Weekly reading – 3rd December 2022

What I wrote last week

My notes from the 2022 McKinsey Global Payments Report

Business

($) Adidas Top Executives Discussed Risk of Staff’s ‘Direct Exposure’ to Kanye West Years Ago. This mismanagement and scandal raise a serious red flag on Adidas. The influence of Kanye West impacts the company’s financials so much that it put up with the artist’s horrible and childish behavior for so long. Despite repeated complaints from employees. Is it really worth putting an iconic brand through the mud?

($) Why America Doesn’t Have Enough EV Charging Stations. “The government is pouring billions of dollars into developing a national highway charging network. But businesses aren’t sure how they will make money, and the nascent industry looks messy. Utility companies and gas stations are at war with each other over who will own and operate EV chargers. Rural states say some charging stations could operate at a loss for a decade or more. New companies that provide charging gear and services are contending with the equipment’s spotty reliability. The network’s build-out has a chicken-or-egg quality: EV advocates say many drivers will only be comfortable purchasing vehicles if rapid charging is as easy as using a pump at a gas station. Yet businesses interested in offering charging say they can’t make money until more EVs are on the road. Around 1% of U.S. drivers own EVs, but wait lists are growing and auto makers including General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are expecting EV sales to keep rising. Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative told the Biden administration in August that sparsely used chargers in the northern part of the state would likely “operate at a loss for years” and that rural areas need flexibility in planning. Maine officials said the operation of some sites may need government subsidies because they won’t turn a profit for a decade. Wyoming estimates that no rural charging station built to the requirements the federal government expects—four chargers placed every 50 miles along highways—would be profitable until the 2040s.”

It’s not your imagination: Shopping on Amazon has gotten worse. The article is a serious warning to Amazon, its executives and shareholders. It reflects my experience with the website lately. Search results are no longer authentic. Most are driven by ads. Items are delivered improperly. Wait times get longer. Prices are no longer competitive. It’s a far cry from what it was 2 or 3 years ago. Once consumers leave, what’s left for Amazon to hold on to?

($) Apple Makes Plans to Move Production Out of China. Trade wars and the unrest in China are making it difficult for Apple to continue to rely on the supply chain network in the country. It is not a surprise that Apple is hedging its bets by moving some production to other countries, but I don’t expect to see the fruits of this effort any time soon. Apple will have to find a country where it’s more stable and friendly to do business; to find partners that have the human and technology capital to handle the workload; to work out the logistics part to link every piece of the supply chain jigsaw. That’s not easy by any means

Source: The Transcript
Cumulative Gross Merchandise Volume Processed By Shopify During Black Friday. Source: Tobi Lutke

Other stuff I find interesting

($) It’s Public Land. But the Public Can’t Reach It. Before reading this piece, I didn’t know that there were acres of public lands that could not be reached because they were surrounded by petty private land owners. In fact, there are 15 million acres of federal and state land that is “landlocked” by private properties. This phenomenon begs the questions: who gets to go where and how do citizens get to public land without being charged of trespassing?

The dirty road to clean energy: how China’s electric vehicle boom is ravaging the environment. People praise electric vehicles for their impact on climate change because they are not emitting carbon dioxide. Well, these EVs require batteries which force us to destroy the environment to build. When we tally up everything we do to get EVs on the roads, are they still a net positive to our life and environment? That argument looks shaky now

New energy storage technologies hold key to renewable transition. “Long duration energy storage (LDES) generally refers to any form of technology that can store energy for multiple hours, days, even weeks or months, and then provide that energy when and if needed. It is a technology that is essential if the world is to increase the proportion of renewable energy, given it is an inherently intermittent source. The Long Duration Energy Storage Council, launched last year at COP26, reckons that, by 2040, LDES capacity needs to increase to between eight and 15 times its current level — taking it to 1.5-2.5 terawatts (85-140 terawatt hours)— to enable a cost-optimal net zero energy system.

Apple’s iPhone 14 Emergency SOS via Satellite Feature Saves Stranded Man in Alaska. Saving one life is already worth having this feature in my opinion.

Stats

2022 Black Friday sales exceeded $9 billion

Harvard Business Review has 220,000 subscribers who pay for print and digital access, half of which are digital readers only

By 2027, data centres will consume 31% of Ireland’s electricity

An estimated 37 per cent of the world’s population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the Internet.

Death from road accidents, per million people from OECD countries. Source: NYTimes
Black Americans are most likely to live alone. Source: NYTimes

Weekly reading – 19th November 2022

What I wrote last week

PayPal has a monetization problem with Venmo

Harvard Business Publishing

Business

Why investors have jumped off the Carvana bandwagon. Carvana is another example that reminds me of that famous quote from Warren Buffett: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

Basically everything on Amazon has become an ad. “Successful Amazon sellers have to spend anywhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of their sales on Amazon ads, according to six high-volume sellers Recode interviewed. That’s on top of the other listing and warehousing fees they also give Amazon. Some said that the pay-to-play evolution of the site is one of the top two reasons they have had to substantially raise the prices of their merchandise on Amazon over the past year.” This is going to spell trouble for Amazon soon. A few of my purchases were off Amazon simply because the same items sold on the site were markedly more expensive. Keep this up and the company will soon have to re-acquire customers and rebuild its brand image. That’s too high a price to pay, just for advertising dollars.

Local ride-hailing startups thrive in the towns that Uber forgot. Giant ride-hailing companies compete fiercely with one another in big cities, leaving small and medium-sized towns ripe for the taking. And they are being taken over by local startups that saw unserved markets and decided to act. To grow, these startups should not venture into big cities. They should strive to continue to serve small and medium-sized towns across the continent. Regarding the likes of Uber, I don’t blame them for not attending to these small towns. Resources are limited and they can’t stretch themselves too thin.

Global Twitter employees describe chaos as layoffs gut their teams. The word chaos can’t even describe what is going on at Twitter, especially to the staff in India. Axing 50% of the policy team and 75% of the product team can’t benefit the company.

Sam Bankman-Fried vs. The Match King. The last few days have been littered with news and coverage of Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) and FTX. The glamour and the superficial valuation masked the mess that went on behind the scenes. But this scandal is hardly the first. Not even close. This post compares what happened with SBF & FTX with the Match King, a businessman who had great success early on yet ruined everything when he was consumed by greed

The vomit-inducing piece on Sam Bankman-Fried by Sequoia. The venture capital firm is legendary for its longevity, success and role in helping entrepreneurs and startups thrive. However, this is a serious black eye. They penned this ridiculously flowery article on SBF, stuck it on its website under the tagline “We helped the daring build legendary companies”, yet removed it the moment news of trouble at FTX surfaced. Worse, the article recalled a meeting where the firm’s partners met Sam. No hard questions and little due diligence. They were wowed by SBF, who was literally playing games during the meeting. Mind-blowing stuff

Other stuff I find interesting

FTX turmoil destroys clout of crypto’s Washington spokesman. The fall of SBF and his companies apparently threatens to bring my regulatory heat onto crypto firms in the future. Well, I personally think that it’s a bit late. Regulators should have had more oversight and scrutiny over these crypto companies and celebrities.

TikTok’s Subcontractor in Colombia Under Investigation for Traumatic Work. On one hand, I understand that a job is a job, even one that requires people to watch horrifying content for hours. On the other hand, there should be safeguards built to ensure that these workers are treated properly and all measures are taken to limit the exposure to mentally harmful content.

People protested when this capital city went car-free. Now they love it. Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, sets an excellent example of how cities can transform themselves with micromobility and car-less space.

Stats

US consumers spent $72.2 billion online in OCtober 2022, according to Adobe

Americans have almost $5 trillion in cash as of Q2 2022

Honey bee life spans are 50% shorter today than they were 50 years ago

The world’s population hit the 8-billion mark on 11/15/2022

US online grocery sales totalled $7.8 billion in October 2022

Global lithium supply & demand forecast
Source: Global lithium supply & demand forecast by BloombergNEF

Weekly reading – 1st October 2022

What I wrote last week

The push to grow the complex Bundles by Disney

Decoupling – A great tool to analyze business strategies and disruption

Business

Instacart Offers Grocers the Future of Grocery in a Bundle. Instacart becomes a much more interesting company with these innovations. Pushing a heavy cart around and waiting in line forever just to check out is not a great customer experience. The Caper Cart sounds like a game changer for grocers, shoppers and Instacart. These products are so different economically than delivery services. This helps diversifying Instagram, adding revenue stream and reducing risks.

Why India’s small sellers still don’t trust Amazon. The relationship between Amazon and Indian sellers is so strained that I struggle to see how the company can succeed in this important market.

What Chinese media reveals about Shein’s secretive operations. “There are two main kinds of suppliers: “free on board,” those that make simple designs they haven’t devised themselves, and “original design manufacturers,” those that do both. They all feed into Shein’s sprawling manufacturing execution system (MES). The designer-suppliers will find pictures online and send a selection to Shein’s internal buyers for consideration; the buyer and their manager settle on a final pool. Once samples have been received, there might be two, or even three, rounds of changes before manufacturing can commence. (The entire time, everything needs to be recorded in the MES — materials, pricing, even chat logs — something suppliers balk at, because, if the deal falls through, all the information sits in Shein’s records, and there’s nothing to stop them from producing it elsewhere.). hein is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to evaluating its suppliers, according to analysis by Zhongtai Securities. A scoring system sorts the wheat from the chaff. Timeliness of procurement and delivery, stocking and delivery, rate of defects, and the success rate of new products make up 40% of a supplier’s score. The remaining 60% is based on order volume. They are then tiered into five levels, and the bottom 30% of the lowest tier are culled.”

The Ascendancy of Ahold Delhaize. “Ahold Delhaize USA has been strengthening its position as it looks to take its hyper-local value proposition national. After blockbuster revenue years in 2020 and 2021, Ahold Delhaize has demonstrated that it can keep growing by focusing on omnichannel innovation, prioritizing value and expanding its assortment of high-quality, low-cost private-brand products. “

($) The Unstoppable Rise of Aldi in Britain Shows No Sign of Slowing. “A recent visit to Purley, south London, found the parking lot outside Aldi boasting BMWs, Land Rovers and Porsches and shoppers choosing Aldi over nearby branches of Lidl and Sainsbury, as well as the upmarket Waitrose 10 minutes away. An extra 1.5 million customers have visited Aldi over the past three months. When sales were up by at most the low single digits at most UK supermarkets, they rose 19% at Aldi and 20.9% at Lidl. Part of the strategy is economy of scale. Aldi has about 2,000 key products in store, compared with as many as 30,000 in some large rival supermarkets. By stocking just one ketchup, for example, Aldi has a tight supply chain and can avoid pricing rows like Tesco’s recent spats with Kraft Heinz Co. and Mars Inc.

How Bryan Lourd became one of the most powerful people in the history of Hollywood. A phenomenal story. Bryan Lourd worked his way from a mail room to being one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.

How Arm conquered the chip market without making a single chip, with CEO Rene Haas. I am not a fan of Nilay or The Verge’s new website look, but this is a great interview on one of the most important players in the chip industry. Especially when Arm is not really a household consumer name

Amazon dominates the $113 billion smart home market — here’s how it uses the data it collects. Amazon has a major trust issue because no matter what the company says, I don’t think consumers trust Amazon to do the right things with their data.

