Weekly reading – 17th September 2022

What I wrote last week

Relocation from Vietnam to the US with a cat

Business

JPMorgan Chase acquires payments fintech Renovite to help it battle Stripe and Block. Incumbent financial institutions are sparing no coins to invest in their technology stacks. Capital One has always touted itself as a technology company. JPMorgan Chase has plowed so much money into fintech that the long-time CEO Jamie Dimon is under pressure to justify the investments. But that’s the name of the game. Any company that wants to compete in finance in the future will need to put money where its mouth is

Goldman’s Apple Card business has a surprising subprime problem. Given the lack of disclosure from either Goldman Sachs and Apple on earnings calls, it’s helpful to finally to see some performance metrics of the Apple Card portfolio. The headlines are that more than 25% of the overall outstandings is from folks with FICO lower than 660 and the loss rates are among the highest in the industry. The article did well to note that Apple Card is a young business; therefore, its loss rates may not be fully comparable to other fully established ones. I’d also love to learn about the share of balance from Apple purchases. My theory is that since a lot of people use the Apple Card to break their payment into installments, the lower FICO crowd is responsible for the bulk of such payment plans’ balance. Is that necessarily a good thing? I don’t know. But if these “bad apples” are barred from holding an Apple Card ever again, whoever is left will be good loyal customers.

Apple’s Next Big Thing: A Business Model Change. Apple’s executive team doesn’t get enough credit for their long-term vision, the ability to pivot & execute and their relentless patience.

($) How a CEO Rescued a Big Bet on Big Oil; ‘There Were a Lot of Doubters’. Vicki Hollub sounds quite a businesswoman, an operator and an executive!

How to blow $85 million in 11 months: The inside story of Airlift’s crash. Another one on a long list of examples of how companies collapse due to the “move fast and break things” mantra.

($) Instagram Stumbles in Push to Mimic TikTok, Internal Documents Show. If I were Meta investors, I would be worried. The company commits huge investments, HUGEEEEEEE, to the Metaverse, a concept championed by the CEO which, in my opinion, is very very far from reality and of course, monetization. Its business model built upon surveillance tracking is under pressure from Apple’s privacy-centric, though controversial, policies. Meanwhile, Reels, which is one of the highest priorities, is no match against TikTok. According to the Chief Operating Officer of Instagram, Reel’s differentiation comes from the ease of sharing content. I mean, that’s a very weak point. “Instagram users cumulatively are spending 17.6 million hours a day watching Reels, less than one-tenth of the 197.8 million hours TikTok users spend each day on that platform, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that summarizes internal Meta research. The internal document showed that nearly one-third of Reels videos are created on another platform, usually TikTok, and include a watermark or border identifying them as such. Meta said it “downranks” these videos, meaning it shows them to smaller audiences to reduce the incentives for those that post them, but they continue to proliferate. For Reels users, the result is that often they are shown videos recycled from another, more popular platform. The portion of Instagram users who think the company “cares about” them fell from nearly 70% in 2019 to roughly 20% earlier this summer. On the question of whether the product was “good for the world,” the score fell from more than 60% in 2019 to slightly over 45%.”

Other stuff I find interesting

Good enough. On Twitter and business websites, you see all kinds of people trying to predict the performance of a stock or a business. Some do it with a breath-taking degree of condescension and over-confidence. At work, the phrase “data-driven” which refers to the practice of using historical data to back up a course of action is just overused and bores me to death. Instead, I like what Morgan proposed. Make all the predicting and forecasting good enough and then spend the unused bandwidth on something else. I don’t know, like understanding the industry, the customers or what is holding the company back and fixing it.

Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World. A great perspective by Morgan Housel

Shanghai emerges as China’s semiconductor highland. “In total, the market size of Shanghai’s semiconductor industry reached 250 billion yuan (US$36.95 billion) in 2021, or about a quarter of China’s total, according to Wu. The city has attracted over one thousand key industry players and over 40 per cent of the country’s chip talent, Wu added. Shanghai’s relative success in cultivating a big local semiconductor industry has been partly helped by the city’s preferential policies. To attract semiconductor businesses, talent and investors to the city, the Shanghai authority has rolled out a series of preferential measures, from government subsidies to tax breaks. Even during the city’s draconian lockdown in April and May, the local authority gave priority to semiconductor businesses to resume their production and operations as soon as possible.”

The Oldest Restaurant in Kabul: Where Tradition Trumps Rockets. “During the four decades of war that Afghanistan has been through, the Broot family never left the country. They kept their restaurant open and continued serving chainakito the hungry people of Kabul as rockets rained on their neighborhood, bombs exploded, and regimes changed.

Discipline is Destiny: 25 Habits That Will Guarantee You Success

Stats

Indonesia, Brazil, Ghana and Suriname accounted for 80% of tropical forest loss due to industrial mining between 2000 and 2019

Top-Ranked US Colleges All Cost More Than $55,000 a Year. BEFORE room and board.

