Weekly reading – 12th December 2020

What I wrote last week

How much money could you save from drinking coffee at home?

Business

The economics of the $2B+ Christmas tree industry

Bloomberg’s profile on OnlyFans, a potential major social media on the horizon

Uber sold its autonomous vehicle arm to Aurora. This move isn’t a surprise given that Uber has been trying to offload cash-intensive and loss-making businesses in order to focus on the ones that do make money. Though there is a big write-down from $7.5 billion to $4 billion, investors may find this deal good news

CNBC has a good article on AT&T, HBO and their effort to compete with Netflix and other streamers

Inside Google’s deal with French Media

Many Google employees came out with their version of the story involved Timnit Gebru, contradicting what the company publicly said

WSJ’s profile on a few men that helped build Microsoft’s gaming business today

Online grocery slowed down in the last few months compared to the height in the summer. The basket size continued to be relatively big, compared to the same period last year and pre-Covid months.

https://www.brickmeetsclick.com/stuff/contentmgr/files/1/495948404a0913f7ced51b6524a17539/files/bmc_scorecard_nov_2020_sm.png
Source: Brickmeetsclick

Clover, which belongs to Fiserv and sells hardware & software payment solutions to small businesses, a competitor of Square, seems to have a higher GPV as well as a higher percentage of sellers with $125k in annual GPV. As Clover has more than 90% of its sellers above the $125,000 GPV threshold, the figure is far smaller for Square.

Source: Fiserv

Technology

John Gruber’s review of Apple’s latest product: AirPods Max

What I found interesting

A story on a small coffee business in Vietnam that prioritizes sustainability

Benefits of walking

The US Department of Health and Human Services published a presentation on how unhealthy Americans’ diet is. The information is informative and use, but the presentation is hilariously terrible.

The old Americans get, the more they spend time alone

Weekly readings – 24th October 2020

What I wrote last week

How Apple Card’s balance grew by 50% in 3 months and the implications

Amazon Shopper Panel

Business

EU is shooting for an ambitious “industrial cloud” plan to rival the US

DOJ filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google and the tech giant had a strong rebuke

Will you exchange privacy for some money every month? If yes, Amazon will pay you $10/month for 10 receipts of non-Amazon purchases through a service called Amazon Shopper Panel

Doordash is still the market leader in the meal delivery space with 49% market share in September 2020, according to SecondMeasure

A fascinating story on a guy who learned, worked and blogged his way to be an authority in the podcast space

DOJ’s lawsuit against Google, a very interesting read with a lot of great information

Boosted by better-than-expected consumer spending and write-offs, card companies are eyeing more customer acquisitions

How Apple is organized for success

Technology

Emerging Architectures for Modern Data Infrastructure

Adobe released a new feature to help creative folks get credit for their honest work and fight misinformation

a16z released an interesting blog post on the promise of Payroll API

What I found interesting

Japanese Butter Tableware. Ain’t they beautiful and interesting?

How Egypt is growing forests in middle of the desert

A damning account of the failed project between Foxconn, Trump and Wisconsin. The red flags have been there for a long time, yet I fear this isn’t the last time we hear something about it

Weekly readings – 11th October 2020

What I wrote last week

My thoughts on Section 230 and why I think Facebook & Twitter are failing us

Business

An interview with the principal medical officer of Amazon Halo, Amazon’s latest health tracker. Amazon has an established relationship with consumers, a well-known & loved brand, a war chest and expertise in machine learning. It’ll be interesting to see how Amazon Halo will compete in this space.

A family business controls 97% of the ice cream truck music market

Covid-19 has decimated independent restaurants much more than it has the biggest chains

Google, once a friend, becomes a formidable foe of travel companies.

A startup released its Serie A funding round memo publicly. Pretty interesting.

The challenges that Disney faces in designing a strategy for Hulu

Technology

A comprehensive review of iOS14 and iPadOS14

Google announced a new feature that would allow users to look for songs by just humming. Don’t you love technology? It’s very remarkable

What I found interesting

Gen Z folks feed themselves misinformation. A pretty interesting yet scary revelation.

