Money Is Too Dangerous An Idea For School

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To investors,

The co-founder of YCombinator, Paul Graham, recently published an excellent article on “The Lesson to Unlearn.” While I highly recommend you read the entire piece, here is the general premise:

“The most damaging thing you learned in school wasn't something you learned in any specific class. It was learning to get good grades.”

Graham goes on to explain that as he was running YCombinator, founders kept optimizing for the wrong things. They thought they were taking a test, just like in school, and they wanted to know what they should do in order to find success.

“When I started advising startup founders at Y Combinator, especially young ones, I was puzzled by the way they always seemed to make things overcomplicated. How, they would ask, do you raise money? What's the trick for making venture capitalists want to invest in you? The best way to make VCs want to invest in you, I would explain, is to actually be a good investment. Even if you could trick VCs into investing in a bad startup, you'd be tricking yourselves too. You're investing time in the same company you're asking them to invest money in. If it's not a good investment, why are you even doing it?”

This argument is rooted in the idea that school didn’t teach you to learn information, but rather it trained you to prepare for, and pass, periodic tests. But this isn’t how life works. Life requires that you learn and retain certain sets of information. There is no single test of life, but rather a continuing set of opportunities and challenges that are presented.

Startups are the same. For them, this continuing set of opportunities and challenges can be consistently solved by one thing — growth. Paul Graham says it best in his piece:

“Oh, they'd say, and then after a pause to digest this revelation, they'd ask: What makes a startup a good investment?

So I would explain that what makes a startup promising, not just in the eyes of investors but in fact, is growth. Ideally in revenue, but failing that in usage. What they needed to do was get lots of users.

How does one get lots of users? They had all kinds of ideas about that. They needed to do a big launch that would get them "exposure." They needed influential people to talk about them. They even knew they needed to launch on a tuesday, because that's when one gets the most attention.

No, I would explain, that is not how to get lots of users. The way you get lots of users is to make the product really great. Then people will not only use it but recommend it to their friends, so your growth will be exponential once you get it started.

At this point I've told the founders something you'd think would be completely obvious: that they should make a good company by making a good product.”

Reading through this, it is obvious why Paul and YCombinator have been so successful over the years. They really understand the most important points of building a company. They don’t get caught up in the shiny, sexy stuff. It involves a lot of hard work and the understanding that as a founder, you aren’t taking a test, but rather you are having to learn what to build by learning what your customers want.

But this article got me thinking deeper about learning and tests — what if there were subjects that we were never taught in school? What if we were never tested and therefore lacked complete exposure to the topic? I figured there would be many topics that fit the bill, but were any of them actually important for life outside a classroom?

And then it hit me.

One of the most important subjects — money — is almost never taught in school. The closest thing is probably an economics course, but that is a far cry from the intricacies of how to manage the money that you will make in your life.

Educating millions of people on how to make money, how to save money, how to budget, and how to invest is a really important task. The first step though wouldn’t be a lesson on savings accounts, writing a check, or how to invest in the S&P. It would have to be about money itself. What is money? How does it work? Why do we have it? Who controls it? What are the structural nuances that help and hurt you as an individual citizen?

Basically, what is money and what are the rules of the money game?

The answers are probably counter-intuitive. Imagine teachers educating every student in America that the money they get paid today will be devalued over time and they are incentivized to not hold on to cash, but rather to spend the money or invest it. This isn’t exactly the message of “Save! Save! Save!” that is constantly shouted at everyone.

That single idea would drastically change the mindset of the American consumer and investor. They would begin to realize that the deck is stacked against them. That the feeling of never being able to get ahead has very little to do with their lack of effort, but much more to do with the structural design of the system. Quite literally, hundreds of millions of people are playing a game and they don’t even know what the rules are.


The education of money would be important, but it would also be very dangerous. There is much more social continuity and lack of unrest because people don’t understand how money works. They can’t get mad about something that they don’t know about. As Henry Ford once said, “It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”

He is probably more right than wrong. So now I’m left thinking — do we refrain from teaching students about money because teachers don’t have the knowledge to share? Maybe because the topic would be too complex and students need to focus on “tests” designed to evaluate their book smarts? Or maybe it is because teaching every person about what money is and how it works would be too dangerous?

I’ll let you decide for yourself. Either way, it struck me as interesting that Paul Graham was highlighting such an important point about the difference between optimizing for tests vs learning, but our education system actively avoids what may be the most important topic for people outside the classroom walls.

Bitcoin is helping to drive more people to start asking these questions. It is educating folks on how money works. And it is showing them that there is a different path. A path that could be more beneficial to them personally. A path that protects their wealth and doesn’t require them to be an expert at their career, while also being an expert investor.

If teaching people about money in school would be dangerous, hopefully Bitcoin’s continued price appreciation against the US dollar will incentivize people to become personally curious enough to understand how fiat money works and why half of Americans can’t afford a $500 emergency payment.

At some point, we hit a tipping point. The internet has democratized access to information that will ultimately break down the walls of elitism and expose the structural theft of the wealth of billions of people.


This installment of Off The Chain is free for everyone. I send this email to our investors daily. If you would also like to receive it every morning, join the 38,000 other investors today.


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Ryan Leslie is the CEO of SuperPhone and a Grammy-nominated producer who has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Beyonce, Britney Spears, and more. In 2014, Leslie launched SuperPhone to help enterprise brands acquire, retain, and engage with mobile customers in a new and impactful way. Investors in Superphone include renowned VC Ben Horowitz, TechCrunch's Josh Constine, and Kanye West.

I have known Ryan for some time now and always find our conversations to be entertaining, educational, and refreshing. This one was no different. He has an unique understanding of technology, society, culture, and psychology. Highly recommend listening to this one!

In this conversation, Ryan and I discuss:

  • Attending Harvard at the age of 15

  • Becoming a world-renowned musical artist

  • What it is like to produce music for Jay-Z and Kanye

  • Great behind-the-scene stories from working with legendary artists

  • Ryan’s early Bitcoin stories

  • How he first heard about Bitcoin through Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong

  • What the plan for SuperPhone is moving forward

  • How Ryan sees technology, culture, and society all evolving over time

I really enjoyed this conversation with Ryan. Hopefully you enjoy it too.


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Nothing in this email is intended to serve as financial advice. Do your own research.