Weekly reading – 2nd January 2021

What I wrote last week

I reviewed two books: Operaatio Elop and Turning The Flywheel

I wrote about an important lesson I will take with me into 2021

Business

How Domino’s Pizza Drove a 90x Increase in Stock Value

How to use Pinterest for Marketing

The fear of missing out seems to fuel venture capitalists and investors to value startups many many times over its revenue

How to build tech products for a diverse user base

WordPress has 40% market share

Restaurants complain about not making money with Instacart. If you outsource the relationship with your customers and accept the behind-the-scene role, you cede control as well as any profitability to Instacart.

Airlines are making it really hard for customers to use credits. All airlines try to make customers use credits, rather than get reimbursed with cash. But some, like United Airlines, are exceptionally terrible. It’s rich to claim you are about serving your customers when claiming flight credits because of Covid-19 is difficult.

Inside the deal between Google and Facebook that drew antitrust attention

The App Store and Google Play notched more than $400 million in spending on Christmas 2020, up 35% YoY

An interview with Strip Co-Founder. Stripe’s revenue in EMEA is reportedly almost $530 million in 2018.

Covid-19 has been good for streamers so far

A horrifying account of working at Apple by an international student

Oyo Chain Hotel is facing great challenges amidst Covid-19

Technology

How Apple’s rivals plan to catch up with the mighty M1 chip

EU Signs €145bn Declaration to Develop Next Gen Processors and 2nm Technology

What I found interesting

She Noticed $200 Million Missing, Then She Was Fired

What the Dunning-Kruger effect is and isn’t

Chinese Demography

China’s Empire of Concrete

Abortion, Once Unthinkable in Argentina, Becomes Legal

How ‘Feierabend’ helps Germans disconnect from the workday

A long read about the US’ response to Covid-19. I don’t know how anyone can read this report and say anything other than: there is blood on those who are supposed to be in charge, but fail their duty miserably.

A great read on why Trump supports connect with him. It’s not about policies or principles. It’s feelings. It’s about long held frustration.

Book review: Operaatio Elop and Turning The Flywheel

Operaatio Elop

This book is based on interviews with more than 100 people who had indirect or direct experience with Nokia at the time. It’s about what happened between 2010 and 2013 under the reign of the former CEO – Stephen Elop and how Nokia fell apart in a matter of years. The book was originally in Finnish only, but some volunteers created an English version and that version was generously shared with the world for free here.

Nokia was at the peak of its power back in 2005 to 2007. At the time, there were seismic changes in the cut-throat personal phone industry with the introduction of Android and iOS, the iPhones, iPad and the App Store. Nokia, at the time, started to realize it had problems at hand and the CEO wasn’t up to the task. The search for a new CEO culminated with the appointment of a Canadian named Stephen Elop. Stephen introduced a host of initiatives during his time, but couldn’t turn around the fortune of the Finnish giant. The tumultuous reign ended with the controversial acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft, a shocking fate for a brand that just a few years prior had been among the top 5 in the world.

Nokia had a lengthy list of problems. The Board had insufficient industry experience and the Chairman was widely regarded as one of the main culprits for the fall of Nokia. Their go-to-market strategies faltered. For example, Nokia couldn’t have the same relationship with network providers in the US. It didn’t launch early enough the dual SIM feature in India. It also missed a critical Lunar New Year shopping period in China one year. Moreover, their product development couldn’t deliver. They didn’t have the advanced chip used by other competitors at the time. Their feature phones slowly became a thing of the past, but their smartphones couldn’t sell. Nokia couldn’t get developers to develop apps for their new phones and as a consequence, the lack of useful apps rendered their phones less appealing to consumers. The vicious cycle kept going on. Their partnership with Microsoft wasn’t perfect as Windows had a modest market share and developers didn’t have a lot of love for Microsoft at the time.

Nokia had many capabilities and assets at the time. Yet, it failed to address internal problems and respond appropriately to the changes in the external environment. This is a lesson for businesses. Past achievements mean little for survival when there is a lack of responses to the changing environment.

The author made it clear that the book mainly offered another perspective on Nokia and its collapse, rather than had exclusive truth on what actually happened. Also, even though many could fault Elop for the collapse and they might be right, given his managerial blunders, the book made it clear that with all the challenges the company faced at the time, it’s unclear if anyone could do better than him. That’s kinda what I feel. Hindsight bias is the easiest. Anyone could look back and critique others on what they should or shouldn’t have done, especially all these analysts I see on Twitter. The fact and the matter is that inside a company, there is a lot going on. Managing a multi-national company is no easy feat. We can and should keep the powerful honest and in check, but we shouldn’t be too arrogant.

Out of the three members of the appointment committee, only Ollila had experience in the technology industry, but even he, according to many, was not in touch with the service-driven internet-age mode of operation.

“Two of Nokia’s fiercest competitors, Apple and Google, obviously had boards more competent in global technology and internet knowhow than Nokia. To aggravate the situation, the Nokia Board of Directors was manned more with fine titles than substance. Scardino was the only American on the board despite the fact that the highest level of software competence was found in the US”

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

The situation was worst for the company’s biggest money maker, its smartphone operating system Symbian. With over 6 million lines of code, the software platform had become unmanageable. Hardware design and Symbian software development were almost in a state war and were at each other’s neck daily.

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

“For example, the normal trial-and-error software development technique was no longer used in Symbian software development. A person who was in charge of software development says that the problem was in the management which adjusted and fine-tuned projects ad nauseam. Even according to Nokia’s internal evaluation, the projects with the least management level involvement were the ones best on schedule. When the engineers were left alone to do their work, the results came forth.”

An employee working in the strategy department resorted to check the true status of upcoming phone projects from a friend working in development, because the official status given could not be trusted. Nokia was the emperor with new clothes, but nobody dared to say it out loud.

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

“In just three months Nokia had made the decision that would seal its destiny. This decision were prepared by a man who had only worked for the company for five months — a CEO who had come from outside the industry.”

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

“The N9 became an awkward pain point to Elop. Critics liked the phone but Nokia could not promote it because there was a fear that it would dilute the success of the Lumia phones. It looked like the success of the N9 came as a surprise to Elop. It would have been difficult to imagine how consumers would be interested in a device that was a dead end with a limited supply of applications. When Elop had been asked in London why anyone would buy the first and the last MeeGo phone, the man with a flu had responded: “I guess you just answered your own question.”

