Weekly reading – 5th November 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple Earnings

Small but important things

Business

How Google’s Ad Business Funds Disinformation Around the World. A large scale investigation into how Google’s Ads benefit sites that distribute misinformation in non-English speaking countries. I understand that this problem is not easy, but Google is known for engineering prowess and this is an engineering problem. If ads still shows up on sites flagged as misinformers, it’s because someone decides to turn a blind eye on them. “ProPublica also scanned close to 10,000 active articles that fact checkers in the three Balkan countries flagged for false claims since 2019. Just over 60% were earning money with Google. The articles included a range of falsehoods about national politics, the pandemic, vaccines, the war in Ukraine and other topics. Dejan Petar Zlatanovic operates Srbin.info, a Serbian website that publishes pro-Kremlin propaganda copied from Russian state media, election conspiracies about the U.S. and anti-LGBTQ content. Its homepage features a prominent hyperlink directly to the official Kremlin website. Google ads abound there and on article pages. Zlatanovic said in an email that Srbin.info earns between $5,000 and $7,000 per month, with Google ads providing a key portion of the revenue.

The Hype Cycles of Venture Capital. Our society praises monumental wins of venture capitalists passionately and holds those men and women in high regard. But I don’t see the same vigor in criticisms when they fumble millions of capital on new, exciting and…useless ideas. Anyone remember Clubhouse? Or Bird?

Inflation – Stealing From Savers. The headline is that inflation is not going away any time soon and investors will have a hard time to earn sizable returns

After leading $20 billion Figma deal, Adobe’s David Wadhwani is in prime spot to be next CEO. As an Adobe shareholder, I feel good reading this article. Who’s better to succeed the current CEO than the guy championing the subscription business model and having the credentials of leading AppDynamics to be acquired by Cisco.

($) Big Tech’s Dirty Supply Chains Undercut Climate Promises From HQ. “Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc. have pledged to run their own operations on 100% clean power. But their suppliers — the lesser known companies that make the key components of hit products like the Kindle, the Xbox or Pixel mobiles — remain deeply reliant on fossil fuels. Twelve of the 14 top suppliers get on average 5.4% of their energy from renewable sources or don’t disclose, data from a Greenpeace report released Friday showed. Taiwan’s TSMC is sucking up as much electricity as Sri Lanka’s 21-million population and is expected to use up 12.5% of the island’s annual power consumption by 2025. More than half of Taiwan’s energy is generated from coal and fossil fuels. In South Korea, home to another critical chip-supplier, SK Hynix, the story is similar. The company’s chip factories consume power equivalent to 1.6 million South Korean households and more than 60% of the country’s power comes from burning coal and natural gas.”

JPMorgan Chase wants to disrupt the rent check with its payments platform for landlords and tenants. This is an exciting new product from JP Morgan. It’s so frustrating that tenants have to pay by checks every month because landlords refuse to upgrade their infrastructure. I myself was asked to provide a check as collateral the last two times I tried to book a facility in my apartment building. I abandoned the booking simply because I refused to go to a branch just for a check. For JPMorgan Chase, this can be a strategically great move. At $500 billion in rent payment volume annually, even 0.2% of interchange and/or processing fee can bring in an extra $1 billion in revenue. Landlords that park their rent payments in a Chase account can help the bank get more deposits to fund their more lucrative loan-originating business. Last but not least, even if JPMorgan Chase doesn’t require landlords or tenants to be a customer of the bank, this new platform can serve as a tool to scout new prospects. Think about it this way. If the bank knows the address and rent-paying behavior of a prospect, it can leverage that data to craft a profile and run a marketing campaign toward that profile accordingly. That information is first party, reliably accurate and NOT easy to have.

This is how much more Apple Music pays artists than Spotify [Video]. I wonder what non-disclosure agreements these streaming services have with artists. But this is damning to Spotify. If a few more artists come out to back up this revelation, they will be under pressure to increase payout and that would mean higher expenses and less margin. Investors will not like that

Apple CFO talked about the small scale of his Finance team and how efficient they are

Other stuff I find interesting

How the New York City steam system works. The story of steam actually begins in Ancient Rome, where enterprising Romans were already building steam pipe systems for heating buildings and baths. The technology spread to the rest of Europe, but it was in the United States during the late 19th century. Inventors and businessmen turned it into a commercially viable heating option for towns and cities. New York was the first major city in the U.S. to have a steam system and still has the largest one to this day. In fact, if you add up the next five largest steam systems in America, it’s still smaller than New York City’s.

