Will I regret leaving Manifold?

As of today, April 2nd, I’ve officially left the Manifold team. I’m stepping down from my executive role, returning my unvested equity, and, yes, giving up my yearly salary of 10 million mana.

This is really, really hard to say. When I work on a thing, I can’t help but imbue it with a piece of my soul — so walking away now feels like tearing myself in two. But I think it’s the right choice, for me and for Manifold.

This market resolves to my subjective feeling in 2 years.

Why I’m leaving

  • Manifold feels trapped in local optima

    • The Manifold product is pretty stable now - we’ve succeeded at our original mission of “prediction markets that anyone can create.” Iterating on it now feels like pushing pixels around for minor gain. We spend our cycles tweaking onboarding flows and our algorithmic feed.

    • The community feels less and less like “my people”. Less of the weird mechanism geeks, more random speculation I don’t enjoy. (It’s a bit how I imagine Vitalik feels about the degen gamblers who now characterize crypto.)

  • … and I’m not excited for the next steps

    • For the last year or so, our priorities have been “grow DAU”, or “get to Series A”. These seem important for Manifold as a business, but are also deeply uninspiring to me.

      • Especially insidious is when our work captures people’s attention and gets them addicted.

    • Moreover, Manifold doesn’t feel on my path for personal growth. I thrive on zero-to-one innovation, and have flexed that muscle again and again over the course of Manifold — but I see much less of this in the future.

    • James, Stephen, and the rest of the team have a big pivot in store; it seems like a great bet, but not something that I personally feel drawn towards enacting. And so, now feels like a good time to step out.

  • “Prediction markets” feel insufficiently powerful

    • I got into this game entranced by dreams of futarchy, of superpowered social coordination. By the vision of building out an objectively correct way to make decisions. But even just within Manifold, we’ve failed to dogfood our markets; they do not serve as a meaningful guide our actions.

    • At the core: binary prediction markets do not provide enough bits of information to steer by. Operationalizing questions well is tricky & labor-intensive, and boils off much of the interesting nuance in a question.

    • Manifold markets today serve the niche of “a fun game to bet on the news”. That’s a good niche - but not where my heart is.

  • AI is coming

    • We started Manifold in December 2021. My intended playbook was something like: “build the next FAANG, get rich, give it all to charity.” My idols were founders like Bill Gates and SBF. It felt like Manifold had a reasonable shot at this.

    • Then, ChatGPT dropped. Since then, I’ve seen the tech landscape shift; my most talented friends jump ship. But our conception of Manifold has not updated in response.

      • Text, image, and code generation have all been breathtaking, but our day-to-day work on the site feels orthogonal to all this.

      • Even for prediction markets: I think it’s likely that betting and forecasting will be mostly up to AIs, not people.

    • Broadly: there’s not enough timeline left to try for the network effects of social media. Scaling up Manifold to hit the adoption of a Reddit or a Twitter, feels like fighting the last war.

My eternal gratitude

  • First and foremost: to the Manifold core team, thanks for spending your lives with me over the last couple years.

    • From a ragtag bunch of misfits, to mad scientist barons: I’m extremely proud of this team we’ve built. People often comment on the how fast we ship, how fun the site is, and how great is the community; this is all downstream of your work.

    • And it’s just been a blast, working together. From hackathons to offsites to just the daily grind, it doesn’t quite feel fair that work should be so much fun.

    • I’ll still be around, eg providing advice and guidance during our “board meetings”; but where Manifold goes from here is up to you.

  • To our funders: thanks for betting on us!

    • Every dollar feels like a gift, a validation of our work and ourselves. I’m sorry to not be seeing it through all the way myself; but Manifold remains in excellent hands.

    • (TBH, I’m most worried about what my family will think. It’s one thing to declare this to investors, another to our charitable donors, but to my aunts, uncles, cousins and parents…? We’ll see how that convo goes!)

  • To our users: thank you for loving Manifold as much as I have. The amount of passion we’ve seen from y’all is frankly, insane.

    • You’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of hours on our site. Writing questions from serious to inane; insider trading up the wazoo; building and sharing tools; hosting meetups and dating shows; making friends with one another.

    • I was floored the first time we got a physical gift: Melanie mailed us some stickers, a handmade thank-you and a folded crane. I’ve worked on over a dozen projects, but this was a first; it felt like a sign that we were doing something right. And then it happened again, and again, and again…!

    • And thanks for sharing Manifold with others! Sending a market to your friends is a precious extension of trust. It’s the primary way Manifold grows. Every time I spot a Manifold link in the wild, I feel a surge of warmth.

What’s next for me

  • Manifest

    • Manifest is still on! It was a ridiculously fun last year, and we’re hoping to do even better this time around. Come hang out with us~

  • Manifund

    • In the longer term, I’ll be focusing on Manifund. Funding for public goods remains broken, a bajillion dollar bill left on the sidewalk. We’re going to pick it up.

    • How, exactly? …Still kind of tbd. It could be one of the things we’ve been piloting (regranting, impact markets, prize rounds), or something totally new. We have a bunch of ideas here; stay tuned, and reach out if you’d like to be involved.

  • A baby!

Get Ṁ600 play money
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Bye ✌️

Congrats for all you accomplish with Manifold.

Your life is about to change in ways you can’t even imagine! Good luck on your next journey.

Grateful for all the creativity & work that went into bringing Manifold into the world, and I can't wait to see what you do with Manifund and as a parent. All the best & good luck with the new adventures!

Very sad to see this, yet very happy for you. Amazing, amazing work on Manifold, thank you for everything!

