Jan. 25, 2023

Dennis Xu | A World Without Folders

Dennis Xu | A World Without Folders

We sit down with Dennis Xu, co-founder of Mem Labs, to discuss the revolutionary new self-organizing workspace that is changing the way we store and access information.

Are you tired of the never-ending struggle to keep your files organized and easily accessible? We sit down with Dennis Xu, co-founder of Mem Labs, to discuss the revolutionary new self-organizing workspace that is changing the way we store and access information. Using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, Mem helps knowledge workers around the world stay on top of their workload and create new knowledge with ease.

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Srini: Oh man, it is my pleasure to have you here. I have been wanting to have you as a guest on the podcast for such a long time. You are the co-founder of probably what is my favorite app. In fact, I talk about it so much that people probably think I either work for you guys or that I'm a member of AOC's cult. You're the co-founder of Memall, all of which we will get into. But before we get into that, I wanted to start asking you, what did your parents do for a living and how did that end up shaping and influencing the choices you've made with your life and career?

Dennis Xu: Yeah. Yeah. So my dad was a mechanical engineer. And it's funny, he has quite an interesting story because he immigrated to Canada from China. And he actually, I grew up wanting to, I think, he wanted to do business, but then when he immigrated, took my mom to move to Canada, he decided to go into engineering. So now he's like he works in the nuclear energy space, way smarter than I am, honestly. And every time I talk to him I feel like I learn a lot. And then my mom, she works in basically

.Srini: With what they ended up doing. And was your household like a typical Chinese household, typical Indian Jewish household where it's like doctor, lawyer, engineer as the sort of career?

Srini: Just from the conversations I've had with you, it seems like, their influence is subtle, but still relevant. When you were thinking about a career, obviously technology has changed so much from the time you were starting college to now. When you went to school, what were you thinking about in terms of potential career paths? Particularly at Stanford, which is like this breeding ground for founders like you.

Dennis Xu: I would say it was typical in many ways. And, the value of education was really emphasized. But I think they were less like, "Oh, you have to be a doctor or an engineer." They were more like, "My mom really wanted me to read a ton of books about great historical figures and leadership personas." And yeah, a lot of stuff around that. But less emphasis on being a doctor.

Dennis Xu: Yeah, yeah. I mean my college journey was actually quite interesting. I applied to a bunch of American schools. The only school I actually ended up

Srini: Wait, seriously, that's, wait. How do you get rejected from everywhere but Stanford? So where did you apply other than Stanford? MIT, and...?

Dennis Xu: I mean it was like a lot of the Ivys. But yeah basically, ended up, it was funny 'cause it was on my birthday whereas Ivy Day it's like historically all of the Ivys get back to you at the same time. And that was my birthday in my, in my senior year. And every single one was like either, a rejection or a waitlist. And Stanford was the next day. But at that point, I was like, okay, I guess, I guess I'm gonna go to school in Canada which is fine. Canada's

Srini: I didn't know you grew up in Canada.

Dennis Xu: Great school. I did. I grew up in Canada. I was actually

Srini: Okay.

Dennis Xu: Which is really, it's that's the real

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: I was only there for seven months, so I don't.

Srini: Okay.

Dennis Xu: Is there anything there? And then we moved to the Toronto area, so I grew up there, and then...

Srini: You know that I was born and raised in Canada, right?

Dennis Xu: No, that's not correct.

Dennis Xu: Oh, I almost forgot!

Srini: So it's pretty cool, eh? What do you think?

Srini: I grew up in Edmonton for four years. My sister was born there.

Dennis Xu: Hockey

Srini: It's funny, I'm not, but the crazy thing is that Wayne Gretzky used to play on the Oilers when we lived in Edmonton. And I used to watch the Oilers practice in West Edmonton. So you just saw Gretzky and the team basically practicing when you'd go to the mall, which at that time was not yet being built. One thing I wonder, particularly if somebody comes into one of our most elite universities in the United States from Canada, is what have you seen, particularly in K through 12 education, being raised in a family where education is of high value? What do you see as the sort of differences, between your peers at Stanford who are educated in America versus yourself being educated at Stanford in Canada?

Dennis Xu: Yeah, I mean there are, I think it depends on where they came from. A lot of the people who go to Stanford it's 33% of the population like at Stanford is from California. And I would say, a big chunk of those people and also just of other folks came from these like highly competitive feeder schools, right? There are these high schools where a lot of my friends, said high school was super competitive.

