Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads January 10th, 2021

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Hard not to be optimistic about our technology driven future when I read this. But the question: is society ready to get behind this. Must read.

“Collectively, these technologies add up to a lot of possibility. If we cure a bunch of diseases, slow down aspects of aging, realize cheap and emissions-free baseload energy, and deploy new modes of transportation and better construction technologies, we will almost certainly exceed 2 percent TFP growth. But we might not do these things.

It all depends on execution. The underlying science is there. The engineers are willing. Even the funding is available in most cases. But, as a society, how much urgency do we feel? Our culture does not prioritize progress — it fights, destructively, for status. And our politics reflects our culture.

I want to go faster.”

2. This looks like a trippy new SciFi movie. Very curious now.

3. Who is MrBeast??

“Today, MrBeast has almost 34M subscribers and his videos have been watched over 5 billion times. Even if you’re not familiar with MrBeast, it is very likely that you have seen one of his videos. Most of MrBeast’s videos are best described as extreme acts of generosity and/or outrageous experiments.”

“MrBeast has quickly become one of the biggest creators on YouTube and he is showing zero signs of slowing down. It might be hard to believe that a 21-year-old from a small town in North Carolina is running laps around the internet, but I think that’s the beauty and power of the internet.

I am 100% confident that within the next few years MrBeast will be the biggest individual creator on YouTube.”

4. Long one but worth a read to get a sense of what’s happening in China. Also the trade war with the USA.

“For the most part, the control hawks faction of the government has had a run of the table, shown by the fact that US agencies have been more focused on taking down Chinese firms than extending US strengths. At a time when it’s more important than ever to advance its semiconductor companies, the government is crippling their sales to their largest or fastest-growing market.

When research capabilities at US universities need to grow, the government is denying them students. And when the US should be attracting more talent to its shores, the government has made it more difficult for people to immigrate. Thus the US looks committed to a strategy to destroy the scientific and industrial establishment in order to save it.”

5. Well said.

“San Francisco might never return. While the Bay Area is incredible, SF is a deteriorating product. Like a bad gym, Covid expired the credit card, and customers are realizing — heck — it’s not worth renewing my membership.

In 2021 and beyond, I imagine people will diffuse to the Bay Area. Just like things were in 2008. Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sonoma, etc. The decade-long mismanagement of SF may be viewed as one of the most squandered opportunities of the modern era.

In closing, I imagine California will remain home for the Megaprojects and other cities like Miami can become generators of new networks. Both highly lucrative — Google and Uber are fine companies.”

6. Good advice.

“One big lesson reinforced to me in 2020 was to stay small, stay nimble. I know that sounds cliche, but I always think of the difference between rideshare options like Uber and Lyft vs all the money that California has burned away trying to get high speed rail up and running. Fixed costs are a bear.

Being able to tap into resources when I need them is of even greater value to me now as we hopefully approach a post-pandemic world. I’ve been trying to refactor everything I do to move away from fixed things to variable ones, and if there’s one bright spot operationally from 2020, it would be this lesson.

Of course, just a year ago today none of us knew what was in store. It could happen again, or something as improbable. So, the best I can do is plan for what I think will happen, pay close attention, and adjust accordingly when the situation changes.”

7. “In September, the company he helped found in 2017, Compass Pathways, which has developed a synthetic version of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and is conducting the world’s first large-scale therapy clinical trial using the drug, listed in New York. His 28% stake, which cost him around $55m over multiple rounds, became worth more than $400m.

Next spring the biotech company he founded Atai Life Sciences — which is pursuing a large range of treatments for mental-health disorders using other more obscure drugs such as DMT, ar-ketamine and ibogaine — is set to go public as well at an expected $1bn-$2bn valuation, according to bankers familiar with the process.

With these high-profile exits and an increasingly large fortune — his investment company, Apeiron Investment Group, manages around $750m of his own money and $600m of others’ and invests in longevity research, biotech, fintech, spacetech, crypto and entertainment — Angermayer is becoming one of Europe’s most powerful and influential tech investors.”

8. Uh oh. I’m optimistic but it’s going to be a lot of work and pain next few years to get things back on track.

9. As a history major, I’ve been fascinated by the Hapsburg dynasty. One of longest existing multinational empires in the world.

10. I’d do more than 2% but to each their own.

“Though I have changed my mind on Bitcoin, I haven’t necessarily changed my view on how one should invest in it. I believe that the only prudent way to invest in this asset class without any long-term negative repercussions is to hold no more than 2% of your portfolio in it. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for everyone, but it may work for some people. By limiting your exposure to 2% of your portfolio, you’re unlikely to get rich, but you’re unlikely to go bankrupt either.”

11. “In fact, why do we need the voluminous output of tech-oriented newsletters covering startups (by my count, there are at least several thousand newsletters covering our industry)? Why, in a media world that was supposed to be all about the long-tail, does it seem that every new media startup is targeting the same single niche over and over again?

That’s where the cauldrons of gold come in. Media is not unlike many startup markets — there may be infinite needs for diverse products, but there are only a handful of those needs that have serious dollars attached to them.

In media, these are beats like DC politics, or investment banking / M&A, or VC coverage in our quaint little world of startups, where the winners get to own massive audiences and, by extension, massive dollars from subscribers and advertisers. There are thousands of other niches, but they are impoverished with limited readership, users and recourse to revenue.

Put another way, these are tournament markets, where the winners can take all and where it is worth the gamble to have a small chance at a massive outcome rather than a good chance at a mediocre one.”

12. “Yikes! The Chapwood Index shows that the average inflation over the last 5 years is between 8.1% & 12.9% in the top 10 cities. That is a big difference between the 2% inflation assumptions that people make.

One way to think about this is if you are simply generating 8% a year in stock market returns on average, your investment returns are not keeping up with the real rate of inflation in these cities. That is a major problem for the top 50% of Americans who have investable assets, let alone a death sentence for the financial health of the bottom 50% of

Americans who hold no investable assets.

I bring up this idea of true inflation vs the CPI numbers because it is the single most important thing that is impacting the finances of tens of millions of Americans. The continued devaluation of our currency is enriching those who hold investable assets, but punishing those who simply save their wealth in cash. The system is working as designed. It is a feature, not a bug.

Savers are punished and investors are rewarded.”

13. This is an old one but it does raise some questions/issues with the online ad world.

“Uber eventually cut $120M of its $150M programmatic budget with no impact. The effect was so surprising that they dug deeper and found evidence of fraud. Fake apps, phantom clicks, the works.

Uber’s not alone in finding that their ad spend is well-nigh useless, but the striking fact is how little organizations care. The people that uncover this often have to fight heavy internal resistance, and often lose. In reality, this is what the marketing department is selling. The idea that they have any control over marketing at all.

As Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” This makes you wonder how much isn’t being uncovered because no one is incentivized to find out.”

14. Criticism relevant to the US Government as well.

“As the Atlantic journalist Tom McTague observed back in August, the entire British state has been found wanting, as this country “has found a way to be simultaneously overcentralized and weak at its centre”. The problem is not just the Conservative Government, though that has failed entirely: it is the entire superstructure around it, the Civil Service, Public Health England, the media. The British state and its parasitic para-state are both entirely unfit for purpose.

“Back in the spring, distracted by the global crisis of liberalism, the pandemic was presented as a test between liberalism and authoritarianism. The success of East Asian democracies such as Taiwan and South Korea, however, shows that the crucial distinction is in fact simply that between functioning state bureaucracies and inept ones.

It is noteworthy, perhaps, that Taiwan and South Korea, as well as the also-successful Israel, are neighboured by enemies, and have experience in military mass mobilisation as a result.”

15. If this does not make you wary about doing business in China, Not sure what will.

16. Okay, if this is not a reason to be optimistic about 2021: Shake Shack’s Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich!

17. Lessons from history. Heed them.

“U.S. leaders must speak clearly, forthrightly, and unambiguously to the American people, declaring with both word and deed that insurrection will not be tolerated. Already, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other prominent senators have used the word “insurrection” to describe today’s events, which is good. And many leading Republicans have condemned the putsch, which is good.

But this must not be lip service. We can’t forget the events of today, or turn the page, or move on, or forgive and forget. Otherwise we risk an even worse coup attempt months or years down the line. If there’s one thing we don’t want to be, it’s 1930s Japan.”

18. We are in a LARP world. America on the bleeding edge in a bad way.

“Would it be better to replace fantasy with a proper sense of the real world? Ideally, yes, perhaps, but we’re now seemingly past that. The real world is almost a figment. We live surrounded by the Internet — we live inside it — and the institutionalized truth of the past has lost its hold.

The hierarchical society, religion, the old elites, the natural limits of technology: all the monuments of the past are struggling to survive in the new America. So we will have to be somewhat more sophisticated about these matters. It’s not that all the conspiracies and prophecies multiplying on both the Right and the Left should be taken seriously, but that it has become increasingly difficult to say what should — the real world? “

19. This is incredibly prescient. Media founders is definitely a business opportunity for many people.

20. These are pretty good predictions for 2021 on the defense & strategy front.

21. Go Portugal! I’m maximum bullish here.

22. This is pretty amazing. Also the future of business in my opinion.

“While Gumroad was no longer on track to become a billion-dollar company, I acquired a new asset: time. I used that time to take classes on writing and painting.

Because I was burned out and didn’t want to think about working any more than I needed to, I instituted a no-meeting, no-deadline culture.

For me, it was no longer about growth at all costs, but “freedom at all costs.”

This way, Gumroad stayed profitable, I could take a much-needed break to explore my hobbies, and the product continued to improve over time.”

23. More on the Gumroad workplace. Extreme but think it will be more common which is a good thing.

“The “anti-overtime” rate really gets me thinking as it’s a catalytic mechanism to align the internal expectations with the contractor‘s wallet. We’re here to work no more than 20 hours/week. If you need more time to do whatever, go for it, but it’s at your discretion and at a significantly reduced rate.

Thinking about contractors working no more than 20 hours week, it likely aligns with how much “real” work gets done in a normal 40 hour week. Time spent in meetings, going to lunch, socializing at the water cooler (virtual or otherwise), etc. likely isn’t “creator” time but does have social value and cultural importance. When it’s stripped away and time is only spent on the desired output, what changes?

Overall, No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees is an incredible read that feels like a new type of business where the working style fills an unmet need for some (many?) people. I believe the trend of contractors, freelancers, gig workers is only accelerating and a company like Gumroad is the logical extreme. The big question: when does something that seems extreme today become commonplace?”

24. “If you now work into your 70s or 80s in a rapidly changing job market, then… [we must set] time aside to make fundamental investments in re-learning and re-skilling,” the professors argue, adding that technological disruption is making the multi-career pathway inevitable.

Similarly, researchers like David Epstein argue that the dogma of specialism is a farce. In his 2019 book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, Epstein demonstrates how star athletes, scientists, and business gurus all actually nurture several interests and skills, rather than a single niche.

Many experts argue that we can — and should — excel in multiple professions across a lifetime.”

Listen to this Newsletter:

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store