A summary of The Balaji Podcast by SuperTeamPodcast
I come from two Indias, one… wait a minute. I have heard this one before! So have you! So here’s a corollary I recently came across: “I am moderately bullish on India, but extremely bullish on Indians” . This was recently tweeted by none other than Balaji Srinivasan. For the uninitiated, Balaji S. Srinivasan is an angel investor. Formerly the CTO of Coinbase and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, he was also the cofounder of Earn.com (acquired by Coinbase).
But why would he say that? That’s exactly what this post intends to put forth. The idea is to summarize a 90 minute podcast that I recently listened to, in a 15 min read. This comes with a contingency though. Please comment below the best use of 75 minutes you are about to save.
Let’s explore some great artifacts of knowledge shared by him in the podcast.
#1. “India is the Dark Horse of Global Mobility”
When people say they are bullish on China, they are usually referring to the Chinese state. But that’s not possible any more with China becoming more and more inaccessible to global investments each day.
On the other end of the spectrum, India is becoming a hot bed for investments. With 44 unicorns (including a dew in crypto space like CoinDCX) in the year 2021, we’re already observing this phenomena.
There has always been a set of people who moved out of India and made it to the global stage. With sheer numbers that we have by our side, there could be many more. Even more in a decentralized world, where they don’t have to move out.
And even if they have to, they will outnumber Chinese (as they might not be as mobile OR other countries may impose restrictions on them). Indians also have a general willingness to pack and move. This would come in really handy when you are in a business that requires to move to a state that has a regulatory advantage.
#2. The Hypercube We Live In
Regulations are important. But the flipside is that they create these mental boundaries, creating a hypercube around humans. People living in one hypercube are unable to see what’s outside.
A quick example here: Back when internet wasn’t a thing, it’s use was restricted to military as it was thought if general public would jump in, it would lead to menace like porn, polarization, misinformation etc. That all did happen. But Google, Facebook also happened at the same time. So, one needs to break those barriers to truly innovate.
Regulations are imposed during some crisis like 9/11 and are adhered because collective masses agree to it.
#2.1 Regulatory Flippening:
There was a time when US was looked up to in terms of standards and regulations. These regulations were created by people in power (not elected but hired by the state). While these officials chose to expand their regulatory authority on the whole world, companies were okay with it. Why? Because getting an approval from US government agency meant the buy-in of the whole world.
This is now changing very fast. Many crypto native companies ban US citizens from the inception. As opposed to the past, it is now becoming the worst country to work, in some domains.
“There are now significant advantages of NOT being a US citizen“
#2.2 Marking Down Value:
As per Balaji, there has been a significant mark down in the value USA brings to the global table now. A recent example of this was the pandemic. While US was touted to be the #1 in terms of preparedness and China was #76, it was quite the opposite in reality.
In a nutshell, regulations are a function of consensus of millions of people. And now with the technology supporting it, we could actually formulate communities that would pressurize authorities to come up with better regulations that foster innovation.
#3. “China Plays World’s Best ‘Home’ Game, India Plays World’s Best ‘Away’ Game!“
Indians are already mobile and flexible to moving. Couple this with the benchmark of success we’ve set for ourselves, abroad. Be it Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, Kamala Harris and even more recently Parag Agrawal, the examples are already there.
This leads to a very balanced view point from an average Indian’s perspective. We’re not denying the state we’re in by siding with irrational exuberance. At the same time, we know that it’s very much possible to be one of them!
#4. India and the Win-Win Game:
China and US currently play the zero sum ‘Win‘ Game. India right now, by design, is forced to play the win-win game. So if China becomes the tech and manufacturing superpower of the world, India could become the next tech and media superpower.
Here are few reasons why Balaji thinks so:
A. Indians have shown the ability to succeed in the media business in the West already. We have multiple examples in the form of Aziz Ansari, Priyanka Chopra, Irfan Khan etc.
Not only that. Indians are behind the scenes too. A lot of Indians are doing stuff in animation, graphics etc. in some companies like Pixar et all.
B. China started out by making cheap plastic products. They learnt and finally resorted to making iPhones. And now, they are making drones and what not.
They are now creating products that do not have Chinese characteristics. Something, that has a global identity. For example, you don’t think of China when you think iPhone, OnePlus.
Similarly, Indians can produce content, memes, VR movies, Video games that can match the global standards. This doesn’t mean Bollywood becomes Hollywood. But may be even more!
C. America is declining in terms of media. They are playing the sequel and remake game for a while now. Apart from that, all the trending shows on Netflix are often global. Eg. Squid games. So an average American is now influenced by global content rather then being the exporter of content themselves.
American Media outlets are facing the similar issue.
D. Indians already speak English.
E. Niches are dying. Since all outlets sound the same, any one can go and pick up these abandoned niches to come up with their own global version.
#4.1 Diminishing Distribution Barriers:
While surfing the YT/Netflix for our next binge watch, we often take these platforms for granted. Back in the day, distribution of content was a huge problem.
Remember how Bhagat Singh had to bomb the parliament, just to distribute some fliers? Similarly, Balaji mentions about a Unabomber who committed that he would quit bombing just to get an op-ed published in Washington post.
To slightly lesser extreme times, you needed a TV license to broadcast video content, a radio license for the audio content and so on.
With advent of YT and Spotify, the process of decriminalization of distribution without a TV license began and it changed everything.
Now, India seems to be well placed to become producers of the world by dominating digital outsourcing industry. This would be powered by Crypto and DAOs.
All that we need to do is to calibrate ourselves from being influencers to crypto creators. From chasing likes to chasing the crypto. Why? Because web3 content gives you the IP rights over your creation.
