Most people know Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss as co-founders of Facebook and early investors in Bitcoin, but what drove them to Facebook and Bitcoin is actually a lifelong desire to stand up to authority and centralized power. And in this country where we value freedom and independence so much, it's actually ironic how much of our lives and how much of our information is actually controlled by only a few companies. So I thought it would be interesting to talk to them about what it will take to break away from authority.
This is a bit of optimism. Cameron and Tyler, thanks so much for sitting down to talk with me firstly, and I don't want to go down a rabbit hole with this, but I am just dying to know.
What was your original concept for Facebook way back in Harvard? And did you ever imagine what it would become or did you have a glimpse of what it could become? So we at the start of our junior year in college and one of the things that I think drew us there in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was this idea that there's something like 50 different universities and colleges. It's a super cool environment, an area, and probably one of the neatest academic and idea based communities, I think, in the US, if not the world.
And what we found as we approached our junior year, we were talking with our friend and who became a partner at that time, Divya Narendra. And we were like, wow, we can't believe we're already halfway through university. It's going so quickly. There's all these opportunities. And we felt like we're running out of time and we've barely scratched the surface of the community where we're at currently or any of these other communities nearby. And what happens is you get into your track, you get into your major.
In our case, we are rowers. So between those two, you have this amazing network of the boathouse and your teammates, but you do get locked in to these paths. So we started to brainstorm. Is there a technical solution to effectively constraint time and geography? And can our fingers do the walking? And if we were to create a social network where people could link and connect with each other, that could be really interesting. And I think there's two critical points here.
The real innovation, the key here is we identified that a dot edu was part of your identity. And so if you had, let's say, a Harvard email address, there's a very high probability that you actually go to that institution. It's sort of like you're on my passport. And prior to that, places like Friendster and MySpace, you really didn't have an identity and there is no control of who was who. And by using the dot edu, which could then later be expanded to a dotcom of, let's say, a company, if you said, hey, I work at this company and you registered with that email address, we could immediately verify and authenticate that you were who you said you were.
The other thing at that time was taking digital photos was becoming more and more cheaper and commonplace. So it was a lot easier to start getting your profile in your life online than it would have been even a couple of years before. I think that we felt at the time, if this works at Harvard, there's no real reason why it wouldn't work at any other college or university in the country. And that's a pretty big number of institutions and populations.
And even if it didn't extend upwards into the professional 20 year olds or 30 year olds at that time, this generation was going to grow up and eventually leave school and they would take this network and all of the affinities with them. So we felt like that there is real scale well beyond just a fun project at a university. But if you said, do you think that there's going to be three billion people on a network and people who have more smart devices and more phones and people on the planet, I don't think we probably have quite imagined that all encompassing.
But we knew it had legs.
The fact that you got that far as juniors in college, that really was the trajectory of what Facebook became makes me want to invest in anything that you're envisioning the future.
So I want to talk to you about the changing form of what authority looks like in our modern day and age, the idea of who's responsible for letting information or decisions go in and out, the centralization or decentralization of power.
We got really fascinated with the centralization of authority when we found Bitcoin in twenty twelve because it basically started to create effectively a gold 2.0 and a decentralized form of money that's outside the system. It's really a new system and there is no central authority. It's literally a system of consensus. And the more we started thinking about the future and really the problems today, because I think to understand the future, you have to really understand what is broken today. And I think that when you look at the Internet, it has become more and more centralized and siloed.
And effectively, when you go online today, you are basically logging into one of six or. So services, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, which really is Facebook, Netflix for your entertainment, LinkedIn and Apple, your iTunes in that part of your world. And so I think that when you look at the future, we see an unbundling and a decentralization of these different systems so that if you do want to speak on a social media platform, there isn't an arbiter that's a central body telling you whether or not you may or may not contribute or what we would call de platforming.
So it seems to be that the trajectory of money is going in the opposite direction as the trajectory of the Internet.