Other stuff I find interesting

Why the Rush to Mine Lithium Could Dry Up the High Andes. “With the world’s car fleets transitioning to electric propulsion, Argentina, with reserves of up to 60 million metric tons, according to government estimates, is well-positioned to profit from the lithium rush. Lax regulation and low taxes make its part of the Lithium Triangle — in the northwestern provinces of Jujuy, Salta, and Catamarca — “especially attractive for foreign investors,” according to Lucas Gonzalez of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), a government agency in Buenos Aires. The country could soon become the world’s second-largest lithium producer, after Australia, and the largest producer from evaporative mining. But every ton of lithium carbonate extracted from underground using this cheap, low-tech method typically dissipates into the air about half a million gallons of water that is vital to the arid high Andes. The extraction lowers water tables, and because freshwater often sits on top of salty water, this has the potential to dry up the lakes, wetlands, springs, and rivers that flourish where the underground water reaches the surface.

Charging cars at home at night is not the way to go, Stanford study finds. “The move to electric vehicles will result in large costs for generating, transmitting, and storing more power. Shifting current EV charging from home to work and night to day could cut costs and help the grid

New ways to make more sustainable choices. I’d love to try out these new features, especially the updates on recipes

iPhone 14 Pro Review: No phone is an island. I like Jason’s review of iPhone 14 Pro. A few friends of mine belittled Apple for the lack of innovation. I mean, that criticism is fair when it comes to the lower lineup iPhone 14, but the Pro version is much further ahead with a lot of cool features and innovation. It’s also great financially for Apple, to sell more expensive and higher margin phones, especially when there is shortage of components.

How Apple Pay works under the hood? An example of how complex payments are under the hood and how far technology has come to enable such complexity in mere seconds

Stats

Biden’s plan to cancel student loans will cost taxpayers $400 billion, among the most expensive initiatives his administration puts forward

6000 children died on EU roads in ten years

Amazon commits to hiring 5,000 refugees by the end of 2024. A big YES to this!

Weekly reading – 10th September 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple is gaining share in advertising; Disney is contemplating an Amazon Prime like subscription

Business

The optimal amount of fraud is non-zero. A great post on fraud as an unavoidable risk of doing business

How Capital One Became A Leading Digital Bank. Some folks say that Capital One’s rise as one of the premier credit card issuers results from its robust data analytics. That may be true, but it’s still just a surface-level observation. What really drives Capital One’s growth is their investment in infrastructure & talent, as well as smart design of process to utilize such resources. In this article, you’ll see their CIO discuss this topic at length. As someone who works in the credit card industry, I admire what they have done and can really see why they are successful.

($) Amazon Is Still Trying to Digest Whole Foods. Integrating any multi-billion acquisition is always a challenge, but the task is even more daunting when the acquirer has to divert focus and resources to its own grocery effort. To that end, it’s impossible for outsiders to judge whether this move has been a success so far since Amazon doesn’t break out Whole Foods’ individual performance. Asking Amazon’s executives for their evaluation is similar to asking a barber if you need a haircut. It’s always going to be biased opinions.

The Facebook button is disappearing from websites as consumers demand better privacy. In the past, Facebook log-in button was all over the Internet. It was convenient and people weren’t aware of how Facebook did surveillance tracking over them. Now, the public knows and they don’t trust Facebook. The lack of trust leads to low usage as well as causes websites to be concerned about being collateral damage. As a consequence, websites don’t want anything to do with the then popular blue button. This is a prime example of how Facebook’s bad reputation is biting them in the behind and unfortunately for them it will not be the last as long as their business model is advertising based on surveillance tracking. “According to his company’s data, out of a sample of 10,000 sign-ins, 42.7% of users signed in with Google, 26.5% used Apple, 20.1% signed in via email and just 10.7% used Facebook.”

What’s SAP?

The Long Tail: The Internet and the Business of Niche

Other stuff I find interesting

Less is more agile. I agree with a lot of points that this article brought up. The traditional Waterfall method of delivering software had downsides which were especially exposed when software became increasingly complex. Only when technology got sufficiently sophisticated did we come up with a new methodology that is more efficient and allows us to incorporate changes faster. That’s Agile. But at the end of the day, Agile is just a tool and how useful it is depends a lot on who is using it and for what purposes. It’s NOT helpful to blindly follow what the coaches that have no knowledge of your organization’s culture or business say. It’s NOT helpful either to keep preaching the benefits of Agile while ignoring its downsides and what it demands from practitioners. What works for some won’t work for others. Just be mindful of what you sign up to.

I Worked at Capital One for Five Years. This Is How We Justified Piling Debt on Poor Customers. Consumer loan issuers do address real consumer needs. Health emergencies, family tragedy, desire to investment, etc. Sudden need for capital infusion. However, these issuers make most money from interest income, meaning that they WANT you to pay interest and not to default. That’s clearly not in line with the best interest of borrowers. Capital One, in this case, is just an example.

Bones: Why Utah’s desert is a paleontologist’s playground. “Only a very tiny percentage of species that ever existed on Earth have been fossilized,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Of those that have, only a fraction have been discovered. That’s in part due to accessibility; many fossils are likely buried so deeply that they’re unreachable. But it’s also because paleontology, as a science, remains fairly new. This particular site, now known as T2, is the confirmed resting place of a tyrannosaur, which may be the first complete adult specimen of an incredibly rare species. And the fact that it lies under 10 feet of ancient sandstone conglomerate in the Utah desert is no coincidence. Utah has been known as a paleontological treasure chest since the late 19th century. In fact, the Utah History Encyclopedia says the state boasts a “prolific fossil record that spans the entire ‘Age of Dinosaurs.’”

European cities look to phase out cars in ‘transportation revolution’. “Across the continent, urban centers are restricting cars from entering certain parts of cities as well as imposing new fees. In Paris, which holds car-free Sundays, only newer, less-polluting diesel and gasoline-powered cars can travel into “low-emission zones” across the city; by 2030, only electric or hydrogen will be able to enter the French capital at all. In Norway, where 78% of new vehicles are electric, Oslo eliminated most on-street parking spots in the city’s core. The medieval Belgian city of Ghent limits vehicles in the city center by offering free shuttles from low-priced car parks on its periphery. Drivers heading into London during business hours must pay congestion fees of $17 a day and further entry fees of $15 simply to enter “ultra-low-emission zones”; in some parts of the city, cars will soon be forbidden altogether.”

History of Labor Day

Vietnam’s Mu Cang Chai in ripe rice season a feast for the eyes. Beautiful as it is, this part of Vietnam is quite dangerous to get to. Some folks already lost their life because of treacherous roads and conditions. One of my friends nearly lost hers a few months ago. Definitely not for conservative and risk-adverse folks like myself, but I would love for the world to see my country and what we have to offer.

Stats

“Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” series drew more than 25 million viewers worldwide on its first day

China Accounts for 36% of Global Peanut Output

Apple TV+ allegedly surpasses 6% of the global market share

Source: Recurrentauto

Weekly reading – 3rd September 2022

What I wrote last week

Two tips on personal finance

Business

($) Disney’s New Pricing Magic: More Profit From Fewer Park Visitors. As a shareholder, I am more concerned than happy after reading this article. Annual pass-holders are loyal customers and should be valued. Instead, the recent changes signal to them that money is more important than the long-standing relationship forged with the company. Disney’s theme parks are unique and hold precious memories in a lot of folks, but there is a price for everything. At some point, customers will realize that however fond some memories are, it’s just too expensive to bring the whole family there. I hope Disney executives wake up today, read this piece and take some actions before any revolting can happen.

Where Amazon is heading in health after the Amazon Care failure. Amazon is known for running lots of experiments and tinkering till they find a solution that actually works. Amazon Care is an example of that. They realized that they were not able to venture into healthcare by themselves. Hence, a string of acquisitions ensued, namely Signify Health and One Medical. There are risks still with this strategy, though. Cultural conflict between acquired companies, and even between them and Amazon. Difference in data infrastructure. Market cannibalization. It’s just the start of a multi-year and likely very expensive project.

Cash is king for EV makers as soaring battery prices drive up vehicle production costs. A good round-up of EV makers

($) Starbucks Is Rethinking Almost Everything, Including How to Make Frappuccinos. What seems to be a straightforward operation at a Starbucks store may be more complex than you think. Read this piece to learn more how Starbucks is adjusting to changing tastes and responding to complaints from baristas

Be good-argument-driven, not data-driven. Data is your prisoner. If you are motivated enough and if you torture the prisoner enough, it will say whatever you want it to say. Whether it’s intentional misrepresentation of data or incapability to analyze data properly (no apples-to-apples comparison, for example), it’s easier to preach “data-driven” than implement it. Too much of anything can’t be a good thing. There must always be balance. There is indeed a place for data, but since it’s just a tool, its effectiveness hinges a lot on how we use that tool.

Medium’s new CEO on the company’s journalism mistakes, bundle economics, and life after Ev Williams. I used to like Medium a lot. So I can’t help but feel like the company missed a gigantic opportunity to strengthen its advantages and grab market share. Now, it’s too late for Medium to rectify its mistakes.

Zenly is still hugely popular, so why’s Snap shutting it down? It’s sensible to reduce headcount when Snap already gets its hands on Zenly’s technology. It’s also difficult to argue against avoiding cannibalization between the potential Snap Map and Zenly. What should be questioned is whether this plan will come to fruition or will be a massive write-down. Why do I say so? Snap introduced a mini drone not long ago only for it to abandon the plan completely later to be more focused. In case you haven’t noticed, Snap’s latest forecast is disappointing and what investors don’t know is how this $250 million acquisition can help the company move forward

Going Private: How to Succeed in Store-Brand Sector.In the past, retailers could rely more on the in-store environment to promote their store brands. Today, in our omnichannel world, consumers can find a product anywhere, so retailers must have an online presence for their brands. FMI’s report notes that there’s an opportunity for more retailers to tie their loyalty programs to their private brands — particularly when it comes to the online side of the business. Only a third of shoppers using their grocery store’s loyalty program said that they receive extra points for purchasing store brands. This is a way for retailers to promote more online private-brand purchases including the use of digital coupons.

Other stuff I find interesting

The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry. “His experience at Fairchild solidified his belief, first inspired by his father, that a true “engineer’s mind” requires practical skill as much as theoretical knowledge. In addition to performing experiments, he made a habit of reading internal technical reports and memos that he found at the company library, some of which he later brought to KAIST and used as teaching material.

Live cheap or live expensive: The choice is yours in Ho Chi Minh City. As a Vietnamese, it’s interesting to me read about expat life in Vietnam. I have my reservation on the $10 daily budget on food for him and his wife (and a beer). Having lived in the US since 2016, I am not too familiar with electricity bills in different areas of Saigon (a local name of Ho Chi Minh City) either. But he made a good point that it’s important to live close to where you work. The traffic in the city is egregious. Even a 5km commute which is like peanuts in the US can take a lot of time and cause so much frustration that a little bit more rent to help you avoid that is worth it.

The Midwit Trap. “An intelligent person will know that there is no correlation between the simplicity of a solution and the sophistication of the reasoning that led to it”

Why A4? – The Mathematical Beauty of Paper Size

Stats

July U.S. eGrocery sales climb 17% versus year ago to $7.8 billion

According to Edison Research, 35% of adults in America own a smart speaker (their sample size of about 1,200 subjects gives me a little concern)

Average transaction price of new vehicles in the U.S. was up 11.8% year-over-year in July 2022

Roads that need repairing in Nebraska cost each driver $461 per year

iOS US market share hits all-time high and exceeds 50% for the first time

Weekly reading – 27th August 2022

What I wrote last week

Do as I do

Should you stay at a job for more than 2 years, no matter what?

Business

($) Amazon Adds Revenue Streams as Holiday Season Approaches. I wrote a bit about Amazon’s influence on US-based merchants. Let’s say if these merchants manage to sell 10,000 items per minute on Amazon, the increase in fees will result in an extra $5 million per day for Amazon or approximately around $375 million for the quarter. It’s not insignificant, even for a firm that big. I am curious to see the reaction from sellers. On one hand, nobody likes to see costs rise. On the other hand, can these sellers afford to leave Amazon?

How Amazon’s DSP program has created $26 billion in revenue for owners. Amazon has more than 3,000 delivery partners around the world. It may not sound like a lot, but I don’t imagine it’s easy to figure out the kinks of running a complex delivery system involving the internal operation and that of external partners. VRIO is about finding and cultivating Valuable, Rare, Inimitable and Organized capabilities or resources. This can be Amazon’s one of many such capabilities.

($) Instacart Revenue Growth Accelerates Ahead of Planned IPO. Now is not a great IPO environment for Instacart. Growth yet unprofitable companies have seen their stocks plummet in the past 10 months. It’s very likely that Instacart will be another name in that group. A quick comparison of the quarter ending 30th June 2022 between DoorDash’s publicly reported numbers and Instacart’s numbers reported in this piece – Booking volume: $13 billion for DoorDash vs $7.1 billion for Instacart; Revenue: $1.6 billion for DoorDash vs $621 million for Instacart.

Consumers Are 19% More Likely to Complete a Purchase with Venmo Over Traditional Payment Methods. Venmo is incredibly popular among end users, especially the younger crowds. To merchants, Venmo can be a value add as well. “In another study of more than 300 thousand U.S. consumers and an analysis of more than 3.4 million transactions,1 we found that Venmo users shop over 2 times more frequently than the average shopper and are 19% more likely to make repeat purchases. ” How PayPal monetizes Venmo will play a crucial role in the company’s future.

Secret ‘Batgirl’ Screenings Hit the Warner Bros Lot. Putting away content that took hours and millions of dollars to create just for tax write-down purposes seems a bit extreme.

Amazon bought Whole Foods five years ago for $13.7 billion. Here’s what’s changed at the high-end grocer. One frustrating aspect of following Amazon is that the company doesn’t break out Whole Foods’ financials. It’s almost impossible to gauge the success of this expensive acquisition. Nonetheless, it’s good to read through the operational changes since then.

Microsoft employees love Figma, and it’s testing the company’s cozy relationship with Adobe. Usually, an upcoming challenger is more popular among small companies while the incumbents are favored by big corporations. In the case of Figma, it’s widely popular at a giant shop like Microsoft. It’s good for them, but a warning for Adobe

WhatsApp grocery shopping is already huge in Brazil. One startup wants to take it over. An intriguing concept to use Whatsapp groups for e-Commerce. Trela manages multiple Whatsapp groups, posts weekly deals in the groups so that users can place orders as well as manages orders and deliveries. Merchants save time. Users get informed of the deals and can buy goods conveniently. What concerns me are the management of groups and scalability. First, Whatsapp groups are limited to 256 users. A medium-sized city will require like more than 100 groups. What about a big city then? How does Trela manage the groups, the communication and the orders? Second, people move from one city to another. How does Trela manage the changes? What if somebody leaves the old group but can’t find a spot in any new group?

Other stuff I find interesting

Deep Time Sickness. An interesting long read on Mexico, its history of earthquakes and the consequences.

Fleeing Putin, Russian tech workers find a home in Armenia. Reading this article, I cannot help but feel that Russia is living off only its natural resources and former glory. The brain drain will deplete the country of valuable human capital and innovation; something that is not easily reversed.

France is now offering a €4,000 e-bike subsidy to people who trade in their car. The initiative sounds great on paper: stimulate exercise, encourage folks to ditch cars for e-bikes. The 2nd-order effect will be more space for cities and outdoor activities for everybody. I am sure there will be scientific research into how much this initiative benefits the country and cities and I really look forward to reading such research.

The utterly delightful site dedicated to classifying plastic bread tags. Such a quirky hobby

For Japanese Uber delivery drivers, gig work is working. “The word “freedom” crops up when talking to Tokyo’s delivery drivers. Their full-time employment alternative, after all, is likely an all-consuming office job, involving long, draining hours and a demanding work culture; part-time at a bar or convenience store, they’d face fixed shifts and constant supervision. While the gig worker industry has come under fire around the world for years of shrinking wages and poor conditions, Japan’s experience, so far, is different; in stark contrast to global lawsuits, protests, and strike action, Japan’s workers, by and large, appear content with the rare flexibility their jobs provide. A recent Japanese study, the first of its kind, surveyed roughly 14,000 delivery drivers from major companies across the country. While most of the workers were new entrants — around 60% have been working less than a year, and the vast majority worked 40 hours or less — 63% said they were “satisfied” with their work; 82% reported that they would like to stay in their jobs “for a while” or “forever.”

Stats

35% of Venmo customers are between 18 and 29 years old, versus 23% across the US

‘House of the Dragon’ draws nearly 10 million viewers

Bank of America Clients’ 1 Billion Digital Logins in July 2022

AWS – What a business!

AWS, AWS, AWS

The importance of AWS to Amazon cannot be overstated.

Covid-19 was a blessing to Amazon between Q2 FY2020 and Q2 FY2021, boosting its top line significantly. As the economies opened up, folks got back to the stores and the YoY comparisons were clearly tough, growth became so much harder to find. North America’s 10% YoY growth this quarter is the lowest I have seen in the last five years. International took a 12% plunge after growing 38% and 36% in the same period in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Both segments reported negative operating margin, the third quarter in a row.

Amazon's Business Segment YoY Growth
Figure 1 – Amazon’s Business Segment YoY Growth

Meanwhile, this quarter saw AWS take home $19.7 billion in revenue, brining the turnover in the last twelve months to a tad more than $72 billion. Despite a rapid increase in scale, AWS still clocked in 30% YoY consistently in the last year and a half! Although the business only made up 16% of the parent company’s revenue, AWS was responsible for all of Amazon’s operating margin when North America and International were in the red. Traditionally, AWS has been the engine powering Amazon’s profitability. Now, it carries the company’s revenue growth as well.

For good measure, AWS’s potential is as good as its current numbers. While quarterly revenue is now almost at $20 billion, AWS has long-term commitments (from contracts of at least one year in length) of more than $100 billion. These commitments have never grown less than 48% YoY since they were first reported back in 2018. If we compare this unearned revenue to the rolling last twelve month sales of AWS, the ratio grew from 75% in Q4 FY2018 to 139% currently. It means that AWS has the last twelve month sales and 39% on top of that in unearned revenue!

AWS Quarterly Revenue & Unearned Revenue Commitments
Figure 2 – AWS Quarterly Revenue & Unearned Revenue Commitments

Amazon management knows that they have a gem in possession and they are spending money to keep that gem. Let’s look at it this way. AWS sales in the last twelve months totaled $72 billion. The company is trading at $1.25 trillion today. The market capitalization is about 17.4 LTM sales. If we project the next twelve months’ sales is about $83 billion, the multiple is 15. Some argue that means we get the Retail business for free and like it or not, they may have a point!

In 2021, the company splashed $24 billion on technology infrastructure which includes support for AWS. They planned to increase total capital investments in 2022 and more than half would go to infrastructure. It’s not certain that more CAPEX would mean more growth or revenue. But it’s a positive sign that a company is willing to open its checkbook to deepen the moat of its star business.

Andy Jassy, the current CEO of Amazon and the man credited with the success of AWS, said previously that Amazon actually stumbled upon this amazing business. At the beginning of the 2000s, after working diligently to improve the internal tools that supported the eCommerce site, Amazon realized that they were really good at running infrastructure services. It took three more years of planning and preparation after such realization before the company launched what is now a highly important and lucrative business in AWS. What a serendipitous discovery!

Weekly reading – 2nd July 2022

What I wrote last week

How does credit card direct mail process work?

Business

A great podcast episode on Don Valentine and Sequoia Capital. I guarantee that this is way better than Don Valentine’s profile on Wikipedia.

($) Spotify’s Billion-Dollar Bet on Podcasting Has Yet to Pay Off. “Over the next four years, Ostroff spent more than $1 billion on the business, licensing shows, buying production studios, and signing exclusive deals with celebrities, including the Obamas, Kim Kardashian, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Last year, Ostroff’s research and data team asked a question that many at Spotify already knew the answer to: Had any of this spending yielded a major new hit? The team produced a report that basically said no, according to five current and former employees who didn’t want to be named discussing internal business.” A very interesting story on the development of podcasts at Spotify. They used to like Netflix making a lot of shows and movies without anything concrete in return. The new internal structure is now in place to help Spotify better at making shows. I think they may be better off by following the model of HBO and Apple. But as a company that is never actually profitable, Spotify doesn’t have the luxury that Apple or Warner Bros has.

($) The Surprising Reason Your Amazon Searches Are Returning More Confusing Results than Ever. “The problems Amazon took on once it opened up its marketplace to sellers in China have become more evident in recent years. My Wall Street Journal colleagues in 2019 uncovered thousands of banned, unsafe or mislabeled products in Amazon’s catalog, most of which came from China-based sellers. It also became apparent that Amazon sellers were gaming Amazon’s algorithms to get goods listed as high in its search results as possible, and even going so far as to bribe Amazon employees in China to help boost items’ rank. The Amazon spokeswoman says the company spent more than $900 million last year to combat counterfeiting, fraud and other abuse—an effort she says involved 12,000 people. The company stopped more than 2.5 million fraudulent attempts to create new seller accounts, she added, down from over six million the prior year.”

‘Wallets and eyeballs’: how eBay turned the internet into a marketplace. This article is actually an excerpt for an upcoming book calling for the de-privatization of the Internet. It basically calls for another version of the Internet where people would be less motivated to create their own content because capitalism and competition wouldn’t work. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how good it is, but it’s still cool to read up on the birth of one of the most important marketplaces we have ever had.

Lessons from an investing legend. Anyone interested in investing should have a read. Everything Peter says is similar to what I have read from some of the greatest investors

($) Inside Didi’s $60 Billion Crash That Changed China Tech Forever. It further solidifies my stance that as long as the current regime stands and it surely looks that way for years to come, I won’t buy Chinese stocks. Didi at its peak was worth $100 billion. Now it’s a shell of its former self because of actions from the government. Worse, the leaders at Didi, all Chinese and with resources to spare, didn’t understand why the government acted the way it did. Then, how could a foreign investor hundreds of miles away?

($) Draymond Green, Podcast Star, Turns an Unsparing Mic on Himself. I listened to Draymond’s podcast a few times and while it does carry a sense of disruption and fresh air, compared to the likes of First Take or Undisputed, I still want to hear more basketball analyses from Draymond. He is an intelligent player and a 4-time champion. He surely is capable of producing basketball breakdowns for casual fans like Kobe once did with Detail. I’d love to hear more about the preparation before games or during off-season. I’d love to hear about the mental struggle of players during injury rehabilitation. Dray has much to offer and I hope he will bring it instead of cat fights and trash talk against the incumbent media. On a side note, after the liquor industry, athletes are marching into the media space. With their fame, connections and insider knowledge, they are greatly positioned to make a splash in this industry.