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

Carolina Milanesi is an analyst who has been following Nokia for several years. She believes the crucial mistake at Nokia was to cling to Symbian for too long. The end result could have been different if the Symbian ramp-down had begun in already early 2010 and all development and marketing investment shifted to MeeGo.

“The credibility vanished. Developers were faced with a dilemma: Why build Symbian applications when the market fell from under the platform? Why build Windows Phone applications when there was no market?”

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

Missing the Chinese New Year — the best shopping season of the year — was a pivotal mistake by Nokia in a situation where their market share on the Chinese smartphones market was already less than one percent.

The most significant markets for Nokia’s mobile phones were in India. Nokia made a critical mistake in bringing dual-SIM phones late to the market. According to Ramashish Ray, who was responsible for retail sales in India, Nokia was two years late: “Slow reaction to market reality, leadership bureaucracy and the diffusion of the decision making to too many forums”, Ray lists the reasons for the delay of the dual-SIM phones.

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

Nokia’s phones were not killed off by a murderer from Canada. What killed them was the arrogance born in Nokia’s own country, concentrating on costs, unclear responsibilities, and bad decisions made by the company’s board.

Excerpt From: Pekka Nykänen. “Operation Elop.” Apple Books.

Turning The Flywheel

Unlike Operaatio Elop, Turning The Flywheel is a very short book. It is a summary of the Flywheel concept that Jim Collins discussed at length in his previous book: Good to Great. This concept essentially looks at a few select activities that a company must do, in relation to one another, so that the company can stay competitive. For instance, Amazon manages to sell goods at a lower price and in a big variety. That attracts consumers; which in turn attracts merchants to Amazon. Because of the bigger bargaining power, Amazon can lower the prices and expand its catalogue. The cycle keeps going on.

Each pillar in the Flywheel can constitute several critical capabilities of a company. I consider this concept as a useful practice for management to really think about what a company can do and should focus on. By no means does it mean that the Flywheel is an answer to everything. Businesses still need to pay attention to the external environment. We already saw with my review of Operaatio Elop above that Nokia, despite having resources and capabilities, still failed to adapt to the changing environment and collapsed. It’s the job of the management to constantly assess whether the current capabilities are still up to date and can help the company respond to the external challenges.

The book should serve as a launchpad and guide readers to more materials and references on business strategies and the Flywheel concept. If you’re new to it, it should be a helpful read.

“A Promised Land” review

I finished this book around 10am today, but I felt like I needed some time for it to sink in. This book is in and of itself a great read due to the quality of the writing, but the content makes me think so much about my life and what is going on in the US. I’ll try to lay out my thoughts below, but overall, I do recommend this book, whether you are a Democrats, Republican, Independent, American or a foreigner. It’s quite lengthy and I skipped some personal anecdotes from the President, but I do think he did a good job taking the readers through his journey and laying out the context for key moments in his presidency.

Obama is a decent man

Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with what President Obama did while he was in office, it’s hard to argue that he is a decent man. Yes, I am aware that making this statement after his own book carries a degree of bias, but there is no better evidence than comparing him against his successor. In the book, he talked about the time when the Birthism scandal got started and how Republicans, Trump and the media, in one way or another, added life to that ridiculous scandal. The President didn’t want to dignify it with a response for while, but after so much distraction, he finally hosted a press conference where he addressed the issue. Here is how it went:

“I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them—not on this.”

“The room was quiet for a moment. I exited through the sliding doors that led back into the communications team’s offices, where I encountered a group of junior members of our press shop who’d been watching my remarks on a TV monitor. They all looked to be in their twenties. Some had worked on my campaign; others had only recently joined the administration, compelled by the idea of serving their country. I stopped and made eye contact with each one of them.”

“We’re better than this,” I said. “Remember that.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

“We’re better than this. Remember that”. That’s a presidential response. Despite the tough coverage from the press during his years as the President, Barack Obama never called the press “The enemies of the people” like someone did the last four years. He didn’t use language or resort to actions that were beneath his office. Instead, he told his staff to live up to what the Americans people expected from the government. Just think about what has transpired in the last four years and what Obama did there. They can’t be any more different.

Another example was that you didn’t see in his administration the types of scandals that we have grown so accustomed to in the last 4 years. In his book, the President wrote

“Without exception, we avoided scandal. I’d made clear at the start of my administration that I’d have zero tolerance for ethical lapses, and people who had a problem with that didn’t join us in the first place. Even so, I appointed a former Harvard Law School classmate of mine, Norm Eisen, as special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, just to help keep everybody—including me—on track. Cheerful and punctilious, with sharp features and the wide, unblinking eyes of a zealot, Norm was perfect for the job—the kind of guy who relished the well-earned nickname “Dr. No.” When asked once what sorts of out-of-town conferences were okay for administration officials to attend, his response was short and to the point:

“If it sounds fun, you can’t go.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The US government attracts scrutiny and media coverage rivaled by none. It’s easy to verify the appointment and existence of Dr No. Plus, if that had been true, you would have heard from it on the news already from former staff in Obama’s time. I don’t remember reading about all corruption scandals on a daily basis under Obama, but that has become somewhat a disappointing and dangerous routine under Trump. Regardless of differences in ideologies and party affiliations, I just don’t understand how Americans could hate a President, who worked to uphold the dignity of the Office of the President, and love someone, who has been essentially destroying it.

The system is currently set up to aid the obstructionists

While reading the book, I couldn’t help but being angry at how Republicans cared about nothing, but how to obstruct the President in doing his job. Not that they had better ideas or contributed to the issues at hand. They just obstructed because they could and wanted to. Mitch McConnell infamously said that his number one goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. His brazen obstructionist attitude was on display in this incident:

“As far as anyone could tell, he had no close friends even in his own caucus; nor did he appear to have any strong convictions beyond an almost religious opposition to any version of campaign finance reform. Joe told me of one run-in he’d had on the Senate floor after the Republican leader blocked a bill Joe was sponsoring; when Joe tried to explain the bill’s merits, McConnell raised his hand like a traffic cop and said, “You must be under the mistaken impression that I care.” But what McConnell lacked in charisma or interest in policy he more than made up for in discipline, shrewdness, and shamelessness—all of which he employed in the single-minded and dispassionate pursuit of power.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

President Obama inherited the 2008 economic downturn right after he took office. He tried to work with Republicans for the Recovery Act to save the country, the economy and the citizens. Yet, he ran into a resilient lack of cooperation from the other side of the aisle. There wasn’t any debate to make the proposal better. Just flat out obstruction.

“GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee boycotted hearings on the Recovery Act, claiming that they weren’t being seriously consulted. Republican attacks on the bill in the press became less restrained. Joe reported that Mitch McConnell had been cracking the whip, preventing members of his caucus from even talking to the White House about the stimulus package, and Democratic House members said they’d heard the same thing from their GOP counterparts.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

When the President was trying to get his landmark healthcare bill to pass Congress, here was how GOP tried to sabotage his effort

“McConnell and Boehner had already announced their vigorous opposition to our legislative efforts, arguing that it represented an attempted “government takeover” of the healthcare system. Frank Luntz, a well-known Republican strategist, had circulated a memo stating that after market-testing no fewer than forty anti-reform messages, he’d concluded that invoking a “government takeover” was the best way to discredit the healthcare legislation. From that point on, conservatives followed the script, repeating the phrase like an incantation. Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative firebrand from South Carolina, was more transparent about his party’s intentions. “If we’re able to stop Obama on this,” he announced on a nationwide conference call with conservative activists, “it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

“Unsurprisingly, given the atmosphere, the group of three GOP senators who’d been invited to participate in bipartisan talks with Baucus was now down to two: Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe, the moderate from Maine. My team and I did everything we could to help Baucus win their support. I had Grassley and Snowe over to the White House repeatedly and called them every few weeks to take their temperature”…

“The only upside to all this was that it helped me cure Max Baucus of his obsession with trying to placate Chuck Grassley. In a last-stab Oval Office meeting with the two of them in early September, I listened patiently as Grassley ticked off five new reasons why he still had problems with the latest version of the bill.

“Let me ask you a question, Chuck,” I said finally. “If Max took every one of your latest suggestions, could you support the bill?”

“Well…”

“Are there any changes—any at all—that would get us your vote?”

There was an awkward silence before Grassley looked up and met my gaze.

“I guess not, Mr. President.”

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

This is how Congress actually works, it seems. To be clear, Democrats aren’t innocent angels either. I am sure they did their fair share of obstruction when a Republican President was in charge. But this is the kind of challenges that hold America back. The way Congress is set up, I believe, to foster collaboration and avoid an authoritarian party with all the power. Yet, over the years, it has grown into a mechanism perfectly set up to aid those who want to exploit it for political and personal gain. The filibuster which requires 60 votes in the Senate to advance a bill gives a minority of Senators enhanced power in negotiations. If those Senators acted out of compassion and real care about the fate of the country and all Americans, there wouldn’t be any issues. Unfortunately, some Senators just vote for special interests that keep them in power. How could someone like Mitch McConnell be voted in office for the 7th term? After all those years when he was in office, Kentucky is still the worst state in the country in so many areas and the country, like it or not, is in the worse shape now than it was in the past. How could one man hold up the progress of the entire country and do damages that would take years and years to fix, if possible?

I have been following the American politics for a while and here is how I have seen it work. Some lawmakers do everything possible to appeal to special interests whose money allows them to campaign regardless of facts. Because there is so much noise on the media on a daily basis, voters can’t keep up. They cannot tell what is real and what is not. I can’t blame them. But exploitative lawmakers rely on the deluge of information (and misinformation) and money from donors to bend the truth in their favor and scare voters from voting in voters’ interest. Because of how the Senate is set up, voters from a less populated state like Idaho or Kentucky can vote in a Senator with enormous power, power that is often used to protect donors’ interests, not those of Americans overall. As long as rich and powerful donors are pleased, country be damned, democracy be damned. We have seen it over the years.

From a policy perspective, we were pleased with the outcome. While it was painful to keep the tax cuts for the wealthy in place for another two years, we’d managed to extend tax relief for middle-class families while leveraging an additional $212 billion worth of economic stimulus specifically targeted at those Americans most in need—the kind of package we’d have no chance of passing through a Republican-controlled House as a stand-alone bill.

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The system really needs overhauling. But what happened to Obama is happening now. The Republican-controlled Senate already signaled that they would not let Joe Biden appoint his staff, unless they are conservative enough. What Obama should have done is, and he actually admitted in his book, to eliminate the filibuster and change the Senate rules. But that’s a stopgap measure for a problem that runs deeper than that.

The flip side of a diverse population

America often boasts about the diversity in this country, the source of creativity and ideas that propel this country into another level, compared to many nations on Earth. Yet, nothing is perfect and even diversity has its downside. Different backgrounds and upbringings shape different points of view. Such a difference leads to the lack of homogeneity. A lot of people resist changes in this country simply because: why do I have to make sacrifices for strangers? Think about all the issues in this country, from taxes, health care, immigration, etc…and you can see it mostly boils down to people not feeling the need to look out for one another, even though they are all Americans. White voters, Asian Americans (Indian Americans are very different from Vietnamese Americans), Latino Americans, European Americans and African Americans have different priorities and when it comes to changes, many of them resist because of the question: why should I have to go and sacrifice first, and not others?

Exploitative lawmakers don’t try to fix this issue. They take advantage of it, appeal to a portion of voters and rely on the flawed system we have here for their own interests. Those lawmakers, in many cases, contribute to the divisiveness that is plaguing this country. Were voters more united and were the system designed to encourage inclusion, not the winner-takes-all mentality, the country wouldn’t be in the shape that it is now.

Reading this book, I was a bit emotional. I love this country and am grateful for what it has given me. President Obama talked about how lucky he always feels when he became the President with Hussein as his middle name. He talked about the endless possibilities that America offers. Those are what brought me here. I also appreciate his book, because his stories are proof that it matters to do the right things and to be a good person. I am sure he has flaws and his presidency wasn’t all perfect. Nonetheless, given what he stood for and what Trump stood for, I don’t think there is any question which model children should follow. Also, President Obama singled out some Democrats and Republicans who did the right thing and voted the tough votes, even though it meant the end of their political careers. The last lawmaker I saw from this breed is Doug Jones. He voted to impeach Trump even though it meant the final nail in his political coffin. He lost the Senate seat in Alabama. But that’s the kind of courage we need. Sadly, it becomes rare in the government.

