CONFERENCE SUMMARY

My Top 10 Takeaways from the All-In Summit 2023

Meeting the Besties and amazing guests to discuss macroeconomics, geopolitics, and technology

Daniel Bryant
10 min readSep 15, 2023

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As a longtime listener of the All-In Podcast, I jumped at the chance to attend the latest All-In Summit in Los Angeles this week. The event didn’t disappoint, and the speakers and sessions were fantastic. If you listen to the podcast, you know what to expect from the self-proclaimed group of “Besties”: Jason Calacanis, Chamath Palihapitiya, David Sacks, and David Friedberg: a mix of discussions on investing, technologies, geopolitics, and, of course, science-based jokes about Uranus… cue the theme music!

Shuffling the deck: Backgrounds and audience mix

I’m fortunate to have attended many conferences as part of my work in software development and go-to-market roles. The All-In Summit was unique in that the diversity of attendee backgrounds was among the most varied I’ve encountered. Of course, many Bay Area folks focusing on AI were in attendance (whom I had great discussions with!), but I also met business operators of all types, founders, building architects, and retired folks.

The conversations were fascinating. Everyone was super engaged with the special All-In mix of business, geopolitics, and thought-provoking banter. And yes, there were definitely signs of hustle culture and strong political views, but everyone I encountered was respectful and happy to debate things from all perspectives.

Taking stock of the Flop: Macroeconomics, regulation, and strategy

I’m still processing all of my notes and learning — where else do you have two days to listen to Ray Dalio, Elon Musk, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Bill Gurley, to name just a few speakers — and so here are my top ten takeaways from the event so far:

  1. Macroeconomic history may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme (act accordingly).
  2. Goldilocks regulation is good for everyone.
  3. Strategy games provide many transferable skills.
  4. Content market fit is just as challenging as PMF.
  5. Focus on subtraction in business.
  6. Be an analyst.
  7. Healthy obsession can be a good thing for founders.
  8. Grind, fail more, and be willing to pivot.
  9. Co-pilots appear to be the near-term AI win.
  10. Near-term science breakthroughs to watch: Fusion power and biologics.

Macroeconomic history may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme (act accordingly)

The event started strong, with Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, as the first speaker. I’ve been a longtime fan of Ray’s work and very much enjoyed his first book, “Principles: Life and Work”, which lays down the rules and frameworks he used to navigate life. I read Ray’s latest book, “Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail”, over the holidays last year and was equally impressed by his assessment of historical economic patterns. His talk at the All-In Summit mostly focused on the latter.

Ray started by presenting a five-minute video that captures the essence of “The Changing World Order” (a 40-minute version is available, too). This examined history’s most turbulent economic and political periods to reveal why the times ahead will likely be radically different from those we’ve experienced in our lifetimes — but similar to those that have happened many times before.

The audience, who potentially weren’t so familiar with Ray’s work, appeared equal parts bemused and curious as he argued that the international domination of the USA may be receding, following the trajectory of previous empires by the British and Dutch. During the remainder of his time on stage, the Besties asked him what we could do to stop a potential decline. Spoiler alert: there’s no silver bullet, but investing in education and acting with a sense of urgency is vital.

Goldilocks regulation is good for everyone

A topic that received a lot of attention at the event was regulation. My favourite session from the summit was from Bill Gurley, General Partner at Benchmark, who ripped into the dangers of over-regulating. Judging by the standing ovation he received, I wasn’t alone in my favouritism of this talk.

The session will be a must-watch when the recording is published, and I’m reluctant to summarise too much of it as I won’t do justice to the storytelling. The key takeaway, which Bill made everyone in the audience repeat aloud, was “regulation favours the incumbent”.

(Update 16th September! Bill’s talk is now available on YouTube!)

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that regulatory capture is an all-too-real phenomenon, and we’re seeing this emerge within the AI community. We also heard from Brian Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of Coinbase, who argued about the dangers of over-regulation of cryptocurrencies.

Balancing these perspectives, Larry Summers, Professor at Harvard University and former United States Secretary of the Treasury, argued that some regulation is beneficial. When applied judiciously, regulation can prevent harm and a “free-for-all” mentality through managing externalities and setting quality standards.

My takeaway is that we should aim for the “Goldilocks” amount of regulation: not too much, not too little.

Strategy games provide many transferable skills

Jenny Just, co-founder of PEAK6 Investments, presented a strong argument for encouraging young women to learn more strategy games like poker. She argued that historically, girls have not been exposed in childhood to games that help develop skills in assessing and managing risk. This is evident in the current gender bias within financial disciplines and jobs. The core of Jenny’s argument is that we are unnecessarily limiting participation within these markets. This can be improved by encouraging more involvement with strategy games, as she is doing with Poker Power Play.

The session with Alexandra Botez, a professional chess player and holder of the International Chess Federation title of Woman FIDE Master, doubled down on this topic as she played speed chess simultaneously with all four Besties. Her father exposed her to the games of chess and poker at a young age. Not only is Alexandra an accomplished content creator and entrepreneur, but she is also looking to become a world-class poker player.

Anyone who listens to the podcast will know that the game of poker is a strong theme throughout the discussions. Indeed, the phrase “all-in” comes from the game, and the Besties regularly talk about the hands they play in the podcast. At the event’s conclusion, Chamath recounted his experience with learning poker and encouraged everyone to read “Thinking in Bets” even if they didn’t want to play poker. And for anyone wishing to hone their skills, the event’s parties offered several poker games.