U.S. mortgage interest rates top 6% for first time since 2008

Source: Twitter

Weekly reading – 9th July 2022

Business

Payments “Revolution” — Visa drives a surge in digital transactions. A great interview with the CFO of Visa. In this episode, Vasant talked about how Visa makes money in general and the company’s position with regard to the supposed threats such as Open Banking, Buy Now Pay Later or Cryptocurrencies.

($) TikTok Turns On the Money Machine. “ByteDance’s hit video app is on track to triple revenue this year to $12 billion, threatening Facebook’s hold on social media. TikTok has an edge against Meta that Apple Inc. helped solidify. Last year, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company updated its iPhone operating system so that users have to opt in to let apps like Facebook track their activities as they used other software on their phones. Most users decided not to let Meta track them, a change Zuckerberg has blamed for financial troubles like those in February. TikTok, it turns out, isn’t relying so much on that kind of tracking data. Its artificial intelligence discerns a user’s likes or dislikes largely from activities on the platform, picking up on how long you watch, say, a cat video, a skateboarding clip or lip-synced dancing. TikTok’s algorithms can then match up users with not just content, but advertising too.”

($) Americans Have Had It With Inflation. Consumers are showing signs that spending is not as strong as some companies make it out to be. With damaging inflation showing no signs of abating, persistent supply chain issues and vulnerable consumer spending, the future looks bleak

($) The Secret Sauce That’s Made Slutty Vegan a $100 Million Chain. A fascinating story about a business founded by a fascinating 34-year-old woman.

How the man behind the Apple Store presided over a Spac catastrophe. Ron Johnson is richer and more famous than most of us, but one thing that we haven’t done is to lose millions of dollars in a business catastrophe in a short time. Past credentials are useful as signals, but they don’t guarantee the same success in the future. Just because someone is rich and famous doesn’t also mean that they have the right opinions or can do everything.

Online grocery shoppers spend more but less loyal. “The vast majority of the 45% of consumers who shop for groceries online are omnichannel shoppers. While their monthly average grocery spend is $594 compared with $388 for in-store-only shoppers, online shoppers spend their dollars across a greater number of retailers monthly, between 3.9 to 6.6 stores per month compared with 3.2 for in-store only, the customer data science firm said.”

($) Intel Bets 17 Billion Euros on a Tech Revival in Eastern German. Intel has made a lot of headlines lately with their planned investments. The key here is that everything is just a plan and full of promises. Nothing has actually come to fruition yet. Intel fell far behind their competitors in terms of technology. In the world of semiconductor, it’s very challenging to make up ground. And I wonder how Intel will pull that off while fulfilling their promises to build plants in Europe and Ohio. Or is that the case of, and I quote somebody in the article, “promises are cheap”?

Other stuff I find interesting

How football shirts chart the rise and fall of tech giants. Football is THE global sport. It’s no surprise to see companies craving for eyeballs spend millions of dollars to appear on teams’ shirts.

Layover or nonstop? UCLA Health research says unique pattern of connectivity lets highly creative people’s brains take road less traveled to their destination. About 15 years ago, somebody said something that stuck with me till this day: it’s all a big giant jigsaw. The more pieces you gather, the more likely you can complete the jigsaw. You just need to find the pieces, whether it’s through experience or reading. It really motivates me to read and improve myself constantly. When I read the article, it reminded of that lesson. In this case, highly creative people have the “pieces” required to take the less traveled path. Somehow, their upbringing, their personality and life experience give them the pieces they need to be who they are and think the way they do.

The local news crisis is deepening America’s divides. You can’t make great decisions without being informed. I don’t think national news outlets have the resources to cover everything in every local community. As more regional news outlets shut down, citizens don’t have enough information on their communities; which affect their votes and decisions. And if there is one thing everybody should know about politics in America in the last 10-15 years, it’s that voting matters at every level.

Japan’s shochu capital becomes new hot spot for whisky. “Traditionally known for its shochu, a clear liquor made from grains, potatoes, sugar cane and more, Japan’s southwestern region of Kyushu has become home to a budding whisky industry as craft distillers chase a larger, more global audience. Surrounded by vegetable fields and rice paddies, Shindo Distillery began producing whisky in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Asakura in summer 2021. The facility belongs to Shinozaki, a storied barley shochu maker founded in 1922. Shinozaki is branching out “because demand for Japanese whisky is skyrocketing,” said Michiaki Shinozaki, who is part of the eighth generation of the founding family.”

Tips for Productivity, Thinking, and Doing. I wholeheartedly agree with this post, especially on the morning routine, the value of writing and the benefits of getting the most important thing done early.

What Is the Pesco Mediterranean Diet? I am actually following the Pesco Mediterranean Diet right now. It’s more about my love for sea food than trying to meet the daily protein intake. It also makes the transition to a plant-focused diet such as Mediterranean Diet easier. If you are looking for a diet that is great for your health, look this up.