Having lived in the US since 2016, I felt sad by the fact that we moved from having a President like Barack Obama to Trump. Sad by the fact that the country now is more polarized and divided than when I came over and it was already worse when I followed the 2012 Election Night, 8 years ago. As I think about my future in the US, I ponder whether I should stay here for the long term given all the things I have read and come to know. Even if I become an American, would it matter? Would the things I have seen be fixed fast enough for me to live in a society true to the values I endorse? I don’t and shouldn’t need this book to have all these thoughts, but they just came to me through out my reading and when I finished the last page. Good books do that and this is one of them.

“Each person held aloft a single lit candle—the city’s traditional way to express its appreciation for that year’s peace prize winner. It was a magical sight, as if a pool of stars had descended from the sky; and as Michelle and I leaned out to wave, the night air brisk on our cheeks, the crowd cheering wildly, I couldn’t help but think about the daily fighting that continued to consume Iraq and Afghanistan and all the cruelty and suffering and injustice that my administration had barely even begun to deal with. The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to such chaos seemed laughable; on some level, the crowds below were cheering an illusion. And yet, in the flickering of those candles, I saw something else. I saw an expression of the spirit of millions of people around the world: the U.S. soldier manning a post in Kandahar, the mother in Iran teaching her daughter to read, the Russian pro-democracy activist mustering his courage for an upcoming demonstration—all those who refused to give up on the idea that life could be better, and that whatever the risks and hardships, they had a role to play.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.

Try anyway.

Source: A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Book Review – The Psychology of Money. Likely the best book I read this year

I waited for this book to come out for a while, and it surely doesn’t disappoint. The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel is an excellent book on personal finance, our thinking towards money and how that drives a lot of our decisions in life. Not only does the book contain a lot of wisdoms and high quality content, but it is also well and crisply written that you can finish it in a weekend, unlike a lot of other books that are unnecessarily lengthy.

If you care about growing your net worth, investing and making important decisions in your life (who doesn’t?), I really recommend this book. It will transform what you think about money and life. Below are a few nuggets from the book. Have a nice weekend!

The premise of this book is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave. And behavior is hard to teach, even to really smart people.

Few people make financial decisions purely with a spreadsheet. They make them at the dinner table, or in a company meeting. Places where personal history, your own unique view of the world, ego, pride, marketing, and odd incentives are scrambled together into a narrative that works for you.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

“At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.”

The idea of having “enough” might look like conservatism, leaving opportunity and potential on the table. I don’t think that’s right. “Enough” is realizing that the opposite—an insatiable appetite for more—will push you to the point of regret.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Think of it like this, and one of the most powerful ways to increase your savings isn’t to raise your income. It’s to raise your humility.

Be nicer and less flashy. No one is impressed with your possessions as much as you are. You might think you want a fancy car or a nice watch. But what you probably want is respect and admiration. And you’re more likely to gain those things through kindness and humility than horsepower and chrome.

Go out of your way to find humility when things are going right and forgiveness/compassion when they go wrong. Because it’s never as good or as bad as it looks. The world is big and complex. Luck and risk are both real and hard to identify. Do so when judging both yourself and others

Less ego, more wealth. Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income, and wealth is what you don’t see. So wealth is created by suppressing what you could buy today in order to have more stuff or more options in the future. No matter how much you earn, you will never build wealth unless you can put a lid on how much fun you can have with your money right now, today

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Jim Simons, head of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, has compounded money at 66% annually since 1988. No one comes close to this record. As we just saw, Buffett has compounded at roughly 22% annually, a third as much. Simons’ net worth, as I write, is $21 billion. He is—and I know how ridiculous this sounds given the numbers we’re dealing with—75% less rich than Buffett.

Why the difference, if Simons is such a better investor? Because Simons did not find his investment stride until he was 50 years old

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Savings in the bank that earn 0% interest might actually generate an extraordinary return if they give you the flexibility to take a job with a lower salary but more purpose, or wait for investment opportunities that come when those without flexibility turn desperate.

If you have flexibility you can wait for good opportunities, both in your career and for your investments. You’ll have a better chance of being able to learn a new skill when it’s necessary. You’ll feel less urgency to chase competitors who can do things you can’t, and have more leeway to find your passion and your niche at your own pace. You can find a new routine, a slower pace, and think about life with a different set of assumptions. The ability to do those things when most others can’t is one of the few things that will set you apart in a world where intelligence is no longer a sustainable advantage

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

The idea is that you have to take risk to get ahead, but no risk that can wipe you out is ever worth taking. The odds are in your favor when playing Russian roulette. But the downside is not worth the potential upside. There is no margin of safety that can compensate for the risk.

Room for error does more than just widen the target around what you think might happen. It also helps protect you from things you’d never imagine, which can be the most troublesome events we face.

Excerpt From: Morgan Housel. “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness.”

Weekly readings – 19th September 2020

What I wrote

I reviewed a few books such as: The Anatomy of The Swipe, Tape Sucks, The Motley Fool Investment Guide, 7 Powers: The Foundation of Business Strategy

I put down some thoughts on Apple Fitness+ and Apple One

Business

A deep dive analysis into Snowflake

A study on the effect of Wikipedia on businesses

Our estimates show that adding about 2,000 characters (approximately two paragraphs) of text and one photo to a city’s Wikipedia page increased the number of nights spent in this city by about 9% during the tourist season compared to cities in the control group.6 The effect comes mostly from pages that were initially relatively incomplete. In particular, the treatment increases hotel stays by about 33% in cities which initially had very short pages in a particular language, while there was no effect on city-language combinations where the pages were well developed.

