Weekly reading – 12th March 2022

What I wrote last week

Cuisine in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam


‘Batman’ and the Movie Pricing Predicament. A good article on AMC’s move to charge one more dollar to every ticket for the upcoming Batman movie. Yield management by theaters often involves higher ticket prices in the evening or on Fridays and weekends. Charging more for a specific movie is rare. I look forward to seeing how this will benefit or harm the theaters.

Metaverse is all…hype? Google introduced Google Glass years ago. Today, you’ll have the same odds of seeing that Glass on the streets as finding Nokia’s iconic flip phones. I don’t know what these tech visionaries see, but I won’t bet my money on seeing metaverse or whatever the hell it is in the next 10 years.

Moving money internationally. A fantastic read on SWIFT.

Visa, Mastercard Prepare to Raise Credit-Card Fees. Visa and Mastercard are going to charge higher interchange fees to big merchants while lowering the fees for small merchants whose annual revenue is less than $250,000. Visa said merchants could avoid paying more by offering more transaction data and using its tokenization services. I look forward to seeing how this increase will harm consumers as merchants are likely to pass on the higher expense. It’s no wonder why lawmakers want to look into this sort of duopoly enjoyed by Visa and Mastercard. They simply have too much power

The Three Sides of Risk. “You realize that the tail-end consequences – the low-probability, high-impact events – are all that matter. In investing, the average consequences of risk make up most of the daily news headlines. But the tail-end consequences of risk – like pandemics, and depressions – are what make the pages of history books. They’re all that matter. They’re all you should focus on. Once you experience it, you’ll never think otherwise.”

Fraud Is Flourishing on Zelle. The Banks Say It’s Not Their Problem. “Nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded through scams involving digital wallets and person-to-person payment apps in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant. When swindled customers, already upset to find themselves on the hook, search for other means of redress, many are enraged to find out that Zelle is owned and operated by banks. Banks say they take fraud seriously and are constantly making adjustments to improve security. But police reports and dispatches from industry analysts make it clear that the network has become a preferred tool for grifters like romance scammers, cryptocurrency con artists and those who prowl social media sites advertising concert tickets and purebred puppies — only to disappear with buyers’ cash after they pay.”

Why Commercials Are Coming to the Biggest Streamers. A good piece on streamers weighing on offering ads.

Other stuff I find interesting

Unleash collaboration with new experiences in Google Workspace. The new features look very sweet. If you are a Google Drive/Docs/Workspace user, check this out!

How U.S. Visa Delays Are Taking a Costly Toll on Frustrated Workers. I can tell you from personal experience that these delays add unnecessary stress to immigrants’ life. My colleague’s PERM application in 2019 took 52 days to get adjudicated. Mine is expected to take 6-8 months.

The story of how Swahili became Africa’s most spoken language. “During the decades leading up to the independence of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the early 1960s, Swahili functioned as an international means of political collaboration. It enabled freedom fighters throughout the region to communicate their common aspirations even though their native languages varied widely. Swahili lacks the numbers of speakers, the wealth, and the political power associated with global languages such as Mandarin, English or Spanish. But Swahili appears to be the only language boasting more than 200 million speakers that has more second-language speakers than native ones.”

The Magic of the Japanese Convenience Store Sandwich


Hertz had more than 3,300 cars stolen each year

“Just one pint of beer or average glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain”

Solar power and batteries account for 60% of planned new U.S. electric generation capacity

US merchants paid more than $55 billion in interchange fees to Visa and Mastercard in 2021

Tap-to-pay penetration in the US as of March 2022 is 20%, according to Visa (from KBW Fintech Payments Conference)

Investing is hard

I have thought a lot about this scenario: If somebody who essentially relied on a coin toss before every trade makes a great return and told me to follow his method, would I take the advice and implement it? Using a coin toss as an investing strategy doesn’t sound very logical or robust, does it? But does how a strategy sounds really matter when there is a return to back it up? If somebody else had a lower return using a more sophisticated method, would you still opt for the higher level of sophistication or for a coin toss?

I have never been a great believer in cryptocurrency or Bitcoin in particular. But in 2020, I had an inkling that as Bitcoin was trading around $4,000 per coin, it was a great entry price and I would make a significant profit. Yet, I didn’t act on it because trading without knowing the fundamentals of the asset isn’t my thing. Needless to say, that mistake cost me a lot. If investing in cryptocurrency yields a great returns, does it really matter whether you understand Bitcoin and why its price goes up or down? If somebody in November 2020 bought, say, 5 Bitcoins at $4,000 by simply tossing a coin, how could I criticize that method when my return is so much lower?

I have seen a lot of people try to be clever, diligent and sophisticated in picking stocks with multiples, DCF and all the fancy ratios. However, if a higher level of sophistication is required for a successful portfolio, why do we keep hearing experts say that it’s better to invest in indexes? In an experiment cited by this episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, some professional stock pickers were pitted against a cat. The result? The pros had a 3.5% return, dwarfed by 11% return of the cat! I have my own personal example on this too. I usually invest time in understanding a company before purchasing the stock. However, one of my most profitable trades is MongoDB, which came from a friend’s tip and for which I didn’t do much due diligence before taking a position. I was thinking: well, I trust my developer friend and let’s use this as an opportunity to see what return I’d have with virtually little study into the company. Over the same period of time, my position on PayPal, which I spent a lot of time studying and even wrote about, hasn’t delivered as high a return as my random bet on MongoDB. But then you may ask: well, in the long term, PayPal is a better bet than MongoDB. And that’s what makes investing so challenging.

To me, investing is a combination of art and science, and it’s more of the former than of the latter. There are a lot of questions that aren’t easy to answer. How could you tell if your investing method works? What is the comparison yardstick? If you take inspiration from somebody else, how can you know that the borrowed method would work? If your investing horizon is long-term, how far in the future is that long term? Do you have the temperamental and psychological make-up to resist your temptation and urges? If a position is ruined by a force majeure, will you still have confidence in your ability and strategy? Will you give yourself a pass because the failure is caused by an unexpected event? Or should you get some blame for failing to apply some risk margin to your decision-making?

I think about those questions quite often and while I don’t have concrete answers, it doesn’t bother me. It’s part of the game and the difficulty as well as the uncertainty are what make it so exciting. I am sure there are thousands, if not millions, of investors out there that have a better return than I do. That’s fine. As long as I learn more about myself, improve during this investing journey and receive a sense of fulfillment, even though I can’t put a number on it, that is enough.

Weekly readings – 2nd November 2019

How Pizza Hut stopped innovating its pizza and fell behind Domino’s

Spotify Saved the Music Industry. Now What?

An interesting study on how Americans personally view success and perceived success by others

Source: Gallup

Anglo American closes in on Peruvian copper bounty

Inside the iPhone 11 Camera, Part 1: A Completely New Camera

Biology is Eating the World: A Manifesto

Venmo vs. Cash App: A Look Inside the Most Popular Consumer Finance Products in the US

Free Speech – When You Pray For Rain, You Have To Deal With The Mud Too

The debate on free speech between tech companies, specifically Facebook and Twitter, and politicians such as Elizabeth Warren is heating up and getting hotter than ever. Facebook refused to take down political ads from the right wing that the left consider fake news. Politicians led by Elizabeth Warren vehemently criticized the decision by Facebook arguing that it is helping the President win an election again.

Coming from the background that I have, I appreciate the freedom of speech in America which is enshrined in the Constitution. There is nothing better to ensure that everybody is free to voice his or her own opinion. The right in and of itself is great and good. The problem; however, lies in how people execute the right and how it is perceived by others.

When a right-winged party runs a political ads with controversial information, the party is within its right to do so. Facebook, as it claims to preserve the right to expression on its platform, chooses to honor it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

The problem is that when you exercise your right to free speech and spread out false information on others, you rob others of the right to be perceived truthfully. In that sense, is it still acceptable? Also, it then falls onto Facebook to be the guardian of truth, the entity that decides whether a piece of information is right or false. And it’s not an easy task. Whatever Facebook does will please one part of the population and piss off the rest. Whatever is truth to one party of an ideology will be considered fake news by the opposing party.

I fear that there is no definitive answers to this debate. The Internet and Facebook enable friction-less communication of information and, as a consequence, false information around the globe. That’s the byproduct of it. I don’t see how Facebook can do one without harming the other aspect of their operation. And as explained above, I don’t see how it can please anybody in its endeavor to preserve the First Amendment, but also to police the content.

When we pray for rain, we have to deal with the mud too. That’s my mentality in a lot of issues. In this case, I think we pray hard for the rain, but we are not ready to deal with the mud

The right to speak and not to

There has been quite a story about the issue between China and the NBA. An executive from Houston Rockets tweeted his support for Hong Kong and it resulted in backlash from China. Steve Kerr, the head coach of Golden State Warriors and a regular critic of the current President and Administration, didn’t have much to say about China. Critics blast him for his selective speaking out.

I find it bizarre to see Kerr criticized. Freedom of Speech is sacred in America. As far as I am concerned, it involves the right to voice your opinion freely. Not saying anything is also a form of voicing one’s opinion. Kerr has every right to publicly talk about any issue he wants and to not say anything at all as he is well pleased.

I understand that celebrities have a platform and following that can and should be used to affect social changes. But at the end of the day, celebrities are only humans and as humans, they have rights. They reserve the right to their opinion and how they voice it, as stated in the Constitution. There is no guarantee that anything material would have happened if Kerr had spoke out. And I am not sure that basing your own opinion on that of others, especially strangers, is a good idea.

If the right to say something is sacred in America, as enshrined in the Constitution, then so is the right to not have to say anything against your will. If you were in Kerr’s place, would you appreciate being blasted for only exercising your right?

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

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.

Public Transit

Landing in Austin, I immediately went to Uber and Lyft apps to look for a ride to Austin Downtown. Each came back with an estimate of $20 for a ride. I thought, well, it is what it is. In my defense, it is kinda a trained reaction after living for a while in America, where public transportation can be disappointing in some cases. Anyway, I decided to give it a try and ask the Information Desk about buses to Austin downtown. It turned out that buses run every 15 mins, even on Saturdays and most Sundays from and to the airport. The charge? $1.25/person/ride. It took me only 25 mins to reach Austin downtown, not much different from the estimated time of an Uber/Lyft ride. But I saved $19.

Imagine how much money & time we could collectively save from using more public transportation and less personal vehicles. No more scrambling to find a parking slot, no more parking fees in your building, no more car insurance and safer transportation. A well-designed public transportation network will be a great investment of tax payers’ money and a spoon for low-income folks who should not be forced to buy a car for daily commute.

In Omaha, one of two biggest cities in Nebraska, if not the biggest, there are more bus routes from downtown than other parts of the city and on the weekdays. If you live reasonably far out, no matter the direction, from the city center, there is no bus at all. On the weekends, there is only one bus every half an hour or every hour. To popular places such as Social Security Administration or DMV, there is usually one bus every half an hour, even on the weekdays, and it usually involves transiting from another bus. Trust me, it’s hugely frustrating and unnecessarily time-consuming. On top of that, drivers in Omaha are terrible. I don’t know about drivers in other cities, but a busted car front is not an unusual sight there. If you are not an experienced driver, it can be dangerous and daunting. Oh and it is even worse in the winter. My boss told me on Friday, the first day of winter, that she had to turn around and come home after 2 miles because there were a lot of accidents and the roads were too slippery.

P/S: After telling me about the bus, the lady at Austin Airport’s Information Desk promptly gave me a quarter for my bus ride. Talk about first impression from a new city!



National Park Visits – Stats and Tableau Dashboard

I decided to take on the challenge of making a Tableau dashboard on which data on national park visits can be found. The intention is to show that Tableau has some cool features that allow the communication of complex data in an easy-to-digest way. Others have done a phenomenal job visualizing the data. See here for some inspiration. My dashboard covers a lot more ground, but lacks the aesthetics and creative flair that others possess.

Data can be found here:

A few notes on how to use the dashboard:

  • You can choose which park type to look at. Once you click on a value, the map will change accordingly and so will the table next to it that shows specifically the parks belonging to that category
  • Next the parks’ names, there are values shown as “abc”. Hover your mouse over them to get the specific values for each park
  • You can choose aggregating methods (Sum, Max, Min…)
  • You can choose to look at either Recreational or Non-recreational visitors
  • Of course, there is a slider that allows you to choose specific time frame
  • You may want to use a laptop to look at the dashboard. My experience of using a phone didn’t go very well


Enjoy! Hopefully you’ll find it useful


Switching Cost

This is a concept that I have found particularly useful in understanding actions and strategies by companies.

The following is the definition of switching costs by Investopedia:

Switching costs are the costs that a consumer incurs as a result of changing brands, suppliers or products. Although most prevalent switching costs are monetary in nature, there are also psychological, effort- and time-based switching costs. A switching cost can manifest itself in the form of significant time and effort necessary to change suppliers, the risk of disrupting normal operations of a business during a transition period, high cancellation fees, and a failure to obtain similar replacement of products or services.

In other words, switching costs represent how much consumers care about your services or products.

In economics, the relationship between a firm’s profit, competition and switching costs is illustrated in the following formula below. To learn more how the formula is formed, you may want to read this.

Φ = t/n2– f


Φ`- the firm’s profit

t – the switching cost

n – the number of firms in the market

f – fixed cost

There are a few lessons to learn from the formula. First of all, the bigger n is, the smaller the profit. In other words, the more competitive a market, the smaller the profit. As a result, companies try to have monopoly or monopolistic competition in the market in which they operate. The goal is to have n as small as possible. That’s why companies such as EVN, Mobifone, Viettel or Petrolimex in Vietnam generate so much profit every year because they practically have a monopolistic competition. On the other hand, industries in which prices determine purchase decisions (hospitality for example) are very competitive and can yield a small margin.

If a firm cannot make n smaller, another way to increase profit is to increase t. In other words, make consumers care more about you. In business language, create differentiation from your competition. Here are a few examples:

  • Amazon raised the subscription fees of Prime from $79 to $119 a year over the years. They have successfully made consumers love the service with fast delivery, discounts or so they claimed, convenience, more digital content, especially original content by Amazon Studio. Consumers find it very difficult to find a replacement or to leave because for some consumers, Prime plays quite a role in their life. It is not easy to find a proper replacement for Prime services. It would take a lot of time. In addition, it is not possible to access Prime original content without a subscription.
  • Netflix increased subscription fees late 2017. Not only do consumers get hooked with their streaming quality, sleek interface and a wide collection of content, but consumers care more about Netflix because of its original content (movies, documentaries, etc…) that they could not get anywhere else
  • After a short period of market penetration with high incentives for drivers and discounts for riders, Grab steadily cuts incentives and increases the prices, even before the acquisition of Uber (lowering n). When consumers find it hard to find a replacement for Grab or live without it, Grab has all the conditions needed to raise the price and increase profits
  • In freemium models, consumers are allowed to use the service for a period of time before opting to pay for the premium. After the trial period, consumers care more about the services and are willing to pay more for continued access to them. If you are a hardcore music fan who uses Spotify all the time, would you pay for continued access now that the company decides to charge a fee every month? We would be more willing to pay to enjoy the established convenience and avoid the hurdle of building playlists again on another platform

At its peak as the King of social media, Facebook was where we interacted with our friends and family. Would you have paid a few dollars a year to use it if Facebook had added the fee? We would be more willing to pay to remain in contact with our friends and family and to avoid losing data, videos, statuses and pictures.

  • Companies create customer loyalty programs to make consumers stick around longer and care more about the companies’ offerings. We tend to favor a particular brand over its competitors if we have some loyalty points in account, don’t we? We care more about gaining points and are willing to pay a bit extra to get closer to the next level. Examples can be airlines, hotels/resorts, clothing lines…
  • Brands, especially luxury & high-end brands, spend a massive amount of money on advertising to tell engaging stories and make consumers “relate” more to the brands and care more about them. How much would you pay for Starbucks coffee without the brand compared to an equally good coffee from a mom-and-pop store? How much would you be willing to pay more for luxury sports shoes such as Jordan or Nike without the branding compared to an equally functional non-branded pair of shoes from a factory?
  • Another example is when you are at public places such as airports, zoos or cinemas, just to name a few examples. Goods at those places are charged more and consumers are willing to pay because it would be a hassle to bring alternatives or impossible to do so (airports). Though shops have to pay the management of those places to be present there, image if the prices go up by $0.5 or $1 (about 22,000 VND), would you still buy the goods?

In summary, I think switching costs are a useful simple economics concept to look at business strategies and actions. Whether you enjoy analyzing business or investing, I think it is a good starting question to ask whether a business activity makes it harder for consumers to switch to alternatives. Of course, there may be a lot of other factors involved and it’s always good to have things in hindsight. Nonetheless, this is still a helpful tool to have in mind.