Imagine if Facebook can kick the strongest man on the planet (Trump) from their platform, what’s stopping them from giving you the same treatment if need be?
#5. International Technology Strategy for 2020s:
While US and China are playing the win game and competing with each other, India can play the win-win game with the rest of the world. Initial model of developing countries copying the developed countries is now obsolete. US is no longer the role model.
A. Technological Leapfrogging:
India has done tremendous work as compared to western counterparts in terms of technology. For example, we have an India stack that allows corporations to build and quickly deploy on the top of it. More on fintech side of it here. America on the other hand nothing like this in place.
We need to come up with more such innovations that put us in the forefront of technology landscape.
B. Ideological Leapfrogging:
We need to break from the mentality of a copy cat. A copy cat never become a leader. We need to leave behind the polarization and somehow skip to the next of next stage. This is very much possible technologically but what about ideological jump? Only time will tell.
#5.1 The Role of Crypto:
This change could be driven by the global Indian. This global Indian need not be someone who is in immigrant. It could very well be someone who is living in India with a global mindset.
Crypto phenomena would be at a 150x scale because if 5M people were able to get H1B Visa, about 700M of them would have access to cryptos.
Crypto would put them straight into the global economy. Not only in terms of communication, but also transaction.
Whenever a country is introduced with IP rights, governance and legal framework, it flourishes. Crypto is a better version of these frameworks. For example, in crypto space, code is the law. This law cannot be manipulated or bribed in any way. This brings every individual at par and equally exposed to the law.
#5.2 The Decentralization Movement:
During the cold war between US and Russia, India chose a neutral ground and sided neither. This came to be known as non alignment movement (NAM).
During that era, US emerged as the first world, communist countries became the second and the ones under NAM became the third world country.
In the current times, US is declining in terms of leadership and no one wants to side with China to be a leader for some obvious reasons. Given the situation, India can initiate a decentralized movement where all the countries are peers. If this decentralized network is backed by technology–economics (eg. BTC, ETH networks) where each country has some stake, it becomes the alignment movement rather than the non-alignment Movement.
This decentralized movement leads to economic alignment, informational alignment etc. For example, crypto punks are from different countries but all holders feel that they belong to the same thing.
#5.2.1 But why would Countries Comply to this Regime? Isn’t Fight for Power Inevitable?
Balaji dropped some profound gold here:
If you ask someone who should be the in-charge?
The first answer is: I should be the in-charge.
The Second option is: No one should be the in-charge.
The third option is: I don’t like this guy, he should definitely not be the in-charge.
With first option no longer feasible and China being the strong contender for the third one, we’re not left with much choice, are we? This may not be the ideal solution, but the only acceptable solution for the countries.
“One man’s lawful good is the other man’s lawful evil. So lawful neutral may be the true lawful good.”
In fact, Decentralization is the only true rational competitor of Chinese authoritarian regime.
“If 20th century was about soviet communism Vs American capitalism, 21st century would be about Chinese centralization Vs digital decentralization.
#6 India: The Bootloader of the Free World
How Balaji envisions the future is really interesting. As per him, there are going to be multiple state level networks tapping into a common global network. Think of it like this. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have already started being recognized as US products (and not global products).
China has there own ecosystem with Baidu, WeChat etc., Russia has Yandex. This is likely to increase.
With each country coming up with their own version of tech that would comply with a decentralized common network.
India is not going to head this network (because no one would), but it will kickstart or bootload it for the world.
#7. What’s Next Next?
Call it peer or parental pressure, India is producing a lot engineers every year. And here’s why it would continue to help us till 2050s; China is a manufacturing superpower. However, a lot of manufacturing would be automated in the coming years.
Just like printer is a physical manifestation of software in a tangible format, everything else would take a similar shape. For eg. ordering from Swiggy would be automated end-to-end. Food would be grown, transported, prepared and delivered using drones and robots. In such a situation, people who know software will continue to flourish.
#8. Content <> Engineering:
Technical outsourcing is passé, there is going to be a wave of verbal outsourcing that’s going to happen. With American media plummeting, if Indians create a global product, they would be able to make it big.
Content is going to be as big as engineering in the coming days. So if you can’t code; create.
Every new company now has a founding influencer at par with the founding engineer. For eg. there’s a project called Kasta who is being led by famous Twitter influencer, The Moon Carl. There are many more such products that will come up.
#9. Software Strategy: “The Bright Sun to West Black Mirror”
Let me explain this. As per Balaji, west is creating series like Black Mirror because they want to highlight the underlying message of tech evolution screwing up with everything we have today.
On the other side, Indian Bright Sun is an opposite approach. It says that our present might be a dystopia, but future is definitely brighter. (He refers to the movie Super 30 here).
So, basically Indians must keep on doing what they are best at: engineering and take it to all other possible fields like media, medicine, manufacturing, aerospace etc.
#10. India Becomes the Doctor of the World
Indian doctors are globally competitive, Indian generic drugs are globally accepted and Indians are good at software. You combine these three and get an ecosystem where an Indian doctor is prescribing Indian drugs from anywhere in the world through telemedicine apps.
#11. Indian Space Research:
India can very well be turned into a launchpad to build launch sites. Due to geography, it’s often best to launch satellites from equator and India has an equatorial launchpad. Indian investors should also take stakes in space startups.
The sheer ability to zoom out on the geopolitical technological landscape took me aback in this podcast. I have listened to this 90 minute podcast about four times now. Even though this summary would tries it’s best to do justice to the podcast, I would still urge you all to go ahead and checkout the podcast here.
Until next time..
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