Weekly reading – 28th May 2022

Business

Apple Looks to Boost Production Outside China. It’s good for Apple to at least consider operations in other countries to hedge risks. However, it’s not easy to move out of China completely. The book “After Steve” mentioned an episode in which Apple practically had to beg Foxconn to help stand up an assembly line for Apple Watch (I am not 100% about the product in question) overnight because the other chosen supplier screwed up. Foxconn had the resources to do wonders. Replicating such expertise and capabilities in other countries will be very time-consuming and difficult. Plus, doing business in China certainly helps Apple cultivate a relationship with the government. In such a regime, that’s critical.

Cannes: How Japanese Anime Became the World’s Most Bankable Genre. Japanese Anime has incredible IPs. Streaming introduces viewers to content that they had never seen before. Even in my 30s, I am still following some of the anime franchises that I read as a kid. I’d love to explore more if I had the time. It’s not just for kids. Adults love anime too

It’s TikTok’s World Now. Facebook Just Tries to Make People Care About It. The biggest takeaway I have from this piece is that Facebook seems to have trouble dethroning TikTok more than it did any challengers before. Creators still make money on Instagram, but that doesn’t seem to stop TikTok from growing. Interestingly, Facebook had a chance to buy TikTok years ago, but passed. Now, they must rue that decision every day.

Plant-Based Dairy Reinvigorates Milk Category. I do think the popularity of plant-based dairy results from the fact that consumers are more health-conscious. Have you looked at the difference in calorie per serving between meat-based and plant-based milk?

50 years in: Nike’s game plan for winning with women. For obvious reasons, I don’t know anything about women clothing, but it is interesting to read about Nike’s approach to winning this category. Unless there are specific reasons, I naturally support a simple product portfolio. Consumers don’t get confused. Brands can put more marketing dollars and focus behind each product.

Google Takes Yet Another Run at E-Commerce—and Amazon. A super interesting read on Google’s latest efforts into e-Commerce. Based on the article, this time, Google may be onto something. Consumers start to use Google to search for products more than previously, a territory that used to belong to Amazon. E-commerce was also a leading contributor to the bump in search revenue in 2021. With that being said, 2020 and 2021 were great for e-Commerce, but since the economy opened up and folks went back to stores and office, e-Commerce has seen its growth dampened. Whether this trend will affect Google’s effects in the future remains to be seen

Other stuff I find interesting

The Trouble With Lithium. This grim ripping read on Lithium is in line with what I read so far about the element. Demand far outweighs supply, pushing the price to unprecedented heights. The trend will persist for a few years to come. For good measure, even though extracting and producing Lithium have adverse impact on the environment, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative on the horizon.

The butterflies we may never see again in Britain. Super beautiful

The Science Is Clear: Gun Control Saves Lives. For the life of me, I don’t understand how an 18-year-old who cannot get a beer from a bar legally can buy an automatic weapon and shoot dead 19 people. It’s just insane. Take driving as an example. Try driving after either 3 beers or 2 Old Fashioneds and see if you get a DUI. We ban people who consume alcohol from driving, but we close our eyes at folks who may have malicious intent and try to get a weapon. How does that make sense? Look up how Japan regulates gun possession and usage. Then compare the deaths in mass shootings between the two countries. To be perfectly clear, nobody is arguing to take away the right to bear arms. Just like nobody wants to take away the right to drive. We just want access to fire arms to be regulated and controlled so that the tragedies stop. And I read the 2nd Amendment. I don’t think the proponents of the Amendment understand it well…

Stats

Domestic air fares in April 2022 were up 27% compared to April 2019 and 8% month over month

US online grocery sales in April 2022 declined by 4% year over year

45% of devs that earned more than $1 mil in 2021 were not on the App Store or had less than $10,000 in earnings five years before

US Hotel room rates in April and first two weeks of May 2022 were 10-14% higher than the same period in 2019

Source: STR

Weekly reading – 4th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple’s financials through charts

Amazon’s financials through charts

Business

Hungarian Refugee Founded Car-Parts Maker Linamar in Canada. An amazing entrepreneurship story from an immigrant who slept on train station benches and had only a few dollars to himself. The so-called American Dream is not exclusive to America. It can happen anywhere if people have the will

Losses Mount for Startups Racing to Deliver Groceries Fast and Cheap. Food or grocery delivery market is competitive and cut-throat. If you don’t have the scale, you’ll have to spend lavishly in the beginning to acquire merchants and users. Hence, every order is a money loser. Surely, new comers add to competition for the incumbents, but how long the new comers can persist and compete is another matter

Why Japanese Businesses Are So Good at Surviving Crises. “Many companies are stuck in short-termism, focusing on a strategic plan for five years,” he says. “But a lot of Japanese companies think about 100 or 200 years from now and envision the kind of future they want to create. During the tsunami disaster, the key mindset of executives was: We have to empathize with others. And companies ought to do the same thing now, during the current crisis, empathizing with those who are suffering and trying to figure out how to help.”

