Weekly reading – 4th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Book Review: Trillion Dollar Triage

How Walmart Is Betting On Stores To Catch Amazon In E-Commerce

Business

Amazon Briefing: One year into Andy Jassy’s tenure, sellers see subtle strategic shifts. Under Bezos, Amazon was maniacal about being consumer-oriented. Using the iron grip on consumers, especially Prime members, Amazon managed to exert their bargaining power on merchants. According to the article, there are already subtle changes under Jassy regarding how to work with merchants. Merchants have more dialogue with senior folks from Amazon, but they are expected to spend more on ads and prove their unit economics value to Amazon. The push to grow ads revenue may have one important downstream effect: if shoppers are bombarded with sponsored items instead of what are best for them, there is no telling how that could damage Amazon and loosen their grip on prized Prime members

The first act of the streaming wars saga is over — Netflix’s fall from grace has ushered in the pivotal second act. The first phase is to establish presence. Now, all these streamers need to figure out some tough questions. First, how can they make money while spending a lot of money on content? Streaming is an arms race. You need great content all the time to acquire and retain subscribers. But investors’ patience is wearing thin. They want to see profits. Hence, streamers have a tough balancing act on hands. Secondly, ads or no ads? Disney+ and Netflix are planning to go live with ads-supported plans later this year. However, ads is not a trivial business. There is also a question of consumer experience. Additionally, expanding internationally or not expanding? An international expansion requires extra investments in marketing and content. If you go to India without local content at a dirt cheap price, you won’t win the battle. But this goes back to the first question. If a streamer spends too much on content and marketing, how can it turn profits? All in all, such an interesting space to keep an eye on

Facing Inflation-Weary Shoppers, Grocers Fight Price Increases. As inflation keeps rising, consumers turn to private labels instead of more expensive national brands. Private labels give grocers a higher margin, but the key here is to keep customers happy while resisting the pressure from vendors. Those who can make shoppers happy in tough times like this may get the permanent business in the long run. For me, Aldi has been my go-to grocer for a long time with their highly competitive grocery prices.

Bull Market Rhymes. “I don’t think investors are actually forgetful.  Rather, knowledge of history and the appropriateness of prudence sit on one side of the balance, and the dream of getting rich sits on the other.  The latter always wins.  Memory, prudence, realism, and risk aversion would only get in the way of that dream.  For this reason, reasonable concerns are regularly dismissed when bull markets get going. “

Spotify Podcasters Are Making $18,000 a Month With Nothing But White Noise. Who would have thought that white noise could be a lucrative podcast category?

Other stuff I find interesting

Sun-Starved Sweden Turns to Solar to Fill Power Void. It’s intriguing that Sweden shut down two nuclear plants and relies on solar power for electricity despite lacking sunlight for a long period of time in a year.

While Electric Vehicles Proliferate, Charging Stations Lag Behind. There are 93,000 public charging stations in the country, but it’s estimated that we need 1.2 million more. That’s how much we are lagging behind. The governments, local or federal, need to take a lead in this and perhaps losses too in the beginning to encourage more purchase and usage of electric vehicles.

90% of Women in India Are Shut Out of the Workforce. I have to say that this is an eye-opening yet disappointing read. I 100% support gender equality. To me, there is absolutely no reason why female can’t work or receive the same level of treatment as men do. Hence, it’s insane to think that only 10% of women in a country with 1.3 billion people in population are working. How much more productivity could be unlocked if women could work?

AC Milan’s ‘Mind Room’: The story behind an innovative psychology lab. Fascinating!

Here’s why you shouldn’t miss ‘bột chiên’ while in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes in Vietnam and Saigon. You don’t experience the local cuisine until you try it

Stats

Disney+ Hotstar Hits 5 Million Subscribers in Indonesia

App Store stopped nearly $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2021

Safari reached one billion worldwide users

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Weekly reading – 21st May 2022

What I wrote last week

Want to do something? Do it right away!

Business

What Happened When a Wall Street Investment Giant Moved to Nashville. AllianceBerstein uprooted its headquarters from New York to Nashville, Tennessee to save $80 million a year. The move has been smooth so far, but the interesting thing here is how some large corporations, once exclusive to mega cities on the coasts, are open to moving to smaller towns. My colleague mentioned his college mates got great job offers from an investment firm in Arkansas. Boise in Idaho attracts interest from tech workers too. Snowflake already moved its headquarters to Montana. It’ll be interesting to watch what this trend will do to real estate.

A great podcast with Ted Weschler, a lieutenant of Warren Buffett. Listening to him bolsters my belief that to even have a chance at being good in investing, you need to read a lot, especially what other folks don’t, to create and connect the dots.

Marriott Rolls Out Media Network That Lets Brands Reach Travelers on Its Apps and TV Screens. I really wonder how this will actually work. The first requirement is that Marriott needs to profile and segment customers such as travel enthusiasts, cooking lovers or pet owners, so that their ads can be targeted. Then, it’s a matter of scale. In a 500-room hotel or resort, how many are actually pet owners at the same time? This makes me think that at least in the beginning, the ads won’t be targeted. Also, how would Marriott measure the effectiveness of the ads? Guests will likely just look at the screens and…move on. This service will aid brand awareness, but tracking conversion will be tricky.

Mastercard launches tech that lets you pay with your face or hand in stores. We’re still a long way from having this sort of technology ubiquitous. What intrigues me when I think about this is when governments around the world can have a unified database that recognizes folks based on biometrics. The amount of red tape and administrative work can be reduced significantly.

There’s a New Media Mogul Tearing Up Hollywood: ‘Zas Is Not Particularly Patient’. The new boss at Warner Media is bringing discipline, work ethic and a new culture to the company. A pretty interesting read on Zas.

The Algorithm is a Lie. A very smart take on Netflix and the long-standing assumption that Netflix is great at mining data for actionable insights.

Other stuff I find interesting

Innovative Fish Farms Aim to Feed the Planet, Save Jobs and Clean Up an Industry’s Dirty Reputation. A super interesting read on what is being done to protect the fishing industry in Maine.

Germany Declares Crypto Gains Tax-Free After 1 Year — Even if Used for Staking, Lending. Other securities can still be taxed after one year of holding, but crypto currencies aren’t in Germany. I wonder how Germans think about this since I assume stock holders outnumber crypto investors.

Take a look inside the Finnish bunkers capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. Today, the Finnish Parliament approved the application to join NATO. Putin threatened to retaliate, but seriously, what did he expect the people of Finland to do after watching what he did to Ukraine?

An interesting read on MOBI and EPUB book format. I love Kindle, but their previous requirement that users must use MOBI format was super annoying. So I am glad that they accept Epub now.

Stats

“The median pay package for chief executives of the biggest U.S. companies reached $14.7 million in 2021”

Pollutions accounted for one out of every six deaths globally in 2019

11.3 million guns were manufactured in the US in 2020. I had to look at the figure one more time to actually believe it. 11.3 million, I mean why do you need that many?

Grab has 30.9 million monthly users as of May 2022

65% of Disney+ subscribers said Movies were the top reason to subscribe

Weekly reading – 30th April 2022

What I wrote last week

Thoughts on Buy With Prime

Business

Starbucks Is Having an Identity Crisis. Can Howard Schultz Fix It? 70% of Starbuck’s orders are to-go. The popularity of their mobile app is magnificent, yet it goes against the identity that Howard Schultz envisioned when he bought the brand. He wanted Starbucks to be the 3rd place that people frequent in addition to work and home. Starbucks needs to decide on its future identity and positioning. Because if most orders are picked up at drive-through, what the hell are the stores for?

Will Ford’s new truck finally make Americans buy electric? “Surveys, both by the company and independent analysts, have found that customers for the F-150 are typically younger, richer, more urban than the truck’s traditional mainstream buyer – and in many cases have never owned a truck before. Like the rest of the industry, the company is contending with shortages of key computer processing chips, batteries and other materials that have held back production – and challenged the company’s effort to keep the starting price at about $40,000 (£31,500)”. It doesn’t sound very easy, does it?

Netflix’s Battle for Asian Subscribers Pits It Against Rich Rivals, Hundreds of Local Upstarts. The challenge for Netflix in Asia is multiple-fold. First, it has to keep the subscription prices low while needing to spend millions of dollars on local original content. Second, its competition is nothing but fierce and they are willing to keep the prices low to retain customers. Some such as Disney or Amazon are willing to splash a big sum on sports such as IPL to woo local viewers in India. Netflix hasn’t shown interest in following suit so far. The company once thought invincible at least in the streaming world doesn’t look invincible, does it?

Kard, a fintech that helps credit card issuers build custom reward programs by brands. “The company works with roughly 30 issuers today, representing 10 million consumers, Mackinnon said. It helps process about 60 million transactions per month, and has seen revenue grow 10x over the past year, according to Mackinnon, though he declined to share a specific revenue figure. He describes the business as a two-sided marketplace for rewards, with merchant partnerships on the supply side and card issuers on the demand side. For issuers, the API is powerful because it “connects them to merchants, brands, retailers that essentially are the funding vehicle for any of their rewards,”

Netflix’s Big Wake-Up Call: The Power Clash Behind the Crash. Cindy Holland seems to be the one person who wants to steer Netflix to adopt Apple TV+’s strategy. Nobody can guarantee that if Cindy hadn’t left, Netflix wouldn’t be in where they are today. She could have stayed and Netflix could have been just as bad or worse. But it’s baffling to let go the relationship-building wizard that forged a bond with the studios and not find a replacement. I have to say, though, that when Netflix was dominating the streaming market and a darling of Wall Street, you didn’t get to read these pieces. You were served with articles on how great Netflix and its culture were. As soon as the company’s fortune plummeted, critical reporting show up like mushrooms after rain.

