Quantitative and Qualitative as a Zero Sum Game

Technology likes to focus on scale, prioritizing quantitative approaches to defining and shaping what digital success looks like. To achieve scale you need to effectively reduce an experience or series of experiences to scalable transactions. This is a game that often begins with an equal balance of qualitative and quantitative approaches to defining, measuring, and ultimately shaping digital success, but over time it becomes easier to focus so heavily on scale and quantitative measurements that push you lose sight of what quality means, reducing whatever hustle you have going on to zero sum game.

I know that the venture capital hustle is all about scale. Scale at all costs. My quaint view of delivering useful technology that human beings need is easily chewed up and spat out in this hustle. I am good at the venture fueled startup hustle within a certain range from Series A to D, and once you succeed things become about things I am not good at, or feel comfortable doing. This is where the company selling a product becomes the product, which I fully understand to investors. This was always true, but when you are on the ground floor of a startup, you don’t see it this way.

I’ve been along for the ride of several startups now. I have a clearer picture now. I got on these roller coasters, or aided in their operation as a carny, fully knowing that the roller coaster wasn’t the product, and that even the roller coaster experience wasn’t the product—that it was the carnival. It doesn’t change who I am. I can’t help but focus on the product or service. The direct tangible things that humans need or do not need. I get it now that this belief gets used and abused by startup founders and investors—they need people like me to operate the ride. They need people like me to bring the qualitative experience to the carnival, and get people riding the roller coaster.

I get that there is a lot of money to be made in a carnival. In operating, speculating, and hustling folks as your carnival rolls through town. I just struggle with existing and operating at that level. I thrive the most at the direct human to technology engagement level, not the detached, derivative, scaled up version. I am running the roller coaster, teacup ride, and shooting balloon game level. However once you reach series D and you start rigging the shooting balloon game and making the prizes cheaper and shittier, this is where I get frustrated. Series D is where you cease to offer, measure, and believe in the qualitative value your users need, and you focus solely on the quantity of tickets sold to the carnival. The individual rides and acts do not matter anymore—-it is just about tickets sold at the door.

In the beginning it is all about the clowns, rides, acts, and making it as much fun to be at the carnival as possible. You want to get people showing up and telling their friends about the experience. You want to get people thinking about being at the carnival throughout their day, and into the night. However, in the end all of the qualitative aspects of your ride or act become second to just getting people in the door, or worse, keeping them from leaving, and forcing them to join the circus, even if they do not enjoy it. I don’t think startup founders and investors truly get the zero sum game they’ve set into motion. I just don’t find meaning or purpose in getting wealth this way. I’d prefer either riding along with the carnival until Series D time, or simply operate a regular business. The only problem is investors will run you out of town in any game, with their Series A, B, C acts, where they price you out, and throw all in on the quality of the experience to get your customers in their door, only to fuck them over down the road.

I will always lose in this game. I focus on the qualitative aspects of the intersection of humans and technology, in a sea of quantitative beliefs and focus. Quantitative and qualitative can co-exist, just not in the current venture fueled version of the Internet we’ve built. The game in the end is always about squeezing any value and quality from the game and sharing the spoils amongst the few who thrive in this environment. I do not. I enjoy the thrill of the ground. I like to see the thrill in the eyes of people who enjoy the ride or find enjoyment in my theatrical act. This makes me a useful tool in the toolbox of those who can’t do, but fancy themselves carnival producers. I just have to remember this as I move through this world. It isn’t that I haven’t known this before, I just get caught up in the carnival and forget about the real world out there as I immerse myself in what matters to me.