In Greece’s largest port of Piraeus, China is the boss. Europe must be mindful of these investments in key infrastructure by China. If there is opposition to China getting semiconductor technologies from the US, why shouldn’t there be caution when it comes to key infrastructure?

Why Switzerland built a 2-kilometer-long train. I am marveled by the fact that there is a 2km-long train out there. I wouldn’t get on board if the train was operated in many countries, including Vietnam. But since this is the Swiss we are talking about, I’d give it a shot.

The enduring sexism of India’s tech industry. With 1.3 billion people in population and a big portion of that as women, India would be even more competitive if they could foster a culture more liberating and friendly towards women

Vietnam is luring tech giants out of China with flashy infrastructure projects. If our country just provides lands and labor, there will be little transfer of technological, commercial or scientific knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to increase the GDP and all that for Vietnam, but I’d prefer us taking a page out of Singapore’s playbook.

($) The Metals for Your EV Are Stuck in a 30-Mile Traffic Jam. This is an eye-opening account on how copper is transferred from mines to ports in Africa. My gosh, what a tough gig it is. The whole continent is hungry for infrastructure investments that will make thousands of lives easier and improve commerce. Rich countries wishing to establish influence should pay attention and act before China does, if they haven’t already

Stats

Meta’s Reality Labs is projected to cost as much as the Apollo Program, the very one that landed humans on the Moon

37% of small business owners in the U.S. were unable to pay their rent in full and on time in October

What I eat in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Here is a collection of what I have eaten so far since landing in Saigon 3 weeks ago. I know that travel during Covid is tricky and exhausting as I experienced it first hand in, but if you can make it to my country and city, I hope this will help you get to know our cuisine. I don’t claim that the list below is the best in class. I visited some shops after some quick Google search while others were just sheer coincidence. Since most of them offer street food, always remember to ask for prices or a menu before making an order to avoid being ripped off.

Broken Rice

If you visit Vietnam, this is one dish that you have to eat. You can have it outside Vietnam, but it’s the most authentic and tasty here. Where to eat: Cay Diep: 58D Cao Thang, Ward 2, District 3. Price: 50,000 VND a plate or Mai: 129 Doan Van Bo, Ward 12, District 4. Around 50,000 VND/plate

Vietnamese broken rice
Figure 1 – Long Xuyen Broken Rice
Vietnamese broken rice
Figure 2 – Vietnamese broken rice

Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

A very traditional dish in Vietnam that originates from Hue, our old capital. There are plenty of options in Saigon. The shop where I had the above bowl is right at the corner of Phan Boi Chau and Le Loi in District 1. It’s pretty convenient if you wander around Ben Thanh market. Price is about 40,000k a bowl.

Bún Bò Huế - Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle
Figure 3 – Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle

Súp Cua – Crab Soup

Easy to eat and delicious. Beware that if you are not used to having an empty stomach, you may need to eat again 1-2 hours after the soup. Sup Cua Doanh: 75 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1. Around 50,000 to 60,000 VND a small bowl

Súp Cua Sò Điệp - Crab Soup
Figure 4 – Súp Cua Sò Điệp – Crab Soup

Noodle Soup – My Tho Style

This shop is small and looks rugged on Tôn Thất Thiệp street in District 1, near Bitexco Tower, but the food is just excellent and not pricey at all for its quality and location.

Hủ Tiếu Mì Mỹ Tho - Noodle Soup Mỹ Tho
Figure 5 – Hủ Tiếu Mì Mỹ Tho – Noodle Soup Mỹ Tho

Laairai Restaurant

This one is a bit biased because the owner is my close friend. Nonetheless, the food is really excellent and the ambience is nice. The prices are a bit high, but understandable if you want to be positioned as an upper market eatery place.

Laairai: 98 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Da Kao Ward, District 1.

