At Unblock, we believe that blockchain technology can thrive on a foundation of ethics and sustainability. Naval Ravikant, one of the most influential personalities of the business and crypto ecosphere, perfectly lines up with this belief. On multiple occasions, this brilliant individual has proclaimed that he firmly believes in the ethical building of wealth.
Over the years, he has singlehandedly managed to popularize ICOs and allow people to accept Bitcoin as a global crowdfunding instrument. Through AngelList and Coinlinst, Ravikant has democratized VC funding and helped hundreds of startups find venture partners and capital that led them to success.
This profile will help you learn more about his person and his journey to success. We will delve into his ponderings and beliefs, and try to single out some valuable lessons from his teachings.
Who is Naval Ravikant?
The Silicon Valley legend Naval Ravikant is an Indian-born, self-made multi-millionaire, entrepreneur, investor, adviser, influencer, and passionate cryptocurrency enthusiast. He’s widely known as the CEO and co-founder of AngelList, a U.S based platform where startups meet angel investors and job-seekers find work at startups.
During his lifetime, he has invested in more than 100 companies including Uber, FourSquare, Twitter, SnapLogic, Yammer, Postmates, and many others. Although he has attained massive success and reputation as an angel investor, this article won’t bore you to death with all of his financial achievements. Instead, it’ll focus on Naval’s extraordinary mind, his contribution to the start-up community, and his importance in the crypto industry.
A modern-day philosopher of sorts, Naval Ravikant’’s clear thinking and sharp critical reasoning combined with his holistic approach to education and the boundless body of knowledge amassed over the years make him a truly wonderful mind to explore and ponder upon. His thoughts on life, society, happiness, decision-making, and honesty are motivational and eye-opening. What makes Naval a truly inspirational character is that he wasn’t born a wunderkind, but rather, his acquired wisdom is the result of ceaseless curiosity and thirst for knowledge; his success is merely the consequence of his never-ending hustle.
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At the age of nine, Naval’s family moved to New York where his single mother raised him. She worked long hours while attending night school. As a latchkey kid growing up in an unsafe part of town, he just wasn’t going to let the circumstances guide his faith. Instead, he refused to conform to the “way it’s supposed to be,” and took matters into his own hands.
At around eleven years old, Naval remembers being very inquisitive about books. He would sit on the floor of his grandparents’ house in India and read his grandfather’s Reader’s Digest as well as old storybooks, comic books, or whatever he could get his hands on. Later on, while he was attending classes at Stuyvesant High School, he would go to the library and spend his time reading and researching new books until it closed.
This library was the temple where he developed a strong passion for literature that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
In 1996, after earning his Bachelor’s degree in Computer science and Economics at Dartmouth College, he arrived in Silicon Valley where he began his short “employment” career working for a high-speed cable service provider known as @Home. After changing several workplaces in a short period of time, he realized he needed to do something on his own.
After spending a few years of his life in San Francisco working 9-to-5 jobs, Naval decided to do something big and exciting, something of his own creation. After moving to Silicon Valley to start a new life, he founded Epinions.com. This was a general consumer review site that was later bought by Dealtime, which rebranded the site to Shopping.com.
The acquisition was, however, not an easy one. The process resulted in a lawsuit initiated by Naval, targeting his co-founder along with the powerful ventures Benchmark Capital and August Capital. He accused them of cheating him out of millions of dollars with the help of false documentation, misrepresentations of material facts related to Epinions’s financial affairs and business operations. Although he eventually settled this lawsuit in 2005 for an undisclosed sum, it proved to be detrimental to his reputation, earning him the nickname “radioactive mud.”
Obviously, this wasn’t going to stop Naval Ravikant. Every hard-fought battle comes with a lesson. The legal ordeal Naval had to go through gave him a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms of fundraising. More so on the entrepreneurial side of things. Utilizing this newfound knowledge, Naval joined forces with his buddy Babak Navi.
In 2007, they created Venture Hacks, a blog focused on helping entrepreneurs raise capital. The blog delved into many crucial business lessons essential for a thriving start-up. These included startups negotiation skills, how venture capital works, how to pick a co-founder, among many others.