Stats

India consumed 6 million tons of meat in 2020

40% of Google users use IPv6

In Zambia, only 10% of the adult population uses a debit card.

FedEx estimates savings of $400 million annually from retiring mainframes

Amazon Prime reportedly had 172 million members in the US as of June 2022

Weekly reading 25th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Books on Payments

Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and took away abortion rights

Business

Inside the Reinvention of Albertsons Cos. The over-arching theme of Albertsons’ plan moving forward is to use technology and data to make decisions so that efficiency can improve and so does customer engagement. Grocery is a hard business. Margin is low and competition is fierce. Albertsons said their goal was to have shoppers complete grocery shopping at their stores without visiting rivals’ footprint while offering local assortments. It means that the selection has to be broad, but the stores at the same time cannot expand in size forever. They also need to keep a close eye on costs and margin as well. That would require a lot of data analytics, coordination in the case of omni-channel shopping and great execution.

($) Retailers’ Inventories Pile Up as Lead Times Grow. On top of the ever-changing consumer behavior and sky-high inflation, retailers now have to deal with long lead times in production which make it even more difficult to match demand with supply while keeping costs in check. Hold a lot of the wrong inventory to avoid supply chain and production issues, and you will be punished like Walmart or Target. Be nimble with inventory and you don’t have well-stocked shelves to woo customers. Hard times ahead.

Consumer watchdog eyes crackdown on credit card late fees as inflation threatens to increase them. If CFPB introduces regulations on late fees, it will affect how issuers generate revenue from credit cards. Late fee is a significant source of revenue by itself, but it also encourages consumers to pay off balance to avoid further penalty. If late fees are further capped or even outright banned, such an incentive will go away and consumers may carry more balance. It will increase risks and reduce revenue for issuers. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

($) Canada to Compel YouTube, TikTok and Streamers to Boost Domestic Content. I am generally supportive of having the right kind of regulations in place to help businesses. Hence, I would be in favor of the Canadian government giving these streamers incentives to promote Canadian creators’ work. I am not; however, ok with a government mandating a preference of local content.

($) GM and Ford, Driving to Beat Tesla, Turn on Each Other. An interesting read on how two iconic American car manufacturers are going at each other for market shares in the EV area.

($) How Singapore Got Its Manufacturing Mojo Back. “In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005. Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore has aggressively wooed highly automated factories with tax breaks, research partnerships, subsidized worker training and grants to local manufacturers to upgrade operations to better support multinational companies, among other enticements. There’s a caveat: Singapore’s success has come by automating away many jobs. It has more factory robots per employee than any country other than South Korea. Business executives say Singapore has succeeded because it has a welcoming, low-tax government and a strong base of English-speaking science, engineering and mathematics graduates and manufacturing managers. Relatively loose immigration laws make it easy to hire foreign engineers.  Executives also say they trust intellectual-property protection laws in Singapore, unlike in places like China where they sometimes worry their partners will copy their products.”

Source: Twitter

Other stuff I find interesting

Japan to subsidize TSMC’s Kumamoto plant by up to $3.5bn. Semiconductor companies get handsome subsidies from governments from all over the world. Japan will give TSMC $3.5 billion while Europe hands Intel billions of euros to build a plant there. That goes to show how countries value the strategic importance of semiconductor going forward

Why America Will Lose Semiconductors. A good run-down of problems that America faces in semiconductor. It’s a nice complementary read to the previous link

Friendly fungi help forests fight climate change. “A 2016 study led by researchers from Imperial College London revealed that one particular type – ectomycorrhizal fungi – enables certain trees to absorb CO2 faster (and therefore grow faster) than others. This is known as the “CO2 fertilisation effect”. These fungi live in the root system of a host tree. In a symbiotic relationship, fungi help the tree to absorb more water, carbon and other nutrients. In exchange, the tree provides food for the fungi by photosynthesising. Ectomycorrhizal fungi have also been found to slow down the process of rotting; decomposition breaks down all that locked-away carbon and releases it into the atmosphere. So the fungi, in effect, have two methods of fighting global warming.”

The most dangerous place on Earth. “Nestled on Lithuania’s southeastern border, Druskininkai opens onto a narrow notch of strategic territory known as the Suwałki Gap. Stretching about 100 kilometers along the Lithuanian-Polish frontier, between Belarus in the east and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the west, Western military planners warn the area would likely be one of the Russian president’s first targets were he ever to choose to escalate the war in Ukraine into a kinetic confrontation with NATO.”