So you're promoting the decentralization of money where the Internet is becoming more centralized.
The Internet started off as this utopian vision of everything being very open. And there's actually a computer in a museum somewhere in I think it's Silicon Valley where the guys who started Google were basically able to download the entire data of the Internet on a computer because it was open today. You could never do that because the data is siloed by companies like Google and Facebook. So what started off as an open Internet, you're absolutely right, has turned into this dystopic landscape that is super centralized.
And these data cartels and the term that has emerged is basically surveillance capitalism, where data is this good and you, the customer, are the product.
Have the Internet companies figured something out and humankind left to its own devices, seeks to exert control over others and control the gateway for selfish means?
I think that if a business is given the opportunity to become a monopoly, they will one hundred percent take that route. The idea of absolute authority corrupts absolutely. I think that there are inconveniences with centralized planning. Most people will tend to trade off convenience. They don't want to have to social networks. You don't want to upload cat means to two different places. You're not going to see to tick tock because it tends to be winner take all. And the viral nature and effects of these things are huge.
I think the short answer is the technology didn't exist for the Internet to evolve early on any other way because the general business model was advertising revenue. And so it's an eyeball game. These networks are centrally controlled. They attract eyeballs networks have a huge winner take all effect. And then how do you make money with that, with crypto that technological breakthrough that Bitcoin achieved? It's known as the Byzantine generals problem. It allows people around the world to cooperate. That's the mathematics behind mining and the cryptography.
People are incentivized to be good actors and agree on things. And so fast forwarding now it's possible to create a Facebook or a Twitter where the people who tweet the best content get paid in Twitter quoin they get rewarded the same way an employee of a centralized company would get rewarded for doing a great job. So there is a world where the users of Facebook actually are earning the money as opposed to a few executives and the workforce actually at a company.
But these incentives, I mean, we know what happens inside companies, right? Which is when we only incentivize individual performance, we can sometimes create behaviors that are counter to the health of the company because you'll find employees stabbing each other in the back, hoarding information as opposed to sharing information in the worst case scenarios, sales people actually sabotaging each other so that they can get the bonuses. And we've seen this happen on the Internet as well with the monetization that's been created with YouTube videos.
One of the most extreme cases that I can remember, and I'm sure you know this one as well. I think it was a boyfriend and girlfriend couple who are looking for ways to drive use so they can make the money from YouTube. And they did stupid tricks like so many people do. And one of the things they did was he held a big, thick dictionary in front of his chest and she took a loaded gun and fired it at his chest, thinking that the dictionary would stop the bullet.
And she shot him and killed him. Devastating story, and basically it was a stupid stunt simply to get more views and so individuals, it seems, act the same way as companies, which is when you incentivize me to get an eyeball, I'm going to do the most ridiculous and sometimes unethical things to get those eyeballs because it makes me rich. So companies are run by people. There seems to be no difference whether it's a corporate entity or individual doing those things.
Right? Right. Yeah. I mean, the thing is, the way they're monetizing the way they're building the algorithms to effectively draw people in is not a healthy algorithm. I think you could argue that a lot of it sows division. It goes for the most polarizing click bait type scenario and headlines. And it's generally pulls in more negative sentiment and they're addictive. It's the equivalent of McDonald's pumping their food full of sodium and all kinds of garbage to just keep people coming back.
And the same is true for the white lab coats inside these companies, effectively building algorithms to keep people coming back and promote eyeballs. Amazon, for example, it's looking at what you've read and making a guess based on that. But there's no real serendipity to it. It's not really browsing. It's this robotic engine that's generating close approximations to what you've done in the past. What I find so fun about a bookstore is you can walk around and wander into a corner that you've never been in before and bump into something and get turned on to a book or an idea.
It's effectively random in some ways. One of the bookstores I love in Manhattan, The Strand, I think it's got something like twenty five miles of books. They've got a section on books that were once banned and you find all these great books that at one point were very scandalous or were being written in countries that banned that content. Those types of experiences are really hard to find on the Internet today, the serendipity and the openness. It's really what the platform is serving up to you and what is really in their best interests.
