Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads April 21st, 2024

Marvin Liao
13 min readApr 21, 2024

“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.” — Pericles

  1. “Quick cash feels good, but ultimately weakens the bottom line. In our experience, M&A activity typically occurs 5–7 years into a start-up’s lifecycle and IPOs happen in the 10–12-year range.

Data supports this observation. According to PitchBook data, the older the vintage year of a high-performing emerging fund — which means more time for portfolio companies to grow — the more capital gets distributed to investors.”

2. “But, the alternative to appeasement tends to imply war, and possibly even conscription. The Young Turks today don’t want to fight. They want to build startups. They want to solve real-world problems and not be interrupted by them. Notice what the actual Turks are offering. “President Erdoğan stated that Türkiye stands ready to assume any facilitating role in returning to the negotiating table in Ukraine.” They want to know why a peace deal nearly happened last April and then somehow got scuppered. These are dark times for those who thought they’d never face any questions.

So, even if Kennedy doesn’t win, his voice has turned this into a three-way race. Perhaps it’s a narrative race. Still, it’s a real race.”

3. “I expect that over the next 24 months, we’ll see a washing out in the venture markets. This will be true both for startups and for venture firms. On the startup side, many companies will raise down rounds or not be able to raise at all; they’ll shut down. Most unicorns shouldn’t be valued at $1B+, and we’re going to see a resulting correction.

For venture firms, we’ll see the same thing. Over the past few years, we saw a boom in first-time funds. Many of these funds overextended themselves during the market froth, and they’ll struggle to raise a second or third fund. The funds that succeed will fit into one of two buckets — artisans or asset managers.

We’re seeing the same thing in venture. You’re either an artisan or you’re a scaled asset manager. Going back to the two resources that founders can allocate — labor and capital — artisans are more focused on assisting with the labor and asset managers are more focused on assisting with the capital.

Artisans focus on people; they invest capital, sure, but their value really shines in hands-on partnership around attracting and cultivating talent — making sure the right people are around the table. Asset managers are more about the money — their form of venture is less about craft than about putting dollars to work.

Naturally, the latter is a better fit for a late-stage company that has a built-out people function and is more focused on getting dollars in the door to keep the engine humming. The former is better for early-stage — the original ethos of venture capital.”

4. “Friendship is an economic accelerant. The economist Raj Chetty found that for people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, having wealthier friends “is the single strongest predictor of upward mobility.” Unemployed people who volunteer are 27% more likely to find work than those who do not, aided by the “social capital” (economist-speak for “friends”) they accumulate through volunteering.

Regions with greater civic engagement are more resistant to economic slowdowns, and communities to which the residents have a strong emotional attachment see higher rates of GDP growth. The flip side? The CDC estimates that loneliness costs the U.S. economy $406 billion a year — more than the combined GDP of Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, and Rhode Island.”

5. UAE as a pocket power. Geopolitical impact beyond its size through immense pragmatism & smart statecraft.

6. “Entrepreneurs would do well to think about the “big unlock” that makes their new venture possible. The “big unlock” makes it so that now is the time to build this next company. Sometimes it’s only a modest change that makes a startup work, but the vast majority of the time, there’s some big trend, innovation, or societal shift that creates an unlock for a wave of new startups. Find the unlock and walk through the door.”

7. “So there was this general sense that this was a one-off — that we rich countries could emerge, battered and bleary-eyed, from the bunkers of the 2010s, and stumble forward with what manufacturing industries remained to us, without the fear that this would happen again. After all, if you look at historical trade competition from Japan, or Germany, or other past competitors, it seems to peak and then level off or decline over time.

Except China, in so many ways, is not like those other competitors. As you can see from the chart above, which is from a recent blog post by Brad Setser and Michael Weilandt, China’s manufacturing surplus — measured relative to the GDP of its trading partners — didn’t stop climbing after 2010. And in the last few years it has been surging again, to heights never dreamed of by Japan or Germany. Meanwhile, headlines are beginning to sound the alarm about a Second China Shock.

This new trade shock will be one of the most important economic stories of the 2020s.

So I don’t think that protectionism is a done deal. But because the Second China Shock is so much more adversarial and zero-sum than the First China Shock, I expect countries to be a lot less willing to sit back and let it happen. And I also think memory plays an important role here — current generations of policymakers, pundits, and voters have all learned the story of how Chinese competition hollowed out our manufacturing workforce and our industrial base in the 2000s, and they will not want to let history repeat.

