Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads November 22nd, 2020

Once You Choose Hope, Anything’s Possible — Christopher Reeves

  1. I have major issues personally with uncertainty. Something I need to work on.

“Humans abhor uncertainty, and will do just about anything to avoid it, even choosing a known bad outcome over an unknown but possibly good one.”

“Life is ephemeral. Everything we know and love will one day cease to exist, ourselves included. That is life’s one certainty. The cherry blossom is lovely not despite its transience but because of it. This has always been the case.

The pandemic has driven home our own transience. And while it may be too much to ask to celebrate this truth under such dire circumstances, we can learn to tolerate the unknown, and perhaps even catch glimpses of the beauty underlying life’s uncertainties.”

2. “When I hear founders talk about “getting back to product,” it’s hard not to think that long-term they are a product manager, rather than a CEO.”

3. “If a business is a marketplace, it is selling incremental demand to customers as its primary value proposition. A business is SaaS or SaaS-like if it sells anything else software-related. If a business starts as a marketplace, it usually means demand is the most important problem customers need to solve.

If a business starts out SaaS or SaaS-like, it usually means its customers have ways of driving demand and have other important problems software can better help them with. It could also mean the marketplace dynamics needed to drive demand are very hard.”

4. Good basics of raising your Series A.

5. Exciting and scary implications. But this is the future.

“A new field of science called “synthetic biology” aims to do just this by digitizing genetic manipulation. Sequences are loaded into software tools — like a word processor, but for DNA code — and are eventually printed using something akin to a 3D printer. Rather than editing genetic material in or out of DNA, synthetic biology gives scientists the ability to write entirely new organisms that have never existed.”

“THE AMOUNT OF attention and resources being paid to synthetic biology has only grown in the face of the pandemic, making it more likely that this research will impact our health in the near future.”

6. Yup! Different & interesting perspectives on post covid world.

“travel will explode after the pandemic. People like (safe) novelty and changes of scenery. We have all been locked down with the monotony of the same rooms, same walking routine, inability to see new things. When it is safe to travel, people will go, go, go.”

“trends in combination have boosted the appeal of investment migration and citizenship programs, whether for ‘digital nomad’, those looking to acquire second passports or those changing nationality altogether. Connected hubs offering hassle-free entrepreneur visas such as the UAE, Singapore and Thailand are likely to benefit. Every country for itself is also becoming every person for himself.”

7. Very impressive & overlooked historical figure.

“He called himself the “Black Thomas Edison,” but we should all know his true name: Garrett Augustus Morgan.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Morgan pioneered a wide range of technological advancements — predecessors to the gas mask, sewing-machine advancements, hair products, and the first 3-color traffic light — that continue to impact daily life decades later.

It’s the story of an insatiably curious soul who overcame tremendous social barriers and devoted his life to making the world a safer place.

And it began in a shack on a rural Kentucky farm.”

8. A very big fan of Stripe Press. Lots of really great books being published there.

“Like other independent publishers, Stripe has identified a niche and clear position around advancing authors in a certain part of the market; the quality of the authors it works with speak volumes. Stripe Press is refined in its taste, and offers unique services to its growing, tech-savvy community of writers.

In 2018 when Stripe Press debuted, Axios wrote, the bottom line: “This is the latest example of how tech companies use content marketing to build their brands and connect with customers (and would-be customers) beyond the products they sell… Stripe’s mission is to grow the GDP of the internet… by sharing previously hard-to-acquire knowledge and expertise about starting and running companies.”

9. This is why it’s still early days in the Cloud computing space. Plenty of head room and opportunities for startups.

10. I love the concept of digital nomad-ing but this write up sure makes these people seem….naive, privileged or entitled?

When so many people are suffering, not folks should be bragging about their escape or employment. Stealth or modesty seems like a better strategy.

Also shows nothing is like the dream being shown on Instagram or other social media.

“for those who were unencumbered, with steady jobs that were doable from anywhere, it was a moment to grab destiny and bend employment to their favor.

Their logic was as enviable as it was unattainable for everyone else: If you’re going to work from home indefinitely, why not make a new home in an exotic place? This tiny cohort gathered their MacBooks, passports and N95 masks and became digital nomads.

They Instagrammed their workdays from empty beach resorts in Bali and took Zoom meetings from tricked-out camper vans. They made balcony offices at cheap Tulum Airbnbs and booked state park campsites with Wi-Fi. They were the kind of people who actually applied to those remote worker visa programs heavily advertised by Caribbean countries. And occasionally they were deflated.”

“It turns out there are drawbacks the trend stories and Instagram posts didn’t share. Tax things. Red-tape things. Wi-Fi rage things. Closed border things. The kinds of things one might gloss over when making an emotional, quarantine-addled decision to pack up an apartment and book a one-way ticket to Panama or Montreal or Kathmandu.”

11. Some tips for emerging venture managers from one of the best in the business.

“a clear approach to money management, bet sizing, ownership and follow on strategy, will also play a part in how LPs perceive you. Being wishy washy on any of these dimensions will be damning and likely relegate you to a bunch of polite responses but little follow through.”

12. “Technology means we can now choose where we live and work.”

This quote is true but it will be countered by growing government & societal push for control.

“Everything will be in the firing line — the cushy “golden passport” programs, aggressive international tax planning by tech companies such as Amazon. com Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. and the digital nomads themselves. A recent proposal to tax remote workers to pay to rebuild the economy speaks to that frustration.

While indiscriminately squeezing work-from-homers who are trying to make ends meet is unfair and would encounter resistance, turning the screw on tech companies and international tax evasion is popular and would make the nomadic life harder. As big government gets bigger, post-Covid Leviathans will be in no mood to let free riders take advantage of internet and mobile infrastructure without giving back.”

13. Easier said than done but this is right.

“In VC, it’s our job to imagine a world that might be different from the world we live in. This means being open to ideas that are hard to fit into our world, as we know it, right now. After all, we’re always looking for the non-obvious idea, the “contrarian but right” idea that only looks viable from certain offbeat points of view. Part of the job is appreciating ideas that are strange enough to provoke a reaction of skepticism.”

14. Hope he is right.

The creator of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine says life could return to normal by next winter

15. “Broadly, there are five buckets that talented people should start companies around: energy, education, housing, healthcare, and transportation. That’s because the western world has stagnated on all five fronts. For every sector except energy and sometimes housing, costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation.”

“Paradoxically, ambitious and differentiated goals are sometimes easier to achieve than mundane ones. Ambitious people attract other ambitious people. In positive-sum areas, they find ways to work together and help each other. That’s why inspiring goals make it easier to hire, raise money, and meet the kinds of people who can move the world with a single phone call.”

16. This is pretty great as a tip for keeping your brain focused and not distracted. Reducing cognitive load and keeping your mind sharp.

“Your sources of information have enormous influence on what you think, how deeply you think, and how you solve problems. Be deliberate about how you choose them. Avoid free sources information, companies that give away free clients, and large media organizations.

Read twenty good books per year, read Twitter through Feedbin and Reeder, subscribe to niche communities, mute low quality signal from high quality sources, subscribe to Superhuman for email.”

17. People make mistakes, at least he is trying to fix it and was very generous & charitable with the $$ he made. More than we can say for many billionaires (or millionaires for that matter) out there.

“These two sides of Smith — the impressive generosity on one and the admitted tax evasion on the other — may be hard to reconcile.”

“Thomas believes Smith agreed to Brockman’s offer because, while it gave Brockman more control over his offshore assets than Smith might have wanted, it made his financial dreams a reality.

“This was 20 years ago and a 36-year-old brown man running around Wall Street trying to get people to invest in a very big idea. Not a lot of takers. Then he gets a billion-dollar investment. That’s how he built an empire that made him a billion dollars.”

18. Bullish on Crypto. For me it’s Bitcoin all the way.

“We are starting to see sectors of the economy decentralize using blockchain technology, starting with the finance sector, naturally. This is a ten to twenty year trend that is just getting started. And owning crypto assets is the way to play that trend. Starting, but not ending, with Bitcoin.”

19. This is fascinating.

20. Also contrary to popular belief, I am not a Permabear. If I was I would not have been a VC. :) Nomad Capitalist said it best and it’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way in 2020.

“I do realize that there are problems, but I also know I can fix them and protect myself as much as possible, and then I can move forward and focus on the positive. I want to look for the opportunities and go where I’m treated best rather than stay mired in negativity.”

“But just because something is going wrong for you does not mean the country is collapsing.

Yes, taxes are going to go up. Yes, the dollar may drop. But the dollar won’t become worthless in one day or even one month.

If your mindset is focused on the world ending, it’s going to be harder for you to succeed.

So, the first step to being prepared and being okay no matter what happens in your country is to stop overdramatizing.

Once you stop focusing on all the near to impossible what if’s, you can come up with a realistic plan to be prepared and protect yourself, your family, and your assets.”

21. What an interesting career.

“the United States Investing Championship seems like a straightforward investment contest.

Traders pay a fee to join and spend a year trying to juice their portfolios for the highest investment return before one competitor is crowned the victor in December.

But the story behind the competition’s founder, Norman Zadeh, who revived it in 2019 after a more than 20-year hiatus, isn’t that of a storied investor.

Zadeh is both a shapeshifter and a name-dropper. He goes by Zadeh, or Zada, depending on the day. He’s a poker king, a porn magazine magnate, Joan Rivers’ former “boy toy,” an intellectual property warrior, a wealthy man who lost a lot of money.”

22. “I’m of the belief that “Come for the Content, Stay for the Community” will be one of the dominating themes for media this decade. As more creators break away from companies to go subscription indie, they’ll find it to be an effective and rewarding strategy to think of ways to build ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ experiences and even perhaps subscription tiers based on access to these events, community spaces and chats.

A slew of platforms and apps are letting creators do this without large event staffs, logistics or the costs typically associated with physical gatherings (although getting your fans together IRL will still be a thing post-COVID).

So it’s not a question of “how many newsletters can one person pay for?” it’s “how many communities does someone want to be a part of?”

23. This is what I got out of it. Kevin O’Leary is a financier, but not an operator (but he sold it at top).

“SoftKey renamed itself The Learning Company to take advantage of its strong reputation, continuing to gobble up industry powerhouses including MECC, in 1995, and Brøderbund, in 1998. All told, SoftKey bought more than 20 entities, becoming the world’s second largest consumer software company after Microsoft in the process.

“O’Leary basically saw software companies as commodities,” said Buckleitner. “He was the soulless businessperson who just came in and bought a bunch of companies and scaled them back and laid off all the good people.” At its peak in 1998, O’Leary sold TLC to Mattel for an astounding $3.5 billion — 4.5 times The Learning Company’s annual revenue.”

““[TLC] killed the educational software industry,” Bernard Stolar, a leader in the world of video games who was brought in by Mattel to try and save TLC, told Canada’s National Observer in 2016. “It killed it because there was so much product out there and all of the product was crap.”

24. “This new reality has profound implications for the go-to-market strategy of any infrastructure software company. Why? Because the last thing developers want to do is talk to salespeople. The classic RFP process has been replaced by developers finding their own answers on developer forums. Vendor-controlled POCs have been replaced by self-service trials.”

25. The internal civil war at NY Times. Institutionalists versus Insurrectionists. Sadly, feels like their overall credibility has gone down like that of most of mainstream media.

“It is difficult to think of many businesses that have benefited more from Donald Trump’s presidency — aside from the Trump-family empire — than the Times. After Trump’s election, in 2016, subscriptions grew at ten times their usual rate, and they have never looked back. The Times has gone from just over three million subscribers at the beginning of the Trump presidency to its record of more than 7 million last month.

It has hired hundreds of journalists to staff a newsroom that is now 1,700 people strong — bigger than ever. Its stock has risen fourfold since Trump took office……..and the company has been able to weather the pandemic in part because it now has more cash on hand — $800 million — than at any point in its history. It has become the news-media organization to rule them all.”

26. This is a master class in growth for startups. Must read.

“In our experience, founders are often surprised to learn that there are very few routes to scalable new customer acquisition. For consumer companies, there are only three growth “lanes” that comprise the majority of new customer acquisition:

1. Performance marketing (e.g. Facebook and Google ads)

2. Virality (e.g. word-of-mouth, referrals, invites)

3. Content (e.g. SEO, YouTube)

“The biggest customer acquisition mistake we see companies make is underestimating the time and effort it takes to make a lane really work, and spreading their efforts too thin as a result.”

27. A real American icon and story.

“Although Nelson is now one of the most beloved and iconic figures in American music — the bandanna, the braids, the ever-present haze of marijuana smoke — he didn’t find real success until he was in his late thirties. “I’d been struggling like the dickens to make some money at the music game and failed miserably,” he writes. Part of what makes Nelson’s music so resonant across generations is his deep and visceral connection to failure — he understands, on a cellular level, what it feels like to lose a partner, your house, all your money, those big dreams.

Before he moved to Nashville, in 1960, he worked as a radio d.j., pumped gas, did heavy stitching at a saddle factory, worked at a grain elevator, and had a brief gig as a laborer for a carpet-removal service. He eventually discovered that he had an uncanny aptitude for hocking encyclopedias door to door.”

“I had to get up off my ass and, like everyone else in this cold world, keep on trying to figure out how to make a living.”

28. “big tech companies are thriving despite blood being out on the streets because they are anti-fragile. In other words, they thrive in uncertainty, unlike fragile and robust companies that are going belly up now. Thus, we are entering a new type of economy where the gap between big tech and others will likely keep getting bigger in the near future.”

“its likely big tech will emerge stronger than ever before post-pandemic. This is mostly because big tech owns virtually all of the digital distribution we rely on. As a result, they could play a bigger role in the dissemination and control of information related to the coronavirus and other (disastrous) events in the future.”

29. These rules work regardless of whether you have money or not. Basically how to live a better and more interesting life focusing on what really matters.

“Taking a diverse approach to covering your needs is an important part of the Nomad Capitalist lifestyle, as is determining what your real needs are. As a mentor once coached me, confusing wants as needs is among the fastest paths to unhappiness.”

30. “While democratizing access is perhaps an overused phrase in today’s technology ecosystem, I think it will continue to be a theme in some of the most important companies of tomorrow.

There are three types of companies that democratize access to a product or service:

those that make something that was previously paid now free.

those that make something expensive cheaper.

those that make something hard to use much more convenient.”

31. What a charmed life. I am a fan of Mr Clooney.

“Now, at 59, Clooney tends to the myth of himself, built and burnished over the years, and to his actual domestic life, which used to be lived between film sets and plummy talk show appearances and now is what makes him happiest. There are those who retire or otherwise disappear, and those who hang on tighter than they should, past when they should, but there are vanishingly few like Clooney, who is still here, albeit on his own exact terms, giving us something to agree on long beyond the time of us agreeing on anything.”

“And this is a story about a charmed life, of course, but it’s also a story about a guy who is doing his best to keep it that way, to liven up the days, to give himself more stories to tell before his time is up.”

32. “Perception is reality to the entire population. If someone thinks you’re a smart guy, it doesn’t matter if you have no experience related to something, they will likely listen. Seriously. People take health advice from overweight guys simply because they have degrees (no real life experience). Similarly, if someone thinks you’re an idiot they will happily bet against anything you have to say. In that scenario, you know who to go to for your wagers =)

We don’t live in a world where results matter for 99% of society. We live in a world where perception matters. Industries have been created where *prestige* must be present… which means they don’t require any real skill. If an industry required real skill, it wouldn’t matter if your degree said “Harvard” or “University of Nebraska”… The only thing that would matter is your performance/product.”

33. I really like what these folks are doing. Mushrooms for a more sustainable fashion future.

34. Go Georgia. I am maximum bullish on this country.

35. The exodus continues. This is a significant one. Mr Rabois is a long time SF Bay Area guy too. Miami is a heck of a nice city for sure (low state taxes sure help).

“I think San Francisco is just so massively improperly run and managed that it’s impossible to stay here,” Rabois said. He believes he is not alone in giving up on the Bay Area, a place he has called home for two decades. He cited anecdotal evidence about many people in his social circles leaving, and noted, “COVID sort of masks this stuff. It’s not quite as obvious where people are moving to and if they’ve actually moved since everybody’s working remotely.”

Silicon Valley loses another tech investor icon as Keith Rabois is leaving the Bay Area

36. This is an absolute must read. Exciting times.

“We live in the age of infinite leverage — an era where anyone with a laptop can choose to build and scale without permission. Follow your intellectual curiosity more than whatever is the current shiny flashy thing.

If your curiosity ever leads you to a place where society eventually wants to go, you’ll get paid extremely well.”

37. A good basic guide for those in SaaS. Worth a read.

38. Talk about the comeback kid. Still not a fan of the Vision Fund & cash cannon strategy but boy is this guy resilient. All cashed up now too.

39. Real validation that the European startup ecosystem has arrived (I personally think it arrived 5 years ago).

“With just three staff announced so far, Sequoia’s London office is small. But its symbolism goes beyond its headcount, both for the firm and Europe’s broader tech ecosystem. Firm leader Doug Leone notes that through the 1980s, Sequoia was known for a rule established by its first partners: if we can’t ride a bicycle to it, we won’t invest. That position worked in finding Apple. It’s increasingly likely it won’t for finding the next. “We’re not interested at Sequoia in partnering with a company that does a $1 billion IPO and over 20 years grows to $2 billion,” Leone says. “The interest is to find important market leaders. And more and more, we’re starting to see them come out of Europe.”

Investors and entrepreneurs in Europe’s tech hubs have seen Sequoia investors on the ground to visit startups more in recent years, part of a wider trend of U.S.-based firms pursuing deals more aggressively on the continent and in the U.K.”

40. Lessons from Lebanese Central Banking. This gross mismanagement is frightening. This Ponzi scheme can happen in any country in the world by the way. (probably is happening actually)

41. I’m always a bit wary of these very early but highly funded startups done by Celebrity CEOs. A 20M seed round??? Have any of these very worked out?

Serious question here. Outside of Square, I don’t recall any of top of my head so want to know.

42. I miss Anthony Bourdain. Still makes me sad but what a life lived.

43. Congrats Ham Serunjogi & Chipper Cash team. Crazy good news and you clearly do have product market fit here. Batch 24!

44. Timely write up. Really helpful for many of us here in 2020 trying to figure out our lives.

“Transitioning from VC to coach and creator has forced me out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to adopt new mindsets/perspectives and also shed old ones that were no longer relevant and useful. I’ve also had to acquire new knowledge and skills to support my business and the founders I serve. I’ve had to stretch in more ways than I expected.”

“There’s a big difference between having a job, a career and a calling.”

What I’ve Learned In My First Year as a Solopreneur

45. Pizza is beating salad in the pandemic.

“We are a nation in the throes of an unprecedented eight-month pizza binge that shows no signs of abating. Multiple pizzerias in Los Angeles reported a 250% rise in sales on Election Day, and on Thursday, Papa John’s reported quarterly same-store sales growth of 23.8%.

For months now, the underlying forces for the sustained pizza craze have been as hotly debated within the restaurant industry as the election results have been parsed by professional pollsters. Stress eating is a major cause; quarantine-induced failure of imagination and the return of three major-league sports within weeks of one another over the summer certainly didn’t hurt.”

“But the actual reason that doesn’t get nearly enough notice is that pizza is one of the few genres of food that is actually more profitable than — and almost as addictive as — booze.”

Written by

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

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