Content market fit is just as challenging as PMF

On the second day, we heard from Jimmy Donaldson, a.k.a Mr Beast. He was refreshingly humble, and his journey to a YouTube content creation superstar was fascinating. Jimmy shared many great content creation tips, with a standout being, “When you want to grow on a platform, you have to create native content for this platform”. This may sound obvious, but I’ve learned this the hard way through my content creation experience. What works on YouTube doesn’t work on Twitch, and what works on LinkedIn often doesn’t work so well on X/Twitter, etc.

Another key takeaway from this session was the value of compounding investments — not just financially (he constantly reinvests profits to create his next video) but also with making regular incremental investments in creating content and building your community. Alexandra Botez also doubled down on this topic, encouraging the content creators in the audience to “find their community”, and only after this should they attempt to monetize. “It‘s easier to turn attention into capital than capital into attention”, she stated.

Focus on subtraction in business

It was great to see Toby Lütke, CEO of Shopify, present on stage again. He shared his experience founding and evolving Shopify through the highs and lows of the markets over the past few years. A key takeaway included the need to “focus on subtraction” when scaling up a business.

Toby argued that a growing company often layers on more and more product features, internal processes, and bureaucracy — often with good intentions — but people are generally reluctant to subtract or take things away. This subtraction typically has to be initiated by the founders. This, Toby mused, is why long-established organizations (where the founders are no longer involved) often struggle to react to changing market conditions where simplification would be beneficial, much like the Innovator’s Dilemma affects established companies.

This jived nicely with a recent article I read in The Economist, “The best bosses know how to subtract work”. I also had several great conversations with founders on this topic during the lunch breaks.

Exploring the turn: AI, analysts, and the need to grind

As I’m wrapping up this article, there were several other takeaways I wanted to highlight from the summit.

Be an analyst

I’m a big fan of Brad Gerstner, founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital, and I think some of the best All-In podcast discussions occur when he’s involved. In addition to mingling with the crowds over lunch and at the parties, he joined the Besties on stage for the final wrap-up session of the event. He shared a series of principles that he found helpful with his investments and life in general. His main recommendation was to “be an analyst”. Study the world around you, create and test hypotheses, and share and discuss your findings with others.

Listening to Brad, I couldn’t help but think about the relationship between this topic and the fantastic book, “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction”.

Healthy obsession can be a good thing for founders

In the final wrap-up session of the day, David Sacks, pointing towards Elon Musk’s and Toby Lutke’s sessions, stated that “obsession can be a healthy indicator for founders”. I’ve seen this in my own start-up journey, too. Again, there is probably the need for a “Goldilocks” level of obsession, as too much can lead to toxic cultures and burnout. However, a lack of obsession in the problem space (rather than the solution space) in which a startup operates can be a negative sign.

Grind, fail more, and be willing to pivot

All of the Besties echoed that their journey hadn’t always been easy and that the ability to grind and persevere through adversity had been a defining trait for them. David Friedberg stated that this had crystallized for him when learning to play poker. Chamath Palihapitiya built on this by encouraging the audience to “fail more”, as only by experimenting and being willing to make mistakes can more successes occur.

Using a baseball analogy, Chamath and Jason Calacanis mused that startup life should be measured more like slugging percentage versus a batting average, in that “all hits are not valued equally.” If something isn’t working out, don’t be afraid to pivot.

A final thought related to this, shared by Jason, was the need to cultivate strong friendships throughout life. When times get tough, it’s often only true friends who are willing to help, give the necessary (hard) advice, or provide the tough love. This is the raison d’etre of the Besties.

Co-pilots appear to be the near-term AI win

Several on-stage participants mused about the value of artificial intelligence, particularly LLMs. I also had many excellent discussions about this topic with fellow attendees — it seemed the audience was peppered with Bay Area folks working on this tech.

The consensus appeared that although the dangers of over-hyping AI are real, co-pilots have a lot of near-term value. Toby discussed the value offered by the recent launch of Shopify’s Sidekick co-pilot, and at several points during the event, the Besties riffed on the importance of coding co-pilots like GitHub co-pilot.

Near-term science breakthroughs to watch: Fusion power and biologics

Although somewhat outside of my expertise, Friedberg aced the “science corner” sessions at the event. I learned a lot about fusion power and medicinal biologics. Dr Nicole Paulk’s talk about her work with virus-based medicines at Siren Biotechnology had some interesting overlaps with another recent article in The Economist, “America’s plan to cut drug prices comes with unpleasant side-effects

Sailing up the river: Final thoughts on the All-In Summit 23

Any summary of the All-In Summit is likely incomplete, as there were so many great sessions and fantastic discussions. In reviewing my summary before publication, I realised I didn’t mention Stephen Wolfram’s excellent discourse on life and the universe, Alexis Gay’s fantastic standup comedy routine (in which she owned the Besties!), Elon Musk’s session where he dialled in mid-flight via Starlink, or many of the deep discussions about geopolitics and the balance between capitalism and democracy. The good news is that all sessions will soon be published on YouTube and via the podcast channel.

From my vantage point, this was a unique event. As with the All-In podcast listening experience in general, I didn’t agree with all of the arguments, and I sometimes found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the lines being dropped on stage. But I’ve come to realise this is why I enjoy listening to the Besties so much. I like to be challenged. And getting exposed to views and arguments that I don’t always agree with keeps me sharp and constantly questioning my beliefs. This, I think, is priceless.

Kudos to all involved with organising this great event.

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Daniel Bryant

DevRel and Technical GTM Leader | News/Podcasts @InfoQ | Web 1.0/2.0 coder, platform engineer, Java Champion, CS PhD | cloud, K8s, APIs, IPAs | learner/teacher