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.

Ecommerce in Vietnam

Ecommerce in Vietnam is a booming industry that is estimated to be worth $24 billion in 2025. The competition is cut-throat and features heavily-invested companies such as Shopee, Sendo, Lazada and Tiki.

CompanyFunding SizeSource of FundingNext Round
Tiki$44 millionJD in 2018Announced plans to raise $100 million in Jun 2019
Shopee$51 million Parent company (SEA) in 2018
Lazada$2 billionAlibaba in Mar 2018
Sendo$51 millionSBI Holding in 2018Announced plans to raise $61 million in Nov 2019
Source: cafebiz

One of the biggest corporations in Vietnam, Vingroup, announced this month its intention to suspend all operations of adayroi, its e-commerce branch. For a good reason. In 2018, the four biggest e-commerce firms listed above lost a total of approximately $220 million.

Toàn cảnh bức tranh TMĐT năm 2019: Tứ hùng tranh bá Shopee - Tiki - Lazada - Sendo; Viettel gia nhập cuộc đua, Vingroup từ bỏ sàn đấu - Ảnh 6.
Source: cafebiz

The financial losses are understandable given the customer acquisition cost, investments in warehouses or assortment centers and the delivery cost. If Amazon Now is a standout service with its 2-hour delivery, within-day delivery can be considered a subpar service in the E-commerce world in Vietnam. Most of the main players are committed to delivery within hours inside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The following is what E-commerce players plus Grab, a major ride-sharing app and a pivotal delivery partner in Vietnam, commit with consumers. Note that these commitments come with restrictions.

E-commerce BrandDelivery Time
Tiki 2 hours
Shopee Express4 hours
GrabExpress6 hours
GrabExpress Sieu Toc30 minutes
Sendo & Grab3 hours
LazadaWithin 1-2 working days

It is no easy feat to make such a commitment given how terrible traffic is in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Look below for just a taste of what the traffic is like in the two biggest cities in Vietnam

Kinh khủng cảnh tượng kẹt xe sáng sớm ở Sài Gòn khiến cả ngàn người trễ giờ làm - ảnh 8
Source: Baomoi

It will be interesting to see how these companies can be profitable, how they can branch out to other provinces outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, how they can delivery returns to investors and whether they could come up with something similar to Prime and AWS that obviously contributed so much to the health and profitability of Amazon.

Some random observations in Vietnam

I am in the middle of a visit to Vietnam. Here are a few casual and randome observations I have had so far

Service fees

In addition to VAT, there is a new, at least to me, item on each bill: service fees. Based on my experience, it’s about 5% of the original bill. I hadn’t seen anything similar before.

Grab drivers in Hanoi don’t shift gears

A lot of Vietnamese people use manual scooters to commute. To be an effective and efficient driver, you need to shift gears so that you have more power after a stop and more speed when you are already moving stably. Effective gear shifting makes a ride more pleasant and protects the engine better. However, I noticed from a few Grab rides in Hanoi that drivers don’t shift gears. A few shifted gears, but it’s nowhere near enough to be effective

Grab drivers double charge customers the airport fees

At Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), there is a toll that automobile drivers need to pay only once when they are getting out of the airport. On my way home from the airport, I was asked by the driver to cover that fee, which amounts to 10,000 VND (roughly $0.4). I was fine with that because I saw him pay the toll. However, when I was in a car entering the airport, the driver never had to pay anything. Yet, he still charged me the same amount. I am sure that he would ask the next passenger to pay as well.

Traffic jam at the airport

Knowing the ridiculous amount of traffic overflow that Tan Son Nhat has to handle, I booked the second earliest flight to Hanoi and got to the airport around 4am, thinking that the check-in would be short and quick. Boy, was I wrong! It was super crowded. It took me 75 minutes in total to complete check-in and security checks! At 4AM! Imagine the normal or peak hours!

Difficulty in exchanging currencies

Before I left the US for Vietnam, I withdrew some cash to cover my expenses. The ATM gave me only $20 bills; which I had no problem with since I didn’t think there would be any issues. On the first day in Vietnam, I tried to convert it into the local currency and it was not the smoothest thing in the world.

Firstly, you are charged a lower exchange rate with $20 bills than with $100 bills. Secondly, if your bills have small tears, some ink – no matter how small, or the print blurried a bit by time and excessive contact with human hands, the bills won’t be accepted by banks in Vietnam. You either have to go to local jewelry stores to do the exchanging or keep your dollars.

Grab – On its way to become a Super app

Gab entered Vietnam as a competitor of Uber. It proceeded to buy out Uber. Now, every person I know uses Grab for commute. I am sure other ride-hailing apps have customers, but Grab is by far the dominant player. Plus, you can do a lot of things with your Grab account including ordering food, paying bills, booking hotels and paying subscriptions

Weekly readings – 5th October 2019

Grab Accounts for 73% of Ride-Share Trips in First Half of 2019 in Vietnam.

Retailer Adoption of Apple Pay Quickens. Since I was able to use Apple Pay on my phone, I have been using it as the first payment method, even in a city as small as Omaha. I have been a pretty happy user ever since.

Source: Loup Ventures

Comparison of smart digital assistants by Loup Ventures

Meet the Women Leading Netflix Into the Streaming Wars

The man who built his own Lamborghini

Dog-walking startup Wag raised $300 million to unleash growth. Then things got messy. SoftBank doesn’t seem to be the Midas that some hyped it to be with its massive checkbook, does it?

Latest memo from Howard Marks: On the Other Hand

Researchers Discover the Tallest Known Tree in the Amazon

Measuring Apple’s Content Distribution Arm

WeWork Used These Documents To Convince Investors It’s Worth Billions. A long but good article on the accounting jujitsu that WeWork employed

Weekly readings – 31st May 2019

The Future Of Fashion: From Design To Merchandising, How Tech Is Reshaping The Industry. How technology is affecting the fashion and retail industry.

Investing in the Podcast Ecosystem in 2019. A lot of great findings on the podcast ecosystem

Want a great deal on a house? Find one where someone was murdered.

Grab vs. Go-Jek: Inside Asia’s Battle of the ‘Super Apps’. An interesting story about the heavyweights in Southeast Asia in a race to become the dominant Super App

Hollywood Studios Say They’re Quitting Netflix, But the Truth Is More Complicated. Though it’s true that most of Netflix’s popular shows are titles owned by others, Netflix already has the titled tied up to its platform for a foreseeable future.

Sprint’s 5G network is here, and it’s completely different from what Verizon and AT&T are doing. Top speed/spotty coverage vs reasonably fast speed/better coverage. It’s an important point to know about the 5G battle between AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

Apple’s Billion Users. A very interesting analysis into Apple’s subscription base and its importance to Apple’s future.