At this point, the VC space considered Naval and Babak as respected serial entrepreneurs/angel investors in Silicon Valley. Writing and managing Venture Hacks allowed them to create connections with numerous investors and entrepreneurs in the industry. This lead them to the realization that the marketplace was lacking a professional platform connecting the start-ups with the investors and vice-versa.
Conveniently enough, they had been keeping an informal list of angel investors for the needs of Venture Hacks; all they had to do is connect the dots — compose a list of active angel investors and vetted companies in need of funding, automate the whole process, and voila! Enter AngelList!
“AngelList is to investing what Tinder is to dating.”- @Naval
In 2010, with a list of 50 angel investors willing to invest $80 million, Babak and Naval launched AngelList! Naval became the CEO of AngelList, and the company succeeded at what LinkedIn failed – creating a platform where people actually did business. However, before the platform could run smoothly as intended, Naval Ravikant had to overcome a huge challenge.
Fighting the system
Due to the very strict US securities regulations, small and medium-sized businesses were having trouble raising capital to fund their operation. This just couldn’t go on and the securities regulations had to be amended. In December 2011, Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher introduced into the House the Reopening American Capital Markets to Emerging Growth Companies Act with the intention to relieve companies with annual revenue of less than $1 billion from some of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance requirements.
Lifting the legal constraints would allow for ordinary people to invest in start-ups as easily as they invest in stock markets and, in turn, it would provide start-ups with much-needed funding.
Although all of this sounds great on paper, passing a bill through Congress is a gruesome process. For this reason, Naval spent six months lobbying – trying to expedite the bill and get it signed into law. Reminiscing about these times, he recalls:
“It ended up being a giant dog’s breakfast of different bills combined together, and then some genius, probably some congressional staffer, said “How are we gonna get this thing to pass? Oh– let’s say it has something to do with jobs. Jumpstarting Our Business Startups! JOBS, JOBS!” And then, what congressperson can vote against something called the JOBS Act? It was a miracle.”
Looking back at it, it’s obvious, isn’t it? A bill with the abbreviation JOBS? How could it possibly not pass? On April 5, 2012, a ceremony was held in the White House Rose Garden and the bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama.
AngelList goes mainstream
Now that AngelList’s road to mainstream adoption was cleared, and Naval’s radioactive nickname was gone, the focus shifted back to the platform. Bringing to life an old idea of his, Naval “upgraded” AngelList with a concept called Syndicates.
The idea was genius; the platform would allow for a well-established angel investor to create a syndicate and promote investment deals to other angels. Basically, a syndicate is a form of a private venture capital fund, created to make a single investment.
This concept allows for start-ups to connect and market their ideas to one of these “super angels” representing the syndicate, and if they succeed to convince this influential investor to stand behind their idea they gain access to a whole group of loosely organized individuals investors.
Needless to say, Naval’s project reached massive success with more than $200 million flowing through AngelList annually; approximately $160 of them was raised by over 565 startups. However, the crowdfunding enterprise is evolving rapidly and, with the recent developments in the crypto industry, the whole terrain is changing. According to CoinDesk’s ICO Tracker, startups have raised more than $2 billion through Initial Coin Offerings, which is a clear sign that the paradigm is shifting.
Crypto association – From AngelList to CoinList
“Blockchains' open and merit-based markets can replace networks previously run by kings, corporations, aristocracies, and mobs.”- @Naval
Bitcoin is not just a value-exchange protocol; Bitcoin is a game-changer. Before the advent of the original cryptocurrency, the crowdfunding enterprise was guided by giant VC funds, bankers, and big whale investors. Funding, in its entirety, was reliant on these powerful key players. Today, innovative startups can raise capital through a true crowdfunding process — directly from users, following the market value of their ideas.
To understand the paradigm-shifting magnitude of Bitcoin, we shall take a look at Naval’s mind-boggling take on the network effects of cryptocurrencies expressed in his middle-of-the-night 37-tweet rampage:
“Blockchains will replace networks with markets. Humans are the networked species. The first species to network across genetic boundaries and thus seize the world. Networks allow us to cooperate when we would otherwise go it alone. And networks allocate the fruits of our cooperation. Overlapping networks create and organize our society. Physical, digital, and mental roads connect us all.