Srini: No.

Dennis Xu: than college. And I think, there's something that's one of probably the best-kept secrets, which is just how easy it is to get a degree from Stanford once you get in. But yeah, I think I wasn't in that pressure-cooker environment necessarily, I was, I think I was, it was a much more balanced, I went to a good school, it was a public school in Canada, one of the better ones. But it wasn't like my whole existence was the SATs and was like figuring out how to become the president of every club and all of that, right? So I think basically I had more of an opportunity to be a kid then than a lot of my peers. And my first passion was

Srini: Really?

Dennis Xu: So I, yeah, it was basketball. I started playing when I was around 10. My parents just signed me up for a bunch of sports. And then I really fell in love with basketball. And started to play pretty competitively, and wanted to go to the NBA that didn't end up working out.

Srini: So you would've been like another Jeremy Lin, basically.

Dennis Xu: When was that happening? That was insane. I loved it, yeah. That was one of the craziest moments.

Srini: Yeah. And part of the reason I am so intrigued by your educational background is that if you look at the way that the narrative around the college has basically been distorted, say over the last five, or six years with the college admissions scandal with the pressure-cooker environment that you mentioned, I feel like college has become this, you know, just next step that people take without questioning whether they belong there, what the hell they're doing there, what they're gonna get out of it. And particularly in environmental Stanford, because like when I was in college, it was far before you. The thing is we didn't have access to the kind of knowledge, the kind of information we do, the kind of resources that we do on the internet. The internet was in its infancy when I was in college.

Dennis Xu: Yeah.

Srini: I still feel like though people go to a lot of these places and they are choosing from the options that are put in front of them and they're blinded by the possibilities that surround them. So if you're talking to freshmen at Stanford, or looking at, okay, how do I make the most out of this college experience or freshman at any university for that matter? What do you say to them? Because I think there's this tendency to be so caught up in the future that you forget to actually enjoy the present. Like I was the idiot who went to a career fair the third week of school thinking, okay, let me start thinking about this now and to this day. I remember I went in to talk to Anderson Consulting, which is now Accenture, and the guy tells me we don't hire English majors. I never took another English class again, and I've never interviewed at Accenture. It was the stupidest thing ever. Like we're making decisions about a future we know nothing about.

Dennis Xu: Yeah. Honestly, I couldn't agree more. I think both on the point of just the reality, is college is becoming I think at this point it's very much a glorified signal, it's like a stamp of approval. And really, a lot of, like in terms of do you learn more in college, right? I think there are certain topics and there are certain subjects where there are things that are really hard for you to actually self-teach or just learn from the internet. And a lot of the time it's because it's really hard to do that, to have the discipline to do that.

But I think, for the most part, that isn't the case. I think I mean there's this tweet I saw recently that I wholeheartedly agree with, funnily, which is there are so many people going to these elite institutions and then they just end up all doing the same things, right? They all want to become consultants or investment bankers or product managers at large tech companies. And I think one of the probably best-kept secrets at a school like Stanford is, it's known for entrepreneurship. But if you actually look at the percentage of the graduating class, even CS majors and really people

Srini: I think the thing that struck me most about what you said was this notion of innate risk aversion that's almost baked into people from the get-go in these types of environments, which is funny because these are some of the highest achieving people that we get produced from our school system yet. The thing is because they're so used to getting straight A's and doing well, that risk aversion is just baked in them from the start. Clearly, you decided to do a very risky thing, which is to start a company. But tell me, what do you think about developing that tolerance for risk? Because one thing is you are young, right? Like, you don't have a family and kids from what I know, and so you don't have as many responsibilities. And I always say, take the biggest risk when you have the least to lose. But I think that when you are in an environment like that, there's almost an irony to it, right? There's a paradox. It's here you are surrounded by some of the brightest, most creative, innovative people on the planet. And yet, as I said before, Berkeley is like a breeding ground for conformity in a lot of ways. And it sounds like, in some

Dennis Xu: No, I think a lot of it is if you just think about how people get into these schools. It's, I think it's very telling, right? That the way you get into these schools is you it's not really by being unique or standing out. They, they say they'll say it is, but there's in many ways there's like a formula, right? Do a lot of extracurriculars, you get good grades, you get some international awards in some categories, some Olympiad or something like that. And so just [ends up] doing the same things. And then you get to school and like a school like Stanford and everyone's still trying to get straight A's and everything like that.

