Introducing High Bit: A New Podcast About The Art of Technical Problem-Solving
Startup engineering is rarely straightforward or as glamorous as perceived. More often than not, it involves a messy, unpolished process and a handful of skilled engineers troubleshooting complex issues.
Today, we’re excited to unveil “High Bit,” a new podcast hosted by Brett Gibson, managing partner at Initialized Capital. This podcast shines a spotlight on the messiness and intricacies behind technical problem-solving.
Our motivation behind launching this show stems from our own observations working with engineers, builders, and technical experts within our community of early stage startups. The best builders we encounter tend to approach problems with a similar mentality, transitioning from theoretical concepts to practical, real-world solutions.
This podcast is named “High Bit” because when diving into engineering problems, the first task is figuring out what part of the problem is most important in driving the outcome you are optimizing for.
“Quality engineering isn’t about just building everything. It’s about figuring out what tools you have available,” said Brett. “If you genuinely care about the product you’re building and the experience you’re aiming to provide, you will inevitably find a solution.”
This mindset inspired the inception of our podcast. In each episode, we’ll break down a gnarly engineering problem and recount how the builder’s ingenuity and inventiveness led to a successful outcome.
Here’s a quick rundown of our first four episodes and the key engineering challenges each of our guests overcame.
E1: Aaron Henshaw, cofounder of Bison Trails
In this episode, Aaron discusses the challenges of building an infrastructure-as-a-service platform for blockchain networks. When Aaron and his cofounder Joe Lallouz first created Bison Trails, they initially faced challenges running nodes and infrastructure for different networks. They found that by investing in tests early on and improving automation capabilities, they could streamline operations.
“You should have core tests that cover base cases that help whatever it is you’re deploying,” he said. “Even if what you’re testing is very complicated and takes a lot of work, you should still try to do it.”
The lesson he learned was that even if the tests make things slower for you at the start of your journey as a founder, they will ultimately make things faster and better.
Coinbase acquired Bison Trails in January 2021.
E2: Jose Acain, cofounder and CTO of AstroForge
In this episode of High Bit, Jose walks us through the challenges of troubleshooting a complex problem encountered during the pre-launch testing of a space-bound asteroid mining refinery. Using a real-life example, he illustrates the application of a fishbone diagram and the necessity of methodical problem-solving, even under extreme time pressure.
“The biggest takeaway for me was to not take simple things for granted,” he said. “It’s okay to pause and slow down so you have time to validate all the potential failures and causes to get to a solution.”
AstroForge is gearing up for its next launch in October. If successful, they will be the first commercial company to venture out to Deep Space.
E3: Ethan Feldman, cofounder and CTO of Talos
Ethan Feldman, Talos cofounder, and CTO, shared stories about the messiness of building a highly technical, globally distributed crypto trading platform.
“There’s no downtime because crypto trades 24/7,” said Ethan. “So in that way, it’s a lot more like Google than it is the New York Stock Exchange.”
He gave two recent examples: The fall of FTX and the Silicon Valley bank collapse. Both major news events impacted the crypto markets in different ways.
Ethan also shared the art of balancing safety and speed in product development.
“You need to adapt, and you need to change up your workflow as the market changes. We want to wrap that whole messy ecosystem in a layer that allows institutions to interact with crypto just like they would any other asset class.”
E4: Renuka Apte, founder and CEO of Clockwork
The exciting thing we learned from speaking with Renuka is how complex it is to build a robot that can work with a non-newtonian fluid, especially with the technical challenges of applying that fluid to a surface as varied as a human nail.
Renuka was able to work through the challenges by leaning on her experiences as a former systems engineer at Nvidia and applying what she learned in software infra land to the hardware world.
“Isolation has been at every layer one of the biggest things we did right,” she said. One example she gave was designing shim layers to isolate and swap out cameras in a Target store.
“That shim layer is the reason why I was able to switch a camera while we were live at a Target with no tools and no real background in mechanical engineering,” she said. “That isolation actually works tremendously well in building anything practically.”