Pu Luong, a pristine and untouched beauty in the North of Vietnam, a few hours from the capital

How Oslo Achieved Zero Pedestrian and Bicycle Fatalities

If you have a chance to visit Dalat in Vietnam, try this dish. It’s great, delicious yet dirt cheap. I miss it.

On average, Americans spend $21 on subscriptions every month

Epic vs Apple, Goldman Sachs trying to get into consumer banking and Uber potentially leaving California

Goldman Sachs wants GM’s credit card business

WSJ reported on 12th August 2020 that Goldman Sachs was in the running for GM’s credit card business. Since it launched Apple Card with Apple last October, it is just a matter of time before Goldman Sachs tries to land another partner. No bank in the right mind would invest in consumer credit card infrastructure just to work with one partner.

A deal with GM would advance Goldman’s ambitions on Main Street. Since launching its consumer arm, Marcus, four years ago, the firm has amassed $7 billion in loans and is aiming for $20 billion by 2025. Holders of the Apple Card had $2.3 billion in outstanding balances as of June 30.

In deals like the one being discussed, a new bank typically agrees to pay a small premium to buy an existing card portfolio and hopes to make up the money by encouraging more spending, signing up more cardholders, and cross-selling them on other products. The deals typically involve sharing of card interchange fees and other revenue.

Source: WSJ

I am working at a bank which has a partnership with a different car brand than GM. One of the issues that we have to deal with is gamers who sign up for a credit card and spend on their first purchase at a dealership to take advantage of big signing bonuses and low interest rate. These gamers, after the first month on book, will subsequently use the card much less. As a result, gamers become less profitable than other cardholders who use their cards more regularly. If they manage to land GM, Goldman Sachs may likely find out that issue which I suspect is NOT among their learnings from Apple Card. Another point worth calling out is that Goldman Sachs relies on Apple’s marketing expertise to acquire Apple Card’s users. With other brands, they may have to develop that skillset and invest; something that they may not find easy or cheap.

The article provided an interesting reference point for Apple Card. It had $2.3 billion in balance as of the end of June 2020. The GM’s portfolio has around $3 billion in balance. As mentioned above, the purchasing behavior of Apple Card holders may differ from that of GM credit card users, but it’s worth pointing out that Apple Card was launched only last October and GM credit cards have been available for much longer. It indicates that Apple Card is likely regularly used and has a decent growth.

Epic Games picked an ‘epic’ fight with Apple and Google

In its latest update of Fortnite, Epic Games offered users a payment option designed to circumvent the App Store and Google Play Store’s rules on commission fees. Using Epic Games’ new payment scheme, users would save around 20% compared to using the in-app payment on the App Store and the Google Play Store while the game maker avoids paying Apple and Google 30% commission. The two giants promptly removed the game from their stores. Epic Games went on to sue both companies for anti-competition practices and abuse of power. In a move conspicuously aimed at provoking Apple, Epic Games released an ads mocking the company’s legendary 1984 campaign.

Source: The Verge

The quick releases of the ads and lawsuits showed that Epic Games WANTED this fight and expected retaliation from Apple and Google. The game maker has enough money and popularity to think that they have leverage. Plus, it’s likely banking on public pressure and the recent scrutiny into big tech companies from lawmakers. Given the level of planning and what is at stake here, Epic Games clearly thinks they have enough to win, but Apple doesn’t back down. If Apple caves into Epic Games’ demands, it will set a dangerous precedent that any developers that want to get more margin can corner the company. While I do not think Epic Games will win their lawsuits, Apple and Google will ultimately be hurt in terms of brand equity and reputation. Plus, it will give lawmakers more ammunition in their investigation into the Cupertino-based company’s alleged anti-competition practices.

Even though I think Apple has contributed immensely to the distribution of software around the world and the app economies, and in some cases, they didn’t do anything outrageous or wrong, it’s time for them to sit down and rethink the App Store. Recent clashes with developers and increasing pressure from lawmakers, if dragged out too long, will harm the company in the long run. It’s fair to say that despite getting close to the unprecedented valuation of $2 trillion, Apple still enjoys quite some goodwill from many consumers and developers. While the goodwill is still in the bank, it should start rethinking its position on the App Store and avoid future trouble.

California vs Gig Economy

California’s law that requires gig economy companies such as Uber and Lyft to classify workers as employees is going to be in effect on 20th August 2020. The two companies went to the California Supreme Court to seek for an injunction that would table the law temporarily. Today, the Court rejected the motion from Uber and Lyft. Earlier on this week, Uber CEO threatened to suspect operations in California and potentially leave the state for good if their legal fight failed.

This is a far more complicated issue than it may appear. On one hand, I am in favor of the authority looking out for workers by forcing companies such as Uber to acknowledge them as employees and give them benefits accordingly. That is exactly what an authority should be doing. Without legal mandates, how would the likes of Uber cave and treat workers as they should? The fact that these companies have fought ferociously to defeat the new law says all about their intention. Both Uber and Lyft are unprofitable. Their survival may be in jeopardy if they have to endure more expenses as a consequence of AB5, the shortened name of the new law.

On the other hand, if Uber and Lyft actually leave, their departure may hurt some drivers whose livelihood depends on business with the gig economy companies and negatively impact consumers. Imagine what would be like when you could no longer order an Uber in San Francisco or California. Critics of AB5 lament that the law isn’t thought out well and the unintended consequences will outweigh possible benefits. They do have a point.

That’s why I think AB5 alone isn’t enough. It needs complementary initiatives. With regard to protecting the end users’ benefits once gig economy companies leave, I think there will be space for other startups with new ideas and implementation to come in and serve the available demand. AB5, to some extent, will foster competition and innovation. Plus, it does help to have a lot of venture capital fund available in California, that is waiting to be deployed. Another potential opportunity is to build out public transportation infrastructure so that the reliance on ride hailing companies will be alleviated.

Furthermore, the state of California needs to make sure that workers who are affected by the departure of the likes of Uber will be taken care of. Skill training, job opportunities and social safety nets will need to be extended. Of course, there are workers who prefer a flexible schedule that a full-time job doesn’t usually offer, but if the money and benefits are sufficient, given the uncertain time that we are in, I do think many people will change their position.

Disclaimer: I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio

Weekly readings – 23rd May 2020

The ingredients of a long life. Drinking coffee/tea every day, eating in moderation are nurturing the spiritual life are common in areas where people tend to have a long life

How Facebook Could Use Giphy to Collect Your Data

How Etsy Became America’s Unlikeliest Breadbasket

Inside Trump’s coronavirus meltdown

Politico’s profile of Facebook’s new Head of Policy and Communications

How GrubHub ripped off restaurants even though customers intended not to use it

A Spectacularly Bad Washington Post Story on Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification Project

Doordash and Pizza Arbitrage

Why is New Zealand so progressive?

The hidden toll of lockdown on rainforests

Microsoft announced a new competitor to Airtable

Two monetary systems in Yemen

Source: Grab

DON’T CONSUME HYDROXYCHROLOQUINE! A new study published on the renowned The Lancet proved that the drug and some other similar had harmful effects on health

The healing power of proper breathing

The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas

‘How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?’. CDC and some states inflated the number of tests to drum up the testing abilities and make it impossible to know the exact infection rate.