And, the reality is grades are more of a measure of your willingness to do bullshit than it is your intelligence, right? Or your actual problem-solving abilities and all of that. And so I think at the end of the day, what happens is that a lot of people who graduate from new schools end up not really knowing how to solve problems from first principles.

And it was just looking for, okay, how do I game the system

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: But they're going to give you, they're going to give you conflicting signals as well. And I think a lot of it is just developing, like, how do you develop your innate

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: self-confidence, and that's I think a lot of

Srini: Yeah, I realize business school teaches you absolutely nothing about running a business. And to your point, like you're solving problems where there are no instructions for these problems, there's no book you can read. You have to figure it out. Because each one of them is unique to you and there are models you can follow in principles. But yeah, I think I see this so often with prescriptive advice. People are like, okay if I do exactly what this person said, I'll get the result that they got.

Dennis Xu: Yeah. And that's what, that's what, right? But the real world is a bit more complicated than that.

Srini: Yeah!

Dennis Xu: It rewards you for doing something that's unique. Having a unique skill set and delivering a product or service that is differentiated.

Dennis Xu: Yeah, as an asset the reality is in terms of intellectual horsepower, you're around some of the best people in the world. And so I think if you go there with the idea of, Hey I'm going to learn from these people and I'm going to find the best people to learn from and to build things with, I think that it's a fantastic breeding ground for that. In terms of liability, I think you end up having a very distorted and developing a very distorted view of reality over the four years that you're there. I always joke that it's basically a country club.

Srini: Yeah. What? In the first part of this question, the answer is probably pretty obvious, but in the second part, I wonder: Where do you think being a Stanford graduate has been both an asset and a liability in your own life?

Srini: I've been there. Believe me, I know.

Dennis Xu: The grass is perfectly trimmed. The bushes are absolutely perfect. And it's this tiny bubble and a huge echo chamber. In terms of all of the ideas and ideals that they've been exposed to. And so I think, a lot of people, either end up bringing that with them into the real world or, in a lot of cases, they have to adjust and adapt to realize that the world is not as

Srini: Yeah, I really appreciate that you brought up this idea of a distorted view of reality because I think that's just the nature of being in an elite school. Like even at Berkeley, you walk around and go, "This is what the rest of the world is like." Then you get out and realize, "Wow, people have it way harder than I ever did." Yeah.

Dennis Xu: Yeah

Srini: I have to ask, did you ever have a real job prior to starting up? And we'll get into it.

Dennis Xu: I did. I worked at work. It's funny, I worked as a PM at Yelp.

Dennis Xu: Years

Dennis Xu: And I recently tweeted that I think people should avoid every urge in their body to drop out of college. And I just think it's, it's one of those things where and this is a kind of another, I think, the downside of a school like Stanford, which is You hear you hear these things like, oh, being a product manager is like being the mini CEO of a company. It's nothing like that. You're not a mini-CEO at all. And it's over time it's become this kind of like distorted view. And now everyone who graduates with a CS degree out of Stanford, not everyone, but let's say like actually like most people, they wanna become PMs. So, I did that honestly, mostly because I needed to as a Canadian I needed to actually go to a place that would sponsor my visa. And I definitely enjoyed my time at Yelp. I thought it was I learned quite a bit. But it's just not in my DNA to be at a big company.

Srini: Yeah, you and I both have that in common, clearly. Alright, let's get into talking about Mem because, as I said, the way that I talk about it, people think that I'm obsessed with it. Do you work for these guys? Like, half the people who are even in your Slack group I thought you worked for them. I was like, "I don't work for them. I just happen to be absolutely in love with the product. Like, I've never had a tool where I spend 90% of my day using only that. And keep in mind, I do a lot of things. So that should give people an idea. But tell me, what is the impetus for Mem? What was the reason you guys started?

Srini: Okay.

Dennis Xu: Yeah. Yeah. First of all, my, co-founder and I, we've been best friends for 10 years. I met him in the first week of school at Stanford. And he actually got me into I, I would say he really got me deep into technology. Obviously, I was already interested in it, but he was someone who had been programming since he was 13 and had built things before, he arrived in college that real people used, and we hit it off really quickly. And he brought me into this world of not just products but actually how to build products and all of that. And over the course of the time we've known each other, we've built so many random little things together. From an app that tried to force us to go to class, which didn't end up working, to a Wikipedia game where you start with one page and you figure out the shortest path to any other page. We tried to build a program for that algorithmically. And we also started this I wouldn't call it a real company but in 2015, that summer, instead of taking traditional internships we worked on this thing called Rhythmic, which was basically an anonymous posting and polling platform inside of organizations. And then we tried to

Srini: I could see why, and I'm guessing you do too, now that you're running a company.

Dennis Xu: Oh yeah. We had a collective six months of experience with the product.

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: Before then. And it was just a disastrous way to have, but it was so many different things we built together. But one of the things that we just repeatedly kept coming back to was this idea of why is it that we produce so much information in our day-to-day lives, whether it's explicitly produced, right? Like you take a note or just implicitly produced through our emails, through our communications. Nowadays it's even bigger, right? In our CRMs, in our data warehouses, like just everything, this vast amount of data. And we can't actually make use of it at all. In fact, the only people that can make use of it are big tech companies that are using it to advertise and there's all of this information that we actually have access to, that we've come across before, that we just can't use at the right times when we need it. And fundamentally, I remember, I distinctly remember being at a restaurant with Kevin, my co-founder, and I pulled out my phone and I said, imagine if I gave someone access to my phone right now. And they, they were benevolent obviously. Whatever, they would be able to help me so much, right? Because I

Srini: It's funny, I actually wrote that down in a note in my head saying, "The purpose of Google is to organize the world's information. The purpose of MY head is to organize your information."

Dennis Xu: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I think a lot of given a lot of the technological changes that have happened, I'm sure everyone who's listening to this has probably heard all the crazy things happening in AI right now, from chatbots to just the AI-generated images and all of this stuff. The really unique opportunity and this is I would say what we're really focused on, is if you imagine today how much effort is required for the typical knowledge worker? And if you think about what a knowledge worker does, there are obviously different breeds of knowledge workers and different types, but you do many of the same things, and a lot of that actually involves essentially gardening, right? It's gardening your knowledge base. It's maintaining it. People spend so much time just organizing information, if we can have computers nowadays that can actually understand human language, that's the implication, right? If you look at these chatbots and the ability for you to say, "Hey, give me an image that is a flying pig over the Golden Gate Bridge," and AI can generate that image, what that means is that these machines can actually understand humans, right? And if you can have a machine that can understand humans, why do we ever have

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: Again, ourselves, right? And that's fundamentally what the world we're going into. And I think a lot of, there's always gonna be people who want extreme control over exactly how their information is organized and all of that. I think the reality is, the everyday person, the vast majority of the world, myself included, just, I want to be lazy. I don't want to have to think about how to manage my information and all of that. I just...

Srini: Yeah. And just be able to access it. So I think that is one of the first hurdles. I remember something distinctly when I was talking to some of your marketing team, even you, and this quote always stayed with me. So much so that I actually included it in one of my articles. And you said to me, five years from now, a world without folders will be our default. People will look at folders like they look at floppy disks now. So talk to me about that idea of a network structure, because I think that when people first come across this idea of network thinking, it's so counterintuitive, and to me, it's always been one of the strange paradoxes because the more that I spent time in MEm, the more I started to understand this.

And I was like, I started reading all these books about, like how information is organized in the brain how the brain works. And I was like, wait a minute. This literally mirrors the way my MEm is structured. This is insane. And it's so counterintuitive because what we've done our entire lives is that we've used linear structures to do non-linear things.

And so I think that hurdle and I think I even

Dennis Xu: Totally. Totally. Yeah. I think the easiest way to think about this is by really understanding how folders came to be in the first place. And the context of the world that we lived in when folders were invented, right? So the first folder was not a digital folder. It was, it was filing cabinets, right? And so that was invented in like the 19th century, late 19th century. The purely physical world. And if you think about that, okay that makes sense. We don't have, these computers that can arbitrarily just index information, right? That you can just retrieve instantly. And so you need a physical incarnation of a filing cabinet, that, that was actually a huge, a huge point of innovation for, in terms of how people organized information. And I think you'll still you'll walk into most dentist offices today and stuff like that, and you'll see these like massive, on the wall. These like just folders of files of various people, right? And so when then, when computers were invented, right? Because people had become so familiar and, you know from everyone. Doctors to lawyers, too, just like everyday people with these filing cabinets, the people who invented the personal computer, they

Srini: Yeah

Dennis Xu: Doesn't

Srini: No, absolutely. I, that's why I tried to explain this to people when I made that I wrote that post title, why the Personal Network of Knowledge is a New Second Brain because I think that Tiago did amazing work. And yet I remember when I finished my conversation with him was like, Tiago, you left out something fundamentally important in this book. He's like, "I know. He was like, the network thought." I was like, "Yeah." He was like, "That's the next iter[ation]." And even Tiago himself said, "This is the next iteration of the second brain because the second brain concept is brilliant, but I realized the biggest issue with it is that it requires ongoing maintenance and organization."

And to your point, the biggest limitation I saw was that once you start to add more and more information, it becomes more and more of a mess to manage. It's not scalable. One thing I wonder about is when you think about organizing information like people use complex databases, suddenly it just occurred to me, as you were saying, I was like, "Wait a minute, could hospitals be using this to manage patient records?"

Is this going to

Dennis Xu: Yeah. That then I'll explain our vision for the future, right? So you think about all of this information that you interact with or within, let's say within an organization that different people interact with, salespeople interact with the CRM, customer support interacts with Zendesk, recruiters interact with an ATS, right? These, like, all of these different things. None of these things can actually talk to each other, right? They end up being, these silos where information essentially goes to die, right? And I think the important piece of all of this is you actually need a structure where you can have and again, I think this is, this all happens in the background, right? And this is, I think, truly where the magic of Mem is and is going. I don't think we're really close yet. Honestly, I think we've made good progress, but we're not really close yet. And really you should be abstracting away all of this complexity of the underlying databases and everything and just be able to give people this, almost this black box where they can just throw things in there or they can integrate their email or whatever data source they want to actually make use of

Srini: I don't know.

Dennis Xu: Things. Although, humans are actually

Srini: Yeah!

Dennis Xu: Horrible memories and this is why computers are actually helpful. But that's what we're building, right? And it's very much of a...

Dennis Xu: I think that's a good analogy. Yeah.

Srini: You obviously don't have to pre-convince me; you're preaching to the choir. Given that, I've built a course about this. I've created YouTube videos about this. I'm basically trying to convert every person I talk to into using this. Let's talk about use cases because we've been explaining this at a theoretical level.

But, and the other thing that Tiago and I were talking about as well, is that some of this is very hard to grasp because we're talking about it in audio, and you have to see it in action to really understand its power. And more than that, you have to experience it.

So we're talking about the network. There's one thing that I realized that was really difficult for people to grasp, and, this is a realization I had when I was trying to help my old roommate use it. He was really overwhelmed and confused. He said, "I don't get it." And it finally occurred to me.

I was like, "You know why you don't get it? You don't have enough information here. You need a critical mass of knowledge before the network works. So I always say it's like your brain

Srini: Like, how are people using this? 'Cause I'm sure there are use cases you haven't even told me about. I remember you were telling me about biotech companies. We can talk about my use cases all day long, but I wanna hear other ones.

Dennis Xu: Sure. There are people using this, and it always amazes me to find new use cases and all of the different ways people are using this. I think, very tangibly, here's a very specific one. This is actually a product we launched recently that I know you've been a big fan of let's think about Smart Write and Edit. So, fundamentally, what it is is an AI assistant capable of producing entirely new writing or editing existing writing inside of Mem in a way that takes in the context of everything in the Mem knowledge base.

We'll see people in marketing with a bunch of their blog posts inside of Mem. Now, you can use this and say, "Okay, cool. Write me something about this new topic, but in the same style as the other blog posts I've written before." It can also integrate existing knowledge not just from blog posts, but from the company knowledge base and actually produce like...

Dennis Xu: outputs. And really interesting writing, which I know you've seen before.

Srini: Yeah!

Srini: Oh, I'm not a fan, I'm a super fan, I'm a fanatic! What I will tell you is that I'm one of those people who tries every new thing, every new tool, and I've stuck with Mem for God knows how long. And at this point, I remember I told you, I was like, "You guys would be crazy not to invest in this company, and my life will fall apart if you don't invest in this company." Because I've become so dependent on it. I was like, "I can't live without this." Now it's integral to my workflow. And not only that, up until now when I'd seen AI tools produce writing, I was like, "This is very general. It doesn't sound like me." But what blows my mind consistently is that it does sound like me! I've got to give people examples of some of the crazy things and I'll include a link to the video tutorial that just went live today in the link. Yeah, the link for this episode, but I've been compiling lists of links. Like yesterday I was like, "Gimme a list of the 10 most popular TED talks," and it literally just gave

Dennis Xu: Yeah, I agree.

Srini: Yeah. That's why I started one so I could understand how it works. And you're in our meme group, so

Dennis Xu: Yeah. I, and just digging into, a few more use cases, right? I've seen, for example, there, there are lawyers who, this is like one of the really interesting pieces. Any profession where your job is oh, I need to make these weird connections, right? And between things that might not be obvious. So for a lawyer, it might be like, Hey, there's this case that I'm working on right now and I need to find precedence that I could use that, that might matter. Historically, that kind of like search or discovery problem, search has only been keyword based. Like even Google today, it's like a keyword search, right? If you search for something in the wrong way, you won't find what you're looking for. But a lot of the same technology that powers Smart Writing Edit is also used to power this thing that we call similar memes, which essentially across everything that you know, from the memes that you write, from the emails that you have, from the links that you save, the things that you read, all of that we can, in just a few moments, essentially surface the most relevant piece of content for you. So if you're

Srini: Come on!

Dennis Xu: Or even a person, right, to do the work that's being done.

Srini: I can tell you this, so, when I do market research surveys, I realize, they all go into a spreadsheet and in the past it would take some skilled data analytics person to make sense of it and say, okay, distill this into actionable insights. And I remember showing this to you. I said I took a bunch of answers from survey questions and I basically created customer avatars from those questions. I created summaries from those questions. I had it rewritten copy for a landing page based on those answers. Recently I was like, okay, generate some ideas for video tutorials based on the survey data. I literally took probably three or four interviews that I did with my own students and I was like, okay, what are the biggest problems these students have? Summarize them. And I remember I sent this to you and I was like, this is. And then I remember the other one was like, Hey, do a recap of my year. That one was a little bit inaccurate 'cause I didn't put all my tasks in a memo, although I'm starting to do that now. Finally. But I think to your point, the ability to do something with all this information is really where

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: Yeah, yeah. And there's a lot of, I think that's a great point. And there's a lot of stuff we're working on there to really make that turn from what might now be like a two-month process, where someone has to essentially hope and believe in our faith, into something where, you know, in the very near future, it's much more straightforward and efficient.

Dennis Xu: In just a few minutes, we make it really easy for you to connect the things that

Srini: Wow!

Dennis Xu: Care about and do that right. Yeah. And I think, you were telling me about some really interesting use cases, and I think where this becomes really powerful and where we're starting to see this more and more is when it gets deeply integrated into your existing workflows, right? So going from things like, oh, taking a lot of people now record their meetings and have these audio transcripts, and going from that directly to a blog post right? That is written in your style and we can extract the relevant insights and all of that. There are some really interesting things that are developing there. And I think it's a lot of this stuff, obviously some of the stuff we're working on, but overall I would just say how this market is developing is really going to dramatically change how people work in the future.

Srini: Talk to me about the aspects of being a founder that I think people tend to glorify, right? Like people will probably read the press, they don't see the reality. Oh, if these guys are killing it, they just raised their $23 million round of funding, Dennis is gonna be a billionaire. That's, I think the default. But you and I both know that's not the reality of running a company. And I think that people tend to misinterpret reality. What are the ups and downs like managing your psychology, dealing with things like, are there moments where you're just like, man, this is problematic? What are the things you deal with, mentally, as a founder?

Dennis Xu: Yeah, it's funny last week there were, there's some, Wells Fargo. I hate banks and all of this. It was a snafu where I logged in and I just saw zeros in my account. Not like zeros following a number, just zeros. Cuz they closed my account. Long story short, my parents helped me open the account when I was just coming to school here. And they recently instituted a policy where if you have anyone who lives outside of the US on your account, they're gonna close it down. But anyways, I think people don't really understand. There are a lot of your companies raising a lot of money, but that doesn't mean anything in terms of you. Of course, there are certain founders who will treat that money...

Srini: Yeah.

Srini: And it raises the stakes, so now you're on the hook, man.

Dennis Xu: Money

Dennis Xu: Yeah. Yeah. And I think there are, like, for me the biggest thing is I enjoy the agency of what I call the radical agency, which is no matter what happens, knowing that I have maximum control over the outcome.

Srini: No.

Dennis Xu: Happened, where if I, if things don't end up working out, I can blame myself. I don't have to blame some external force. As much as possible, obviously, there are some things that are still left to chance. Many things. I think it's, I think it's less than what people actually really think in the grand scheme of things, but that is to me it's the

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: thing. It's being able to actually, essentially, the corny way of saying it.

Srini: Yeah.

Srini: I love the fact that you didn't mention anything about money. Like, and everybody says this over and over again, is that this cannot be about the money. And I remember talking to

Dennis Xu: Own your destiny. And I love that. That's one thing. And then the other thing is just feeling like you're at the forefront of bringing technology to the world and having a maximum impact. Yeah, that, that's

Dennis Xu: If you want to make a

Srini: There are a lot of better ways.

Srini: Yeah.

Dennis Xu: There are a lot of better ways to make that in a way more efficient manner.

Dennis Xu: Manner.

Srini: The other thing I think that struck me, I remember when I talked to the team that made the investment, remember they called me and I was like, look, I'm like, I don't know any founder who would get on a Zoom call with a customer on Christmas Eve to help them fix a problem. I never forgot that. And I think the thing that always impressed me about you was a combination of insane humility and a work ethic. Cause I remember even when we put that post up, you're like, Hey, don't make me the sole founder. Can you make a correction and change me to the co-founder? And I was like, and that, that always stayed with me, like the level of humility and just insane work ethic that I've seen.

Dennis Xu: I think thanks, Rinni.

Srini: Yeah. Where does that come from?

Dennis Xu: Honestly, I think part of it is just survival instincts, as a startup. When you're building something from scratch, the default is people don't care. And I think this is something a lot of people don't understand either. Its people who are worried that people are gonna hate their thing. That's actually one of the better outcomes. The worst outcome is no one cares. And that's the default outcome. And so I think the effort that's required also, to get someone who uses you, who uses an existing pro product to solve a problem in their lives, to go and switch over to yours, I think is just gigantic. It's a lot to ask for from a user. And I think at the end of the day you have to pull out all the stops for that, right? So I think that's one thing. I think, probably another piece of it just comes. A lot of the people that I grew up really admiring, and especially coming from a sports background and really going deep, there were the gym rats, right? Or the people who just left it all out on the floor. And I think honestly that's a big piece of what's missing in Silicon Valley nowadays, which is you can see

Srini: Yeah. I, as I said, I remember when I started the mem consulting business, I was just like I'm solving my own problem. That's the only reason I'm starting this business. I'm this is just interesting to me. I don't know where it's gonna go. It's a little experiment. And here we are a year later and a thousand subscribers on a YouTube channel. I'm like, 'cause my friends are like, "You started another business?" I was like, "By accident, yes. But it's like a flywheel because I manage every other aspect of my other business inside of me."

Dennis Xu: Yeah, yeah.

Srini: Yeah!

Dennis Xu: To.

Srini: This has been awesome. I, as I said, I knew I wanted to share you with my audience because I've been just beating them over the head endlessly with, you know, why I think this is the greatest thing ever. And I figured you know what? Instead of me telling you why it's great, why don't I let the founder tell you why it's great? He can probably talk more articulately about it. But I want to finish with one final question, which is how we finish all of our interviews. What do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable?

Dennis Xu: I think it is, I think it just comes down to what I describe as an agency. I think it's people who refuse to accept that they have no control over their lives and the world around them and that they can change things. I think one of my favorite quotes of all time is, "Everything in the world around you was built by people who are no smarter than you. And all of these decisions are changeable and you have the power to change that." So I think to me, that's like my life motto. And I think those are the people that, by your term, become unstoppable.

Srini: Amazing. As I said, I have wanted to share you with our audience for a very long time. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us. Where can people find out more about me, about you, and everything else they're up to?

Dennis Xu: Yeah, so go to mem.ai. It's a five-letter domain followed by .ai. So it should be relatively easy.

Srini: Cool. Yeah, and if you want to learn more, you can also check out my YouTube channel. I'll include a link to tutorials and a bunch of other stuff. In this interview, we even wrote an ultimate guide to building a Second Brain and memory, and for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.