I am John Merrells, a Silicon Valley based technologist and entrepreneur. The Star Baby Fund is a collection of my angel and advisory investments.
Star Baby was founded in Woodside, CA in 2013, as a consequence of my shift in focus from technical systems to social systems.
I had spent 20 years as a software engineer building large backend systems for networking and internet companies. That time period, expanding the Internet into all the enterprises and out to all the users, was hugely impactful. It allowed for information publication and consumption from edge to edge. It was empowering for both employees and consumers alike.
But, after 20 years of investing my time in building network services, I felt that the amount of real world impact I was having was diminishing. I had played a small part in helping to push out the internet out to 3 billon people. Yes, there were still 5 billion people to reach yet, but other engineers could keep pushing on that boundary just as well as I could. There were now plenty of fresh graduates with specializations in Distributed Systems Engineering.
My shift in focus was from the architecture of large network systems, to the architecture of large social systems. I researched my way from the education system, through the healthcare system, to the agricultural system. Along the way investing time in startups that were trying to make a difference.
The startups that I invested in were leveraging the new platform provided by the cloud and smartphones. The cloud had brought large amounts of compute online as very low cost. The smartphone had put a high quality interface in every pocket. The cheap resources of the cloud allowed applications to model people on an individual basis.
Modeling individuals was a huge breakthrough. This allowed everyone to have a personalized, individualized, adaptive experience. Applications could now be built that had enough context about the user to deliver them just the right experience at just the right moment. This could put them in charge. This could empower them to effect change!
I invested in education companies delivering adaptive learning, healthcare companies delivering targeted wellness, and agriculture companies supporting local food supplies. But, ultimately, I realized that none of these startups could make much of a difference. The entrenched industrialized systems would not change. The consumers in the system would not change.
People are not well. They have bad habits. They are addicted. And, worse, they are not even aware of it. And that included be too.
I researched behaviour change. I experiemented on myself. I spent $10,000 on becoming a daily teeth flosser. (Yes, really.) What I figured out, eventually, that at the root of behaviour change was choice. Which is having the ability to respond, rather than having to react. And that opening up that opportunity to decern and decide was what mediitation was all about.
So, obviously, I invested in a mindfulness company. Whereas, post facto, even more obviously, I should have just started meditating. It would have been cheaper, easier, much quicker, and also inevitable.
And so, 5 years later, I am now a flosser and a meditator, and I am still investing time in startups that I believe will have positive social impact, but I no longer believe that they will save the world. Ohmmmm...