I find this idea so fascinating. I was actually think about the other day like I read the newspaper obsessively and I remember when I would have a physical newspaper, I would start on the front page, obviously, and I would leaf through the newspaper and I would read the stories that interested me. And I would always discover something that I didn't know what interested me because I was just leafing through the newspaper and the headline caught my eye and I learned about things that I would never ordinarily learn about.
Then my newspaper went digital and now the Internet companies, they attempt to give us the information they think we want. Which sounds good, but all kinds of exploration, accidents, serendipity, all of these words for discovery have basically disappeared.
Yeah, and if you boil down the people who are actually making those algorithms and decisions, it's very few people like CEOs sitting in enclaves and Silicon Valley and basically on one stretch of the mile of road.
So it's scary how much influence that can have. And I think that makes the case for more decentralization.
Decentralization inherently is about discovery, right? There's exploration in decentralization. I remember reading a study about well intended citizens to hear a story in the news and they want to do their own research. They want to find, quote unquote, the truth. And so they go to Google like we all do to do research.
And I think the word they used was Benghazi in this research. And what they found out was basically the people who were left leaning, the algorithm showed them left leaning research. The people who are right leaning gave them right leaning research.
So two well-intentioned citizens actually got different information from their Google searches because Google is attempting to serve up what it thinks you want to see. When you're trying to find the unvarnished truth and so all it does is reinforce the left leaning narratives of the right leaning narratives, and by the way, the people who had no political leanings, Google gave travel advice.
Yeah, I mean, people talk about search engine optimization, but really what they're talking about is Google optimization engine. When you're building your website, you're building it so that Google indexes it properly and that you rank as high as possible. And the difference of even one position in the search ranking could be the difference in a magnitude of traffic. Huge, huge difference depending on the term and how popular it is. Now, there's obviously been some clear wins with Google effectively organizing the world's information over the better part of the last 20 years.
But we're getting to a point now where, just as you say, it's starting to move and sway in a certain direction. And I think that as we start to decouple that and there's other options, that creates the more democratization, if you will. And I think the publishing industry is a great place to look at what does centralization look like. I know you remember the time when getting a record deal meant that you made it or you were likely to make it.
But if you couldn't get signed by a label, forget it. You have no distribution, no channel, no ability to get your music or your movies or whatever you're creating out there. And today, it's never been easier to self publish or self broadcast. If you want to upload songs on to SoundCloud, you don't have to go through the answer and then the record companies to get to basically the entire world. So in some ways, the democratization of the Internet has been very powerful and impactful.
But the challenges that the new technology companies, there's few of them and far between. And so what is that next wave? It's maybe you're publishing to a decentralized block chain and nobody can really pull that content or filter it or censor it. It's just there. But it's so early days that people are going to effectively go for the easy option. Right now, if you think of like the Internet pre the first Web browsers, it was a very challenging experience.
And so we're kind of in that zone where people are starting to build these alternatives. But we need things like that new way to browse and access it. That's easy enough for the average consumer.
I just love this idea that for exploration and discovery to happen, there has to be decentralization.
So to use your analogy of the music industry, which is it was more difficult for us to actually go on a journey of discovery because anything that we found was already vetted by authorities, by the gatekeepers, the music companies, whether they chose to give one group of record deal or not, was not based on whether they thought it was, quote unquote, good music.
It was whether they thought it was sellable music. Right. And the modern version of that is Google determines what you find. And I just find this irony that it is hard to actually go on a journey of exploration or even truth finding when there is someone or an algorithm determined by a someone that is the ostensible gatekeeper. And I'm so fascinated by this idea, these terms that we use that make it seem so utopian and networking and open. But as you said, like, we're all desperately trying to make our websites work for Google, work for one company and even the control Facebook has.
I mean, we see this, for example, we know that the scandal that Facebook is currently dealing with and how it presents information and how it's sending out, you know, white supremacist information and things like that and are not effectively editing hate content.
And we've seen large advertisers pull their advertising away as a show of force and Facebook in their arrogance scoffs and say, well, that's a minor part of our income. Most of the income comes from small businesses. Now, this becomes so interesting to me because to your point, there's only very, very few companies, maybe six companies that basically is the Internet that really we can't influence. We can't force change the authority of the gatekeeper, that is Facebook, unless all of the small businesses stop advertising on Facebook.
The problem is, if a small business stops advertising on Facebook, they could literally put themselves out of business because there is no other option for them.
Yeah, and Facebook's not wrong in the sense that they very well will be back. There is no other alternative today. So it is an interesting point that we're at where people get really frustrated with the product and then there's no other place to go. So they slowly acquiesce back to it and kind of fall into that same habit. And I think it comes down ultimately to incentives. One of the things that's probably important to know about the history of the Internet is that it was widely shaped by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was basically a law within a larger law, the Telecommunications Act, I think of ninety six and effectively that immunized online services from the content that they provided so that they were no longer liable for third party content, that they effectively were like the conduit or the platform.
You could say that a twenty five year old act at the speed at which technology moves is likely outdated now that immunization gave them the safe harbor where they could create terms and services that if they applied in good faith, that they could effectively sell moderate. But unless there's enough incentives, the moderation is only going to keep up with where the incentives are. And if customers tend to not think it's a big deal, I don't think a company is going to invest in thousands of people to moderate.
So human beings, I mean, dare I say it?
But we're so damn lazy that for us we will put up with so much stuff that we don't like for convenience, like people are up in arms that the NSA was collecting metadata, which is depersonalised from us in order to try and prevent terrorists from attacking our nation. But no one has any problem whatsoever with our credit card companies tracking every dollar we spend, where we spend it, how we spend it, building profiles on us with our names and our addresses and selling all of that information to someone else.
Because let's be honest, a credit card on a daily basis is way more convenient than this amorphous threat that we face that I don't really understand.
And when I say we're OK with it, yes, we're up in arms every now and then about it, to your point. But we've seen very little systemic change because of public pressure, I think, ahead of America in that sense.
Yeah, Europe tends to historically side on in favor of privacy over free speech, and it's very American to side more on free speech over privacy. So, for instance, the law that we mentioned Section two thirty earlier, that immunisation does not exist in Europe. At the same way there is this concept called the right to be forgotten, which effectively allows people to be forgotten from platforms with Facebook. If you quit your account or last, it actually was still there, just didn't appear to the other users.
But in Europe, that is expunged.
So Facebook is physically forced to remove it from their servers.
Wherever you are in the United States, a quote unquote shut down account still exists with all the content sitting somewhere that content you've effectively given ownership over to the platform. It's no longer yours. In the US, so if you're effectively giving them the content to make it their own, but then they're no longer responsible for the content that they now own. I can understand that they say we're not responsible for the content if we don't own it, but for the fact that they do own it.
Yeah, it's a really interesting thing. If you look at the First Amendment, the right to freedom of speech, there's no real qualifiers in it. It's a very broad statement, those rights. And if you look at Article 10 of the European Convention, they do call out freedom of speech. But with all of these different qualifiers and effectively the European system lends a little bit more to the collective. So it's sort of like you have the right to free speech to the extent that it doesn't impact the larger group or the collective.
And you don't find that in the Constitution. And I think we see that with the pandemic in the US. Who would have thought that a lot of these things, like wearing a mask, would become a political thing. But here we are. There's a lot of folks who say, look, I want to flex my individual rights and I just may not want to wear a mask. I've decided that I don't want to be a shelter in place order.
And I don't think you have that same resistance or individualism in Europe as they approach the virus. And a lot of this goes back very, very far and is literally at the founding of our country.