Money is a network. Religion is a network. A corporation is a network. Roads are a network. Electricity is a network… Networks have “network effects.” Adding a new participant increases the value of the network for all existing participants. Network effects thus create a winner-take-all dynamic. The leading network tends towards becoming the only network. And the Rulers of these networks become the most powerful people in society… until now. Blockchains are a new invention that allows meritorious participants in an open network to govern without a ruler and without money. They are merit-based, tamper-proof, open, voting systems.”
– Naval Ravikant
👉 For more famous quotes about happiness, wealth, business, and success check out this post.
Bull’s-eye. Naval’s aerial perspective of the traditional financial markets leads him to the conclusion that “the VC model really is in danger of getting squeezed down to a very small space.”
ICO’s are the little guy’s way of sticking the middle finger to the prominent and, more often than not, unimaginative big-capital hoarders. It’s a way of saying ”I don’t need your million bucks. I need a million people to invest a dollar.“
“Bitcoin is a tool for freeing humanity from oligarchs and tyrants, dressed up as a get-rich-quick scheme.”- @Naval
Acknowledging the crypto trend
MetaStable Capital is a crypto asset hedge fund co-founded by Naval, cryptography expert Lucas Ryan, and former angel investor Joshua Seims. The fund focuses its investments on projects with real long-term value; projects that have the potential to become trillion-dollar blockchains.
In an interview for Fortune, Seims is quoted saying:
“It’s all very long-term focused, and we think we’re in super early days right now. It really comes down to which do we think is the strong enough technology, that we think can win.”
And won, they have; during mid-March 2017, MetaStable reported returns of 540%.
Naval Ravikant’s interest in cryptography (he has a habit of getting into things and learning a lot about the field), and his mostly libertarian worldview led him to become a board member of the ZCash foundation. ZCash managed to set a new standard for privacy through the use of groundbreaking cryptography.
CoinList becomes the springboard for successful blockchain projects
As formidable as this may be, Naval’s biggest project in the crypto industry is CoinList. This AngelList spinoff connects startups that are raising funds through ICOs with vetted and accredited crypto investors.
“That’s why we built CoinList. It helps bring ICO asset and protocol tokens into the same legal compliance that AngelList provides for startups.”
– Naval Ravikant
According to a press release on April 5, CoinList, a platform for token-based financial services with an emphasis on compliance with the regulations, has raised $9.2 million during its initial fundraising round. Their infrastructure has supported over $400M in investments for over 20 token sales since August 2017.
Some of the top performers in the crypto industry of the past couple of years have come through the CoinList ICOs. This includes Solana, Algorand, Filecoin, and Celo, among other successful projects.
While CoinList’s ICOs are few and far between, this is for a good reason. The company does extensive research behind the project before listing the tokens on their crowdfunding website. This adds to the legitimacy of the projects and gives investors peace of mind.
Over the years, the platform has added various functionalities in addition to token sales. It now offers a full-fledged crypto exchange and staking mechanism for some of the leading cryptocurrencies on the market. Moreover, the cryptocurrencies that are offered through Coinlist’s ICOs will be first listed on their exchange, before they hit the mainstream cryptocurrency exchanges.
In more recent news, CoinList has raised $100 million in Series A funding, which brought the valuation of the company to $1.5 billion at the time of writing (November 2021).
Spearhead investment fund
In 2018, Jeff Fagnan and Naval Ravikant founded Spearhead, an investment fund that gives founders their first fund and teaches them the craft of angel investing. Spearhead was the fruit of the collaboration of AngelList and VC firm Accomplice. As such, AngelList provided the back office, while Accomplice became the largest investor in the company.
Through Spearhead, founders get three essential resources; capital, mentorship from leading angels, and access to a community of elite alumni. The goal is to make the VC process more meritocratic and provide funds for capable founders.
To date, 68 founders have been “Spearheaded” into the VC business, with investments in 635 startups worth more than $10 billion.
Five lessons to take home
Naval Ravikant’s personal philosophy and way of living is something we can all learn from. Despite the fact that he was raised by a single mother in a poor and unsafe neighborhood, he managed to become one of the most well-regarded people in the startup and crowdfunding industry.
His achievements speak for themselves. But what can we learn from his body of work?
Examining his interviews, blogs, and tweets, we managed to create a consolidated list of five life lessons that you may want to meditate upon.
