There’s no doubt there’s a growing movement within tech innovation and entrepreneurship towards doing social good. One of my favorite aspects of running The Good User Experience podcast is meeting a range of like-minded and committed entrepreneurs and investors who put their money where their mouth is.
One such kindred spirit is Aidan Gold. The Head of Investor Relations at EGenesis and a serial investor in startups, Aidan was one of the most energetic and inexhaustibly curious people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing.
Solving the Organ Shortage Crisis
There are over 110,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list in the US. And as a recent NBC story reported, organ donations from the recently deceased during the coronavirus pandemic have plummeted. Fortunately, there are brilliant biotech companies like EGenesis out there working on novel solutions to what can seem, at times, like an impossible problem.
In one sense, what EGenesis is doing — growing transplantable organs in pigs — is a continuation of research running for over forty years. In fact, pig heart valves were first successfully transplanted into humans back in 1965!
What makes EGenesis’s work unique is that they utilize CRISPR gene-editing technology to alter pig genetic code to ensure those whole kidneys can be transplanted without the danger of organ rejection. The company is currently at the proof-of-concept stage, but Aidan hopes they’ll be conducting the first full transplants within a few years. EGenesis completed Series B financing totaling $125 million in 2019.
Bringing Startups and Investors Together
As a secondary hustle, Aidan has also formed a syndicate of investors and found innovative startups to provide early-stage investment. As an early investor in both SpaceX and Public, Aidan remains committed to ethical investment in the projects he selects.
Public is a case in point — an investment platform that monitors investor behavior and warns against risky trades. This contrasts with competitors such as Robin Hood, who have unwittingly created a culture of risk-taking inexperienced traders who often lose everything. Some have even taken their own lives.
With a background in neuroscience, Aidan is ideally placed to both identify valuable startups within cutting-edge STEM and convey their sometimes complex business offerings to investors. I think his intellectual curiosity and palpable desire for new and broadening life experiences are instrumental in helping him find these investment opportunities.
A case in point was Aidan’s participation, during college, of Semester at Sea, a unique learning experience where a ship-full of international students (from up to 70 different nations) circumnavigate the globe. Aidan talks about taking fascinating classes onboard, then putting theory into practice with a range of far-flung field trips to places as different as Ghana and Mekong Delta.
Study abroad on steroids, in other words.
Crypto — the Pros and Cons
“Bitcoin is like a social security fund for the planet.” Aidan Gold.
Because Aidan is such an experiential magpie, our conversation ranged far and wide. Discussions of ethical investment inevitably led us to examine cryptocurrency and the myths and risks associated with that decentralized currency format. We’re both believers in the potential of Bitcoin to do good in the world whilst realizing that crypto equally holds potential for misuses, like any security or currency.
Aidan once famously declared he would never sell his Bitcoin until it hit $1 million per coin. I think that’s a sound strategy — setting a definite marker for trading whilst demonstrating confidence. We talk about how cryptocurrency vividly demonstrates the principle espoused by Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens, that all currency is a social contract. Its value fluctuates with our belief in it.
Take Elon Musk’s recent behavior as an example. First, he extolled the value of Bitcoin and stated that Tesla would be accepting it for payments. Its value soared. Next, he changed his mind, citing ethical concerns, having sold off all his holdings. Bitcoin’s value plummeted. For one man to have such an influence over a currency’s value gave many investors pause.
However, with proper regulation, such as would be applied to any security, crypto can do a lot of good. For one thing, it allows comparatively impoverished investors to get a foot in the door with a financial medium that has shown continuous growth over time. Secondly, it facilitates international money transfers in third world countries where standard mechanisms for exchange carry significant charges and bureaucratic barriers. Lastly, it provides a potentially long-lasting pension pot for building legacy wealth to those who have few other options.
Building Habits for Personal Development
Fueling all this creative energy and optimism requires a different kind of investment — in one’s own wellbeing, and Aidan is no slouch in that department. We talk at length about the habits we’ve both tried (and sometimes failed) to inculcate, ranging from exercise regimes to sleep hacks to intellectual self-improvement.
Here are just some of the topics we close on:
• Sleep as the ultimate performance-enhancing drug.
• The importance of making exercise a social activity.
• The value of scheduling recovery (plus some tips and hacks for doing so).
• The concept of a three-week deep dive into a new activity.
I think you’ll derive as much inspiration from this week’s episode as I did, and I’m sure to have Aidan back in the studio to talk again.