Marvin’s Best Weekly Reads November 8th, 2020

“It is the lot of man to suffer.” — Disrael

  1. I’m a big fan and really digging his new book too.

“To conclude that life is all about luck, he said, is to surrender to fatalism: “Quit letting yourself off the hook, McConaughey. If that’s true, then run every red light. You’ve got your hands on the wheel. You’re making choices. They matter.”

2. “But the Fed also owes much of its current success to the fact that it is led by Powell — who is not an economist, unlike his three immediate predecessors, but a bureaucratic operator skilled at making friends and forging consensus. In the popular imagination, the Fed is a nonpolitical entity, almost godlike in its distance from electoral pressures. But, as at the Supreme Court, that is just a cover for a slightly different, more personal form of politics.

At the same time the president was slamming him on Twitter, Powell was diligently building relationships in Congress, winning over skeptical stakeholders to his right and left, and building the political support he would need for an extraordinary crisis response when the pandemic hit.”

3. Happened in the Middle East and happening in the USA now. Word to the wise.

“Slowly, incrementally, much has been lost over the decades in the Middle East, and only today do people in the region grasp the magnitude of the change, as they look back to the 1960s and ’70s, and wonder how the past could be such a foreign country. In the beginning of this descent, what happened at the extremes was most evident to the naked eye.

But the more insidious, corrosive change came as a result of the reaction by society at large. Divisions deepened — within communities, friendships, families. Rage toward the other side grew. The middle ground evaporated, and we entered a new normal.”

4. “1) stock up now ahead of election to reduce risk, 2) have “in-hand” net worth that is in excess of 6 months spending, 3) write down a serious plan B if things go south for your income streams, 4) look at alternative assets and 5) you need to optimize for growth… some argue this is a barbell strategy where you buy high-risk and extremely low risk only. “

“The final part is more obvious: 1) more remote work, 2) people moving to lower tax locations, 3) less conferences more zoom meetings, 4) reduction in air travel relative to the past, 5) reduction in cruise travel relative to the past, 6) massive increase in video games, at home entertainment, 7) increase in home remodeling, 8) decrease in commercial real estate prices due to reduction in footprint for major companies, 9) increased interest in healthcare investment and 10) another shift forward for technology companies.

A good way to think about the future is to simply bet on innovation. Trying to bet on people, companies or processes that worked in the past is not a recipe for success. You want to look for things that will make life cheaper, more effective, more efficient and easy to use.”

5. “The Keith Rabois framework for evaluating roles is to ask whether the role is value creating or value preserving? Value creating roles are exactly what they sound like; you create and capture value with the products/services you build. A value preserving role is less creative and more tactical; you’re already doing well, and you want to make sure nothing gets screwed up.

Your rule of thumb should be as follows:

Value protecting role? Hire for slope

Value creating roles? Hire for experience”

6. Border control is critical to controlling pandemic spread. EU is facing some major policy issues. Worth a read.

“Portugal is in a different boat. It has fought to crush the coronavirus. But it still has 40 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, five times higher than the EU average (outside of Portugal, Sweden and UK). One of the reasons might well be that, all this time, it has allowed travelers from Brazil and the US (among others).

Countries like Italy, Spain or France have fought the pandemic hard, suffering a massive death and economic toll. If I were a politician from these countries, how could I justify to my voters that citizens from other countries will put these hard-won victories at risk, just because their countries didn’t want to suffer the same costs?

Especially since, once the borders open within the EU, there’s a loophole: US and Brazilian travelers can simply land in Portugal and travel from there to anywhere else in the continent.”

Coronavirus: How to Reopen Travel Safely | by Tomas Pueyo

7. “In the fall, about 1 of every 7 craft beer purchases is a pumpkin beer or a related fall seasonal drink.

In the beer world, pumpkin is a divisive ingredient. Earlier this month, Saturday Night Live featured a sketch of Bostonians trying the Sam Adams Jack-O Pumpkin Ale — a beverage that prompted the comedian Bill Burr to yell out, “The fuck is that?!”

But 40 years ago pumpkin products were not a joke. They were not oversaturated. They were obscure, as hipster as cauliflower.

And their rise as a flavoring in food, drink, and everything else may never have happened without Bill Owens, a Guggenheim Fellow turned failure turned craft beer rebel.

His experiment from the 1980s launched pumpkin beer — and ushered in America’s pumpkin-flavored industry.”

8. Fun medley of thoughts and insights.

9. “resilience can be seen as three interrelated skills rather than as a fixed trait or capacity. The first skill of resilience, responding pragmatically, involves facing difficult situations directly and taking decisive action to prevent further harm or decline.

While seemingly obvious, one of the most difficult things to do during a period of adverse change and hardship is to confront reality. To seek out the truth, stare it in the face, and make decisions based on facts, not wishful thinking.”

10. “In a pandemic where the virus is spread by extended close contact with other people, experiences don’t work. At least physical ones.[2]

And so we’ve seen a reversion by consumers to the form I learned to scorn as a kid and young adult: the American stuff havers.

Last week, economists at Wells Fargo predicted the 2020 holiday season would be a record because gifts are typically things, not experiences.

And in a world where a pandemic puts a freeze on all the experiences that attracted our dollars and attention, goods win.”

11. Mexico is in my plans for 2021……

“So you’re thinking about leaving… whether due to strict lockdowns, peaceful protests, inevitably higher taxes, or simply to retire in peace, Mexico might be worth considering.”

12. Fast (and Hopin and others) are really promising companies. But have investors and founders not learned anything about the cash cannon strategy. I get it. If the money is there at good valuation take it, but many startups die of indigestion too.

“While the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent halt in business activity devastated some startups, it has acted as an adrenaline boost for others, particularly if their technology supports virtual activities. Hopin, which powers virtual events, is in talks to raise capital at a $2 billion valuation only months after having raised a $40 million Series A, for example.”

“Fast, a two-year-old startup whose technology enables quick checkouts online, is in discussions with investors about a new round of financing between $50 million and $200 million. The deal could value the startup at as much as $1 billion, according to two people familiar with the talks.”

13. Incredibly observant. This is my sense of 2020 (as it is for so many others).

“William Gibson develops the striking new concept of the Jackpot. Ironically named, it expresses the moment when everything suddenly goes wrong at the same time.”

“In the original description, the Jackpot is obviously about climate change, but the concept can be extended to a more generalized sense of environmental exhaustion.”

“Suddenly a pandemic threatens to uproot all normal life. How do you fight the pandemic? At first glance by slowing down social and economic activity, but then the pressure on the economic conditions of the middle class may quickly become unbearable. Protests follow, but protests threaten to destroy what little remains of trust in the political system and without trust it is no longer possible to respond to economic inequality or technological decay or the dispossession of the middle class or climate change or even the pandemic, where we started. In one word: Jackpot.”

14. “For your market, the two key things to understand are (a) how many potential customers are there and (b) how much will each of them be worth to you if everything goes right. The better you really understand those details and can go deep on them, the more successful both your pitch and your business will be.”

15. “investors are definitely prepared for high levels of volatility over the coming months. Each person is positioning themselves to deal with the volatility differently, but they are all anticipating it. Some people are considering holding more cash in the short term. Others want to play the VIX. And others are acknowledging the higher probability for volatility, but claim that it won’t change their investment strategy over the medium to long-term.”

“I reminded one of the more bearish investors that we live in the safest, most prosperous time in human history. His response was “Yes, that is definitely not a trend that I see changing any time soon.”

16. “But in the midst of all this drama is a central theme that’s almost always lost.

People tend to forget that WE have a much bigger impact on our own lives than any politicians or government.

Elections deceive us into pinning all the hopes and dreams for our future on some political candidate, like he or she is going to walk across the water and sprinkle prosperity everywhere.

But this is an absurd fantasy.

What we do matters far more– the plans we make, the actions we take, the things we do to improve our own lives.

This is like voting for yourself. And we have the opportunity to do this every single day.”

17. “Fast-forward a few years, and Discord is at the center of the gaming universe. It has more than 100 million monthly active users, in millions of communities for every game and player imaginable. Its largest servers have millions of members.

Discord’s slowly building a business around all that popularity, too, and is now undergoing a big pivot: It’s pushing to turn the platform into a communication tool not just for gamers, but for everyone from study groups to sneakerheads to gardening enthusiasts. Five years in, Discord’s just now realizing it may have stumbled into something like the future of the internet. Almost by accident.”

18. “The only fair comparisons you can make are with who you were last year. See to it that you’re moving in the right direction and moving at a decent pace.

Once you have that figured out, you don’t have much to worry about. You need to give it time.

The only thing you can do is never stray from the way and give it time. As long as you are in the right direction and make progress (to the best of your ability) every day, you will get there.

(And even if you don’t, you tried your best, and that’s all you can ever do. So there’s no point feeling down about it.)

Remember, my friend, consistency is key. Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your life be built in a day.”

19. Any American or really any citizen of any country not thinking about this in 2020 is a blind moron.

“The more of these Plan B items you check off your list, the more secure you will feel. And all you have to do is start. Just take the first step.

If you’re in line for citizenship through ancestry, make an appointment at the nearest consulate. That’s a vote for


Buy a few ounces of gold or silver, and there’s another vote. Begin your compost pile, plant a fruit tree, or start to learn a second language.

Each of those is a vote for yourself.

You may be shocked to find that the next election won’t worry you in the least because you’ve already achieved a landslide victory for yourself.

You’ve created a rock solid Plan B, taken your power back, and are prepared for whatever comes your way. All it takes is one vote at a time.”

20. “I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out why distrust is so prevalent today. The story-tellers — public officials, the media, scientists: the elites — live in an entirely different information universe from the rest of us. They behave as if we were still in the 20th century, and information is still their monopoly, which they dispense as they see fit & which we will accept on authority.”

“In fact, the public, which swims comfortably in the digital sea, knows far more than elites trapped in obsolete structures. The public knows when the elites fail to deliver their promised “solutions,” when they tell falsehoods or misspeak, when they are caught in sexual escapades, & when they indulge in astonishing levels of smugness and hypocrisy. The public is disenchanted in the elites & their institutions, much in the way science disenchanted the world of fairies and goblins. The natural reaction is cynicism. The elites aren’t seen as fallible humans doing their best but as corrupt and arrogant jerks.”

21. “There are many kinds of democracy in the world. The United States seems to be moving away from the Western model, where rules and procedures stand above outcomes. What we have seen in the last two political cycles is a dramatic relaxation of those rules, with the concomitant acceptance of a much larger spectrum of behaviours. Democracy in America has become much rawer and more direct, at times resembling a street brawl where everything or almost everything is now admissible. Trump is only part of this evolution, more symptom than cause.

In just one word, American democracy is becoming less Western. It now resembles the Indian or Indonesian democracies much more than the Western European experience. If the consensus about rules disappears, no other model is possible. And yet, that resemblance is more apparent than real. In America the element of entertainment remains dominant.”

22. “Picking winners in a calm market is something first-timers do just as well as old hands, but avoiding losers is where skill and experience matters.”

This means fund performance today relies as much on the investment decisions made beforeCovid as it does on VCs’ ability to navigate the new landscape.

In other words, Covid has already determined the richness of existing portfolios, where experience may have offered a degree of foresight.”

23. This is why so many folks in Silicon Valley are sheep. Envy.

“Envy is at every step in the funnel. Founders without funding envy founders with funding. Founders with funding envy founders with funding from more prestigious investors. Founders with funding from prestigious investors envy founders who are favorites. Founders of companies with a $30B market cap envy founders of companies with a $300B market cap.

VC associates envy junior partners, who envy senior partners. Investors envy other investors who have better deal flow. Tech employees envy other tech employees who get to spend more time with the senior leadership. Get a drink in a product manager, and they’ll tell you all about how the CEO plays favorites. Everyone watches each other as if it’s their full time job.”

“TL;DR: Spend time with people who don’t feel envy. Avoid people who do. Pick a mission, and direct all your energy into solving problems that stand between you and your target. Nurture relationships by overcoming shared challenges with others. Avoid “the scene”. If you were a musician, you’d want to be the type who’s practicing scales rather than trying to get backstage to party with the rock stars. Find the equivalent of practicing scales in your field, and do that.”

24. “We are in the midst of this great big storm thundering across our planet to clean out the old and introduce the new. And the new is down to whatever you want to create that is in harmony with people and the planet. In the palm of your hand, you have more power and influence than any emperor or king that has ever graced the earth.

The model is simple: become great at what you love and share that with 1,000 fans from wherever you decide to live. That might be a small chalet in the French Alps, a cottage on the English moors, or a surf shack on the Californian coast. As you wish.

We are shifting from toiling for others in factories and offices to creating art from our self-educated hearts and minds to be of service to ourselves and others.”

25. “Building a business is insanely hard, and building a great business is insanely hard, takes a long time and requires a cascade of miracles to achieve. But make no mistake, you should be raising money from those who are authentically excited by what you are authentically excited to build, full stop. And if you ever feel yourself drifting into the land of “telling them what they want to hear”, stop yourself, recalibrate and tell the real story of your vision for the future.

And if they’re the right kind of partner for you, you’ll know soon enough. Life is too short to start out misaligned with your partners from the get-go. Don’t do it.”

26. The irony. Goes to show you that it does not pay to needlessly antagonize people. Closes off options.

Friends today are enemies tomorrow and vice versa. Don’t be a D — k & play the long game.

27. The Exodus continues. No surprise. California is a mess and SF is veering into woke left wing progressive stupid land. + Austin is awesome with the benefit of lower state taxes.

“The exodus from Silicon Valley and San Francisco has picked up steam during the eight months of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced offices across the country to shut down and tech workers to retrofit their homes and apartments. Between the high and rising costs of living, California’s hefty taxes and a broader shift to remote work, many in the tech industry are finding plenty of excuses to seek refuge elsewhere.

In some circles, particularly those that lean libertarian, there’s also a growing disdain for Bay Area politics, which have continued to swing farther to the left.”

Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale leaving Silicon Valley

28. “As we move forward, people have entirely forgotten about COVID-19 as the election has created a massive veil/distraction. Meanwhile, those who have no emotions tied to the election have made good money (tech, healthcare, crypto have gone straight up for clear reasons). The other thing we can conclude is that stimulus is practically guaranteed at this point.

Looking across the spectrum of emotional topics, we can clearly see that there are many asymmetric bets/investments to make over the next 5–10 years. We’re still quite bullish on the future even if we have to change physical locations (seriously we are). In the end, life is about winning and you deal with the circumstances you’re given.”

29. I discovered Raf coffee this year. Literally a decade late. I have it whenever I can.

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

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