Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads December 6th, 2020

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” -Albert Einstein

  1. Ryan Reynolds is one of the very few Hollywood celebrities who knows how to invest in and promote startups & products in such a savvy & effective way.

“Standing over a bear trap, Reynolds dryly states: “At Mint Mobile, we don’t hate you.”

Reynolds enjoys nearly 17 million Twitter followers & more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Moreover, he doesn’t exclusively promote his brands on social media, but weaves in his own funny personal commentary or gives followers a peek into his marriage with Blake Lively, which we can all agree is #relationshipgoals.

Mint Mobile partners exclusively with T-Mobile to provide service, & unlike some other MVNOs, it uses a direct-to-consumer model, foregoing any physical footprint. Plans start at $15/month & top out at $30/month. CMO Aron North says that Reynolds’ ownership & involvement with Mint Mobile is “absolutely critical.”

“Ryan is an A plus plus celebrity, and he’s very funny and entertaining and engaging,” said North. “His reach has given us a much bigger platform to speak on. I would say he is absolutely critical in our success and our growth.”

2. Incredibly insightful and important for whatever you do.

“You see this pattern with startup founders too. You don’t want to start a startup to do something that everyone agrees is a good idea, or there will already be other companies doing it. You have to do something that sounds to most other people like a bad idea, but that you know isn’t — like writing software for a tiny computer used by a few thousand hobbyists, or starting a site to let people rent airbeds on strangers’ floors.

Ditto for essayists. An essay that told people things they already knew would be boring. You have to tell them something new.

But this pattern isn’t universal. In fact, it doesn’t hold for most kinds of work. In most kinds of work — to be an administrator, for example — all you need is the first half. All you need is to be right. It’s not essential that everyone else be wrong.

There’s room for a little novelty in most kinds of work, but in practice there’s a fairly sharp distinction between the kinds of work where it’s essential to be independent-minded, and the kinds where it’s not.”

“Independent-mindedness seems to be more a matter of nature than nurture. Which means if you pick the wrong type of work, you’re going to be unhappy. If you’re naturally independent-minded, you’re going to find it frustrating to be a middle manager. And if you’re naturally conventional-minded, you’re going to be sailing into a headwind if you try to do original research.”

3. Interesting list of countries. Would love to visit Colombia, Mongolia and Uzbekistan. Big fan of Armenia and Ukraine.

“Beyond any other metric that you care to mention, culture is important. How people think and how they act when faced with an obstacle is valuable information.

If they are not adaptable or hard-working, why should a nation full of people with such a mindset ever do well?

All around the world, there are countries with the capacity to be fantastic economic powerhouses, but for some reason or another, their progress was halted. It might have been that they didn’t have the technology, the business know-how, the capital markets, or the political system to move forward.

But the culture is there. And now they’re in a position to rise up to face the challenge, and you can make a tidy profit by helping them do so.”

4. This is a good background on Ryan Reynolds advertising agency he co-runs.

“Besides being known for his role in the Deadpool movies, a witty Twitter presence, and his banters with Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds is also the co-founder of the ad agency, Maximum Effort Productions.

He heads the agency with George Dewey, content, communication, and creative professional who has worked at McCann, SpaceX, and Twentieth Century Fox.

The duo decided to formalize the venture in 2018 after their marketing efforts for Deadpool 2 raked in $785 million at the box office.”

5. Man, I really want to go mushroom picking in Ukraine.

6. “As we steam towards the end of this “annus horribilis” and look to a brighter future, we need to rethink how we handle differences, of all kinds. Let us begin with this basic premise: weird is good. Lean in.”

7. I’m very optimistic here. I believe as horrible as Covid has been, it will awaken immense innovation and opportunities for all of us. It will end the Great Stagnation we’ve been in the last few decades

“But perhaps VR/AR can become the next consumer electronic platform with a whole suite of specialized productivity-enhancing features, similar to the previous waves of computers and mobile phones. It seems plausible that many future vaccines will be made more quickly using this same mRNA technique that (we hope) works for COVID.

Maybe specialized AI manages to find 20 to 40% improvements to basically every informationally complex task we do. Finally we could see driverless cars/trains/trucks fulfill their promise and reshape American cities in a more healthy and human-centric way. With advanced geothermal or nuclear energy we would not only have clean energy, but abundant energy too cheap to meter, with all the economic applications downstream benefiting from that.

If some combination of those things happen, we will look back at the roaring 20’s as the decade which broke through the Great Stagnation.”

8. “We don’t expect successful business managers to be fortune tellers either. So what do you do if you can’t predict the future, and don’t want your company caught off-guard as you navigate an uncertain, ever-changing economic landscape?

We’ve found that nimble, adaptive companies tend to be successful over the long term and offer investors a wider margin of safety. Indeed, we would argue that relying exclusively on valuation for safety, especially given the accelerating pace of disruption in the Information Age, is downright dangerous.”

