Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads September 20th, 2020

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”--Helen Keller

Classic. When this pandemic is over I'm going to travel like mad. I'm going to visit every EDM festival I've ever wanted to go to and visit all the places I've wanted to go to. And return to all the places I miss.

"Rather than breaking even, almost two thirds of financings lost money in the past decade and less than 4% produced 10X or greater returns. Despite the historic market we’ve had in the past ten years and the huge deals often highlighted in the press, venture capital returns haven’t shifted much.

It’s as difficult today to find big winners as it was ten years ago and it remains just as important to find those deals if VC firms and their partners are to stay successful."

Chrissy Teigen is a funny and cool lady.

"The 34-year-old has a full plate running two companies: Cravings by Chrissy Teigen—her lifestyle brand with a cookware and tabletop line at Target and Macy’s, a blog with videos and recipes, and two best-selling cookbooks—and Suit & Thai Productions, her production company, which has a first-look deal with Hulu (including an upcoming show with the working title Family Style, cohosted with David Chang) and the second season of Quibi series Chrissy’s Court with her mom, Pepper. After helping her mom with her Thai cookbook all quarantine, Teigen will tackle Cravings 3, which she describes as “how I eat now: brighter and healthier.”

But, most important, it’s the cookbook she’s having the most fun working on. “While writing the first, I was pregnant, and for the second I was deep in postpartum depression. I’m having a good time, and my confidence has grown. I fully embrace carbs now—like, putting sweet-potato spread on a baguette. A year ago, I would have said you can’t put a starch on bread; now I’m like, who cares? There are no rules.”

Good tips here for venture investors. I agree with most of them.

Talk about a shady grifter.

"Oancea is not your typical memorabilia collector. Vegas Dave, as he’s known to his millions of followers on social media, is a notorious gambling influencer, known for selling picks on which team will win a given game. Vegas Dave says he’s the best “sports information consultant” in the world, but if you dig into his past and his picks you’ll find a shady hustler who sells a service that has little, if any, value for his customers."

Love Netflix. Not sure I'd work there but they get results.

"I’ve read many CEO pontification books, and I always wonder what it’s really like in the middle of that organization. I’m always skeptical. That’s why we hired Erin Meyer, who was a business school professor first, [to co-write the book] and come in and interview hundreds of Netflix employees confidentially and then do the point/counterpoint — me pontificating, and then her doing the reality check.

It doesn’t make Netflix out to be perfect. There’s still plenty of issues. But it’s very real in that way. Our big media competitors are not going to be able to take advantage of [the lessons in the book] because they’re too well established… It’s not like some great trade secret and then they’re all going to adapt to it. It’s the younger firms that will."

We've all been here. Some of us get out.

"Show up, do good work and everything would be fine. I worked about 60+ hours per week plus commuting. Work was measured in time spent and perceived value.

The productivity gains I achieved turned into more work as I climbed the ladder. Becoming better resulted in doing more. All my energy went into being a well-greased cog in someone else’s machinery.

On the outside I had ”made it” but on the inside, my soul was quietly screaming in agony. The rewards and benefits started to pale in the light of living someone else’s life. Did I really want all these things and more? Was it worth trading my life for gold?"

"While Hollywood measures people’s offices by their totems and grandeur, the analytical Hastings, a Silicon Valley interloper, values functionality over trappings. 

Netflix currently functions, by any measure, at a world-class level. As the year of the pandemic upends entertainment companies—Disney’s crippled theme parks, Warner Bros.’ furloughed blockbusters, AMC’s shuttered theaters—Netflix is having a moment.A moment of prestige, with a record 160 Emmy Award nominations, eclipsing the long-dominant HBO, and more Oscar nods than any other media company.

A moment of influence, adding almost as many customers in the first six months of the year as in all of 2019, extending its reach to nearly 200 million subscribers in 190 countries. And a moment of profits, with sales up 25% year over year, earnings more than doubled and its stock up 50 percent, as most of the market gyrates wildly just to scratch back to even. Recent market cap: $213.3 billion."

 This is pretty neat.

"The surrounding lands of the Svalbard archipelago are sparse and desolate. It is a place where there is a 1:10 polar bear to human ratio, where the sun doesn’t rise for 4 months per year, and the northern lights dance across the sky.

