Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads January 3rd, 2021

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” — Seneca

  1. Great interview. Love George Clooney.

2. “All successful startups take a tremendous amount of work. Whether it’s five years of effort (low end) or 10 years of effort (much more common), it takes an incredible amount of time and energy such that it’s best to pursue the biggest, most audacious ideas.

So, the next time you’re evaluating startup ideas, remember that it’s the same amount of work to produce a good outcome as it is to produce a great outcome, so think big.”

3. Seed stage investing was absolutely bonkers in 2020 despite (or maybe because of the pandemic). I was very surprised like many.

4. Thought this was damn funny. It happened 4 years ago but its still funny to me.

5. Regardless, travel henceforth will not ever be the same.

“But while higher prices will be a reality in the short to medium term, the long-term forecast is for a return to the kind of global travel we knew before this year — probably by mid-2022 or 2023.

Whether we apply the lessons we were more or less forced to learn through lockdown — about sustainability, the fragile state of the planet and the need to curate our future experiences in a more ethical and eco-friendly manner — is still an open question.”

6. Russia may be a beneficiary of global warming.

“Around the world, climate change is becoming an epochal crisis, a nightmare of drought, desertification, flooding and unbearable heat, threatening to make vast regions less habitable and drive the greatest migration of refugees in history.

But for a few nations, climate change will present an unparalleled opportunity, as the planet’s coldest regions become more temperate. There is plenty of reason to think that those places will also receive an extraordinary influx of people displaced from the hottest parts of the world as the climate warms.”

“And no country may be better positioned to capitalize on climate change than Russia. Russia has the largest land mass by far of any northern nation. It is positioned farther north than all of its South Asian neighbors, which collectively are home to the largest global population fending off displacement from rising seas, drought and an overheating climate. Like Canada, Russia is rich in resources and land, with room to grow.”

7. Death Star is right. At least in cybersecurity terms.

“This week Microsoft took a series of dramatic steps against the recent SolarWinds supply chain attack. In the size, speed and scope of its actions, Microsoft has reminded the world that it can still muster firepower like no one else as a nearly-overwhelming force for good.”

8. A man after my own heart.

“As much as Popovich knows about hoops, he really knows food and wine. “I don’t know that he doesn’t know more about wine than he does about basketball,” former Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo says. Popovich scouts restaurants and wine lists as obsessively as he might any opponent. Before games, in his office, he can be found watching the Food Network. Sommeliers and restaurateurs claim to owe their careers to the man.

As absurd as it seems, one of the greatest basketball coaches in history might be more revered in the culinary world.”

9. Great profile on MrBeast. Crushing it.

“Over the past four years, Donaldson‘s channel, MrBeast, has amassed more than 48 million subscribers. In the last 28 days, people have spent more than 34 million hours watching his videos. On Dec. 12, MrBeast was named Creator of the Year at the Streamy Awards, YouTube’s equivalent of the Oscars.

The consistent success of MrBeast’s videos has gotten the attention of the YouTube establishment. Last year, every video he posted eclipsed 20 million views. Such consistency is unparalleled, even among YouTube’s biggest stars. “He lives on a different planet than the rest of the YouTube world,” said Casey Neistat, a filmmaker turned YouTuber.”

10. Shows that it is still early days in IoT.

“Almost four years ago, France’s Sigfox was riding high as a newly anointed unicorn and seemed to signal the potential of the internet of things (IoT). These days, SigFox is a cautionary tale about how too much hype can lead to expectations that are difficult to realize.”

11. “Once a tech startup has reached the growth stage, VCs (and increasingly private equity firms) from Silicon Valley and around the world are unequivocally in play. As such, a lack of willingness on the part of U.S. investors to back a Canadian company should rightfully raise questions. Assuming that the company is competing in a large market, a failure to raise growth capital from any Silicon Valley VC means that no top-tier investor believes that the company will be able to generate venture-scale returns.

To believe that a hometown VC would somehow see something at the market expansion stage that the most experienced startup investors in the world all missed is, frankly, hubris.”