“I would define values, first of all, as a set of things that you will not compromise on. Foundational values to me are things that I’ve looked at very, very carefully about myself and I’ve deliberately chosen and said, “You know what, this is a habit. This is a way of life. I’m not going to compromise on it. I’m going to stay this way forever. I don’t want to live life any other way.”
Living without core values is like navigating without a compass. You’re doomed to get lost and become anxious. Personal values create boundaries between you and the external reality. They are, in a way, the first sifter in your decision-making system. They are the defining component of integrity.
One of Naval’s core values is honesty. When you separate what you’re thinking from what you’re saying, it creates cognitive dissonance. You’re no longer in the moment and you have to think about what you said in the past and what you’ll say in the future to keep the “lie” alive. This is a bad allocation of mental calories and a bad usage of your time – two of your most precious resources.
Know that you know nothing
“I don’t like to self-identify in almost any level anymore. That keeps me from having too many of these so-called stable beliefs.”
Therefore, these two are intentionally put one after the other. Having strong core values and having a center ideology are two very different things. The former implies a deliberate approach to morality, while the latter means that you’re identifying yourself with a set of neatly-packed doctrines that serve you as an illusionary safety net against nature’s chaos.
What Naval Ravikant aims to do is keep an open mind. Live by the Socrates maxim. Know that you know nothing. Don’t fixate on any one philosophy and try not to hold any firm beliefs about anything in life. Being conscious about the ideological echo-chambers that social media algorithms feed to us is probably the hardest virtue to master.
Read as much as you can
“I have very poor attention. I skim. I speed read. I jump around. I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books. At some deep level, you do absorb them and they become part of the threads of the tapestry of your psyche.”
This is an obvious one. Reading is a habit that has the greatest compounded interest in life. Naval is one of the most voracious readers out there, and this may be the key to his success in life.
Being a self-proclaimed conscious bookworm and having read a ton since he was a little kid sharpened his analytical reasoning and deepened his thinking, which in turn gave him an edge over fellow competitors, both in business and in life.
If you’re curious about what he’s is reading, we compiled a list of 10 books from Naval’s Kindle library for you:
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Hardcover – Yuval Noah Harari
- Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli
- Tools of titans – Tim Ferris
- The lessons of history – Will Durant
- The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant
- The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford
- Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track – Richard Feynman
- The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge – Matt Ridley
- Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
- Sex at Dawn – Christopher Ryan
See the rest of this fan-made shelf on Goodreads.
Devise decision-making systems
“Decision-making is everything. In fact, someone who makes decisions right 80% of the time instead of 70% of the time will be valued and compensated in the market hundreds of times more. “
Naval points out that setting a good decision-making system automates individual decisions and saves your mental calories. Without a system, you’re relying on your impulses to make good judgments when they count the most. You need to be disciplined and you need to organize your mind, and the key to optimization is automation. You’re not sure if you can trust somebody? Create a set of principles, a system for trust valuation that you can use on anybody, every time you have the said dilemma.
By gathering and analyzing the consequences you will, over time, improve this system and make it more efficient. Some of the best mentors on mental models you can find are Charlie Munger, Nassim Taleb, and Benjamin Franklin. Also, Naval suggests you familiarize yourself with game theory, as he finds it to be one of the best resources for mental models that he has found. You can start with this game — one of the best introductory lessons in game theory we have found.
Stop being a victim of circumstances
We saved this for last. There’s one principal motif that stands out while reading about Naval’s life and that is – Taking control over one’s faith. One of Naval’s favorite authors, Viktor E. Frankl once wrote: “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” And this couldn’t be truer. When Naval got his “radioactive mud” nickname, did it stop him from becoming one of the most successful angel investors in the world? Did he give a damn about being raised by a single mother in a poor and unsafe part of town? Did he settle for a 9 to 5 job? No. He never settled. He was never a victim of circumstances, and he never stopped grinding. Moreover, he’s not special; there isn’t a man in history that ever achieved anything meaningful in life by accident.
“A contrarian isn’t one who always objects — that’s a conformist of a different sort. A contrarian reasons independently, from the ground up, and resists pressure to conform.”
So, I guess the lesson here is, have a conscious approach to morality, read a lot, create mental models, stay humble and never settle!