It seems that to your point from before, given the opportunity, every company would love to be a monopoly and government to some degree can act like a monopoly. Many of the things that it does in our lives, taxation being one of them and the banks and how they controlled money to some degree as an industry acted monopolistic. And we got to the point where the hubris became so unbearable because we realized it was so unbalanced and that the decisions that the gatekeepers were making were starting too much to be prioritising their interests over, as we understand a little bit of it, which we're OK with.
But it became so unbalanced that we demand a decentralized currency and this gives rise to crypto. And so we're OK with Google and Facebook and the like, tilting the balance slightly towards themselves because we accept that ain't nothing for free and we accept that tradeoff. But at what point does hubris of the organization start to look like the hubris of a government or the hubris of the banking industry, rather? And we start rejecting it and finding complete alternatives inside the Internet, outside of the social networks?
Are we on that path? I mean, it could be 30 years away, 40 years away for all I know. But hubris seems to play a role here.
These companies, it's so ingrained with them to be winner take all. I don't know how they stop the pandemic. A lot of words came into the lexicon. Zoome was one of them. And as soon as Zoom's started taking off, all of a sudden when you're in Gmail, you get this encouragement to try Google Video and Google Hangout. And I think even like Facebook started to get into the video conference game, they just couldn't help themselves. This other company that's not one of these big monopolies started doing well.
And they're like, oh, we've got to, like, focus our sights on there an attack and get it. So I don't think the solution is going to come from them. It's either two ways. Historically, it's been the government and antitrust. But the thing that's interesting about the antitrust laws is that these monopolies look very different than the robber baron monopolies because the product's free. It's not like the price gouging or the rent seeking of a traditional monopoly.
So the laws are a little bit outdated and they're slow to catch up, but they will. And then the second option for correcting this is innovation. And that's why we're so bullish on cryptocurrency, because ultimately we think that that is the path to build the Internet. We keep quoting this law. But Section two thirty was created to protect and foster a budding nascent industry that was tiny. It was CompuServe was prodigy. It was AOL. These were small companies.
But now this industry has become these companies that can sway elections. So they're not the little startups said, oh, no, we got to protect them because it's death by a thousand cuts. They're actually the juggernauts. The tail is now wagging the dog. I'm not sure what's more powerful, these companies or the president of the United States who broadcast on these companies but can be shut off at any point.
This whole discussion is fraught with irony. The only way to stop it is with a gatekeeper like Facebook faces a threat from Instagram. It can't compete itself, so it just buys it. It faces a threat on its messaging service, WhatsApp, and sees WhatsApp as this thing that's taken the world by storm, and so they just buy it.
And in both cases, the founders of Instagram and the founders of WhatsApp said you have to leave it independent. What's app has to remain private. Instagram has to remain private. But of course, it didn't happen. Both of them now have been sucked into the machine to where the founders of both those companies quit and discussed. The only way it seems that we're going to prevent these things happening is when the Department of Justice does step in and cut these companies up and break them up because of Antimonopoly.
But for the fact that we have an outdated definition of monopoly, to your point, right.
Yeah, OK, so obviously everybody knows you as the Winklevoss. You are twins and you are apparently mirror twins, which is an even cooler version of identical twins. Is this true? Like one of you is left handed and one of you is right handed, right.
This is true. Yeah. So I'm left handed. Cameron and Tyler's right handed and mirror twins is actually a real thing. A lot of people never heard of it before. They're not sure if it's real, but we can attest to that. It is. And what it results from, I believe in egg effectively splitting a little bit later in the process.
This is really interesting. I mean, even just the way you guys communicate, one of you is slightly more left brain and one of you is like the more right brained.
Yeah, that's totally right. I mean, the way it often manifests in how we approach a problem, we may end up coming to very similar answers or conclusions. But the way we get there is different. And I think Tyler can be the analytical piece. The altitude that he sort of flies at could be a little bit higher than mine. One example that I like to joke about is when we were studying in high school, I might just throw all my papers on the floor and just start studying.
