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Hi, I'm John.

I like to think of life as an open field.
I’m a product manager and aspiring founder. My goal in life is to make some contribution to the progress of humanity.
I have a lot of interests. Among them:
Product Management
. I like building useful things. And product is a job where you get to do just that. I want to build lots of useful things in my lifetime, and long-term be a key part of building at least one big useful thing (probably a software company). Product is synergistic with that long-term goal: it lets you practice building, just within a narrower scope. I’m also a bit risk-averse, though, and it helps that conversely trying (and failing!) to build one’s own company can actually be accretive to a product career.
Defense and Security
. I’ve long been interested in foreign policy and defense. I spent a summer in Korea with the State Department as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, studied political science in college, and have long followed foreign affairs closely. Simply put, I don’t believe order is a given. All prosperity is founded on the basis of security; given that, I think security is one of the highest impact areas you can work on. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the defense industry to leverage recently available (and lower-cost) technology to more effectively address security issues.
Renewable Energy and Sustainability
.
I’ve long had an interest in renewables. Before I started my first full-time job in consulting, I got pretty good at selling cars for Tesla. In consulting, I worked on EV charging station buildout strategy for a utility; I also joined the
, where I made a lot of friends who work in clean energy. My current company, Optoro, has a mission to drive sustainability in the retail space by building solutions to efficiently handle returns, which there are more and more of as the shift to ecommerce continues.
Machine Learning
. I previously worked on a machine learning-driven product. ML feels a bit hyped today relative to the value it’s actually delivered across industries, especially non-digital native ones like ours. For us, its value comes from automation, from labor efficiency in use cases where tons and tons of relatively simple decisions need to be made and the data is already structured. But I think we’re really early still; there are probably a lot more use cases where the data is unstructured that will be unlocked when we get better at generating relevant ground truth training data.
As the infra/core datasets for that generation progresses, I’m mostly interested in building in spaces where structured data is readily available to drive differentiated outcomes.
Real Estate
. My first internship was at a real estate private equity firm, JBG (now JBG Smith, NYSE: JBGS). I also closed in April 2020 on on the sale of a SFH I bought a few years ago (~65% 4y post-tax IRR). I’ve always found real estate a fascinating asset class, not least for its prominent role in the American notions of success and prosperity.
Today, I generally believe that in most cases, real estate investing is
not
a great way for individuals to generate differentiated, risk-adjusted returns¹, especially in most major cities. I think the most compelling case to make for it is on the basis of appreciation (supplemented by income), yet
only
in exceptional situations.
, at the national level historically there has been no continuous uptrend in real home prices.
Paradoxically, I believe that one
can
see predictable short-term appreciation, particularly in situations of high intensity migration of high-income workers (LinkedIn’s
are excellent for monitoring this). In other words, from simple supply and demand, influenced by local regulation (Shiller’s land restrictions point; e.g., SF). Recent examples include migration to SF for tech and migration
from
SF to Seattle (Shiller’s mobility point). The next wave appears to be
- I watched prices in the Westwood high school district in Austin (rated the second-best open high school district in Austin) rise 20-30% in the latter half of 2020. Too bad I’m not mobile right now...
AR/VR
. I'm fascinated by the second-order possibilities of unlocking social presence: reduction of the impact of lower US mobility, less emissions, greater talent abundance and thus potential for all companies, and alleviation of the two-body problem. For someone who has mostly spent his career in DC to help his widowed mom raise his kid brother, the pain is lived and the potential exciting. I also see AR/VR as an attractive personal leverage point where efforts can be particularly valuable given the lack of focus/investment relative to the potential/benefits. I think when something is 10-15+ years off, it tends to be deprioritized- unfairly, I think, since acceleration on the front-end can lead to disproportionate, compounded gains from pulling forward the back-end.
AR/VR roles are few and far between, though, and require pretty specific consumer/hardware experience. I’m also very interested in productivity tools that enable remote workforces to work together more seamlessly. I think they’ll help to gradually reduce a lot of the friction of remote work, and social presence will be a final unlock- more of a potential last mile turbocharger.
Politics/Economics/Policy
. One of my college majors was political science; going into college I actually thought I’d be a career diplomat. To that end, I did NSLI-Y and then took a gap year to serve with AmeriCorps, teaching math and reading to 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th, and 12th graders in rural Washington State. I spent a lot of that year at the top of a mountain reading philosophy, policy, and politics books.
Personal Finance & Investing
. See my LearnPF project below. During Covid I also spent a lot more time learning how to assess individual companies. I’m now slightly more confident in my ability to make fewer stupid investment decisions.
1. Real estate investing also involves a host of tax considerations, from the mortgage interest deduction to qualified business income deductions and depreciation, but I omitted those here, focusing purely on the viability from a cash return standpoint. My thinking generally is that tax considerations usually don’t move the needle sufficiently to flip an investment from a “don’t do” to a “do”, especially relative to other investments. I generally prefer to think of these considerations, as well as the availability of leverage, as tailwinds to boost the exceptions I mention vs. reasons to make the investment in the first place.

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