We hacked into a 1990’s RPG to help announce Season 2. This season focuses on solutions to important challenges we face, with amazing leaders in each episode. Join us on a quest to fight for our country!
Daniel Lubetzky is the founder of Peaceworks, the OneVoice Movement, and the multi-billion dollar snack company KIND. The son of a Holocaust survivor, Lubetzky’s upbringing inspired him to use business to bridge cultural and economic divides. In this episode, he explains America’s unique role in the world and why we must work together to repair our social fabric and break out of our tribal instincts. His newest venture, Starts With Us, does just that by instilling greater courage, curiosity, and empathy in our daily lives.
Over the past few decades, the U.S. military’s long-held advantages have waned. Today, we are reliant on outdated technologies and in jeopardy of falling behind China. Bo Marr, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Epirus, is bucking the trend. Marr and his team invented the world’s most powerful phased array, Leonidas, that can disable drones and other electronic systems from great distances. This modern force field fills a vital technological gap for the U.S. military as it prepares for 21st-century warfare and a new era of asymmetric threats. [Joe co-founded Epirus in 2018 with the Build Program of 8VC, the venture capital firm he founded and manages.]
Maleka Momand is the co-founder and CEO of Esper, a technology platform that transforms how governments oversee the regulatory process. In recent decades, the size of the administrative state has exploded. Yet, many regulators still operate via Word, Excel, and, in some cases, pen and paper! This has led to a lack of transparency and accountability, not to mention a morass of outdated, disjointed regulations. By applying data analytics and artificial intelligence to augment regulators and regulatory processes, Esper is improving how governments function and interact with the business community. [Joe and his wife Tayler are proud co-founders of Esper.]
Dhani Jones spent 11 seasons in the NFL as a middle linebacker, the linchpin of the defensive unit. Since then, he has become a leader in other arenas: hosting TV shows, launching charities, and investing in startups. His passion is bringing out the best in others. In this episode, he pushes back against the notion of lowering standards to minimize disparities. He explains why adversity, competition, and the pursuit of excellence are some of the best ways to lift up others and improve their lives.
Mike Reeser and Michael Bettersworth are the Chancellor and Chief Innovation Officer, respectively, at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). In 2014, TSTC became the FIRST college in the country to fully align its public funding with its students' future earnings. Since then, graduates have seen their earnings increase 117 percent! Their success is an antidote to the crisis of bad incentives in education today and should inspire other states to pursue similar reforms.
Congressman Ro Khanna is the Democratic Congressman from California’s 17th District, which covers large swaths of Silicon Valley. A self-described "progressive capitalist," Khanna bucks the current political norms and works to advance meaningful bipartisan legislation. In this episode, we debate income inequality, wealth taxes, and other hot-button issues, but also find common ground on reasonable regulations for Big Tech, introducing more innovation into healthcare, and promoting nuclear energy. His forthcoming book is titled “Dignity in a Digital Age” and focuses on closing the digital divide in rural America.
Chris Sprowls is the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Under his leadership, Florida has set itself apart as one of the most innovative state legislatures in the country, slashing regulations that prop up entrenched interests and injecting true competition into the marketplace. We discuss his strategy for successfully combatting cronyism in healthcare, pioneering the biggest school choice expansion in the country, and other courageous reforms -- many of which passed on a bipartisan basis. Speaker Sprowls's success should embolden other like-minded reformers and leaders across our country.
Charles Koch, Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, is one of the great business minds of our time. He grew a small engineering firm from $21 million in revenue to over 10,000 times the revenue. Yet in both his business and philanthropic work, he is first and foremost a philosopher. Koch explains how thinkers such as Abraham Maslow and Joseph Schumpeter shaped his outlook on the conditions for human flourishing, and why it's important to enable every employee to self-actualize. Rejecting centralized top-down systems, Koch developed Market-Based Management -- a philosophy that enables his companies to constantly reinvent themselves through virtuous cycles of mutual benefit that provide value to both employees and customers.
