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Venture capital firms are investing in astrology apps (nytimes.com)
57 points by GuiA 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

VCs will invest in anything that looks like it'll return a good multiple. How stupid the business might appear to a rational person has absolutely no baring on things. This is why most people would make terrible VCs - if you look at something and think "that's a dumb idea" you'd pass on some massive opportunities.

I think astrology as a concept is extremely dumb; I also think it's great business because a lot of people take it seriously, so there's money to be made.

Some people may have a moral issue with taking advantage of people's beliefs in woo.

Uber for astrology sounds like a great business to me, fwiw.

There's a longstanding market for it. Customers are willing to pay. It has been successful in all sorts of mediums in the past, phones , cable tv, magazines... An app can get you closer to the experience of the original in-person visit.

Hell, $2.1bn is probably a massive underestimate. Astrology is just one flavour. Traditional healing is bigger than medicine in many place, and has some presence everywhere. There are several lonstanding american flavours, for eg.

If you define the market widely then the market is religion, and that's a many-trillion-$ market.

The path from astrology app to religion app is farely straightforward too. A lot of politicians, CEOs and such have personal religious advisors.

I kinda want in. Sounds fun.

That's true. But there are also VCs who invest in anything because they're just trend followers and are equally clueless.

The problem is not that this looks like a stupid business. The problem is it deliberately misleads and fools people.

A bit like the advertising industry, then? Which pays the (large) salaries of how many HN commenters, I wonder...

Advertising is something a lot of people don't like, and the way it manipulates people can be underhanded if it's not regulated well, but it's not deliberately misleading or fooling anyone.

Not always, true; but there are plenty of cases where it does.

But you definitely cannot say that in general, contrary to other cases.

Why is it we "definitely cannot" say that in general? That's not obvious to me at first glance.

I know of many examples of ethical advertising and/or advertising that does actual good. For example nonprofits use advertising to raise awareness and funds. Without large scale advertising industry, it'd be impossible to reach that many relevant (interested) people. I used advertising to form a local social help group, that'd be impossible without Facebook.

What about fake 5-star reviews on Amazon? Don't tell me they aren't funded out of marketing budgets...

I wonder, deep down, how much people are really fooled by this and how much is entertainment value? I consider myself pretty rational, but if I crack open a fortune cookie it's still fun to read the fortune. Anyone I've known who has done astrology-adjacent things seemed to be getting value out of the escape from dry rationalism rather than taking it literally.

Only a handful of data points, but almost everyone I know that is into astrology takes it at least somewhat seriously, and I recently had coworkers that gave me a lecture on my star chart. I’ve always known I was a “Pisces” based off my DOB, but apparently I’m moon ascendant Taurus, and Mars something something Aquarius. Couldn’t for the life of me tell you what that means, but my lecturer took it very seriously.

“Of course the phase of the Moon and the stars affect our personalities! How could they not?!”

You and I might read that as a joke or laugh if it were in a TV script, but these exact words were delivered to me verbally and sincerely. I trashed the article elsewhere on here, but I have been mulling over sending this article to her, just can’t decide if I’m up for another lecture. That said, there is entertainment value to be had here.

Misleading and fooling people has been a great tool for good ROI throughout human history.

It's funny to me that many of the comments here are bagging on astrology and this article... when I'm pretty confident the author agrees with you on the first count.

> “Sure!” I typed into the app. It was just vague enough that if I did a little mental backbend, I could find examples to support her conclusions.

And at the end...

> It felt like a convenient conclusion, given her company’s interest in getting me to write a story. Then again, who was I to argue with the stars? With my blood? It felt absurd, but also just satisfying and amusing enough that I did not reject the suggestion. Instead, I said, “Sure!”

I think we often underestimate how big some of this stuff is.

Astrology is a daily thing for a lot of people for a variety of reasons. 'Alternative medicine' - most of it is objectively quackery (with some possible value leveraging placebo) is also monster, monster business.

We also tend to overlook how massive a lot of regular businesses are. Trucking. Moving. Groceries. Aviation. Energy. Automation. Insurance. Retail banking. All massive.

This is one of the reasons that Uber is so big, and there's so much activity in 'self driving cars'. It makes 'high tech' look small.

FYI note the progress from 'Silicon Valley' being actual Silicon (!), to hardware/software, to basic internet, to cloud services, and then to 'tech enabled business' like Uber, AirBnB etc..