But on the side of a mountain in Spitsbergen, there’s an abandoned coal mine. And inside — some 250 meters below the Earth’s surface — you’ll find a steel vault that contains an archive of film encoded with hundreds of thousands of open-source projects from around the world.

Run by a for-profit company called Piql, the Arctic World Archive is aiming to preserve the world’s digital materials — music, literature, and lines of code — for 500+ years.

Recently, Github, an open-source coding platform, donated it’s entire trove of code to the archive — some 21 terabytes of data posted by millions of users since 2008.

Most press accounts have dubbed the Arctic World Archive a “doomsday vault.” The archive prefers the term “vault of hope.” 

Either way, it’s an effort to incubate our data from human and environmental catastrophes in the long-term. And it may just be our best shot at telegraphing our present-day story to future generations."

"The Peloton founder understands the power of software/SaaS to drive return on investment and not surprisingly is focused on that part of his business.

You may be asking at this point: “Why is Peloton making hardware at all if software/SaaS is so valuable? The one-word answer to this question is: distribution. No one is making low cost exercise bike or treadmill “clones” or “blanks” that Peloton can rely on. Bill Gurley described how hardware in some cases can be important for distribution in his 2003 essay: “Software in a Box” which today might be called “SaaS plus a Box.”

Fascinating and absolutely critical in America in 2020.

We need more of this.

"Andrew is a partner at Tiny where he starts, buys, and invests in internet businesses. Over the last few years he’s built it into a thriving collection of companies — over 30 with about 600 employees collectively.

What Andrew has built is fascinating because he’s turned himself into a people router. He takes people who arrive in his inbox, and gets to decide where in the Tiny machine to put them. If he does that job well the machine will grow — like magic. 

His job is to turn people into opportunities.

But here’s the conflict: even though his job is all about people, he doesn’t like to be on phone with them too often. He only likes to do 2-3 meetings a day — which is surprisingly few for a guy with 600 employees. 

That’s where the templates with a hundred different polite ways to say, “No” come from. 

But this habit of saying no spreads beyond his inbox. He’s really set up his whole life by saying no. He’s said no to venture capital, he’s said no to living in Silicon Valley, and at his company he’s used delegation to say no to anything that will require him to do work that he doesn’t want to do. 

In short, he’s said no to anything that doesn’t fit into his vision of success — and it’s working pretty well."

All sadly true. Great write up from my friend Pierre. I wish i wrote this! 

"Reality Check — There are no ‘mentor’ rules of engagement or code of conduct. Anyone can self-label and become a mentor and there is no litmus test or ‘Start-up’ Angel network to ensure how legitimate a mentor is. Even more troubling, for a lousy mentor, there are no consequences — despite leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

The reality is that many mentors are charlatans, in it for themselves, and operating a fraud."

"Mencius, the “second sage” of Confucianism, is believed to have said, “In abundance, prepare for scarcity.” While the philosopher was likely hammering the importance of foresight, if viewed with a squint, read more as koan than dictum, it feels particularly suited to our current era. In our age of tech-endowed abundance, we must still prepare for scarcity. We just need to invent it.

This is an old game. In precious stones, new pharmaceuticals, patents, copyright law, the planned obsolescence of devices, we see the hand of invented or artificial scarcity, dearths created to preserve certain products’ value.

In some, but not all cases, scarcity impacts our sense of status. It is not that “cool” to own a patent, but owning a large diamond may be. The object made scarce influences status earned."

What an interesting accomplished man. I hope this works and he is able to distribute this soon.

I'm still bullish on long run for SF & other big metropolitan areas. Narrative on long term decline here is wrong. (altho SF is really poorly run though).

"Viewed from a macro level, then, cities that achieved near-cartoonish levels of desirability may simply be lurching uncomfortably into the next phase of an eternal boom-and-bust cycle.

Hamalian, however, remains bullish on their enduring desirability as places to live, work, and play.

“I grapple with the theme … that this could be the death of cities, the fear-mongering you hear thrown out there,” he says. “I try to check myself.

Our love affair with cities has waxed and waned many times over throughout history. We fall in love with them and grow to view them as too dangerous, too crowded, too dangerous, the schools aren’t good, whatever it may be that people use as for why cities are going to die and then they flee – and then they make their way back.”