Ambassador Kelly Craft is a businesswoman, philanthropist, and former diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2019 to 2021 and U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2017 to 2019. She played an integral role in shaping major foreign policy decisions and achievements, such as the landmark Abraham Accords and the USMCA trade agreement. In this episode, she discusses some of the most pressing U.S. challenges abroad, including speaking up for human rights during the Beijing Olympics, developing a comprehensive strategy for China, responding to Russian military threats against Ukraine, and galvanizing U.S. allies to defend our shared values.
Pano Kanelos is the President of the University of Austin (UATX), the most ambitious new university venture in America in decades. Recognizing the plight of America's higher education system, Pano stepped down as the President of St. John's College to build a new institution rooted in the pursuit of truth, open inquiry, and educating the next generation of American leaders. In this episode, Joe and Pano discuss the failures of modern academia and why it's time to take on the bold task of building a new world-class university. [Joe is a co-founder of UATX and Chairman of the Board of Trustees.]
Tyler Cowen is a professor, best-selling author, blogger, podcaster, and one of the most influential economists of this generation. In the early days of the pandemic, Cowen launched the Fast Grants program, which funded COVID-related science in less than 48 hours -- a remarkable feat in the medical sector. He discusses his efforts to accelerate innovation, including his work to transform how investors identify and back the next generation of brilliant entrepreneurs. An all-around polymath, Cowen also reveals the technologies and breakthroughs that excite him most for the decades ahead.
Hayes Barnard is the Founder and CEO of GoodLeap, one of the fastest growing and largest financial technology companies in the renewable energy sector. In 2008, Barnard founded Paramount Solar, which was later acquired by SolarCity and then Tesla. Barnard discusses his role on the leading edge of America's solar energy expansion and what he learned working alongside Elon Musk. He also discusses his non-profit Give Power and its work to bring clean water and electricity to Africa via renewable energy.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is a writer, cultural critic, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of two critically-acclaimed books on race in America. In this episode, he discusses the dangers of Critical Race Theory and how to move beyond race-first, collectivist mindsets. He also discusses his forthcoming book, "Nothing Was the Same," which traces the recent rise of illiberalism and polarization in the U.S. Even though we may find certain ideas or theories (like CRT) noxious, Williams argues for more engagement and debate, not banning or censoring materials, as the best path toward progress.
Jared Meyer is the Executive Director of Cicero Action. In this episode, Jared discusses how special interests stifle competition and why Cicero Action is using the special interests' playbook against them to promote innovative, bottom-up reforms. He explains the government affairs strategy that creates real policy changes in states across the country, from expanding telehealth and improving parole and probation reforms, to realigning higher education incentives and fixing homelessness. This conversation shows how transparency, accountability, and competition are possible when political leaders have the tools—and the courage—to stand up to cronyism and entrenched interests. [Joe is the founder and Chairman of Cicero's 501c3 and 501c4 organizations.]
Dr. Jeannette zu Fürstenberg is Co-Founder and General Partner of “La Famiglia”, a Berlin-based Venture Capital fund, and holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Entrepreneurship from the Free University of Berlin. She’s also a princess of one of Europe’s oldest royal families by marriage, as well as a thoughtful leader in the innovation and business world. In this episode, she traces the birth of entrepreneurship from the Renaissance and explains how breaking down the silos of guilds led to a creative explosion -- and how we can apply those lessons today. Dr. Fürstenberg specializes in connecting old and new world industries and discusses how to transform the 21st century by moving from incremental to disruptive innovation.
Judge Glock is the Director of Research and Policy at the Cicero Institute and an expert on housing and homelessness in the U.S. In this episode, Glock dissects the root causes of America's affordable housing shortage and explains how the right incentives can jumpstart development and bring down home costs for working-class families. He also exposes how policies like “Housing First” encourage the homeless to live and die on the streets while waiting for free and permanent housing, which won’t solve the root of their problems: addiction and mental illness. Instead, Glock explains how cities like San Diego combine bridge shelters with treatment and accountability to reduce homelessness -- a recipe that other state leaders can use to save lives and bring healing to hundreds of thousands of people. [Joe is the founder and Chairman of Cicero's 501c3 and 501c4 organizations.]