Whatever the response ends up being, though, it seems clear that the Second China Shock will be one of the most important stories of this decade. China’s attempts to offload any and every manufactured product at cut-rate prices, even at the expense of their companies’ own profit margins and the environment, will become a defining feature of the global economy of the 2020s. We should all brace ourselves.”

8. “Subsea cable projects have historically been financed by a consortium of global telecommunications firms but Big Tech has jumped into the fray in the past decade to ensure internet access for its various services, per The Economist:

-GOOGLE invested in 25 cables (and owns 12 outright), with its first sea cable program going back to 2008.

-META invested in 15 cables (owns 1 outright).

-MICROSOFT partly owns 4 cable.

The importance of internet access also means that governments are very involved. There are two main companies laying the cables and their competition for contracts has become a geopolitical flashpoint.

One is based in the USA (SubCon) while the other is in China (HMN Tech). HMN was formerly “Huawei Marine Networks” and “Huawei” is — as you news hounds probably remember — the Chinese telecom and networking giant that was slapped with massive sanctions and fines by the US government in recent years.”

9. “The less control you have over your life, the less you’re driving your own train. And countless people can spend their whole careers riding other people’s trains, and that’s fine. But for many people, there is a drive. An unquenchable thirst to control your own destiny. To get out from under the parameters of an established ecosystem.

Another way I had it described to me was as a pyramid. Most organizational hierarchies are structured like a pyramid. Lots of people at the bottom, a few people at the top. And a lot of people like that structure, because the bottom is capped. But that, by design, means the top is capped too.

To fully uncap the top, or in other words open up the maximum potential, you also have to open up the bottom. You have to open up the possibility that you might fail.”

10. I really like the perspective of Slow Ventures guys. I usually find myself nodding my head a lot when I listen to them. VCs with strong opinions.

11. An interesting take, don’t fully agree with all his views but do agree commodities are going to become much more important. I’m investing accordingly.

12. “If you ask me what’s irresistible to fund, it’s when the genius meets the obvious, when a founder shares with you something about their industry, their expertise or their approach that you feel is unique and brilliant.”

13. Insightful view on China’s internet economy and Alibaba after Jack Ma.

14. “But media isn’t dead, it has simply struggled to adapt to a new industry landscape. The media businesses that dominated the 1900s misunderstood the source of their competitive advantage. They thought their competitive advantage was their quality of content, and they believed that advertisers would always pay a premium to advertise on that content. But their competitive advantage wasn’t content, it was attention. When search and social stole some of that attention, ad dollars left as well.”

15. “When we listen to the cacophony of voices within us — venturing deep into the landscape of our parts — focus, relaxation, and intentional engagement are all necessary. To hear their stories, and witness how these parts influence the choices of our lives, we must slow down. It’s in the quiet, reflective spaces that we can get curious and attune ourselves to the rich dialogue within, allowing us to discern when to press forward and when to pause, how to foster deeper presence, and consciously choose our path ahead.”

16. “The consolation is that the story of the internet is nowhere near over. It is a dynamic and constantly evolving structure. Just as high-speed fiber optics reshaped how we use the internet, forthcoming technologies may have a similarly transformative effect on the structure of our networks.

SpaceX’s Starlink is already unlocking a completely new way of providing service to millions. Its data packets, which travel to users via radio waves from low earth orbit, may soon be one of the fastest and most economical ways of delivering internet access to a majority of users on Earth. After all, the distance from LEO to the surface of the Earth is just a fraction of the length of subsea cables across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Astranis, another satellite internet service provider that parks its small sats in geostationary orbit, may deliver a similarly game-changing service for many. Internet from space may one day become a kind of common global provider. We will need to wait and see what kind of opportunities a sea change like this may unlock.”

17. “For the people fighting this war, burrowed in the earth and constantly fearful whenever exposed, it will be a horror, one that builds on and exceeds the WW1-style trench warfare that set the previous standard. An automated killing field fueled by the advent of inexpensive autonomous weapons, which are rapidly becoming more capable by the day.

Drones, even at the current low levels of autonomy, will turn most conventional warfare into wars of attrition. Wars of attrition (think: WW1 trench warfare) focus on physical damage (men, weapons, and materiel) to force an enemy into submission. To wage attrition effectively, the damage caused must outweigh the cost of causing it. Drones are particularly effective at this since they are far less expensive than the targets they destroy and the methods used to defend against them.”