12. Some great investing lessons here.

“George observed that while most fund managers began the year thinking about which stocks they should own to make the most money, he began the year with the knowledge that roughly 50% of his positions were mistakes, tried to carefully think about which of those mistakes would cost him the most money and eliminate those positions.

Minimizing mistakes is essential given that almost all investors — even the best ones — are wrong circa 50% of the time. I really love the humility inherent to this mentality, which is aligned with my increasing belief that “I don’t know” are the three most important words in investing, not “margin of safety.” One can always be wrong, no matter how much work has been done or big the “margin of safety” appears to be.”

13. Elad Gil & Kevin Hartz. Literally two of the best operator-investors in Silicon Valley. Bar None. Seriously.

14. A good man here.

“The COVID crisis is what keeps the Mayor awake these days, and he is often buzzing with so many thoughts and ideas about how to help solve it that he taps them out on a phone by his bedside in the wee hours of the morning. “I’ve been through some shit in my day,” Fieri says, “but in a million years, you never could have told me a story as horrific, as decimating, as this has been.”

In late March, Fieri partnered with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to launch the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, which has raised $21.5 million to distribute in $500 grants to laid-off restaurant workers, a move that landed the Mayor on this year’s “Bloomberg 50” list.”

15. Go Taiwan. I would argue the best place to live in 2020 & probably 2021.

16. “With trillions of dollars of cash sitting on the sidelines looking for return and trillions more being pumped into the market by governments around the world, nothing is too expensive. Instead, what’s more important is finding that which is unique. That of which we can print no more. That which is finite.”

17. “With these three “attention merchants” competing for consumers’ increasingly scarce time, it’s likely that music streaming will struggle to grow even when things return to normal. We know that songs are getting shorter, and without more songs being consumed, music is already losing the battle for attention.”

18. Very good benchmarks for Net Retention Rate in SaaS.

19. “There are three states on the 0% State Tax list that I expect many corporations, VC firms, and HNW people will move to in the next 12 months. They are Florida, Texas, and Washington (State). The more adventurous will move to Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Distributed work is here. And State Taxes are now a competitive disadvantage.”

20. This is quite a timely article. The point is “not timing the market, the point is time in the market!”

“Regardless of which risky asset classes you have in your portfolio, as this post illustrates, buying near all-time highs should not be a cause for concern. Of course, you may get unlucky with an asset class during a particular period of time, however, if you own a diversified portfolio, the impact of such an occurrence should be minimal.”

21. Sometimes the simple stuff is the best. Love watching how this could open up startups to a whole new group of people.

22. This is such a great interview. So many knowledge bombs here. I strongly recommend listening to this interview with my friend Shaan Puri (who also has an amazing podcast show as well).

23. “The hangover effect in the Bay Area became more dynamic as this year closes. Tens of thousands of households left the city of San Francisco. Many emigrated to surrounding counties, driving up real estate prices even more. The stretch of wildfires that surrounded the Bay Area in September proved to be a knockout punch for many residents — it was a really tough time. Imagine a dual-income household with small kids in school via Zoom, parents working via Zoom, and stuck inside in 100 degree weather with 8–10 days of extremely unhealthy air quality. I can’t prove it, but this tipped many people over. Once the fires subsided, major issues remained.

Seeing newer companies reach scale in a remote and distributed manner (like GitLab), having the ability to buy/sell real estate online with networks like Opendoor, the impending impact of California’s and San Francisco’s looming budget crises, the impact of SALT deductions being stripped, and with much of the industry adapting quickly to a video-first environment, for the first time a considerable number of people I know who would have never left the Bay Area began to spread out — Europe, Seattle, Austin, and so many other places around the world.”

24. I so want to go to Uzbekistan to visit. The Silk Road.

25. Mario Lopez: he has definitely aged well. Saved by the Bell was one of my favorite tv shows when I was growing up.

“I never was one of those kids, like, ‘Oh, I have to be on TV,’ or ‘I want to perform and it’s in my heart,’ ” Lopez says. “I wanted just to make enough money to not have to burden my parents with paying for college.” Though he got an inauspicious start — for Saved by the Bell, he was paid $3,500 an episode — he wound up being so successful that he got too busy with work to ever attend a university.