Dr. Mark Esper served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2019 to 2020 and Secretary of the Army from 2017 to 2019. He's currently the Distinguished Chair of the Modern War Institute at West Point and sits on the Board of Directors of Epirus [a defense startup co-founded by Joe]. His forthcoming memoir is titled "A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times.” In this episode, he dissects Russia's military weaknesses and explains how its invasion of Ukraine may ultimately strengthen NATO and change China's calculations with regard to Taiwan. He and Joe also discuss the risk-averse, top-down management culture at the Pentagon and what needs to change to bring new, better technologies to the Department of Defense.
Jacob DeWitte is the Co-Founder and CEO of Oklo, a nuclear energy startup building small advanced reactors that can reuse spent fuel from conventional reactors. In this episode, DeWitte explains how the regulatory state has stymied new reactor designs for decades, and how he's working to break through and bring game-changing nuclear power technology to market. Shortly after the initial conversation was filmed, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied Oklo's application for its new small reactor design -- evidence of the persistent regulatory challenges. Stay tuned to the end of the episode where Jake rejoins the show to explain how Oklo plans to address the NRC's findings and continue the process toward final approval. [Joe's venture capital firm 8VC is an investor in Oklo.]
Francisco Gimenez is Partner at 8VC and focuses on Bio-IT investments. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford in Biomedical Informatics and B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from UC Berkeley. In this episode, Francisco explains how breakthroughs in AI, gene editing, and cell therapies converged to jumpstart a new age in biology. He predicts that biomanufacturing platforms, armed with mountains of data and new tools, will bring down the costs of creating and commercializing drugs so smaller companies can treat rarer diseases and deliver more personalized cures. By decentralizing the pharma industry, Francisco is optimistic that the future of medicine will evolve from reactive care to preventative medicine that will help people fully self-actualize and lead their best, healthiest lives. [Joe is a founding partner of 8VC, his venture capital firm.]
Gene Berdichevsky is the co-founder and CEO of Sila, a next-gen battery technology company. Previously, he was the seventh employee at Tesla, where he served as Principal Engineer on the Roadster battery and led the development of the world’s first mass-produced lithium-ion car battery. In this episode, he explains how Sila's new battery chemistry innovations can improve efficiency, reduce costs, and help electrify the future. He discusses the challenges in mining rare metals, battery recycling, and what's needed to sustainably build batteries at scale. By mid-century, Berdichevsky is optimistic that EVs will become ubiquitous, and we'll be able to fully integrate renewables into the electric grid. [Joe's venture capital firm 8VC is an investor in Sila.]
Zach Latta is the Founder of Hack Club, a non-profit network of high school coding clubs with over 15,000 members worldwide. At age 15, Zach helped design one of the most popular apps in the world. At 16, he dropped out of high school to become a programmer before founding Hack Club. He then received a Thiel Fellowship and decided to forgo college to build Hack Club full-time. In this episode, he talks about rethinking education and challenges teenagers to look beyond conventional, safe paths and take full advantage of the Internet Age. He paints an inspiring picture of what our world would look like with more coders and builders -- and explains how Hack Club provides teens with the skills to improve society and realize their full potential. [Joe is a proud early supporter of Hack Club.]
Tony Fadell is one of the great engineers, designers, and business leaders of our time, responsible for creating the iPod, iPhone, and Nest Thermostat. He runs the investment firm Future Shape and recently released his memoir titled “Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making." In this episode, he discusses the lessons he learned at General Magic (which was building the iPhone 15 years too early) and Philips Electronics that paved the way for building some of the world's most popular devices at Apple. He explains why self-imposed constraints are essential to creating exceptional products and reveals where engineers and designers often go wrong. His passion for building is inspiring and informative for both business and everyday life.
