break it? Time and time again the answer is “it depends.” It depends on context and laws and necessity. Most of all it depends on the consequences of getting it wrong.

At Tusk we are, basically as a rule, investing in companies and founders pushing the limits. Sometimes that even means operating in flagrant opposition to them. But the key is always to understand whether or not companies are operating in good faith. Do they understand the importance of what they’re doing and are they committed to acting as faithful stewards of their customers/users’ (in this case, patients’) trust?

I am down for pushing boundaries in critical areas only when I really really trust the founder and his/her intentions. But I don’t see Basis as a good faith effort. It feels crass and cynical. They’re just waving their hands and saying “research.” It’s some ex-Uber guy who saying “sometimes people yelled at me at Uber and I wanted to vent” so he literally invented Uber for emotional labor.

This is not how we’re gonna solve mental healthcare. But I’m sure as hell excited about all the serious people doing good work to try.

New Year. Same Me.

Good recs and better links

Hey team.

Happy 2019. Welcome to another year in hell. Big news: I read a book! Then I read another book! I generally really struggle to read books (versus magazines and newspapers) so this is big for me. I’m hoping that I’m now far enough removed from school that I can start reading for pleasure again more easily. I want to keep it up. I’m not soliciting recommendations (though I’m not opposed). I’m just, as a 24 year old adult, bragging that I read two books… SAD!

  • Check out: this handy tool to list out all the various platforms, widgets, and plug ins that a given website is using (Built With)

  • Buy: Not Pot. This is my fave new CBD product. Awesome mission and it’s actually fun to take (unlike tinctures, which are gross!)

  • Read: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis. It’s ostensibly a Trump book (everything has to be to get published) but really it’s a glowing paean to the federal bureaucracy (Amazon)

  • Watch: Vice, Adam McKay’s latest exploration of world-shaping fuckery. He makes some strong choices but I think it’s all for the best. Funny. Illuminating. (Trailer)

The case for why Big Tech is violating antitrust laws - Sally Hubbard, CNN

Google, Amazon and Facebook are following the same playbook. The tech giants have "platform privilege" — the incentive and ability to prioritize their own goods and services over those of competitors that depend on their platforms. By doing so, they contend they are improving their products and benefiting customers. An entrepreneur can create a superior product or service and still get crushed because Big Tech is controlling the game and playing it, too.

I’ve long been an adherent to Joseph Schumpeter’s “Creative Destruction” theory of monopolies. The basic idea is that monopolies are a short term but constant problem. Facebook’s monopoly won’t be disrupted by a direct competitor to Facebook but rather by something totally different (IBM wasn’t taken down by better mainframe computers but rather by personal computing). This is an idea heavily borrowed by Clayton Christensen in his theory of disruptive innovation (a term that has become so overused as to be meaningless).

But increasingly people like Hubbard and Tim Wu have been making the case that dominant internet companies are substantively different than anything we’ve seen before. Technologies like machine learning, the argument goes, mean that data and network effects will further entrench the dominant companies, even as one technological paradigm gives way to the next. That would mean we need to take a more muscular anti-trust approach.

I just started reading Tim Wu’s latest book The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age so expect anti-trust to take up even more real estate in my head.

'Smart' Pill Bottles Aren't Always Enough To Help The Medicine Go Down - Lauren Silverman, NPR

This is not new (the article came out in 2017 and the underlying studies before that) but it’s nonetheless interesting. Basically there seems to be enough substantive data to show that “smart” pill bottles are not a way to solve for medication adherence. Why? No one knows. 

Let's recap here: We've looked at two large studies of pill bottle reminder systems. One was pretty basic and the other, higher-tech. Neither one seemed to help patients stay on top of their medication.

What's going on? Volpp says it could be a problem with the study's design, or with the devices. Or maybe, just maybe, the main problem isn't forgetfulness.

"Patients in many cases don't like taking medicines every day," Volpp points out. "It reminds them of the illness and they'd rather not be reminded of that."