'The Valley' isn't interested in tech, they're interested in how tech can transform/multiply 'the rest of the economy'.

I wouldn't say it's big per se. Spirituality as a whole is much bigger than astrology, though astrology is a tiny branch of it.

It looks like SV is thinking that it can monetize meditation, yoga, and esoteric practices, but it will be in vain. Your shitty, lifeless, little smartphone cannot provide a direct and emotional connection that replicates a real human interaction.

The most disturbing part of this article is that the investor openly says, "Yeah. These girls are struggling, but fuck them! I want to make money, even if that means further exploiting these girls!".

Sadly, this is your average SV perception. Good luck finding peace or enlightenment in your device!

I suppose if most VCs don't want to fund an astrology startup because they know the product is bullshit, those who are willing to hold their nose and invest anyway will probably get a pretty good deal.

This book may change your mind about the apparent connection we may really have with our cosmos: "Cosmos & Psyche", by Richard Tarnas. It did this for a Professor of Computer Science I'm friends with. Tarnas published "The Passion of the Western Mind" about a decade prior, a book on history that's now required reading at over 100 universities worldwide. Can you imagine the shock and horror of established academia, who'd lauded this man with so much praise, only to see him publish a treatise on this heretical subject? It is a beautiful read. The current state of astrology is a sad one indeed, but it may have evolved to a greater degree of understanding had it not been tortured and killed out of our societies in previous centuries.

As usual the mention of astrology on HN summons forth the legions of trolls who have never studied the subject. Before dissing astrology so readily consider how many commonly used words have astrological roots. Re-read the last sentence for an example. Consider also the number of eminent thinkers throughout history, including the history of astronomy, who held astrology in high regard - Tycho Brahe, Claudius Ptolemy ("Tetrabiblos"), John Dee, William Lilly, Culpepper & Kepler to name but a few. Like Kepler, Galileo was also a "mathematicus" - a title which combined the three disciplines of maths, astronomy and astrology. The astrology of horoscopes and app-fillers, which you so readily ridicule, is nothing more than the invention of the newspaper journalist R.H.Naylor in 1930.

If you would care to step outside your mechanistic, "scientific" cage for a moment and look at the full moon once in a while ask yourself this - is it so far-fetched that man might impute siginificance to the fact that the lunation cycle divides the year into 12? 12 is no ordinary number. 11 would not have been significant, nor would 13. Then consider that there are 7 planets visible to the naked eye and meditate on the mathematical connection: 7 = 3 + 4 ; 12 = 3 x 4. Without any zodiac signs involved at this stage you already have a rational argument for the universe, or at least our bit of it, being non-random. The ancients had a lot less technology than we have but maybe they were wiser.

I have never read this book [1] but apparently, it's perfect for people who question the validity of astrology. The book name also strongly implies it.

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/You-Dont-Really-Believe-Astrology/dp/...

Disclaimer: I know a woman who is friends with the author and is very fond of her.

Skyscript.co.uk and Oxford scholar Nick Campion's "A History of Western Astrology" are 2 excellent sources for putting the record straight.

> the fact that the lunation cycle divides the year into 12?

Assuming you mean "The lunar cycle" - I was not aware that it divided the year into 12 at all (there are more than 12 in a year). If you ascribe significance to the nearest round number, that feels like stretching

> 12 is no ordinary number. 11 would not have been significant, nor would 13.

in what sense? 11 and 13 are at least prime, 12 is incredibly ordinary.

12 is divisible by 3 and 4 which added equal 7 - the number of visible planets. 11 and 13 aren't divisible. Lunation cycle != lunar return. A lunation is a synodic period. There are 12.3 lunations per year so the nearest whole number is 12. The tropical year has 4 turning points - 2 solstices and 2 equinoxes. That the number of lunations in a year is divisible by the number of solstices/equinoxes is very significant and non-random.

12.3 != 12

12.3 is not divisible by 3 or 4, is not special or whole or interesting.

Manipulating things in an attempt to make them significant is ludicrous. Should there be higher powers and deeper meanings driving things, they would be exact.

Co-Star is powered by Haskell: https://www.costarastrology.com/jobs/. I guess that is the origin of their strangely familiar-sounding name.

I just checked out Co-Star's website. At the bottom of their page, they have a list of endorsements. One of them in particular looked odd to me: "Good advice." - New York Times.

A brief glance at the article reveals that the "Good advice" relates to logging out of the app and never using it again.

