Weekly reading – 3rd September 2022

What I wrote last week

Two tips on personal finance

Business

($) Disney’s New Pricing Magic: More Profit From Fewer Park Visitors. As a shareholder, I am more concerned than happy after reading this article. Annual pass-holders are loyal customers and should be valued. Instead, the recent changes signal to them that money is more important than the long-standing relationship forged with the company. Disney’s theme parks are unique and hold precious memories in a lot of folks, but there is a price for everything. At some point, customers will realize that however fond some memories are, it’s just too expensive to bring the whole family there. I hope Disney executives wake up today, read this piece and take some actions before any revolting can happen.

Where Amazon is heading in health after the Amazon Care failure. Amazon is known for running lots of experiments and tinkering till they find a solution that actually works. Amazon Care is an example of that. They realized that they were not able to venture into healthcare by themselves. Hence, a string of acquisitions ensued, namely Signify Health and One Medical. There are risks still with this strategy, though. Cultural conflict between acquired companies, and even between them and Amazon. Difference in data infrastructure. Market cannibalization. It’s just the start of a multi-year and likely very expensive project.

Cash is king for EV makers as soaring battery prices drive up vehicle production costs. A good round-up of EV makers

($) Starbucks Is Rethinking Almost Everything, Including How to Make Frappuccinos. What seems to be a straightforward operation at a Starbucks store may be more complex than you think. Read this piece to learn more how Starbucks is adjusting to changing tastes and responding to complaints from baristas

Be good-argument-driven, not data-driven. Data is your prisoner. If you are motivated enough and if you torture the prisoner enough, it will say whatever you want it to say. Whether it’s intentional misrepresentation of data or incapability to analyze data properly (no apples-to-apples comparison, for example), it’s easier to preach “data-driven” than implement it. Too much of anything can’t be a good thing. There must always be balance. There is indeed a place for data, but since it’s just a tool, its effectiveness hinges a lot on how we use that tool.

Medium’s new CEO on the company’s journalism mistakes, bundle economics, and life after Ev Williams. I used to like Medium a lot. So I can’t help but feel like the company missed a gigantic opportunity to strengthen its advantages and grab market share. Now, it’s too late for Medium to rectify its mistakes.

Zenly is still hugely popular, so why’s Snap shutting it down? It’s sensible to reduce headcount when Snap already gets its hands on Zenly’s technology. It’s also difficult to argue against avoiding cannibalization between the potential Snap Map and Zenly. What should be questioned is whether this plan will come to fruition or will be a massive write-down. Why do I say so? Snap introduced a mini drone not long ago only for it to abandon the plan completely later to be more focused. In case you haven’t noticed, Snap’s latest forecast is disappointing and what investors don’t know is how this $250 million acquisition can help the company move forward

Going Private: How to Succeed in Store-Brand Sector.In the past, retailers could rely more on the in-store environment to promote their store brands. Today, in our omnichannel world, consumers can find a product anywhere, so retailers must have an online presence for their brands. FMI’s report notes that there’s an opportunity for more retailers to tie their loyalty programs to their private brands — particularly when it comes to the online side of the business. Only a third of shoppers using their grocery store’s loyalty program said that they receive extra points for purchasing store brands. This is a way for retailers to promote more online private-brand purchases including the use of digital coupons.

Other stuff I find interesting

The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry. “His experience at Fairchild solidified his belief, first inspired by his father, that a true “engineer’s mind” requires practical skill as much as theoretical knowledge. In addition to performing experiments, he made a habit of reading internal technical reports and memos that he found at the company library, some of which he later brought to KAIST and used as teaching material.

Live cheap or live expensive: The choice is yours in Ho Chi Minh City. As a Vietnamese, it’s interesting to me read about expat life in Vietnam. I have my reservation on the $10 daily budget on food for him and his wife (and a beer). Having lived in the US since 2016, I am not too familiar with electricity bills in different areas of Saigon (a local name of Ho Chi Minh City) either. But he made a good point that it’s important to live close to where you work. The traffic in the city is egregious. Even a 5km commute which is like peanuts in the US can take a lot of time and cause so much frustration that a little bit more rent to help you avoid that is worth it.

The Midwit Trap. “An intelligent person will know that there is no correlation between the simplicity of a solution and the sophistication of the reasoning that led to it”

Why A4? – The Mathematical Beauty of Paper Size

Stats

July U.S. eGrocery sales climb 17% versus year ago to $7.8 billion

According to Edison Research, 35% of adults in America own a smart speaker (their sample size of about 1,200 subjects gives me a little concern)

Average transaction price of new vehicles in the U.S. was up 11.8% year-over-year in July 2022

Roads that need repairing in Nebraska cost each driver $461 per year

iOS US market share hits all-time high and exceeds 50% for the first time

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 – 9th January 2021

What I wrote last week

My review of the NYTimes as a business

If you haven’t heard of MDSave, read about my experience with it and how it can save you money

I talked about why I thought Apple’s Services have just only begun

Business

In the Face of Lockdown, China’s E-Commerce Giants Deliver

Consumer spending on the App Store reached $72 billion, compared to almost $39 billion generated on Google Play

A merchant detailed his dealing with Amazon. It’s mind-blowing to see how much Amazon charges merchants for being on their site and how much these merchants rely on the behemoth for revenue. While the total commission is high, that’s the price to pay when you don’t own the customer relationship.

Autodesk's sales growth after its SaaS transition
Source: Polen Capital

Technology

EV vehicles’ market share in France hit 19%, up 6x YoY

South Korea has 11 million 5G subscribers

Facebook published usage stats of their apps on New Year’s Eve. More than 1.4 billion voice and video calls were made on Whatsapp on New Year’s Eve

What I found interesting

The Eerie Beauty Of The Apple Watch Solar Face, And The Anatomy Of Nightfall

Hawaii beaches face the threat of erosion

Weekly readings – 26th September 2020

What I wrote

Some data points and arguments in favor of Apple and its App Store guidelines

My review of the book: The Psychology of Money

Business

How Wegmans Keeps Winning

A bear case on Microsoft Azure

Innovation is rampant in the fintech world and this new idea for a credit card is one of them

An investigative piece on how Mark Zuckerberg responded to criticisms from his own ranks

The SaaS Financial Model You’ll Actually Use

Technology

The secret history of Windows on Surface Duo

Adobe introduced Liquid Mode in even Free Adobe Acrobat Reader! It makes changing a PDF’s content so much easier. Try it out!

What I found interesting

In the last 30 years, under-5 child mortality rate has dropped from 93 per 1000 children in 1990 to about 38 in 2019. A remarkable achievement

About a special Japanese citrus

South Korea managed to contain the pandemic while minimizing the impact on its economy. WSJ had an interesting piece on how it did so

Weekly readings – 28th March 2020

2020 economic apocalypse for small businesses

How WeChat, TikTok and Chinese Consumers Are Disrupting and Personalizing Luxury

Traffic and Pollution Plummet as U.S. Cities Shut Down for Coronavirus

How South Korea Solved Its Acute Hospital-Bed Shortage

A critical and accurate (imo) critique of a medium blog post that was deceptive, yet went viral.

JP Morgan’s research on small business cash liquidity

UK Tech for a changing world

How Spanish flu helped create Sweden’s modern welfare state

Why don’t we just ban targeted advertising?

Buying During a Crisis

Yearbook on Venture Capital in the US

How 3M Plans to Make More Than a Billion Masks By End of Year

The debt to the truth & the fatal lesson we didn’t seem to learn

The last episode of Chernobyl was aired on Monday and yet it has still been on my mind since. The quality of the episode is unbelievable and bettered only by the message it carries. The importance of the truth. The cost we pay for lies.

Here is a clip in which how a nuclear core works and how negligence, coupled with greed, set up the cause for one of the most tragic incidents in humans’ history.

This speech from Legasov explains that it is not incompetence that caused the reactor core explosion. It’s the lies we tell each other.

“When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it’s even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies”

What is even more shocking is that we as humans don’t seem to learn from our lesson. Technology Review reported on the egregious behavior of KHNP, a nuclear affiliate of Korea Nuclear Power Corporation.

“On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, most reactor builders had tacked on a slew of new safety features. KHNP followed suit but later realized that the astronomical cost of these features would make the APR1400 much too expensive to attract foreign clients.

“They eventually removed most of them,” says Park, who now teaches nuclear engineering at Dongguk University. “Only about 10% to 20% of the original safety additions were kept.”

Most significant was the decision to abandon adding an extra wall in the reactor containment building—a feature designed to increase protection against radiation in the event of an accident. “They packaged the APR1400 as ‘new’ and safer, but the so-called optimization was essentially a regression to older standards,” says Park. “Because there were so few design changes compared to previous models, [KHNP] was able to build so many of them so quickly.”

Having shed most of the costly additional safety features, Kepco was able to dramatically undercut its competition in the UAE bid, a strategy that hadn’t gone unnoticed. After losing Barakah to Kepco, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon likened the Korean unit to a car without airbags and seat belts. When I told Park this, he snorted in agreement. “Objectively speaking, if it’s twice as expensive, it’s going to be about twice as safe,” he said. At the time, however, Lauvergeon’s comments were dismissed as sour words from a struggling rival.On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?”

It’s not just other countries. The US is reportedly not very careful with nuclear warheads in the country, as Last Week Tonight reported