"This is the era of no good choices. Take schooling, for example. Keeping children home robs them of education and socialization. It scars their futures, steals their joys. It makes it impossible for their parents to work, or even to rest. But sending them to school endangers their health, and that of their teachers and their families. The argument is so heated because the choices are all bad, at least by the standards of the lives we used to lead.

"In America, our ideological conflicts are often understood as the tension between individual freedoms and collective actions. The failure of our pandemic response policy exposes the falseness of that frame. In the absence of effective state action, we, as individuals, find ourselves in prisons of risk, our every movement stalked by disease. We are anything but free; our only liberty is to choose among a menu of awful options.

And faced with terrible choices, we are turning on each other, polarizing against one another. YouTube conspiracies and social media shaming are becoming our salves, the way we wrest a modicum of individual control over a crisis that has overwhelmed us as a collective."

"if you’re serious about getting rich you should always choose to work from home at slightly reduced pay. Why? This gives you more than enough time to work on your side projects. While you will likely lose some career progression (office politics), the upside of equity in your own business is 1,000x more valuable. It isn’t even close."

"Are you excited? You should be. 1) better quality of life, 2) more autonomy, 3) more performance based work, 4) easier to control your schedule, 5) ability to cross state lines, 6) ability to maintain better tax structures and 7) significant long-term reduction in office politics if you’re in that position at this time. If we wanted to be ultra competitive about it, we’d highlight loss of competition as a lot of people have to start over but that’s over the top (it is a true statement, many smart people got wiped out). If you thought it was easy to get ahead in 2010 to 2020… Wait till you see 2020-2030."

Color me VERY skeptical. Feels like everyone literally everyone has a VC fund.

But they have some great LPs so what do I know. #PeakVC

So much to admire here from the founder of Duty Free Shoppers & Private Equity giant General Atlantic. Very impressive human being.

"Over the last four decades, Feeney has donated more than $8 billion to charities, universities and foundations worldwide through his foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. When I first met him in 2012, he estimated he had set aside about $2 million for his and his wife's retirement.

In other words, he's given away 375,000% more money than his current net worth. And he gave it away anonymously. While many wealthy philanthropists enlist an army of publicists to trumpet their donations, Feeney went to great lengths to keep his gifts secret. Because of his clandestine, globe-trotting philanthropy campaign, Forbes called him the James Bond of Philanthropy."

2 Interesting observations in the latest rant by Prof Galloway.

"The Uncola of a sector gains relevance around the time everyone throws in the towel, all new entrants mimic the leader, and the sector has the variance of your Dockers-wearing dad. The most innovative Uncola of the last decade is Shopify, who became the non-Amazon Amazon. Shopify taps into a reservoir of ill will from third-party retailers, who were forced to surrender data, custody of the consumer, and merchandising options so they could access the largest ecommerce platform in history." 

"The analytics firm is attempting to position itself as the “Uncola,” the non-tech tech firm. A more apt metaphor is Zima. Palantir is all of the calories of Facebook (scaled sociopathy) with none of the great taste (profits)."

Totally agree here.

“If anyone says that they have predictive power in this industry and says they know where the future is gonna be, I just question the wisdom of this,” he said during a session exploring how VCs seek out new markets before they even exist. “Because if you could figure it out, you could come up with the idea, you’re capable enough to be able to put all the pieces together, why would you not found the business?”

Instead, the key to betting on the future is to learn to ask the stupid questions. “I think it’s actually perfectly fine in the venture industry to not be the smart person and to kind of train yourself to be stupid and ask the stupid questions,” said Kanji. “I think a lot of people are probably too shy to do that. And a lot of people [are] probably too risk averse to then write the check when they don’t really understand exactly what it is that they’re investing into. But a lot of this stuff is a light bulb moment.”

This is an excellent guide to making your company remote.

"If you want to build a following online you can later convert into customers or advocates for a cause, you need a body of work.

Build first, flex later.

Because anyone can say anything. It’s what you’ve accomplished or survived in their life that gives it significance."

Never was a big fan of fish sticks but ate them a lot growing up. Fascinating story.