Laairai Restaurant
Figure 6 – Laairai Restaurant

Bột Chiên – Fried Rice Flour Cakes

It’s a small cart on Su Van Hanh Street, District 10. You can see what the cart looks like in the video below. The food is tasty and affordable at only 25,000 VND for a plate

Bột Chiên - Fried Rice Flour Cakes
Figure 7 – Bột Chiên – Fried Rice Flour Cakes

Dumpling

A popular snack here in Vietnam that originates from our annoying neighbor, China. This small cart is located on Co Giang Street in District 1. It doesn’t have a business sign and I forgot to film where it was. But just go to Co Giang Street, near Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and you should see it. Each dumpling costs 4,000 and there is a good variety for you to choose from.

Figure 8 - Há Cảo - Dumpling
Figure 8 – Há Cảo – Dumpling

Sticky Rice

This snack is not healthy as it has a lot of carb, but boy, does it taste good! I miss it tremendously as you can’t find the authentic version in Nebraska. There are countless shops in Saigon, but I got the below from Minh Phung Street, District 6. Only 20,000 VND for a portion like below

Xôi Mặn - Sticky Rice
Figure 9 – Xôi Mặn – Sticky Rice

Bún Riêu

Bún Riêu Gánh: 163 Le Thanh Ton, District 1. At the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Nguyen Trung Truc. Price: about 50,000 VND a bowl

Bún Riêu
Figure 10 – Bún Riêu

Smoothie Phố

This shop is very near and dear to me. It operates from 6pm to midnight 6 days a week. Customers are loyal and love what the shop has to offer: affordable but great smoothie. Don’t take my words for it. Just visit it between 8pm and 10pm and you’ll see a crowd on the pavement and the street. Address: 119 Nguyen Van Cu, District 5.

Smoothie Phố
Figure 11 – Smoothie Phố

Weekly reading – 5th March 2022

What I wrote last week

QR Codes’ popularity in Vietnam

Business

Car Dealerships Don’t Want Your Cash—They Want to Give You a Loan. I am supportive of point-of-sale lending if and only if consumers want that option and aren’t coerced into it. That car buyers are forced into taking a loan to avoid paying a premium is just simply outrageous. Every oversight agency should look into this practice and punish dealers accordingly.

Tinder’s Opaque, Unfair Pricing Algorithm Can Charge Users Up to Five-Times More For Same Service. The research — which spanned five continents — reveals that within a single country, consumers can be quoted up to 31 unique price points for a Tinder Plus subscription. Further, some people are charged up to five times more for the exact same service: In the Netherlands, prices ranged from $4.45 to $25.95. In the U.S., they ranged from $4.99 to $26.99. Consumers International and Mozilla also determined that Tinder’s personalized pricing algorithm can charge older users more money. On average across the six countries investigated, 30-49 year-olds were charged 65.3% more than 18-29 year-olds.

As online grocery surges, brick-and-mortar still resonates with shoppers. Online grocery shopping is still a bit novel, even to a young guy who is supposed to be the prime audience for eCommerce like myself. What stops me from buying groceries online includes retailer websites’ frustrating user experience, the fear that groceries aren’t fresh, the concern about the actual quantity without real visibility and the higher prices. I haven’t been able to find a grocer that addresses these concerns of mine and believe that many have the same.

As GrabFood, ShopeeFood hit Covid wall in Vietnam, smaller apps take aim. “Like most markets in the region, Vietnam’s food delivery space is dominated by two players. One of them is GrabFood, the food delivery arm of Singapore-headquartered super app Grab. GrabFood is dominant across the region, with a GMV of US$7.6 billion in 2021. In Vietnam, it has a 41% market share, according to the Momentum Works report. Matching GrabFood’s 41% is the food delivery arm of another Singapore-based giant—Sea Group’s ShopeeFood. Again, Vietnam is an outlier here, since ShopeeFood is barely present in the rest of Southeast Asia, where foodpanda and Indonesian super app Gojek’s GoFood are the other major players. GrabFood and ShopeeFood still have a significant lead in Vietnam, but conversations with restaurant owners point to a growing disaffection with them. Several owners told The Ken that Grab and Shopee’s commission fee of 25-30% is too high for them to break even. They’re also unhappy with the giants’ heavy discounting strategy—a common tool used to acquire customers. “When they offer promotions to customers, we have to pay 50% of the promotion, and Grab pays the other 50%,” said Diep Nguyen, who runs two cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. “If we want to be featured on a Grab promotion, that costs up to US$38 per week.”