Technology

A review of Microsoft Duo by WSJ. It’s quite concerning that a $1,400 phone has a subpar camera and a buggy software

What I found interesting

A brief profile by BBC of Freiburg, a green and futuristic city in Germany

An interactive map of the Earth some 240 million years ago

A damning memo of a Facebook employee on how the leadership turned a blind eye on election manipulations. She wrote “I have blood on my hands”

The US is almost at the bottom among advanced countries when it comes to well-being of children

The Three Year Rule: How To Stay Motivated Working On A Long-Term Project

A WSJ profile on Trevor Noah and his journey from South Africa to America

According to Census, Asians had the highest median income in the US in 2019 and foreign born folks grew median income at a faster rate than native-borns

Look for books to read? Check out those I have read lately

The Anatomy of The Swipe: Making Money Move

We are so accustomed to having quick card-based transactions that if a transaction takes more than a couple of seconds, it will be a terrible customer experience. What many folks don’t know is that there are a lot of things that happen behind every transaction. It involves several parties, including but not limited to a cardholder, an issuing bank, an issuer processor, a network, a merchant processor, a merchant bank and a merchant. During the brief couple of seconds when a cardholder waits at a cashier, information goes from a card reader all the way back to at least an issuer processor through a card network (Visa, Mastercard) and a merchant processor, and back to the card reader. But it’s not finished yet. The process continues at least a couple of days after the transaction when the involved parties go through the clearing and settlement steps.

The payment world is so complex that there are startups that decouple individual steps of the whole process and carve out a niche market for themselves by specializing in such steps and improved efficiency. Take neobanks for example. They offer checking accounts with virtually no fees because they aren’t regulated and can operate without fixed costs such as branches.

I tried in the past to learn about payment systems, but not until this book did I find a reliable source that can break down abstract concepts in a digestible manner. If you are interested in payments or fintech, do yourself a favor and read this book

The reason why you can take money out of just about any ATM is because of the Durbin Amendment and its requirement that every debit card must have a secondary unaffiliated network. This law was put in to give consumers more choice in finding an ATM network. For example, if you have a debit card from Visa and the ATM doesn’t support Visa’s ATM networks, then it can run on Mastercard’s ATM network, Cirrus.

The term “Clearing” is used primarily by Issuers, but can also be referred to as “Capture” by Merchant Acquirers. Clearing happens toward the end of the day for most Merchants and will factor in tips, transaction reversals, and returns. This is basically the Merchant confirming these transactions are valid and that these funds are ready to be moved or “settled.”

Settlement is the actual movement of money from the cardholder’s bank account, the Issuing Bank, to the Merchant’s bank account, the Acquiring Bank. This movement of money typically happens via Fedwire as instructed by the payment networks.

Key term: 3D Secure

This is a standard for offering cardholders one more layer of security for online transactions. When card numbers are entered into a website to pay for something, 3D Secure will require the cardholder to enter one more form of authentication, such as a one-time-use PIN or passcode, similar to how two-factor authentication works for websites. More recently, the card networks are requiring Merchants and card Issuers to roll out a service called 3D Secure. The technology is standard in Europe but not yet in the US.

More recently, the card networks are requiring Merchants and card Issuers to roll out a service called 3D Secure. The technology is standard in Europe but not yet in the US.

The main reason is that these new “neo-banks” aren’t actually banks but rather tech companies that partner with regional banks such as Sutton Bank, Bancorp, or Meta Bank. These regional banks have less than $10 billion in assets and are able to charge a higher Interchange rate because they are considered exempt from the Interchange rules set forth in the Durbin Amendment and are considered “unregulated.”

TAPE SUCKS: Inside Data Domain, A Silicon Valley Growth Story

This book was written by Frank Slootman, former CEO of Data Domain. Frank took the company public and was the CEO when it was sold to EMC. He then went on to take the rein at ServiceNow and is currently assuming the top job at Snowflake. This book is his account of his time as CEO at Data Domain. It is a pretty short book, but it includes an honest and crisp account of how he scaled the company and dealt with startup issues. I like this book because it isn’t lengthy. I think it’s because of his direct nature as a Dutchman. Frank wrote about the lessons he learned along the way with little “fat” or lengthy unrelated anecdotes. He was straight to the point. His lessons outlined in the book should be helpful to aspirational entrepreneurs and CEOs.

Snowflake is expected to go public next week. If you are interested in that company and its CEO, you should give it a read.

My morning routine

The author interviewed a plethora of celebrities and successful folks to learn about their productivity hacks in the morning. Humans are creatures of habits. We all have our habits and routines and these successful men and women aren’t any exception. I don’t think what this book offers is unique in a sense that you can find these hacks on Google at any time. What it does is perhaps to catalogue all these hacks in one place so that you can choose to look at the routines of the folks you like. Plus, if you already studied about productivity tips before, it’s very likely you’d know what to do in general. What is missing is just our determination and discipline.

With that being said, if you are new to the productivity improvement game, this book may be of value. However, it’s pretty pricey compared to the two books I listed above, given the value and satisfaction in return. I’d try to Google the topic before I book this book

7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy

This is a classic book about business strategy. It covers 7 aspects of a successful strategy framework developed by Hamilton Helmer. The aspects include Economies of Scale, Network Effect, Counter Positioning, Switching Costs, Branding, Cornered Resource and Process Power. I think it’s a valuable read to anyone who is interested in analyzing businesses and companies. Of course, the book would be more valuable to newcomers than those who already studied strategy before. For instance, if you are familiar with the concept of Network Effect, Porter’s Five Forces and Switching Costs, this book will serve more as a reminder than a revelation. Nonetheless, it costs only $9 for a Kindle version from which you can take great notes on business strategy.

The Motley Fool Investment Guide

Even though this book costs $15 for a Kindle version, I actually think if you are new to investing and you want to grow your net worth, you should start reading this book. This book covers very important topics of investing. It talks about why you should invest in or avoid mutual funds. It also discusses the appeal of blue chips and small-cap stocks. If you haven’t learned much about the main financial statements (income statement, cash flow or balance sheet), the book provides an overview of these statements and what they mean in general. In my personal experience, although news outlets have coverage of companies’ financials, as an investor, you should do your own homework and practice reading reports as well as financial statements. Additionally, this book touches upon options such as shorting and longing a stock. They aren’t my preferences, but it doesn’t hurt to know what they are and what they do. Of course, the book has to talk about the power of compound interest, which is why we need to invest early and be patient.

I really recommend this book if you want to venture into investment.

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

The book is about essentialism, the idea that you should take control of your life, have the courage to choose to do what’s only the most important and essential to you and ignore the rest. In a sense, I think it’s pretty similar to minimalism because they both emphasize the need to remove what’s not essential and the need to keep what is. While minimalism seems to be associated more with design or art, essentialism seems broader as it can be applied to work or life. The ability to focus on only what’s important and maintain the power of choice in life will help make a person happier and more fulfilled.

