Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads May 12th, 2024

Marvin Liao
14 min readMay 12, 2024

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” — Dalai Lama

  1. Jim Rogers is an international investing legend. I’ve been learning from him for 30 years now.

2. Lots of good insights here. Input versus output driven strategies in VC. Always some new frameworks to learn.

3. “In a long conventional war, production really matters. And China has, since the turn of the century, become by far the world’s biggest producer. Even before the current massive splurge of production, China was the world’s largest manufacturer by far, making as much physical stuff as the U.S. and all of Europe combined.

The country’s current effort to increase that share even further threatens to make China the “make-everything country” in reality, turning the rest of the world into a de-industrialized hinterland. If that happens, the democracies’ edges in technology and training will prove short-lived, and they will likely lose a long war unless they can very rapidly remember how to make physical goods en masse.

In a post two years ago, I tried to illustrate the sheer size of the challenge that the U.S. and its allies are facing. It’s something we need to be taking very seriously. Anyone who scoffs at industrial policy or the idea of bringing back manufacturing in the U.S. and Europe needs to be able to answer the questions raised by this post.”

4. “So from the perspective of dealing out a painful reprisal to Israel (for its attack on Iranian military officers in Damascus) this massive attack fell flat which is a relief for not just Israel, but the entire world as it translates into a possibly more muted response, but more on that later. The other key thing is that an international coalition worked together quickly with a number of Arab states lining up behind Israel. It proves the thesis that the Middle East is getting more and more aligned to act against Iran’s aggression which has been the root of the region’s instability.”

5. No wonder chocolate has become so much more expensive.

6. “Hype is a physical force that deserves a place on the periodic table. The global social and economic impacts hype can have are just as powerful as oxygen or hydrogen. But just as the elements are natural forces that we can bend to our will, hype is something we all ought to have a better grasp on.

Hype comes and goes. Stories wax and wane in people’s minds. Conviction, true conviction, is not born of consent.

Conviction born from the draw of hype is rarely built to stand the test of time.

Investments made in the peak of hype rarely turn out to be the best mechanisms to compound capital.

Careers bred in the throes of hype are rarely anchored in fundamental truths.

People need to understand the sine waves of hype as the energy around a category inflates and deflates. Some, like meal kits or micro mobility, were maybe never going to persist. Others, like crypto and VR, are simply being forged in the fires of hype inflation and deflation.

The most important lesson, I think, is for more people to try and build things because they believe they are true. Because they’re based on true principles. Critics and champions will come and go. But conviction, banked and cooled by belief and pragmatic evaluation, can be unstoppable.”

7. “In the end, this quest for a moral billionaire forced me to confront my own beliefs about wealth, power, and the nature of goodness in a complex world. I finished the exercise with hope — not because I found a simple answer to the question of what it means to be both wealthy and virtuous, but because I have discovered that even among the most powerful, there are those who strive to make a positive difference. While money corrupts, it does not corrupt absolutely.

Even within a system that often rewards greed and self-interest, there is room for those who choose to prioritize the greater good. And that, in itself, is a reason for hope.”

8. “Previous eras of creativity have mostly looked a bit like sculpting. A sculptor takes a block of material and carves it, slowly but surely, into shape. Nothing happens without her hand. Even when an assistant is involved, the sculptor pores over the project, because their human input is important at every point of the process. So too with writing, or programming, or painting.

This era of creativity is going to look more like gardening. A gardener doesn’t grow plants directly. Instead, she sets up the conditions for the garden to grow. She takes care of the soil, the water, and the sunlight — and lets the plants do their thing.

So too with AI. As more of our time is spent being model managers, we won’t be directly making as much creative work. That’s like pulling up a plant to help it grow. Instead, we’ll be creating optimal conditions and letting the models do their work.

There’s one difference, though. A gardener can’t directly modify her plants. She can’t change their DNA by hand. But a skilled model manager can take any output of a model — sentence, code, image, or video — and modify any part of it themselves.

So we won’t have to leave sculpting behind as a creative skill. We’ll just be able to use our chisels and hammers more judiciously — and only when it really matters.”

9. “We lose more than we win. Everything takes time. Our hopes get shattered in thousands pieces, but we remain eternally optimistic and excited, we rise to try again cause it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

10. One of the key people in the center of Silicon Valley for the last 2 decades: Sam Altman

“In the right place at the right time. Seemingly endlessly well-connected. Fast-moving and decisive. Founders backed by Altman echo such observations of the OpenAI CEO, who has become increasingly a household name since the rise of ChatGPT in late 2022 and the explosion of interest around generative AI. Altman has little time for startups these days, he told Forbes recently. But he remains at the top of cap table wish lists for the cachet and such ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ situations.

