The Long Game 71: The Price of One More Healthy Year, Measuring Life, Early Setbacks, UX Research
💊 Getting Crypto-Pilled, Web3, Japan Tech, Social Habits, India's Private Town, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are currently looking for:
Senior Backend Engineer
Senior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)
We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.
In this episode, we explore:
The economic value of an additional healthy year
How will you measure your life
Why Japan tech fell behind
Let’s dive in!
💸 The Economic Value of an Additional Healthy Year
How much would you pay for an additional healthy year?
Well, Americans would pay on average $242,000 for one extra year of good health. Of course, the US healthcare system is entirely non-functioning (on the cost side of things), and people routinely have million-dollar bills for a few nights in the hospital. However, it’s still essential to understand how bad people want to live longer and healthier.
Examining the value of aging through an economic lens illuminates in concrete terms why this topic is poised to become ever more important in the years ahead. It’s not just breathless stories of mouse blood, or advancements in the study of senescence, or evangelizing around nutritional doctrines such as caloric restriction. The pursuit of a longer, more productive healthspan will not solely be achieved by breakthrough biological treatments; how healthily we age is affected by a raft of decisions made throughout our lives.
Society is beginning to realize this new imperative—to age well, not just longer—and the changes that shift will require. As that realization becomes more apparent and we start to tap into the $37 trillion (and growing) value of slowing aging, the evergreen economy will influence a wide demographic across multiple sectors. No one, no matter what industry they’re in, can afford to ignore the implications.
➕ How Will You Measure Your Life?
I tweeted a quote from David Sacks on work-life balance this weekend, and the funny thing is that work-life balance might be THE topic that gets people significantly involved with the discussion.
I think the reasons behind this are multiple:
First, some people think they disagree, but they actually agree because a lot of work doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Without sharing calendars, it can get hard to understand what the other means. Do you mean ‘9—8 a lot’, or ‘8—11 a lot’? These two schedules might be considered a lot, with 4 hours of difference.
Second, people value different things.
An important resource to solve this problem for yourself is How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen. It will guide you in an exercise to understand what you value most and plan your life and your time accordingly.
There is no best answer for everyone. There might be a ‘window of healthiness’ on to how to organize your life, but expect people to value wildly different things.
What’s really important is to be aligned with yourself. You can’t work relatively little and expect to have an outsized positive effect on society, and you also can’t work 8—11 and claim that family matters to you.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is a fine line between discipline and addiction.
🧠 Better Thinking
⛔ The Impact of Setbacks in Future Successes
I have been thinking a lot about the impact of the setbacks I had in my life. After a few years, I came to the conclusion that setbacks—if taken with the right mindset—are extreme energy boosts that will lead to more sustained efforts and more success in the long run.
I tend to think of setbacks as the necessary reminder that you can’t become complcaçent and too relaxed, and this very idea is what leads to perpetual growth and improvement.
The tricky thing with those ideas is that they are very hard to generalize. I found this research paper that attempts to do so:
Setbacks are an integral part of a scientific career, yet little is known about their long-term effects.
Here we examine junior scientists applying for National Institutes of Health R01 grants. By focusing on proposals fell just below and just above the funding threshold, we compare near-miss with narrow-win applicants, and find that an early-career setback has powerful, opposing effects.
On the one hand, it significantly increases attrition, predicting more than a 10% chance of disappearing permanently from the NIH system.
Yet, despite an early setback, individuals with near misses systematically outperform those with narrow wins in the longer run.
Moreover, this performance advantage seems to go beyond a screening mechanism, suggesting early-career setback appears to cause a performance improvement among those who persevere. Overall, these findings are consistent with the concept that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” which may have broad implications for identifying, training and nurturing junior scientists.
The bottom line: persevere, worship relentlessness, and you will be all right.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🔬 UX Research
We’ve been doing a lot of UX research on our new product at Vital lately. I picked up a few books to make sure we’re doing it right:
When doing user research, one of the most important—and basic—things is to leave the ego at the door and not to try to guide people to describe your perfectly imagined plan of action. This is harder than it seems and benefits from being repeated a lot! Remember, you want to be right in the long term. You don’t want nor care to be right on your first attempts.
One idea from the Mom Test that stuck with me is:
Every time you talk to a user, you should be asking at least one question that can potentially destroy your currently imagined business.
Building a product and company can quickly get overwhelming, and you can be tempted to skip the user interviews. This is a very bad idea. As the author of UX for Lean Startups explains:
If you don’t have time to do user research, you’d better make time to fix your product once you’ve built it wrong, because I guarantee that is what’s going to happen. The fact is, you don’t have time not to do research.
The books provide more detailed guidance on conducting interviews and what type of interviews you need depending on where you are in the product development lifecycle.
📚 What I Read
🇺🇸🇨🇳 Will the Next American War Be with China?
China isn’t wasting time in its pursuit of global dominance:
When Colby and I spoke, he seemed anxious to emphasize that his warning is not intended for a conservative audience but for a broad one. He worries that Americans have been too persuaded by post-Cold War propaganda to understand that, in any conflict with China, Washington will need to partner with Asian nations (Vietnam, perhaps, or Malaysia, or Indonesia) whose modes of governance we may not love. And he is troubled by whether most Americans will see Taiwan as of sufficient interest to them. Colby said that he wrote his book largely to make a “brass tacks” case to ordinary Americans about why they should care enough to defend Taiwan and “other exposed Asian partners.” “Great powers create market areas,” he said. “And that’s what China’s trying to do.
