Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads April 7th, 2024

Marvin Liao
14 min readApr 7, 2024

Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be — Eckhart Tolle

  1. This is an important post. Lots of people are suffering silently. Check in with your friends and family.

2. “War is an ugly, brutal, and savage thing. It is also an eternal part of the human condition. Wars are best not started, as horror comes with it.

A just, compassionate nation will always ensure that it is strong and ready for war because war will surely come. Someone will win that war. It can be the just and compassionate nation, or it can be the aggressive and brutal nation. For a just nation to win, it must be prepared to be more aggressive and in a fashion, as brutal — in context and constraints — than its enemy.

The future is not granted, it is won and maintained through the successful execution of warfare.”

3. A conversation with a true American hero.

4. This is not good. I guess demographics are destiny.

5. Mike Maples Jr is a legend in Silicon Valley and has been a mentor to many new VCs over the last decade.

6. So many great insights for new fund managers on the art of venture.

7. I love Buenos Aires. I really need to go back soon.

“Whether you’re drawn to the vibrant digital nomad scene, the world-renowned culinary experiences, or the intoxicating rhythm of tango, Buenos Aires is your stage. So, as you contemplate the cost of living in Buenos Aires, remember that here, in the heart of Argentina, every peso spent is an investment in a life less ordinary.

Pack your bags, embrace the tango, and let Buenos Aires welcome you with open arms and a promise of unforgettable adventures.”

8. “In this new age, I believe that venture investors need to be, first and foremost, investors. This may seem obvious, and likely is to those who have been in the business beyond this cycle, but core investor skillsets like financial acumen are rarer than I would expect given the amount of capital our industry manages.

Over indexing on marketability > math has inhibited a focus on the fundamentals of these businesses and that advice trickles into the companies and their cultures. We’ve seen it with several of the founders that we’re friendly with who were urged by their previous boards to continuously raise capital (i.e., market themselves and their companies), rather than focusing on running a great business. This destroyed a tremendous amount of shareholder value (especially for founders, employees and early investors) when these companies were forced to reckon with the public markets.

My belief is that the future of investing in this business requires a reversion to the fundamentals — knowing how to build a company capable of producing long-term FCF and being able to evaluate a company for its potential to do so. This may be less exciting, but I think it will drive far greater returns in the long haul as it has in other asset classes.

That isn’t to say that investors should abandon the hallmark skill sets that separate VC from others, but there is a tremendous amount to learn from the practices of other asset classes and believe that the best investors for this next generation of digital investing will bridge these capabilities together.”

9. This was a fun discussion on personal finance.

10. “So-called “seniors” are reliable voters, while young people aren’t, and so this perverse incentive ensures that seniors vote, effectively, to extract rent for themselves from young people through the state. This is reflected in voting intentions: people over 54 are disproportionately likely to vote for the Socialist Party, while those who are under 25 are disproportionately unlikely to vote for it.

This measured effect, if anything, understates the underlying reality, as young people vote more with their feet than with their ballots. They are a large part of those abstaining to vote and a large part of those leaving the country for other EU member states and beyond. One in three Portuguese people between the ages of 15 and 39 have left the country.

The most educated and accomplished are, of course, the first to leave in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere. This dismal story, in its broad strokes, is not unique to Portugal, or even southern Europe, but increasingly sounds familiar in aging societies from Germany to Japan, if not even the United States.”

11. “In a contested maritime century, we should start thinking about navies as the ultimate national security insurance policy. Like any insurance, they demand regular investments against risks that are unlikely but potentially grave. Navies work best to deter would-be aggression, but the industrial base to generate their capabilities underwrites military credibility. Crucially, when all else fails, that credibility stands to make certain that in the hour of need, the hardest challenges will be met and overcome.”

12. “But on closer examination it seems woke lunacy is only a symptom of the company’s far greater problems. First, Google is now facing the classic Innovator’s Dilemma, in which the development of a new and important technology well within its capability undermines its present business model. Second, and probably more importantly, nobody’s in charge.

Over the last week, in communication with a flood of Googlers eager to speak on the issues facing their company — from management on almost every major product, to engineering, sales, trust and safety, publicity, and marketing — employees painted a far bleaker portrait of the company than is often reported: Google is a runaway, cash-printing search monopoly with no vision, no leadership, and, due to its incredibly siloed culture, no real sense of what is going on from team to team.

The only thing connecting employees is a powerful, sprawling HR bureaucracy that, yes, is totally obsessed with left-wing political dogma. But the company’s zealots are only capable of thriving because no other fount of power asserts, or even attempts to assert, any kind of meaningful influence. The phrase “culture of fear” was used by almost everyone I spoke with, and not only to explain the dearth of resistance to the company’s craziest DEI excesses, but to explain the dearth of innovation from what might be the highest concentration of talented technologists in the world.