Disney+ Adding Cheaper Ad-Supported Tier. “The value of advertising is significant. Disney’s other major streaming service, Hulu, offers an ad-supported tier for $6.99 per month, and brings in about as much ad revenue from those users as it does subscription revenue. With its wider reach (Hulu only has 45 million subscribers), Disney+ has the potential to generate significantly more ad revenue“. You need to ask Disney’s management for the rationale and substantiating data behind this move. If I can venture my thoughts, this will be a good move for the iconic company. An ads-supported tier of Disney+ with a growing and appealing library of content will expand the company’s reach. The key here is whether Disney can strike the balance between customer experience and profitability. With Hulu, Disney seems to have a decent record. So I give the company the benefit of the doubt.

Hybrid offline/online transactions. An awesome post on the voucher payment system in Japan. If you are interested in payments, Patrick’s blog is a great resource

Stuff that I find interesting

Periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart health by Harvard University. “Long menstrual cycles and heavy periods3 can be symptoms of a condition called “polycystic ovarian syndrome”, “polycystic ovary syndrome”, or “PCOS”. People with PCOS can have higher levels of androgen hormones. This hormonal imbalance can cause acne, excess facial or body hair, or scalp hair loss. Our preliminary analyses showed that in comparison to participants without PCOS, participants with PCOS were more likely to have a family history of PCOS, have abnormal menstrual cycles, and have a higher prevalence of conditions that can negatively impact heart health. These conditions include pre-diabetic conditions, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.”

‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes. “Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.”

Hikikomori, which describes folks shutting themselves in their rooms in Japan from society. Inclusiveness doesn’t just mean sexual orientation or race. It also includes different profiles and personalities. As our societies advance, we should strive to make folks who have trouble blending in feel accepted and included. What the mother in this article did was admirable. And I hope there are more like her.

Stats

“Long-term, established online grocery customers collectively generated more than 3.5 times the revenue for conventional grocers than new customers did”

“Weekly online grocery sales for stores that offered both pickup and delivery were 44% higher than stores offering only delivery and 55% higher than stores offering only pickup”

Russia and Ukraine contributed 4% and 1% respectively to Visa’s total FY2021 revenue

“Russian and Ukrainian seafarers make up 14.5 percent of the global shipping workforce, according to the International Chamber of Shipping”

QR Codes’ popularity in Vietnam

The perks of living in the States as a Vietnam is that I get to see the differences between the two countries in several aspects. One of them is payments. If contactless and tap-to-pay is more common and popular in the US, QR Codes are much more ubiquitous in Vietnam, at least in the big cities. What you see below is in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam. When you venture out to smaller and poorer provinces, things may change significantly.

This is how we paid at a convenience store. The cashier scanned the QR code on a phone to process payments.

In the below clip, we were at a local bakery named Tous Les Jours. You can see different QR Codes for different mobile wallets. Consumers can just scan one and make payments. The nature of the transaction requires immediate confirmation since nobody is going to wait 5′ for a payment to go through.

Even mom-and-pop stores like a sugar cane shop and a photocopy shop below allow payments via QR Codes

A sugar cane shop in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) accepts payments via QR Codes
A local photocopy shop in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) accepts payments via QR Codes

Mobile wallets like Momo strive to acquire and retain users. When we paid for our drinks at the sugar cane shop, we got 50% discount out of nowhere even though the transaction amount was only $1.2.

Momo gives users 50% discount on transactions out of nowhere

Travel During Covid – From The US to Vietnam – Transit at Haneda Airport, Japan

I recently went back to Vietnam to visit friends and family. This is arguably the most exhausting trip that I have ever taken since I went overseas at 19 years old. I’ll share some of my experiences below that hopefully may be helpful with your upcoming travel. My post is for informational purposes only, so please do your own research.

Read up on travel restrictions and prepare in advance

Like many other countries, Vietnam requires visitors to be at least double-jabbed. If you are vaccinated in the US like me, the square vaccination card should be enough. Visitors must also show a negative PCR test result that has to be taken within 72 hours before arrival. There are many types of Covid tests; therefore, research what is accepted and take an appropriate test. For reference, my test was a Nasopharyngeal Swab taken at Total Wellness in Omaha, Nebraska. PCR tests for travel are pricey, to the tune of $220 each, but if you are insured, you should be covered. Taking a cheap rapid antigen test will save you some money, but since such a test is not usually accepted, you are putting your trip up for more risks. Once again, research on what is accepted by all destinations on your journey and take appropriate actions. Folks often receive their test results digitally, but I recommend that you print them out and have them stamped, if possible.

Trips from the US to Vietnam often include a transit to Japan. I couldn’t finish the check-in process on the United Airlines app. When we got to the Omaha airport, United Airlines told us that we must show a filled quarantine questionnaire. We were spooked. My fiancé flew from Vietnam to the US through Japan and she didn’t have to show that questionnaire. Did something change in between? We frantically checked everything we could about travel restrictions in Japan, but the only thing we could find was this passage from ANA.

Source: ANA

Since we were only transiting in Japan and our transit didn’t involve changing airports nor exceed 24 hours, according to ANA itself, we wouldn’t have to show any documents. But the United Airlines staff didn’t listen. She kept asking us for a completed questionnaire which mandates a quarantine address that we clearly do not have. After more than 30 minutes back and forth, she finally let us check in because the boarding time was coming, but implored us to finish the questionnaire before we landed in Japan. Once we got through the security check, I called United Airlines and was told that our interpretation of the situation is correct. Hence, if you are transiting in Japan and your transit doesn’t exceed 24 hours or involve a transfer between airports, you should not have to show any documents.

Transit at Haneda Airport in Japan

Barring any changes in the near future, if you transit at Haneda airport, you are likely to do so at Terminal 3. According to Haneda Airport‘s website, there are 38 stores at Terminal 3. Unfortunately, many of them are “temporarily closed” and some don’t open before 9am. If your flight lands there earlier than 9am, expect to see a lot of closed doors. The remaining open stores include mostly tax-free shops that sell perfumes, liquor, chocolate and some souvenirs. There are a few restaurants but the choices are limited and I couldn’t see any with sushi on the menu. The best option is to use a lounge. We used the ANA Lounge, whose access is worth 6,000 yen or about $50. Guests have unlimited access to a small buffet with good Japanese food. Liquor and wine are available only after 11am. I really enjoyed their soup as the broth was authentically delicious. I had nothing but praises for the staff. Even though they spoke limited English, their customer service was excellent. They brought food to our table and retrieved the empty trays for us. Promptly and unintrusively.

Only the stores with bright light are open. The rest are temporarily closed. You can se how limited the options are

In addition to the buffet, there are also areas where guests can rest, wind down and get some work done in silence. What made the Lounge great for us is the shower. Access to the shower is by appointments only and each appointment is capped at 20 minutes. The shower rooms are spacious with excellent facilities. From the hair dryer, the toilet to the shower itself. If you have a long transit, a shower is just what the doctor orders.

Restaurants that offer Japanese cuisine do not have sushi
Drinks from a vending machine are cheap. A coke costs a bit more than $1. I paid $5 for a bottle of water at Omaha airport

In short, we were fairly disappointed with the stores at Terminal 3 of Haneda Airport. If you have a long transit there, adjust your expectation on what you can actually do. Make sure you check out the Lounges! In my opinion, they are worth the money

Arrival in Vietnam

Vietnam just recently opened its borders after two years of completely being shut off from the world. The border control at Tan Son Nhat airport is strict and tiring. It’s imperative that you keep the boarding pass of the flight to Vietnam. Immigration officers in Vietnam will repeatedly ask for it; which was not there before Covid, if my memory doesn’t fail me. After disembarking from a plane, visitors will have to show that they adhere to the Covid restrictions before getting to the passport control. Proof includes their vaccination status, a negative Covid test that was taken no more than 72 hours before, and a declaration on tokhaiyte.vn. There is Wifi at the airport; therefore, don’t panic if you don’t fill out the declaration in advance. It’s actually better to declare right at the airport because it’s more up to date, but make sure you have digital access to your vaccination card or proof that you recovered from an infection. The lines can be very long, so take this into account when you make travel plans in Vietnam. We landed around 9pm local time and only left the airport 3 hours later.

