Meet Warburg Serres
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Hi. I’m Tom Serres.
I write about the future of an industry we all care about: the Internet
I once thought about the internet much like you probably do.
Sure, we all like to complain about social media now and then, but overall –– the Web already seems pretty great, right? It’s a miracle of connectivity, of commerce, of communication. It’s hard to remember life without it.
And so it’s hard to imagine that there could be a better version of something that is already so fully realized.
But then, at some point –– my mind changed.
I came to believe that the internet we have, while a marvel, is far from perfect. And that it’s nothing like the Internet that we’ll have in a decade or two. In the same way that we hear “You’ve got mail!” with a sense of embarrassed nostalgia, in the year 2035 we will look back on the internet of today with a similar feeling: “How did we put up with that?”
This newsletter is about that belief: a belief that the internet, and the bundle of technologies undergirding it, can be so much better. Along the way, I’ll also be telling stories from my life as an entrepreneur, investor – and human being (because these things are really inseparable).
But first, let’s run through a super-brief history of the internet, the better to understand where it is going –– and relatedly, where the smartest money making bets on the future of the internet should be.
The first “draft” of the internet, if you will, came about in the 90s. This draft made it possible in a rudimentary way to connect, chat, and do business digitally. This first draft of the internet was clunky, though, and only a few people were able to fully participate, create, and lead conversations. Some people call this, in retrospect, the “read-only” version of the internet: using it felt a bit like receiving a Microsoft Word document that you could read, but not edit.
The second draft of the internet –– which emerged in the mid 2000s –– added a layer of user-friendly design and protocols that made most people comfortable with creating content online, and forming a kind of digital self. Now everyone is a creator, and conversations are more distributed. Some people call this the “read-write” version of the internet: not only can you browse products online, but you can purchase and blog about it, too.
This second draft of the internet –– the one we are living in today –– is undoubtedly a wonder. But it has some serious downsides. Power is still centralized with a few major companies. Identities can be spoofed; fraud is rampant. Pieces of software used by billions are made with little transparency; the algorithms we build to influence user behavior are black boxes, despite the fact that they decide what content we see and what content we don’t see. Because of the pitfalls in trust, transactions take longer and have higher costs than they might otherwise.
Hence the need for a third draft of the internet that is being built, as we speak.
Technologists, building on decades of theoretical work from academic mathematicians and computer scientists, are realizing that there are ways to reinvent the internet, in a way that fixes many of the problems of our current draft.
In this third internet, we can move away from centralized databases with single points of failure, instead distributing information in many places. In this third internet, we can create structures that build trust directly between two parties, without the need of an intermediary. In this third internet, everyone with a stake in a piece of software can have a vote in how it works. In this third internet, we can build new and more efficient ways of creating an exchanging value.
If the first internet was like a read-only MS Word doc and the second internet is more like a read-write version, this third internet will be something new entirely. Technologists studying and imagining this space sometimes called this third version of the internet “programmable.” Now, of course, the current internet runs on computers, which run computer programs. But the third internet will have networks of computers that are so aligned in their performance that the internet itself will become like a giant supercomputer: a highly composable, shareable, and programmable version of the internet, with persistent access to autonomous software applications.
If you’re new to this space, you probably already feel like a lot of new ideas are coming at you at once. New ideas in this space are indeed coming fast, and it can be a challenge to translate them all to a general audience fast enough –– but it’s a challenge I’m up for, and one I hope you’ll join me on in this newsletter. My promise to you: I will always try to root my explanations in plain language, the better for you to understand the future of the Internet, and to make sound decisions (including investment decisions) about it.
By contrast, if you’re tenured in this space –– if you are someone who has been following the trends I mention –– then you’ve noted the buzzwords that I have deliberately avoided using: “Web3,” “cryptocurrency,” “blockchain.”
Why have I talked around these terms, rather than used them? Because one of my most central beliefs is that as this third internet –– a more trustworthy, more fair, more efficient one –– becomes a reality, it needs to be spoken about in terms that the non-technical person can understand. This third draft of the internet will only be fully adopted and implemented once it has buy-in from people who are not, themselves, technologists.
And that’s where this newsletter comes in. (It shares this mission of clarity with the investment firm I run with my partner, Bettina Warburg –– and more on that below.)
If you are interested in this third draft of the internet –– and again, it’s my belief that one way or another, in a few years, you will have to be interested in it –– then here is a little FAQ that I hope might convince you to sign up for this newsletter. Each week, you’ll get a little story from me, and a little lesson about the exciting technologies emerging in this space. I hope you come along!
WAIT, WHO ARE YOU, AGAIN?
This newsletter is written by me, Tom Serres. I’m an entrepreneur and investor, as half of Warburg Serres, along with my partner, Bettina Warburg –– herself a political scientist who has gravitated into the blockchain and crypto space (we even co-wrote a textbook on the matter, alongside Villanova professor Bill Wagner).
Unlike many crypto investors –– who only took an interest in the topic once they saw others getting rich –– I have a deep, longstanding interest in politics, governance, economics, and computer science (themes that are central to the crypto world, particularly since the emergence of the Ethereum ecosystem). In 2009, I founded Rally.org, a political fundraising platform that was named in 2013 one of Forbes’s “most promising companies.” Through this entry into the space where tech intersects with economics, I began to meet –– and eventually invest in –– the pioneers of the third draft of the internet I’ve been talking about. I will tell the full story of how my initial focus as an entrepreneur in the politics/payments space led to my “crypto conversion” in my next post.
AND WHAT EXACTLY DOES WARBURG SERRES DO?
We invest in crypto startups as part of our mission to support the construction of the third draft of the internet. We are excited to explain to you why we took early positions in several investments, including organizations like Ethereum, Dfinity, Polkadot, Lukso, Flow, and Near. (I call these investments “layer 1” or “ecosystem” investments in the crypto space –– a way of thinking about them that I will unpack in a future post.)
Fundamentally, we believe that these and the other firms we have stakes in have visionary, brilliant leaders who are obsessed with solving the problems of trust, decentralization, and governance that will characterize this new form of the internet. And in talking about these firms and other concepts in crypto in this newsletter, we are excited to explain this fascinating space to the general investor — or really anyone who is interested.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO INVEST IN?
I’m glad you asked. Warburg Serres decides upon an investment only after applying a rigorous vetting methodology that we have pioneered in-house, assessing the degree to which a given investment fits into our overall thesis about the crypto space.
This post has grown far too long to get into this thesis here, but suffice it to say that we construct our portfolio based on our (reasoned, evidence-based) beliefs about Web3 and how the space is likely to develop. A deep dive into our thesis will be the focus of another post later this month. So if I’ve piqued your curiosity, please hit subscribe!
WAIT A MINUTE: IF I READ YOUR NEWSLETTER, WILL I GET RICH?
I’ve consulted with my lawyers, and I absolutely cannot promise you that.
But I also don’t think it can hurt.
Let’s take a look at the future together.
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I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your article on the evolution of the Internet. As someone who has been fascinated with the internet and its impact on society for many years, I found your insights to be incredibly well-articulated for a broad audience.
I noticed you didn’t use terms like blockchain, web3 or crypto, before you explained the reason later in the article. I’m happy to see someone with a deep expertise like yours be so intentional about speaking to the general public about the extraordinary paradigm shift we are witnessing. The way you explained this evolution of the Internet from read, to read-write, to read-write-own, was just perfect to understand what is at stake with the “New Internet” and connect the dots between different versions of it.
As a mental model I like to think that major technological innovations are still incredibly limited, because this forces me to think hard about macro trends and how the world/humanity can be shaped as we all move forward on planet earth. The Internet as it is today can be seen as a giant revolution for humanity, same with how we instantly communicate online today, same for e-commerce when we buy anything we want anywhere in the world. At the same time the current Internet is still very limited with a lot of downsides that you perfectly explained.
I’m glad and thankful people like you are shaping the future of the Internet and by doing so the future of humanity.
Hi, Thank You Mr TOM - I have the same ideas, especially, in this part- "Unlike many crypto investors –– who only took an interest in the topic once they saw others getting rich –– I have a deep, longstanding interest in politics, governance, economics, and computer science (themes that are central to the crypto world, particularly since the emergence of the Ethereum ecosystem" - Well let´s keep in touch. A great Regards, from Brazil.