“I say no to a lot of stuff…[but] when you grow up without money, you have two attitudes when you start making some,” Lopez says. “You either think: Well, all right, I’ve made it and I’m just gonna get flossy and kind of rest on my laurels. Or you can think, which is what I do: You know what? This shit can go away like that” — he snaps for emphasis. “And I don’t ever want to regret it. I want to keep striking while the iron is hot.”

26. “Nothing got built by cynicism. “You can’t do it!” has never created a company, except perhaps to trigger a founder to start something in revolt at the fusillade of negativity.

It takes time though to build. It takes time to take an early product and grow it. It takes time to build a startup ecosystem and expand it into something self-sustaining. Perhaps most importantly, it takes extraordinary effort and hard work, and not just from singular individuals but a whole team and community of people to succeed. The future is malleable — and bets do pay off. So we all need to stop asking what’s the problem and pointing out flaws, and perhaps ask, what future are we building toward? What’s the bet I’m willing to back?”

27. YUP!

“Founders, investors and bankers say they are entering the new year with optimism, hopeful the vaccine will be distributed quickly and enthused about expected tech IPOs. Few said they were concerned with rising valuations and stock prices, despite parallels with the 2000 tech boom.

Puncturing the sense of jubilation is the knowledge that it’s not widely shared. Outside the tech bubble, thousands of small businesses are still working to recover from coronavirus-related losses. Millions of laid-off workers are searching for a new gig. And more than 330,000 people have died of the virus in the U.S. alone.

“I would have never guessed that one of the most devastating global pandemics would yield one of the most speculative frenzies in the public market for tech in history,” said Peter Hébert, general partner of Lux Capital, a venture firm he co-founded in 2000.

“This is the most bizarre year I’ve ever encountered.”

28. This is incredibly touching. Seems apt for the close of 2020.

29. This is quite funny. Miami is a different beast than SF Bay Area.

“Others fear that an influx of backpack-wearing venture capital disciples will do what it does everywhere: raise housing costs astronomically, increase the douchebag factor in the region and generally make life miserable for everybody else.

All we know is, the tech industry folks have no idea what they’re in for if they move to Miami. Because Miami is not Silicon Valley. We don’t have robots; we have fist-sized insects. We don’t nurture incubators; we fight toilet iguanas. We didn’t spend our youth getting in touch with our spirituality via MDMA at Burning Man. We spent it mainlining S’mores-covered bacon on a stick at Santa’s Enchanted Forest as we gazed up at the giant Christmas tree that plays Pitbull songs.”

30. Actually I am really eager to visit Pakistan when all this Covid mess is over. I think this is one of the most underrated countries and economies in the world right now (along with Uzbekistan).

“With all my friends and all the media outlets I knew warning me against traveling to Pakistan, the moment I stood in the queue to board my first flight to Islamabad, I admit I wasn’t sure whether I was in the right place. It’s very hard to extract yourself from all the common preconceptions about Pakistan as a person living in the Western world and consuming Western media. After all, the one single image of the country we are given is that of an unsafe, unwelcoming place — which is of course very wrong.

But as I stood in that queue, I had people approach me, asking where I was from and whether this was my first time in Pakistan. Those wrong preconceptions quickly began to wither away before I even landed on Pakistani soil. And from what I know, this seems to be a pretty standard change of sentiment among foreign visitors.”

31. “The lesson of 2020 is not that we’re doomed, necessarily, only that doom feels like a legitimate possibility.”

32. I am so going to Uzbekistan in 2022.

33. “30/50/20. On median, 30% of opex is R&D, 47% is on sales and marketing, and 22% is on G&A. The rule is therefore “30/50/20” may be more accurate.”

34. “I think great media businesses are massively underrated and misunderstood in technology circles.

In my experience with Hardbound, Gimlet, Substack, and now the Everything bundle, I’ve come to believe that content can create incredibly strong moats. There are properties inherent to narratives and ideas that make them naturally powerful — kind of like how social networks, marketplaces, and platforms are inherently power-prone.

But not every media business benefits from them. There are winners and losers.”

35. Word to the wise, founders. Take everything you read in the tech press with a BIG grain of salt.

“As an early-stage founder, there’s no easier way to become depressed than reading the tech press.

