How to Think Big with David Friedberg, Founder of Cana | My First Million Podcast with Sam Parr and Shaan Puri 

Key Takeaways

  • David Friedberg started his very first business when he was in college (never talked about this publicly)
    • It was a website called “Telebomb” (both David and Shaan laugh at the name), a one-stop shop for telecommunication services
  • Before he joined Google, he also worked on another project called “Kadanga” where he learned PHP, javascript, HTML, CSS, MySQL, which ultimately helped him get a job at Google
  • The team that Larry and Sergey built around them had some of the most important and impactful people of Silicon Valley (Megan J. Smith, Susan Wojcicki, Salar Kamangar, Urs Hölzle…)
    • Megan J. Smith was David’s mentor at Google; she taught him how to casually approach Larry and Sergey with new ideas 
  • Not a lot of people realize it was Google’s server architecture that allowed them to advance over their competitors
  • Larry Page always had the big picture perspective on things
    • “They always push and challenge every team to think bigger, to think grander and more aggressively.”David Friedberg
  • Most smart and successful people are not used to failing; they are naturally inclined to only do things that they know the outcome of
    • That’s why they trade the “moonshot” project for a much smaller piece of the pie and they miss out on the big opportunity
  • Dreaming big with his latest startup, Cana
    • Cana is a molecular beverage printer
    • 99% of beverages are water, and maybe water and sugar, or water and alcohol
    • Only 1% is the chemistry that makes the flavor, smell, color, texture of beverages
    • That 1% is all they need to turn that water into many beverages
  • Cana’s long term incentive is all about reducing the waste, returning the land to the ecosystems, and giving people a better option
    • “Technology allows us to build solutions that let consumers consume more, dropping the price and the environmental impact.”David Friedberg

Intro

  • David Friedberg (@Friedberg) is a billionaire entrepreneur who wants to save the planet!
  • He is the founder & CEO of The Production Board (TPB) and chairman & co-founder at Metromile
    • In this episode of the My First Million podcast, David talks about his student days at Berkeley, what he learned from Larry and Sergey (Google Founders), and changing the world with his latest startup, Cana – a molecular beverage printer
  • Host: Shaan Puri (@ShaanVP)

From Investment Banking to Advancements in Life Sciences

  • David started with astrophysics at Berkeley but ended up working as an investment banker after college
    • While in college, the dot-com bubble was bursting all around him
    • There was a kid at his dorm that started a company selling DVDs online and sold the business for a million dollars
    • David, on the other hand, earned money playing poker and doing an internship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (physics lab)
  • The world was changing because of the Internet and he got interested in working in Silicon Valley (grad school was not an option)
    • As an investment banker, he got to work with a lot of tech companies and learn about the industry, the nuances of business and finance
  • David started his very first business when he was in college (never talked about this publicly)
    • It was a website called “Telebomb” (both David and Shaan laugh at the name), a one-stop shop for telecommunication services
    • He raised some money for family and friends but never “got off the ground” with the idea because he was caught up in school-to-work transition
    • He still keeps the business plan from 1999 as a reminder
  • Before he joined Google, he also worked on another project called “Kadanga” (research Q&A site)
  • He did it all by himself, learning PHP, javascript, HTML, CSS, MySQL, which ultimately helped him get a job at Google

Learning From the Executives at Google

  • The team that Larry and Sergey built around them had some of the most important and impactful people of Silicon Valley (Megan J. Smith, Susan Wojcicki, Salar Kamangar, Urs Hölzle…)
    • Megan J. Smith was David’s mentor at Google; she taught him how to casually approach Larry and Sergey with new ideas 
  • Urs Hölzle (SVP Engineering) built all of the data center infrastructures – Google’s core advantage
    • Not a lot of people realize it was Google’s server architecture that allowed them to advance over their competitors
    • Google built their own crawling server and indexing server; they constructed a prototype by taking commodity hardware (cheap RAM, cheap hard drives, cheap power supplies)
  • Larry Page always had the big picture perspective on things
    • “Why don’t we search all the world’s books?” – one of the things they proposed doing in 2003
    • It was a crazy concept but they actually did it, and nobody would have done it if not for the audacity of the initial suggestion and macro perspective
  • “They always push and challenge every team to think bigger, to think grander and more aggressively.”David Friedberg
    • It’s a common trait with great leaders in technology businesses and coaches in sports teams
    • Your team is only good as you are challenging them to be
    • If you are not challenging your team, they will only achieve a fraction of what’s possible
  • “Technology leaders have this unique ability to understand the technology and leap several iterations forward to speak to the team about where we are headed and then bring the timelines in and that makes for an incredible sense of urgency on the outcome.” David Friedberg