The book has four main parts: 1) it discusses the concept in general, 2) it talks about how to differentiate the vital from the trivial, 3) it lays out how we can remove the trivial and 4) it offers tips on how to make the viral easier to practice. Under each part are some sub-chapters that discuss a factor that contributes to the big topic at hand such as the importance of sleep, the value of having a child-like mind, why we should build in buffer in whatever we do while anticipating for unpredictable trouble. Even though some may lament the various topics he touched upon as lengthy and unnecessary, I do think it’s helpful to break down a big topic into smaller chunks and look at an issue from different angles to have a better understanding. There’s nobody stopping audience from skipping a few pages, you know.

If a reader reads about minimalism or the value of focus, he or she will unlikely be wowed by the book. Experienced readers, especially in the topic that this book is about, will say that this book should be only 20 pages long, instead of 200. But if somebody hasn’t been very well-versed in essentialism, focus or minimalism, this book may be of value.

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Excerpt From: Mckeown, Greg. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Apple Books.

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things. ”

Excerpt From: Mckeown, Greg. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Apple Books.

Essentialism the more clearly I have seen courage as key to the process of elimination. Without courage, the disciplined pursuit of less is just lip service. It is just the stuff of one more dinner party conversation. It is skin deep. Anyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most— and many people do, but to see people who dare to live it is rare

Excerpt From: Mckeown, Greg. “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Apple Books.

Before I sign off, here are a few examples of essentialism in business

Netflix

Read the following to see how Netflix is focused on only thing

Google

Do you notice how simple and completely focused Google’s interface is on only searches?

Apple

Notice the infinity screen on iPhone and the no-fee feature of Apple Card

Aldi

I wrote about the intense focus of Aldi to lower costs and pass on savings to consumers

Book review: The Wealthy Barber Returns

I saw a hedge fund manager recommend this book on Twitter, but accidentally grabbed the newer version instead of the recommended original. Nonetheless, here is my review. This short and easy-to-read book which is a compliment contains some common sense regarding personal finance. If you just begin to dip into the personal finance space, this book can be a good place to start, though I am sure there are better books. If you want to enrich your personal finance knowledge, there may be some ideas from the book that can be interesting. If you live in Canada, this book may even be more interesting as the author spent a significant part of the book discussing matters specific to the Canadian systems only.

The two main take-away points from this book, if that’s all you will leave it with, are this: 1/ live below your means and 2/ save early.

There is no surer way to approach financial independence than keeping your expenses below your income. In fact, the lower your expense is than your income, the better. It’s quite common to see folks who spend most or all of their income every month. Those are the paycheck-to-paycheck folks. When life throws them a twist as it very often goes, there will be no saving for a rainy day. If you look at the current pandemic (as it is still going on), not only is it not a rainy day, it is a freaking storm. People lose jobs and health insurance. Income is gone, but bills are still there to pay. In fact, 40% of Americans are reported not to have $400 for an emergency. That’s so crazy to think about. Even though the idea of living below your means is so laughably obvious, the reality clearly shows that it is a foreign concept to many.

The book emphasizes a key trick in making sure that you save money every month: save before you spend the rest, not spend and save the rest. Say, if you earn $3,000 a month, put 10-20% somewhere as savings and spend the rest. That approach allows you to save at least $300 a month. After two months, at least you can say that you are NOT among people who don’t have $400 in cash for an emergency. On the other hand, if you decide to save whatever is left after the first 28-29 days of the month, you likely won’t save much. As human beings, we are terrible in self-control.

“You don’t have to become a miser and live a life of austerity. You just have to exercise a little discipline and a little common sense. You’re probably wondering, “If that’s the case, why aren’t there more successful savers? Why haven’t we all been able to slightly reduce our spending?” The blunt answer? A little discipline and a little common sense are a little more than most of us can muster.”

Excerpt From: David Chilton. “The Wealthy Barber Returns.” Apple Books.

The second key take-away is that you should start saving early. The earlier and more consistent you save, the better. Instead of typing out why you should, I’ll let these charts from JP Morgan demonstrate the power of compounding interest, which is usually called “the 8th wonder of the world”

chart jp morgan retirement
Source: Business Insider

As you can see, the earlier and longer you save, the more compounding interest works in your favor. To reach $1 million at retirement, you can either save $361 monthly, starting at the age of 20, or save $1,400+ a month at the age of 40. Which one do you feel is more daunting? Especially given the more responsibilities and expenses that come with being older? Exactly!

There are other topics addressed in the book such as:

  • If someone asks you to do something that involves spending, practice saying “I can’t afford it”
  • When you should take out a line of credit
  • What is good debt and what is bad debt?
  • A basic primer on index funds and why you should strongly consider them as an investment vehicle

Overall, I think the book does offer value. I can see that it’s even more helpful to teenagers who are interested in building wealth and strategizing their life to financial independence and happier life. To those who may argue that saving fir the future will come at the expense of today’s sacrifice and the enjoyment of life, here is what the book argues, which I agree with

One of the most damaging misconceptions in personal finance is that saving for the future requires sacrifices today that lessen people’s enjoyment of life. Surprisingly, it’s quite the opposite! People who live within their means tend to be happier and less stressed. That’s true not only for the obvious reason — they know their financial futures look bright — but also because they’re not consumed with consumption. They’re not in the emotionally and financially draining race to acquire the most stuff they possibly can. A race that, it should be noted, has no finish line and thus no winner.

Excerpt From: David Chilton. “The Wealthy Barber Returns.” Apple Books.

Book review: The art of thinking clearly

I don’t really remember how this book landed in my iBooks collection, but I am quite glad it did. The book features 100 common thinking errors that we usually encounter in real life. Each chapter is dedicated to one particular error. A chapter consists of one or more anecdotes that we can easily relate to, a brief explanation on the error at hand, some insights into why the error takes hold of us and some advice to avoid it in the end. Unlike other books in this genre, this book, fortunately, doesn’t bombard readers with tons of examples that basically make the same point. Each chapter is only 3-5 pages and is written to keep readers engaged. However, 99 chapters with a lot of errors can wear readers out as the book progresses. You may have a feeling: well, how can I live error-free? The author specifically addresses this question in the end. His approach which I think makes sense is that he spends a lot of time thinking about a problem if the problem is serious and the consequences can be huge. With trivial matters, he acts intuitively.