The figures look larger than what you’re discussing with potential investors. The founders all seem to describe a process that went much quicker than yours. The rounds are always oversubscribed.

When you’re deep in the trenches of fundraising, pushing hard to get that first investor to believe in the market you’re taking on, the product you’ve built for it, and, well, you… It can be tempting to treat those stories as benchmarks.

Not only is that not helpful, often it’s straight out misleading.

Startup press releases aren’t written to tell the exact story; they’re optimised for things like hiring and fundraising.”

36. Pretty good tech predictions for 2021: especially keeping in mind how off we all were on 2020.

37. What a trip!

“Since August 2018, I walked through Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. In each of these countries I spoke to everyone — about everything. I interviewed historians, tourist guides, peasants, hermits, and self-proclaimed witches. I observed the mundane, simple things: the way they cook chicken, the way they make their coffee, the games their children play, what their toys look like.

I tried to pay close attention to everything, always keeping in mind the goal of my trip: to study human life.”

38. Lots of great insights in this long write up of 2020. Worth a read.

“Now as we prepare to welcome 2021, we are changed in many ways. Perhaps most significantly, the distinctions between our physical and digital worlds have largely disintegrated. We now work and we live online just as much, if not more, than we do offline. We may have always been heading this way, but this year significantly — and irreversibly — accelerated our pace. Transitioning to this new normal comes with tremendous opportunity, but we must remain aware that some will require assistance to make the adjustment.

For me — and I hope for you — the year also offered opportunities to pause and reflect on which aspects of that real, offline world we are willing to fight to preserve.”

39. Valencia, Alicante & Lisbon show up on top. Iberian peninsula rules.

“At the other end of the scale, a quartet of Spanish cities placed in the top 10. Expats gave Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, the world’s highest score based on its climate, housing affordability, and health care. Just down the list — and around 100 miles down the coast — Alicante, a city of 330,000 people, came in second place. Malaga and Madrid earned 6th and 9th place.”

40. “When we look back at 2020 in the business world, we’ll remember it as the year online shopping stopped being the future of retail and catapulted firmly into the present. This was the year that local governments forced us to give up in-store shopping for weeks or months, and then when we had an opportunity to return when stores reopened, we mostly kept shopping online anyway.”

41. All makes sense to me. About time too.

42. “This year has cemented the notion that crypto assets are not only not going away but will be integral to our financial lives going forward. As we close out a very trying and historic 2020, the future has never looked brighter for bitcoin and crypto asset ownership and use.”

43. Very interesting forecasts. I think things get back to normal in 2022. But hope he is right on the 2nd half of 2021.

“The Covid Pandemic will end in the developed world in 2021. I think we will see the end of the Covid Pandemic in the US sometime in the second quarter. I believe the US will work out the challenges we are having getting out of the gate and will be vaccinating at least 40mm people a month in the US in the first quarter.”

“The twin terrors of the Covid Pandemic and the Climate Crisis will drive the great US migration of the 21st century and we are already experiencing it. We will see it accelerate in 2021. If, because of what we learned in the Covid Pandemic, a good job no longer requires someone to live in a low lying flood-prone city like Miami or NYC or a city that is burning like SF or LA, we will see many people in the US choose to leave those places and adopt new homes that are less impacted by the climate crisis.

We call this “adapting to the climate crisis” at USV, and this will be a huge investable trend for many years to come.”

44. I’ve always liked Miami. It seems to be the place to be these days.

“Miami is among that set of curious characters: the urban entrepôt (from the French word for ‘warehouse’). Whether Havana or Beirut in their day, Hong Kong before the Chinese decided to squash it under their bootheels, or Singapore or Dubai now, the world has always featured gateways that intermediate two worlds. Usually this city-state middle-man straddles some large hegemonic power and some (culturally foreign) ‘near abroad’. And that’s what Miami is: it’s the intersection in the Venn diagram between American business culture and rule of law, and Latin American culture and vitality (not to mention a market of 650 million consumers and a combined GDP of over $5 trillion).