($) Erdogan Is Hung Up on the Power One Kurdish Woman Has in Sweden. “Amineh Kakabaveh’s journey from Peshmerga fighter to Kurdish refugee and then Swedish lawmaker has thrust her into her adopted homeland’s standoff with Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holding up Sweden’s application to join the NATO alliance, saying it harbors “terrorists” — his catch-all label for those with links to Kurdish militancy — and he’s hinted at Kakabaveh’s influence as a particular problem.”. Just an amazing story by Amineh

Stats

Edmunds reported that the average price of an EV exceeded $60,000

Since November 2021, more than $2 trillion in cryptocurrency value has evaporated

Covid vaccines saved 20 million lives in the first year

TikTok had $4 billion in revenue in 2021. Its US-based users spent on average 29 hours on the platform, compared to 16 hours on Facebook and 8 on Instagram

Source: IMF

Weekly reading – 28th May 2022

Business

Apple Looks to Boost Production Outside China. It’s good for Apple to at least consider operations in other countries to hedge risks. However, it’s not easy to move out of China completely. The book “After Steve” mentioned an episode in which Apple practically had to beg Foxconn to help stand up an assembly line for Apple Watch (I am not 100% about the product in question) overnight because the other chosen supplier screwed up. Foxconn had the resources to do wonders. Replicating such expertise and capabilities in other countries will be very time-consuming and difficult. Plus, doing business in China certainly helps Apple cultivate a relationship with the government. In such a regime, that’s critical.

Cannes: How Japanese Anime Became the World’s Most Bankable Genre. Japanese Anime has incredible IPs. Streaming introduces viewers to content that they had never seen before. Even in my 30s, I am still following some of the anime franchises that I read as a kid. I’d love to explore more if I had the time. It’s not just for kids. Adults love anime too

It’s TikTok’s World Now. Facebook Just Tries to Make People Care About It. The biggest takeaway I have from this piece is that Facebook seems to have trouble dethroning TikTok more than it did any challengers before. Creators still make money on Instagram, but that doesn’t seem to stop TikTok from growing. Interestingly, Facebook had a chance to buy TikTok years ago, but passed. Now, they must rue that decision every day.

Plant-Based Dairy Reinvigorates Milk Category. I do think the popularity of plant-based dairy results from the fact that consumers are more health-conscious. Have you looked at the difference in calorie per serving between meat-based and plant-based milk?

50 years in: Nike’s game plan for winning with women. For obvious reasons, I don’t know anything about women clothing, but it is interesting to read about Nike’s approach to winning this category. Unless there are specific reasons, I naturally support a simple product portfolio. Consumers don’t get confused. Brands can put more marketing dollars and focus behind each product.

Google Takes Yet Another Run at E-Commerce—and Amazon. A super interesting read on Google’s latest efforts into e-Commerce. Based on the article, this time, Google may be onto something. Consumers start to use Google to search for products more than previously, a territory that used to belong to Amazon. E-commerce was also a leading contributor to the bump in search revenue in 2021. With that being said, 2020 and 2021 were great for e-Commerce, but since the economy opened up and folks went back to stores and office, e-Commerce has seen its growth dampened. Whether this trend will affect Google’s effects in the future remains to be seen

Other stuff I find interesting

The Trouble With Lithium. This grim ripping read on Lithium is in line with what I read so far about the element. Demand far outweighs supply, pushing the price to unprecedented heights. The trend will persist for a few years to come. For good measure, even though extracting and producing Lithium have adverse impact on the environment, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative on the horizon.

The butterflies we may never see again in Britain. Super beautiful

The Science Is Clear: Gun Control Saves Lives. For the life of me, I don’t understand how an 18-year-old who cannot get a beer from a bar legally can buy an automatic weapon and shoot dead 19 people. It’s just insane. Take driving as an example. Try driving after either 3 beers or 2 Old Fashioneds and see if you get a DUI. We ban people who consume alcohol from driving, but we close our eyes at folks who may have malicious intent and try to get a weapon. How does that make sense? Look up how Japan regulates gun possession and usage. Then compare the deaths in mass shootings between the two countries. To be perfectly clear, nobody is arguing to take away the right to bear arms. Just like nobody wants to take away the right to drive. We just want access to fire arms to be regulated and controlled so that the tragedies stop. And I read the 2nd Amendment. I don’t think the proponents of the Amendment understand it well…

Stats

Domestic air fares in April 2022 were up 27% compared to April 2019 and 8% month over month

US online grocery sales in April 2022 declined by 4% year over year

45% of devs that earned more than $1 mil in 2021 were not on the App Store or had less than $10,000 in earnings five years before

US Hotel room rates in April and first two weeks of May 2022 were 10-14% higher than the same period in 2019

Source: STR

Weekly reading – 7th May 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple’s Q2 FY2022 results

Book Review: Just Keep Buying

Business

DTC brands are slowly warming up to Amazon. The ability to tell stories and appear authentic to shoppers on Amazon is hugely important. The commission may cut deep into margin, but Amazon commands the kind of online traffic that few others can rival. Some retailers now use Amazon as an acquisition tool. Sell part of the catalogue on the site, lure shoppers to their own native page and hopefully convince them to buy what is not on Amazon. It’s not as straightforward as it should be, but if you can’t win every battle, you may as well pick the ones that can help you win the war

Amazon Will Close Six Whole Foods Stores in Four States. I look forward to seeing how Amazon’s physical store strategy unfolds. Will it transition all Whole Foods to the cashierless version that Amazon Go pioneers? Will it keep both brands at the same time? Or will it designate Amazon Go as the flagship store brand moving forward?

