Joe Lonsdale: American Optimist

By Joe Lonsdale

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Welcome to American Optimist hosted by Joe Lonsdale, entrepreneur, investor, and founder of four multi-billion dollar companies and other mission-driven organizations. American Optimist is an alternative to the fear, cynicism, and zero-sum thinking in mainstream media. Learn from the innovators and leaders who are solving our nation's most pressing challenges -- and doing it in a way that will lift everyone up. Hope should dominate our discourse, and American Optimist will show you why.

Episode Date
Maureen Hillenmeyer: Discovering New Life-Saving Drugs from the Natural World | Season 1| Ep 16

Maureen Hillenmeyer is the Founder and CEO of Hexagon Bio, a cutting-edge biotech company whose mission is to harvest new drugs and cures from the natural world, beginning with fungi. In 1928, Sir Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin launched a new age of antibiotics derived from fungi. However, the process of discovery was slow and laborious. In this episode, Hillenmeyer explains how Hexagon is using genomic sequencing and artificial intelligence to analyze the millions of types of fungi on earth and uncover new drugs and cures for a host of diseases. She also issues an important warning about the looming crisis of antibiotic resistance and how Hexagon's work could avert a medical disaster.

Sep 24, 2021
Whole Foods Founder & CEO John Mackey: Conscious Capitalism and Repairing America‘s Division | Season 1 | Ep 15

   In 1978, John Mackey co-founded his first natural foods store in Austin, Texas with only $45,000. Two years later, he and his business partners launched the first Whole Foods Market, which quickly became the nation's fastest-growing organic grocery store. In 2017, Amazon acquired the company for over $13 billion.

   In this episode, the Whole Foods Founder and CEO discusses his journey from democratic socialism to "Conscious Capitalism" -- the title of his book in defense of free markets and how business, conducted properly, can elevate humanity. He also explains the cultural divide in America today as a clash of three worldviews - traditional, modern, and progressive - and describes how we can pull the best wisdom from each to bridge division and continue to move our society forward.

Sep 15, 2021
Jake Kloberdanz: Cause-Centric Commerce and the Art of Award-Winning Winemaking | Season 1 | Ep 14

Jake Kloberdanz is the CEO and Founder of ONEHOPE Wine, an award-winning vineyard located in the heart of Napa Valley. What sets ONEHOPE apart is its unique business model: every bottle of wine sold helps fund a charitable organization. Kloberdanz is a champion of cause-centric commerce, and to date, ONEHOPE has donated over seven million dollars to organizations that help disadvantaged communities break the cycle of poverty. In this episode, he describes his journey from selling wine out of the back of his car to building a world-class winery that also uplifts its community and advances the role of business in society.

Sep 09, 2021
Sal Churi, Keri Findley, and Wesley Chan: Innovators Changing Our World Right Now | Season 1 | Ep 13

    This week's episode features three talented and successful innovators behind many game-changing technologies and companies. First is Sal Churi, a former law professor who is now general partner at Trust Ventures -- an Austin-based venture capital firm. Churi helps founders overcome the collision points of innovation and regulation, and explains how 3D printed houses, small modular nuclear reactors, and other breakthroughs can transform our country if we fix the outdated laws holding them back.

    Next is Keri Findley, a top innovator in the finance industry who was the first female partner at Third Point, a prominent New York-based hedge fund. She discusses how technology is changing the finance sector in ways that will help working-class Americans better manage and grow their money. Finally, Wesley Chan is an engineer turned venture capitalist who was an early employee at Google. He shares some fascinating insights on the early days at Google, including how Gmail became the world’s number one email service and why it pays to think big.

Sep 03, 2021
Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty: Courage, Accountability, Better Schools, and Safer Cities | Season 1 | Ep 12

   Adrian Fenty is currently a founding managing partner at MaC Venture Capital, a former advisor at Andreessen Horowitz, and served as the Mayor of Washington, D.C. from 2007-2011. During his tenure as Mayor, he took on special interests and the teachers' unions, fought for accountability in government and greater opportunities for children while also overseeing a dramatic reduction in violent crime. His courage reshaped the direction of the city and is much needed in our nation today.

   In this episode, he discusses his bold, CEO-like approach as Mayor, why he fought to bring performance metrics into government, and how education reform can break the cycle of poverty in the United States. He also shares the companies and innovation that excite him the most as an investor and why he's focused on bringing greater diversity to private equity.

Aug 25, 2021
Niall Ferguson: Why Civilizations Rise & Fall / Will Decentralized Finance Change the World... Again | Season 1 | Ep 11

   Niall Ferguson is a renowned historian, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and prolific author of more than a dozen best-selling works on economics, culture, and politics. His newest book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe,” examines how our leaders and societies have dealt with disasters, including pandemics, and how we must learn from the past to better manage future crises.