To most Americans Miami might mean beaches and bling and palm trees, but in Latin America it’s something else altogether: a combined bolthole, bank and bazaar….The city hosts a slew of multinationals and their regional offices, from Proctor & Gamble to Facebook. Brickell Avenue is a sort of Latin American Wall Street, lined with the logos of every major commercial bank. If you do business in LatAm, you’ve got a Miami office.”

45. “Traditional financial products & services are single player, which makes sense since people tend to expect a high degree of privacy around their finances, and products built for individuals are much simpler to design, market, and activate.

However, many new fintech services are built around a subscription-model, where three numbers tend to dominate: acquisition costs, average revenue per user, and churn rate. The last, of course, is a heavy determinate of lifetime value.

Multiplayer products & services have a number of advantages.

Multiplayer products are inherently viral, pulling more people into the system and lowering average acquisition costs. More importantly, multiplayer products are fundamentally stickier, leading to lower churn rates and higher lifetime values.”

46. One of few good things that has come out of 2020.

An entrepreneurial renaissance is here.

47. Miami: the place to be these days.

“Operationally it makes sense to be in the same time zone, with competitive talent and at a fraction of the cost. Another benefit: Miami talent understands both LATAM and the U.S., generally speaks both English and Spanish fluently, and is very happy to live in a place where rent isn’t prohibitive, homeownership is approachable, and the beach is a short drive away.

An estimated 300,000 people move to Florida every year. In Miami, there’s a growing trend of people looking for a better quality of life and a manageable cost of living. Even locals who once fled north due to lack of opportunities are starting to return to their home state.”

48. “Many things take time. How did we go from boring orchards to the Bay Area tech scene? It’s very comfortable for me to think in terms of 10 to 12 years. That’s the time horizon for just one fund, for example. So I think the investment in Miami will pay dividends or is getting increasingly likely to pay dividends. And especially over the extended timeframe, I have found it incredibly easy to convince people to try it. One of the reasons why is the opportunity costs during COVID of trying a new geo are significantly smaller.

Certainly the investors are very willing to move here. If you have a thesis about how much location matters in the history of Silicon Valley, it matters a great deal. Sand Hill Road is about the most boring geographical location on the planet. And the only reason people know about it is because a bunch of venture capitalists co-located there 40 years ago. So some of the high-risk, high-reward venture capitalists are here. Some publicly announced, some not. But I have partners from many, if not most, of my real competitors here now. I don’t think the venture capital community is going to be a limiting factor here. There are entrepreneurs who are already entrepreneurs that are moving here.”

49. Mexico City (and Mexico at large) is a good place to hang out for a while.

“There were weeks where I just wouldn’t leave my house, just working all day — my mental health was definitely suffering,” said Mr. George, 31, who manages business operations for a technology start-up.

So when a Mexican friend said he was traveling to Mexico City in November, Mr. George decided to tag along. Now, he’s calling the Mexican capital home — part of an increasing number of foreigners, mainly Americans, who are heading to Mexico, for a short trip or a longer stay to escape restrictions at home.

They are drawn partly by the prospect of bringing a little normalcy to their lives in a place where coronavirus restrictions have been more relaxed than at home, even as cases of Covid-19 shatter records. Some of them are staying, at least for a while, and taking advantage of the six-month tourist visa Americans are granted on arrival.”

50. Lots of great nuggets here. Worth a read as we enter 2021. How & where to be spend money to maximize happiness

“The key takeaways? First, treat time as the commodity. Research suggests that people who think of their time as a limited resource in its own right are more likely to derive joy from life’s simple pleasures, like eating sweets or talking to a friend.

Second, if you’re splurging on a time-saving purchase, use those extra minutes to do something that lifts your mood. Studies on time and happiness show people typically experience more positive emotions during leisure activities compared to when they’re working or doing household chores. Active and social forms of leisure, like exercising and volunteering, are also linked to greater happiness compared to more passive activities, like watching TV or napping.

“The more that people are using their time to engage in social interactions to cultivate relationships, the more happiness they’re going to get from buying time,” Kumar explains. That’s why buying experiences is another way to maximize joy from spending.”

51. This is a movement I’m glad to see resurfacing. Not what you see in popular media but very important for the future. Techno-Optimism.

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

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