Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads Dec 18th, 2022

“It’s precisely those who are busiest who most need to give themselves a break.” — Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

  1. Hope he is right but CCP is more capable (and evil) than people think.

2. This was a great conversation today on ChatGPT and personal finance. NIA boys at work.

3. “Cash is like the weighted blanket you bought off Instagram, Scrooge McDuck’s gold pit of coins, my wife’s collection of canned goods in the basement…you get it. Feeling secure is important. I cannot understate the financial and psychological damage done to people who have to sell assets or take on debt to pay their bills. They either slip into a systemic pattern of poor behavior or never trust themselves again.

The rule of thumb is to have three-to-six months of your living expenses in cash, but I recommend having six-to-nine months as your default. Yes, my trauma is showing.”

4. “For anyone who has worked in marketing, this utter disregard of customers and market research is mind-blowing. How can they possibly make so many decisions that run counter to user preferences? You couldn’t run a laundromat that way, so how can it work with a multibillion dollar global corporation?

There’s only one reason why they do this.

They do it because they’re so dominant they actually believe that they own you. Even if they don’t say it, that’s what they think.

I’ve focused here on Facebook, but there’s a larger lesson here. Web platforms don’t fail because of the competition. They don’t self-destruct because they are weak. The collapse comes because they are strong. They lose the thread because of their dominance and power, which gives their leaders the mindset of authoritarian rulers.

The solution is simple: Serve the users, instead of manipulating them.”

5. “In the past, I’ve heard the entrepreneur’s three jobs presented as the following:

-Set a mission and vision

-Find and nurture the best people

-Ensure there’s enough cash in the bank

While I believe those three to still be true, a fast growing business that’s transitioned from startup to scaleup needs a strong editor and curator.

More scale results in more competing interests and complexity. More scale results in more initiatives and more opportunities. Scaleups, even with an incredibly successful core business, can easily lose their way chasing The Next Big Thing. Saying “no” becomes even more important than saying “yes.”

6. “Today, the creation of popular consumer products often proceeds in the reverse order of operations. Internet influencers build massive followings on social media — in other words, they capture attention — then they go out and create products to sell to that audience.

That’s the exact playbook that Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast) is perfecting. Only 24 years old, MrBeast has built an enormous audience by creating viral content like re-building Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, amassing more than 200 million subscribers across multiple YouTube channels (as of last week, his original channel — with 112 million subs — made him the most followed person on YouTube)

And now he’s selling products to that audience.”

7. Any American who is still in Russia working now is a frigging moron and deserves what they will get.

8. “In short, our governments tell us they want us to prosper, and contribute to our economies. But their actions make this an impossible reality for most people at the bottom — resulting in the weakening overall economic prosperity of a nation, and the majority of economic wealth concentrating at the very top.

Something that many argue has been the plan all along.

But remember: if your nation’s ecosystem makes it impossible for you to play fairly within it, our world is structured so that you can go and do business somewhere else.”

9. Irony.

“Bankman-Fried’s loss has unquestionably been CoinDesk’s editorial gain: The site’s readership doubled to almost 17 million page views in November, according to internal company data, as its coverage has outpaced competition from traditional newsrooms like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. But CoinDesk, which has about 160 employees, now finds itself in an uncomfortable — and possibly unprecedented — position for a media company: While its reporting has vaulted the digital publication to new heights, its coverage could cripple its parent company and even force a sale of CoinDesk itself.

“Look, it’s been wild. I don’t suppose we ever expected the level of fallout from our initial scoop,” Casey admitted to me. “We knew we had something important. But we really didn’t quite realize that we had a story that would end up unraveling things so quickly. It’s been stunning to be in the middle of it.”

Just how in the middle is CoinDesk? Consider: CoinDesk is owned by Digital Currency Group, a privately held firm controlled and run by billionaire Barry Silbert. DCG also owns crypto lender Genesis Global Capital, and customers of Genesis worry that it, like many of its competitors, could face the same fate as FTX.

Two weeks after CoinDesk’s initial FTX report, Genesis suspended customer withdrawals from its lending business. It has since hired lawyers to stave off bankruptcy.”