18. Two friends and both top tier creator entrepreneurs talking. Learned a bunch.

19. This seems like another media hit job. While I am not condoning sleeping around, he is a fallible & imperfect man, even though he is very accomplished and has massive influence.

“A prophet must constrain his self-revelation. He must give his story a shape that ultimately tends toward inner strength, weakness overcome. For Andrew Huberman to become your teacher and mine, as he very much was for a period this fall — a period in which I diligently absorbed sun upon waking, drank no more than once a week, practiced physiological sighs in traffic, and said to myself, out loud in my living room, “I also love mechanism”; a period during which I began to think seriously, for the first time in my life, about reducing stress, and during which both my husband and my young child saw tangible benefit from repeatedly immersing themselves in frigid water; a period in which I realized that I not only liked this podcast but liked other women who liked this podcast — he must be, in some way, better than the rest of us.

Huberman sells a dream of control down to the cellular level. But something has gone wrong. In the midst of immense fame, a chasm has opened between the podcaster preaching dopaminergic restraint and a man, with newfound wealth, with access to a world unseen by most professors. The problem with a man always working on himself is that he may also be working on you.”

20. “So while karaoke and AI represent entirely different kinds of technologies, in broad strokes, there are fascinating, and revealing, parallels between the two. The karaoke machine automated a creative process, using music created by other people. It caused a lot of fury and debate that was only resolved much later, as the technology emerged from the fringes and mainstreamed into the fabric of daily life. With AI, we are still at the “fury and debate” point. History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.”

21. The new face of war to say the least.

22. This is what Firestorm Labs does.

“The adoption of attritable mass has the potential to revolutionize military operations, but its realization requires overcoming internal hurdles within the Department of Defense and services. The Air Force’s insistence and confusion over application of air worthiness standards highlights one example of the hurdles hindering the speed of adoption that we need.

Treating attritable systems as munitions that they are rather than as aircraft, allows the services to unleash the full power of attritable mass and stay at the forefront of modern warfare.”

23. Very wise and wide ranging discussion on writing LP checks from one of the best.

24. A take on France putting troops in Ukraine, one that actually makes sense.

25. This was a solid discussion on various creative, cultural and general business news.

26. Chris Dixon is one of the top investors and thinkers in Silicon Valley. Excellent interview here.

27. Good take on Angel investing with Scott Belsky.

28. Good panel on how LPs look at emerging vc funds.

29. One of the best operators and investors in Silicon Valley: Elad Gil. So many lessons for your career.

30. Where American higher education is going. ie. blue collar jobs are back and critical. Don’t do a 4 year degree.

31. Good run down of latest discussions in Silicon Valley.

32. “There is an increasing body of research showing that ketamine therapy can do wonderful things for people suffering from trauma, depression, and addictions. However, I would not recommend doing this recreationally or outside a therapeutic environment. It is intense.

What has struck me is the benefits of the session have mostly occurred well after the session as I process the experience and what to take from it. This is why several sessions done in a licensed clinic in conjunction with a therapist is a best practice.”

33. Relevant VC conversations for the time.

34. Understanding Japanese LPs. I have enjoyed working with my Japanese LPs in my previous business life.

35. Technology in the age of conflicting geopolitics.

36. Valuable discussion of creativity in the age of AI.

37. “The web2 attention economy has its shortcomings for users as well. A common refrain in web2 is that “if something is free, you are the product.” (Interestingly, the phrase also has its origins in the 1970s, with artist Richard Serra saying it about television). The dominant business model for web2 platforms is to amass as much data about users as possible, such that they can be more effectively targeted for advertising. In other words, the value that users’ attention brings is being harvested by platforms, rather than flowing to users.

Crypto can be viewed as the next iteration of the attention economy, with a much more efficient market. Memecoins, NFTs, and tokens (as well as new asset classes) can be considered new “attention assets,” measuring and capturing the value of attention in real time. Users can invest and own attention assets as a way to express their beliefs about whether that particular meme, media, creator, or network will accrue more attention and interest in the future.

When users invest in memecoins, they are implicitly making a statement that they believe that particular token and meme will grow in popularity: attention is the primary driver of value. One X user called memecoins “a way to angel invest in culture.” Platforms like Perl,, and have created new financialized markets around attention, allowing users to profit based on whether they correctly guess which assets, creators, or content will succeed in garnering more attention.”



Marvin Liao

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything!