Weekly Readings – 13th April 2019

You Could Have Today. Instead You Choose Tomorrow. A great post by Ryan Holiday on living in the moment.

The Design of Apple’s Credit Card. An in-depth look on the design of Apple Card. I personally cannot wait to experience the card

South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%. An interesting read on how South Korea is tackling the food waste problem, a problem that America is facing as well.

5-star phonies: Inside the fake Amazon review complex.

The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex. An interesting study on rough behavior in the bedroom.

Lyft vs Uber: A Tale of Two S-1’s. A look at the unit economics of the two ride-sharing companies.

How the Paradox of the Term ‘Original Series’ Explains the Video Industry (Netflix Misunderstandings, Pt. 4). If you are interested in media, technology and strategy, follow Matthew Ball. He is just awesome.

15 months of fresh hell inside Facebook. A fantastic write-up on how Facebook dealt with a barrage of scandals

I learned new things about Rwanda today

I came across two cool videos on Bloomberg YouTube channel on Rwanda, a country in East Africa. The first video is about how Kigali in Rwanda is nowadays. It’s surprising and cool to learn about a city where there is no plastic bag, coffee is good, cleanliness is prioritized and economy is throwing.

The second video is about how drones produced by Zipline, an American country, are used to aid doctors and patients in Rwanda. As the road infrastructure in the country is in so bad a shape that it’s challenging at times for doctors and hospitals to procure blood. The drones alleviate such a problem. This is one of the best examples of how technology can be used to save lives. The part where the drones are stopped and grounded is awesome. Such precision.

“Game of Thrones” Keyword on Google Trends

Hundreds of millions of people around the globe love and watch the show. Game of Thrones needs no introduction. As the two-year wait ended on Sunday, the show is back on with the last season ever. I did a little bit of experiment to see how popular it is on search engine.

Since I use Google Trends as the tool in this experiment, it’s good to revisit what Google Trends is. I’ll let one of their own explain it

Trends data is an unbiased sample of our Google search data. It’s anonymized (no one is personally identified), categorized (determining the topic for a search query) and aggregated (grouped together). This allows us to measure interest in a particular topic across search, from around the globe, right down to city-level geography.

You can do it, too — the free data explorer on Google Trends allows you to search for a particular topic on Google or a specific set of search terms. Use the tool and you can see search interest in a topic or search term over time, where it’s most-searched, or what else people search for in connection with it.

Source: Google News Lab

To display different levels of online interest, Google uses a scale of zero to 100 for the index. Here is how Google defines the metric:

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

So what is the difference between this season and last seasons in terms of online interest? Below is the chart I took last Saturday with the “Game of Thrones” keyword. The spike in 2017 was during the premiere of season 7.

Taken on 13th April, 2019

Here is what the chart looks like at the moment. Same market, same time frame, only a few days apart

Taken on 17th April, 2019

The previous spike in 2017, as shown in the screenshot above, looks like Arya next to the Mountain, which is the expected spike this week. Data from Google predicts that folks will search on and talk about the show a whole lot this week.

While the data clearly shows an increase in online interest, it’s only an index and there is no telling on how many searches this season garnered compared to the previous seasons. Plus, it’s not clear on what contributes to the spike. Is it because of the household name Game of Thrones already possesses? Is it because of the wait? Is it because of the finality of the show? Or is it because of the strongest marketing push I have seen from HBO?

I find it a very interesting phenomenon. A show like GoT has been aggressively advertised. Magazine covers, interviews on TV shows, newspapers articles, behind-the-scene clips, several trailers, a viral tactic to place the full-sized thrones in undisclosed locations around the world, a red carpet in New York, you name it. If anybody says that brands such as GoT don’t need marketing, show them what has been done in the past few weeks. They are not dumb and they don’t throw money at unnecessary tasks. But at the same time, I wonder how the marketers can analyze and objectively pinpoint whether the marketing actually works for a show like GoT.

Insufficient Wages – Who Should Be Responsible?

A friend of mine sent me this link in which a Congresswoman questioned CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon on a specific case in which a permanent employee couldn’t make ends meet despite working at one of the biggest and richest companies in the world

While I appreciate the intention, I don’t think it’s practically helpful. The ones that should be questioned are the lawmakers that allow this atrocity to happen in the first place.

Strictly speaking, your behavior is only illegal if it’s outside the boundaries of the laws. If a company isn’t required by the laws to pay employees a minimum wage, how is the company’s failure to pay the minimum wage illegal? The answer is that it’s not illegal. Should JP Morgan have paid employees more? Yes, it should. But put yourself in their shoes. If you could maximize profits and personal wealth while staying in the boundaries of the laws, would you do the same? Personally, I am not so confident that I would have done differently.

The thing that annoys me with all this questioning is that only the lawmakers have the power to change this. If they really care about citizens, pass the regulations requiring a minimum wage. Together, every state raises the minimum wage so that the corporations headquartered here in the US have no choice, but to comply. What would they do? Leave the US? It wouldn’t make much business sense to some companies to leave the country, just to avoid a higher minimum wage.

A higher minimum wage will surely result in social and economic ramifications. But that’s the job of the lawmakers. That’s why they are elected to the office. All their working time is supposed to be devoted to figuring out a way to better our lives. It’s not our job to figure out all the complex policies while having to make ends meet ourselves.

Insufficient wage is a real issue in the US. However, the ones that should answer all the burning questions regarding this should be the lawmakers. Even if corporation executives are questioned like this, without a legal framework, how could they be held accountable?

Good practices in coding

Like many things in our society, there is also recommended etiquette in coding. There are two practices, in particular, that I find important and useful.

First, it’s beneficial to painstakingly document your code. At the beginning of any program, jog down some lines on what the program is about. Then, before any function, write something about it. If you give aliases to variables or tables that have long names, put down some notes as well. If there is any logic behind the code, make it visible to others too. Often times, folks may understand the mechanics of the code, but don’t understand what the code actually does since they don’t understand the logic.

Below is an excerpt from a document in one of my first coding classes. In our assignments, if we forgot to document our code, we would have 5-10% of our grade taken away.

As highlighted in the screenshot, a detailed documentation is very helpful to not only others looking at your code, but also yourself later on. If a program is complex and there is no documentation, you’ll find it more difficult than it should be to refresh your memory on the code. I have been there and I don’t even write complex code!

Above is an example I had from my programming class. In practice, it doesn’t need to be that detailed, but the description section and the date are necessary in my opinion.

The second practice that I think is useful is to format the code. Normally, we tend to get carried away while coding and neglect how the whole program actually looks. Lines are not aligned. Blocks of code are nested and difficult to read. Brackets are all over the place, making it challenging to debug and understand the code. What I usually do is that after I am sure my program works as expected, I search for a website to help with the formatting of code (it’s easy, just google, for instance, HTML formatter) and have the website re-format the code so that it’s easier to digest.

Disney+

Thursday was a big day for Disney as the company announced the much anticipated streaming service called Disney+. You can learn more about it from this link. The top executives went through a lot of aspects of the new service, including programming, roll-out plan, pricing, investment in future original content and forecast financial impact. The service will offer users ad-free access to an incredible library of content owned by Disney, such as Marvel movies, Pixar, Star Wars, Disney and National Geographic. Users will also be enjoying some new original content such as WandaVision, Loki or Falcon and The Winter Soldier. The price is very attractive at $6.99/month or $69.99/year with all content downloadable for offline consumption.

It is a serious challenge to Netflix as Disney has plenty of content that can appeal viewers across demographics, the brand name, the marketing expertise and the financial resources. It can be argued to some extent that Netflix also has a brand name (apparently “Netflix and chill” is quite popular in our society), content (it invests billions of dollars in originals) and the marketing power. But there are two things that Disney has going for them: additional revenue streams and the ability to bundle more.

Firstly, below is the segmentation of Disney’s revenue and operating income. (Figures are from Disney 2018 & 2017 annual reports and in $ millions)

Metric2018201720162015
Revenue – Services        50,869         46,843         47,130         43,894
Revenue – Products          8,565           8,294           8,502           8,571
Revenue – Media Networks        24,500         23,510         23,689         23,264
Revenue – Parks and Resorts        20,296         18,145         16,794         16,162
Revenue – Studio Entertainment          9,987           8,379           9,441           7,366
Revenue – Consumer Products & Interactive Meida          4,651           4,833           5,528           5,673
Operating Income – Media Networks          6,625           6,902           7,755           7,793
Operating Income – Parks & Resorts          4,469           3,774           3,298           3,031
Operating Income – Studio Entertainment          2,980           2,355           2,703           1,973
Operating Income – Consumer Products & Interactive Media          1,632           1,744           1,965           1,884

In 2018, Parks and Resorts’ operating income is almost three times that of Netflix in total, let alone other segments of Disney.

Source: Netflix

I think it’s great for Disney to offer an attractive penetration pricing model to quickly sign up viewers and scale up. Additional revenue streams, in my opinion, can help finance the play. Meanwhile, a Netflix plan is almost twice as expensive as Disney+, at least in the US market. I doubt that Netflix will lower its price to match Disney+’s, given their increasingly big investment in content and troubling negative free cash flow.

Source: Netflix

It’s not a zero-sum game. I believe that a lot of viewers will have both streaming services or even have Netflix exclusively, but on the other hand, some will likely choose Disney+ over Netflix. If the economy is still strong and folks have disposable income to spare, I think it will be beneficial for Netflix. However, if the economy contracts in the future and spending cut is required, I suspect that Disney+ at this current price will appeal more than Netflix.

Secondly, Disney now also has ESPN+, a sports subscription, and Hulu. Disney already said that there was a chance they would bundle Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ together. It will be even more attractive to viewers.

With all that being said, execution matters. Though it seems Disney has a lot going for them, this is a new territory for them while Netflix is the trail blazer in video streaming services. I am excited about this competition in the future and Disney+ itself, as a big Marvel fan.

Disclaimer: I have Disney in my portfolio, but this post stems from my curiosity and is not an investment suggestion or anything more than just my opinion.

What I learned from Uber S-1

Its filing is packed with a lot of information. Below are my take-aways so far from reading it

It’s doing a lot of things

Apart from the ride-hailing business that it has been known for, Uber also offers Uber Eats, Uber Freights and New Mobility, including e-bikes, e-scooters. Additionally, it has been investing in autonomous driving cars as well.

Personal Mobility

In the quarter ended December 31, 2018, the average wait time for a rider to be picked up by a Driver was five minutes.

The rapid growth and scale of our Ridesharing products, which to date have accounted for virtually all of our Personal Mobility offering, demonstrates the size of our opportunity:

• Revenue derived from our Ridesharing products grew from $3.5 billion in 2016 to $9.2 billion in 2018.

• Gross Bookings derived from our Ridesharing products grew from $18.8 billion in 2016 to $41.5 billion in 2018.

• Consumers traveled approximately 26 billion miles on our platform in 2018.

Uber Eats

Our Uber Eatsoffering allows consumers to search for and discover local restaurants, order a meal at the touch of a button, and have the meal delivered reliably and quickly. We launched our Uber Eats app just over three years ago, and we believe that Uber Eats has grown to be the largest meal delivery platform in the world outside of China based on Gross Bookings. For the quarter ended December 31, 2018, the average delivery time was approximately 30 minutes.

Of the 91 million MAPCs on our platform, over 15 million received a meal using Uber Eats in the quarter ended December 31, 2018, tapping into our network of more than 220,000 restaurants in over 500 cities globally.

Uber Freights

We serve shippers ranging from small- and medium-sized businesses to global enterprises by enabling them to create and tender shipments with a few clicks, secure capacity on demand with upfront pricing, and track those shipments in real-time from pickup to delivery. We believe that all of these factors represent significant efficiency improvements over traditional freight brokerage providers. Since Uber Freight’s public launch in the United States in May 2017, we have contracted with over 36,000 carriers that in aggregate have more than 400,000 drivers and have served over 1,000 shippers, including global enterprises such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Niagara, Land O’Lakes, and Colgate-Palmolive. Uber Freight has grown to over $125 million in revenue for the quarter ended December 31, 2018

Impressive growth has slowed down

Really impressive growth, but a further look reveals that the growth seems to slow down

Their market map indicates that there is not much room for further horizontal expansion. What Uber can do is to dig deeper in each market to gain more market share. Uber said that as of the quarter ended December 31st, 2018, 74% of their trips and 52% of their Gross Bookings were from outside of the US.

It hasn’t made money operationally yet

Operationally, Uber hasn’t made any money. A positive sign is that their revenue grew faster than their operating loss. In 2018, their operating loss was more or less at the same level as it was in 2016 even though revenue grew significantly in the same period

Regulations, Regulations, Regulations

Throughout the filing, regulatory challenges are repeatedly mentioned and for a good reason. Uber’s struggle with authority bodies around the world has been well documented. Below is what Uber said specifically how regulations restrict their ride-sharing operations in a few countries

We plan to grow our current SAM by expanding further into our six near-term priority countries, Argentina, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Spain, where our ability to grow our Ridesharing operations to scale is currently and may continue to be limited by significant regulatory restrictions

In 2018, we derived 24% of our Ridesharing Gross Bookings from five metropolitan areas – Los Angeles, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States; London in the United Kingdom; and São Paulo in Brazil. Over the same period, we generated 15% of our Ridesharing Gross Bookings from trips that either started or were completed at an airport, and we expect this percentage to increase in the future.

If some regulations are imposed in those important markets or around airports, however likely or unlikely, it may meaningfully affect Uber’s revenue.

Another aspect related to laws is how Uber classifies its drivers. Here is what it said specifically on the matter

Our business would be adversely affected if Drivers were classified as employees instead of independent contractors

If politicians in the markets where Uber has operations decide to force the company to treat its drivers as employees and give them minimum wage, it may be an issue

Culture

The first of the norms Uber laid out in “How We Approach The Future” section reads: “We do the right thing. Period”. Not really surprising, but a welcoming sign from a company that endured a public backlash symbolized by the hashtag #DeleteUber not so long ago.

In the filing, Uber promises to “release a transparency report, which will provide the public with data related to reports of sexual assaults and other safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform in the United States.” this year. Another welcoming sign.

Furthermore, unlike other tech companies, Uber won’t have dual share structure which is implemented to give the founders, usually, more voting rights. For example, Mark Zuckerberg has more than half of the voting rights at Facebook.

Their stakes in strategic partnerships

In August 2016, we completed the sale of our operations in China to Didi in exchange for an approximate 18.8% interest in Didi, which, based on our current information, we estimate to be 15.4% as of September 30, 2018. In February 2018, we consummated a joint venture with Yandex whereby we and Yandex each contributed our operations in Russia/CIS to a joint venture which we refer to as the Yandex.Taxi joint venture. We received a 38.0% interest in the Yandex.Taxi joint venture at the closing of the transaction, which, based on our currently available information, we estimate to be 38.0% as of December 31, 2018. In March 2018, we completed the sale of our operations in Southeast Asia to Grab in exchange for a 30.0% interest in Grab, which, based on our currently available information, we estimate to be 23.2% as of December 31, 2018. We measure our interest in each of our minority-owned affiliates based on the outstanding shares of capital stock on an as-converted basis but without taking into account securities exercisable or exchangeable for shares of capital stock or its equivalent (including outstanding vested or unvested stock-based awards and any reserved but unissued stock-based awards under any equity incentive plan of our minority-owned affiliates).

Its business deals with Google

According to the filing, Uber paid Google from Jan 1, 2016 through December 31, 2018, $631 million, $70 million and $58 million for Marketing & Advertising (Ads), technology infrastructure & enterprise services (which I believe is Google Cloud Platform), and Google Maps respectively.

Weekly Readings – 13th April 2019

The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen. A very solid post on how to create an effective sales deck. Particularly in B2B world, a sales deck is an important component of a sales process. Of course, it’s not always a break-or-make factor, but presenting a professionally crafted deck with powerful messages is certainly very helpful in landing a deal.

How Rippling Raised a $45M Series A — Without a Pitch Deck. What I like about this is that the company took a refreshing approach by using a memo instead of a pitch deck. Don’t get me wrong. There is a great deal of effort and time needed to craft a great pitch deck. Yet, as a fan of writing, I appreciate Rippling’s fresh approach.

Amazon – 2018 Letter to Shareholders. This kind of letters reveals quite a bit of information on a company.

Uber S-1. This one is quite dense. I may write something about it in next week or so. But if you are interested in the ride-hailing company, it will be a good weekend read

Disney Investor Day. A lengthy yet informative presentation by Disney on its brands and of course, the highly anticipated Disney+. I think they did a good job announcing the service. The price is just $7/month or $70/year and the service will be available in the US in November 2019. Disney+ gives users access to an incredible library of content from Marvel, Lucas Film, Pixar, Disney and National Geographic. A few original content will be available within the first year as well, including a few Marvel series. I think Disney+ will be a tough competitor to Netflix because it has great content, brand and a marketing expertise that is as legendary as the brand. Additionally, it has different income sources such as parks, hotels or merchandise that can help Disney fund the first few years of Disney+ to sign up users, a luxury that Netflix doesn’t have. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily a zero-sum game. Plus, execution matters. Disney may have a lot of things going on for them, but if they don’t capitalize on that, it won’t matter.

Blue Lights and Eye Health

Recently, I have invested in screen protectors for my personal computer and the monitors at work. The main purposes are 1) to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the devices and 2) to make the screens more private. While the increased privacy is definitely a bonus, what I care about most is the protection for my eyes.

I did a little bit of research on blue lights and eye health. As it turns out, there are multiple studies and research that confirm the effect of blue light on sleep. Exposure to blue lights at night suppress the chemical called melatonin which signals to our body when it’s time to sleep. In other words, we tend to feel sleepy much later at night and as social commitments such as our day job require early waking, we’ll sleep less than the recommended 8 hours a night.

The picture; however, is less clear on the relationship between blue lights and human eyes. While multiple sources such as Prevent Blindness, News Medical and this scientific paper, just to name a few, did mention the harmful effect of blue lights on human eyes, others tend to disagree. Here is what the American Academy of Ophthalmology said about the issue:

When you stare at a screen for hours at a time, whether it is a computer, TV, phone or tablet, you are exposed to blue light from the device. But there is no scientific evidence that blue light from digital devices causes damage to your eye.

But the website did say:

The discomfort some people have after looking at screens is most likely digital eye strain. Most of us blink less when looking at screens, causing eye strain and dry eyes, says Rahul Khurana, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Frankly, I don’t know which opinion is correct. Nonetheless, I figure if the screen protectors can reduce the amount of blue light and help with the digital eye strain, they are worth a small investment. Better be careful than sorry, they often say.

Colleges and Co. ripping off students

Huffington Post ran a very good investigative piece on how colleges and OPMs, the entities that help colleges run their online courses, rip off students. It’s quite long, but I guarantee that if you are interested in education in America, have a read.

Education should be free

It is no surprise at all that Americans are not satisfied with the education system and increasingly prefer acquiring skills in some other ways than going to college. The student debt in America reaches $1.5 trillion, only behind mortgage in America. It’s an insane phenomenon. Why are students saddled with debt by the thing that is supposed to help them get a better life? According to the article, when colleges had a chance to solve the issue by offering online courses and degrees, they chose their pockets over students.

How is it even possible that a university at #8 offers a similar online degree at almost a tenth of what universities at lower ranks offer? If Georgia Tech can break even at $7,000, what could justify the outrageous difference other than too much greed from the universities and OPMs?

I believe wholeheartedly that education, along with healthcare, should be free for citizens. It would lead to a lot of significant ramifications in policies, laws, and the society. Yet, if other developed countries can do so, why can’t America?

Is the reputation of the university worth the debt?

When I was a kid, my dream was to go to Harvard or an Ivy League school. I don’t know if I can, but if admission to a school like that means that I will be drown in debt, given that I know I won’t be good enough for a 100% scholarship, I won’t go there. I believe that education isn’t equal to schooling. If you study when others party, work when others slack off on the weekends, you can still have success and a good life. I am sure anyone of us met a person or have a friend who succeeds with hard work and no Ivy League degree.

We need regulations

Here is what the article mentioned about regulations over online education in the US:

Kaplan Higher Education never really recovered from the combination of business missteps and the intense public scrutiny of the for-profit industry in the late 2000s. In April 2017, Donald Graham announced that Kaplan University was being sold for $1 to Purdue University, Indiana’s public land grant college. It sounded like Purdue had picked up a distressed asset and turned it into a public concern. But that’s not exactly what happened.

What Purdue really did was create a separate organization, eventually named Purdue University Global. It was granted a highly unusual legal status by the Indiana legislature, in which it is simultaneously considered a nonprofit institution immune from Bob Shireman’s for-profit regulations and a private institution immune to public records requests.

It sounds impossibly convoluted, but it’s actually quite simple. Grand Canyon put all of its academic operations into a nonprofit that serves as a conduit for federal financial aid. (Last year, Grand Canyon received over $760 million from federal student loans, the most of any college or university nationwide.) The nonprofit university is also able to avoid local property taxes and for-profit regulations, not to mention the industry’s toxic reputation. But most of the profits eventually end up in the same place—with LOPE, a $5 billion corporation. Grand Canyon University is “not non-profit in any meaningful legal sense,” wrote Brian Galle, a former attorney in the tax enforcement policy section of the Justice Department, in a letter to the Department of Education

The person in charge of higher education at the department is Diane Auer Jones, a onetime official in George W. Bush’s Department of Education who worked for some of the most powerful operators in the previous for-profit scandals. [6] Before entering the administration, Jones operated a company associated with the private student loan industry and the main trade organization of for-profit colleges. Previously, she was the chief external affairs officer for the Career Education Corporation, which dealt with multiple lawsuits and government investigations during her tenure.Soon after starting at the department, Jones promptly threw out all of the regulatory work that her predecessors and career staff had been developing and began rushing through new versions that she wrote all on her own, according to a staffer currently working for Jones. “The political staff are writing the regulations in secret and the policy staff are kept in the dark,” the staffer says. (The Department of Education didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Jones’ proposed rules, released in January, amount to a sweeping deregulation of higher education. They include abolishing a rule that prevents colleges from outsourcing more than half of a program to outside companies—for example, OPMs—and a rule that bans federal aid to programs where students don’t interact with an instructor. “We’re talking about basic questions here, like the amount of student learning we should expect and what the faculty role is,” says James Kvaal, an Obama White House official who is now president of the Institute for College Access and Success. “The prospect of removing any federal guardrails at all is really scary.”

What else can protect citizens from profiteers and crooked organizations besides regulations? Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case here.

No, it’s not capitalism

The article’s title is “the creeping capitalist takeover of higher education”. I have to clarify before ending this post that in my opinion, this is crony capitalism, not pure capitalism. Greed is good, but toxic and excessive greed isn’t. If you participate in a free market, follow the laws and succeed with your talent and effort, there is nothing with that. But if you skirt the laws, bend the rules and make money on others’ backs and lives, it is no longer capitalism.