Weekly readings – 16th May 2020

A scathing critique of AWS from this engineer

Related to the link above, this is quite a blog post from someone who used to work at Amazon and was working at Google at the time of the writing

Content, Cars, and Comparisons in the “Streaming Wars”. Matthew Ball’s essays are always great to read

The secrets behind the runaway success of Apple’s AirPods

How Morning Brew grew to $13m in revenue with 33 employees

Vauban Architecture: The Foundation of Central and Northern Vietnam’s Citadels

The latest memo from Howard Marks

How the most prized degree in India became the most worthless

WeChat Surveillance Explained

If Landlords Get Wiped Out, Wall Street Wins, Not Renters

All applications used at GitLab

Chicago Will Now Require Food Delivery Apps to Disclose Itemized Cost Breakdown. You can protect restaurants or you can protect delivery apps. In this case, I don’t think you can do both. I am glad Chicago went with restaurants

Source: Crunchbase

How Khan Academy Successfully Handled 2.5x Traffic in a Week

The faded beauty of abandoned cars across Europe and the US

“Visa saw an 18% rise in U.S. digital commerce spending during the month of April, excluding the travel category, as face-to-face transactions fell 45%”

From Boston to Saigon: A Coronavirus Quarantine Diary

Lessons From Slovakia—Where Leaders Wear Masks

Senate Votes to Allow FBI to Look at Your Web Browsing History Without a Warrant. I’d argue that this is a bridge too far into user privacy

Next time if you want to support local restaurants by ordering on delivery services like Grubhub or DoorDash, you may want to do a bit of research on how those services treat restaurant partners. Here is an example

Weekly readings – 11th April 2020

Why Russia Fears Sweden’s Deadly Submarines

What Armenians should know about life in America

Meet the COVID-19 college graduates

Group M’s study on consumer trust in digital marketing

Source: Civic Science

Zoom’s user base exploded and so did its underlying issues

Apple and Google want to turn your phone into a Covid-tracking machine

Fossil teeth uncovered in Peru reveal that an extinct family of primates, thought to have lived only in Africa, made it across the ocean

Bernie Sanders quits: It looked so good for him. What went wrong?

Weekly readings – 5th April 2020

Colonial-era Nile river treaties are to blame for the unresolved dispute over Ethiopia’s dam

Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus

Covid-19 impact on retail

How Apple is working from home

Source: Visual Capitalist

Phone companies are required to take measures to combat robocalls

Howard Marks’ new note

Why Germany’s Coronavirus Death Rate Is Far Lower Than In Other Countries

Work from home productivity data

A story of how Microsoft struggled to get Skype to be competitive in the communication app world

How WHO Became China’s Coronavirus Accomplice

Google released Community Mobility Reports of areas and countries around the world as folks are staying home amid the threat of Covid-19

Weekly readings – 15th February 2020

An interesting piece on Lyft vs Uber

An argument for the challenges that Google is facing

This is what a hearing should be. Not the kind that has taken place lately

Spotify is evolving

Oklahoma State’s new identity. In my opinion, the new logo doesn’t look bad at all

This article sheds some light on the secretive S team at Amazon

The government’s revenue depends significantly on the tax receipts from citizens and corporations. So the revenue projection depends much on the assumptions of economic growth which seem too optimistic. It’s important to take into account the feasibility of these assumptions; which the media may not capture fully or an average citizen cares enough about

Weekly readings – 25th Jan 2020

The Case Against Huawei

America’s new favorite restaurants are Wawa, Sheetz and 7-Eleven. It’s interesting to see a shift in the behavior of consumers who prefer not walking around in big stores or driving to a fast food restaurant.

Why it only costs $10k to ‘own’ a Chick-fil-A franchise

Why Japan is so successful at returning lost property

A concerning piece on Bumble, its toxic culture and a CEO that doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence

From the darling of fast fashion to bankruptcy: the tale of Forever 21’s demise. This should be the perfect case study for inadequate management, failing leadership and inability to adapt to the changing environment.

The State of Mobile in 2020. App Annie 2020 Report

The SaaS Marketing Bible [41+ Strategies & Case-Studies]. Certainly some good bits of information in there

How Ghent, a city in Belgium, inspired Birmingham to encourage more pubic transit usage

“[A city’s] best car plan is a bike plan,” he said. “Providing more space for walking and cycling leads not only to more people walking and cycling, it also makes space for people who really need to use their cars.”

The Guardian

Ethiopia Pushes Privatization to Give Its Economy a Sugar Rush

Source: DuckDuckGo

An excellent ads by Apple