10. “That, put crudely, is Western thinking about Europe’s worst war since 1945. It is both cruel and dangerous. Cruel, because the suffering of the Ukrainian population (and the tens of thousands of battlefield casualties) are just collateral damage: something we have to accept on the road to an eventual ceasefire. Dangerous, because it ignores the real cause of the war and the only chance of lasting peace: the defeat of Russian imperialism.”

11. Must read encapsulation of the tech industry over the last 23 years. A must For ALL tech founders and investors.

12. Morris Chang of TSMC always has insightful things to say. Great thread on his latest speech.

13. “The best and most reliable way to appear interesting is to live an interesting life.

And to pursue that ends up being far more rewarding than merely making a good impression on others.”

14. There is a heck of A LOT to be optimistic about on the tech side. AI, Energy, Biotech, space. So many good things are coming. Read this and it’s not sci fi but sci fact.

15. Insightful take and teardown on the hated Ticketmaster’s business model.

16. “If you look at every purchase you make as an investment in yourself and your future, then a few things might happen:

1. You’d realize that it’s not about having infinite choice but about making smarter and more well-informed decisions.

2. The pool of viable products would shrink to become very manageable, with just a few brands being able to satisfy your everyday essential needs.

3. You would automatically end up with fewer better things as your needs have become more known and refined.

Now, you could take this a step further and calculate your overall costs of all the things that you need every year on an everyday basis.

That would give you a very good idea of what your chosen lifestyle would cost or the potential for upgrading your lifestyle by making smarter investment decisions.”

17. “Successful Americans no longer feel the need to signal. So they now demonstrate their status through countersignaling. Other cultures still practice straightforward signaling.

Returning to the level of the individual, if you are trying to level up, the best approach is to borrow the strategies of those a little ahead of you — people who are still signaling. Beware of imitating those who are so far ahead that they can afford to countersignal.

If you are relatively early on your path, it is natural to seek advice from those who have achieved astounding success in your area of interest. You’d be better off, though, asking people who are on a similar trajectory as yourself, but a little further ahead. If you’re a white belt and want to level up, don’t ask the black belt (or red belt) what to do. Ask the purple belt.”

18. “By choosing to resist invasion in the name of freedom, Ukrainians have reminded us of this. And in doing so, they have offered us many interesting thoughts about what freedom might be. Volodymyr Zelens’kyi, for example, makes the interesting point that freedom and security tend to work together.

Throughout this war, speaking to Ukrainians, I have been struck that they define freedom as a positive project, as a way of being in the world, a richness of the future.

Freedom doesn’t just mean overcoming the Russians; it means creating better and more interesting lives and a better and more interesting country.”

19. “In short: 1) continue waiting on RE, 2) if you’re wealthy look into bonds middle of Q1, 3) if there is *no* money printing, deflationary issues could show up in 2H23 and 4) if you’re in the market for a used car start looking now as it’s pretty bad. You can get a decent deal if you pay cash.”

20. “Chris Dixon was one of the the first to coin the term ‘Single Player Mode’. Sangeet Paul Choudary calls it ‘Standalone Mode’.

‘The idea is to initially attract users with a single-player tool and then, over time, get them to participate in a network. The tool helps get to initial critical mass. The network creates the long term value for users, and defensibility for the company’ — Chris Dixon

It means that you create a tool which adds value to one side of the marketplace without the value proposition of connecting them to the other side of the marketplace.

Usually this product is a tool which solves a problem for the supply side.

While traditionally Single Player Mode has been defined from the user’s perspective (the customer who is using the product in standalone mode) I define it from the founder’s perspective (selling to one side of the marketplace, rather than two or more).”

21. This is lovely. Friends are family that you choose.

22. “The key message of this article is that the adaptive capacity of an institution — its ability to adapt on the battlefield and as an institution — is critical to success in war. As Barno and Bensahel write, “preparing to adapt in the next war is just as important as preparing to fight itself.” This preparing to adapt must take place at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of military forces.