Other stuff I find interesting

Nigerians are learning to buy now and pay later. “In a country where only 2% of the 106 million adult population have access to bank credit, credit cards are also conspicuously absent, as banks shy away from consumer lending. BNPL is becoming a rising alternative and is set for further growth, as Nigerians embrace digital credit. BNPL thrives in markets with integrated identity systems, consumer credit culture, and decent consumerism, where people are able to pay for not just essential items like food and fuel but are also willing to buy nonessential items like cars and gadgets. However, the Nigerian market struggles with efficient identity systems, over 100 million Nigerians, or a little less than half the population do not have any form of recognized ID. And following the economic slump over the last eight years, many households are barely clinging to whatever funds they have after spending on rent, food, and other necessities. A June 2021 report showed 61% of the country’s adult population suffered “severe financial distress” over the previous 12 months, forcing many to cut down on expenses.”

($) Norway Was a Pandemic Success. Then It Spent Two Years Studying Its Failures. “Norway’s government had the foresight during the first days of Covid-19 to appoint a panel called the Koronakommisjonen. Its mission was figuring out what the Norwegians did, what they could have done and what they should do. This crisis was barely under way when they began preparing for the next one. The next lesson from the Koronakommisjonen reports is the power of not pretending to know more than you do. Nobody really knew anything early in the pandemic. Anybody claiming otherwise should have known better.”

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Depression In Young Men, Study Says. One of the things I want to try till the end of the year is to try Mediterranean diet

Behind the scenes of Waymo’s worst automated truck crash. I have always believed that we are still a long way from having automated vehicles on the streets. Nothing has made me changed that belief, not even a little bit.

Stats

“Ground beef prices are up 36% from a year ago, while chicken breasts gained by a third”

Klarna is reportedly valued at $6.5 billion, down from $45 billion in 2021. Talk about a new definition of a down round

Source: Self.inc

Weekly reading 18th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Interchange and what influences it

Apple and Major League Soccer

Business

($) What Do Chinese Consumers Want? Walmart Can’t Figure It Out. Almost 30 years in the country and decades of experience in this industry, Walmart seems to lose grip in China. The stores aren’t an appeal that they once were. Walmart doesn’t seem to be able to offer what consumers want. Competitors are fierce. For good measure, the tension between America and China shows no signs of abating. Trouble is awaiting the largest retailer in the world in China.

Elon Musk’s regulatory woes mount as U.S. moves closer to recalling Tesla’s self-driving software. I admire Tesla, Musk and everything they have achieved. But I think it’s dangerous to create marketing materials touting full self-driving abilities when the vehicles are nowhere near that capabilities.

($) FanDuel CEO Amy Howe Wants to Help the Sports-Betting Business Grow Up. An interesting read into the market leader of sports betting. TIL, FanDuel had 70% of all sports betting platforms’ revenue generated in the state of Michigan in 2022 through April. Typically, it’s only about 5% of the amount wagered.

Maybe Bob Chapek Was Right. The tumult at Disney continues with the recent departure of Rice, a senior executive. Outsiders may not know the full story of what went down. Perhaps, Bob Chapek was right. Perhaps, it was just another example of how difficult life at the top is for him. Nonetheless, it really doesn’t matter how fair or unfair the criticisms on him are. The fact is that he is the CEO and the stock went down by almost 50%. Right or wrong, it’s on him and his record. I look forward to seeing whether they will adjust their subscriber target in the long run now that they no longer have the rights to the cricket league in India. Some said that Disney might lose 20 million subscribers in India. Others argue that it’s a blessing in disguise as a subscriber pays like 70 cents over there. Hence, losing a bunch of low-paying subscribers may boost ARPU and profitability, a premium in this market. The market’s reaction to a new target, if any, may influence Chapek’s tenure a lot.

($) Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s First Year on the Job: Undoing Bezos-Led Overexpansion. A fascinating piece on Amazon that is unquestionably favorable to Andy Jassy and much less so to Jeff Bezos. I find it interesting that Amazon seems to shift the blame from Jassy onto Bezos for recent trouble with excessive fulfillment capacity. The founder and former CEO did make the decision to expand the capacity, but this sort of public admission while he is still the Executive Chairman definitely raised eyebrows.

($) One Grocer Wanted to Give Up Plastic. It Got Rotting Bananas. “When one of the best-known supermarket chains in the U.K. decided to remove plastic from its products, it hadn’t anticipated a spike in shoplifting. The zero-plastic drive also produced a series of unintended consequences that demonstrate how difficult it is for any company to shed plastic packaging entirely. When Iceland wrapped bananas in paper bands instead of plastic bags, the fruit rotted more quickly or snapped off. When it packed bread in opaque paper bags, sales fell as shoppers balked at buying something they couldn’t see. When it punched holes in paper bags filled with potatoes to make the contents more visible, the bags ripped. Bacon that isn’t wrapped in plastic quickly discolors, salad leaves wilt and unwrapped cucumbers rot more quickly.

Other stuff I find interesting

($) Biden Administration to Pursue Rule Requiring Less Nicotine in U.S. Cigarettes. FDA estimates that tobacco use costs the country $300 billion in direct healthcare expenses and lost productivity. A study published on the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that lower nicotine level will lead to 5 million additional adult smokers to quit smoking. If mandating a lower nicotine level in cigarettes results in fewer smokers and lower economic damages, FDA should press ahead and exercise their authority, knowing that the tobacco industry will take legal actions to protect their own interests

Downtown S.F. on the brink: It’s worse than it looks. The article goes into why remote work drives folks away from San Francisco and the downstream effects that such a migration can have on the city. I spent a few days in San Francisco last month. At no time did I ever feel safe due to the homeless folks on the streets. My team and I went around a bit by Uber and agreed that some areas were just too sketchy to live. Drivers there were just unbelievable. We had to report one Lyft driver because he literally scared us to death with his reckless driving. The living expense is so high there. One croissant and a small cup of coffee cost me $12, easily double what I’d pay in Omaha. It’s no wonder that white-collar workers moved away whenever they had a chance. When the engine that generates your city’s economy is leaving, it’s a serious challenge that demands different thinking.

Exclusive: inside Apple’s iOS 16 remake of the iPhone’s iconic Lock Screen. One thing you’ll notice from this piece is that the road to this Lock Screen feature started a while ago with work on its neural engine, chip and personalization effort on the Home Screen in iOS14. That’s typical of Apple. Have a product roadmap, put the pieces together and release only the things that work.

Opening a Restaurant in Boston Takes 92 Steps, 22 Forms, 17 Office Visits, and $5,554 in 12 Fees. Why? “The American Dream is besaddled by byzantine regulations. As the report shows, for example, opening a restaurant in Boston is a 92-step process. In Detroit, it’s 77 steps. In Atlanta, it’s 76. The report goes into great detail. That 92-step process to open a restaurant in Boston requires that 22 forms be completed, 17 in-person visits be made to government offices, 12 fees be paid, and nine government agencies be involved, at a total cost in government fees of $5,554. Opening a restaurant in San Francisco requires that 17 government fees be paid at a total cost of $22,648.” Indeed, why?

Stats

There were 31 million cigarette smokers in the US in 2020

1.5 billion users watch YouTube’s TikTok clone every month

14% of the U.S. population lives within rural communities

Weekly reading – 4th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Book Review: Trillion Dollar Triage

How Walmart Is Betting On Stores To Catch Amazon In E-Commerce

Business

Amazon Briefing: One year into Andy Jassy’s tenure, sellers see subtle strategic shifts. Under Bezos, Amazon was maniacal about being consumer-oriented. Using the iron grip on consumers, especially Prime members, Amazon managed to exert their bargaining power on merchants. According to the article, there are already subtle changes under Jassy regarding how to work with merchants. Merchants have more dialogue with senior folks from Amazon, but they are expected to spend more on ads and prove their unit economics value to Amazon. The push to grow ads revenue may have one important downstream effect: if shoppers are bombarded with sponsored items instead of what are best for them, there is no telling how that could damage Amazon and loosen their grip on prized Prime members

The first act of the streaming wars saga is over — Netflix’s fall from grace has ushered in the pivotal second act. The first phase is to establish presence. Now, all these streamers need to figure out some tough questions. First, how can they make money while spending a lot of money on content? Streaming is an arms race. You need great content all the time to acquire and retain subscribers. But investors’ patience is wearing thin. They want to see profits. Hence, streamers have a tough balancing act on hands. Secondly, ads or no ads? Disney+ and Netflix are planning to go live with ads-supported plans later this year. However, ads is not a trivial business. There is also a question of consumer experience. Additionally, expanding internationally or not expanding? An international expansion requires extra investments in marketing and content. If you go to India without local content at a dirt cheap price, you won’t win the battle. But this goes back to the first question. If a streamer spends too much on content and marketing, how can it turn profits? All in all, such an interesting space to keep an eye on

Facing Inflation-Weary Shoppers, Grocers Fight Price Increases. As inflation keeps rising, consumers turn to private labels instead of more expensive national brands. Private labels give grocers a higher margin, but the key here is to keep customers happy while resisting the pressure from vendors. Those who can make shoppers happy in tough times like this may get the permanent business in the long run. For me, Aldi has been my go-to grocer for a long time with their highly competitive grocery prices.

Bull Market Rhymes. “I don’t think investors are actually forgetful.  Rather, knowledge of history and the appropriateness of prudence sit on one side of the balance, and the dream of getting rich sits on the other.  The latter always wins.  Memory, prudence, realism, and risk aversion would only get in the way of that dream.  For this reason, reasonable concerns are regularly dismissed when bull markets get going. “

Spotify Podcasters Are Making $18,000 a Month With Nothing But White Noise. Who would have thought that white noise could be a lucrative podcast category?

Other stuff I find interesting

Sun-Starved Sweden Turns to Solar to Fill Power Void. It’s intriguing that Sweden shut down two nuclear plants and relies on solar power for electricity despite lacking sunlight for a long period of time in a year.

While Electric Vehicles Proliferate, Charging Stations Lag Behind. There are 93,000 public charging stations in the country, but it’s estimated that we need 1.2 million more. That’s how much we are lagging behind. The governments, local or federal, need to take a lead in this and perhaps losses too in the beginning to encourage more purchase and usage of electric vehicles.

90% of Women in India Are Shut Out of the Workforce. I have to say that this is an eye-opening yet disappointing read. I 100% support gender equality. To me, there is absolutely no reason why female can’t work or receive the same level of treatment as men do. Hence, it’s insane to think that only 10% of women in a country with 1.3 billion people in population are working. How much more productivity could be unlocked if women could work?

AC Milan’s ‘Mind Room’: The story behind an innovative psychology lab. Fascinating!

Here’s why you shouldn’t miss ‘bột chiên’ while in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes in Vietnam and Saigon. You don’t experience the local cuisine until you try it

Stats

Disney+ Hotstar Hits 5 Million Subscribers in Indonesia

App Store stopped nearly $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2021

Safari reached one billion worldwide users

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco