Weekly reading – 20th February 2020

What I wrote last week

I reviewed the book Working Backwards. If you are interested in the culture at Amazon, have a read!

Business

Robinhood revealed it has 13 million customers, 13% of which traded options, 9% of which were African Americans, 16% of which were Hispanic.

The highest court in UK ruled that Uber drivers have to be classified as employees. Uber cannot appeal further in the UK; as a result, unless it wishes to exit the UK market, especially London, operating expenses will likely increase from now on. Another interesting detail from the ruling is that workers should get paid whenever they are logged into Uber’s system and poised to accept rides. On the other hand, Uber argued that the ruling would only apply to Uber’s Mobility, not Uber’s Delivery. I don’t know if that’s factually true, but I don’t like their chances.

Facebook practically lied to marketers about their potential reach

Scott Belsky is one of my favorite follows on Twitter. As the founder of Behance and Chief Product Offier at Adobe, he had a fascinating take on several issues related to startups and products. Here is an interesting interview between him and Patrick O’Shaughnessy

US video streaming giants face tough second act in India

WSJ’s piece on Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek. He seems to be more ruthless on the bottom line, less burdened by creativity and the nostalgia of the Disney brand than his predecessor

What I found interesting

Jacquard by Google. The product category may be interesting, but I am not sure that folks are ready for it. It’s bad enough that we carry around our phone with us every single waking moment in this digital life. Whether consumers agree to carry another device, no matter how small, remains to be seen, especially when the device comes from a company like Google, which is notorious for tracking users.

How to be more productive, more easily

Why did I leave Google or, why did I stay so long?

Have a look at the beauty of Vietnam, from above

Interesting stats that may interest you

35 of Amazon’s sellers in India made up more than two thirds of its online sales

Source: Chartr

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 – 9th May 2020

The decline in trust in governments shows no signs of abating. Everywhere you look, there is suspicion that measures taken by governments to combat Covid-19 will soon be used for mass surveillance afterwards. India is no exception. For A Billion Indians, The Government’s Voluntary Contact Tracing App Might Actually Be Mandatory

The pandemic doesn’t seem to affect spending on cloud infrastructure badly

The man feeding a remote Alaska town with a Costco card and a ship

Apple Watch detecting coronary ischaemia during chest pain episodes or an apple a day may keep myocardial infarction away

VP of Amazon resigned to protest the firing of workers who spoke out on the working conditions at Amazon warehouses

Looking Back on Four Years at The Times, in the words of their former CTO

Amazon pulled no punches in its public blog post on Microsoft regarding the JEDI dispute

Spotify should pay musicians more? Let’s talk more about how

Weekly readings – 28th December 2019

The last Weekly readings episode of 2019. I have had fun doing this because this serves mainly as my notes. I hope you got something out of these notes

Nadella is killing it at Microsoft and won the Person of the Year crown from FT

Walmart’s strategy in the fight against Amazon.

The World’s Oldest Forest Has 385-Million-Year-Old Tree Roots. The sheer number is

Coolest things I learned in 2019

Rural America Turning to Grocers, High-Fee ATMs as Banks Leave. If I tell this to my dad, who idolizes America, he probably will say I am crazy!

Apple’s secretive work on a satellite project as a company priority

Why your brain needs exercise

This seems to be a massive issue in the future for Amazon, especially when its 3rd party business has become increasingly important

The Dubai – Saudi Arabia route is surprisingly lucrative for Emirates

What’s Amazon’s market share? 35% or 5%?

‘Amazon’s Choice’ Isn’t the Endorsement It Appears

India needs new infrastructure

I am surprised at how well Hello Fresh has been doing

Americans are retiring in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries

Weekly readings – 24th August 2019

Spotify’s pitch to podcasters: valuable listener data

Netherlands’ Building Ages. How cool is this? It must have taken quite some time and effort to build this map.

OuiWork? The quick case for WeWork as an actually disruptive business

Apple Targets Apple TV+ Launch in November, Weighs $9.99 Price After Free Trial

Where Top US Banks Are Betting On Fintech

Manufacturers Want to Quit China for Vietnam. They’re Finding It Impossible

Apple’s New TV Strategy Might Just Work

MoviePass database exposes 161 million records. Much as I am grateful to MoviePass, perhaps it’s time for the company to be shut down

Starbucks, monetary superpower. Let me give you a notable quote to get an idea of what this article is about

Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities. 

This is a pretty incredible number. Stored value card liabilities are the money that you, oh loyal Starbucks customer, use to buy coffee. What you might not realize is that these balances  simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt. 

