When she was twelve years old, my aunt escaped from the concentration camp where her mother and siblings were interned. She swam through the sewers, found food, and returned. My grandmother collected snails and cooked them out of sight of the Japanese guards. Around them, people were tortured and killed on a daily basis.

On paper, the Allies won the war. For my family, it continued to rage.

To this day, trauma has rippled from generation to generation. That simple act of ripping my aunts from their lives mid-education has led to cycles of poverty and misery that continue to this day. Some of my family, like my father, were able to break the cycle. Some were not. The recent history of my family runs the gamut from stability to crime and heroin addiction. …

A roadmap for telling stories that envision a better world.

Like many people, 2020 has creatively consumed me. It’s hard to give your undivided attention to something, or put yourself in a truly creative flow, when so much is going on. The sheer onslaught of new information — some newly jaw-dropping story seems to be showing up four to six times a day — puts my brain in a reactive mode. Instead of being inventive and generative, I’m constantly aghast. I’m hopeful that it will be possible to re-find a sort of mental peace once the election has been and gone, but I’m also a realist. …

Image for post
Image for post

In the spirit of Derek Sivers, I thought I’d write a quick update about what I’m doing these days. It’s not quite a “now” page in the Sivers model, but it’ll do .. for now.

Where I work:

I’m Head of Engineering and Sponsor Product at ForUsAll. Understanding what ForUsAll does, and therefore what I do, requires a little bit of explanation: in the US, rather than traditional pensions, workers tend to get something called a 401(k) plan (memorably named after its tax code). A part of your pre-tax pay is sent to a fund that invests on your behalf; many employers match your contribution up to a certain level. …

Being a founder is hard! There are so many things you need to stay on top of. Here are 10 things that every founder, investor, and startup employee needs to know in 2020.

I dream of disappearing.

It goes like this: one day I’ll get in my car and drive. I won’t know where I’m going. There will be no plan; no reservations; no itinerary. There will be no due date for my return. I’ll just drive, and when I find myself in a new place that seems like it might be worth stopping for a while, I’ll find myself a motel room and stick around. Maybe for a night; maybe for a week; maybe for a month, or more.

Sometimes, when I dream this, I’m a completely different person. I’m more confident, or I dress better, or I’ve got a body that’s benefitted from the kind of self-respect I’ve never quite been able to afford myself. …

Showing someone that you’re human gives them permission to do the same. It also gives them permission to be more honest with you; you’ll get better feedback, catch issues earlier, and understand when someone is having struggles. It makes it easier to create an environment where everyone can do their best work.

I was interviewed by Range Labs about building culture and community at work:

Read the whole interview here.

  1. When the ash falls, it looks like snow. I’ve taken to telling people this a lot, because it seems so remarkable to me. Little white specks meander to the ground; not crystals of water vapor, but fragments of something else. I’ve heard people talk about finding burned pages from strangers’ books in their gardens.
  2. I’m spending most of my time in Sonoma County to look after my mother, who is terminally ill. …

Helping everyone make decisions like a founder

I’ve spent most of my career in or alongside relatively early-stage startups. I co-founded two; was the first employee at two more; I sourced and invested in 24; I supported a portfolio of 75. ForUsAll, where I’m currently Head of Engineering, has raised a Series B funding round and is still finding its feet.

What I’ve learned is that, more than a set of skills, entrepreneurship is a mindset. As Harvard Business Review has noted, it’s about an ability to thrive in uncertainty, and an openness to new experiences:

Openness to new experiences is about having a restless need to explore and learn. It entails not just a willingness to proceed in unpredictable environments but a heightened state of motivation that occurs at the edge of the unknown and the untried. For individuals who score high on this dimension, the unknown is a source of excitement rather than anxiety.

Finding my next thing — and keeping myself open.

I’ve always believed in the power of an open web. It’s hard to remember now, but we came from a world where only a small number of people could publish and be heard. Those people were chosen by an even smaller set of gatekeepers: predominantly white men who got to decide whose voice mattered. The promise of the web — something we have to work and fight for — is that anyone’s voice can find an audience, without gatekeepers or middlemen.

My work has always been mission-driven. I started by co-founding a white-label social networking platform that was used to teach, to train aid workers at non-profits like Oxfam, and for knowledge sharing inside governments. I was CTO of a startup that allowed video footage to be quickly sent back to newsrooms from some of the most connectivity-challenged environments on Earth, empowering reporting from Syria and the top of Everest. I built a way for anyone to own their own social profile. And I was privileged, as the west coast Director of Investments at Matter Ventures, to support diverse entrepreneurs at 73 startups with the potential to create a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society. …

We’re building an open protocol to allow anyone on the web to earn money from their work. The possibilities are endless. Here are some of them.

Imagine if paying for content had been built into the web from day one.

A few days ago, Julien Genestoux wrote an introduction to Unlock: a decentralized, permission-less protocol that allows anyone to sell access to their work. It’s a great high-level introduction to our philosophy and approach. Hopefully, it also explains why Unlock is such a radical idea; something that has never been built on the web before. If you haven’t read it, it’s a great place to start.

In this post, we’ll bring it down to earth. …


Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store