Sebastian Caliri is Partner at 8VC with a focus on healthcare investing. Previously, Sebastian spent four years at Palantir where he was responsible for growing its commercial healthcare business. In this episode, Sebastian diagnoses the core problems in U.S. healthcare and explains why traditional fee-for-service care misaligns incentives, resulting in rising costs and inferior health outcomes. He makes the case for new models like value-based care and also highlights the potential of psychedelic medicine and other exciting innovation. Sebastian holds a BS and MS in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry from Yale University and spent a year in Stanford's MD program before pursuing a career in tech and investing. He argues that the conventional path in medicine is broken and often produces a risk-averse, complacent culture; he challenges the next generation of doctors and health care professionals to think boldly and take on the status quo.
Welcome to Season One of American Optimist hosted by Joe Lonsdale, entrepreneur, investor, and founder of four multi-billion dollar companies and other mission-driven organizations. American Optimist is an alternative to the fear, cynicism, and zero-sum thinking in mainstream media. Learn from the innovators and leaders who are solving our nation's most pressing challenges -- and doing it in a way that will lift everyone up. Hope should dominate our discourse, and American Optimist will show you why.
Curing cancer, eliminating diseases, reprogramming cells to help 80-year-olds feel like they're 30 -- could it all be possible in our generation? America is in the midst of a biotech revolution that is transforming modern medicine and will save countless lives. At the forefront is Dr. Rick Klausner, former director of U.S. National Cancer Institute, co-founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and MindStrong Health, renowned scientist, and billionaire innovator. [Joe has invested with Dr. Klausner in multiple companies, most recently in Dr. Klausner's latest venture, Altos Labs.]
Hollywood superstar Ashton Kutcher is an innovative technology investor, extraordinary family man, and philanthropist. He founded Thorn to protect children online and makes the case for why tech companies must do more to protect the vulnerable. He also explains how hard work propelled him from modest origins to a career as a world-famous actor and model. [Joe partnered with Ashton in Thorn’s early days to enlist talent, refine strategy, and reach scale, as well as serving on its board.]
When Kimbal Musk and his brother Elon immigrated to the US from South Africa to start their first company, they couldn't afford both an apartment and an office—so, unbeknownst to their employees, they slept in the office. The brothers have come a long way from their humble origins. Hear Kimbal's story from entrepreneur to restauranteur and board member of Tesla and SpaceX.
This moment in our culture was made for a writer and thinker like Bari Weiss. What can Americans do to beat back the wave of illiberalism currently sweeping through our institutions? Weiss took her stand last summer, resigning from the New York Times to launch her own Substack newsletter. Her courage has since inspired others to defend free speech, diversity of thought, and other core American values.
Palmer Luckey is as close as it gets to a real-life Iron Man. As a teenager, he worked on virtual reality headsets until he eventually created the Oculus Rift, the most groundbreaking VR headset ever assembled. After single-handedly shaping the field of virtual reality, and selling Oculus to Facebook, he founded Anduril, one of the fastest-growing defense companies in America today. [Joe's venture capital firm is an investor in Anduril.]
The United States is the most prosperous and advanced nation in the history of humanity—but it's currently facing a crisis of happiness. What went wrong? Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor, best-selling author, and renowned social scientist, has dedicated himself to tackling America's satisfaction deficit, and in this episode, he reveals his four keys to authentic happiness. (Not on the list: riches, power, or fame).
How do you transform a startup into a household name? Ask Sujay Jaswa. When he joined Dropbox in 2010, the company had 16 million users. By the time he left in 2015, hundreds of millions of people relied on Dropbox for their daily web storage needs. As head of the business side of Dropbox and later CFO, Jaswa had a leading role in this transformation, building the business team from scratch and raising over a billion dollars. Today, he serves as Founder and Managing Partner at the investment firm WndrCo and lectures on entrepreneurship at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.
From 2006 to 2015, the Right Honorable Stephen Harper served as the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. His premiership confronted challenges ranging from a global recession to the war against ISIS, but his smart and courageous leadership increased Canadian prosperity and bolstered security. Small businesses surged, while tech hubs from Waterloo to Toronto to Ottawa cemented their place as global centers of talent and investment. In this episode, Harper offers lessons from his tenure as Prime Minister, from how global leaders should address the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic to the challenges of a new multipolar world. [PM Harper has been a Senior Advisor to Joe's venture capital firm 8VC for several years.]
