Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads November 29th, 2020

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” — Seneca

  1. Wind power is here in America. This Ukrainian immigrant entrepreneur is one big reason.

“I’m an engineer. Not an environmentalist,” says Michael Polsky, as if to explain why even after spending 17 years developing renewable-energy systems, he’s still enthralled by the sight of 125-foot-long wind turbine blades sweeping in elegant circles through the sky.It’s machines that this serial entrepreneur loves. And building. And making profitable deals. After becoming a centimillionaire by developing gas-fired turbines, the 71-year-old has ridden wind power to billionaire status.

If you’re just making money, you can only go so far,’’ he says. “When you have a mission, a conviction, you perform on a completely different level. You believe so strongly, you don’t take no for an answer.”

2. I love Substack & what they are doing.

“Substack, established in 2017 by three tech-and-media guys — Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie, and Jairaj Sethi — is a newsletter platform that allows writers and other creative types to distribute their work at tiered subscription rates. Newsletters go back at least as far as the Middle Ages, but these days, with full-time jobs at stable media companies evaporating — between the 2008 recession and 2019, newsroom employment dropped by 23 percent — Substack offers an appealing alternative. And, for many, it’s a viable source of income.”

“Because newsletter creators retain control of their email list, archives, and intellectual property, Substack’s main selling point is independence — from bosses, from ad-dependent corporate media models, from the whims of tech monopolies like Google and Facebook. The founders don’t claim that Substack will “save” media — a promise that’s bound to disappoint — but they argue that their model is a core part of a better, more worker-centric and reader-friendly future for journalism.”

3. “Many people tend to write off self-help literature as little more than fodder for the worried well-off, and as Blum concedes, there is good reason to do so. Between books on self-actualization, speaking circuits for self-appointed life coaches, high-priced personal growth seminars, and corporate-sponsored self-care initiatives, the $10 billion a year industry can seem to be little more than, as she puts it, “a force…that fosters privatized solutions to systemic problems.”

“But as Blum shows, the genre actually originated in the literature of radical self-improvement societies and the collective do-it-yourself efforts of 19th century British anarchists and socialists.”

4. One of the clear winners of the 2020 pandemic. Onlyfans.

“OnlyFans is a subscription social media site that lets fans pay to get exclusive content from creators. The site is perhaps best known for its adult entertainment content, which likely would make it difficult to raise venture capital anyway. Stokely, though, emphasizes that OnlyFans is for all types of entertainers, and he hopes to broaden into areas such as sports.”

“Indeed, creators on platforms like TikTok and Instagram regularly tell their followers to sign up for their OnlyFans page to get exclusive behind-the-scenes material. OnlyFans has become enough of a pop-culture phenomenon for Beyoncé to name-drop it in a song.

As Stokely sees it, OnlyFans allows creators to become “the CEO of their own channels” and make revenue by catering to their most ardent fans. The company makes money by exacting a 20% fee from each transaction. That’s often higher than what competitive services charge, like Patreon, which can take as little as 5%. He says more than 100 creators have made $1 million or more through the site.”

5. “the gangly, curly-haired 23-year-old has spent the past year on the road, poking a microphone into the oft-shocking subcultures of America for his show, “All Gas No Brakes.”

Callaghan has interviewed protestors, porn stars, Proud Boys, and Bigfoot hunters. He’s braved the crowds at Border Security Expos and Burning Man. He’s lent an ear to flat-earthers, alien truthers, psychonauts, and intoxicated partygoers.

Since launching in August 2019, “All Gas No Brakes” has amassed 3m+ fans on Instagram and YouTube. In getting there, Callaghan has had the help of Doing Things Media (DTM), a digital media company that runs a network of 25+ brands with an audience of 60m+ across platforms.

Doing Things’ revenue is almost at $10m for 2020–3x its haul from 2019. That’s partly been buoyed by merch.

“About half of Doing Things’ revenue is branded content,” says Hailey. “The other half is a mix of (mostly) merchandise, subscription, platform, and video licensing.”

With all of these moves, Doing Things Media is building out the playbook for what prominent business writer Web Smith calls linear commerce, whereby the lines between media and commerce are blurring.

In a previous world, a company would build a product and then go find an audience to market to. Today, those who wield a sizable audience have a better sense of what products can sell — and they’re poised to go out and make them. This approach greatly reduces customer acquisition costs.”

6. Talk about wacky…..”Dentist DJ Dictator.”

“Berdimuhamedow has ruled the former Soviet republic since the death of his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006, who curated his own infamous Stalinist cult of personality over his 16-year term in office. He famously renamed months and the days of the week after his relatives and even had his own gold statue that would famously rotate to face the sun. But it didn’t take long for Berdimuhamedow, then a former dentist who later became health minister, to dismantle Niyazov’s personality cult and replace it with his own.

In a move akin to Roman emperors, he lifted a ban in 2010 and reinstatedthe traditional big top circus — complete with clowns, fire-eaters, jugglers, lion-tamers and trapeze artists. He rides horses in public (and fell off one in a viral clip), engages in dagger-throwing, car racing and taekwondo. At a 2020 new year’s party, he was seen on camera deejaying at a rave. He also waged a peculiar crackdown on satellite dishes and air-conditioners.”

7. “Now, in Egypt circa 2009, the government wasn’t even trying because it was preoccupied with the maintenance of the regime and skimming off the economy.

In the US circa 2020, our so-called leaders aren’t even trying because they’re preoccupied with zero-sum power games, and skimming off the economy (one need look no further than the farce that has played out around a second Covid stimulus package).

History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.

I am still thinking through the investment implications of all this. My base case is now what I have called “the zombification of everything.”

MOAR dysfunction. MOAR debt. MOAR government intervention in capital markets (to hedge the political class from the financial consequences of its own ineffectiveness, ‘natch). Low rates, low growth, (alleged) low inflation, as far as the eye can see. The market narrative cartoon of this regime will be disinflation. In reality, I think it’s more of a stagflationary regime. But the cartoon is what matters for your returns. So somewhat paradoxically, this is GOOD for risk assets. Particularly long duration assets.”

8. I love this list of countries. Some of my favorite in the world. Good alternatives to the so-called First world. You can have it all sometimes.

“You can find the cheapest countries in the world. You can find the safest countries to live in. But if you want both, Eastern Europe (Georgia, Serbia, Armenia) is a great place to start.

If you know what you’re doing in Asia, places like Taiwan and Malaysia are also very safe and reasonably affordable. There may be some purse snatching, but there isn’t a lot of violent crime.”

9. “I live for myself and answer to nobody” — Steve McQueen

10. Thesis investing is really the only way forward for investing in any sector or category or asset. USV has nailed it in VC & this shows why. Generalists are toast in the new world (and I admit I am generalist investor so lots of personal retooling needed)

“All of this is a relentless effort to figure out what we are looking for and then go out and find it. It is not a static thing. It is a dynamic thing. A pandemic comes along and rocks our world. Time to revisit the thesis and the deep dives. When the pandemic ends, and it will, we will factor that into our thinking too.

In a world with so much opportunity, it pays to ignore the vast majority of it and focus on a tiny bit of it. That may seem counterintuitive, but I am certain that it is the right thing to do.”

11. Good job Sherwin Williams! Some kid takes the initiative and it gets crazy good results for company. Corporate overlords fire him. This is why big companies suck!

Popular Paint-Mixing TikToker Fired By Sherwin-Williams

12. This is why the market works, like it or not.

“The Cobra effect” ie. Perverse Incentives.

13. WFA=Work From Anywhere is a real thing.

14. Good news for Fish and the earth.

“I knew the pattern those trailblazers had to follow: media campaigns to convince people their fake meats weren’t bizarre, slow rollouts of product in a handful of hipster restaurants, and then years of struggle to develop the production and distribution needed to reach the mainstream.

I’d assumed alternative seafood would follow the same tortuous path. Yet here was Good Catch, already stocked by mainstream supermarkets like Whole Foods and Giant. Perhaps the trail had been blazed. And that made me wonder if the world of seafood was about to get pounded by a wave of fishless fish.”

“Second spoiler alert: it is. Many of the most popular seafoods now suddenly face direct competition from dozens of startups offering animal-free alternatives. The industry is still tiny, but sales of plant-based foods have surged 29 percent in the past two years, compared with just 4 percent overall for U.S. retail foods, and many expect the category to follow the arc of plant-based milks, which now account for 14 percent of all retail milk sales.”

15. I kind of feel the same. So much I hate about how poorly run SF is & how it’s become a S — t hole. But if most of VC twitter is running away (but not the startups), it kind of makes me want to stay (or at least keep as my base, I travel so much anyways). Groupthink is dangerous.

“Right now, it seems that not just leaving San Francisco, but kicking it on the way out, has become a bit of a meme. And with all the bizarre propositions on our election ballots, our rabid political ecosystem, our declining quality of life, and the prospects of rising taxes, I can understand the temptation. After all, Texas is not greedy with its taxes. Montana has better mountains. Other places have warmer waters. I could join the exodus. But the contrarian in me says to zig when others zag.”

16. Hope he is right for the economy. Who knows.

“Fritze, an Indianapolis accountant, is among millions of Americans who have squirreled away their money in savings this year as the coronavirus pandemic has put an end to many activities — like going to the gym, restaurants or bars — that were common before the pandemic.

The savings reach $2 trillion, or roughly 10% of the economy. With a successful vaccine, all that money could be steered toward spending, according to economist Ian Shepherdson, ushering in what he calls the “Biden Boom” by the time spring arrives.”

17. SPOT ON.

“In the future, those who achieve the greatest results with the least number of employees will be admired above all others; the key statistic to look at is the go-forward net revenues per employee because it best encompasses the company’s leverage. What matters is each employee’s productivity and how the business itself can scale?

The intersection of powerful software tools and cheap capital means that companies can build higher-quality products with fewer people as the capital can go to acquiring the best talent for more experiments. Basically, companies should be spending time on what makes them unique.”

18. “One thing is for sure, you cannot simply “pause” a major economy like the USA for 9 months or more. Asia has been open for a long period of time and this is causing them to capture more and more market share.

European companies are shutting down (due to COVID restrictions) which means China has to pick up the manufacturing slack… the USA already relies on Chinese manufacturing and the general economy (in Asia) is simply better there due to limited COVID-19 cases. They successfully contained the virus.”

“The USA has been the best place on earth to get ahead: opportunities are boundless, limited regulation and a high standard of living. That said, Asia certainly wins in a scenario where the other two major world economies are halted/half-halted while they are not impacted.”

19. A medley of thoughts from the very thoughtful Ev Williams.

“And I noticed in 2018 or so, with this massive number of companies that were in San Francisco — startups and large public companies and pre IPO companies — that competition for talent had gotten more extreme than it had ever been. So it got me — along with a lot of founders and CEOs — thinking about maybe the advantage of hiring locally and having everybody in the same office [was a pro] that was starting to get outweighed by the cons. . . And, of course, the tools and technology that make remote work possible were getting better all the time.”

20. Big exits of startups REALLY matter for supercharging emerging startup ecosystems.

“Careem’s exit generated wealth for many of its employees, co-founders Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson themselves gained a large infusion of funds and both have become investors. Where the Middle East wealth generation relies mostly on inheritance or family businesses, Careem’s exit demonstrated an alternative way to create value and has inspired many to pursue their own entrepreneurship journey.”

“The company served as a fantastic training centre, a place for its workers to develop the skills required to found their own startups — navigating difficult regulations, launching in countries with poor or little infrastructure, flexibility in solving solutions and digitising efforts. Careem’s culture is embedded with innovation and such an environment encourages employees to go out and innovate themselves or do the same for other startups. So far this year 34 new startups have emerged, built by the Careem Mafia, most are focused on the mobility sector, but there several in e-commerce, marketing, fintech and edtech.”

21. Totally true.

“I believe one of the biggest luxuries right now is freedom.

Covid-19 lockdowns around the world have taught us how precious freedom is, and how easily simple things like going outside, breathing fresh air, and the ability to travel, can be taken away from us by people who refuse to follow their own rules.

Frankly this was another theme of the Soviet Union — the big bosses had one set of rules for themselves, and the rest of us peasants had another set of rules that we had to follow.

You see this all over the Western world now, with politicians who can’t be bothered to adhere to their own lockdowns, but require everyone else to isolate from friends and family.

It’s easy to be angry about this. But it’s more effective to do something about it.

Unlike expensive luxuries like fancy handbags and supercars, freedom doesn’t require suitcases full of cash. It requires rational thinking, the right information, and the will to take action.”

22. Wow this is a baller investment team in gaming here.

“Gaming in the pandemic is very much not an aberration,” Levin said. “It is a reflection of the trajectory the industry was already going. Psychologically and philosophically, it was an eye-opener for much of the world who was not acutely aware of what was happening. It is no longer a luxury for any form of traditional media to understand what’s happening in gaming. It’s a strategic imperative.”

23. Emergence is best of best when it comes to enterprise software investing.

“I do think it’s dangerous to assume that things would have turned out the same if if we had been investors in the company. I believe the kinds of investors you put around the table make a difference in terms of the outcome of your company, so I try to not beat myself up too much on the missed opportunities because maybe they found a better fit or a better investor for them to be successful.”

24. This stability & experience of incoming core members of foreign policy is a good thing. The only Trump policy I hope that continues is the containing of China.

“These are all people who are able to step into these jobs and hit the ground running. And that, in itself, is a signal.”

“Introducing his team Tuesday, he (Biden) noted that while they have “unmatched experience and accomplishments, they also reflect the idea that we cannot meet these challenges with old thinking and unchanged habits.”

25. Bruce Lee. Global icon.

“Today, his DNA still flows through everything, from fashion to dance, film to politics. Like his millions of fans I was captivated and the more I learnt about Lee the more I loved him. He was a passionate champion of equality and believed that martial arts should be open to anyone who wanted to learn.

He understood racism and segregation and knew there was no place for it in martial arts. This philosophy extended outside of the dojo and through his life Lee challenged stereotypes and prejudice. He was a hero onscreen and off, a beacon of hope to so many around the world.”

26. Some good stats here. WFA=Work From Anywhere for the lucky tech workers is here to stay.

“Workers now have greater geographic freedom, and appear to be fleeing traditional hubs for smaller markets.”

27. “We are obsessed with unassuming types and rags to riches stories; to getting to peek behind the curtain of the lifestyles of ordinary people who have made it.

Just like YouTube juggernaut Zoella (whose brother and boyfriend also became influencers too), the D’Amelios have mastered keeping fame in the family.

Their new YouTube channel includes a series called Dinner With the D’Amelios. It’s the latest brand expansion, and on to another platform, too: “She’s been able to take the audience she has away from TikTok and put it onto other places where she can build intellectual property,” says Armoo.

Which she’ll surely continue to do, in the same vein as her TikTok fame: meteoric, and fast.”

28. Huh? Interesting and scary.

“The researchers tracked the risks based on three factors: the first was identifying cities where intense urban life collides with both domesticated animals and rich biodiversity, raising interactions between humans, farmed animals, and wildlife, often due to disruption like deforestation.”

29. This is a smart ambitious kid. Short selling is a fascinating space too.

“I’ve always been a big believer that you’ve got to get your face in front of people,” Dorsey says. “Almost everybody has something to teach you. Even if someone isn’t a wildly successful person in their industry, they’ll know something you don’t.”

“He’s already learned enough to carve out a niche for himself in the financial world. At an age when his peers are still learning the ropes, Dorsey is putting out a successful newsletter about a sector of investing that doesn’t get the sustained coverage it arguably should: activist short-selling, betting against a company’s stock while alleging fraud or other problems.”

“Dorsey foresees “an explosion” in activist shorting, as technology makes it a simpler strategy for more people to use and a frothy market creates more shorting opportunities to take advantage of. So while he might change course down the line — work at a hedge fund or start his own activist-research outfit — for now, he plans to see how far The Bear Cave can go.”

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

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