And Tyler would spend a lot of time organizing. And you have the most organized, most beautiful notes in the world, very, very well put together. But he spent some time doing that, which took away from some of the studying. I had more of, like this paper's on the ground. I'm just going to go through this and whatever. And you can say sort of like relatively less organized. And yet we probably pretty much got the same exact grades.
Now, what I think is so interesting about it is it actually I think is a case study for good partnerships because you guys are exceptionally good partners in business, because you do approach things opposite. And it makes the case that good partnerships and business require a nice balance of left brain and right brain, that it's not one or but one, and that make for good partnership because you come as a perfect person, nobody's perfectly balanced.
So you need two people to create that balance of problem solving and perception and perspective.
Yeah, I don't think our partnership or team would work if we were always ratifying each other. One of the huge assets that we have is trust, and I trust Cameron as much as I trust myself. And I believe I hope that he feels the same way towards me.
But effectively, it's like being on a team with yourself.
You have that trust so you can disagree.
We don't always agree on everything, but we feel comfortable, safe, OK, to say, hey, I think that's that's completely wrong. What are you crazy or whatever? And hopefully, ideally a respectful way. So we come at the world from a different way. And that's what keeps it interesting. But I don't see Cameron as like a control copy print of myself. We view ourselves as very different, very much individuals, but very identical foundationally on values, on the things that are the most important and the hardest to change or identical, but a little bit above that like preferences.
We're very, very eclectic in a way.
I think this really is the model of great partnership, which is great partnerships, whether you're born of the same, whether or not the mobile things, as you said, the hard to move things, the values, those things must be identical. And that is where trust is formed. And then upon that foundation of trust built on values, you want the diversity of opinion and perspective. You want the left brain and the right brain cooperating. And I think so often what ends up happening is people get together in partnership where they don't even think about the values first.
It's because they're both share perspective. They're both left brainers are both right partners. They agree with each other and the trust forms for a while until they start disagreeing or until they start having opposing opinions. Or worse, they come together in partnership because they realize they need each other. Also neglect that foundation of values. I love how you distinguish between the identical things or the values and. Then beyond that, the mirror is what makes the great partnership, because the partnership that you have, everything you've done and the successes you've had from high school through your crew, team, Facebook, the Olympics and now your foray into crypto, it's always been the two of you.
It's always been this magical partnership.
Yeah. And it's really interesting. So we do a lot of startup investing. I think we have almost one hundred different portfolio companies at this point. And one of the most common reasons companies fail is not because they fail to get product market fit. It's the founder disagreement or a personality conflict or issue that just sinks to vote before they even push off from the dock to throw the race. And I wonder if there's studies out there that could identify whether there's a trend in that direction.
I mean, I've always talked about it in terms of the Y type and the how type that that's that great partnership, the visionary and the operator, and that we've made a mistake in corporate hierarchies where we say CEOs, number one, and CEO or CFO or number two, and to many CFOs, because they're quote unquote, number two, want to be in line for the big job, the number one job. But it's not one and two. It's one and a that it's actually a combination of equals that makes the partnership work.
It's not up and down, but left and right, I assume, because your brothers, that's how you operate.
You don't operate as one and two. You operate as one in a.
That's right. And I think on the surface, I think a lot of people might just assume, as is sort of joking before, that we're carbon copies. And not only would that be painfully boring to hang out with someone who is the same person for that many decades, but I think that it offers this ability to be interdisciplinary and take that different approach, because at the end of the day, as you so aptly described, we just want to play the infinite game.
And the only way I think you can do that sustainably over a period of time is to have a diversity of thought and opinion and real strong ability to have disagreement in a manner that produces really interesting and exciting outcomes.
Tyler Cameron, thank you so much. Talking to you makes my head hurt in a very good way. And you leave me with, I think, way more questions than answers, which is probably a good thing.
Thank you so much for taking the time.
Thanks. It's real pleasure. Thank you for having us. A lot of fun.
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