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The MacArchive Genius Grant & pre-idea accelerator

Pitch

A host community funds exceptional people to start companies, even before they have an idea.

Here's the deal: Archive Cohousing maintains a guest house with 12 bedrooms for this program. We offer free rent for up to 12 months, an included meal plan with the larger community, and $250K of investment in exchange for 5% of the company - before the founder knows what they will found. Based on similar programs, such a program would be drowned in applicants, allowing the program to be extremely selective - accepted candidates would be the best of thousands of would-be entrepreneurs.

Business model

The thesis is that success in startups is mostly dependent on the strength of the founder(s) and the buoyancy of the market. The kind of value that a collective intelligence like the Archive can add is mostly to steer these talented folks towards good markets and good problems, along with access to experts in those markets. Before the founder has settled on the problem/solution pair, though, they're in a divergent-thinking, stimulus-maximizing, problem-seeking, customer-interviewing headspace - the exact kind of headspace that you'd naturally occupy while enjoying the of a diverse, passionate, future-oriented community of current and former founders.

Of course, there are also instrumental benefits to living in a community like Archive Cohousing. They'd be surrounded by founders with dozens of exits collectively - these residents won't lack for startup expertise and advisors. They'll also benefit from the regular flow of talented people through the community - a fresh flow of potential recruits. Other residents will also likely be interested in investing themselves, or connect them to investors. We could easily organize Startup School study groups, on-site workouts, and weekend hackathons that allow residents to try different team configurations. Residents would be immersing themselves into a culture of total productivity and physical health.

Metaphors

Like a Thiel Fellowship, but for second-time founders.

As if the Nobel Prize let you live with the other winners for a year, so you could figure out what you all wanted to do next.

It's like Study Abroad in a land of total productivity.

Viability

This program is a community-flavored twist on a program from South Park Commons, a close-knit coworking space in San Francisco. When they announced $400k and access to SPC in exchange for 7% of whatever company resulted, they received several thousand applications for 5 spots. Can you imagine the caliber of the five that were accepted? Before SPC launched this idea, an originator had been running a variant of the idea personally and investing in his friends — and since 2017, 100% of those companies went on to raise an A, and were collectively worth about $200M 3 years later. Not bad for <$5M invested!

A fund like this would likely attract enough LP interest to get over the cold start problem, potentially bootstrapping the community entirely. Within half a decade, such a community might be financially self-sustaining and build a healthy reserve of for the residents.

If the deal is to garner enough LP interest to build the building (the land would already be owned by the community) and fund the first 3 years of the program, to test its viability - that'd be 36 slots * $250k = $9M for investments and another $1M for the house construction = $10M total in exchange for 5% of each of 36 companies from an elite group of close-knit, hyper-connected, second-time+ founders. If SPC's program is any judge, such a portfolio would 40x within a few years.

Proceeds would be reinvested to acquire more land and physical infrastructure, enabling the growth of the community. Many of these entrepreneurs will want to live at Archive Cohousing afterwards, naturally (though beware

), and if the program is profitable it will make sense to scale up.

Open questions

  • Founder-market fit. Actually, the best founders have probably been thinking about the right space for years already. Maybe a better approach would be to issue calls for startups, and solicit potential founders with expertise in those areas, and bring them together. Or leverage the strengths of the community - maybe there are lots of AI people, and so AI founders would be preferred.
  • Themed cohorts. Founders would benefit much more from each other's company than if they were a random hodgepodge. But would they end up competing?
  • Themed cohorts could be interdisciplinary - 50% bio, 50% AI. Between experienced founders this could result in amazing collaborations.
  • : "I would do that!"
  • Pooling risk - 5% to Archive, 3% divided between everyone in the cohort!

Captain's Log

What was this like at the Archive?

Communities add an amazing amount of value to people's lives. Much of the value is intangible: by existing in a system of nudges, incentives, defaults, you can change who you are without applying a ton of physical effort. You also could surround yourself with understanding friends and allies.

At the Archive this helped a lot in early stages: helping people fundraise, connecting them to investors, and often investing in them personally.

Community life actually starts to inhibit folks later in their journeys, however: most early stage companies, around when they're raising a seed, found the Archive to be more distracting than helpful. The Archive was a monk accelerator: we'd encourage the expression of high-agency, workaholic values that were already latent in ambitious people, we'd support them through the ambiguity and self-doubt of the first year exploring ideas, we'd help them start and find cofounders and investment, then they'd go heads-down for a year to execute and stopped participating in the community, and then they'd wash out. Tom. Kanjun and Josh. Ben. Michael, almost. Armand.

Perhaps this could have been avoided if we'd maintained a separate space for highly ambitious people to live more peacefully? That space might be a retreat center, oriented around deep work and healthy living, but that's not terribly likely - people will move close to their team. Or they'd want a space with their team. is well-positioned to do this, as is . could have been great for this, too.

But these are communities that just happen to be full of entrepreneurs. What would it look like to go really big for this phase? What is the best experience possible?

One hint was a trip the Sourceress team took to Barcelona. We lived in one big house together, knocked out an entire product in two weeks, and blew off steam by playing tennis and swimming together. We were incredibly productive, became much closer, and had a blast. Along with it's one of my best memories of . A fully aligned team, living together, is near to peak productivity and happiness.

But why stick to one place? If the goal is to expand minds and inspire ideas, then why not let cohorts travel around the world together, -style? Would be overwhelming - it takes a full semester to get your bearings in a place, it balloons costs and travel headaches, and you don't get a sense of a place's problems or possibilities maybe until after you meet people.

But for social impact entrepreneurs looking for ideas, it's perhaps interesting. You could have people rotating through a series of houses, and once you find a location you want to commit to, you can stay there. Imagine groups of 10 moving from country to country together, forming close bonds, passing through Buenos Aires, Berlin, Seoul, London, San Francisco, Miami, and Tel Aviv.