Google Is Searching for a Way to Win the Cloud. It’s mind-blowing to me that Google has been spending much of the last three years on bolstering its reliability, yet there were still issues. It goes to show how difficult it is to build a service such as AWS, Azure or GCP.

Inside Spotify’s Joe Rogan Crisis. After Twitter, Facebook and Google, Spotify is another organization that has an unenviable task of dealing with content moderation. The Joe Rogan show is hugely popular and draws eyeballs which equate to money for Spotify. However, that puts Spotify in a bind because his controversial content is opposed by some employees and influential artists. Facebook, for example, has poured literally billions of dollars over the years into content moderation. I wonder how much the urge to strike a balance of business and, let’s say, civic responsibility will cost Spotify. More important, whether they will be able to strike that balance at all

Other stuff that I find interesting

Cracking a $2 million crypto wallet. A fascinating story with a happy ending. I was too close to losing my cryptos once. Luckily, I remembered my password and did my utmost to ensure that I won’t be in the same situation again. At least that’s what I think.

Scientists Are Racing to Understand the Fury of Tonga’s Volcano. 10 million tons of TNT are just unfathomable to me. It’s amazing what Mother Nature can do. We are just too small and there are a lot to learn. This volcano eruption is one example

Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy. Whether you agree or disagree with the previous administration’s policies and ideology, the fact remains that Operation Warp Speed helped bring the much needed vaccines to the world. For that, it’s a success

Rafael Nadal: The ‘tough love’ that shaped a 21-time Grand Slam champion. The man with the most Grand Slams in history started his journey under a strict mentorship from his own uncle who taught Nadal the value of hard work and discipline.

Stats

Amazon bought 20% of all clean-energy purchases by global corporations in 2021

FTC reported that $770 million was lost to frauds initiated on social media in 2021

There were 9 million credit card non-prime originations in Q3 2021, up 75% YoY

“Of the mass shootings that took place from 1966 to 2019, 20% occurred in the last five years studied”

Weekly reading – 22nd January 2022

What I wrote last week

Square Online’s on-demand delivery

Netflix’s price hike

Uber Eats lags behind DoorDash in the US. Advertisers made up 18% of Uber merchants

Business

Another gem from Howard Marks. “Superior investing consists largely of taking advantage of mistakes made by others.  Clearly, selling things because they’re down is a mistake that can give the buyers great opportunities. So it’s generally not a good idea to sell for purposes of market timing.  There are very few occasions to do so profitably and very few people who possess the skill needed to take advantage of these opportunities. Thus, someone entering adulthood today is practically guaranteed to be well fixed by the time they retire if they merely start investing promptly and avoid tampering with the process by trading. On April 11, 2019, The Motley Fool cited data from JP Morgan Asset Management’s 2019 Retirement Guide showing that in the 20-year period between 1999 and 2018, the annual return on the S&P 500 was 5.6%, but your return would only have been 2.0% if you had sat out the 10 best days (or roughly 0.4% of the trading days), and you wouldn’t have made any money at all if you had missed the 20 best days.  In the past, returns have often been similarly concentrated in a small number of days.  Nevertheless, overactive investors continue to jump in and out of the market, incurring transactions costs and capital gains taxes and running the risk of missing those “sharp bursts“”

Google Misled Publishers and Advertisers, Unredacted Lawsuit Alleges.Google misled publishers and advertisers for years about the pricing and processes of its ad auctions, creating secret programs that deflated sales for some companies while increasing prices for buyers, according to newly unredacted allegations and details in a lawsuit by state attorneys general. Meanwhile, Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers that an ad cost and used the pool of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly, the newly unredacted complaint alleges. The documents cite internal correspondence in which Google employees said some of these practices amounted to growing its business through “insider information.”

Shams vs. the ‘Woj bomb’: Sports reporters are duking it out for scoops on Twitter, and their value is soaring. The business of being constantly on the phone for breaking news sounds excruciating and exhausting

Interview: Ryan Petersen, founder and CEO of Flexport. “One thing to remember here is that in America, the ports are owned by the local city that they’re in. Therefore, they’re not managed as a strategic national asset, which they clearly are. The first thing that I would do if I were in charge would be to actually put a team in charge. Right now, there isn’t a dedicated team within the federal government to coordinate all public and private sector activities to help resolve the supply chain crisis. It’s spread across multiple regulatory agencies, jurisdictions and levels of government. The two big bottlenecks are a lack of chassis and a lack of yard space both at the container terminals and in the yards around neighboring cities. We know that the federal government and the state government of California owns a lot of land so we’d love to see them make it available for storing containers and creating off-terminal storage facilities where truckers can pick up containers easily without having to wait in long lines at the gate to the ports.”