Employees, at every level, and for almost every reason, are afraid to challenge the many processes which have crippled the company — and outside of promotion season, most are afraid to be noticed. In the words of one senior engineer, “I think it’s impossible to ship good products at Google.” Now, with the company’s core product threatened by a new technology release they just botched on a global stage, that failure to innovate places the company’s existence at risk.”

13. Valuable discussion on global macro. Tech and crypto are well positioned in the long run.

14. “There are two reasons people start to do things out of order inside a company. The first is that many people just want to skip the boring building blocks to do something innovative, which is entirely backwards. Nailing all the fundamentals around building a product or a growth loop is what most of the time enables good innovation.

If you don’t have strong product/market fit for your core product, an AI feature isn’t going to save that. Talk to customers! Why aren’t they sticking around? If your pages aren’t getting indexed and you have a bunch of duplicate content, don’t think about microsites or advanced link building ideas. Fix your site!

The second reason this happens is if you have worked on the basics in the past, you don’t have a good process to regularly audit whether they are still working as designed.”

15. Discussion on Xi & China’s future. Really important topic.

16. One of the most underrated B2B VCs in Silicon Valley. This is a great discussion on the art and science of venture.

17. “If you really wanted to hedge your cheap cost of living (thanks to the socialists) then this could be done by taking a long option on some Argentine stocks. The two that stick out to me are of course in the energy sector. One is a more leverage play and the other is a safer play out of the two. I need to pay my thanks to Kuppy, BowTiedMara, and Taylor Selden on X (Twitter) for bringing these two to my attention. Check them out below the paid content wall.

The bottom line of this article, Argentina will still likely be immediately cheap post-election if Milei’s chainsaw proposal is initiated. Patricia Bullrich is the other contender and if she wins she will initiate similar policies to Milei, just slower. If somehow the socialists win again then I go on with my time as I have over the last year under hyperinflation.”

18. “Galatioto said, “I have never seen the level of demand I’m seeing. The pent-up hunger is incredible.” He pointed out the importance of scarcity in driving prices. Unlike the markets for real estate (“If you run out, you just build more of it”) or tech companies (“There are a bazillion of them”), when it comes to sports teams, demand vastly exceeds supply.

There are only 30 MLB teams, 30 NBA teams, 32 NFL teams, and 32 NHL teams. Including MLS and the WNBA, there are only 165 of these assets in circulation. This at a moment when over 2,600 global billionaires prowl the earth, hunting for one of a kind trophies. Charles Baker, a lawyer at Sidley Austin who specializes in sports acquisitions, expressed the scarcity aspect thusly: “You might have the biggest boat, biggest house, biggest jet — but there’s only one Yankees, only one Cowboys. They’re collector’s items.”

The people who make their way to Galatioto’s office tend to be wealthy, now, in ways they were not before. “Even if you’re a rich dude, you may not be rich enough,” Galatioto told me. “It’s a very painful message to deliver to someone who’s worth $500 million — that they really can’t afford it. People who are worth $500 million don’t take that news well.”

There are options available to the $500 million crowd. Minority stakes in teams (five percent here, 10 percent there) often get traded in what are called limited-partnership deals without any public fanfare. “People can buy $100 million, $200 million, $300 million of a sports franchise and it probably won’t even make the newspaper,” said Galatioto.”

19. Another great episode: It’s a great what’s up on the Edge of the Internet.

20. Hit your enemies wherever you can. War is global now, not always localized.

21. I love Japan.

“In Japan, by contrast, you see strangers in your neighborhood all the time — in the convenience store, in the noodle shop, or walking down the street from their own houses to those shops and restaurants. Even if you don’t like to meet strangers or say hi to your neighbors, it’s nice to see strangers and to see your neighbors. It creates a feeling of communality — of shared civilization and community — even if no words are spoken.

This is why in Japan, even if you live in a tiny apartment, it doesn’t feel like you live in a tiny, lonely space — you’re out and about so much that it feels like you live in a great big open space with lots of other people. American suburbia can feel confining and cramped because no matter how big your house is, there’s nothing and nobody outside those walls; in urban Japan, even with a tiny apartment, you occupy a great big neighborhood. That is very freeing.

Of course, all of this requires something besides mixed-use zoning — it requires high commercial density.”

22. One of the best conversations on what’s happening in tech from some of the best investors in the business.

23. “While there are countless ways to build great companies (and certainly many ways that do NOT fit this framework), we’ve found the steps above to be helpful in establishing some order from within the chaos of starting, building and scaling a company.

