Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads Nov 6th, 2022

Marvin Liao
15 min readNov 6, 2022

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”― Nelson Mandela

  1. I love these historical recaps.

2. “With fewer loose spending venture capitalists running around, startups will face fewer competitors. That means they can spend less money fighting with each other and raise fewer dilutive funding rounds.

“The better investments will be made in the next five years or 10 years,” Khosla said.

During our conversation, Khosla was already predicting that stumbling tech giants would be a boon for startups — before Facebook and Amazon’s stocks fell this week.

“There’s another phenomenon that happens in a time like this: Google’s not hiring. Facebook’s not hiring. People are clamping down,” Khosla says. “Guess what happens to their most advanced projects? They go. And guess who are the best people in any large company? The best people are working on the most advanced projects. They are the ones who want to do visionary things. They’re the fodder entrepreneur for venture capitalists. So I think many more of the best people — not because they’re not getting paid huge raises in compensation — but because they’re working on less interesting projects — will leave to follow their vision.”

He concluded, “We will have fewer startups, but many more higher quality startups.”

3. Great conversation. They excel when it comes to discussion on the tech industry and tech giants.

4. “Performance is pretending for the masses, practice is playing for ourselves. Once I discovered this little secret, I became free to focus my own time, attention, and creative energy on things that matters to me and maybe no-one else.”

5. “It feels as if I’m meeting a man putting himself back together, and not quite sure how all the parts fit. He is still reeling from grief, while also embracing a new life, one that includes a surprise career change.”

6. “VC investment business model is similar to the book publishing and movie industries — it is dominated by betting on “blockbusters” and the power law. A few stars in the portfolio will create the vast majority of your returns, while the rest of the portfolio loses money. This is why all of these industries focus investments on their winners and add more follow-on investments to those that show signs of becoming blockbusters, while cutting their losses on all other investments.”

7. “Yes, success could be measured as revenue, status, or scale, but that’s not what success looks like to me. Suddenly, I’d have to transform from a writer to a manager, and that’s not at all what gives me pleasure in this life.

So I urge you to ask yourself the question: What are you working so hard for right now? What does your ultimate happiness look like? If you look at your trajectory, are you just filling the time until you reach that destination — or can you find a more direct route to the destination by making it your life’s work today?

Remember, we’re all investors in this life. No, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about time. As the quote goes: “Time is a currency you can only spend once, so be careful how you spend it.”

8. “You might know these devices as Ouija boards. But Ouija is a brand, like Kleenex or Tupperware. And at one point in time, it was a multimillion-dollar business.

“Think of Coke and Pepsi. Coke is probably number one, Pepsi is number two. There is no number two for the Ouija board,” the museum’s owner, John Kozik, told The Hustle.

When Kozik points out other brands in the collection, guests often assume they won’t work as well because they’re not “official,” as though ghosts harbor a brand-name preference.

This is the story of how, thanks to the combined forces of spiritualism and capitalism, Ouija became the go-to for communing with the dead.”

9. “Of all the frankly disturbing predictions of how technology might be used to limit our individual freedoms in the near future, it’s CBDCs that worry me the most. Simply because when those in power have the ability to coerce, manipulate, or force people’s actions by controlling their ability to use money — our basic means for survival in today’s world — they would gain the godlike ability to engineer the behaviour of an entire population.

Or as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger aptly put it:

“Who controls money can control the world.”

10. For SaaS Founders and investors everywhere. Lots of solid data points.

11. Some good frameworks and thoughts in investing here. Whatever you think of Chamath there is much to learn. (I like his perspective)

12. So much wisdom from one of the greats of VC.

“The collective venture community needs to get its head around the new reality as fast as possible. The more people see what’s really going on, the quicker that will happen. In ’09, the response to the downturn was pretty swift. But you had the benefit that ’01 was only seven or eight years in the rearview mirror. While there’s still some institutional memory around the Valley, it’s been a very long time since 2009.

I try to convey that they need to get in front of this. In a couple meetings, I’ve heard an owner or founder say, “Well, you know, we just need to buckle down until things get back to where they were.” And I’m, like, “No, the fantasy was the past five years.”

What we’re in now may just be normal, right? This may be average. And that’s very hard for people. It’s especially hard for a founder.

Everybody says, “We’re getting to the bone.” Everyone says that. And I know it’s a touchy subject because people are losing their jobs. But companies — even small start-ups — are way more resilient than people realize. It’s the norm that you cut 30 percent, and everything keeps going. You don’t lose all your customers. And some people find, “Oh, wait, we’re moving a little faster.” Sometimes things get better. I mean, yes, eventually some companies go bankrupt. But I’ve never seen someone do too much. You can always hire back. I think 95 percent of the time, the failure is the other way, of not doing enough.”

