by Alex Bates, Managing Director at Neocortex Ventures
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
“Your network is your net worth.”
However you phrase it, the truism holds for everyone: the people you associate with on a regular basis play a major role in helping you solve problems and meet goals. It only stands to reason that you want close friends and trusted experts in your corner every time you go up against the unknown. You want to maximize your chances at success.
As an investor in artificial intelligence technology, I face the unknown by placing bets on small startups doing big work. I used to be founder and CTO of a machine learning company, so the deck is stacked in my favor here. I know the industry intimately from my time in the trenches, and I had years of computer science education leading up to that. Nowadays I meet teams around the world doing compelling work and vet them for potential investment. I can go quite deep when I talk to AI founders, but that doesn’t mean my decision to invest or not is an easy one.
I always want another edge. That’s why I constantly seek feedback from my mastermind group.
Mastermind groups trace their roots back to 1925, when author Napoleon Hill defined them in his book “The Law of Success: The Master Wealth-Builder’s Complete and Original Lesson Plan for Achieving Your Dreams“. A mastermind group is nothing more than a collection of people coming together to solve a problem. From politics to environmentalism to real estate, these groups exist for nearly any niche you can name. Mine is called Global Mind, and we’re obsessed with artificial intelligence.
The group began years ago as an informal gathering of AI and machine learning professionals meeting each month to discuss the path to a sci-fi style artificial general intelligence (AGI). It began casually, everyone gushing with excitement over any relevant breakthroughs in the space. We shared lots ideas and opinions with each other, but it was mostly a place for experts to geek out together.
Global Mind has formalized within the past couple years. Our network grew to include some important AI rainmakers, and we even took on some business engagements. Our initial mission had nothing to do with monetization, but as an association of business-minded technologists, monetization was likely just a matter of time.
Here’s how I use this network of professionals as my secret weapon to invest in AI.
It’s irresponsible to ignore that much collective wisdom and experience.
Global Mind membership includes researchers, academics, entrepreneurs, and other experts who take AI seriously. Even though I have my own foundation of knowledge, my mastermind group grants me access to several lifetimes of experience.
When I pose a question to the group, it’s like doing a Google search if Google only organized information about AI. I get to query an unparalleled quantity and quality of knowledge from domain experts.
Their answers might expose me to a new business lesson or piece of factual information. But just as importantly, these conversations show me how other people approach a problem rather than just give me an answer.
They have strengths where I have weaknesses, and vice versa.
People on a team are always going to have different skills of varying strengths. The most effective teams know how to harness member strengths to hedge any member weakness. There are still niches in artificial intelligence that I have to plead ignorance on, but I’m comfortable doing so when I know I have easy access to someone who specializes in it.
A technical problem that is new to me might be old for another. An investing question that is hard for me else might be easy for someone else. This is the not-so-hidden value of a mastermind group — the group can come together to more easily solve an individual’s problems.
Just be prepared to solve someone else’s problem when it’s your turn.
If they can’t answer a question, they know who can.
In those rare instances where we are truly stumped by something, there’s almost always a lead on how to go forward anyway. In the face of a seemingly unanswerable question, someone usually knows a relevant expert outside the group. When we’re in the ballpark of a solution but not quite there, someone half-remembers a key piece of information they read last year and finds it again.
Membership here is about working together to make artificial intelligence practical and realistic. We share resources, information, and contacts in pursuit of that goal. Global Mind isn’t a standalone network, but a network of networks. Each member brings their skills and knowledge to the table to make AI mainstream and practical. We enjoy access to the experts they know, the books they read, and the questions they want answered.
Investors starve for this level and abundance of expertise. I probably have enough knowledge on my own to be a decent AI investor, but I’d rather be excellent. That’s why I turn to my mastermind group when I’m puzzled by a potential investment. I know I’ll have better results querying a team instead of relying solely on myself.
There’s nothing artificial about that kind of intelligence.
Alex Bates is the managing director of Neocortex Ventures, an angel investor, and a Member of Peter Diamandis’s Abundance 360 Network. He’s experienced in anything from leading DARPA funded research in neural networks, to applying analytics for the world’s largest data warehouses at Teradata, to creating Mtell, a machine learning company acquired by Aspentech (NASDAQ: AZPN).