What JPMorgan is doing with that $12 billion tech spend. The threat from fintech startups is real. It should be applauded that an incumbent like JP Morgan stays vigilant and is willing to invest a chunk of money to stay competitive. Not every company can do that. With regard to the ROI of this $12 billion investment, I get that folks can be skeptical when the management doesn’t reveal it. But at the same time, there are benefits that are very hard to quantify and the technology roadmap can change all the time.

Google Team That Keeps Services Online Rocked by Mental Health Crisis. A damning account of Google’s working culture, which once was a draw for talents

Peloton reportedly pauses bike and treadmill production because of lack of demand. The darling Covid stock now bears the brunt of ineffective management and operational flaws. They invested a lot in supply, only to find out that they picked all the low hanging fruits on the market and that they couldn’t sign up more customers.

Other stuff I found interesting

Nowa Huta: The city that went from communism to capitalism. An interesting story on how a Polish city transformed itself from a communist ruin into a vibrant city powered by capitalism

Tesla Wooed by India States After Elon Musk Flags Challenges. I am not really a fan of governments at different levels being pitted against one another by rich companies. Companies always go to states that offer them the biggest benefits; which do not often translate into better lives for the constituents and local economies. If Musk and Tesla have to enter India, and if the federal and state governments are unified in how they welcome Tesla, what choice would Tesla have?

How Big Beef Is Fueling the Amazon’s Destruction. “More than 70% of deforested land in the Amazon turns into pasture, the first step in a supply chain that’s among the most complex in the world.”

Stats

Ho Chi Minh City startups raise $1.1 billion in venture capital in 2021

Apple Card’s balance as of Q4 2021 was $8 billion

7 million or more than 5% of US households are unbanked

Alcohol sales was boosted by Covid. Source: Bloomberg

Companies on Apple’s App Tracking Transparency

Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency (ATT) in iOS14.6 several months ago. The idea is that any app that wants to track users even after users stop using the app has to ask for permission. If permission isn’t granted, the app or developers can’t follow users around off premise. Such a lack of signal could result in weakened…tracking, targeting, measure and of course, advertisers’ income. Since the introduction of ATT, some advertisers and developers have voiced fierce criticisms towards Apple for abusing its power. The criticisms grew harsher after Apple debuted its own advertising network. Even though Apple doesn’t rely on 3rd party data for tracking, the move and the awkward timing make it look like Apple doesn’t do it for user privacy, but merely for its own pocket. Privacy proponents, on the other hand, praise this move by Apple as it gives the end users a choice to allow tracking or not. Both sides have strong opinions. But what do the stakeholders have to say? How have companies been affected by the change from Apple?

In this post, I’ll cite as many opinions from relevant parties in this debate as I can, so readers can form their own opinion. I’ll add my own thoughts on this debate in the end

Again, look, I think from our perspective, we haven’t really seen a negative impact of the Apple changes. As we said before, it’s beginning to become a more complex world from a data and privacy perspective.I think that makes the advice to give our clients more important. It will have an impact on individual media owners, depending on their business model. And I think those that have been impacted have been those companies that tend to have sort of a big app download business, which is linked very carefully to the ability to track what’s happening. That’s not part of the business in which we really operate, so I think accounts for the — perhaps the surprises that you saw there.

WPP CEO Mark Read – Q3 Earnings Call

Yes. So for us, it didn’t really have much of an impact. We did — like a lot of people, we’re very aware of it. We have a very big brand business which wasn’t significantly impacted at all. And the fact that we are — have a ton of first-party data with all of our users being logged into the service really helped us grow. So we didn’t really see much of an impact at all. We don’t see much going forward, although we’ll continue to monitor it. And Q4, for us, the biggest impact on Q4 will just be continued growth in podcast and in inventory. We know the demand is there. We know the advertisers are there.So for us, it’s just continuing to expand the inventory available for advertisers.

Spotify CFO Paul Vogel – Q3 2021 Earnings Call

Let me also spend a moment on ATT. We continue to see opportunities around personalization on Twitter as we better leverage our unique signal to improve people’s experience and show their more effective ads across both brand and direct response. The revenue impact we experienced from ATT in Q3 increased on a sequential basis but remains modest. The impact of ATT is likely to vary across ad platforms given the unique mix of ad formats, signal and remediations on each as well as other factors, the mitigations we put in place and the speed with which we’ve adopted new standards like the SKAdNetwork and resulting changes across our technical stack have contributed to minimizing the impact to us.

Since the launch of ATT in April, we’ve invested in supporting SKAdNetwork, opening up 30%-plus more inventory and scale on iOS and launch support for view-through attribution and SK Campaign ID management features in the Twitter ads manager. It’s still too early for Twitter to assess the long-term impact of Apple’s privacy-related IOS changes, but the Q3 revenue impact was lower than expected, and we’ve incorporated an ongoing modest impact into our Q4 guidance. We’ve seen our revenue product development, both related to and distinct from ATT, improved the performance of our products, and we expect that to continue.

