☠️ One year after the near-death experience: How are things going?

☠️ One year after the near-death experience: How are things going?

A year ago, we were close to dying. But we are clearly still here. But how are we doing and how are things going?

Mathias Sundin
Mathias Sundin

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A year ago, I wrote: "💡 My failures, and what we are doing about it. Here is a look in the mirror at what we have done right and wrong. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And what we are planning to change."

Back then, Warp News was close to death.

We had done some things really well. Many of those who discovered us liked what they saw, became subscribers with high engagement, and a large portion also became Premium Supporters. Among these were several amazing individuals, such as Steven Pinker, David Deutsch, Matt Ridley, Karin Nilsdotter, Maria Rankka, Jim O'Shaughnessy, Jonas Birgersson, Klas Hallberg, Johannes Schildt, Birgitta Ohlsson, Christer Fuglesang, and many more.

But we had also performed quite poorly in some areas. Far too few even knew we existed. The core of the problem was me. I did too much of what I'm bad at (being a CEO) and too little of what I'm good at (writing and otherwise spreading our mission.) As a result, growth was far too weak. When we didn't spend money on marketing, we barely grew at all. So when the money runs out...

It was about to do so at the beginning of last year. I received an offer from an investor, which could have kept us alive a little longer. Really, there was only one choice, to accept the proposal. But I hesitated. It would just mean more of the same. We would be in the same situation a little while later. But if I said no, we would go under.

I decided to try to break the pattern. Therefore, I said thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to quickly cut costs. As a result, all freelancers and other staff had to go, and all expenses were reduced to a minimum.

The only thing that survived was Project Energy Society. Besides being an opportunity to be part of creating something historical, it is something that attracts readers and brings attention to Warp News.

Despite this, we lightly touched the bottom of the sea in May. If an unexpected bill had appeared, we wouldn't have made it. But it didn't, and Warp News didn't run aground.

Now we are growing

My decision was to focus. The newsletter would grow organically, without any paid marketing (it's hard to buy ads without money.) I would try to appear more in other media and, most importantly, give more talks, which is a way both to generate revenue and to make new people find Warp News.

It has – actually – worked.

The newsletter is steadily growing every month. Not at rocket speed in any way, but from 13,000 people a year ago to over 16,000 today (with maintained high engagement.)

After a bit of a slow start with talks during spring and autumn, it has really picked up during winter and the beginning of this spring.

Riding the biggest wave

A positive effect of the decision was that I now had time to really get into generative AI. I immediately started using ChatGPT to help me write news faster, and for that, I created the AI bot WALL-Y.

I have experimented, tested, made mistakes, and done right, which I have been able to teach to you readers.

WALL-Y and I also wrote the book The Centaur's Edge together (whose first edition is sold out, a second is on the way.)

During spring, the doomsday debate about AI started, which I now had time to participate in and have published several articles in all of Sweden's largest newspapers, like Aftonbladet, Expressen, Svenska Dagbladet, Fokus, Smedjan, TN, and Dagens Industri. It has also been several podcasts.

A consequence of the visibility in media was that more people noticed Warp News, but also that an acquaintance reached out wanting to talk about AI and education. We had lunch and shortly thereafter decided to start Project Centaur School, where we are building AI tools for schools. This gave me the opportunity to learn even more about AI, tell you readers about it, and also secure a certain steady income.

Experiment, write, tell = understand

This combination of testing myself, writing about it, discussing, and educating in talks and masterclasses has given me a very good understanding of generative AI. I'm not the technician or programmer who understands exactly how AI is built. Instead, I see how it affects society, companies, and technological development.

Therefore, I have been able to create my own model for explaining what is happening and how to best take advantage of this AI wave. By becoming a centaur – half human, half machine – amateurs can beat grandmasters.

💡 Optimist’s Edge: The centaur’s edge (how amateurs beat experts)
💡 Optimist’s Edge: By becoming really good at using AI tools, amateurs can perform better than experts.

When WALL-Y was nominated for Innovation of the Year by the Newspaper Publishers Association, it was an example of that. The other nominees in the same category were Expressen and Aftonbladet. My budget is a fraction of theirs, but thanks to me being a centaur, we can compete against each other.

All this was probably a strong contributing reason to me being appointed by the government to join the Swedish National AI Commission.

Problems remain, but they are better problems

That said, not everything is peachy. My ambition is still to build Warp News into a large, global media house, and there is a loooong way to go. We need to become big, because only then can we truly influence many people and, in the best case, show other media that news can look different. Which I have now learned is even harder than I thought.

But the most important conclusion I have drawn is that I must work with what I am good at. Things I'm not good at, I simply should not do, if it can be avoided, and instead find people who are brilliant at what I am bad at. If I can't find them, it's better to refrain and continue looking.

Another insight, which is not new but has sunk in more now, is focus. I always have many ideas and surround myself with people who have many ideas. It's fun, but very bad for one's focus. Despite really mentally whipping myself to focus, it still happens quite often that I'm about to launch a new distracting idea. Right after the book was published, I started thinking about writing a new book. But damn it, I should focus on selling this book first!

Leveling up humanity

The change a year ago also led to me getting the best idea I will ever have: Warp Levels.

🆙 Warp Levels - an idea to level up humanity
Humanity is doing the high jump without a bar. We have no goal. With Warp Levels, we determine what the next level for humanity should contain, so we can level up and make progress faster.

That we, together, should decide the coming levels for humanity and, together, work to achieve them. Humanity lacks direction. With Warp Levels, we get clear goals (broader and better than the UN's sustainability goals). It will make us improve life on our planet (and beyond) faster.

When a person struggling with focus comes up with an idea he believes is the best he will ever have, you understand there could be trouble ahead. But here, I have (mostly) managed to work methodically. Warp Levels is a gigantic project. Almost impossible to succeed with. If it succeeds, it will take decades to implement. Therefore, I have decided to work slowly and methodically, step by step.

The first step is to talk to people about what they want to see in the coming levels and how the levels should be constructed. Of course, I will tell you about these conversations, which helps to grow the newsletter. The first out in such a discussion was Hannes Sjöblad.

🆙 Warp Levels: How Hannes Sapiens Sjöblad wants to level up humanity
Hannes Sjöblad envisions not just the flesh bodies we are today, but a rich flora of different kinds of life forms and organisms. All interconnected with each other where we can share more and more of our ideas, feelings, and thoughts with each other.

Based on these discussions, the next steps to level up humanity will crystallize.

The coming year

I will continue to give myself mental slaps as soon as I get a new idea that deviates from what I've decided to focus on.

Otherwise, the plan is to try to start making a bigger impact globally. Write in international media, give talks in more countries. Soon, the book will be released in English.

Thank you!

A huge thank you to those who are on this journey with me. It pleases me immensely to know that so many, in various ways, want this fact-based optimistic view of life and contribute to more people having it.

I really miss having coworkers and all the talented people who worked with Warp News. An extra thank you to Rich Spuller and Eric Porper, my co-founders, who now mostly work with other things, but are still there and haven't abandoned ship.

But the sad decision a year ago has so far proven to be the right one, and with that as a foundation, we can build for a future where we are many more people working to spread fact-based optimistic news.

Mathias Sundin
The Angry Optimist