Overall, I think the book is really helpful. If you are interested in how to improve your thinking, this book is a great start. It offers a helpful selection of common thinking errors; a foundation from which you can dive more into each error. I will likely read it again. A few highlights that I noted for myself below

Hindsight bias

“So why is the hindsight bias so perilous? Well, it makes us believe we are better predictors than we actually are, causing us to be arrogant about our knowledge and consequently to take too much risk”

“If you’re still with me, I have one final tip, this time from personal rather than professional experience: Keep a journal. Write down your predictions—for political changes, your career, your weight, the stock market, and so on. Then, from time to time, compare your notes with actual developments. You will be amazed at what a poor forecaster you are. Don’t forget to read history, too—not the retrospective, compacted theories compiled in textbooks, but the diaries, oral histories, and historical documents from the period. If you can’t live without news, read newspapers from five, ten, or twenty years ago. This will give you a much better sense of just how unpredictable the world is. Hindsight may provide temporary comfort to those overwhelmed by complexity, but as for providing deeper revelations about how the world works, you’ll benefit by looking elsewhere.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Chauffeur Knowledge

“According to Charlie Munger, one of the world’s best investors (and from whom I have borrowed this story), there are two types of knowledge. First, we have real knowledge. We see it in people who have committed a large amount of time and effort to understanding a topic. The second type is chauffeur knowledge—knowledge from people who have learned to put on a show. Maybe they have a great voice or good hair, but the knowledge they espouse is not their own. They reel off eloquent words as if reading from a script.”

“To guard against the chauffeur effect, Warren Buffett, Munger’s business partner, has coined a wonderful phrase, the “circle of competence”: What lies inside this circle you understand intuitively; what lies outside, you may only partially comprehend. One of Munger’s best pieces of advice is: “You have to stick within what I call your circle of competence. You have to know what you understand and what you don’t understand. It’s not terribly important how big the circle is. But it is terribly important that you know where the perimeter is.” Munger underscores this: “So you have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.”

“True experts recognize the limits of what they know and what they do not know. If they find themselves outside their circle of competence, they keep quiet or simply say, “I don’t know.” This they utter unapologetically, even with a certain pride. From chauffeurs, we hear every line except this.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Induction

“Induction seduces us and leads us to conclusions such as: “Mankind has always survived, so we will be able to tackle any future challenges, too.” Sounds good in theory, but what we fail to realize is that such a statement can only come from a species that has lasted until now. To assume that our existence to date is an indication of our future survival is a serious flaw in reasoning. Probably the most serious of all.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Twaddle tendency

“In conclusion: Verbal expression is the mirror of the mind. Clear thoughts become clear statements, whereas ambiguous ideas transform into vacant ramblings. The trouble is that, in many cases, we lack very lucid thoughts. The world is complicated, and it takes a great deal of mental effort to understand even one facet of the whole. Until you experience such an epiphany, it’s better to heed Mark Twain: “If you have nothing to say, say nothing.” Simplicity is the zenith of a long, arduous journey, not the starting point.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

News illusion

“I would predict that turning your back on news will benefit you as much as purging any of the other ninety-eight flaws we have covered in the pages of this book. Kick the habit—completely. Instead, read long background articles and books. Yes, nothing beats books for understanding the world.”

Excerpt From: Rolf Dobelli. “The Art of Thinking Clearly.” Apple Books.

Book Review – No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram

Instagram is so popular in our life that it became part of our vernacular: Instagrammable. I wanted to learn more about a young startup that was founded in the beginning of the 2010s, got acquired by Facebook for a monstrous amount at the time and eventually grew to become one of the biggest social networks in the world. This book provides a good insight into the history of Instagram.

The history of Instagram started with Kevin Systrom, a Standard graduate. He passed up an opportunity to join two startups in their early days that would become multi-billion companies (Facebook and Twitter). He worked for a short time at Google before venturing out on his own. Along with Mike Krieger, a graduate student from Brazil, he developed an app called Burbn that attracted interest and capital from some of the angel investors in Silicon Valley. Burbn was later pivoted to become Instagram after a soul-searching discussion between the two founders. After 18 months of hard work, Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1 billion. The Instagram team and the two co-founders managed to keep their relative high level of independence within the Blue Brand for about 5-6 years. A score of disagreements over strategic decisions and a realization that it was Zuckerberg that effectively owned Instagram, the two founders left the company.

What fascinates me about the book is the chronicle of important decisions that the founders made along the way, especially decisions on product development. From the onset of Instagram, the founders, especially Systrom, wanted to focus on genuine and quality connections with users. While Facebook cheapened the relationship with users by prioritizing the sharing of news and articles, Instagram took time and effort to preserve the unique qualities of Instagram. For instance, they refused to have a share feature because they wanted users to have a genuine connection with whom they followed. Specifications for photos on Instagram were stricter than on Facebook. Systrom emphasized the importance of aesthetic quality of Instagram by personally approving Instagram ads at first, limiting to one advertiser a day originally, guiding celebrity users on how to post nice photos and setting up the tone for the culture as well as how users perceive Instagram.

One can argue that Instagram’s founders sold it too soon, but the counter argument is that without Facebook’s resources and infrastructure, Instagram wouldn’t like have achieved the growth it did that quickly. In the end, the hierarchy and essentially cultural clash with Facebook drove the founders out.

The book provides an exciting story of how little features, care for users, commitment to quality and great decisions can lead to a great product, especially when put in contrast to Facebook. I have been super annoyed by the amount of ads on Instagram. You can’t scroll more than 3 or 4 posts without an ads. I don’t think the founders would have approved that, but in the end, it wouldn’t have been their choice to make either.

If you are interested in a popular company’s history, entrepreneurship or product development/strategy, this book will be a nice one to pick up on a slow hot weekend. Isn’t it interesting to learn why there is no share button, why there is only one place you can post a hyperlink, why little details on Instagram came into beings? The book also sheds some light onto Mark Zuckerberg, who cast a long show over much of Instagram’s history.

