Y Combinator Podcast: Andrew Kortina of Venmo and Fin on Technological Determinism and Work’s Relationship to Dignity

  • From his essay The Beautiful Struggle: You might argue that we’re already in a sort of failure mode, where our ability to assign dignity to arbitrary work and motivate people to work bullshit jobs is more efficient than our ability to allocate labor towards industry that would have greater social benefit, like education, healthcare, food, etc. If we’re already in this failure mode, it’s kind of the worst of all worlds, because not only are we assigning meaning to work that doesn’t need to be done, but, also, we could be redeploying that labor towards efforts that are actually important today.

  • Money is the API for people: I think the singularity already happened. Money is the algorithm that is already controlling all the people and telling them what to do. The machines have already taken over. 

  • How Andrew practices minimalism: I don't have tons of stuff. If I know I'm going to use something a lot I like it to be something good.

  • You sold Venmo. You are working on Fin. What happens after: It probably won't be a corporation. There's a huge cost to coordination with a bunch of other people. I think it takes hours to get to the point where you can be productive creatively. Any sort of routine and schedule can just really disrupt that. If the muse is speaking you want to be able to write down what the muse is saying, and be available to that.

  • On his essay The Emperor Has No Clothes, There is No Santa Clause, and Nothing is Rocket Science: I have a problem with companies telling potential employees that they're going to be your source of meaning. There's a certain honesty to Wall Street's come here, work hard, make a lot of money. These [Silicon Valley] technology companies don't really frame it like that. There is too much marketing to it. 

  • What Andrew likes about writing software: I recognize that the meditative aspect of craft is an excellent way to cope with meaninglessness. You focus. Everything else dims. You go into a zone.

  • What is Fin? It's a personal assistant service. You can take all these mundane digital chores that you don't want to do yourself. You can send us work like you would send an executive assistant.

  • What's been the hardest part and the biggest difference between starting Fin versus Venmo? With Venmo it was always really difficult to raise money and it was a very expensive business to run. The hardest thing about Fin is just complexity. Usually, a company picks one small thing and gets really good at it by doing tons and tons of reps on it. Fin is competing with a human assistant. It has to do many different things well. That is hard. 

  • Everyone should watch this Charlie Kaufman speech: He says: What I'm trying to express is the notion that by being honest, thoughtful, and aware of the existence of other living beings, a change can begin to happen in how we think of ourselves and the world, and ourselves in the world.

  • What Andrew learned from that Charlie Kaufman speech: It's very easy to just do the automatic next thing without thinking about it, and then wake up 50 years later and realize you haven't thought for yourself at all. What's tragic to me is that there's a lot of people who don't even understand that they're in this automatic mode. They are just following the next thing and copying the thing that somebody else did.

  • Full podcast here.