Now bigger than eBay, Shopify sets its sights on Amazon

Inside India’s Messy Electric Vehicle Revolution

Weekly readings – 11th May 2019

Charlie Munger, Unplugged. I try to read as much as possible about Charlie Munger. This is a great interview with him. The part I like most about the interview is when Charlie talked about how he read till he slept.

In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between Haves and Have-Nots. An insightful and fascinating piece on the struggle of newspapers as a whole to generate digital revenue to offset the loss in ads dollars. Only a few exceptions and the Big Three (WSJ, The Times and The Post) seem to have managed reasonably well.

Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit? The “we are going to be the Amazon of transportation” narrative will be used a lot ahead of Uber’s IPO. I can see some value in that, but frankly, I don’t believe that is the case at the moment. The level of competition that Amazon had to face back in the day and Uber has to face now is likely different. I doubt Amazon faced a lot of legal challenges as Uber has had up to now. Plus, the economics of the two companies aren’t the same. Look at the chart below and see if there is any similarity between the two

Eating breakfast is not a good weight loss strategy, scientists confirm.

Can Bird build a better scooter before it runs out of cash? A revealing piece on the scooter business.

Ilargi: Renewables Are Dead. I find renewables polarizing as a subject. There are fans on each side of the argument. No matter what, I guess if we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t have known what we know now.

New Data: The Airbnb Advantage. According to AirBnb, New York, London and Paris make up less than 3% of its total listings and no city makes up more than 1% of the listings.

Ethiopia’s garment workers make clothes for Gap, H&M and Levi’s but are the world’s lowest paid. Workers in sweat shops in Ethiopia got paid $26/month. The same figure in Vietnam is $180/month.

India’s water crisis is already here. Climate change will compound it.

Weekly Readings – 6th April 2019

The Enormous Numbers Behind Amazon’s Market Reach. A nice overview of where Amazon stands in various industries with visuals. 42% of the book retailing market, 45% of the E-commerce space, 32% of the cloud computing market, 35% of the online apparel area. From a business strategy and execution standpoint, Amazon is a remarkable success.

Death by a Thousand Clicks: Where Electronic Health Records Went Wrong. An astonishing and remarkable (long) read on Electronic Health Records in America. I urge you to have a read if you stumble upon this post of mine. Despite throwing billions of dollars at the nationwide EHR effort since President Obama’s first tenure, America has had little to show for it. I’ll let the former Vice President – Joe Biden share his story: “I was stunned when my son for a year was battling Stage 4 glioblastoma,” said Biden. “I couldn’t get his records. I’m the Vice President of the United States of America … It was an absolute nightmare. It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, that we’re in that circumstance.”

Digital India. A very interesting report by McKinsey on the digital landscape in India. Sneak peek below

By McKinsey

Howard Marks’ latest memo. As insightful and enlightening as always.

Amazon’s Rise in Ad Searches Dents Google’s Dominance. Amazon as an advertising giant is here. Established ads agency such as WPP or Omnicom reportedly spent a good chunk amount of money on Amazon ads on behalf of their clients.

Weekly Readings – 23rd March 2019

Chi Dung’s R collection. This guy’s work is impressive. If you are interested in R, take a look.

The Big Brexit Short. I really like this kind of investigative videos by Bloomberg. I honestly don’t follow Brexit enough. Hence, it’s good to know about this potential scheme. I highly recommend you check out Bloomberg’s Youtube channel. Treasure trove of good information.

What the hell is going on. A very long, yet informative study on how the switch from information scarcity to information abundance affects business, education and politics.

On the Hunt for Japan’s Elaborate, Colorful Manhole Covers. An interesting story on a beautiful aspect of Japan’s culture.

How India conquered YouTube. I find the article fascinating and informative. A good overview of Youtube’s popularity in India and the media consumption behavior in the country.

Howard Marks’ memos. His excellent and insightful memos are praised and read by Warren Buffets and many investors.

I found two links here and here that are very helpful in understanding the subscription model.

Nine Reasons Why Disney+ Will Succeed (And Why Four Criticisms are Overhyped). A fair and detailed piece on Disney+, Disney’s upcoming streaming service. I cannot wait to try the service myself

Inside AirBnb’s “Guerrilla War” against Local Governments. A very good article on how AirBnb fought local governments in the US to avoid taxes and restrictions that the local lawmakers sought to put on them. I am a believer in the fact that if the law allows you to avoid taxes, you have every right to not pay taxes and stay competitive. However, fighting hard to stop new laws (laws always play catch-up with the business world) intended to make AirBnb pay taxes is a bit too far. Loss of taxes strips a local government of necessary revenue to fund projects that will benefit citizens. If your business earns millions of dollars in revenue and profit, what’s the reason for not paying taxes? Simply by “being a platform”?

Pinterest S-1. The photo bookmarking company filed to go public.