“When Systrom joined in 2006, it had almost 10,000 employees. Google, far more functional and established than tiny Odeo, was led mostly by former Stanford students making data-based decisions. It was the culture that drove homepage leader Marissa Mayer, who later became CEO of Yahoo!, to famously test 41 shades of blue to figure out what color would give the company’s hyperlinks the highest click-through rate. A slightly purpler blue shade won out over slightly greener shades, helping boost revenue by $200 million a year. Seemingly insignificant changes could make a huge difference when applied to millions or billions of people.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“Krieger and Systrom started the exercise by making a list of the top three things people liked about Burbn. One was Plans, the feature where people could say where they were going so friends could join them. Another was photos. The third was a tool to win meaningless virtual prizes for your activity, which was mostly a gimmick to get people to log back in.

Not everybody needed plans or prizes. Systrom circled “photos.” Photos, they decided, were ubiquitous, useful to everybody, not just young city dwellers.

“There’s something around photos,” Kevin said. His iPhone 3G took terrible pictures, but it was only the beginning of that technology. “I think there will be an inflection point where people don’t carry around point-and-shoots anymore, they’re just going to carry around these phones.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“Their first prototype was named Scotch, a relative to bourbon. It allowed people to swipe through photos horizontally and tap to like them, similar to a Tinder before its time. They used it for a few days before going back to the Burbn idea, doubting their instincts. And then they tried a new concept that would allow people to scroll through photos vertically, showing the most recent post first, like Twitter.

All of the photos would use as few pixels as possible, so that they would load quickly, helping solve problem number one—only 306 pixels across, the minimum required to display a photo on an iPhone with 7-pixel borders on each side. The photos would be square, giving users the same creative constraint for photography as Systrom’s teacher in Florence gave him. It was similar to how Twitter only let people tweet in 140-character bursts. That would help solve, but not fully solve, problem number two.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“The founders picked their first users carefully, courting people who would be good photographers—especially designers who had high Twitter follower counts. Those first users would help set the right artistic tone, creating good content for everyone else to look at, in what was essentially the first-ever Instagram influencer campaign, years before that would become a concept.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“Krieger did build a re-share button but never released it to the public. The founders thought it would violate the expectations you had when you followed someone. You followed them because you wanted to see what they saw and experienced and created. Not someone else.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“Instagram, on the other hand, was trying to build a premium experience, brainstorming directly with advertisers about their ideas and manually placing their ads. They knew that this system couldn’t work forever, but Systrom and Krieger always urged people to do the simplest thing first, the way they had when they first built the app. Working manually on a small version of the product made more sense than spending precious engineering resources and navigating politics with Facebook’s ads sales team, for a system that might not ultimately work.

Using a strategy similar to that he’d employed when he founded the company—picking launch partners like Burberry and Lexus who would get it—Systrom personally approved every ad. Especially since now Instagram’s brand was too precious to risk letting anyone and everyone advertise however they’d like.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“Only one brand per day, Systrom had decided—that felt right. It was nonnegotiable: if Louis Vuitton called wanting the twentieth of the month, they would decline if Ben & Jerry’s already had the slot. All the names of the early advertisers were mapped out in red marker on a whiteboard calendar. An employee would print the potential ads out; then Systrom would go through them, one by one, deciding what was good enough and what wasn’t. If an ad wasn’t good enough, he would protest.

At one point Systrom was concerned that the food in one of the branded posts looked unappetizing, especially the French fries, which appeared soggy. “I don’t want to run it like this,” he told Jim Squires, his new ads lead, who had come over from Facebook.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

New employees of Instagram, especially those coming from Facebook, would regularly suggest sharing tools to help increase the amount of posts on the app, only to be shot down by Systrom and Krieger. Public re-sharing was such a popular request that other entrepreneurs built apps like Regrann and Repost to attempt to fill the need, but these were no substitute for an in-app function. This made it harder to get noticed, but in some ways made it easier to build a personal brand. All your posts were yours. That was what the founders wanted.

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

Trump had outspent Clinton between June and November, paying Facebook $44 million compared to her $28 million. And, with Facebook’s guidance, his campaign had operated like a tech company, rapidly testing ads using Facebook’s software until they found the perfect messaging for various audiences. Trump’s campaign had a total of 5.9 million different versions of his ads, compared to Clinton’s 66,000, in a way that “better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes,” the employee said.

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“By December 2016, Instagram was letting users turn off comments for posts entirely if they wanted. Systrom’s willingness was in stark contrast to the attempts by Facebook and Twitter to err on the side of leaving content up, in an attempt to promote environments they said were neutral and open, but that in practice were rarely policed.

The same ideas, of letting users turn off comments or block them according to keyword, had been suggested several times at Facebook over the years. But it had never stuck. If there were fewer comments, there were fewer push notifications, and fewer reasons for users to come back to the site. Even on Instagram’s team, the former Facebook employees promised Systrom that they would find a way to build out the tool so it was difficult to find, and applicable only to one post at a time. That way, it wouldn’t be used as often.

Thanks but no thanks, Systrom said. He explained that he wasn’t worried about losing engagement, that the team was thinking too short-term. Over the long term, if the tool was easy to find and well publicized, people would have more affinity for Instagram, and the product would better weather storms of bad publicity, like the kind Facebook was starting to receive.”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.

“So that summer, Zuckerberg directed Javier Olivan, Facebook’s head of growth, to draw up a list of all the ways Instagram was supported by the Facebook app. And then he ordered the supporting tools turned off.

Systrom again felt punished for Instagram’s success.

Instagram was also no longer allowed to run free promotions within the Facebook news feed—the ones that told people to download the app because their Facebook friends were already there. That had always brought a steady stream of new users to Instagram.

Another of the new changes would actually mislead Facebook users in an attempt to prevent them from leaving for Instagram. In the past, every time an Instagram user posted with the option to share on Facebook, the photo on Facebook said it came from Instagram, with a link back to the app. Instagram’s analysis showed that between 6 and 8 percent of all original content on Facebook was cross-posted from Instagram. Often, the attribution would be a cue for people to comment on the photo where it was originally posted. But with the change mandated by the growth team, that attribution would disappear, and the photo would seem as if it had been posted to Facebook directly”

Excerpt From: Sarah Frier. “No Filter.” Apple Books.