Daniel Levine (YC 13), Stanford MBA and Google Product Management Intern
Daniel Levine is in his second year of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business MBA program, where he is Co-president of the Arts, Media & Entertainment Club. His previously experiences include working as a Product Management Intern at Google, a Pear Fellow at Pear VC, a Data Scientist for Content Insights and Creator Marketplace at Spotify, an Equity Derivatives Trader for Susquehanna International Group (SIG), and a Trading/Developer Intern at Jane Street. Mr. Levine also wrote articles on crypto and blockchain startups for the StartU publication. He received a BS in Computer Science and Economics from Yale University.
The Politic: What’s your background?
Daniel Levine: To be clear, I’m not completely in the blockchain and crypto space. I’m actually interning at Google. But before that, I was writing for a publication online called StartU, and I wrote a couple of articles about crypto/blockchains startups there. My first job was at Susquehanna International Group (SIG), and they’re pretty active in trading Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Those are my two primary exposures. The technology is something that I’m really interested by and will continue to keep an eye on. I think it’s a really interesting space, especially thinking about the potential benefits to decentralization from a financial point of view.
We’re still at a really, really early stage, and it feels like a lot of the infrastructure is still in the works. I’m not personally sure it’s going to take off, and I’m not personally ready to make the jump. Some of my friends liken the tech’s current stage of development to the internet in the 90s. They see the tech’s long-term potential, but they don’t foresee a near-term payoff because of infrastructure problems. The internet was around since the 70s, but it took decades to build up a lot of the infrastructure before it could hit critical mass and take off. I’ve heard people describe it that way so I’m certainly interested, but I’m yet to see a tangible use case to the extent that I would jump in headfirst.
How do you cut through the BS?
You can follow the venture capital funds with a lot of these emerging technologies. What are the smartest entrepreneurs doing? Actually, two of the top VC funds have taken the plunge: Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. Because Silicon Valley is based near Stanford/San Francisco, these funds are often on the cutting edge of the newest innovations. A lot of the time they’re wrong– but sometimes they’re right. I’m not surprised that there’s a lot of activity here. The firms that are involved in crypto/blockchain probably started going deep about two to three years ago. There hasn’t been any game-changing discovery or innovation since then, but there’s definitely activity and excitement. The Yale endowment is about 20-percent VC money now. That’s exciting. Some of my friends–who are interested from a financial perspective–are trading the foreign exchange/currency aspect of blockchain. They’re very active, but the tech use cases are lagging behind. That being said, there’s a lot of potential.
With respect to non-payment use cases, wouldn’t people point to data-sharing, digital identity, etc.?
Those are interesting applications, but a lot of the related problems have already been solved by centralized databases. I don’t think there’s sufficient proof yet that the fully decentralized model is much better than having a central planner. With respect to data-sharing, think about the airline industry. If a plane crashes, that data must be shared among all constituents. So, there could be a central authority/government entity that manages the healthcare data-sharing.
It’s unclear that blockchain is a better solution than the centralized one. Not to mention, there’s the issue of scalability, too. Right now, the infrastructure seems to be lacking in order for this technology to scale to billions of transactions. That’s another issue, but it could be solved. I haven’t seen any proven, slam-dunk use cases yet. If you start to see a few of those, then the space obviously gains in merit. As I mentioned, it can take 5, 10, or even 20 years to build out all the momentum and infrastructure around many of these technologies. It wouldn’t be crazy if blockchain became huge in 10 years.
If you think that’s a plausible scenario/time frame, you’d do a lot better by jumping in right now and being early, right?
Generally, the earlier you enter the higher your upside exposure: you know more about the space, you have more financial exposure, and you have more career exposure. If it doesn’t become mainstream in 20 years–that’s the risk. I’ve been really interested and excited to see that a lot of really, really smart and cutting-edge people are entering the space. That’s always a positive signal, but at the same time, I think it’s key to wait for the core use cases that show potential. I mentioned two of the top VC funds. A lot of really smart entrepreneurs and tech people are moving towards blockchain. That being said, I think there’s a long way to go before blockchain becomes mainstream.
What’s your current game plan?
I have one more year at Stanford. I’m at Google for a summer internship, working as a Product Manager on Google Search and their voice-activated device, Google Assistant. I’m developing a project on food ordering and delivery. I ended up here because I wanted to work as a Product Manager at Google, and when the actual team selection comes around, you mark your preferences and they assign you to projects based on job openings.
I studied Computer Science as an undergraduate. The world is increasingly heading towards software tech and innovation. I wanted to build those types of products. I also think it’s a better work-life balance, I enjoy the culture, and if you think about the impact– it’s humongous. Even in the year since I graduated from Yale, tech has gone from being a big thing to being the core of the economy. The five biggest companies in the U.S. used to be ones like Exxon Mobile, Walmart, and JP Morgan. Now, it’s Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook– and those are the five largest in the world. I personally think that trend will continue.
Think about Facebook. It’s worth more than General Motors, Ford, Boeing, and probably ten other companies combined. It’s one software company, and it’s more valuable than the entire transportation industry. Why? Software scales across the entire world: only five percent of the world’s population lives in the U.S., but Facebook has about 10 times as many people on their platform as there are in the U.S. The impact is massive.
Follow the growth and you’ll have more opportunities. Working in finance at SIG, you would have to prove yourself for years before getting to have some responsibility. But in the tech world, because there’s so much growth occurring, you’re given responsibility before you even know what you’re doing. You learn on the job.
Some Yalies want to follow the growth but feel unqualified to major in Computer Science. Any advice?
Two things. A) Not as hard as you think– only hard the first three to four classes. B) Tech is one aspect of growing a company, but it also requires people with different skillsets. If you work at a tech company, you’ll be shocked to learn how little the tech actually matters. There are so many jobs and roles where you don’t need to know Computer Science.