Bill Gates, Sewage, and Why We Need More Billionaires
The world needs more generous billionaires. Learn how the world’s second richest man tackles a problem nobody else wants to touch.
Welcome to the very first issue of my Newsletter! Typically I’d be writing this thing on Friday evening, but tonight we’ve got a real rage-er (ing?) PARTY planned.
My wife and I invited a bunch of other parents with tiny humans over to our house for a late Halloweeen party. It’s from 5-7pm, because babies gotta sleep. 😂
So I’m sipping a coffee and getting this thing DONE before lunch time.
This is your periodic reminder I have no idea how to write a newsletter! We’re going to try a bunch of stuff and see what sticks. So buckle up.
💩 Obsessed with Poop Water/Bill Gates
The first thing I want to share with you all is this excellent documentary on Netflix called Inside Bill’s Brain.
Here’s a trailer:
Why It’s Important
I love reading biographies. You can learn so much from about life, business, and human behavior by reading bios.
I came across this Bill Gates profile while scrolling Netflix, and the trailer had me hooked. I mean, who could turn down the opportunity to get an intimate look at the world’s second richest man— the guy who gave us PCs, X-Box, and this video of nerds dancing at the Windows 95 launch?
This documentary really surprised me. It doesn’t really focus on Windows or Microsoft or computer science.
It tells the story of what happens when a brilliant, generous, rich person builds a team of experts to solve a problem.
Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation as a vehicle for their philanthropic giving. Their website says “All lives have equal value. We are impatient optimists working to reduce inequity.”
One of the jobs of a CEO is to deploy capital (spend money on the right things). I think this really shines through with one of the primary focuses of the Gate’s foundation: sewage and sanitation.
In the doc, Bill says something to the effect of
Everyone focuses on clean water. Drilling wells, filtering, that kind of thing. Nobody was focusing on sanitation.
Millions of people die every year due to preventable illnesses caused by exposure to sewage and human waste. Diarrhea is a thing you can die from and millions do.
And so he decided to focus the efforts of the Gates foundation on innovating in toilets and sanitation.
Here’s some of what they did:
- Held a competition for universities to create off the grid toilettes
- They commissioned the creation of a sewage plant that is completely self-sustaining— it boils poop water to create steam, which drive generators that create electricity to power the plant— and then they condense the steam into drinking water. It’s called “The Omni-Processor”.
- The toilets that won the competition were expensive (some were over 50k). Way too expensive to scale. So they took the designs to China and held a competitive bid process to reduce the price of the toilets to a sustainable range.
Big Ideas to Take Away
- You can apply the same mental models for building products to problems that contribute to human suffering. Bill Gates chose poop water. What problems can you solve? Where can you apply your expertise?
- Capitalism and the free market made this possible. Bill Gates invented a product used by billions. The market rewarded him with vast resources (he’s worth over 100 billion dollars). He’s now deploying those resources to solve problems that contribute to human suffering. Competition among manufacturers will drive down the costs of producing the things that the Gates Foundation innovates.
- Time is your most valuable resource. Bill Gates plans every minute of his workday, focusing on the most valuable actions/decisions that only he can make.
- Read widely. Bill travels with a canvas bag of books. He reads widely to understand new concepts and make connections between subjects he already knows about.
- The world is full of unsolved, un-sexy problems.
This doc is definitely worth checking out. Watch it and let me know what you think!
What I’m Up To
I’m launching a two-sided marketplace
Last month I read an article about how our community has hundreds of unfilled, great-paying jobs in the skilled trades. We can't build the housing and infrastructure we need because we don't have the humans to build it.
I decided to launch a HYPER FOCUSED, HYPER LOCAL website focused on helping people land great local jobs and apprenticeships in the skilled trades.
It's suuuuper MVP right now, but you should check it out: https://www.whatcomtradejobs.com
Next steps: 👉Grow the supply of job listings. Must be high quality👉Launch adjacent FB Group 👉Start an email list
👉Contact local trade schools and get their students to create candidate profiles
And of course… see how I can monetize. It’s expensive to support a website like this. Infrastructure costs alone are about $200 a month— but I think there’s a lot of value a site like this can provide employers so I’m not too worried about it.
🚨Useful resource alert🚨
Lenny Rachitsky wrote this excellent guest essay on Andrew Chen’s blog called 28 Ways to Grow Supply in a Marketplace. Lots of specific, actionable advice. Lenny has a great weekly newsletter here. All PMs should be on this newsletter.
He was growing a unicorn (Airbnb), I’m growing a job board… but lots of transferrable principles! Definitely doing a lot of Direct Sales right now.
My first Podcast Interview
I’ve written a fair amount about Product Management over the last couple of years:
- A Useful Guide For Product Managers to Improve Follow-Up Skills
- What Can PMs Learn 🤯 from the 2018 Amazon Letter to Shareholders
- 3 Tips to land your first Product Manager job in 2019
- Burning cash 🔥 and building moats 🔨 : a Moviepass strategy teardown
- 7 tips for building awesome products from Roman Mars
- Hot Take: What it really means to be a Product Manager
Last week, the host of Start Fast invited me to be a guest. He found me through my writing, which feels great!
I love podcasts and you all know I love talking so this should be fun.
Okay friends, that’s it for this week. Let me know what you liked about my first issue.