Snapchat’s flying camera Pixy. Kudos to Snapchat for making a portable, small and allegedly easy-to-use drone. There is certainly a niche market for Pixy: consumers who want to film drone footage but can’t afford a drone or do not want to carry a heavy one around. I am certain that Snapchat will iterate furiously to improve Pixy: longer lasting batteries, higher quality cameras, better integration into the Memories section and more AR effects. Snapchat is already great at software. Hardware is hard, but if it can be great at it too, it’ll be formidable (ask Apple).

Formula One Finally Found a Way to Get Americans to Care. Cracking the America code is fantastic for Formula 1 as a sport and a business. A long-time fan of Formula 1, I noticed the difference after Liberty took over. Prior to the take-over, clips in which experts explain aerodynamics, rear wings or floor of F1 cars didn’t exist. Beautiful charts that discuss where one driver is slower than another in a lap were the stuff of imagination. For a global sport such as F1, it was unfathomable to think that it didn’t even have a subscription app to watch races. The Americanization of the sport is not perfect. I am not a fan of how much Drive To Survive excessively dramatizes F1. Just ask Max Verstappen or a few other drivers about it. Having more than one race in the US is…nice, but the final verdict should wait till we get a feel of how the new tracks are. Austin is a great spectacle that provides awesome racing. Miami and Vegas should offer a gigantic boost in popularity, but I am not sure about the racing. We’ll see. For now, I am happy for the sport that I have loved for the past 17 years.

Mercedes-Benz Says Self-Driving Option Ready to Roll. Mercedes is the first car manufacturer that achieves an internationally valid certification for self-driving level 3. This looks a big progress in this space. From the technology perspective, I am excited about self-driving cars. From a practical perspective, I still don’t grasp the actual benefits of driving a driverless vehicle on busy urban streets. Accidents happen all the time. Reliance on computers just makes careless drivers more careless. Plus, if you are in a car and don’t have to drive it, what could you do in the meantime? It’s not like you can go to the back seat and have a nap…

TikTok’s Work Culture: Anxiety, Secrecy and Relentless Pressure. The older I am, the more put off I become of a workplace like TikTok. Imagine needing marriage therapy because you spend your dinner time with your husband on the phone discussing work.

American Consumers Are Shopping, Traveling and Working Out Like It’s 2019. Among a slew of bad news such as high inflation, supply chain constraints and stock market crashes, this is probably the best silver lining for companies. The question is: how long can this strong consumer spending last?

Other stuff I found interesting

103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known. A lot of goof stuff that I wish I had known 10 years earlier

The Arc of the Practical Creator. “A Practical Creator doesn’t view a boring job as a dead-end endeavor, but as an active patron of their creativity. When you’re in this first stage, you must rigorously work on your creative endeavors after your day job responsibilities. This is an absolute must “. I love this website.

Stats

Zenly, a subsidiary of Snapschat that is very popular in Russia, has 35 million monthly active users

Internet companies in China raised $3.51 billion in Q1 2022, down from $15 billion in Q1 2021

The average price for ground beef in America grocery stores has jumped 18% from a year ago

Dr Strange 2 minted $36 million in preview performance, the 8th largest of all time. For comparison, Avenger’s Infinity War notched $39 million and Spiderman: No Way Home did $50 million

US reaches 1 million Covid deaths

Airbnb said more than 800,000 people flocked to its careers page after it announced that employees could live and work anywhere

Weekly reading – 25th December 2021

This is the last post of the Weekly reading series in 2021. Hope you have enjoyed it!

What I wrote last week

I wrote about VRIO, a business strategy framework that can help analyze a company’s competitive advantages

Get to know Affirm

Business

Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Swoops In With a Pandemic-Record Opening. The global gross of $257 million during opening weekend is the 3rd highest of all time. Remember that this is the 27th movie in the Marvel Universe Cinematic and it’s achieved during a global pandemic. Disney’s ability to draw viewers and make great content consistently is just extraordinary. However, it creates a conundrum for the company. Putting content in theaters will haul in a truckload of money and boost the top and bottom line. That also means Disney+, the flagship streamer, will have to wait for at least a certain amount of time to feature the hottest movies, diminishing its power to attract subscribers. Unfortunately for the iconic company, Wall Streets cares a lot about Disney+ subscriber count. Hence, the management team will have their hands full in the next year or two finding the right balance in terms of content distribution

Amazon’s grocery battle isn’t what you think. As an Amazon shareholder, I’d prefer the company owning the software powering stores to operating physical grocery shops. The reason is simple. Grocery is a low-margin business and the competition is fierce. Even if Amazon manages to operate cashier-less stores, chances are that they won’t reach the scale of Costco or Walmart to compete in unit economics. Owning the software powering other stores; however, is profitable. A few retailers already tested out Amazon Go technology. Now, Amazon just needs to prove their worth and scale it to make this another great and profitable business

Bob Iger Makes His Disney Exit as a Titan of Transformation. Bob Iger will go down in history as one of the best CEOs ever. His work transformed Disney and put it in the position that it is now. I like his book The Ride of a Lifetime too.

How Shopify Outfoxed Amazon to Become the Everywhere Store. “In late 2015, in one of Bezos’ periodic purges of underachieving businesses, he agreed to close Webstore. Then, in a rare strategic mistake that’s likely to go down in the annals of corporate blunders, Amazon sent its customers to Shopify and proclaimed publicly that the Canadian company was its preferred partner for the Webstore diaspora. In exchange, Shopify agreed to offer Amazon Pay to its merchants and let them easily list their products on Amazon’s marketplace. Shopify also paid Amazon $1 million—a financial arrangement that’s never been previously reported. Bezos and his colleagues believed that supporting small retailers and their online shops was never going to be a large, profitable business. They were wrong—small online retailers generated about $153 billion in sales in 2020, according to AMI Partners. “Shopify made us look like fools,” says the former Amazon executive.”

6th Annual Grocery Tech Trends Study. “74% of grocers report that the tight labor market is a major obstacle that will drive their retail technology investment over the next 18 months. More than half (54%) of grocers are increasing their year-over-year tech spend, with a focus on advancing digital and mobile capabilities, analytics-driven decision-making, personalized marketing, and click-and-collect.”

A great profile of the CEO of Automattic, the company that runs WordPress.com. “After we hung up our first Zoom call, Mullenweg sent me an email with the subject line “Freedom is central.” The body was a quote from Albert Camus, which worked as an explanation for just about everything Mullenweg believes in, fights for and plans to spend the rest of his life working on: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

The global semiconductor value chain. Today, I started my research into the world of semi-conductor and this is an excellent resource.

Stuff that I found interesting

Himalayan Glaciers Are Melting at Furious Rate, New Study Shows. “Glaciers across the Himalayas are melting at an extraordinary rate, with new research showing that the vast ice sheets there shrank 10 times faster in the past 40 years than during the previous seven centuries.”

Hospital Prices Are Unpredictable. One Type of Health Coverage Often Gets the Worst Rates. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the way that we have to live in fear of getting healthcare in this country is a disgrace

TikTok is the most visited domain in 2021, even more than Google.com. That’s impressive

Stats

YouTube TV is alleged to have more than 4 million subscribers

0.01% of bitcoin holders controls 27% of the currency in circulation

ACH made up 20% of non-cash payments in the U.S in 2020

Image
Source: Michael Batnick

Weekly reading – 27th November 2021

What I wrote last week

A helpful post on the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron

Good reads on Business

Uber introduced the new membership plan called Uber One. Perks include unlimited $0 delivery fees for qualified orders ($30+ for groceries and $15+ for other stuff), 5% off on eligible rides & deliveries, $5 refund if a delivery arrives after the Latest Estimate Time and other perks. It’s the same as DoorDash’s Dash Pass or Instacart’s subscription. The difference is that Uber’s plan also includes rides.

Incentives – How will Visa Amazon Play Out? If you are interested in fintech or payments, subscribe to Tom’s newsletter. It’s good.

More than Joe Rogan: Inside Spotify’s audio revolution. “The same could be said for Spotify, which over the last three years has transitioned from a groundbreaking music streaming service to one that also now offers 3.2 million podcasts on its platform. The expansion has been nothing short of meteoric when you consider that Apple, which has been offering podcasts since 2005, has just over 2 million audio shows. Spotify’s gains were highlighted in its third-quarter earnings report in late October, when it revealed that 3.2 million figure, as well as the fact that advertising revenue from podcasts helped drive total ad revenue up 75% year over year. Stockholm-based Spotify is now on track to pass 1 billion euros (more than $1 billion) in ad revenue for the first time this year.”

Apple taps TSMC to build custom iPhone 5G modem in 2023. A competitive advantage is what you do so much more efficiently and better than your competitors. In the case of Apple, it’s the integration of hardware and software. Within hardware, it’s a combination of so many things, including chip, industrial design and supply chain. Reliant on Qualcomm for the modem chip in the iPhone, Apple decided to be more independent and bring deeper integration by designing its own chip and outsourcing the production to TSMC. Think about it this way. Apple became the most valuable firm in the world while relying on others for parts of their products. Now they gained the capability to own most of the production process. What a company.

Starbucks has opened a store with Amazon Go.At this store, customers that have ordered ahead of time via the Starbucks app can walk in, look to see if their order is ready via the large digital Order Status sign, pick up their drink and walk out. They can also use their Amazon app or credit card to scan into the store and pick up a Dominique Ansel pastry (or a number of other New York City-specific items Ess-a-Bagel), Amazon Kitchen sandwich or sushi roll from the marketplace and just walk out. Once they exit the store with the item, they’ll be charged via their Amazon account via the Amazon Just Walk Out Technology as seen in the Amazon Go stores.” The more Amazon tests this technology, the better it will become. A few years from now, they’ll be miles ahead of others in reimagining the retail experience

AmEx Pitched Business Customers a Tax Break That Doesn’t Add Up. Another shady exercise by a major financial institution.

An interesting write-up on Visa from Greenskeeper Asset Management

Other stuff I found interesting

The ER charged him $6,589.77 for 6 stitches, a cost that led his wife to avoid the ER. The healthcare system in the U.S is really broken and quite frankly just disgraceful.

Workers in Vietnam lived inside factories to keep Samsung’s products on shelves during the pandemic. Poorer countries should band together to pressure tech companies and their suppliers into increasing workers’ pay. Divided, they will be taken advantage of. The economic output is reflected on the paper, but the price that workers have to pay and the longer term sustainability is also damaged

The Humble Brilliance of Italy’s Moka Coffee Pot. “The various species of Coffea, the seeds of which are dried, roasted, and ground to make coffee, are native to east Africa, particularly Ethiopia. Coffee as a beverage first shows up in the historical record—which is not necessarily to say that it wasn’t consumed in its native Ethiopia first—in what is now Yemen. It spread quickly throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and firmly established itself as part of the culture in what are now Turkey and Iran. Italians began coming up with their own gadgets for brewing coffee in the 19th century, but the biggest by far was the idea of applying pressure to coffee in order to create a strong, and more importantly fast, drink. This is the age of steam, a miraculous source of power that can unlock the world, and though it’s not entirely clear who originated the idea of using steam to brew coffee, certainly it was in Italy that it was popularized. The first known patent for a machine we might now recognize as an espresso machine was registered by Angelo Moriondo, who created a giant complicated steam-driven machine in 1884, but who never bothered to manufacture it. Luigi Bezzera, from Milan, modified the Moriondo patent, and hisdesign was further modified (though less so than Bezzera’s) by Desidiero Pavoni, whose La Pavoni introduced the world to espresso in 1906, at a world’s fair held in Milan.”

Stats

JP Morgan estimates that a Prime Membership of $120/year brings more than $1,000 in value to subscribers

63% of U.S Gen Z used TikTok in the last two years

Weekly reading – 2nd October 2021

What I wrote last week

How our brains receive messages and some implications

Articles on Business

Bessemer Venture Partners struck gold with their investment in Toast, which went public recently. Their memo outlining the rationale such an investment is worth a read, especially for those who want to learn about Toast, those who want to learn Business and those who wish to go into Venture Capital.

Apple’s power move to kneecap Facebook advertising is working. A pretty biased article if you ask me. This is a complicated and nuanced issue, yet the author focuses more on the alleged impact that the privacy-centric features Apple introduced have on Facebook business. It does mention: “People are opting out of Facebook’s tracking for a reason: they no longer trust the company with their data after years of evidence they should not. But the context of Apple’s power move is important too.” What it fails to convey is that small businesses do have a problem when it relies on a single channel (Facebook, in this case) for survival. The article fails to articulate why it is Apple’s responsibility to take care of Facebook’s interest. Look, I totally agree that Apple does things out of its self-interest as all of us do. Most of the time, Apple masks its true intention with shiny marketing language as all companies do. But it’s strange to side with Facebook and its tactic to use small businesses as weapons in the war with Apple WITHOUT looking at the issue from the consumer perspective.

Google, Battling Amazon, Tries an E-Commerce Makeover to Win Back Advertisers.Amazon’s accelerating ad business has raised alarms inside Google, prompting Chief Executive Sundar Pichai to assure Alphabet’s board that rejuvenating its flagging e-commerce efforts is a priority, according to former Google executives. He must fix a mess of Google’s own making. The company has rebooted its digital shopping strategy at least four times over two decades and has had five leaders of its e-commerce operations in 10 years, the former executives said. “Google is almost like the living dead” in e-commerce, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of CommerceIQ, an online-retail service provider. “No one goes there for shopping.”

How IBM lost the cloud. “Over and over again during the last decade, IBM engineers were asked to build special one-off projects for key clients at the expense of their road maps for building the types of cross-customer cloud services offered by the major clouds. Top executives at some of the largest companies in the country — the biggest banks, airlines and insurance companies — knew they could call IBM management and get what they wanted because the company was so eager to retain their business, the sources said. This practice, which delayed work on key infrastructure services for months or even years, was still happening inside IBM as recently as last year, according to one source.

Narrative Distillation. “Even today, the ability to get strong engineers to work on a problem engineers normally don’t want to work on remains a very strong formula for returns. You can increasingly see other top companies shifting to invest more in their company and founder brands. Product market fit is just narrative distillation for customers. It only makes sense that this same process is as crucial for investors and employees, too. And just as we have spent so many years reinforcing the primacy of founders focusing on product market fit—and the process of how companies converge on it—so too must founders take distilling their narratives for all audiences equally seriously.

BNPL Fund Flows
Neobank Landscape

Other stuff that I find interesting

History’s Seductive Beliefs. “Everything has a price, and the price is usually proportionate to the potential rewards. But the price is rarely on a price tag. You don’t pay it with cash. Most things worth pursuing charge their fee in the form of stress, doubt, uncertainty, dealing with quirky people, bureaucracy, other peoples’ conflicting incentives, hassle, nonsense, and general bullshit. That’s the overhead cost of getting ahead.

Ditching your commute: worth ~$40K/year in happiness

Our constitutional crisis is already here. “There was a time when political analysts wondered what would happen when Trump failed to “deliver” for his constituents. But the most important thing Trump delivers is himself. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on Trump by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of Trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: When Trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One Trump supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against Trump “. A somber yet real read on the constitutional crisis that is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

This embroidery has a great talent in bringing aerial landscapes to life. Check it out!

Stats

Almost 25 million people played golf in the U.S in 2020

TikTok Claims the App Now Tops 1 Billion Monthly Active Users

Weekly reading – 28th November 2020

What I wrote last week

I wrote about why I think Apple Card would be a significant credit card as Apple Pay grows more popular

I wrote about Target, Salesforce’s acquisition talk with Slack and Uber vs Lyft

I reviewed President Barack Obama’s new memoir “A Promised Land

Business

The difference in the business model between Booking.com and Expedia

NYTimes and The Washington Post expanded their subscriber base substantially in the last two years

Black Friday’s online shopping exceeded $5 billion

Amazon is strengthening its advantages with delivery capabilities that can rival UBS’

TikTok used its biggest stars in its legal fight against the US government

Research shows that unique visitors to Microsoft Teams far outnumbered those to Slack in October 2020

Technology

There are 123 Fintech startups in Vietnam in 2020. Most of them operate in the Payments area

Users of the new Macs with M1 referred to the hardware as having “alien technology”, “wicked” or “sockery”

What I found interesting

Hanoi and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City is the second busiest domestic flight route in the world

This piece tells a story about how Utah uses collaboration and human touch to create policies that help foster the state’s equality and economy. Two quotes stand out to me

Utahns seem strongly committed to charitable works, by gov­ernment, alongside government or outside government. What­ever tools used are infused with an ethic of self-reliance that helps prevent dependency . . . when there’s a conflict between that ethic and mercy, Utah institutions err on the side of mercy

Betty Tingey, after seeing the news coverage about the Utah Compact, wrote to the Deseret News, “I don’t know much about politics except the sick feeling I get inside when there is constant arguing. . . . I don’t know how to settle debates, but I know a peaceful heart when I have one. I felt it when I read the Utah Compact.”

Source: American Affairs Journal

This clip about an 86-year-old baking master in Greece gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I admire his work ethics, but on the other, it can be a condemnation of a system that forces old people to work this late in their life

Weekly readings – 15th August 2020

What I wrote last week

I wrote a bit about Epic Games vs Apple, Goldman Sachs’ inroad further into consumer credit card world and the potential departure from California of the likes of Uber & Lyft

A historic day for America when Kamala Harris was named as Biden’s Vice President Candidate

My thought on Disney’s latest quarter

Business

Horace Dediu wrote a blog post answering some questions on Apple’s cash strategy

A long and informative deep dive into TikTok and what makes it great

Another deep dive by Turner Novak on Pinduoduo

Nick Sleep on Costco

Meet the Woman Who Got Joe Rogan and Michelle Obama to Spotify

Netflix Business Model & Economics 

A thread on why Avalara has real competitive advantages

Technology

Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong

How the government’s new real-time payments system could transform commerce

Apple wins a Patent for a Possible Dual Display MacBook Supporting a Virtual Keyboard & more

A potentially life-changing technology for visually-impaired folks

What’s going on with Apple Maps

What I find interesting

An inside look at a data analytics firm that Mike Bloomberg is using to help Democrats

The 19th-century entrepreneur who pioneered modern ice cream

A very long and interesting post on the bombing of Hiroshima and what was happening at the time based on recollections of a few survivors

Giant American Cars Don’t Belong on the Streets of the Future

How Taiwan’s Unlikely Digital Minister Hacked the Pandemic