Enlightened Capitalism

Essays about how to harness people's natural desire to create wealth and improve their quality of life to solve global problems such as war and poverty.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A biographical note

I am an INTP. Before I could talk, I was playing with numbers. I sorted all the books in our house by the number of pages, and at age 3 I learned the order of frequency of initial letters in English from counting encyclopedia and dictionary pages. My favorite toy was these triangles you could make just about any shape out of.

I studied electrical engineering for 4 years and then switched my major to Latin. I applied to three graduate schools (in German, Classics, and Linguistics) and was offered fellowships to all three. I picked Linguistics at Northwestern University, mainly because it was the farthest away. I drove my 1964 VW bug (nickname "suicidomobile") from Los Angeles, over Vail Pass, to Chicago, towing a tiny trailer with all my worldly possessions. (My adventures in that car, whose every part I had rebuilt or replaced several times, make up a very exciting chapter of my life.)

My first successful company (after window washing, magic shows, and such) was the world's first online Latin-English dictionary, which I sold to university Classics departments and made about $800 after paying my typists and proofreaders. My next successful company was an online CD wholesaler, in the days before amazon.com.

In the early 1990s, I spent a lot of time working out formulas to find inefficiencies in the stock options market, and did a bunch of successful trades in a row. I started pooling money from friends and family, but stopped when I couldn't figure out how to peg the value at any given time (some difficult math is involved, if you want to be fair and take different people's money at different times).

I then turned to real estate and discovered some major inefficiencies in that market. I preferred real estate over other investments because I could see and directly control where my money was ACTUALLY going. I started buying properties and helping others buy properties in Oakland CA. I was doing really well, so well, in fact, that I was able to retire from my computer job. At the same time, the neighborhood I and my partners invested in underwent an amazing transformation that took me by surprise. I realised then that I had way more power than I thought.

But my main goal was to be a composer of music, so I wandered around Mexico and Europe for a few years looking for people to collaborate with on operas and chamber music. I was content to live on about $10,000/year, which meant I would never have to work again.

Then I met my wife and I'm not sure she said this explicitly but somehow I felt like I should make a little more money for her, maybe $30,000/year. I could have gotten a cool computer linguistics job in Switzerland but thought, well I know how to do this real estate thing and I could just do it again and then retire again.

So I went back to the USA and picked another neighborhood (I analyse gigabytes of data on thousands of cities in order to do this). This time I was smarter, because I had seen how things worked in Oakland. I and my partners bought 22 properties in a neighborhood in Long Beach CA, and repeated the same process.

One of my other goals in life is to get a massage every day, but I didn't want to pay $50/day, so I put an ad on craigslist for a massage therapist that would give massages in exchange for rent (I had lots of places available). One of the massage therapists that took me up on this deal invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum -- she told me about it while I was getting a massage. My experiences with Landmark are another amazing chapter of my life; I discovered so much about myself and about how relationships work that I don't even know what to compare it to.

Perhaps to the Britannica Great Books (another goal of mine was to read them all in the original languages, which is why I taught myself Latin, Greek, German, Italian, and Spanish, and have nibbled at the edges of Russian, French, Japanese, Turkish, Sanskrit, and Mandarin).

Or I could compare Landmark to Classical Music, which also had that sort of impact on my life, which is why I taught myself piano, harpsichord, organ, recorder (SATB), trombone, voice, and guitar. I also dabbled in violin, cello, hammer dulcimer, and clarinet. I have written about 100 songs, mostly variations on nursery rhyme tunes for piano or small ensemble. Biologist and author Lewis Thomas and I share our predilection for Bach above all other composers.

Two of my real estate partners took the Landmark Forum too and we all got really excited about the potential and created a company, pooled $1.6 million from friends and family, and bought, renovated, rented, and sold 35 homes in and around Compton CA (the investors got 27% annualised returns, over 2 years).

We were doing such cool stuff in distressed neighborhoods that the Los Angeles Times plastered us all over the front page of the Sunday real estate section. Then we started getting calls from all over the place. We raised another $2 million and bought dozens more houses. We were on CNN, we were in Fortune, they did a documentary on us on HD.net.

Now we are raising $50 million to do it bigger. When we show that it works at this level, I expect we will do it again even bigger. My ultimate goal is to transform all the distressed neighborhoods in the world. I believe this will have a major impact on sustainability and peace.

Whether this ends up solving any major global problems or not, I hope to be remembered as someone who cared about the poor and designed win-win investments that create wealth for the community as well as for investors.


  • At 11:42 am, Blogger loki311 said…

    I will be back to check out ur blog check out my site www.focusonyourlife.net we may have some things in common
    webmaster@focusonyourlife.net is my email the username on this page is the one i'm registered on blogger with but i don't use it much. It seems like u have some good ideas

  • At 6:04 pm, Blogger Deb said…

    Blessings upon you and all your relations! I hope you consider Albuquerque as one of your projects. I am a realtor there and this is exactly what I have been wanting to find investors to do.

  • At 11:57 pm, Blogger Curt said…

    David, you are the most outgoing "I" I've seen in quite a while, and also an extremely decisive "P". I'm guessing there must be a very serious ENTJ in your life for you to choose INTP as your classification.

    I'm commenting here because I just came across you in Omidyar.net and followed your link to your blog. I mistakenly credited Michael with spawning 90% of the content. He does do a lot there, but you're the one I meant.

    Great work there, as well as in your real life real estate work. NetImpact.org could really use you (or probably you're already a member).

    More later on your other posts, I'm sure.

  • At 8:16 pm, Blogger Volterock said…

    I'm an INTP still going to college in California wondering which direction to go and I stumbled upon your blog. You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story!


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