9. “The EU is the region with the greatest degree of participation in global value chains, but that participation — in the EU’s regional value chain as well as globally — is shrinking fast, a phenomenon that may have significant relevance for the integration of the EU single market. The EU’s decreasing role in value chains is linked to technological innovation and human capital. On both fronts, we find preliminary evidence that China is catching up very fast.”

10. “The good news for entrepreneurs is that windows of opportunities for startups always keep opening and closing in various markets at different points in time. The bad news is that any particular window of opportunity remains open for a short time. Therefore, timing in a market can make or break a business. Launch too soon and customers reject it for being too unfamiliar and launch too late and the market is already well-established.

Both having no competitors or having too many competitors is a clear sign of wrong timing. Don’t build things nobody wants. And don’t build things that competitors are already fulfilling. Capitalism rewards rare and valuable.”

11. Interesting move but such an awesome eclectic career path like many of the best people in Silicon Valley (or anywhere).

12. Not sure how I feel about this. One of biggest things I missed in 2020 is going to a live bookstore and browsing around.

13. Sadly this is a bad outcome for the early investors and employees. Liquidation preferences matter.

What happens when you raise too much money too early and just don’t ship & sell to grow into your valuation. It happens alot.

14. Not sure why anyone would be surprised here that China is fudging their Covid numbers. They fudge their economic growth numbers and most numbers. Period.

“I believe that the Chinese government is massively under-reporting infection data in the pandemic regions of Hubei and Zhejiang provinces.

Just like the American government massively over-reported North Vietnamese casualty data in the Vietnam War.”

15. Hard not to get outraged by reading this. There is alot here & it’s aged well since April.

“Those stories are dying. They are dying because the institutions built on those stories failed us all, and all at once.

First, the people die; then, the stories.

The failures of these institutions were not simple mistakes, evidence of wrongness of one kind or another. The failures of these institutions were failures of narrative, devastating revelations of each institution’s fundamental inability to do what they said they would do.

“Friends, for the first time in any of our lifetimes, everyone around us is seeing the same things that we are seeing about the same institutions. They know the same things we know. We may all observe in real-time the brokenness of a fragile economic system built on the present-efficient tools of the Long Now, the over-optimization of cash, inventory, supply chains, operating and financial leverage.

We may all observe in real-time how complexity makes liars out of global institutions designed with political pacification of the masses (“All is well!”) as their primary purpose.

First the People

16. Good one from my buddy.

“The fact that more founders are choosing to create syndicates highlights another shift in early-stage venture capital: the stigma around “party rounds” is all but gone. In the past, having no clear lead was seen as risky due to the lack of available follow-on capital. “If things go south,” the narrative went, “no one will bail you out.” While that can still hold true to some extent, it’s far less of an issue that in previous years, particularly at the early stages.”

“Free of the stigma of syndicates and with an unprecedented number of early-stage funding options, I expect we’ll see many more founders raise “non-traditional” Pre-Seed and Seed rounds in the years ahead.”

17. Key lessons from the Salesforce acquisition of Slack. Think it makes alot of sense.

“What you can learn:

— Bundling is magic.

— Salesforce and Microsoft are the main two natural acquirers for any enterprise SaaS product.

— If you control the right layer in the value chain — like a central hub for employee communication — the strategic value of your position might be worth more to acquirers than as a stand-alone money-printing business.”

18. “While the story of American Dream is unique in many ways, its struggles are emblematic of the bleak future facing many US malls and department stores — whose destinies have long been intertwined. The downfall of these onetime crown jewels of retail will have meaningful impacts on the Americans who work for them and the communities they’ve long called home.”

“Across the US, department stores are shrinking or shuttering altogether. In 2011, US department stores employed 1.2 million employees across 8,600 stores, according to estimates from the research firm IBISWorld. But in 2020, there are now fewer than 700,000 employees in the sector, working across just over 6,000 locations.”

19. Lots of great founder wisdom here from cofounder of Segment.

“The startups who most rapidly improve are the ones who are able to take outside information, and then incorporate it into their product, their strategy, and their worldview. That’s why, you should always be optimizing for one metric in addition to revenue and user growth: learning.

At any given time, your startup should have somewhere between 1–3 existential risks. Big questions that you are worried about that you really want the answers to. It’s your job to get the answers to these questions.”

“For most startups, it’s better to do a few things well than try and do too many things poorly.”

20. So very interesting for architecture fans. Super trippy pics of Soviet architecture.

21. This is SUPER interesting & a BIG DEAL!

“Liquidity is Coming” to startup land!

22. WOW. I mean HP totally sucks now & sort of irrelevant but they were one of the first in Silicon Valley. This move to Houston is kind of big deal and signal.

“Sobering” is right. This is not just an indictment of Silicon Valley but the poorly governed extreme left wing progressive mess that is California. (BTW I am left wing too)

23. “So what do I believe the future holds for venture partnerships vs. solo capitalists?