Succeeding in the adaptation battle, founded on robust institutional learning, is a core part of war. It is the most human of endeavours.

Creativity, innovation, and a tolerance of failure are important components of a successful, adaptive military institution. It demands good leadership, experimentation and the humility to learn lessons from the mistakes and successes of others.

Keeping ahead of Russia in the adaptation battle has been an important component of Ukraine’s success so far in this war.”

23. Good advice for work and home life.

24. “It’s also interesting to think about what AI will do to the creative workforce. I tend to believe that it is more likely to automate out tasks, not whole jobs — that making it easier to get from zero to one in the creative process will only enable more creative experts to work on higher order, more challenging and interesting tasks.

That being said, I’d hate to be a stock photography model these days.

What this tech definitely does is that it expands the size of the creator market. In the early days of User Generated Content, the mantra was “everyone can be a creator” and we talked a lot about the long tail of artists.”

25. A Critical step of every fundraise that most folks overlook.

“For many founders, avoiding the elephant in the room can spell disaster for a fundraising process. Spending sufficient time before you fundraise to identify them, describe them, and effectively overcome them can dramatically increase your success rate.”

26. “This potentially leaves quite a dilemma for the West. Will we continue to pour weapons and ammunition into Ukraine, if the war slows down? How long will we continue to support the Ukrainians so vigorously if there is no end in sight? The West is not well-adapted to gray-area conflicts fluctuating somewhere between war and peace.

We like to have war and then peace — not a little bit of both, and that confusion will unevitably spread dissent and disagreements between Western nations. I believe this is what the enigmatic Putin is currently betting on.”

27. “To generate outsized returns, you have to be comfortable with most people thinking you are an idiot. Prices on the assets you’re investing in will be lower and, if you’re right, the returns will be that much higher. It does, however, require a strong sense of confidence to employ this strategy. You have to be willing to be wrong, publicly, and perhaps for many years.”

28. This is a surprisingly optimistic view of the American economy. Hope he is right.

29. “Africa is set to remain deeply enmeshed in the modern Superpower confrontations. It is a proxy fight and inherently tied up in the confrontation between Russia and China, and the West. Russia is recruiting from Africa for the war effort in Ukraine. Is this a sign of weakness, as The Daily Beast suggests, or is it evidence that Russia is preparing to unleash more migrants on the EU?

The EU senses that trouble is brewing, and the latter may be a problem. They are launching two “Team Europe Initiatives” to deal with any possible upsurge in migration from Africa to Europe. It is hard to dispute the idea that Africa is now caught up again in a new Great Game between the major superpowers.

It is worth considering how all this will look in the rearview mirror of history when we try to understand what WWII looked like at the start. Some countries will become its new front line. Others will stay out of the fray and emerge stronger and wealthier. Now is the time to think through the possibilities and probabilities.

At the same time, African nations are making decisions that make it easier for entrepreneurs to flourish and for technological advances to occur ever faster. Now is a good time to think about what African capital markets will look like in a decade. I believe that there will be enough good stories and success to warrant time and attention today.”

30. This is a big deal: Japan is arming up even more! Very important in geopolitical sphere.

31. “Historically, recycling has been seen as positive for everyone involved: VCs, their LPs and startups. The only downside typically mentioned is that recycling delays the time until investors start to receive cash distributions from the fund (“delaying DPI” in VC parlance).

Recently, a worrisome trend has emerged amongst a handful of multi-stage funds that reflects a dark side of VC recycling: funds attempting to force startups to shut down or sell so that they can recapture and redeploy their investment dollars within their recycling period.”

32. Kaboom! My friend Zach is a great investor and founders are lucky to have him on the cap table.

33. China is in big trouble. Important to watch.

34. So many nuggets here on geopolitics. Zeihan is always informative.

35. This is old news but sure…..”Bleisure” travelers.

36. Some good info on Patriots in Ukraine. Calculus has changed due to even more Russian atrocities and genocide in Ukraine. #russiaisterroriststate

37. Excellent discussion especially on valuations of tech companies. Worth watching.



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

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Marvin Liao

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