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Contrary Newsletter #15: Announcing How We Work, a new Series by Contrary

Published 11 months ago • 3 min read

What's New:

  • This week we launched How We Work, a new essay and interview series by James Hennessy dedicated to surfacing insights about the economy and the people who help make it work.
  • Today's new Foundations & Frontiers essay covers the past, present, and future of molecular manufacturing and nanotech.
  • Over at Contrary Research, new reports on 1Password, Jobber, Linktree, and Workrise as well as an upcoming event on balancing marketplaces.

How We Work

This week we launched How We Work, an essay and interview series by James Hennessy dedicated to surfacing insights about the economy and the people who help make it work.

Founders usually build startups for themselves, so they build tech for tech people. But non-tech industries account for 90% of US GDP and at least 80% of jobs.

As a result, we believe that there are hidden opportunities for startups in the 'real-world' economy. We want to inspire founders to expand the frontiers of technology, applying new solutions to industries and markets where they could have the greatest transformative potential.

To that end, How We Work will profile the people who power the modern world and the tools, systems, and processes they interact with every day. From chefs and architects to truckers and nurses, we want to understand the humans and the jobs that silently power our economy.

In our first issue, we spoke to commercial pilot Peter Edwards. He describes the day-to-day life of pilots, the biggest challenges that pilots face today, and the broader trends that have changed the nature of flying over the course of his long career

Foundations & Frontiers

The width of an individual DNA strand is around 2.5 nanometers. The smallest transistors that we can produce today are around 3 nanometers wide. Although we are already capable of manufacturing some devices at levels of precision rivaling the cell, there’s plenty of room for more innovation.

In a landmark lecture given by Richard Feynman at Caltech in 1959, he discusses the theoretical limits of manufacturing and notes that the possibilities really go down to the level of manipulating individual atoms to create the structures and devices we want. Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age later envisioned a world where households replaced garbage cans with ‘matter compilers’ which recycled waste into its constituent atoms to recycle them for future use.

Of course, atomic or molecular scale manufacturing wouldn’t just revolutionize domestic life, it would have consequences across all domains of industry with massive implications for chemistry, material science, construction, medicine, and biology writ large. Two prominent thinkers exploring molecular machinery, J. Storrs Hall and Robert Freitas, estimated that “mature nanotechnology could replicate the entire capital stock of the United States – ‘every single building, factory, highway, railroad, bridge, airplane, train, automobile, truck, and ship’ – in a mere week.”

To be clear, the ability to conduct precision manufacturing at the atomic level is still a prospect that is, at the least, decades away. We might not arrive at generalized atomic-scale manufacturing any time soon, but it is becoming feasible to perform sophisticated industrial processes and build interesting systems on the scale of larger molecules. With the introduction of artificial intelligence technologies capable of designing and anticipating protein structures, the near-term prospect for synthesized molecules in industry is immense indeed.

Further Reading on Molecular Manufacturing:

  • A piece by Adam Green on the history and future of progress in biomedicine and bio industry.
  • An essay by Eli Dourado on nanotechnology’s spring.
  • Speculative Technology’s roadmap for nanomodular electronics.
  • An article by Dexter Johnson on the difficulties with moving molecules.
  • An interview with Philip Moriarty critiquing the feasibility of a universal atomic assembler.
  • Richard Feynman’s lecture “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”.

Contrary Research

Contrary Research publishes thoughtful analysis of the best private technology companies. Here are the latest reports published this week:

1Password: 1Password is a password manager providing businesses and consumers with a safe way to store and share passwords. It keeps important information secure with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit encryption. Password’s password manager creates strong, unique passwords for each online account and has a browser plug-in to fill in login credentials on websites and applications automatically. Read the full report here.

Jobber: There are 33.2 million small businesses in America. They make up 99.9% of all US businesses. Jobber is an all-in-one platform to help small home service businesses modernize their operations, increase earning potential, and meet evolving consumer expectations. It supports businesses through the full customer lifecycle — sending quotes to scheduling crews, dispatching jobs, invoicing customers, and accepting credit card payments. Read the full report here.

Linktree: Linktree is a platform that allows creators to consolidate their online presence into a single link that they can share across different social media platforms. By helping creators bundle their social media experience, Linktree makes it easier for audiences to engage with a creator’s content across various platforms. In breaking down the silos between different platforms, Linktree aims to help creators manage their digital presence and broaden their audience reach. Read the full report here.

Workrise: Workrise is a workforce management and vertical labor marketplace that makes it easier for skilled laborers to find work and companies to find in-demand, trained workers. It started with companies in the oil and gas industry and has since expanded to serve companies and trade workers in the solar, wind, commercial construction, and defense industries. Read the full report here.


Join Contrary Research on Thursday, July 27th for a virtual fireside chat led by Contrary Principal Megan Kao as we hear from three product leaders from Faire, Uber Eats, & ex-Gopuff about balancing marketplaces.

Express interest in joining us here: Space is limited so sign up soon — we’ll be in touch about your registration in the coming weeks.

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