Any medication can have negative side effects, and some cost a lot, he says. Using a smart pill bottle won't make the drug cheaper or get rid of nasty side effects like impotence or severe fatigue.

Something interesting to watch for as lots of companies (including Zero, a subsidiary of a Tusk portfolio company Ro) try to improve adherence to treatment plans.

Addicted to Vaped Nicotine, Teenagers Have No Clear Path to Quitting - Jan Hoffman, New York Times

This has been a personal hobby horse for a while but Juul is an evil company. 

The survey, which polls 8th, 10th and 12th graders across the country, found the rise in nicotine vaping was the largest spike for any substance recorded by the study in 44 years. About 21 percent of high school seniors had vaped within the previous 30 days, researchers found, compared to about 11 percent a year ago.

The survey also found that many students believe they are vaping “just flavoring.” In fact, just about all brands include nicotine, and Juul has particularly high levels of it.

Minitel, the Open Network Before the Internet - Julien Mailland, The Atlantic

Many services of the dotcom-and-app eras had precursors in 1980s France. With a Minitel, one could read the news, engage in multi-player interactive gaming, grocery shop for same-day delivery, submit natural language requests like “reserve theater tickets in Paris,” purchase said tickets using a credit card, remotely control thermostats and other home appliances, manage a bank account, chat, and date.

[…]

The American implementation of a network derived from Minitel was done by private industry alone. It failed in part because its usage was not regulated by the government. For this reason, it offers a view from the past on why the FCC’s move today might be misguided. It turns out that regulated networks might offer better market opportunities.

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation - Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed

Millennials take a lot of shit but ultimately the joke is always on us. We’re fucked. We just refuse to accept it.

The crisis affected everyone in some way, but the way it affected millennials is foundational: It’s always defined our experience of the job market. More experienced workers and the newly laid-off filled applicant pools for lower- and entry-level jobs once largely reserved for recent graduates. We couldn’t find jobs, or could only find part-time jobs, jobs without benefits, or jobs that were actually multiple side hustles cobbled together into one job. As a result, we moved back home with our parents, we got roommates, we went back to school, we tried to make it work. We were problem solvers, after all — and taught that if we just worked harder, it would work out.

Sex/Work

Crises, Justice, and Opportunity

The internet, despite famously being for porn, seems to be losing its horniness. Increasingly, the newly dour internet is cracking down on sex work.

This week, Tumblr, which had long been a haven for the horny internet (especially for women and queer folks), announced it would ban adult content in a ham-fisted attempt to crack down on a child exploitation bot-net problem that had been plaguing the platform:

Another Tumblr user, Luke Healy, told NBC News that the microblogging site was his safe space before he came out to people offline, and the explicit content allowed him room for self-discovery. “It gave me a way to watch and view things and allowed me to explore my sexuality without being scared of someone in my school finding out,” Healy said. “Even now, seven years later, it still feels like that place. I’m scared young people in the closet today won’t have that.” (NBC)

elsewise:

[The] ability to curate and tag search — Chase calls Tumblr “Pinterest for sex” — was instrumental. Sex could be ruled by sensibility, allowing vulnerable and underprivileged communities to connect and start exchanging real information along with nudes. To this day, the top-reviewed and most-followed porn Tumblrs include not just explicit-content curators, but blogs like Orgasmic Tips for Girls,which teaches women how to masturbate, or xxuntilweod, which mixes relatively vanilla clips of women kissing and holding hands with more graphic images of lesbian sex, letting women explore a whole range of queer intimacy without either sensationalizing or censoring it. (Elle)

Separately, a group of incels (far-right violent misogynists) has started filing complaints with payment processors to silence critics and cut off female independent adult content creators/pornographers’ livelihoods:

When Lily Adams, an actor and model who sells access to her pornographic photos and videos, first noticed the ThotAudit movement gaining traction Saturday evening, she took to Twitter, calling it a witch hunt. Within one minute, a ThotAuditor flagged her account and tweeted that she had been added “to the review list for Monday morning.” By Monday, Adams’ PayPal account had been terminated. Wired

In July, Patreon, a platform for independent creators (podcasters, youtubers, artists, etc.) to get paid by their fans announced it would suspend the accounts of anyone posting adult content.