Ronnie Lott is an NFL Hall of Famer, four-time Super Bowl champion, and one of the greatest defensive players of all time. But his impact and legacy off the field are equally impressive: He's a successful businessman, philanthropist, and community leader who has mentored and shaped the lives of underserved youth across three decades.
Balaji Srinivasan is a bold and forward-thinking writer, investor, and entrepreneur, who was formerly the Chief Technology Officer of Coinbase and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Currently, he's launching innovative ventures, such as his 1729 Project, while also advocating for cryptocurrency and the larger decentralized finance movement. In this episode, he explains how to understand the world by looking through the lenses of three competing factions: the Chinese Communist Party, the "woke" mob, and cryptocurrency maximalists. He also discusses topics ranging from decentralized social media and startup cities to network states and what makes him optimistic on aspects of American innovation.
Niall Ferguson is a renowned historian, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and prolific author of more than a dozen best-selling works on economics, culture, and politics. In this episode, Ferguson explains why the rise and fall of civilizations do not fit into predictable patterns and cycles. He does not see American decline as inevitable and holds out that America’s best days may yet be ahead -- if it can stay on the right path. Ferguson also pulls back the curtain on the Chinese Communist Party, revealing the ways in which the CCP's strengths are exaggerated and why the United States’ support for smart policy and innovation will bolster its dominance in the years ahead.
Adrian Fenty is currently a founding managing partner at MaC Venture Capital, a former advisor at Andreessen Horowitz, and served as the Mayor of Washington, D.C. from 2007-2011. During his tenure as Mayor, he took on special interests and the teachers' unions, fought for accountability in government and greater opportunities for children while also overseeing a dramatic reduction in violent crime. His courage reshaped the direction of the city and is much needed in our nation today.
This week's episode features three talented and successful innovators behind many game-changing technologies and companies. First is Sal Churi, a former law professor who is now general partner at Trust Ventures -- an Austin-based venture capital firm. Next is Keri Findley, a top innovator in the finance industry who was the first female partner at Third Point, a prominent New York-based hedge fund. Finally, Wesley Chan is an engineer turned venture capitalist who was an early employee at Google, and he shares some fascinating insights from those early days.
Jake Kloberdanz is the CEO and Founder of ONEHOPE Wine, an award-winning vineyard located in the heart of Napa Valley. What sets ONEHOPE apart is its unique business model: every bottle of wine sold helps fund a charitable organization. Kloberdanz is a champion of cause-centric commerce, and to date, ONEHOPE has donated over seven million dollars to organizations that help disadvantaged communities break the cycle of poverty. In this episode, he describes his journey from selling wine out of the back of his car to building a world-class winery that also uplifts its community and advances the role of business in society. [Joe is the Chairman of the Board of ONEHOPE.]
In 1978, John Mackey co-founded his first natural foods store in Austin, Texas with only $45,000. Two years later, he and his business partners launched the first Whole Foods Market, which quickly became the nation's fastest-growing organic grocery store. In 2017, Amazon acquired the company for over $13 billion. In this episode, the Whole Foods Founder and CEO discusses his journey from democratic socialism to "Conscious Capitalism" -- the title of his book in defense of free markets and how business, conducted properly, can elevate humanity. He also explains the cultural divide in America today as a clash of three worldviews - traditional, modern, and progressive - and describes how we can pull the best wisdom from each to bridge division and continue to move our society forward.
Maureen Hillenmeyer is the Founder and CEO of Hexagon Bio, a cutting-edge biotech company whose mission is to harvest new drugs and cures from the natural world, beginning with fungi. In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin launched a new age of antibiotics derived from fungi. However, the process of discovery was slow and laborious. In this episode, Hillenmeyer explains how Hexagon is using genomic sequencing and artificial intelligence to analyze the millions of types of fungi on earth and uncover new drugs and cures for a host of diseases. She also issues an important warning about the looming crisis of antibiotic resistance and how Hexagon's work could avert a medical disaster. [Joe's venture capital firm is an investor in Hexagon Bio.]