Vietnam’s VinFast takes the EV battle to Tesla with U.S. push. The pace of development at Vinfast fits the culture of quick results and brand ambition at Vingroup. That’s how they always do things. That approach doesn’t necessarily come with the best quality of products or services. Hence, the question becomes: do they think up a thorough plan to penetrate and dominate the EV market in the US? Every car maker in the world wants to succeed in the US. It’s home to Tesla, which has an enormous scale advantage. It’s home to Ford, which is always a familiar brand in the mind of Americans. There are always Volswagen, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Toyota, Mazda etc…Such a list of world-famous brands indicate nothing but fierce competition. The first movers also have great scale advantage. List cars at too high a price and Vinfast won’t make enough sale. List them too low and the company wont have any profit. Whether Vinfast can weather the initial storm to reach critical mass remains a giant question mark.

Inside the first suburban Amazon Go store. I have a nagging feeling that Amazon is playing a really long game here and soon enough in the future they will become a major grocery chain

Other stuff I find interesting

Why didn’t our ancient ancestors get cavities? It is a very interesting theory that our transition to agriculture is the likely cause of our cavities

Women and girls have to pay for water with their body and dignity. The struggle people in poor countries around the world has to face makes it even more incredulous whenever folks in the US complain about trivial problems. I don’t know like having to wear a mask during Covid or taking life-saving vaccines.

Stats

According to the founder of TSMC, it costs 50% more to produce the same chips in the US than in Taiwan

80% of US consumers use BNPL to avoid credit cards, according to Experian

According to Mastercard, global first-party fraud which refers to a legitimate online purchase being disputed after the fact amounts to $50 billion

Online retail sales in India is estimated to reach $85.5 billion in 2025

Banks and credit unions pulled in more than $15 billion in overdraft and related fees in 2019 and $12 billion in late credit card fees in 2020

Google Pay has 150 million users across 40 countries, as of April 2022

Weekly reading – 26th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Travel during Covid, from the US to Vietnam with a transit at Haneda Airport in Japan

Business

Some Companies Ditch Annual Raises and Review Worker Pay More Often. I support the review of pay and performance more often than just once a year. The practice will enable workers to make adjustments more timely and get rewarded for their hard work faster. What’s there not to like?

Craft Beer Snobs Suddenly Love the Humble Lager. “Lagers, which range from the bright yellow pilsner to the darker, full-bodied Märzen, are produced at low temperatures. The slow fermentation and refrigeration process reduces the speed of yeast activity during conditioning, creating a crisp flavor and brilliant color. But keeping the beer in tanks for the weeks it takes to make a lager costs more time and money. Lagers are the most popular style of beer on the U.S. market, according to an analysis by Allied Market Research.”

Inside Peloton’s epic run of bungled calls and bad luck. Epic indeed. It’s a major red flag that a Board of Directors had to tell its CEO to take his ambitious claims down a notch.

Netflix struggles with ambitions in India. I don’t know if Netflix’s alleged 5.5 million subscribers in India is correct, but its struggle to fight Amazon Prime and Disney is widely reported. There is a reason why Netflix cut its prices in India by 60%. According to Financial Times, the company’s struggle stems from the failure to localize its strategy and cater to the India consumers. Time will tell if Netflix will become more competitive in such an important market. “According to one industry veteran, Netflix’s approach “was more like, ‘I have built the plumbing for the whole world, I just need to turn on the tap in India,’ instead of having an India strategy”.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2021 annual letter. “Whatever our form of ownership, our goal is to have meaningful investments in businesses with both durable economic advantages and a first-class CEO. Please note particularly that we own stocks based upon our expectations about their long-term business performance and not because we view them as vehicles for timely market moves. That point is crucial: Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”

On the Origin of the iPhone

Boeing outsourced $9-per-hour engineers in India to write the software for Boeing 737. If pushed too far, the urge to generate as big a bottom line as possible can mean a world of harm to a company, including human lives. What happened to Boeing and its 737’s deadly crashes are a perfect example of that. I am not saying that $9-per-hour engineers aren’t technically good. The use of these low-pay contractors may not be THE reason for the crashes. It surely adds to the disturbing reports on Boeing’s less than ideal due diligence in manufacturing 737s.

Other stuff I find interesting

Inside Pornhub. An interesting look inside one of the most popular porn sites on the Net as well as the content moderation issue.

USPS is deploying gasoline-powered delivery fleet in a snub to the Biden’s administration’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a mystery to me that Louis DeJoy is still the CEO of USPS

The digestible Ukraine explainer you’ve been waiting for. Treat it as a starter, not a comprehensive read on the subject. Regardless, it’s mind-blowing that we are at risk of having World War III when the pandemic is still wrecking havoc around the world

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast? A pretty interesting piece on the prices of energy from different sources as well as some alleged reasons for the price movements.

Stats

“Global Consumer Spending in Top 100 Subscription Apps Climbed 41% to $18.3 Billion in 2021”

Apple is the top brand in the US, according to a survey of more than 13,500 consumers by prophet

Ethiopia will spend 5.6% of its gross domestic product, or $6 billion, each year until 2030 to counter the impact of floods, climate-driven diseases, hailstorms and wildfires

Source: Techcrunch

Weekly readings – 12th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Thoughts on PayPal’s latest earnings

Apple’s next growth opportunity. Disney’s streamers showed resilience. ESPN+ achieved its FY2024 target

Business

Stream big: how Netflix changed the TV landscape in 10 years. I don’t deny that Netflix revolutionized the streaming industry or that it has the scale advantages. What I disagree with Netflix bulls or fans on is the alleged invincibility. The latest earnings call was a disappointment, sending the stock down by 20%. For the first time, the management team vaguely admitted competition which includes rivals with deep pockets and additional services that can help “subsidize” these rivals’ streamers. So far, Netflix has been successful, but it’s not a lock that they will continue to be the market leader in the near future.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ could have hit $2 billion at the global box office if it were released in China. Movies without a release date in the most populous country in the world leave a lot of dollars on the table. It will be interesting to see producers strike a balance between freedom to cast whoever they want or craft whatever story they want to tell and the need to appease China. A big payday from a release in the country is something worth thinking about.

New Airline Bets You’ll Stop in Alaska for a Cheaper Flight to Asia. Personally, I look forward to the launch of Northern Pacific and flights to Asia through Alaska. I have never been there and tickets can be cheaper. So why not?

Deep Dive: Xiaomi. More than just cheap phones

How Alexandre Arnault Is Shaking Things Up at Tiffany & Co. An interesting profile of one of the Arnault children. He seems to have more than just the right last name

A $6 Billion Wipeout Was an Omen for Food Delivery Stocks. At this point, I feel like it’s irresponsible to invest in food delivery startups or publicly traded firms that do not have the scale. While it’s already tough for the established incumbents to run their business in the black, it’s an order of magnitude harder for those without scale. And if you haven’t noticed, the market isn’t looking kindly on unprofitable companies in a cut-throat market like food delivery.

Stuff I found interesting

Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake. “In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California. The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.”

House Passes $350 Billion Competitiveness Bill, but Senate Fight Looms. Read this article and you’ll see how broken Washington is. The country really needs leadership, assistance and regulation to compete on strategic fronts. Yet, these lawmakers are prioritizing tribal politics instead of putting the country first.

EV Charging Network Will Target Interstate Highways. “Dotting the interstate-highway corridors with charging stations is considered a priority because it will give EV motorists confidence that they can take long-distance trips without trouble recharging. Stations will have to be installed every 50 miles, no more than one mile off the interstate, according to a guidance memo by the Federal Highway Administration. And stations will have to have at least 600 kilowatts of total capacity, with ports for at least four cars that can simultaneously deliver at least 150 kilowatts each. The stations also have to be accessible to the general public, or to fleet operators from more than one company. The locations can include privately owned parking lots if they are open to the general public.”

Germany’s Covid Boomtown Stumbles Over Its Newfound Riches. Progressive politicians want companies to pay more taxes; which companies do not want to do. Folks just want stable jobs and to be taken care of by the tax money they pay. Marburg is another example of how hard it is to strike a balance and keep everyone happy

Stats

International students earned nearly half of the master’s and PhD STEM degrees in the US in 2019

90% of Uber’s earners work fewer than 40 hours per week and 60% work fewer than 20 hours per week (Investor Day 2022)

46% of Uber’s gross bookings in Q4 2021 came from customers engaged both with Mobility and Delivery. These customers made up only 17% of Uber’s customers base (Investor Day 2022)

10% of all first time riders to Uber in 2021 came to a 2-wheeler or a 3-wheeler trip (Investor Day 2022)

Netflix raised prices – Bullish or bearish?

If you live in the U.S and are planning to subscribe to Netflix, get ready to pay more. The company announced a few days ago that all plans for audience in the U.S would see a price bump with immediate effect. The basic plan will increase from $8 to $9 per month. The standard and the 4K package will cost new subscribers $15.5 and $20 per month respectively. The Verge has a handy table showing all the hike prices that Netflix rolled out so far:

Netflix's price hikes in the past
Figure 1 – Netflix’s price hikes in the past. Source: The Verge

After the news broke, I saw a lot of people on Twitter bullish about Netflix’s outlook. The rationale is simple: if your customers are sticking with you AFTER you raise prices, it means you have a great business. The key underlying assumption is that Netflix viewers won’t churn or, in other words, leave. To back up this assumption, these bulls provided a chart from Antenna which allegedly shows Netflix has the lowest churn among premium streamers.

Netflix's alleged churn rate against competitors'
Figure 2: Netflix’s alleged churn rate against competitors’. Source: Antenna

The problem is that when your entire thesis is based on a chart, you have to make sure the data is trustworthy. Unfortunately, I find Antenna’s data confusing and ambiguous for three reasons. The first reason is that there is no methodology or explanation of how they acquired this data. Take the churn chart above as an example. What does weighted average churn rate mean? What is churn weighted against? What does passive churn mean? Did they survey users or did they base this chart on credit card usage data? If it’s survey-based, how big is the survey pool and is it representative of the U.S? Plenty of questions with zero answer.

Furthermore, Antenna’s charts seem to contradict one another. While they indicate that Netflix has the most loyalty among streamers, somehow Netflix’s market share in terms of subscribers has been declining for the past few quarters. How does that happen? If Netflix’s churn was lower than that of its competitors, the company’s market share should stay the same at the very least or go up. Some may argue that Antenna may favor other streamers in a sense that if one person subscribes to both Netflix and another service, the other service will claim this subscription. Well, this argument brings us back to my first issue mentioned above: no methodology! How do we know if this argument is true?

The last issue I have with Antenna is the inconsistency of the reported data. In Q2 2021, Antenna claimed that Netflix has a market share of 29% (Figure 4). However, in their latest report for Q3 2021, Netflix’s share declined to 30% from 32% in Q2 2021 (Figure 5) . The two reports seemingly have the same methodology and feature the same number of streamers as well as the composition. My question is: what changed? How did Netflix’s Q2 2021 share go to 29% in one report to 32% in another?

These issues really call into question the assumption that Netflix’s churn is lower than its competitors.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Antenna data is correct. That also means Netflix’s market share has been declining gradually. The 4-quarter rolling average net adds for US and Canada has gone down significantly since Q4 2020. Yes, Covid-19 pulled forward subscribers, but that also signals as many in the U.S are vaccinated, the macro environment is no longer favorable to Netflix as it was at the onset of the pandemic. When the number of new adds decreased despite all new releases in 2021, why does management think it’s a good idea to raise prices? Do they have any tricks up their sleeve? Or is the new price hike aimed at increasing revenue with the hope that subscribers will stay regardless?

I don’t know at this point whether this is a good strategic move for Netflix. I guess we’ll have more information this Thursday when they hold their earnings call. What I do know is that I don’t share the bullishness that many fans of Netflix stocks quickly showed after the price hike was announced. We just don’t have enough reliable information.

Netflix's 4-quarter rolling average net subscriber adds for U.S and Canada
Figure 3: Netflix’s 4-quarter rolling average net subscriber adds for U.S and Canada
Figure 4: U.S Premium SVOD Share of Subscriptions. Source: Antenna
Figure 4: U.S Premium SVOD Share of Subscriptions. Source: Antenna

Weekly readings – 15th January 2021

What I wrote last week

Some tips for data analysts

State of Mobile 2022

Book Review – The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Business

Why Apple’s iMessage Is Winning: Teens Dread the Green Text Bubble. “Among U.S. consumers, 40% use iPhones, but among those aged 18 to 24, more than 70% are iPhone users, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners’s most recent survey of consumers.” I think some reading this article may get it backwards: folks use iMessage because they like iPhones first and foremost. They don’t buy iPhones because of iMessage. It’s frivolous that competitors demand Apple to open up iMessage to Android for the sake of open communication. Think about it this way: if you own a restaurant and have a secret recipe that is the appeal of the place, will you want to openly share it with your competitors just so that they become more knowledgeable and the food culture becomes richer?

Is Clubhouse dead? Not if you are in South Asia. To be honest, I didn’t have it in me to imagine that South Asia would be the saving grace for Clubhouse. Would it ever reach the valuation that venture capitalists dreamed of? I don’t know, but if I had to bet, the coin wouldn’t go that way. Being popular is one thing, making money is another. We’ll see

How Shein beat Amazon at its own game — and reinvented fast fashion. “Through its manufacturing partners on the ground in China, Shein churns out and tests thousands of different items simultaneously. Between July and December of 2021, it added anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 SKUs — stock keeping units, or individual styles — to its app each day, according to data collected by Rest of World. The company confirmed it starts by ordering a small batch of each garment, often a few dozen pieces, and then waits to see how buyers respond. If the cropped sweater vest is a hit, Shein orders more. It calls the system a “large-scale automated test and re-order (LATR) model.” The secret is Shein’s internal software, which connects its entire business from design to delivery. “Everything is optimized with big data,” Lin said. Each of Shein’s suppliers gets their own account on the platform, which spits out information about what styles are selling well and can also quickly identify which might become future hits. “You can see the current sales, and then it will tell you to stock up more if you sell well and what you need to do if you don’t sell well. It’s all there.””

Fintech Startup Checkout.com Scores $40 Billion Valuation in Latest Share Sale. “Checkout.com plans to use much of the new capital to fuel an expansion into the U.S. Last summer, the company hired Céline Dufétel, chief financial officer at money manager T. Rowe Price Group Inc., to do the same job for Checkout.com. Many of the company’s top executives and investors now reside in the U.S. It also plans to enlarge its business catering to cryptocurrency companies. Exchanges such as Coinbase Global Inc. and wallets like Novi from Meta Platforms Inc. use Checkout.com to move customers’ money into and out of digital currencies. Crypto and financial-technology transactions account for more than half of Checkout.com’s payments volume, Ms. Dufétel said”.

Netflix Needs New Subscribers. Its Korean Playbook Is Its Secret Weapon. “Bound by certain social taboos and rules on what could be shown on public broadcast TV, mainstream networks in Korea typically passed on most of what they got pitched. The resulting flow of rejected ideas created an opening for Netflix. Because it is a paid private service, Netflix enjoyed more leeway in terms of what it could show its viewers. Netflix began harvesting ideas considered too edgy for the broadcasters and building a slate of programming that leaned into sex and violence, as well as prickly themes, such as social inequality and politics. In 2020, the company turned its first annual profit in South Korea while reporting sales of $356 million. South Korea is now one of Netflix’s largest markets in Asia, trailing only Australia and Japan. The company has more than 5 million subscribers in South Korea, according to Media Partners Asia. To date, Netflix has spent more than $1 billion on programming in Korean, one of its largest content investments outside the U.S. Along the way, Netflix’s status has flipped. Once shunned by the local creative community, Netflix is now courted.

Other stuff I found interesting

My first impressions of web3. We should accept the premise that people will not run their own servers by designing systems that can distribute trust without having to distribute infrastructure. This means architecture that anticipates and accepts the inevitable outcome of relatively centralized client/server relationships, but uses cryptography (rather than infrastructure) to distribute trust. One of the surprising things to me about web3, despite being built on “crypto,” is how little cryptography seems to be involved!”

The Architecture of Tomorrow Mimics Nature to Cool the Planet. I am at loss for words to describe my support to integrate our civil architecture and planning into nature. A city without trees or nature is lifeless and frankly unappealing to me. Why not integrating nature into our architecture? Well, if you haven’t noticed, nature has been here long before our buildings ever have

This Ad-Free Google Search Alternative Is Actually Worth Using. It’s actually pretty good on iOS. The ad-free experience is refreshing

Another masterful article by Morgan Housel. It’s full of interesting short stories with wonderful punchlines and wisdom in the end

Stats

On average, each owner spent $1,400 and $900 in annual expenses in 2021 for dogs and cats respectively

“An estimated 29.2 million general-purpose credit cards were issued to people with credit scores of 660 and below last year”

Apple Books has 100 million users each month.

“Digital tickets in Wallet helped venues and their guests create safe, contactless experiences, and last year, customers used 30 million NFC tickets in Wallet for events across music, sports, theater, and more across the US and Canada.”

Global mobile ad spend is forecast to reach $350 billion in 2022

“There are now 110 million monthly active Android TV devices in the world”

Weekly reading – 18th December 2021

What I wrote last week

Is Menadione, a synthetic version of Vitamin K, safe for pets?

Good reads-0on Business

Netflix Cuts India Prices in Struggle for Biggest Foreign Market. The fact that Netflix slashed prices by 60% in India shows that the streamer feels very threatened by Disney+ and Amazon Prime. I have a lot of love for Netflix, but I don’t think the company is as invincible as many Netflix bulls make it out to be. If it were indeed invincible, then why would it cut prices that much? I often see Netflix bulls make fun of Disney+ ARPU because it has been growing its subscriber base by keeping the price low, especially in India. Now that Netflix lowers prices itself, I can’t imagine this will do the company’s own ARPU any good

U.S. appeals court denies motion to file amicus brief from Coalition for App Fairness. “U.S. courts–and especially appeals courts–normally have a permissive approach toward amicus briefs, above all in high-stakes high-profile cases like this one. It rarely happens that they tell stakeholders they are unwelcome to join a proceeding as “friends of the court” contributing potentially useful information. Here, however, a filing by the Coalition for App Fairness (whose three key members are Epic, Spotify, and Match Group, which is best known for Tinder) and four of its members (Match Group, Tile, Basecamp, and Knitrino) has been flatly rejected by the Ninth Circuit. As a result, the CAF now faces a credibility issue in any other App Store cases around the globe in which it may try to support Epic or even another one of its large members. Even if other courts ultimately allowed the CAF to join other cases, Apple would point to the Ninth Circuit decision, which at a minimum would diminish the credibility of anything the CAF would say on Epic’s behalf. The CAF has now been stigmatized as part of an Epic anti-Apple initiative designed to raise issues regardless of whether those were “organic or manufactured” as the evidence shows.” Even though I have shares of Match Group, Tinder’s owner, and Spotify, I don’t support their effort here. Yes, having to pay commission to Apple cuts their revenue and profit down, but that’s part of doing business on a platform you don’t own.

The DMV Is No Longer a Bureaucratic Purgatory, DMV Says. Information Technology is not just an item on a checklist. It’s the driver of innovation and business growth, even for a government agency known for its terrible services like DMV.

The Guardian has more than 1 million recurring supporters. I hope the likes of Business Insider can pay attention to this. The Guardian doesn’t have a paywall. It simply asks for donations from readers and relies on its journalism to woo subscribers. Putting content strictly behind a paywall doesn’t increase the likelihood of acquiring a subscriber. It actually creates some frustration and annoyance.

With $5 more every month, you can add Disney+ and ESPN+ to your Hulu Live TV+ subscription. An interesting move. I don’t believe that Disney double-counts its subscribers, meaning that a multi-service subscriber can only be counted once. However Disney counts it, I doubt that the move is purely about increasing the subscriber base for Disney+, its flagship streamer. I also don’t see how the new plan can increase Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). A standalone Disney+ already costs $7 a month, higher than the additional $5 that Hulu Live TV subscriber has to pay to get it. Hence, this move is perhaps to make Hulu Live TV+ more appealing and increase the overall revenue.

A good blog on Bill Foley, one of the best yet less famous investors in history

Other stuff I find interesting

A nice story on the new F1 world champion, Max Verstappen. If you want to know what it took to be the best F1 driver in the world, have a read. It requires talent for sure, but talent alone is definitely not enough.

52 things I learned in 2021

The Office Is an Efficiency Trap. “The setup of the Bürolandschaft was designed to follow the natural lines of communication, decrease inefficiencies, and, as an added bonus, cost less: No real hierarchies meant no expensively furnished offices for management. One huge room was far easier to heat, cool, light, and electrify. Yet the design, however well-meaning in theory, was a disaster in practice. In Germany, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands, the experience of working in an open office design was so miserable that in the 1970s local worker councils effectively mandated their removal. But not in the United States, where, as the architecture critic James S. Russell notes, Americans “characteristically reworked” the plan into “something cheaper and more ordered.” The “curvilinear informality” of the Schnelles’ design was formalized into workstations with shelves, cabinets, and dividing panels—what would eventually devolve into the cubicle.”

The World Wants Green Hydrogen. Namibia Says It Can Deliver.Now Namibia is positioning itself as a leader in the emerging market for another hot resource: green hydrogen, which is made using renewable electricity. With bright sunshine 300 days a year and vicious winds that rip along a nearly 1,000-mile coast, renewable experts and government officials say the southwest African nation has outsize potential for renewable energy production.” The next decades will see Africa rise in importance on the global scale with its young population and vast natural resources. China will surely be there to make strategic moves. The question is whether Western governments will do anything about it.

Stats

ETF inflows top $1 trillion

While NBA pays $2.5+ billion for the rights to stream Premier League, Major League Soccer brings in just $90 million a year from ESPN and Fox

In November 2021, 87% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S were sold at or above sticker price

Only 20% of the U.S energy in 2020 came from nuclear. A missed opportunity, I’d say

Between 2013 and December 2021, AirBnb has processed $336 billion in payments on their platform

U.S Online Grocery Sales hit $8.6 billion, $7 billion of which came from Delivery and Pickup

Weekly reading – 23rd October 2021

What I wrote last week

PayPal in talks to buy Pinterest

Book review: Richer, Wiser Happier: How The World’s Greatest Investors Win In Markets & Life

Good reads on Business

Jokr and Personalized Instant Commerce. The article lays out useful data and information on Instant Commerce, especially Jokr. However, I am still a bit unsure about the unit economics of these delivery services. Last-mile delivery is hard and expensive, especially at scale. The consumer stickiness is naturally low and requires constant incentives to nurture. Competitors are everywhere. Plus, the good-old brick-and-mortar alternatives generally offer sufficient value and people, like myself, like to go out once in a while for some fresh air.

Netflix Loses Its Glow as Critics Target Chappelle Special. Netflix has started to encounter what the likes of Facebook and Twitter have for years: content moderation. The company can’t please everyone; so in this case, it’s natural that one or two stakeholders are disappointed with the Dave Chappelle show. The management team believes that the show brings net benefits to Netflix and acted accordingly. Agree with them or not, you should see where they are coming from. On the other hand, some employees reserve their right to disagree with that decision and be disappointed. That happens to even within families, let alone strangers that merely work at the same place. What remains to be seen to me are 1/ how would this affect staff turnover and talent management at Netflix; 2/ how would Netflix users think about the show?

Inside TSMC, the Taiwanese chipmaking giant that’s building a new plant in Phoenix. “TSMC makes key components for everything from cellphones to F-35 fighter jets to NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission to Mars. Earlier this month, it announced plans for a new factory in Japan, where it will produce chips with older technologies, for things like household devices and certain car components. TSMC is also Apple’s exclusive provider of the most advanced chips inside every iPhone currently on the market and most Mac computers. TSMC alone was responsible for 24% of the world’s semiconductor output in 2020, up from 21% in 2019, according to the company. When it comes to the most advanced chips used in the latest iPhones, supercomputers and automotive AI, TSMC is responsible for 92% of production while Samsung is responsible for the other 8%, according to research group Capital Economics. ”

How YouTube Makes Sure Its Hitmakers Don’t Stumble. YouTube spends tens of thousands of dollars on the top YouTubers to grow their content and ecosystem. Their in-house digital agency also offers guidance and consulting services to these personalities so that they can sustain attractive videos and high viewership. This kind of support, along with YouTube or its parent company’s resources, makes it difficult for other competitors to match.

Squid Game’ success shines a light on how cheap it is to make TV shows outside the U.S. “The total cost of making “Squid Game” was just $21.4 million. Episodes of Disney+’s Marvel shows, such as “WandaVision” or “The Falcon,” cost Disney $25 million per episode — more than all nine episodes of “Squid Game”“. I’d also prefer local characters being played by true locals to by Americans.

Is Best Buy undermining its storybook turnaround? I don’t think it’s a good idea to mess with a formula that works. Especially, that formula is around customer services and satisfaction. If I were a Best Buy shareholder, I’d send the CEO and the Management Team this article with a lot of questions.

Business Breakdown episode on Uber. If you are interested in gig economy and especially Uber as a business, have a listen. Whether you are a bull or a bear, I think it’ll be worth your time

How Many Users Does Facebook Have? The Company Struggles to Figure It Out. “A separate memo from May said that the number of U.S. Facebook users who are in their 20s and active at least once a month often exceeds the total population of Americans their age. “This brings out an elephant in the room: SUMA,” the memo’s author wrote, using an internal abbreviation for “Single User Multiple Accounts.” The author added that the issue could render Facebook’s ratio of users active each day “less trustable. Facebook said in its most recent quarterly securities filings that it estimates 11% of its monthly active users world-wide—which totaled 2.9 billion for its flagship platform in the second quarter—are duplicate accounts, with developing markets accounting for a higher proportion of them than developed ones.”

Other interesting stuff

Your Guide to the Third-Party Cookie. A very useful primer on the key factor in the digital advertising world. I have been on both sides of this issue. As a marketer, I can see why companies want to get as much data as possible to hone their targeting and make the best use of their ads dollars. On the other hand, as a consumer, I absolutely hate the feeling that somebody follows me everywhere across the Web. Privacy has been on the rise and will continue to be. iOS users now have a choice to voice their opinion on the matter with ATT. I don’t know how this all will shake out, but I would think that marketers would do well if they pivoted from 3rd party tracking.

Belgium’s shift from nuclear under fire as gas price surge strains Europe. It is baffling to me that countries are moving away from nuclear energy for gas-based power.

The Greek region too remote for maps

New Viking artifacts may mean that Christopher Columbus might not be the first one to discover the America continent. I guess it’s time to keep the holiday yet change the freaking name

Stats

Gas bills this winter can be at least 30% higher than last year

Weekly reading – 31st July 2021

What I wrote last week

I wrote down a few thoughts on Netflix

Business

A great Business Breakdown episode on Petco. If you are not too familiar with the company or the pet supply industry, it’ll be worth your one hour.

Singapore Airlines Doubles Down on the E-Commerce Trend by Carriers. “In November, Singapore Airlines [SIA] CEO Choon Phong Goh described Pelago during an investor call as “a brand new business that’s been set up within SIA” with a goal of “extending the SIA experience from the skies to the ground. While airlines have upsold passengers on extras for years, what’s new is the hands-on approach to sourcing and marketing the content instead of using affiliate deals.”

Beijing orders Tencent to end exclusive music licensing deals in a first for the country. I am very reluctant to invest in Chinese companies precisely because of this.

Finance Chiefs Are Still Trying to Replace Excel With New Tools. Excel is a very powerful tool and we are not completely working without it at least in the next two decades. However, the over-reliance on Excel is damaging in a sense that it prevents companies from upgrading internal tools that can provide better collaboration and data interoperability. I am speaking from experience because that’s one of my personal frustrations at work.

How Gap’s new loyalty program ties together its multiple brands. I visited both Gap and Banana Republic recently. I couldn’t recall a nice experience in terms of finding out information about the rewards program. I suspect it is due to the staggered roll-out of the new rewards program and Omaha, Nebraska isn’t high on the priority list. Nonetheless, consolidating multiple rewards programs, making it simple for customer to understand and offering real values sound like music to my ear. Their offerings are still not best in class. For their sake, I hope they continue to upgrade the rewards benefits.

Reebok got the better of Nike 30 years ago but fell into oblivion. This is the story of how Rebook’s fall from grace happened. The article put a lot of emphasis on Adidas’ mismanagement of Reebook. That happens all the time. Executives promise the sun and moon in M&A, but failures are more common than many care to admit. I don’t know whether without Adidas, Reebok would have still been able to compete with Nike. That’s far from certain. Anyway, another business case study that many can draw lessons from.

Apple makes its M1 Mac case to enterprises. One of my bull cases for Apple is its potential in the enterprise market. Apple’s hardware is well-positioned to really attack this. Up to now, I don’t see a whole lot reported on its market share or Apple’s concrete strategy to go into this space. There is a lot of TAM to tap into here.

A nice profile piece on Bessemer Venture Partners. I like them because they seem very grounded, thoughtful and prudent with other people’s money. There are some firms that, in my opinion, tend to be too optimistic, to the point of being delusional in some deals. Plus, Bessemer publishes their investment memos that I like to read a lot. You can still be wildly successful while being different from the majority.

What I found interesting

Finland ends homelessness and provides shelter for all in need. Some food for thoughts for folks in America: is having the richest companies and individuals along side with grave inequality represented by a lot of homeless people better than a bit less wealth yet greater equality? As a reminder, Finland’s GDP Per Capita is higher than America’s

World’s cheapest energy storage will be an iron-air battery. The startup claimed that their revolutionary battery would cost only 1/10 as much as lithium batteries do. If that’s true, it will be huge.

Beneath Istanbul, Archaeologists Explore An Ancient City’s Byzantine Basements

What growing avocados in Sicily tells us about climate change and the future of food. Simply both fascinating and scary at the same time, if you ask me

Stats that may interest you

In 2020, craft brewers in the U.S produced around 23.1 million barrels, the lowest quantity in the last five years

Apple TV+ has 3% market share