   In this episode, Ferguson explains why the rise and fall of civilizations do not fit into predictable patterns and cycles. He does not see American decline as inevitable and holds out that America’s best days may yet be ahead -- if it can stay on the right path. Ferguson also pulls back the curtain on the Chinese Communist Party, revealing the ways in which the CCP's strengths are exaggerated and why the United States’ support for smart policy and innovation will bolster its dominance in the years ahead.

Aug 18, 2021
Balaji Srinivasan: Bitcoin, China, the "Woke" Mob, and the Future of the Internet | Season 1 | Episode 10

   Balaji Srinivasan is a bold and forward-thinking writer, investor, and entrepreneur, who was formerly the Chief Technology Officer of Coinbase and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Currently, he's launching innovative ventures, such as his 1729 Project, while also advocating for cryptocurrency and the larger decentralized finance movement.

   In this episode, Srinivasan explains how to understand the world by looking through the lenses of three competing factions: the Chinese Communist Party, the "woke" mob, and cryptocurrency maximalists. He also discusses topics ranging from decentralized social media and startup cities to network states and what makes him optimistic on aspects of American innovation.

Aug 11, 2021
NFL Legend Ronnie Lott: Grit, Leadership, and What America Means to Him | Season 1 | Episode 9

Ronnie Lott is an NFL Hall of Famer, four-time Super Bowl champion, and one of the greatest defensive players of all time. But his impact and legacy off the field are equally impressive: He's a successful businessman, philanthropist, and community leader who has mentored and shaped the lives of underserved youth across three decades.


In this episode, Lott explains the importance of grit, generosity, leadership, and the other virtues instilled in him by his father, a former U.S. military service member. These values led him to found his charitable organization, All Stars Helping Kids, and start the Lott Impact Trophy, which honors college football's best defensive player for character and performance.


Many young people have soured on the American Dream and believe our best days are behind us—or that the U.S. was never great to begin with. But Lott hasn't lost his faith in America. He grew up watching Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Washington, D.C. and reminds us of the power of his words and sacrifice. He also recounts a visit to Berlin when the wall still divided the city between the free and unfree—a poignant reminder of how fortunate we are as Americans for the freedoms we possess, and why we must be willing to defend them.

Aug 03, 2021
Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper: Rejecting Wokeness, Addressing China, and Defending Western Values | Season 1 | Ep 8

From 2006 to 2015, the Right Honorable Stephen Harper served as the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada. His premiership confronted challenges ranging from a global recession to the war against ISIS, but his smart and courageous leadership increased Canadian prosperity and bolstered security. Small businesses surged, while tech hubs from Waterloo to Toronto to Ottawa cemented their place as global centers of talent and investment.


In this episode, Harper offers lessons from his tenure as Prime Minister, from how global leaders should address the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic to the challenges of a new multipolar world. Looking ahead, Harper leaves us with clear warnings about the threats posed by China— including a potential invasion of Taiwan. But he notes there are also bright spots in the international landscape, such as the historic Abraham Accords, bringing with them the potential to transform the Middle East for the better. Harper established his legacy by championing the principles that have made the West exceptional. Together, we discuss the importance of defending Western principles and the responsibility of great leaders to fight for our shared values.


Note: this episode was recorded before the recent rise in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant.

Jul 27, 2021
Sujay Jaswa: Billion Dollar Wins -- and Losses -- and Solving Silicon Valley's #1 Problem | Season 1 | Ep 7

How do you transform a startup into a household name? Ask Sujay Jaswa. When he joined Dropbox in 2010, the company had 16 million users. By the time he left in 2015, hundreds of millions of people relied on Dropbox for their daily web storage needs. As head of the business side of Dropbox and later CFO, Jaswa had a leading role in this transformation, building the business team from scratch and raising over a billion dollars.


Today, Jaswa serves as Founder and Managing Partner at the investment firm WndrCo and lectures on entrepreneurship at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB). In this conversation, he discusses the keys to his success with Dropbox, Aura, and other winning ventures, while also reflecting on lessons learned from WndrCo's role with Quibi, a media venture led by his partner Jeffrey Katzenberg that raised over $1.75 billion but sold its assets after struggling to gain traction.


Jaswa also describes how the COVID vaccines are proof of American greatness, how he prefers to work with those with the courage to take intellectual risks, and why he believes affordable housing remains the biggest impediment to keeping Silicon Valley as the global tech hub. He speaks out against the top-down regulations that create artificial scarcity and calls for allowing denser housing to be built wherever possible, including in his own neighborhood. 

Jul 22, 2021
Arthur Brooks on Finding Authentic Happiness and Making Poverty Escapable | Season 1 | Ep 6

The United States is the most prosperous and advanced nation in the history of humanity—but it's currently facing a crisis of happiness. What went wrong?


Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor, best-selling author, and renowned social scientist, has dedicated himself to tackling America's satisfaction deficit, and in this episode, he reveals his four keys to authentic happiness. (Not on the list: riches, power, or fame). Tempted to make a bucket list to get as much as possible out of life? Brooks shows how this, along with other popular ideas about how to feel more satisfied, can actually produce the opposite effect.


