Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads May 9th, 2021

Marvin Liao
15 min readMay 9, 2021

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” — Benjamin Franklin

  1. Personal Appeal: please support this kickstarter for a Children’s book. I’m biased but it’s a great project. For all fans of Asian food & Night Markets.

2. Here is to the rise of weirdos!

“Talent aside, this is Doja’s charm: To her fans, she is proof that there’s room for the weird kids at the top.”

3. “The same year People crowned Jordan the Sexiest Man Alive, he was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people for his work pushing Hollywood toward better racial diversity onscreen and behind the scenes, both above and below the line.

But he is still in uncharted waters. He’s a young man navigating an industry where every choice for Black creatives is one of consequence and responsibility, and he’s stepping into a period in his life when he’s fully aware of his purpose — and calling all the shots.

“I’m playing to be autonomous,” he says. “That’s liberation, because you’re really controlling your own destiny, and it gives you the freedom to make an impact where you see fit. It’s like, ‘All right, I can do what I need to do, when I need to do it, and there’s no asking.”

4. “So the choice is now: “I’m going to find this niche obscure thing, or I’ll get the mass market thing.” It’s either Paul Skallas or Malcolm Gladwell. Aesop Rock or ASAP Rocky. Boutique brand or Amazon. You get the idea.

And you’d think removing friction creates a more level playing field — if it’s easier to find & purchase someone’s products, you’d think consumers would pick the easiest option. But that’s not always the case. Instead we see the familiar barbell with global mega hits on one side and a long tail of niche creators on the other.”

5. “So here is where I come out on all of this after having the weekend to think more deeply about it. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are two of the greatest investors in history. They have not performed well during the internet age. There is a big gap between what they know (cash flow focused industrial age companies) and the most valuable companies in the world (software businesses). This isn’t a bug, it is a feature.

As the saying goes, “what got you here, may not get you there.” Should we really expect anything different from two investors who have historically stayed away from anything that wasn’t a cash-flowing business? Of course not. We should simply understand that their expertise in one area does not necessarily mean that they have expertise in another area.”

6. “Miami makes even more sense as an outpost for international technology when you realize that it’s been the Singapore of Latin America for generations…… It’s an entrepôt that has always welcomed entrepreneurs, it deserves its success, and it’s a great place to build technology.

For many years, international technologists have been aware of what’s been happening in Silicon Valley, but often not vice versa. Now that is changing. In the remote economy, in the cryptoeconomy, in the Starlink economy, in the post-COVID economy, real estate is being repriced worldwide. Dense cities are less valuable and time zone colocation is more valuable. Asia is rising and traditional capitals are falling. It’s not just about Miami or Austin anymore, but about Estonia, Singapore, Taiwan, Israel, Dubai, and New Zealand — and about Culdesac, Starbase, and Prospera.

And that’s the fourth lesson of Miami Tech Week: startup cities are now feasible because the market for cities is now manifest. The overnight collapse of Silicon Valley, California as the undisputed tech capital means that cities are suddenly just as subject to competitive pressure as tech companies and national currencies.”

7. “The web in its current state is like a city without public spaces. People can only interact in places owned by someone else, and a small group of landlords captures an oversized share of all economic activity.

Cryptocurrencies offer an alternative. Most people think of bitcoin when they hear the word crypto. They think of trading and speculation and “digital gold” and whatnot. But the more interesting aspects of cryptocurrencies are the ones that are abstract and harder to explain: the infrastructure that currencies run on and how applications that have nothing to do with trading or speculation can use this infrastructure.

This infrastructure is still young and relatively unproven. But it is fascinating and offers a glimpse of a possible future — even if that future might end up relying on entirely different technologies to achieve the same ends.”

8. USA is one woke mess but agree Basecamp did not manage this well either.

“Fried and Hansson’s moves last week, and the discussion around them, revealed clear fault lines between executives and workers that go far beyond Basecamp. Founders at Coinbase, Basecamp, and other companies have sought to quash internal dissent that, in their view, distracts workers from the company mission and makes everyone miserable. To a manager, the exchange that led to Singer’s departure could lend credence to the idea that addressing social injustices on company Zoom calls is bound to be disastrous.

Meanwhile, employees at those companies have recoiled at what appear to be transparent efforts to prevent their workplaces from becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.”

9. Interesting M&A approach from Apple.

“Apple has used acquihires to speed expansion in fields where it needs technical talent or it sees a specific technology that could set it apart from its rivals. While the acquihire is a common technique among big tech companies, Apple’s near-exclusive focus on smaller transactions sets it apart.

“We have seen companies such as Google, Facebook, Intel and Amazon going for many billion-dollar deals,” said Nicklas Nilsson, analyst at GlobalData, a firm that tracks M&A transactions. “Apple is buying more smaller startups while others spend more on established players.”

10. I love this. Patent trolls are scum.

“A few years ago, Cloudflare got its first patent troll lawsuit, and decided to take Newegg’s never settle strategy and kick it up a notch or three. Instead of just saying it wouldn’t settle, Cloudflare set out to completely destroy the patent troll who sued it (an operation called Blackbird Technologies). In response to the lawsuit, Cloudflare launched something called Project Jengo, in which it sought to crowdsource prior art not just for the patent used against Cloudflare, but every single patent in Blackbird’s portfolio — and to hand out cash awards to those who found such prior art. It also went after the lawyers at Blackbird for violating legal ethics rules.

Cloudflare’s campaign against Blackbird was a huge success. The company easily won in court and Blackbird became a shell of its former self. Prior art was discovered on some of its patents, the firm filed way fewer troll lawsuits, and it appeared that its staff had dwindled.”

11. “To that end — in this Digital Age, to build wealth and gain influence, your goal should be to embrace anyone and anything that can expand your network. The people that promote you and your work are valuable to you. The people and advertising mechanisms that can extend your reach are valuable to you. Most importantly, your ability to create ways of gathering, organizing, and retaining your network into communities is what will drive value on a personal level.

In the Digital Age, the most important network nodes have become the people and information that meaningfully contribute to the global network. The more that people that join and are effectively organized into communities and the more information that is productively curated into actionable information, the more value the network has.”

12. I think this is a good thing. Also smart thing in this day and age.

“They are not sharing celebratory instances with broader social groups right now because they don’t want to get lynched and they want to be perceived as responsible people with the larger social circle online,” she says.

“The same people are sharing celebratory instances within their smaller social circle via WhatsApp.”

13. “Employees are going to vote with their feet and I feel for People Ops teams who are going to be having a tremendous number of emotional conversations.”

14. Reading this, no wonder most founders fear, don’t trust and/or hate VCs.

“Zhu’s firing has blossomed into a bizarre saga that hits on many of the classic Silicon Valley cultural touchpoints: founders who don’t act like conventional businessmen, the search for additional productivity through drug use, and the risks of talking openly about the pressures of the job. It’s also a story steeped in the tense ethnic politics that are currently roiling the tech community and American society at large.”

15. “The big picture plan is as follows: 1) you are underpaid at your job/career. Why do we know? No one hires someone who is unprofitable otherwise they would go out of business.

So. Step 1 is knowing that you can always do better and are currently underpaid;

2) step two is a second income stream. No excuses. There are blue collar workers who follow our website that created online income streams related to their work (car repair, home repair etc.) that generate multiple 6-figures online;

3) you do this by building it up while you’re not working. If you have “rules” to follow you simply start a business under the name of a family member. If you cannot trust a single person to help you build a business, your life is in terrible shape & you need to ramp up creativity;

4) while investing is cool, you *MUST HAVE* laser focus on two income streams first. If you have two of them, investing becomes more important. An income stream is defined as anything that pays living expenses — Rent, food, drinks & utilities & 5) once you have a business up and running, you *can* quit *if you want* when it is generating 2x more than you make at your current job/career.

16. “First, China seems less likely to start a world war than Imperial Japan. China has much less of a need for external conquest, its military is not used to conquering places, and it has centralized, consolidated rule that will not let it be pushed into war by rogue factions. Other than a general sense of having been oppressed and humiliated by the West, China has none of the motives for war that Imperial Japan had.

BUT, if China does end up going to war with the West — or even have a protracted Cold War type struggle — it will be an infinitely more dangerous foe than Japan ever could have been. It’s far larger, with endless manpower and manufacturing capacity and vast stores of natural resources. And it has a fearsomely effective and centralized decision-making apparatus. The U.S. was able to overcome Imperial Japan alone, while fighting a two-front war; against China, it could probably only hope to prevail with a significant number of powerful allies.”

17. Very observant view.

“Cars. Fashion. Fitness. Sex. Who cares? These things are not important. In San Francisco, we value “ideas.” In New York, we value “greatness.” But let’s attempt a little self-awareness. The physical stuff of San Francisco and New York is literally crumbling, which is something most reasonable people, including reasonable people from San Francisco and New York, find alarming.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence the most openly materialistic city in America also appears to be the American city most committed to new construction, chief among this new construction housing, which accommodates new people, with new ideas and new businesses, which generates new wealth and perpetuates the whole dynamic cycle. Lambo culture isn’t some shameful “other thing” that’s happening in Miami. Lambo culture seems to be the engine driving this entire city forward.”

18. Fascinating thread on the super wealthy.

19. Shades of the Weekend Fund but I think these operator-run micro VC funds are awesome.

20. Yikes. Been there!

“When several employees publicly state: “I found out about this from Jason Fried’s public blog post”, then it’s unambiguously the CEO who’s at fault. He should have ensured that the decisions were adequately communicated to staff before making them public. You can make excuses for him, but, at best, these never rise above ‘whoops! he broke something’.

He still broke something, didn’t apologise, and, as CEO, is ultimately responsible no matter what. He prioritised getting ahead of potential leaks over ensuring good internal communications. No matter how you slice that, that’s pretty irresponsible management right there.”

21. Learned something new.

“What’s important to recognize here is that this isn’t something that requires someone to be a huge celebrity, just someone that’s popular in their own particular sect.

And I believe that social media layers on cues that strengthen these quasi-parasocial (IE: very light communication, through likes or retweets or the occasional reply) or parasocial relationships.

Someone following you on Twitter creates a certain level of attachment — we believe that we are connected somehow, even if said follow never actually results in any kind of other reaction.”

The weight of certain social media-based reactions is such that we can, in our minds, say that we “know” someone that we don’t.”

22. “Indeed, there are, as you might have seen, a lot of others in the market pursuing the “FBA rollup” model — consolidating businesses that have been built on the back of Fulfillment by Amazon, with the pitch being they can apply more sophisticated economies of scale, analytics and management to grow great cottage industries into high rises, so to speak. But Razor believes its point of differentiation is its focus on technology to improve its responsiveness to the market, both when it comes to identifying and buying brands, and then growing them.

It’s a big opportunity. By one estimate there are about 5 million third-party sellers on Amazon today, and their ranks are growing exponentially, with more than 1 million sellers joining the platform in 2020 alone. Thrasio has in the past estimated to me that there are probably 50,000 businesses selling on Amazon via FBA making $1 million or more per year in revenues.”

23. I would never move to Guernsey but love the concept and they are definitely doing it right.

“One likely winner are micro-jurisdictions — countries such as Singapore, Monaco, or Liechtenstein. These small countries tend to be faster at political decision-making, and during times of crisis they often benefit from a higher degree of societal cohesion. Their agility and stability will prove an asset during the coming years of rapid change and potentially unprecedented turmoil.”

24. “Inflation is not some potential issue down the road. Inflation is already here.

As Warren Buffett told investors only days ago, “We’re seeing very substantial inflation.”

25. I will admit, I was a bit surprised and saddened by this. Guess there are many lessons here. Marriage is just tough.

26. “So how do we get the best of cities and the best of the internet? What if creative, ambitious people found each other online and then decided to get together in the same place?

It’s not the place that matters, it’s the density of creative ideas and interesting people. When I think about where I meet interesting people, it’s increasingly not in a physical place at all. It’s on Twitter threads and Discord channels and WhatsApp groups.