Best of luck with your next adventures! I'm eager to see what you do with Manifund and beyond.

bought Ṁ10 NO

Best of luck and skill in whatever comes next. Thank you for your part in building Manifold, even if it wasn't what you envisioned it's an incremental step forward for prediction tools and I'm glad it exists.

Having a child makes it sound pretty unlikely. Being a father is a big deal.

bought Ṁ100 NO

wow congrats austin. proud to be a part of manifold

Thanks for all your efforts! Manifold is an amazing attempt at driving prediction markets forward.

I hope my newsletter also contributed a „surge of warmth“ sometimes. Austin certainly did it to me. While I rejected most of his offers, I very much enjoyed our chats.

Wish you the best, Austin!

Will miss having you around Austin, it's always a pleasure to pick your brain. Good luck wherever you go next! ❤

Wow, what to say. When I first saw this market notification, I was sad, but as I read your bullet points, I found myself nodding along. Manifold is an amazing piece of infrastructure that I still appreciate checking every day, but at least for me, it’s less nonstop exciting, and many of my friends have moved on a bit. And I agree that the current implementation of futarchy has ran into some structural challenges. Maybe just regression to the mean, though. Spending time on Manifold circa 2022 was really fucking fun, and it’s still fun. If I were you, though, I don’t think I’d want to spend more time increasing DAUs.

I want to thank you for being so open and kind to me and Proof School. You didn’t need to care about what I had to say about anything but you listened, over and over, and supported my dreams of running super memorable events - the two official Proof/Manifold ones, the Market Manipulation Podcast episode, Manifest, and of course the amazing wedding bonfire. You inspired and excited a ton of people.

Manifold has been made far better by your compassion, hyperfriendly attitude, and big dreams. I’m so grateful, and excited for whatever you build next!

@Conflux haha thanks, I do think 2022 Manifold had a certain mood to it, "really fucking fun" sounds about right.

IDK how much credit I can accept; it always felt like the proofniks were the ridiculously kind and awesome ones (and you in particular, Conflux!) It's every creator's dream to find folks as passionate about their work as you and the rest of your school felt about Manifold, I never thought I'd feel like a rock star, coming onto a campus of math geeks. The wedding bonfire is the stuff of legend, thank you for that (among the many, many other hijinks).

@Austin Oh, I forgot to respond to this! I actually think you deserve quite a lot of credit. You’ve had a large role in shaping the culture of Manifold as a really open, welcoming, friendly place where cool things happen; I’m not sure all that would’ve happened with different management.

Wishing you poignant nostalgia and joy as you see Manifold pivot and grow. More importantly, new challenges, passion and growth to nourish you in the Manifund endeavor. I myself will regret not having delved deeper into Manifold before your departure— as your insightful and loving energy are manifest in this commentary farewell.

maybe: /markets "Will I ever work on Manifold (excluding manifund) again?" "Will I work on AI in the next five years?"

@jacksonpolack yeah "Will I return to working on Manifold full-time" is the kind of interesting important question to know about here! Off the cuff there's maybe like, a 20% chance over the next 3 years? Though some versions of this are weird (eg if Manifund takes off and then merges with/acquires Manifold, what does that count as?)

bought Ṁ10 NO

Best of luck! I particularly admired and learned from the spirit of radical transparency that you brought to Manifold. You'll be amazing at whatever you do.

@CarsonGale thanks -- I very much appreciated all the times you've hosted Manifold folks, whether for community meetups or just Taco Tuesdays. Very excited by your, uh, newest plans and hope to continue to swap notes and be involved!

Kudos for listening to yourself and your values! Best of luck with everything!

Thank you for everything you have done for Manifold and the wider community. Your dedication to transparency in how the company operates, your thoughtful approach in community fire-fighting, and your commitment to inclusivity through the community fund are all qualities that drew me to become actively engaged here. I’m deeply grateful for you!

@case Thank you case! Your contributions to Manifold were one of the best things to have come out of the community fund, they kind of made the whole thing worth it, both for improving Manifold and also just to have gotten to know you. And I'm so grateful for our regular coaching calls as well, they started at a time when I was feeling underwater and I think they've really helped me orient!


Thanks Austin! I still remember our first conversations over Discord where I was impressed by your sincerity and eloquence.

I knew then that I wanted to work with you, and I had a hunch that if we joined forces then something big would come of it. Manifold is the result.

I'm glad to have had this journey as your cofounder — it's been the ride of a lifetime. Thanks for all your contributions over the years!

It's understandable your heart has moved on, despite my best attempts to convince you otherwise.

Manifold may indeed have been trapped in a local maxima, but not for long! We always have another fresh idea, another trick up our sleeves. The latest secret project for Manifold will be big.

Moreover, I still think prediction markets are an important mechanism for knowledge generation, and their potential has not been even 1% unlocked. Manifold has a part to play even in a world where AI is coming — or perhaps, especially in a world where AI is coming.

I'm looking forward to Manifest, the next steps for Manifund, and meeting your child. Best of luck!

@JamesGrugett Thanks! I'll be forever grateful that you and Stephen took a chance on basically a complete stranger, and flew him out to your house (to promptly fail a YC interview, haha).

Paul Graham has a test for a good startup founder: "Could you describe the person as an animal?", and every time I see that line, I think of you. Your unabashed enthusiasm and spirit, coupled with dedication to the craft of coding, has carried Manifold again and again through hard times. And I'm always impressed at how you see things that nobody else does, and then manifest them into the world by sheer force of will. We're parting ways professionally for now, but I'm glad to still have you in my life!