If you want to learn more about Naval’s line of thought, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant is a collection of his ponderings collected by Eric Jorgenson from various sources (Tweets, podcasts, blog posts, etc.). A great and free resource that will allow you to pick the brains of this brilliant individual.
Naval Ravikant Podcasts
“I see entrepreneurial efforts often fail but good entrepreneurs don't fail”- @Naval
If the five lessons weren’t enough for you, there’s no need to worry — there’s a whole lot more you can learn from Naval’s interviews on the following podcasts!
Podcasts are one of the best media formats to reach an audience – they come straight from the heart and mind of the host, and they’re not subject to any strict rules or norms like public radio and TV shows usually are. So, let’s dig in!
Nav.al – This is a short-form podcast that is continuously updated with content by Ravikant. Episodes are never more than a few minutes long, which makes them even more worthwhile. Every few days, you can some juicy information about Naval’s insights on philosophy, business, and investing.
The Evolutionary Angel
The Evolutionary Angel – This episode of the Tim Ferris podcast was nominated for “Podcast of the Year” and, I promise you, it’s pure gold. It’s a two-hour-long conversation with countless of insights into the hyper-rational mind of Naval. He shares his philosophy on success, living a happy life, the art of investing, money and time management, and much, much more.
Vitalik Buterin & Naval Ravikant talk Ethereum and NFTs with Tim Ferris
Vitalik Buterin & Naval Ravikant talk Ethereum – In this episode, Naval discusses NFTs, DeFi and the current state of the Ethereum blockchain with its creator, the genius Vitalik Buterin. He does a great job at asking the right questions and translating the complicated mind of Vitalik. As a listener, you will be served will some of the best insights on the current state of decentralization and how the world has evolved thanks to blockchain technology.
The quiet master of cryptocurrency
The Quiet Master of Cryptocurrency – Nick Szabo – This episode is my personal favorite. Co-hosted by Tim and Naval, the interview dives deep into the mind of one of the most prominent faces in the crypto community. Nick is a pioneering cryptographer, computer scientists, and legal scholar best known for his work on Bit Gold (a.k.a Bitcoin’s predecessor) and his whitepaper on smart contracts. Szabo’s unparalleled technical and theoretical knowledge of cryptocurrencies and Naval’s deep interest and admiration for his work make this a truly outstanding episode.
Unchained Podcast with Naval Ravikant — And while we’re on the subject of cryptocurrencies, Laura Shin’s blockchain-and-fintech-focused podcast is a precious resource for everyone interested in cryptocurrencies. Laura is a co-lead reporter of the Forbes Fintech 50 list and a senior editor of the crypto and blockchain tech coverage. In this episode, Laura interviews Naval on his thoughts on crowdfunding through ICOs, the future of blockchain technology, the power of decentralized network protocols, and his two crypto-related projects CoinList and Republic Crypto.
The Spartan Up
The Spartan Up podcast with Naval Ravikant – This one is a truly motivational experience. Naval talks about how in a highly efficient world, where there are lots of podcasters, runners, or engineers, the ones being “irrationally passionate about something” will be the ones that succeed. No one can compete with you in something you find entertaining. We can sum this episode up in one extremely compelling quote “I think most of life is about searching, it’s not about doing. People spend too much time doing and not enough time thinking about what they should be doing.”
The Farnam Street Podcast
The Farnam Street podcast with Naval Ravikant – This two-hour-long conversation had the biggest impact on the thoughts expressed in this article. In this podcast, Naval opens up about his childhood, his passion for literature, his Kindle library, work ethic and discipline, daily routines, personal values, and the way he trained his mind using mental models and systems for decision making. His thoughts on building personal and business relations will change the way you think about your relationships and who you spend your time with. Profoundly inspirational and intimate — this podcast will leave you feeling like you’ve just read a dozen self-help books in two hours.
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And with these invaluable resources. we conclude our Naval Ravikant profile. You must have noticed by now that we consider him to be one of the most influential personalities in the business and blockchain spheres. His teachings have pushed hundreds of projects towards success. His efforts have democratized venture capital and streamlined the process of pushing successful ICOs on the market. Hopefully, this article managed to give you a glimpse into both his work and mind and will help you in your journey to success.