  When I plugged my information into Co-Star, it came already stacked with two dozen “updates” charting my position relative to the stars. I learned that my moon is “conjunct to natal Venus,” which meant I should “spend time with friends” because I was “particularly magnetic” that day. Also, my Mars is “quincunx to natal Sun,” so I should “excavate and examine the person you really are” and also “take a break from social media if you can.”

  It was good advice. I logged out of the app and never returned.
Also, their "Bustle" and "Buzzfeed" endorsements link to the same shallow article.

Not super important in the grand scheme of things, but I found it quite amusing.

This gives me a feeling of unease. I run my businesses on Haskell, and I find Astrology and similar quackery immoral (probably as most people on this forum do).

Also, how is one meant to read this?

> jobs ∀ costarastrology.com

jobs forall costarastrology.com? jobs universal quantification costaratrology.com?

Jobs coexist?

VC invest money where they see an opportunity.

Take Calm for example.

Meditation/Bedtime stories app

Sound bad right?

Well, those guys found a way to make meditation approachable for anyone.

People who never thought before listening to a bedtime story, understand now that it can help to release daily stress

Why is this surprising or problematic? Some people believe in astrology, others just do it for fun. Either way, when did some philosophical concept of “truth” ever guide capitalism You could argue that even capitalists should avoid harming people, and that believing in astrology could be harmful, but they already fund things that are so much worse than that, like tobacco, marijuana and social networks.

You can flag me all you like but this article is dumb.

You know, I decided not to take your word for it, and I have come to the conclusion that you are right but not for the reason I initially thought.

The article actually does a pretty good job of explaining the field of Astrological snake oil software and the motivations behind it. VC’s are putting money in it because they seem to be able to plausibly get a fat ROI.

BUT: The New York Times also manages to twist contemporary American politics into the article, somehow, and link the increased popularity of this snake oil to the current sitting President’s election. That is to say, the New York Times can’t even write about an investment trend or fad or whatever into a very popular brand of snake oil (which you can now get a $20 monthly consultation subscription for!) without blaming it on the President.

So this article is dumb, but as a data point on the scale with which to measure the present day quality of this particular newspaper, it is actually fascinating and insightful.

My friend (expat) living in the US condenses this phenomenon to "people in the US are sissies". Note that the English language does not always have the punching power of nice alternative languages with ample swear words.

If you are not worrying about the first few layers of Maslo's pyramid, then this sort of perpetual politicking becomes a real risk.

You're vastly overstating how much the author is "twisting" the 2016 election into this article. It's pretty straightforward from the app creator's mouth...

>>President Trump’s election inspired Ms. Guler to leave her work in fashion media and create Co-Star. “I was like, ‘We gotta figure out something more meaningful than what we are doing,” she said. The role social media played in the election — and how “it is changing how we operate as humans in the world” was a part of her concern, Ms. Guler said.

You missed some:

>> But that explanation ignores what many in the astro-verse consider the major turning point for Big Zodiac: The election of Donald Trump. It changed everything, according to Aliza Kelly, the astrologer-in-residence at Sanctuary. (She writes its horoscopes and conducts some of its readings.) Watching The New York Times’s forecast needle tip from Hillary Clinton to Mr. Trump raised people’s doubts about certain scientifically proven systems, Ms. Kelly said. “People became so much more receptive to the idea of there being different ways of seeing the world,” she said. They turned to astrology “in order to create some sense of structure and hope and stability in their lives.”

So for “many”, we have one snake oil salesman claiming that Trump’s election changed everything, and one snake oil salesman who decided to follow her dream and sell snake oil, obviously inspired by America’s choice of Presidents.

I did not vastly overstate anything and stand by what I said: of all the research, interviews and commentary they had available to them, Erin Griffith of the New York Times and/or her editors made a decision to include this as part of their article. They did, from what I see here, twist the 2016 election into the narrative of the story they were trying to tell when their story probably could have stood up better without the two paragraphs you and I quoted.

You could say it is only two paragraphs, and you would be right. However, if you write it into your article and publish it on the website or in the print of the largest newspaper in America, you are choosing to tell that story. Subjectively, maybe it was worth telling? I don’t think it was, but you or anyone here is free to disagree.

You must be a Leo.

(You got a upvote from me.)

With an illustration to go with it

It's satire.

Straight from Season 6 of "Silicon Valley" . Coming soon to HBO near you.

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