I believe solo capitalists are here to stay. They are finding founder-investor fit with a number of entrepreneurs, and leading competitive financing rounds. They’re an interesting option for founders, and an exciting career path for investors at any stage.

But I do also believe that the best partnerships have advantages that enable them to out-perform on all aspects of the venture capital model over a long period of time.”

24. Ben is super credible and has a very impressive portfolio as both an angel and VC. No surprise this fund is oversubscribed.

“Between the more than five years that Ling spent with Sand Hill Road firm and the “nearly 80” investments he made as an angel investor before that, he says he has invested in 10 “unicorns” altogether so far, including Rippling, Airtable, Udemy, Quora, Instacart, Gusto, and the now publicly traded companies Pagerduty, Square, Lyft, and Palantir.

A Stanford PhD in computer science, Ling insists that by working as a lone GP — one supported by three principals — he can continue getting into more hot deals, too. “It’simportant because you can make decisions much more quickly, whereas in partnerships, you have to get a partner looped in, and all those days can cost you an investment opportunity.”

25. This is a pretty neat story. Nav the Flash crash trader.

26. This is a good retrospective look at 2020: reminder that as crap as it was, there may be some good things coming out of the year where the world literally has changed.

27. This is sad but it shows that EVERYONE faces their own internal demons. Even more so when you have resources to enable them. The world lost a good man here.

“He fostered so much human connection and happiness, yet there was this void,” the close friend continued. “It was difficult for him to be alone.”

“In some ways, count him as another Covid-19 victim, except that instead of succumbing to the disease itself, the virus appears to have accelerated some wrenching internal battles and a series of terrible external decisions.”

28. “Find your purpose in life through meditation and prayer. Or, find your calling through repeated and difficult failure in life.

But once you find that purpose, devote yourself to that ideal and don’t let it go. You are here for a reason. Put everything else out of your mind. Pay whatever price you must. Seek out your goal with single-minded fervour.

Be careful not to limit yourself too narrowly when you devote yourself to your ideal purpose. The Greeks understood the danger of doing so.”

“The Greeks were not trying to create men who would easily be pulled into various different directions. They were actually trying to build men who were good at being MEN. This lifestyle would create men with strong bodies, minds, and souls. That was the Greek notion of balance: a body, mind, and soul working in harmony.

This reached its apotheosis with, of all things, the Spartan agoge. The agoge was a brutal and terrifying system of education by soft, weak, and pitiful modern standards.”

29. Lots of good insights here. Well worth a read for founders and investors.

“One thing few people realize about billionaires is that all of them could have stopped sooner. They could have gotten acquired, or found someone else to run the company. Many founders do. The ones who become really rich are the ones who keep working. And what makes them keep working is not just money. What keeps them working is the same thing that keeps anyone else working when they could stop if they wanted to: that there’s nothing else they’d rather do.

That, not exploiting people, is the defining quality of people who become billionaires from starting companies. So that’s what YC looks for in founders: authenticity. People’s motives for starting startups are usually mixed. They’re usually doing it from some combination of the desire to make money, the desire to seem cool, genuine interest in the problem, and unwillingness to work for someone else. The last two are more powerful motivators than the first two. It’s ok for founders to want to make money or to seem cool. Most do. But if the founders seem like they’re doing it just to make money or just to seem cool, they’re not likely to succeed on a big scale.”

30. “Savvy investors have realised that diversification is as relevant to lifestyle planning as it is to wealth management. By spreading their assets across a range of markets and jurisdictions, over time they are more likely to harvest returns than if they hedge their bets on one country alone — even if that is a world-leading nation.”

“Increasingly, people prefer the concept of being a global citizen, rather than being solely tied to the country of their birth,” he said. “They too value the many associated benefits including visa-free travel, world-class education, optimal healthcare, political and economic stability, reduced tax liabilities and wider business and career opportunities.

“The pandemic has brought into sharp focus what really matters to people: family, freedom and security.”

31. “Outside of the positive changes that COVID-19 is bringing *for a select group[* (ability to save tons of time and increase margins), we can look at the implications of the December shut down which are as follows: 1) more restaurants/retail will be shut down for good, 2) this will cause online sales to see a significant boost in December, 3) companies that were on the fence about remote working, will likely make it a permanent option, 4) major cities will continue to see outflows for example SF -> Nevada/Texas, Boston/NYC -> Miami/Carolinas, and preference for lower cost cities such as Nashville, 5) executives will be paid a *lot* since they know their workers won’t be able to move easily & 6) additional loss of trust with the government will make a vaccine deployment harder as citizens will not trust the initial solution.

Putting feelings aside, that appears to be the impact of the decision to shut down businesses in major cities. That said, you (yes you the reader) has to adapt or die. Keep your costs at near zero (especially if you own anything related to brick and mortar) and continue to build an online business/presence. The big will get bigger, but at least e-tail/online sales is a growing market.”

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

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