Patreon updated its content policy to limit the sale of adult content including images, video, and other services. The company started preventing creators from advertising adult content on their public-facing page and limited mature content to posts only visible to backers. It also put restrictions on what could be offered through its platform […] The policy change resulted in a ton of backlash, as sex workers and others in the adult industry that rely on Patreon as a primary source of income expressed fear for their livelihoods. (Gizmodo)

Over the summer the the federal government seized and shut down Backpage, a marketplace for prostitution, after finding the site site to be no longer protected by safe harbor laws (the rules that say Facebook isn’t liable for everything that gets posted) under the terms of new anti-human-trafficking legislation (SESTA):

In the aftermath of the new law, sex workers have claimed that efforts to control sex work in the name of public safety are forcing them into riskier situations—working with unknown clients, who they can no longer screen, or on the streets, where the risk of violence is greater. An oft-cited study by researchers from Baylor University and West Virginia University found that, from 2002 to 2010, when Craigslist’s erotic-services site was active and solicitation moved indoors, the female homicide rate fell by seventeen per cent. (New Yorker)

Each of these enforcement actions is bad enough on its own. Tumblr is showing that it doesn’t have a real interest in solving the real problem (child porn) while hurting its users, many of whom are women and LGBTQ. Incels filing complaints with payment processing shows how tactics developed by groups like Sleeping Giants are fair game for anyone to weaponize. Patreon is making it harder to earn a living in sex work independently. And by killing Backpage, the government has risked the lives of sex workers and may have permanently weakened safe harbor laws. And nevermind that attempts to censor “adult” content historically tend to unduly target/affect marginalized groups generally.

Taken together, this all says something insidious about the state of the internet and our social/sexual mores. Sex workers are being banned from vital infrastructure not because they’ve broken any laws but because we find them and their lives distasteful, icky. Because that infrastructure is owned by so few companies, there’s not a damn thing we can do.

So accept that trying to police sex work winds up as harassment and bad faith attempts to control people’s (women's) bodies/limit autonomy. Accept that sex work will never go away, despite how uncomfortable it may make you. Even if you think it’s a mortal sin, focus on harm reduction. Remember that exclusion from the mainstream economy makes sex workers vulnerable. If you can’t/won’t/don’t believe that sex work could be fulfilling to anyone or just under any circumstance, then at least focus on minimizing exploitation. 

Without safe harbor and access to infrastructure to monetize their work, sex workers have to rely on centralized, powerful institutions (the studio system and pimps, of one shape or another). Porn is an powerful example of the core features of the internet: the expansion of options and cultivation of sub-groups and the dangers of ceding moral judgement to a few private actors. (Revisit my post “Free Speech and Fuckery” for more). The internet has led to a massive flourishing (in the long tail) of human sexuality and has allowed individuals in the grey and black market sex economies to operate independently for the first time. Now the clock is turning backwards.

Solutions/opportunities

  1. Porn might be the most obvious use case for cryptocurrency generally and an ICO specifically (incentivize adoption on a two sided market). If transactions happen in cryptocurrency and are processed over a decentralized network, PayPal, Stripe, and the rest can GFTO with their puritanical rules. There’s been some traction on this front and different groups have tried to launch a “vice coin” but none have taken off in any meaningful way. Still, the truism that porn is the first mover for any new consumer tech looks like it could really hold water here if the right team took it up.

  2. As sex workers are increasingly being kicked off mainstream internet infrastructure/service providers, there would seem to be an opportunity to create a publishing platform  focused entirely on independant sex workers. Go indy, focus on underserved groups/demographics/fetishes, and build some cross of Medium and Patreon. 

  3. Prostitution will be legal eventually. That will make life a lot safer for sex workers and create obvious opportunities for both marketplaces and brands. Until then, I’d imagine there’s an opportunity to recreate something like Backpage with a more careful eye towards DMCA Safe Harbor and SESTA compliance. 

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