Weekly reading – 30th July 2022

What I wrote last week

Book review: Soul In The Game: The Art Of A Meaningful Life

I adopted the Mediterranean Diet

Take-aways from Netflix’s Q2 FY2022

Business

($) Bed Bath & Beyond Followed a Winning Playbook—and Lost. The urge to change strategy and sell private labels quickly while ignoring the required changes to the existing infrastructure hurt Bed Bath & Beyond. They didn’t have time to design, build and market their private label brands properly. And there is Covid, which makes the situation worse for the big box retailer. Its website is antiquated and doesn’t offer pick-up option for customers. The latest reminder that a strategy may be sound, but execution matters

How the Durbin Amendment sparked fintech innovation. In case you wonder how smaller banks compete and how fintech startups can offer rewards, even on debit cards. A good primer on the Durbin Amendment

($) Jack Ma Plans to Cede Control of Ant Group. It’s interesting to read how Jack Ma structures the ownership of his voting rights and shares at Ant Group. Essentially, two companies control a hair higher than 50% of Ant Group shares. Jack Ma controls the voting rights of such two companies while sharing the share pool equally with two executives from Ant Group. Jack already planned to step away completely from the company he founded for years, but delayed the decision so that the IPO could go smoothly. His debacle with the Chinese government took care of that. It’s, again, amazing what little an unfathomably rich and powerful guy like Jack can do to the Chinese government.

How Big Tech Runs Tech Projects and the Curious Absence of Scrum. A very interesting post on scrum and by extension, project as well as resource management. One common mistake that I often see, especially from people without experience with scrum before, is that scrum and agile is this magic bullet to increase productivity and efficiency. Like any tool, yes, it theoretically can, but it has to be used in the right way. As you can see in the post, it’s not for every company. Even at the right companies that need it, scrum and agile need to be implemented properly. I am personally going through the painful experience of seeing it implemented improperly at my company. Sure, it doesn’t cost companies any additional resources. What it does cost is employee morale and trust in the leadership

Dollar General eyes bigger presence in health care. Dollar General is associated with low prices and smaller store sizes. The fact that they add fresh produce and health care to their line-up makes a fascinating business case to follow up.

A thread on how a Web3 startup that received $365 million in investments has $6,500 in monthly revenue. Yeah that wasn’t a typo

Other stuff I find interesting

In Remote Alaska, Meal Planning Is Everything. The rugged nature of Alaska is strangely appealing to me. I somehow wish that I could spend some time living there

Stats

Venture funding in Chinese startups in Q2 2022 fell to $9.1 billion, a whopping decline from $32.1 billion in Q4 2021

It costs only 4 cents for a 1GB of mobile data in Israel, compared to $5.6 in the US

Online sales during Prime Day 2022 hit almost $12 billion

Source: Bank of America

Weekly reading – 16th July 2022

Business

Don’t Read History for Lessons. It’s true that history is one of, if not, the best teachers that we can have. The problem is that it’s often context-dependent and we have to be careful when using history for lessons. This post explains why

($) Netflix Seeks to Renegotiate Deals to Show Ads Next to Popular Shows. “When Netflix wanted to offer customers the ability to download content, it had to renegotiate its licensing agreements with outside suppliers. The price tag for download rights was an additional 10% to 15% of the agreement, one studio executive said. In discussions with content providers, Netflix has declined to provide details on its advertising plans, including where it will place commercials, what content will be on the platform or what it will charge consumers for the service, studio executives said. Entertainment-industry attorney John Berlinski said if Netflix doesn’t have an explicit agreement allowing it to place ads in and around content, it could face risks in doing so. Since top talent and producers often get a share of profits from successful shows, they will be keenly interested in whether studios collect bigger paychecks from Netflix after amending their deals.”

VW creates new company and enters global battery business. This is another signal that electric vehicles will be the future. VW believes so and puts money where their mouth is with a €20 billion investment in a battery company. A strategic investment to control their fate as much as possible. Plus, the US already crossed the critical point of mass adoption a couple of weeks ago.

($) Big-Name Investors Pour Billions Into Clean Hydrogen Projects. “The newest wager is on a Nebraska startup trying to upend the burgeoning industry of clean hydrogen with a process that uses natural gas but traps carbon by producing an ingredient vital for everyday products like car tires.” Monolith is the name of the startup. On their website, they have a simple demonstration of the process. It looks super interesting and a real boost to our fight against climate change. I’d love to learn more about how they source the natural gas required for this process and how that’d affect the net outcome on our environment.

A really great episode on Rolex. I didn’t know that Rolex was managed by a non-profit organization. It’s also mind-blowing the length Rolex goes to protect their brand integrity and products.

How peak events like Prime Day helped Amazon navigate the pandemic. A look into how Amazon does forecasting. It is hard.

Lessons from History: The 1990s Semiconductor Cycle(s)

A wonderful talk by Howard Marks at Goldman Sachs

Other things I find interesting

In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong. An example of when an ill-conceived and poorly-thought-out policy led to an economic and social disaster

Lifestyles. Another banger post from Morgan Housel. “I have no idea how to find the perfect balance between internal and external benchmarks. But I know there’s a strong social pull toward external measures – chasing a path someone else set, whether you enjoy it or not. Social media makes it ten times more powerful. But I also know there’s a strong natural desire for internal measures – being independent, following your quirky habits, and doing what you want, when you want, with whom you want. That’s what people actually want. Last year I had dinner with a financial advisor who has a client that gets angry when hearing about portfolio returns or benchmarks. None of that matters to the client; All he cares about is whether he has enough money to keep traveling with his wife. That’s his sole benchmark. “Everyone else can stress out about outperforming each other,” he says. “I just like Europe.”

Stats

The US is the latest country to pass what’s become a critical EV tipping point: 5% of new car sales powered only by electricity.

June U.S. eGrocery sales total $7.2 billion

Prime members purchased more than 300 million items worldwide this year

Source: awealthofcommonsense

Weekly reading – 3rd July 2021

What I wrote last week

My thoughts on why investing is hard

Business

Credit Suisse 2021 Report on Payments, Processors & Fintech. This deck is long and has tons of information. You can get a lot of pointers out of it, but be aware that many slides have quite old data.

The economics of dollar stores. An excellent post by The Hustle on how dollar stores work. The most interesting things to me are 1/ unit prices on some items at these stores can be higher than those at bigger chains such as Target or Walmart. The absolute prices are lower, but they are also on a much smaller volume. 2/ These stores seem to be more concentrated in poorer neighborhoods. I read somewhere that richer customers don’t mind the stigma of buying stuff at dollar stores. I wonder if that’s still true and how much the trend is a boost to these stores’ business.

How a Beer Giant Manages Through Waves of Covid Around the World. A great story of how a global business uses data analytics to make decisions in the tumultuous pandemic. Even when the AB Inbev’s data team accurately predicted the second surge in India, it did get the previous predictions wrong. Nobody has a crystal ball to see the future. All we can do is to increase the odds with a wealth of data and machine computing.

Mac sales in India tripled after online Apple Store opened. One aspect of Apple’s business that I think should be discussed more is its retail stores and website. The report here credited the presence of Apple’s website for the significant increase in sales. I also learned from the article that to launch own-brand eCommerce sites in India, companies need to source locally 30% of their production. I guess there is a side benefit of expanding supply chain in India, apart from lowering the risk of over-reliance on China.

What does MongoDB do?

An interesting article on the next CEO of Amazon, Andy Sassy. The level of detail orientation described in the article is admirable. I love the concept of the Wheel of Death. People naturally tend to get complacent. Having them on their toes and preserving the unpredictability is a great way to ensure that they perform to the level required.

What I found interesting

Inside Wikipedia’s endless war over the coronavirus lab leak theory. Content moderation is super difficult at scale. Especially when you are widely considered to be neutral and often accurate. And during a global pandemic.

Equipping cargo ships with puffy sails could help Michelin improve a vessel’s fuel efficiency by 20%

The 5 coolest trends in urbanism … in Europe

Stats that may interest you

U.S online grocery sales hit $7 billion in May 2021, just a bit higher than the figure in March 2020, right before Covid

1/3 of U.S grocery sales comes from independent supermarkets

1 out of 3 men in the U.S reported to have fewer than 2 close friends, excluding relatives, according to a survey in May 2021

According to Bain, Covid increased the forecast online sales as % of all grocery sales in the US in 2025 from 8% to 13%

Average Prime Day order in 2021 was $47.14, down from $54.64 and $58.91 in 2020 and 2019 respectively

Amazon Pay Later hit 2 million sign-ups in India

97% of customer auto purchases in the U.S involves online research, but auto eCommerce only makes up 1%