Altman’s investment portfolio appears to have been modeled off an appreciation of that approach: a bifurcated strategy of smaller, speculative bets mixed with several highly-concentrated, larger positions where he keeps much of his wealth. One can lead to the other, as was the case with Reddit, in which Altman and Hydrazine led a $50 million funding round in 2014 and Altman took a board director seat. He continued to invest in subsequent rounds for the next seven years; he and his funds now control a stake worth $580 million as of market close on April 5, though only an estimated 14% is part of Altman’s personal wealth — the rest belong to the funds’ other investors, filings indicate. (Altman’s second Hydrazine fund holds the bulk of it: $470 million in shares, close to half of the fund’s entire gross asset value, according to filings.)

Another big position is believed to be Stripe, Altman’s self-described highest-performing investment, which reached a $95 billion valuation in 2021 and more recently announced a tender offer for employees at a $65 billion valuation in February. In 2020 and 2021, as Stripe’s value soared, Altman shelled out $43 million for a Hawaii mansion, and $27 million for an upgraded San Francisco house. Guests at Altman’s 950-acre Napa ranch purchased in December 2020 have jokingly called it “the house that Stripe built,” a source with knowledge told Forbes.”

“Sam is rare in that he’s a capable investor, but he’s also making bold bets,” says Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn cofounder and former longtime OpenAI board director. “A lot of investors are fearful of failing. They invest in things that will make money, but aren’t going to be potential big public failures. Sam is very comfortable with taking the big bet.”

And it’s those investments, not $80-billion-plus valued OpenAI — in which he has consistently asserted he holds no equity — that land Altman on this year’s Forbes list of the world’s richest people for the first time.”

https://archive.ph/gSBCV#selection-997.0-1015.7

11. Garry Tan is doing God’s work. San Francisco is a better place with him here. He puts money where his mouth is and works actively to improve things instead of checking out like so many other well off tech people. He is also a great investor to boot & someone I admire & like.

“Though he plays the angry guy on X, Mr. Tan said he was optimistic about the future of the city. He said he thought the fast-growing artificial intelligence industry, centered in San Francisco, would hasten the city’s revival.

He recently moved Y Combinator from Mountain View to within the city limits and just a couple of miles from its struggling downtown. He presses the founders of start-ups accepted into the Y Combinator program to live in San Francisco because he thinks proximity to one another is so essential — and because it’s a boon to the city he loves.

“This is our oil. This is our industry,” he said. “Hollywood has movies. New York has finance. San Francisco has building the technology that billions of people use.”

He thinks moderate Democrats with common-sense ideas are taking back their city, and he’s supporting centrists on the November ballot in hopes they will seize a majority of the board of supervisors.”

https://archive.ph/bMzSQ#selection-1183.0-1203.198

12. I enjoyed this interview. Joules, ex-military, now business man and gentleman.

13. This is a great interview, learning about how to manage others better and also how to manage yourself better.

14. Seems to me a situation of lesser of evils, geopolitically. Vietnam over China. Or the enemy of my enemy is at least not my enemy.

“Today, countering Beijing’s regional assertiveness takes precedence for the U.S. Yet Lan’s fate shows that China and Vietnam remain at their core very similar beasts. On Thursday, more than 60 human rights and environmental rights organizations wrote a letter to Apple to highlight the Sept. 15 detention of Ngo Thi To Nhien, the executive director of the Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition, an independent think tank focused on green energy policy — the latest in an ongoing crackdown on environmentalists.

“All these companies say they are ‘de-risking’ their supply chains by moving out of China to Vietnam,” says Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “But what are they really supporting? Companies with very fancy codes of conduct are investing in a country where human rights abuses are systematic and pervasive.” Lan’s case shows that while America’s rivals have changed, Vietnam’s autocracy remains distinctly unruffled.”

15. Loved this discussion on the art and science of venture capital at the seed stage.

16. Great overview on the tech opportunities that exist in Vietnam. As an outside observer, the signs are bullish on the country both from a global macro perspective as well as startup one.

17. “Do you think AI tech will stop getting better and better simply because it’s making you anxious? Hell no. No one cares about your “AI Anxiety”.

This is a train coming at full speed.

No government or anyone else can stop it or legislate it away.

Learn to use the tool so you don’t get replaced by the tool.

Most people are so far behind that they haven’t even used free tools like ChatGPT yet.

And ChatGPT just generates text.

Most aren’t even aware of AI video and audio capabilities.

Check this to see some videos that were generated by AI using a single prompt.

If you haven’t been following AI, prepare to be completely shocked and have your mind blown.

It will keep getting better and better.”

18. Jason Lemkin is the best. I always learn stuff when I listen to him. I also appreciate his directness and honesty.

19. The ultimate global value investor. I’ve been following Jim Rogers since I was a kid.

20. Solid conversation on how to evaluate and analyze civilizations & society. What makes an effective society and institution?

21. All Saas founders need to listen to this.

22. Jeremy Giffon, a young brilliant deal master.

23. Lots of good nuggets of wisdom here. Here are some I liked specifically.

1. “Spending an extended period of time in another country, ideally one where people don’t speak your language expands your horizons in multiple ways.

You become a traveler instead of a tourist, and you discover things you wouldn’t otherwise.

You see the difference between being on vacation somewhere and living there.

You’re forced to learn the language and get out of your comfort zone.

There’s also no itinerary- just a series of potential adventures waiting to unfold, and stories waiting to be told

But more than anything, spending an extended period of time in another country makes you see that your own is not the center of the universe. There’s a whole world of opportunities, people and experiences beyond the borders and boundaries of where you live.

2. “At some point in your life, you have to accept the reality of dreams that won’t come true. If you accept whatever it is you don’t want, but can’t change, it loses its power over you. Paradoxically, you might end up getting what you want.”

3. “The more you expect from life, the more it disappoints you. The less you expect, the more it delights you. Whenever I’ve expected nothing from creative endeavors, dates, and almost every other situation in my life, I’m always pleasantly surprised. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than unpleasantly blind sided . And one way to avoid the latter is by lowering your expectations.”

24. 2 of my business heroes. I love how they both carved out very unique business paths and intertwined interesting life paths.

25. Must listen to interview with Sam Altman and Brad Lightcap. This is great to understand what’s happening in world of AI.

26. One of the most underrated and quiet VC funds and Fund of Funds around: Hummingbird. Lots of interesting insights here like Good founders reference badly. Size of fund matters & small funds rule.

27. Interesting discussion with ramifications for AI. Inference versus training infrastructure. Groq versus Nvidia.

28. Europe finally waking and stepping up for Ukraine while America supplies embarrassingly falters. I hope it’s not too late to properly support Ukraine against Russian invasion.

29. “Russia has massively scaled up drone production to supply its troops on the front with as many as possible. This only highlights the importance of supplying Ukraine with more air defense systems to protect the Ukrainian military and civilians alike from Russian drone attacks.”

30. Latest from the edge of the internet.

31. “If we’re measuring velocity in days or weeks, it might seem obvious to directly tie a startup’s velocity to the number of hours you work each day. But startup velocity is far more than just hours worked (a nuance that many adherents to startup “hustle” culture get wrong). Velocity is not only about how hard you work, it’s about how you work.

At a fundamental level, startup velocity is a measure of a company’s sense of urgency.”

32. PE for SMB and crushing it. Shore Capital.

33. Title says it all. Investing in an age of conflict. Not the world I want but it is the one we are in.

34. One of the best conversations on what’s happening in the tech industry by two legendary SV investors.

35. How India meets its amazing potential geo politically and economically. Future superpower.

36. My new favorite insider conversation about Silicon Valley news and topics around.

37. “Nation-States and Non-State actors have realized that Total War or even Guerrilla War ala the GWOT is unsustainable and ineffective. Ukraine is in stalemate and terrorism is a multigenerational strategy.

What is effective, however, is attacks from the shadows. Deniability is the new stealth. For retaliation can only occur if one has proof. Else it is “unwarranted”. This is the major differentiation between what people call the 4th Generation of Warfare and the 5th Generation of Warfare. It goes militaries beyond borders and into complete deniable operations.

Now the threats are more numerous and the weapons democratized. The attacks come from everywhere. The next attack is just as likely to come from a State as it is a mischievous angry teenager.

The West is not proactive anymore, it is reactive.

The surface area of the Western Order is too large to defend from the vectors of attack. In a philosophical sense the West must decide what encapsulates the West and defend that for a chance to survive. Else it will die by Lingchi — colloquially known as death by a thousand cuts.

The West due to leadership, capability and lack of foresight has lost its grip upon the International Order. As a result we have seen the ensuing chaos over the past several years.

This isn’t just an “American” problem it is everyone…

Now that the chaos has started to spiral there is no stopping it.

Regionality of Power will enter primacy once more.

Our Global Peace has ended

And in its ashes a new World”

38. “Cash is king. You want to give me money, I’ll take it. As long as there are no strings attached. Startups get in trouble when they draw-and-quarter themselves by selling roadmap (i.e., non-existing) features to a diverse set of customers.

That’s why you should define strategic revenue (e.g., in the first three ICP rings) vs. opportunistic revenue and then religiously enforce this rule: if it’s oportunistic revenue you have to sell what’s on the truck. Don’t even bother asking for roadmap commitments. Maybe give those sellers lower quotas in return. But don’t let them ruin your future by selling your scarcest resource, R&D capacity, for non-strategic purposes.”

39. “I had my first child at 42, and it changed my life. I became more responsible, focused, concerned about the future, and empathetic. In sum, I became a better American. Children make us better. We care for our kids, but do we love children? Somewhere along the way, we lost the script as a society. If we have the resources to address these issues — and we do: Nvidia added a quarter of a trillion to the economy in 5 minutes post-earnings — but continue to look the other way, then we have to ask: Is America worth investing in? And do we really love our children?”

40. I always enjoy this kind of conversation. A good rundown of the big players around the world geopolitically.

41. “Do you think Mr. Beast himself is out there watching videos like 100 MILLION ORBEEZ IN A SWIMMING POOL?

No.

He’s a producer, not a consumer. He’s PRODUCING content, not consuming content.

As a result, the wealth of the masses ends up in his pockets.

Money flows from consumers to producers.”

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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