Twitter CFO Ned Segal – Q3 2021 Earnings Call

In terms of the iOS 14 changes specifically, they had a modest impact on YouTube revenues. That was primarily in direct response. I think as you all know well, focusing on privacy has been core to what we’ve been doing consistently

Alphabet/Google CEO Ruth Porat – Q3 2021 Earnings Call

Rich, thanks so much for the question and share your disappointment. This has definitely been a frustrating setback for us. But I think over the long term, these privacy changes and protecting privacy for users of iOS and, of course, the Snapchat community is really important to the long-term health of the ecosystem and something that we fully support.

I think when we saw these changes coming, our primary focus was the performance of our advertising platform in the face of this signal loss. So could we still really drive advertising performance, optimize campaigns, make sure our ads were in front of the right people. And we spent the vast majority of our engineering time and effort and energy making sure our ads were still really effective. And we did all sorts of revenue back testing to make sure that we could be revenue neutral. And we were really confident in our ability to drive results with our advertising platform despite the signal loss.

But what I think we really underestimated were the tooling changes. And so what I mean by that specifically is that advertisers have essentially for a long time now, used a set of really sophisticated tools to measure and optimize their campaigns. So that allows them to test out a bunch of different creative and see what’s performing more effectively and so on and so forth. And the big change there was that with these new Apple changes, those tools were essentially rendered blind. And in their place, Apple released a new product called SKAdNetwork that allows advertisers to measure across different advertising platforms but without a lot of the flexibility that they’re used to. So for example, you can only really measure your advertising results using the success parameters that Apple is already defined. The reporting is delayed for a significant period of time and often unavailable, if you don’t hit a certain threshold of conversion. It’s very hard to see performance on a creative level.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel – Q3 2021 Earnings Call

A dozen e-commerce companies interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said they now have to spend a lot more money on these ads to get the same number of sales from them that they could expect before the new feature was rolled out. They also can’t get enough data to know how effective these ads are at driving purchases. Many have reduced their ad spending on targeted-ad platforms. In a July poll of 118 e-commerce store owners by eCommerceFuel, 62% said they had decreased their Facebook ad spending since the iOS upgrade.

Source: WSJ

We’ve been open about the fact that there were headwinds coming, and we’ve experienced that in Q3. The biggest is the impact of Apple iOS 14 changes, which has created headwinds for others in the industry as well, major challenges for small businesses and advantaged Apple’s own advertising business. We started to see that impact in Q2, but adoption on the consumer side ramped up by late June, so it hit critical mass in Q3.

Overall, if it wasn’t for Apple’s iOS 14 changes, we would have seen positive quarter-over-quarter revenue growth. And while we and our advertisers will continue to feel the effect of these changes in future quarters, we will continue working hard to mitigate them.

On targeting, we focused on improving campaign performance even with the increased limitations facing our industry. We’re building commerce tools to help businesses reach more new customers and get more incremental sales. And over the longer term, we’re developing privacy-enhancing technologies in collaboration with others across the industry to help minimize the amount of personal information we process while still allowing us to show relevant ads. Progress in these areas will take time and will be a focus for us throughout 2022 and beyond.On measurement, as we wrote in a recent blog post, we believe we are underreporting iOS web conversions. This means real-world conversions like sales and app installs are higher than what’s being reported from many advertisers, especially small advertisers. We’re making good progress fixing this. We think we’ll be able to address more than half of the underreporting by the end of this year, and we’ll continue to work on this into 2022.

Facebook COO Shreyl Sandberg – Q3 2021 Earnings Call

Kathy Huberty: And Tim, as a follow-up. We recently surveyed 4,000 consumers in the U.S. and China, and the feedback is most of them don’t want to pay for apps or services direct with the developer. They value the security, privacy, ease of transactions with the App Store. So how do you think about balancing the regulators push for more choice with a customer base that’s happy with the existing experience?

Tim Cook: The main thing that we’re focused on, on the App Store is to keep our focus on privacy and security. And so these are the 2 major tenets that have produced over the years a very trusted environment where consumers and developers come together and consumers can trust the developers on the developers and the apps or what they say they are and the developers get a huge audience to sell their software to. And so that’s sort of #1 on our list. Everything else is a distant second.

Apple Q4 2021 Earnings Call

My take

This issue features different stakeholders with varied interests. Even from the advertiser side, companies receive the change from Apple in various ways, depending on whether they are affected by it more or less than their rivals. Hence, when it comes to the question of whether ATT is a net benefit change, then we have to ask: for whom? For consumers, I do think it’s a great development. The surveillance tracking has been the standard practice in digital advertising for years. However, it doesn’t have to continue this way in the future. Consumers used to not have a say in the matter. Now they do. The choice is totally up to them and I think it’s great.

For businesses that rely on digital marketing, it’s undeniable that there is a short-term pain. As you can see above, some have to invest more money in digital ads for the same result. While I feel for them, the fact and the matter is that changes in external environments are part of doing business. Something that business owners have to encounter and overcome.

Regarding advertisers, I’ll say the same thing. The big change has finally arrived. Advertisers can either adapt to a society that is more conscious of privacy or keep complaining. Based on the commentary above, some advertisers have had little adverse impact so far from ATT. They invested in new tools, first-party data, distribution and products to overcome the obstacle. Even Facebook, the biggest whiner, also talked about how they tried to minimize the impact on their business. I don’t blame Facebook or any advertiser for vocal opposition. They do what they have to for their interest. But if millions of dollars is created in spite of violation of consumer privacy, then perhaps it’s time to change.

For Apple, even though apps and developers are important stakeholders in their ecosystems, the number one priority is still consumers. Whether you like Apple or not, the company is trusted by consumers, especially on the privacy front. For years, they have implemented services, software and hardware features that promote privacy. Because of this track record, for the time being, I believe in Apple. Of course, the company also wants to grow their highly profitable advertising network. Where Apple earns credit is that they manage to find a sweet spot that overlaps the two interests. With that being said, the introduction of Apple Search Ads after ATT plants the seed of doubt over their motive. Does it mean that what Apple did is inherently wrong? Not really. Companies exist to make money and look out for their and their shareholders’ interest. Apple is doing what it believes to be the best for their business. Is Apple a bit too much when it speaks from an ivory tower while launching its own ads network? Yeah, but that’s what every corporate Marketing department does.

Based on what I have seen so far, and I will continue to follow this issue, the advent of ATT is a significant change with big consequences in eCommerce, mobile ads and digital ads. I think a year from now, we will not decry ATT as something that wrecks peoples’ livelihood. Instead, it will bring about positive changes and innovation. Perhaps a similar move from Android within the next 2,3 quarters?

Disclaimer: I have a position on Apple, Facebook, Snapchat, Spotify

Weekly reading – 9th October 2021

What I wrote last week

The Mundanity of Excellence

Good Business reads

Measuring the Moat. An absolute belter. If you want to understand the bases of competitive moats without paying thousands of dollars for a degree, read this one article instead. Oh and it’s marvelously free.

Google’s pivot away from bank accounts shows why finance is a tough industry for tech giants. The article cited the fear of damaging the cloud business and the regulatory scrutiny as the reasons why Google is abandoning its plan to get into the financial world. But there is perhaps one more reason. Google may have concluded that their organization isn’t set up to do well in the financial world and the likes of Apple or PayPal are far better positioned to compete. Why risking billions of dollars when the upside doesn’t look that likely?

Inside the Rise of the Game-Changing ‘Chipotlane’. “Digital represented a $916 million business for Chipotle in the second quarter of 2021. When Chipotle collected $262 million in digital sales in Q2 2019, it marked a 99 percent year-over-year rise and was more than it produced in all of 2016. The Chipotlane doesn’t have a menuboard. It’s a digital order drive-thru pickup lane where guests who pay in advance arrive and get their food from a quick handoff. Restricting Chipotlanes to digital orders stripped friction out of the process. And it avoided past concerns that kept Chipotle from ever seriously considering the channel, fast casual perception or not. New Chipotlanes continue to open with sales 20 percent higher than traditional formats. They operate with 200 basis-points higher restaurant-level margin. This incremental profit comfortably offsets the $75,000–$100,000 cost of a Chipotlane and yield cash-on-cash return of at least 500 basis points above standard locations, BTIG analyst Peter Saleh said.

LRT Capital Q3 Investor Letter. It includes a nice write-up on Tractor Supply and was written by an intern

Other stuff that I found interesting

Facebook to act on illegal sale of Amazon rainforest. Significant changes only happen when those in power put it to good use. As in this case. It’s a waste and pity that in some cases, powerful entities like Facebook take no action because they fear backlash or hit to their bottom line.

The great Koh Kong land rush: Areas stripped of protection by Cambodian gov’t being bought up. The amount of forest loss has increased markedly in Cambodia in recent years. The same phenomenon has happened in Vietnam for years. What good is technology when we can’t preserve the Earth and natural landscapes for future generations?

iPhone Macro: A Big Day for Small Things

Writing In Public, Inside Your Company. This makes me think a lot about what I can do at work to make writing more popular

Stats

Almost 78% of all new cars in Norway in September were battery electric vehicles

Only 1 out of 4 households in Europe invest in equities and funds since 2008, compared to 50% in the U.S

90% of American shoppers still consider prices as the most important driver in fresh food consumption

40% of US shoppers will start their holiday shopping earlier this year than they did last year. 22% have already begun, with another 22% planning to get started before Black Friday, per Klarna

87% of teens own an iPhone and 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone; Apple is No. 1 watch brand for first time

The productivity app Notion announced that they currently have 20 million users, 80% of which are outside of the U.S

Weekly reading – 2nd October 2021

What I wrote last week

How our brains receive messages and some implications

Articles on Business

Bessemer Venture Partners struck gold with their investment in Toast, which went public recently. Their memo outlining the rationale such an investment is worth a read, especially for those who want to learn about Toast, those who want to learn Business and those who wish to go into Venture Capital.

Apple’s power move to kneecap Facebook advertising is working. A pretty biased article if you ask me. This is a complicated and nuanced issue, yet the author focuses more on the alleged impact that the privacy-centric features Apple introduced have on Facebook business. It does mention: “People are opting out of Facebook’s tracking for a reason: they no longer trust the company with their data after years of evidence they should not. But the context of Apple’s power move is important too.” What it fails to convey is that small businesses do have a problem when it relies on a single channel (Facebook, in this case) for survival. The article fails to articulate why it is Apple’s responsibility to take care of Facebook’s interest. Look, I totally agree that Apple does things out of its self-interest as all of us do. Most of the time, Apple masks its true intention with shiny marketing language as all companies do. But it’s strange to side with Facebook and its tactic to use small businesses as weapons in the war with Apple WITHOUT looking at the issue from the consumer perspective.

Google, Battling Amazon, Tries an E-Commerce Makeover to Win Back Advertisers.Amazon’s accelerating ad business has raised alarms inside Google, prompting Chief Executive Sundar Pichai to assure Alphabet’s board that rejuvenating its flagging e-commerce efforts is a priority, according to former Google executives. He must fix a mess of Google’s own making. The company has rebooted its digital shopping strategy at least four times over two decades and has had five leaders of its e-commerce operations in 10 years, the former executives said. “Google is almost like the living dead” in e-commerce, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of CommerceIQ, an online-retail service provider. “No one goes there for shopping.”

How IBM lost the cloud. “Over and over again during the last decade, IBM engineers were asked to build special one-off projects for key clients at the expense of their road maps for building the types of cross-customer cloud services offered by the major clouds. Top executives at some of the largest companies in the country — the biggest banks, airlines and insurance companies — knew they could call IBM management and get what they wanted because the company was so eager to retain their business, the sources said. This practice, which delayed work on key infrastructure services for months or even years, was still happening inside IBM as recently as last year, according to one source.

Narrative Distillation. “Even today, the ability to get strong engineers to work on a problem engineers normally don’t want to work on remains a very strong formula for returns. You can increasingly see other top companies shifting to invest more in their company and founder brands. Product market fit is just narrative distillation for customers. It only makes sense that this same process is as crucial for investors and employees, too. And just as we have spent so many years reinforcing the primacy of founders focusing on product market fit—and the process of how companies converge on it—so too must founders take distilling their narratives for all audiences equally seriously.

BNPL Fund Flows
Neobank Landscape

Other stuff that I find interesting

History’s Seductive Beliefs. “Everything has a price, and the price is usually proportionate to the potential rewards. But the price is rarely on a price tag. You don’t pay it with cash. Most things worth pursuing charge their fee in the form of stress, doubt, uncertainty, dealing with quirky people, bureaucracy, other peoples’ conflicting incentives, hassle, nonsense, and general bullshit. That’s the overhead cost of getting ahead.

Ditching your commute: worth ~$40K/year in happiness

Our constitutional crisis is already here. “There was a time when political analysts wondered what would happen when Trump failed to “deliver” for his constituents. But the most important thing Trump delivers is himself. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on Trump by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of Trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: When Trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One Trump supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against Trump “. A somber yet real read on the constitutional crisis that is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

This embroidery has a great talent in bringing aerial landscapes to life. Check it out!

Stats

Almost 25 million people played golf in the U.S in 2020

TikTok Claims the App Now Tops 1 Billion Monthly Active Users

Weekly reading – 26th June 2021

What I wrote last week

A great podcast episode on Formula One as a business

Business

The World Relies on One Chip Maker in Taiwan, Leaving Everyone Vulnerable. The whole tech industry relies so much on TSMC and the story is likely to continue in the near future. It’s expensive and time-consuming for other countries to build anything that can compete with TSMC. On the other hand, this puts TSMC in an awkward position where it has to deftly navigate the complex political conflicts between superpowers.

Shop Pay available to all businesses on Facebook and Google. I think Shopify is trying to do two things here with this move: 1/ it’s trying to use Shop Pay as an acquisition tool. By making the checkout option available to even non-Shopify merchants on Facebook and Google, it is hoping that the tool can lure these merchants into selling on their platform. 2/ Obviously, this is going to also help Shopify increase revenue. Even though Shopify’s GMV has grown seriously in the last few years, GMV of non-Shopify merchants should be a lot bigger. Taking a slice of every non-Shopify transaction can be a lucrative business

Amazon labels millions of unsold products for destruction, new investigation finds. Lately there have been way too many articles that shed light on distasteful aspects of Amazon, from unbearable waste to unacceptable treatment of its worker. I have to admit that even though I am a fan of the business as I learned a lot from its story and I am a shareholder, I am strongly considering selling it as it’s just not comfortable any more.

A timeline of Google’s attempts at building a messaging app. The fact that you may be more familiar with Zoom, Teams or Slack should tell you a lot about how successful these attempts have been. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that they won’t succeed, ever.

Facebook officially launched audio rooms and podcasts in the U.S. Facebook is an extremely fast follower that is quite often deadly and effective at scaling what others made known. How they are going to make these new features will be interesting. I mean I am not an active Facebook user and neither are most of the people in my circle. Who will use these features to create content? Will celebrities and people that have a following choose to host their content on Facebook? Especially given that they should already have a home on either Twitter or Clubhouse? One big advantage that Facebook has over Twitter and especially Clubhouse is that it is much more famous and the network effect is easier to scale.

This one email explains Apple. The article does a good job of fleshing out a very interesting email exchange that could well be the foundation of the App Store

What I found interesting

Incredible 15th-Century Japanese Technique for Growing Ultra-Straight Cedar Trees. I love Japan and its culture. This is just one of the many many reasons.

Adobe launched tools to create 3D

Marc Andreessen just had a very interesting interview recently. In response to the question of what advice he would give to a 23-year-old, here is what he had to say

Don’t follow your passion. Seriously. Don’t follow your passion. Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time.

Instead, at work, seek to contribute. Find the hottest, most vibrant part of the economy you can and figure out how you can contribute best and most. Make yourself of value to the people around you, to your customers and coworkers, and try to increase that value every day.

It can sometimes feel that all the exciting things have already happened, that the frontier is closed, that we’re at the end of technological history and there’s nothing left to do but maintain what already exists. This is just a failure of imagination. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re surrounding by rotting incumbents that will all need to be replaced by new technologies. Let’s get on it.

Source: Interview with Marc Andreessen by Noah Opinion

Stats that may interest you

The average age of vehicles in the U.S was 12.1 years in 2020

Shops, Facebook’s equivalent to Shopify, has 300 million monthly visitors and over 1.2 million monthly active Shops

DuckDuckGo has been downloaded 50 million times over the last 12 months and it has been profitable since 2014

Weekly reading – 19th June 2021

What I wrote last week

A study that revealed people preferred an electric shock to being left alone with their own thoughts

Some interesting comments from Walt Disney CEO on the business

Business

How Ondo’s Customers Using Shop Pay Installments Are Spending 2x More Than Regular Customers. The concept of BNPL isn’t new. What is interesting is that it is now adopted for stuff like socks.

Apple admits why its own Files app was ranked first when users searched for competitor Dropbox. Not a good look for Apple. It does seem that the top brass at the company didn’t know about this issue at all and once the issue was revealed, it was opposed. However, the thing about being the top brass is that you have to take responsible for what your direct reports do.

An interesting presentation on Mistakes of Omission. If you are into investing, this presentation can be very thought-provoking. One of the things that I keep thinking about is whether I am paying too much for a business and whether I unnecessarily increase my average price. I haven’t invested for a long time, but so far, most of my biggest winners happen when I decided to increase my average

A look inside Google’s first store. I hope that Google will use these stores as a showroom to demonstrate to the end users the awesome features it releases every year. Yes, the company isn’t known for making great hardware like Apple is, but the stores’ functionality doesn’t need to be restricted to hardware only. They can be a place to bolster customer relationships and educate end users on a variety of Google services. How many Google features do you not know? How many do you actually know about but haven’t used because they all seem abstract and complex at first glance?

PayPal lowers their rates for U.S merchants on Visa/Mastercard transactions and raised rates for their own products. This is quite a bold move to compete with Stripe, Square and Authorize.net as well as to clearly showcase their position. PayPal is confident enough in the appeal of their own offerings that they think a rate hike is justified. Recently, PayPal has been very aggressive on multiple fronts: engaging merchants and acquiring new users. I got multiple offers from PayPal and Venmo recently from $5 to download the app, $10 to reactivate my Venmo account or $10 to refer a friend.

A couple of interesting posts by CNBC on Roku here and here. I am not working at Roku, so I don’t know what the culture is like. Even if I knew what it was like, it would still be difficult to make a generalization as a culture works for many but doesn’t for others. Still an interesting case study

What I found interesting

I saw millions compromise their Facebook accounts to fuel fake engagement

This is a story about a Japanese diplomat who courageously defied his own government to save hundreds of Jews decades ago. I had never heard of Chiune Sugihara. I am glad that I did this week

I am not a fan of the New York Times nor am I a subscriber. But this investigative piece on the train crash in Mexico City is excellent

Senate passed a bill that would make it easier for folks to unsubscribe online. What can I say? Long overdue. One of the things that rarely come out of the Senate. All those subscription services, especially newspapers outlets, should feel ashamed of themselves for making it overly difficult for consumers to unsubscribe. I hope they will make this kind of shenanigan illegal.