💊 Getting Crypto-Pilled
Elena Burger on how she got crypto-pilled:
The period of 2017-2018 also happened to coincide with the third wave of crypto hype -- the runup of Bitcoin from $1,500 to $19,000, and Ethereum to $200 to $1,200 (and back down again). I wish I could say that the combination of a job offer, a light course load, and the relative abandon of senior year created the ideal environment for me to start picking up white papers and getting into crypto. But quite the opposite: getting TradFi-pilled made me dubious of anything that threatened to disrupt the cushy world I had just entered. During senior year, I’d sometimes visit my colleagues at the office, where we’d spot the occasional appearance of an ICO promoter or Winklevoss twin on the CNBC-designated flatscreen TV in our trading room. We’d gaze in silent, baffled horror, like we were observing a natural disaster in a foreign country.
3️⃣ Web3 — Solving Our Trust Issues with Math
An excellent article explaining why web3 will be a huge deal, and most likely the future of the internet:
Minimum viable explanation
The blockchain is a decentralised digital list (ledger) of who holds what in a network. This can be money, property titles, medical records. Anything someone would care to 'own'
Decentralised means every user in the network has an up-to-date copy of the ledger.
This makes the records unchangeable. If someone messes with the ledger, the rest of the network rejects it.
New records (blocks) are made unhackable with cryptography.
Cryptography is impossibly complicated math that takes a lot of computing power.
Users providing that computing power are "miners" They get paid in cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) for securing the ledger.
Mining makes the cryptocurrency scarce, giving it economic value.
I highly recommend Chris Dixon’s threads for more:
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
I’ve been doing a lot of walking in Barcelona lately, so I had the time for many great episodes:
Matt Kaeberlein, Ph.D.: The biology of aging, rapamycin, and other interventions that target the aging process
I highly recommend this conversation if you want an overview of the current research around Rapamycin and other longevity pathways. The idea that struck me once again (David Sinclair also mentioned it in Lifespan) is that even if we cured all cancers on the planet, we would only increase the human lifespan by about three years.
Daniel Ek — Enabling Creators Everywhere
I liked Daniel Ek’s framing of our current challenges as a species:
So many of our biggest challenges as a species (climate, healthcare, etc.) are coordination problems. It means that the solutions to those problems aren't going to come only from science and technology.
ADHD & How Anyone Can Improve Their Focus
I was really surprised to learn about ADHD a few years ago through a Netflix documentary. In Europe, you’ll hardly ever hear someone talk about it, while in the US, around 30—35% of all students are on amphetamine (Adderall/Modafinil) 🤯I remember watching a documentary about ADHD & Adderall on Netflix a few years ago and being extremely surprised. This phenomenon is almost non-existent in Europe, and most people here don't even know what ADHD is. I wonder why.I just learned from a colleague and it was confirmed by every student I asked, that 25% of students age 16-32 take Adderall 1-7X/week (not prescribed). And 5-10% do the same w/Modafinil or Armodafanil; 30-35% of students are on amphetamine. This is serious. Safer options existAndrew D. Huberman, Ph.D. @hubermanlab
🍭 Brain Food
📂 The Facebook Files
The WSJ recently published what may be their biggest hit: The Facebook Files. They are internal documents where Facebook conducted research on the impact of their products on mental health and discovered the mental health harm caused. Of course, Facebook kept these documents secret.
Instagram's research found:
13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram
14% of boys in the U.S. said Instagram made them feel worse
40% of users said Instagram made them feel unattractive and poor
Personally, I find the negative effect of Instagram on mental health extremely obvious. Some people might disagree with me, but how could a platform dominated by fake nattys, models, and lavish lifestyles not lead to mental health problems?
This goes back to the Center for Humane Technology’s research:
I expect the space of ‘Mental Health & Technology’ to grow exponentially over this decade.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇮🇳 India’s Privately-Owned City
An interesting video on India’s charter city.
🇯🇵 Why Japan Fell Behind in the Tech Industry
We don’t often hear about Japan these days. Here’s why:
🔧 The Tool of the Week
📱 Kin—Social Habits
I have been following the journey of Justin Kan with Kin for a few months. Similar to what we understood at Vital, Justin saw in using social the opportunity to really motivate people to stick to their habits for the long term and create a product that will remain in the lives of its users.
🪐 Quote I'm Pondering
"Sevens kill companies. When someone has a four, you just know they’re not doing the job, they’re not up for it, and let’s take them out of the system. But the problem with a seven is that you don’t get to that point, because that person will have glimmers of being able to do the job … They’ll have these things that are redeeming. But because they have those things, two things happen. One, there’s an opportunity cost of that seat. When someone that’s a seven is holding the seat, it means you don’t have a nine having that seat. Two is that, and I see this all the time, the execution of a team is often brought down by the weakest link. An entire team can be brought down by that seven."
— Sarah Tavel
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