One of the biggest drags on happiness in society is poverty. Having spent years seeking the best way to combat this curse as former president of the American Enterprise Institute, Brooks shares insight on why America's War on Poverty has failed. Could the key to transforming lives lie in shifting our approach from making poverty bearable, to making it truly escapable?

Jul 13, 2021
Palmer Luckey on Creating Oculus Rift, Anduril, and Game-Changing Defense Tech | Season 1 Ep 5

Palmer Luckey is as close as it gets to a real-life Iron Man. As a teenager, he worked on virtual reality headsets until he eventually created the Oculus Rift, the most groundbreaking VR headset ever assembled. After single-handedly shaping the field of virtual reality, and selling Oculus to Facebook, he founded Anduril, one of the fastest-growing defense companies in America today.


While some American tech companies refuse to work with the U.S. military, Anduril is unabashed in its efforts to develop and deploy artificial intelligence, drone technology, and other advanced systems to defend America and its allies. In this conversation, Palmer discusses Anduril’s latest game-changing technologies, innovative ideas that can change the world, his favorite sci-fi novel — and the Fermi paradox!

Jul 06, 2021
Bari Weiss on Defending Western Civ and the New School Movement | Season 1 Ep 4

This moment in our culture was made for a writer and thinker like Bari Weiss. What can Americans do to beat back the wave of illiberalism currently sweeping through our institutions? Bari Weiss took her stand last summer, resigning from the New York Times to launch her own Substack newsletter. Her courage has since inspired others to defend free speech, diversity of thought, and other core American values.

In this episode, she explains what's at stake today. Left unchecked, "woke" intolerance and groupthink result in real harm to individuals and society—as indicated by many factors, including a recent, worrying rise in anti-Semitic violence. Weiss lays out the case for building new schools, media outlets, and institutions that protect the values that make our republic exceptional.

Jun 29, 2021
Kimbal Musk on Building Great Companies and Community | Season 1 Ep 3

When Kimbal and Elon Musk immigrated to the U.S. from South Africa to start their first company, they couldn't afford both an apartment and an office—so, unbeknownst to their employees, they slept in the office.

The brothers have come a long way from their humble origins. Today, Kimbal is a highly successful entrepreneur and investor who serves on the boards of Tesla and SpaceX — and in this episode he provides exciting updates for each company. But along the way, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed his life forever. Kimbal explains how cooking for firefighters at Ground Zero awakened a passion for creating community through food. He now owns and operates restaurants around the country, while his Million Gardens Movement brings home-grown food to inner-city areas. Joe supports Kimbal's nonprofit and encourages others to do the same (link below).

Million Gardens Movement: 

NOTE: This episode was recorded before many restaurants had fully reopened.

Jun 29, 2021
Ashton Kutcher: China, TikTok, and Influencing American Minds | Season 1 Ep 2

More than 70 percent of child sex trafficking happens online. When Hollywood superstar Ashton Kutcher first heard this statistic, he knew he had to do something to stop it. His efforts took him to Silicon Valley—where, hoping to enlist leading tech entrepreneurs in the fight against online trafficking, he first met Joe. Through their work together, Kutcher's organization, Thorn, has built software and processes that have enabled governments to rescue thousands of children from sexual abuse.


Ashton is an innovative technology investor, an extraordinary family man, and a philanthropist. In this episode, he discusses the dangers that face children online, and makes the case for why tech companies should do more to help law enforcement protect the vulnerable. He also weighs in on the future of social media and explains how China could use TikTok to influence the minds of Americans in an anti-U.S. propaganda effort. Finally, he details how his upbringing, with its focus on hard work and perseverance, propelled him from modest origins to his career as a world-famous actor and model.

Jun 29, 2021
Dr. Rick Klausner on the Biotech Revolution | Season 1 Ep 1

Curing cancer, eliminating diseases, reprogramming cells to help 80-year-olds feel like they're 30 -- could it all be possible in our generation?

America is in the midst of a biotech revolution that is transforming modern medicine and will save countless lives. At the forefront is Dr. Rick Klausner, former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, co-founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and MindStrong Health, renowned scientist, and billionaire innovator.

Dr. Klausner has played a pivotal role in this movement on a number of fronts, not least by discovering how to treat previously incurable end-stage cancers -- and then founding companies that do just that, already saving tens of thousands of lives. And he is just getting started.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Dr. Klausner explains how these remarkable breakthroughs occurred, giving a rundown on the science of cell therapies and their remarkable potential, alongside other new possibilities. As he charts the future of medicine, he also draws upon his wealth of historical knowledge and hints at how modern science could harness recent Nobel-Prize winning breakthroughs to discover the source of youth that eluded sixteenth-century explorer Juan Ponce de León. [Joe briefly confuses Ponce de León with Vasco de Gama.]

Jun 29, 2021