The Magic of Thinking Big

  • Thinking big is easy to understand and sounds fun to do so why don’t more people do it?
  • When you set a big goal, there are hundreds of thousands of permutations of how to get there
    • You don’t know which path will work
    • Most smart and successful people are not used to failing; they are naturally inclined to only do things that they know the outcome of
  • “Success is all about doing something, and getting an action that you expect out of what you just did.” – David Friedberg
    • But, what is the problem with that type of mindset?
      • It limits your horizon
    • People make compromises and opt for a short-term path for which they know where it leads them, instead of going for the “moonshot” that is longer and more uncomfortable
  • Dreaming big with his latest startup, Cana
    • Early on, they were not sure if every consumer would like their product (it might not taste good, too expensive, etc.), but they were sure that every restaurant would buy it (obvious economic advantage)
    • It was a more safe choice, but it was a chance that would minimize the consumer channel (much smaller and more narrow market) and crush their dream of making the world a better place
  • Many businesses trade the “moonshot” project for a much smaller piece of the pie and they miss out on the big opportunity

A Home Printer That Prints Customizable Drinks

  • David’s latest startup, Cana
    • Cana is the town in Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine
    • You push a button and it gets you the drink that you want
    • No shipping cans of beverages
    • You combine water with “cartridges” of taste
  • The big discovery behind Cana
    • 99% of beverages are water, and maybe water and sugar, or water and alcohol
    • Only 1% is the chemistry that makes the flavor, smell, color, texture of beverages
    • That 1% is all they need to turn that water into many beverages
  • Digitalizing the world’s beverages
    • Wine has about 500 flavor compounds (everything that comes from the grapes, skin, branch, leaves, oak, etc.), but only about 30 or 40 matter to our sensory pallet (nose and mouth only really care for that)
    • The same is true for tea, coffee, beer, juice, etc.
    • You may have 100 compounds in the organic state, but you only need a few dozen of them
    • Looking at the chemical composition, they discovered that these compounds also overlap between many beverages
    • “Only a few tweaks of a few chemicals can change a white wine into a red wine, or Chardonnay into a Sauvignon Blanc. David Friedberg
  • They used a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyze the molecular components of thousands of beverages
  • Based on the chemical composition, they “…built software that uses heuristics or master combinations to try and reduce the number of compounds down and create a common overlapping set to recreate all the beverages”David Friedberg
  • Endless selection of customizable flavors that fit your needs ( low sugar, caffeine… )

Changing the Systems of Production on Planet Earth

  • Everything they do at The Production Board (TPB) is about changing the systems of production on planet Earth; making things with less energy and less natural resources
    • “I’m a big believer that sustainability in the 21st century does not arise from convincing consumers to consume less.” – David Friedberg
  • How do you decentralize manufacturing – the idea behind Cana
    • It takes 600 liters of water to make a single liter of wine (88% water, 11% alcohol, less than 1% flavor compounds)
    • Glass, plastic, cans, and transfer trucks all produce CO2
    • “It’s about half of billion tons of CO2 put into the atmosphere every year to make bottled and canned beverages.”– David Friedberg
    • It’s an archaic system of centralized manufacturing that uses a ton of energy, carbon, and land to move water in your home (which you already have at home)
  • Cana’s long term incentive is all about reducing the waste, returning the land to the ecosystems, and giving people a better option

“Technology allows us to build solutions that let consumers consume more, dropping the price and the environmental impact.”David Friedberg

My First Million : , , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks