Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads November 1st, 2020

‘If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.’ — Mickey Pearson (The Gentlemen)

  1. “When people say they have multiple priorities, what they’re really saying is that they have a hard time prioritizing. They are unwilling to make difficult, potentially uncomfortable decisions about what should take precedence over everything else.

The first step to catching and reversing burnout before it does damage is learning to take time to figure out which proverbial balls are actually important — and which need to be dropped.”

2. This brilliant man’s death is a real tragedy for all of our society. Boy what a meaningful life though.

“This was a common tension throughout Gambhir’s career: a crystal-clear sense of where he was going, with an agonizingly complete understanding of the obstacles that would need to be overcome to get there. Cyriac Roeding, the CEO of the cancer-detection biotech company Earli Inc., told the hundreds of mourners at Gambhir’s memorial service that Gambhir once warned him, “The world of biology will always find a way to screw you over. It will be harder than you want, and it will take longer than you want.” Yet Gambhir always seemed content to wait. Naive or not, he had faith that society would catch up with technology. One of his mantras was “We’re in the field of research, not search. The prefix ‘re-’ is extremely important.”

As he told me, “The secret is not to give up, to take those decades and not look for short-term gratification, because most of the time, you won’t get lucky.”

3. The Gold is in your email list as they say.

“Though loyal, Perry’s fan base is often underestimated. “That mailing list, that hunger that they have, can’t be tracked; nobody can really reach them. That’s why the tracking for all of my movies was always so far off,” Perry explains, referring back to the box office numbers for “Diary.” “It blew their mind because [Hollywood] didn’t know how to penetrate into the community.”

When Perry sent the email to his fans about the production of “Madea’s Class Reunion,” there were about 170,000 names on the mailing list. That number has since grown to 800,000.”

4. This is thought provoking.

“Learning: Where you die, and who is around you at the end is a strong signal of your success or failure in life. I believe it doesn’t matter how nice your home is; if at your exit you’re surrounded by strangers under bright lights, it’s a disappointment. Granted this isn’t an option for many people, but if you die at home, surrounded by people who love you, you are a success. It’s a sign that you forged meaningful relationships and that you were generous with people.”

5. What an interesting and important guy. The founder of Signal, defending privacy in our new surveillance economy.

“Whenever I asked Marlinspike what he had been up to, the answer was the same: “Work, work, work.” Wang, describing Marlinspike’s “masochistic anarchist workaholism,” told me, “I think the anarchy world rewards self-motivation, initiative, and experimentation. You oddly acquire a lot of skills that are useful, whether it’s graphic design or programming. There’s a strong work ethic, and a weird kind of anti-capitalist entrepreneurialism.” Reinhard said, of Marlinspike, “He is an incredibly efficient time manager, and he approaches his leisure in exactly the same way. Almost all of his adventures require, like, six months of planning — and he has the patience for it.”

6. “Specifically, the difference between the best performing and average performing firms are incredibly wide. Venture is a hits business and if you think about a typical venture fund of almost any size having somewhere between 25–40 investments, the chances of any one of those investments being a true outlier and returning a multiple of the fund are quite small. In order to have a successful fund, it’s almost a requirement that you have an outlier return for at least one of your investments.”

“my conclusion was that venture firms should place more bets and have more exposure across a larger set of businesses. Obviously, those inside the industry argue that managers who are good at picking businesses would do better to own more of fewer businesses if they can show that they have the aptitude to invest in those that become true outliers. But given how rare they are, I wonder if that is arguably the optimal strategy. As David Cohen replied once years ago when I asked him what the key to being a successful venture capitalist was: “Luck”.

7. Excellent career advice and worth reading the whole thing.

“A majority of career success is to be aligned with trends and industries that are rising and even mediocre players can succeed in an unstoppable tide. Aligning with a trend and particularly aligning early is critical because not only will the force be with you, but your skills will be in demand as the area grows and if you have joined early you will be experienced and become well known in the field.”

“do not make job or career decisions with three to five-month horizons but three to five-year horizons. Do not switch jobs just because of money unless you are under extreme financial stress. Try to give each company or assignment or adventure at least three years and if it is an industry or company at least five. Your decision making will be better, your skills will mature, and you will take daily and weekly gyrations in perspective.”

8. “The media’s status quo is accelerating towards disruption. We’re seeing the development of new media brands (micro-labels) on platforms and services, the prioritization of talent as a core business pillar by media companies and the shifting business models moving from content direct to creator direct.

As each component of creation evolves, there is another evolution happening with the most critical part of the media business’ formula: the consumers. In the media business, business models drive product strategy. And while that’s the driving force behind the product, it’s contingent on consumer interest, participation and loyalty. That means that as the economy shifts, so needs the consumer value. This is an opportunity to build a new business that puts the creator and consumer relationship front and center and introduces the element of ownership. This is the business of fandom and subcultures.”

9. “Karp, far from being a public menace, was the chief executive of an American company whose software has been deployed on behalf of public safety in France. The company, Palantir Technologies, is named after the seeing stones in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” Its two primary software programs, Gotham and Foundry, gather and process vast quantities of data in order to identify connections, patterns and trends that might elude human analysts. The stated goal of all this “data integration” is to help organizations make better decisions, and many of Palantir’s customers consider its technology to be transformative.

Karp claims a loftier ambition, however. “We built our company to support the West,” he says. To that end, Palantir says it does not do business in countries that it considers adversarial to the U.S. and its allies, namely China and Russia. In the company’s early days, Palantir employees, invoking Tolkien, described their mission as “saving the shire.”

What Palantir does is complicated and mysterious. As with the magical stones for which it is named, people seem to see in it what they want to see. I thought Karp put it pretty nicely. “Palantir,” he said, “is the convergence of software and difficult positions.”

10. One of the better guides I’ve seen to getting into VC.

“It’s about having a clear answer to these questions:

Why is my capital not a commodity?

Why will I see deals or get into deals that others won’t?

What’s my one sentence value prop that is easily understood in the market?

What’s my asset or structural advantage that allows me to add value beyond just my time?

In summary: People use track record to determine the “good investors.” Why does this matter? “Good investors” get better deal flow. To build a track record, write checks early into good companies and add value to the founder such that they will recommend you to others. To write checks, join a firm that lets you do so, angel invest, or become a scout.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and, as with anything else, there’s a ton of luck involved.”

11. This was a master discussion of the art of VC from one of the best.

20VC: Sequoia’s Roelof Botha on His Biggest Lessons Working Alongside Don Valentine, Mike Moritz and Doug Leone, Leading Sequoia’s US Business and What Sequoia Do To Retain Their Edge at the Top & The Crucible Moments That Define Startup Success

12. “Generally, you can divide problems into good problems to have and bad problems to have. In life good problems tend to be the result of great success and bad problems tend to be the result of no success. There are so many things a founder cannot control, but founders can choose which problems they want to solve, even in the earliest stages of your company.”

13. Disagree with alot of what he says (especially re: Covid not being serious and his ultra libertarianism). But the key point at the end I am totally with.

“Financial and economic risks can be solved by investing properly and by going out and producing wealth and saving it. Economic and financial problems are things that you have some control over. No matter what the environment, you can make your life better.

People appear to want leaders — to be told what to do. They’ve been programmed to be irresponsible and to believe that somebody else — the State — is going to take care of them.

The average citizen of every country has become much less responsible as the State has grown much, much larger over the last century.

With that being the case, when there are problems, people are going to look for a strong leader — and they’re going to get strong leaders. It’s true all over the world. We already see this with Narendra Modi in India, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Fernandez in Argentina, and more.

It’s shaping up like the ’30s with Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and the rest of them.”

14. Old does not mean wise. This is why American politics is such a mess: Gerontocracy.

“Yet as much as people still like to crack wise about Soviet gerontocrats, it is a little-recognised fact that most of those seemingly ancient communists were actually younger than America’s political leadership is now. Brezhnev was in his late 50s when he became leader and 75 when he died; Andropov was 69 when he died, and Chernenko was 73 when he shuffled off this mortal coil. At 74, Trump has already outlived them all bar Brezhnev, while Biden, who will turn 78 in November, is almost a decade older than Andropov was when he breathed his last.

And that’s just the presidential candidates.”

“As for America’s political elites, with Congress’ approval rating sitting at a lowly 17% the consensus appears to be that this council of elders is not only not wise, they’re not even all that competent.”

15. “You must act and replace the failed CEO with whomever is the best option in that moment and work with the new CEO to address the challenges facing the company, many a result of the failed CEO’s poor leadership.

Waiting is never the right answer. Failing to act is never the right answer. You must remove a failing CEO.”

16. I am coming around to this view very quickly.

“It’s strange how people will enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle, living in luxury and comfort in Mexico City, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, or Bogota for years on end, and think there’s any reason to go back.

Why would you?

Emerging markets are no longer the Wild West they were 25–30 years ago. There’s been a grand convergence in living standards.

It’s difficult to innovate and pioneer new technology, but it’s rather easy to look over your classmate’s homework and copy what they are doing.

This is why the West has stagnated while “The Rest” are set to match them within our lifetimes.

So, I fail to see much benefit from staying in the developed world.”

But now that hundreds of other countries are becoming relevant on the world stage, a single country won’t be able to have a monopoly on a given aspect of life. There isn’t going to be “the next big thing” but there are going to be many “next big things.”

The world has never been as large and accessible as it is now. It’s wholly unlikely that you just so happened to be born in the best country in the world in absolutely everything.”

17. Combinatorial Innovation.

“we are entering … a new period of combinatorial innovation.” This happens, he says, when “there is a great availability of different component parts that can be combined or recombined to create new inventions.”

18. Talk about the American “Gray Eminence” (historians will understand this term).

“The trouble is, like most everything else about Cohen-Watnick, it’s all but impossible to verify, or to reconcile with other versions. Perhaps it’s because he’s emerged so swiftly from the murky world of intelligence. Or maybe it’s because he sits on the fault line of a fractured administration.”

19. “Software is eating the markets. Flush with cash and empowered by new tech platforms that blur the lines between investment, experience, entertainment, and digital assets, a segment of consumer investors are shifting money from consumption to investment. Consumer investors expect different things from their investments than professionals do and value assets differently as a result. New technologies, regulations, social trends, and asset classes mean that this shift is here to stay, and could continue to gain momentum after COVID is gone. This time, maybe it really is different.”

“It’s hard to measure the impact of “fun” on asset prices, but across almost every consumer category, a more fun product with a better user experience will attract more dollars than a more boring one with a worse user experience. The same applies to investing.”

20. Synthetic Bio is the future. No question.

“Looking back on the decade, the many research landmarks and new directions for synthetic biology are indeed very impressive, but as synthetic biology researchers it’s the advances in enabling technologies that excite us the most as these unlock what can come next. However, if we’re to look for the single biggest achievement of the decade that justifies the hype of the field back in 2010, then we can look no further than the proliferation and valuations of the hundreds of synthetic biology companies around the world.

A multibillion dollar industry now exists that makes chemicals, drugs, proteins, probiotics, sensors, fertilisers, textiles, food and many other things from engineered cells.”

21. “This is the real risk of maxing out your traditional 401(k). Contributing up to the employer match is a no brainer that every investor should participate in (if they can). However, beyond that and you have to start considering the tradeoffs much more seriously.

Regardless of whether you have a Roth 401(k) or a traditional 401(k), the benefits of contributing beyond the employer match are much smaller than you might have initially imagined. The issue is that so many personal finance experts have sung the praises of “maxing out your 401(k)” without providing any data to back up their claims.”

22. “As wi-fi and social media have become more ubiquitous, “digital nomad-ing” has become far more common.

And, as we navigate a global pandemic, the term is in vogue again as offices are closed, people are working from home, and many are rethinking their work-life balance. After all, you’re able to work remotely, why not travel or set up base in a cheaper, more exotic part of the world while you work online?”

23. This is a really neat company. I also kind of want some pizza right now.

24. “It’s a new season to lift our heads up a little and look around. The world, yes, is filled with problems — terrible, horrible, and stultifying problems that can at times feel all but insurmountable. But human ingenuity has always found a way, and we have never had such an extensive toolbox to confront all of them simultaneously. If the 2010s were all about humans learning technology, the 2020s is all about technology learning about humans.”

25. This is unbelievable insight and value on pricing in SaaS. Must read.

26. Wow. Impressive. Gaming is really coming to the forefront.

27. This is a worthwhile interview. Blindingly obvious but The future is Biotech and Technology. Fun too.

28. Plenty of lessons here for anyone engaging a development agency. Worth reading the comments area too.

29. Emerging VC’s this is very good news.

30. “For entrepreneurs with proven metrics, the calculus on raising money is different now. Before, frankly, the spreadsheet math didn’t make sense to raise money. We were growing fast enough to be relevant and were on a path to build a business enough large enough to matter. Now, with valuations so much higher, markets so much bigger, and investors happy to provide secondary to founders, entrepreneurs can get cash for their business, grow at even faster rates, and put money aside personally to diversify.”



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Marvin Liao

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