13. “Lastly, the fourth takeaway is that being exposed to a variety of fields, perspectives, and people can be an incredible competitive advantage. As I mentioned in the book notes for Robert Greene’s Mastery, my wife and I are constantly talking about how to expose our daughter to as many ideas as possible. It feels dumb that parents think this way for their children, but we lose sight of the importance for ourselves as we get older. We are all children at heart.”

14. “As I look at the distance between now and my date of birth, I realize I’m closer to the end than to the beginning. The good news is we can all push the ending farther away if we try. We just need good information (check) and to do the work.

From what I hear, immortality can get a bit lonely, so keep the above in mind when preparing food for those you love — or share this post with them.

Eat right, live longer and feel better.”

15. For those who are interested in Micro-Private Equity this is an amazing conversation. Codie is the best.

16. Taiwan is awesome and special. Glad people are slowly discovering its importance.

“Culturally, Taiwan is very much not China, and this becomes apparent as soon as you leave the airport. The food — and food is Taiwan’s national pastime — is obviously Chinese-derived, but is really its own thing. It blends all the regional cuisines of China into a mishmash, because the Nationalists came from everywhere, and it adds touches from Japan, but it also has plenty of the purely original flourishes that emerge from any rich consumerist society.

Milk tea is everywhere, as you might expect, though tastes have moved beyond the classic boba formula. The urban layout of Taipei, the signage and architecture and design, are definitely not Chinese, nor are they Japanese; they’re something new and recently made. Almost two years ago I wrote that “Taiwan is a civilization”, and I stand by that formulation.

Why should a peaceful, prosperous, gentle country like Taiwan be forced to prepare for the threat of invasion and bloodshed? There is no principle of human morality or justice that says they should have to. Instead, it’s purely the law of the jungle; there are predators in this world, and they will conquer what they can until they are stopped.

China’s leaders want to conquer Taiwan not just because they want to rival the old Qing dynasty in territorial extent, but because Taiwan represents something to them that they can’t abide — an alternative blueprint for Asia. Perhaps even more than Japan or South Korea, Taiwan shows people in China and its satellite states what they’re missing — a way of life where people can just be themselves, instead of living in service to a grand empire.”

17. “What counts at the level of Grand Strategy are two sets of fundamentals. First is Mass: population, economy, technology. Then Mass x Cohesion = power. With no cohesion, there is no strength at all, even with a lot of Mass. Second is what a country has abroad: allies, neutrals, enemies.

As for its economy, Russia, though not a rich country, is entirely self-sufficient in food and energy. This is not true of most countries. The same G-7 sanctions that could not stop Russia could stop Xi Jinping’s China, which must choose between fighting wars and eating protein. Yes, more than a year of rice reserves and some months of frozen pork can be stored, but not the immense amounts of soya beans China imports to feed animals for milk, eggs and meat.

We all saw that Russia is weak in allies, because instead of attracting neutrals to its side, it frightened them into joining Nato or at least to remain neutral. Russia is also weak in allies because, even though it has a navy, it is not a maritime power.”

18. “You could argue that Elon controlling Twitter acts as off-balance sheet marketing for Tesla, SpaceX, and every other company he builds. Auto makers typically spend 2–3% of revenue on marketing. Ford, GM, Hyundai, Subaru, Kia, and Ferrari spent a combined $10 billion on advertising in 2021. Mercedes-Benz, Renault (Renault, Nissan), and Stellantis (Fiat, Chrysler, Peugeot) don’t break out advertising expenses, but reported $22.8 billion in Selling, General, & Administrative (SG&A) expenses in 2021.

As a comp for SpaceX, Boeing paid $2.9 billion in SG&A expenses in 2021, or 4.7% of its revenue. For Tesla, that 2–3% of revenue would come out to $1–2 billion in marketing expenses. That’s close to the estimated interest expense due annually on the debt financing the Twitter acquisition

Elon stands to benefit whether or not he can actually improve Twitter’s underlying business. Owning Twitter ensures marketing benefits to Elon’s other businesses. And Twitter’s core product is a top of funnel for Elon to build other consumer products over time. Elon may look to China as an example, where the largest social platforms not only keep people in touch with friends and entertain them with videos, but also enable payments, food delivery, travel bookings, and hundreds of billions in ecommerce transactions.

Early product experiments are just the start. Most will probably fail. In the words of Rohit Krishnan on Twitter, “I have a feeling this is gonna be a Masterclass on speedrunning through things other folks have done and figured out for the first few weeks / months, which is both the benefit and drawback of first principles [everything].”

19. “Traveling has become an accelerator where most distractions loose their pull. It’s only the basics, the everyday essentials that matters, and that’s when surviving also means thriving.

In a world where everything has become easy, the hard stuff is where the real value lies. Focus on the hard and life becomes easier and much more rewarding.”

20. “So here we are. Increasingly advanced unmanned boats packed with explosives will be yet another threat to contend with. Everyone is watching the conflict in Ukraine very closely, especially potentially nefarious actors including China, Iran, and North Korea. Take the latter for instance. They could unleash hundreds of similar boats — even ones that need no communications and go after static targets — onto targets in South Korea at the opening of the conflict, which already features a conventional war plan that works to achieve ultimate chaos above all else.

The fact is that these are weapon systems that can relatively easily achieve considerable range and will have the command and control architecture to support them. As such, they are growing into the realm of regional capabilities.”

21. This is a great interview. Lots of great thoughts on entrepreneurship.

22. “Marooney, a GP at Coatue, says that firms “have to earn the right” to survive. “There was the path where you did some investments and made money. It’s like, no, you’ve got to earn the right and not everybody is going to earn that right … and I think that is healthy,” the investor said.

I’ll end with a term we’ve been dancing around all through the intro, which is “quiet quitting.” Bloomberg Beta investor Roy E. Bahat posted a thread describing how seasoned venture capitalists may be quietly going into “easy mode,” aka, becoming a less active, minimum viable player of the team. Maybe their name helps the firm close new funds with LPs, and maybe their calendar doesn’t need to be busy with a ton of introduction calls, just annual investor meetings.

If we combine quiet quitting with natural selection cycles and the difficulty of tracking just how active a venture capitalist is, we experience a confusing, fragmented landscape. No one is incentivized to say that they aren’t doing business as usual, which creates a landscape of extremes.”

23. “It’s worth noting that there is one important exception to everything I just wrote: if you raise money from a VC firm that is very narrowly focused on your industry, they likely have a more extensive (and more relevant) network of downstream investors. But for most founders — particularly at the Pre-Seed and Seed stage — that isn’t the case.

At the end of the day, fundraising takes a lot of work. And successful fundraising is built on the back of considerable planning and preparation. Identifying and researching your target investors is one of the most important parts of that and, unfortunately, it’s not something I — or any VC — can do for you.”

24. This is a really good idea and needed. Bringing more transparency to VC industry and shines a light on emerging fund managers.

25. “Letting events on the batlefield take their course carries its own dangers for Putin. The spectre of defeat will hang over the Kremlin. The decision-making process will malfunction and frustrations will grow among the elite. Potential successors will start jockeying for position. The military will get caught between their need to conserve forces while not abandoning strategic poisitions, between a system demanding success yet incapable of providing the necessary resources.

Faced with stark chocies Moscow might suddenly discover a serious interest in negotiations. Until then, however, there is little choice but for Kyiv, with Western support, to persevere with its efforts to liberate territory until a point is reached where a Russian defeat can no longer be denied — or, to use another Churchillian phrase, to ‘keep buggering on.’

26. Yikes Is really the only thing I can say here. It’s gonna be a rough ride for everyone in the next few years.

27. “The more new content there is, the more likely we are to consume old content. The same is true for ideas and ideologies. The rivalry between Netflix and Disney+ illustrates why.

Economies of scale aren’t as valuable in a world of abundance. This is most apparent in media but has consequences for geopolitics and religion.

Consider the case of Netflix. Most analysts predicted that, given its scale advantage, Netflix would build an insurmountable advantage in streaming. That didn’t happen. Why?

As Ben Thompson and Eugene Wei point out in their recent podcast: In a world of abundant choice, most content is substitutable. Instead of watching one thing, you can watch another. Very few shows are a “must-watch.”

Shows and all other cultural products benefit from network effects. A show becomes more valuable if all your friends and colleagues watch it: Watching it gives you something to take about, and NOT watching it means being left out of the conversation.”

28. “I’m just as tired as you are of this story. Politicians, pundits, podcasters — everyone is trying to get their pound of Elon flesh, hoping to drive clicks to their website.

Missing in all this chatter is a thoughtful analysis of what the problems and potential resolutions are. But this is a company worthy of serious study. Twitter is a perfect case study of the shifting power dynamics of the ad market and how to make money in this era of the internet.”

29. Do I think the layoffs should have happened? YES. But this seems to be a really bad & awful way to do it.

Firing people and Lay offs always suck as someone who has been on both sides of one (many times) but this seems really thoughtless & cold (in contrast to one done at Stripe).

“After the layoffs, we asked some of the employees who had been cut what they made of the process. They told us that they had been struck by the cruelty: of ordering people to work around the clock for a week, never speaking to them, then firing them in the middle of the night, no matter what it might mean for an employee’s pregnancy or work visa or basic emotional state.

More than anything they were struck by the fact that the world’s richest man, who seems to revel in attention on the platform they had made for him, had not once deigned to speak to them.”

30. The guys excel when they discuss the tech industry.



Marvin Liao

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