Meet Byrne Hobart

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Byrne Hobart is the author of The Diff, a daily newsletter about inflections in finance and technology. He began writing online back in high school and has used his writing to drive his career. He even obtained a job at a top-hedge fund, without a college degree, thanks in part to his prodigious writing. In this interview, Byrne discussed whether everyone should write, his thoughts on having kids and homeschooling, and lots more. 


How Byrne started writing:

  • Has been writing in one form or another basically as long as he’s been on the internet
  • Started various blogs in high school
  • Stepped it up while between jobs a few years ago as a way to get his name out there and get in front of interesting people
  • His writing on Medium was doing well enough that he figured he could transition it into something more sustainable, which is now The Diff
  • Also does some consulting, investing, and writing for other venues

On his journey:

  • In high school, he was very interested in investing, and significantly less interested in homework and studying
  • Had a poor high school transcript, but good standardized test scores, leading him to attend Arizona State University on a scholarship
  • Attended ASU for a year, and didn’t feel like it was a great use of his time
  • Decided to take a break from school, reasoning that if he took a year off from school he would graduate in 5 years instead of 4, and in 10 years it wouldn’t matter
  • Moved to New York and never went back to ASU
  • Went to Brooklyn College part-time for a while, but realized he was going to school to get a job and he already had a job, and school was making it hard for him to do the job, so the payoff wasn’t there
  • Worked in online marketing helping businesses get more traction and began writing online
  • Realized that
    • online marketing gives you lots of access to tools and data that you can use for competitive analysis
    •  the post-dot com bubble, nuclear winter was finally ending and the job of internet analyst was becoming a real job again
  • Began writing about internet companies that were going public, like LinkedIn and Demand Media
  • From that writing and analysis, he made contact with some hedge funds and also worked at Yahoo! for a while
  • Right after joining Yahoo!, a portfolio manager at SAC Capital connected with him
  • Through his writing, he demonstrated an understanding of business models and of proprietary tools and methods of tracking companies

Should everyone write?

  • Hard to give life advice, because helpful advice is very dependent on what you’re good at and what you like enough to keep doing even when not successful at first
  • Lots of valuable writing comes on a sporadic, “one-off” basis, but it’s hard to bet a career on that and may not be a good use of your time
  • To really get a lot of benefit out of writing, you should write regularly – which is really hard

Is it better to write as a specialist than as a generalist?

  • Many really successful people appear to be a specialist in one thing and then have these other really narrow interests that don’t seem related, however, it often turns out that those interests have some common thread among them all
  • It’s a good idea to pursue your interests aggressively, as you’ll begin to find deep analogies between them, allowing you to find interesting and useful common threads
  • Byrne’s main interests are based around technology and finance, and it turns out that many of the common themes are applicable to both

Why did he include the question “Should I have kids?” in his Medium page’s FAQ?

  • Used to be ambivalent on the question of having kids, but eventually decided that it would be a really good idea
  • Lots of people undervalue kids because they overvalue a lot of the ways that they spend their time absent kids
  • Bryan Caplan’s book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think really influenced him
    • One of the book’s central claims is that there is very little statistical evidence that most of the nurture decisions parents make about their kids will have any real impact on how those kids will turn out as adults
  • Understanding that idea makes it so that as you raise a kid, you’re getting to know another human being not just trying to turn this kid into this certain person
  • Parenting also gives you the opportunity to talk to somebody that’s probably going to make a lot of the mistakes that you have already made, and also probably helps you understand your parents better
  • Kids are also really fun to hang out with
  • It’s not for everyone, but for people that may be on the fence it’s probably easier to start a little earlier
  • Parenting also forces you to graduate to a type of responsibility where you know that there is a set of problems that can’t be deferred and that if you don’t deal with them, nobody will
    • It is nice as a parent to know that you are part of the reason that civilization doesn’t collapse because there is some big problem, that is unfair that it is anybody’s problem so nobody solves it, but you recognize that it is unfair, but it’s still your problem so you solve it

What homeschooling principles should adults apply to themselves?

  • Diving really, obsessively deep on things is generally a really healthy way to learn
    • It often provides really good “motivating examples” for helping you learn about other topics
  • Adults should find an obsession, dig into it, and write something definitive if they have something interesting to say about it

Following and supporting Byrne

  • Follow him on Twitter: @ByrneHobart
  • To follow his writing, subscribe to his newsletter, The Diff – If you want one free month with a year-long subscription, use this link!
    • He does one free post per week and daily posts for paying subscribers

 

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