Brain Reel #26

Irresponsible VCs, TikTok faves, successful people are rejected more

Hey you lot,

I’m writing this from my bed, at 3pm on a Thursday, on day 14 of this stupid January lurgy that everyone seems to have. But I just read this incredibly moving, angering, beautiful, tragic piece of writing and basically it gave me a bit of a kick up the backside and a light dose of: ‘Gemma you’ve really got it quite good’.

(If you need some motivation to get off your arse and write, as frankly it’s really the only positive action you can take from this piece, give it a read.)

On with the reel!

(P.S If you read this before 10pm, I’m going to be live on BBC Radio 3 tonight on Free Thinking, chatting ‘Psychohistory: Isaac Asimov and guiding the future’…full details of the episode here (I’m assuming if you read this after, the recording will also be at this link))


🔬 Science Reel 🔬

So Felix Capital have raised a new $300m fund to keep investing in so-called ‘digital lifestyle’ startups. They’ve invested in companies such as Peloton, Farfetch and Deliveroo.

Oh, and Goop*.

I think we need to have some serious conversations about what it means to be a responsible VC in 2020. There’s plenty out there about impact investing at the pension fund scale, and lots of commentary around those who have oil stocks, but I rarely see anything that really picks apart how early(ish) stage investors spread their monies.

Whenever I’ve challenged - or even simply asked - a VC about investing in companies which are irresponsible, problematic, or even just pointless, they tell me that the only way for the VC model to work is to cynically invest in companies sure to succeed (which most likely aren’t those which make the world better), to then fund risks on the ones which might not have as good a chance (but which are societally more beneficial). So basically, invest in Goop as their bad behaviour does result in profit, and then use that to fund something better on the side.

So I’m left with a few questions:

  1. Is it a lack of skill on the VC side? Are they unable to invest more intelligently / help the better companies find ways of making money to save lazily investing in others?

  2. Is the model of VC fundamentally ill-fit-for-purpose, if we’re looking for a funding mechanism there to make the world a better place?

  3. Are the consumers / the market (/ we) to blame? These companies shouldn’t work but they do - and it’s because people buy their shit.

More thinking required on my end - would love your thoughts to help navigate? Hit reply if you also have some ponderings here.

*I’m not going to go into why this is a problem here, as there’s plenty out there already about their open and active flogging of pseudoscientific products, and problematic exploitation of the fear, vulnerability and self-loathing that celebrity and popular culture inject.


📖 Book Reel 📖

After last week’s rambles about me feeling a bit like I was treading water, since then THINGS have happened!

Such as:

  • Another big mail out to journalists asking if they want review copies (are you a journalist reading this who did not get this email? You know what to do…)

  • Smoke & Mirrors is now on Goodreads! Yay! Can’t wait for my beloved (yes I know the UX is bad) books website to become a place I obsessively check the reviews of my own book on instead of browsing and compiling lists of my own reads! (If you’re on there and still need to do your good deed for today, go take a wee look and click the ‘Want to Read’ button so that when I check it tomorrow it has some stats I can marvel at!)

  • Got confirmed as a guest for a pretty big podcast airing April 30th and I’m already quite nervous?

  • Got confirmed as a BOOK CLUB BOOK whaaaaaaaat

  • Getting 3 new blurbs in from three lovely people who wrote lovely words about Smoke & Mirrors

  • Neil Gaiman liked one of my tweets

Essentially, I guess I was right when I said the treading feeling would be over within the week…

I have a feeling this isn’t going to slow any time soon, so I’m going to stock up on vegetables, get rid of this stupid lurgy so I can get back to the gym, and brace myself for the wave of both craziness as well as possibly disappointing lack-of-things to come.

2020 let’s do this.

Pre-order links for ‘SMOKE & MIRRORS: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’, released April 23rd 2020: Amazon / Foyles / Waterstones / Blackwells / Wordery / Book Depository

Or if you prefer a big fancy button:

Pre-order and feel great about life!


🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I got turned down for a grant I’d applied for today. It reminded me of this article I wrote a while back about how successful people get rejected more. Sharing here as I find myself going back and reading my own words every now and again - when those feelings of failure and imposter syndrome and ‘not good enough’ rise to the top.

Maybe the ghost of Gemma-past will give you a wee boost too?

Successful People Get Rejected More


📌 Tip Reel 📌

What I’m reading right now (I put my reviews on my Instagram and Goodreads, if you fancy it):

  • Nein!: Standing up to Hitler (Paddy Ashdown tells, for the first time, the story of those at the very top of Hitler’s Germany who tried first to prevent the Second World War and then to deny Hitler victory.)

If you’re not already following the Washington Post on TikTok, you’re missing out. I’ve watched their latest one on Watergate, with the long-time book critic Ron Charles, maybe about 23 times already today. (If you cba with TikTok, follow the account’s mastermind Dave Jorgenson on Twitter - he posts most of them there too). (I also *love* @ghosthoney on TikTok too - this one in particular).

I wrote about The Syllabus in a previous edition - they’re now doing curated podcast feeds, get involved.

It seems I really enjoy YouTube video essays about films (Lindsay Ellis is a particular favourite), and recently I discovered Taylor Williams through his brilliant video on the ‘confusing lore of CATS or (the morality of Jellicles and non-Jellicles)’. Go watch.


➡️ Next Reel ➡️

  • 27 Jan: London, UK - Echo Chamber Club meetup ‘Believing the Truth’ (attendee)

  • 29 Jan: London, UK - Google’s Future of Insurance breakfast (moderator)

  • 1-5 Mar: Bratislava, Slovakia - Writing retreat with writer pal Phil!

  • 12-13 Mar: Paris, France - Hello Tomorrow (host / moderator)

  • 21-25 Mar: Borneo - Biodiversity mission (press)

  • 26 Mar: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Thought For Food (host / moderator)


✍️ Work Reel ✍️


Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀


Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is co-host of the Science: Disrupt podcast, and loves a bit of public speaking.

Loading more posts…