In the Facebook era, people met in person and then became “friends” online. But it makes more sense to do the opposite: find your friends online and then meet up in person.”

27. Very interesting data that I am sure VCs will be putting in their decks.

“This new analysis shows half of all VC funds launched between 2009 and 2017 generated returns to investors, net of all management and performance fees, that outperformed the public market equivalents (PME) of both the S&P 500 and Russell 2000.”

28. “TL;DR It’s never been easier than it is today to be a creator. To create content online. To find an audience. To monetize. And that — that’s absolutely amazing because we’re seeing more and more creators emerge. We’re witnessing a rebirth and renewal of connection that technologies previously disrupted. And we’re only at the beginning. The Creator Economy is representing an important shift in our society — for creators, but also for consumers.”

29. This is a credible new VC fund for Europe.

“You’re looking at utilizing software, automation, and machine learning. If you look at any industry that is what happened — software is eating it up. It touches every component of your process from discovering companies to managing them, evaluating them, helping them with support. So we still have our thesis-driven approach, but what we’re doing is pairing it with software, like a bionic suit, so this is how to augment what we do and do it bigger and better.”

He added: “The European ecosystem is a lot bigger today, so relying on gut instinct, relationships, networking is not going to be efficient. Utilizing software is going to be critical for us.”

30. It’s a fascinating take & alot of folks (on East Coast) will disagree.

“Over the course of 2020, public health failed, public schools failed, fire departments failed, and police departments failed. National, state, and local governments failed. Media corporations failed and even the US military failed. Just about every Western institution run by a political heir failed, because it was presented with the unanticipated shock of COVID-19. The widgets these heirs’ factories were cranking out were no longer suited for the occasion. And their failure has caused a crisis of faith in American institutions specifically, and in the postwar order more broadly.

Where heirs failed, founders succeeded. The internet stayed up. The state couldn’t deliver checks, but Amazon could deliver packages. The legacy universities were closed but the MOOC platforms were open. The restaurants were shuttered but the delivery apps were shipping. The media corporations reported that the virus was at best a remote threat while the tech companies prepared for remote work. And the billions spent on military biodefense didn’t do much (see above), but the millions invested in Moderna did.”

31. “My biggest takeaway from Munger’s comment is to recognize that everyone thinks they’re a great investor because everything is going up. Coinbase and Robinhood have been on top of the US App Store leaderboard all week, ahead of TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.

It seems like everyone is on high alert for the next big thing, and most won’t get what they’re looking for.

If there was ever a time to turn off your phone and stick to your investing strategy, it is this moment right now.”

32. “Basically, there are structural inefficiencies that prevent incumbents from competing. And they did it to themselves because for the last 100 years they put up all of these barriers of lobbying and regulation. Now, they can’t compete.”

33. “In fact, the government could also pay signing bonuses to companies that hire workers at significantly higher wages than what they were paying before — a temporary wage subsidy. Not only would that provide additional impetus to hire, it would help normalize the habit of offering higher wages to attract workers.

So these policies could help kick the labor market out of its current doldrums and produce the rapid recovery we’re all expecting from the end of COVID. They won’t represent a rejection of Pandemic UI — instead, they’ll simply represent an acknowledgement that as conditions change, policy has to change too. Pandemic UI was never meant to be permanent, and it’s time to replace it with something better.”

34. “But our idolatry of innovators and the algorithmic media ecosystem have distorted the allocation platform. In the spectacle economy, it’s about the show, the now, the short-term hit. We’re the richest country in the history of humanity, and we can’t garner the political will to fix our bridges, let alone reach for the stars.”

“If there is a glitch in the matrix, it’s us. One in five U.S. households with children is food insecure, and we have a man telling his 53 million acolytes to purchase a digital currency so he can sell it at a profit to pad the earnings of a company that’s worth more than automakers producing 60 times the vehicles. And why wouldn’t he? When you tell an innovator he’s Jesus Christ, he’s inclined to believe you. Once we idolized astronauts and civil rights leaders who inspired hope and empathy. Now we worship tech innovators that create billions and move financial markets. We get the heroes we deserve.”

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Marvin Liao

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