As a firm that believes heavily in hypothesis-based investing, we like to see founders test/validate each of these through the various stages of their capital raising lifecycle and we generally find ourselves investing with visibility into a near-term flywheel and/or early signs of a potential moat. We often use this framework with founders to determine the key hypotheses they will need to prove out for their business at various stages.

While there are indeed incredible companies that generate near-term visibility of economic moats before even launching a product (showing great thoughtfulness in product design, strategy and execution), more often see it requiring multiple, methodical steps to unlock moats.

Proving/disproving these fundamental hypotheses requires immense focus and we try to align the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) of the business to these hypotheses to ensure everyone in the company is squarely focused on their achievement.”

24. We men need to be more like Tim Kennedy. Many of us let fear lead us.

25. Always a good conversation on trending topics in Silicon Valley.

26. “People conflate a lack of focus with a lack of talent. Intelligence and talent are correlated with success, but the strongest signal of future success is your perseverance and resilience: what the books in airport bookstores call “grit.”

Unless you are supremely disciplined, your career will have to be something that gives you some enjoyment. But don’t mistake focus for your “passion.” People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich. Follow your talent. The accoutrements that accompany being great at something (relevance, admiration, camaraderie, money) will make you passionate about whatever “it” is.

Focus on putting yourself in a position to be financially successful. Get certified: In a digital world, much of the corporate world decides whether to swipe right or left based on the logos (aspirational universities/firms, vocational certifications, etc.) on your LinkedIn page.

Sector dynamics will trump your talent. (I realize how awful that sounds.) However, someone of average talent at Google has done better over the past decade than someone great at General Motors. Be thoughtful … any opportunity you have when you’re young to choose among different paths is a profound blessing.”

27. A masterclass on B2B sales.

28. “Our competitors were going big, and instead of us going bigger, we went more niche. Human nature is to immediately want to one-up the opponent. Entrepreneurs would do well fight that urge and evaluate all the options.”

29. All startup founders should read this.

30. Frank is the OG of Fintech investing. One of the most profound thinkers in Fintech vc.

31. “When it comes to our longevity, there’s an age-old question of nature versus nurture: Are we destined for the path that’s been laid out by our DNA? Or do our everyday choices — what we eat, how we move, and who we allow to cause us stress — play a more significant role?

A growing body of research suggests that while genetics may predispose us to certain diseases, adopting healthy habits can help mitigate risks in some cases, even potentially altering how our genes express themselves (a growing field of study in longevity called epigenetics”).

According to a 2016 review, genetic factors only contribute 20 to 30 percent to the variations observed in the life spans of identical twins. Lifestyle and environment dictate the rest.”

32. “Agency is the skill that has built the world around you, an all-purpose life intensifier that lets you make your corner of it more like what you want it to be, whether that’s professional, relational, aesthetic, whatever. Build a better mousetrap. Have an enviable marriage. Start a country. No one is born with it, everyone can learn it, and it’s never too late.”

33. “Great marketing machines are like Costco. There is no magic wand. There is no secret lever. It’s about 50 little things, all working together. And that’s one reason why people have trouble understanding them. This may be obvious, but I’d never previously seen it so clearly. CMOs show the funnel slide in board meetings with stages and conversion rates.

But no one really understands the machine. They ask a few random questions, usually about channels. The inevitable attribution conversation follows. You can almost feel them searching for the one thing. (Or the one cock up.) But in this case, there isn’t one.”

34. This is still very relevant. I’d add learn tactical shooting skills.

35. “Making sense of North Korea is hard. In an age where the prime struggle is too much information — infinite content creation, misinformation, a news cycle that never stops — North Korea stands apart. What we do know about the country comes almost entirely secondhand, through the stories of defectors and the hard work of professional North Korean watchers.

But it’s only ever a composite guess, an incomplete portrait of a nuclear state with about 25 million civilian hostages. Still, the people inside are not the mindless drones that Western culture imagines them to be. Agency, however slight, exists and should be recognized.

There is one enduring truth, Baek told me: North Koreans are experts in survival. They have a saying, she said, that captures the population’s well-honed self-preservation skills. Here, when assessing danger, I might say I look over my shoulder. For North Koreans? “We have three shoulders.”

36. “Looking ahead, the road to economic stability and prosperity for Argentina is undoubtedly long and uncertain. The government’s willingness to tackle tough economic issues head-on and the initial positive outcomes are steps in the right direction. Popular support for dramatic change and the adaptability of businesses to the country’s economic fluctuations are also reasons for cautious optimism.”

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Marvin Liao

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