When you are keenly aware of your own struggles but blind to others’, it’s easy to assume you’re missing some skill or secret that others have.

When someone is viewed as more extraordinary than they are, you’re more likely to overvalue their opinion on things they have no special talent in.

Everyone’s dealing with problems they don’t advertise, at least until you get to know them well. Keep that in mind and you become more forgiving – to yourself and others.

Source: Harder Than It Looks, Not As Fun as It Seems

Stats that may interest you

The price of lumber in the US shot up by 377% last year

40% of elementary students in Vietnam are obese, according to the latest survey by the Ministry of Health

Weekly reading – 29th May 2021

What I wrote last week

My review of Amazon Unbound

Business

A long post that outlines a bull thesis on Peloton

An excellent review of the new Apple store in Rome. Apple’s retail stores are great valuable assets. They build up the brand image of the company and function as hubs where customers can try out products, receive services and just really connect with the brand.

Instacart kicks off Priority Delivery. This new move by Instacart to deliver items in 30 minutes shows how cut-throat this market is. Competitors such as Instacart, Uber Eats or DoorDash strive to cut the delivery time to gain customers and market share. What remains to be seen is how it would affect Instacart’s bottom line. I don’t think that they are profitable yet. So, we’ll see when they release their S-1.

DoorDash and Uber Eats Are Hot. They’re Still Not Making Money. A pretty telling piece on delivery services

Amazon Briefing: A look inside Amazon’s cloud gaming ambitions

What I found interesting

Financial and emotional risks of working for a startup. Somebody took the time to write about the potential downsides of working at a startup. There are a lot of things to love about startup life and I am pleased to see people talk about it. But it’s also important to shed light on the risks as well

Google now lets you password-protect the page that shows all your searches. Privacy and security are powerful user preferences that are NOT going away any time soon. In fact, they will only get stronger. Google should do more and talk more about what they do in this area. I haven’t seen a lot of marketing efforts in talking about their initiatives to protect user data and privacy

How a Japanese Company Cut 80% of the Time Needed to Manually Count Pearls

Payment links from Stripe. This is what innovation should be

No, Millennials Aren’t Poorer Than Previous Generations. What stood out for me is that Millennials have more non-mortgage debts.

Stats that may interest you

As of 5/24/2021, 40%, 43% and 62% of Airbnb bookings for the summer of 2021 in Seattle, LA and NYC respectively were more than 28 days

75% of Target’s digital orders were fulfilled by their stores. 30 million Americans shop at Target every week

2.5% – 3.5% is what Costco reported as inflation in the latest quarter

iMac 2021’s thickness is 11.5mm, 1 mm slimmer than iPhone 2

Overwork Killed More Than 745,000 People In A Year, WHO Study Finds

Weekly reading – 1st May 2021

What I wrote last week

Olo, a SaaS company specializing in services for restaurants

The year the Earth changed

Business

Match’s Winning Formula for Online Dating in Japan Gives Women Control, Makes Men Pay. It’s amazing that an app available only in Taiwan, Korea and Japan is the 3rd highest ranked dating app. The ability to infuse a local culture and etiquette into an online dating app is a strength not to be discounted. Also, tucked in this article is IAC’s expertise in identifying hidden gems and turning them into diamonds

Florida is the latest state to create e-commerce tax. This development will be a boon to tax applications. The complexity of handling state taxes will spur SMBs or corporations to adopt these applications

Amazon lets advertisers send targeted messages for first time

Hey Google, Who Has the Best Capital Allocation in the Internet Sector? Google/Alphabet definitely has a shot at being the best capital allocator with their acquisition of YouTube, DoubleClick and Admob. There are various smaller acquisitions that we probably don’t know about

iOS 14.5: A Guide to Apple’s New App-Tracking Controls. I already opted out of all the apps

Music Streaming Royalties 101

What I find interesting

Newark cops, with reform, didn’t fire a single shot in 2020. It’s baffling to me that we put a lot of regulations in place for doctors, nurses or bankers, but we somehow find it impossible to keep the police in check and accountable. What happens in Newark is proof that we can reduce police brutality AND crimes. It’s socially and economically great for our society. It happens in a big city in New York. So what’s the excuse again for not trying?

Why the U.S. Still Can’t Donate COVID-19 Vaccines to Countries in Need. I understand that these drugmakers want to protect themselves from liabilities. But seeing Indians die by the thousands while the US has a lot of unused AstraZeneca doses just doesn’t make any sense. Contract or not, I am confident all parties can come to agreeable conclusions on how to save a nation. In fact, nations for that matter.

Exclusive Photos Inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. If you haven’t watched the mini series Chernobyl on HBO, I really recommend it.

A working study by University of Chicago suggested that length domestic travel bans might lead to higher Covid infections

Stats that may interest you

Apple has 27 registered developers and rejects around 40% of the submitted apps

In FY 2019, developers earned almost $11 billion in total revenue from the App Store