The lines at Tan Son Nhat Airport

We didn’t have any rapid antigen test upon arrival at Tan Son Nhat airport. Hence, we only had to go through 3 days of self-quarantine at a hotel. We chose the Blue Diamond Luxury Hotel on Thi Sach street. The price for two people for 3 days, including 3 meals/day and a PCR test, was 7 million VND or about $300. The hotel is located in a quiet area of District 1. You are not disturbed by bars or heavy traffic. The food was actually better than I expected. The room was decent enough and the staff was nice. In hindsight, I don’t think that price was unreasonable.

We were told by a few friends and family members that a quarantine was not needed. I am not sure about that. We actually got a call from a local government official asking about our whereabouts and our test result. Being in quarantine is no fun, but I felt good that we followed the rules. We had time to recuperate after a long flight, slept to alleviate the jet lag and brought ourselves some peace of mind for not having to constantly look over our shoulders.

Covid cases in Vietnam have been rising after Lunar New Year. Hence, do yourself a favor and make sure you have hand sanitizers and masks with you at all time. I recommend that you have several masks and one of them is from paper. N95s offer great protection, but they can be hard on the ears after a while. Paper masks will be the break that your ears will desperately need.

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 – 20th November 2021

What I wrote last week

My thoughts on Apple Business Essentials

What I think about Apple Pay & Apple Card

Good reads on Business

HelloFresh: Delivering on Process Power. This episode goes deep into the operational aspect of Hello Fresh. I certainly under-estimated it and its operational complexity.

Macy’s CEO, a department store veteran, fights to fit in the Amazon future of retail. Macy is an interesting case study in which its online presence is so valuable that activist investors want it to be publicly traded alone, separate from the physical stores. “Of the company’s 5 million new customers that came in over the second quarter, more than 40% came to Macy’s digitally, Gennette said on the earnings call. In an effort to capitalize on its most valuable customers — those who shop at Macy’s both in-person and online tend to spend three times more than those who only shop at one or the other — Macy’s has invested in data analytics so it can follow when and what they shop, then tailor incentive programs and product messaging to them.”

Breaking Down the Payment for Order Flow Debate. A good read on the payment for order flow debate and why orders on trading apps like Robinhood are halted when there is too much volatility.

Apple is sticking taxpayers with part of the bill for rollout of tech giant’s digital ID card. As an Apple shareholder, it is good to see the power that Apple wields against even the states. As a tax payer, I am quite concerned that the few participating states so far seem to give that much ground to a private company.

The end of “click to subscribe, call to cancel”? One of the news industry’s favorite retention tactics is illegal, FTC says. I am really glad that the FTC intervened to protect consumers. If you want an example of how governments can help citizens, this case is exhibit A.

Airlines Are Rewriting the Rules on Frequent-Flier Programs—Again. “The airline will make it possible to earn elite status without taking a single flight starting in March. Credit-card miles will count more toward status than ever before. Those who are true frequent fliers will get some added benefits, and business travelers who aren’t taking as many trips will be able to boost their status with their spending. Small-business owners and others who use their credit cards a lot now can be a top dog at American before they ever lift the buckle on a seat belt. Delta says it will automatically roll over status that SkyMiles customers have this year to 2022. In addition, it will pool qualifying miles earned this year and next together toward 2023 status requirements. Delta is also offering bonuses to qualify for elite-status tiers faster and is counting the flying that members do on award tickets toward status levels.” Another change that was encouraged by the pandemic. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess.

What Went Wrong With Zillow? A Real-Estate Algorithm Derailed Its Big Bet. When you are in a business of risk management and become reckless and carried away by the pandemic, the consequences can be dire.

Stuff I found interesting

Japanese Philosophies That’ll Help You Spend Money Consciously. “Chisoku talks about being content with what you already have. Wabi Sabi talks about finding beauty in imperfection. As things age and decay, they become more beautiful. Mitate teaches us that every object has more than one purpose.”

New Zealand’s 180-million-year-old forest. “While most petrified forests are far removed from the modern forests that grow near them, Curio Bay’s petrified forest, which is a representation of an ancient Gondwana forest of cycads, gingkos, conifers and ferns, still has its descendants in the present-day forests found here. About 80% of New Zealand’s trees, ferns and flowering plants are native having evolved in isolation for millions of years.”

One of the World’s Poorest Countries Found a Better Way to Do Stimulus. “In Togo, a nation of about 8 million people where the average income is below $2 a day, it took the government less than two weeks to design and launch an all-digital system for delivering monthly payments to about a quarter of the adult population. People such as Bamaze, with no tax or payroll records, were identified as in need, enrolled in the program, and paid without any in-person contact.”

Stats

The state’s venture capital share has jumped from $300 million in 2016, to almost $3.1 billion in 2020 — 866%– according to Crunchbase. That makes it the state with the fastest growing venture capital rate.”

Drug overdose deaths exceeded 100,000 in the U.S in the 12 months ending April 2021

Out of 100 children born prematurely in Vietnam every year, 17 die in the first 28 days. My country has a long way to go in terms of public health.

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Source: Dave Ambrose

Weekly reading 13th November 2021

What I wrote last week

PayPal’s Q3 FY2021 results

Good reads on Business

A very good Business Breakdown episode on MongoDB. Database can be very abstract and tricky to grab your head around. Hence. I appreciate folks taking the time to share knowledge and translate a tricky subject into laymen’s terms. Check it out!

2021 Retailer of the Year: Dollar General. “Food and consumables accounted for 77% of Dollar General’s annual sales last year of $33.7 billion. The expansion of cooler and freezer capacity at new and remodeled stores has for several years been described as the Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based company’s most impactful merchandising initiative. Dollar General began selling fresh produce at select stores last year, expanded the program to 2,000 locations this year, and its current plan is to add produce in up to 10,000 stores.” The refusal to call itself a grocer, in my opinion, is spot on. The name of the store is Dollar General, not Dollar Grocery. To change it to grocery would be a mistake as consumers would wonder: what kind of grocery am I getting for $1? Plus, the brand is about getting daily items for at a low price (may not necessarily be cheaper than at Costco, if you talk about unit economics). Hence, it doesn’t make sense to limit themselves to just being a grocer.

Why charging phones is a complex business. An interview with Anker CEO. A really interesting one in my opinion. They plan to avoid going into the phone business and stick to what they do best: accessories. Smart. Strategic.

Experts From A World That No Longer Exists. “Expertise is great, but it has a bad side effect. It tends to create an inability to accept new ideas.”

Facebook launches Shops in Groups and Live Shopping for Creators. The investments and focus on eCommerce, in my opinion, are strategically helpful to Facebook. Its giant cash cow has always been advertising powered by surveillance tracking which falls out of favor of many stakeholders. Politicians, lawmakers, more privacy-conscious consumers, powerful companies like Apple. Facebook has literally millions of people and thousands of brands using its platforms every day. It’s in a prime spot to be an eCommerce powerhouse.

Meta CTO thinks bad metaverse moderation could pose an ‘existential threat’. Boz wasn’t wrong there. What is interesting is that Facebook’s biggest challenge right now, before metaverse, is….moderation. In spite of billions of dollars and an army of technology plus human beings, Facebook still can’t crack the moderation code at scale, without pissing off a whole lot of people. Moreover, because its cash cow is advertising, Facebook has an inherent incentive to encourage engagement, whether it’s toxic engagement or not. I am not saying that moderation is easy. It’s super difficult and, like Boz said, almost impossible. But if your existential threat is impossible to solve, then it should give investors some pause.

Debit cards are hidden financial infrastructure. If you are interested in the U.S financial system, subscribe to this newsletter. I think the write-ups are helpful.

Stuff I found interesting

Hundreds of Ancient Maya Sites Hidden Under Mexico Reveal a Mysterious Blueprint. “In a new study, an international team of researchers led by anthropologist Takeshi Inomata from the University of Arizona reports the identification of almost 500 ceremonial complexes tracing back not just to the Maya, but also to another Mesoamerican civilization who made their mark on the land even earlier, the Olmecs.”

Brazilian Farmers Who Protect the Amazon Rainforest Would Like to Be Paid. “Governments, corporations and business executives are calling for a world-wide market to trade carbon credits so Brazilian farmers like Mr. Weis can be paid to help protect forests on their lands rather than cut them down to make way for more crops and cattle. Existing regional markets for carbon credits, from Europe to California to South Korea, show that the interest—and capital—is there for a global market. The value of carbon markets in Europe and elsewhere grew 23% last year to $274 billion, according to data provider Refinitiv Holdings Ltd. In a global market, carbon credits generated anywhere would be easily tradable anywhere else, just as a security issued by a Brazilian company can be bought and sold on the Nasdaq. Landholding farmers, indigenous groups, state governments and environmentalists could all sell credits.”

Spiders are much smarter than you think. ““There is this general idea that probably spiders are too small, that you need some kind of a critical mass of brain tissue to be able to perform complex behaviors,” says arachnologist and evolutionary biologist Dimitar Dimitrov of the University Museum of Bergen in Norway. “But I think spiders are one case where this general idea is challenged. Some small things are actually capable of doing very complex stuff.””

The nation’s last uranium mill plans to import Estonia’s radioactive waste. The tribes that live close to the U.S’ last uranium mill protest unambiguously and loudly the mill’s owner’s plant o import radioactive waste from Estonia since the water that feeds the tribes is ALREADY contaminated enough. Yet it seems that their concerns fall on deaf ears.

Perfecting the New York Street. “An achievable, replicable plan for a city that’s embracing public space as never before.” Yes, please. Fewer cars, less space for parking and more space for pedestrians

Stats

Cloud Computing Spend is expected to reach $848bn in 2025, according to Battery Venture

Vietnam is forecast to have 53 million online consumers by the end of 2021. The country has a population of 96 million people

“65% of U.S. consumers say they watch free, ad-supported video services”

National Geographic’s virtual tour of Son Doong Cave

Located in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, Son Doong is one of the world’s largest natural caves and has arguably the largest cave passage by volume. It was first discovered by a local in 1991 before it rose in world wide fame when a group of British cavers did a survey of the cave in 2009. Since then, tourist permits have been issued on a limited basis to preserve the natural and pristine state of the cave. There was some discussion on creating a cable car for tourist purposes, but due to pressure from environmentalists and locals, the plan was scrapped.

National Geographic's virtual tour of Son Doong Cave
A photo from National Geographic‘s virtual tour of Son Doong Cave

Not many people will be lucky enough to access such a wonder. Hence, I am very appreciative of National Geographic for creating an outstanding virtual tour of the cave, bringing it to everyone with Internet around the world. As a Vietnamese, I am very proud of my country and the gifts that Mother Nature gave us. I hope even if you may not afford a trip to Son Doong nor secure a permit, you can still learn a bit about my country or feel more motivated to visit us and see what else we have to offer. I assure you that we have plenty to satisfy your curiosity.

The enormity, beauty, size, sophistication and age (2-5 million years old) of Son Doong makes me awed of Mother Nature and feel small. Grounded. Credit to National Geographic

What remittance providers you should NOT use

For many immigrants such as myself, remittance is part of the life living overseas. We work hard here and send a bit of help back home whenever we can. In normal times, such assistance is a nice touch. In times like this when many parts of the world such as Vietnam are in strict lockdown because of Covid, it becomes even more critical and appreciated. In times like this, it matters more which remittance providers we entrust with our money to family and loved ones. In this post, I’ll tell you which ones I’d use myself, what I’d not and why.

When it comes to choosing a provider through which I can send money back home, these are the main selection criteria:

  • Are they reliable? This is money we’re talking about. Of course, we want it to be safe and secure. Luckily, the most popular services on the market have a good reliable track record. If not, they wouldn’t service in this business.
  • How long will it take for money to be deposited? Nowadays, it takes much less time for recipients to see money show up in their bank accounts than it did just a few years ago. A transfer can arrive at the receiving account in a few hours or within a day. My experience is that the top providers can transfer funds at pretty much the same speed.
  • How much does it cost in total? This is THE deciding factor. Influencing the net amount that recipients receive are the fees and the exchange rate. The best way to evaluate different services is to look at the final amount that will be credited to the destination account.

I conducted two experiments in which I looked at what would happen if I transferred $1,000 to Vietnam and India using the most inexpensive method through 6 select providers: Xoom/PayPal, Money Gram, World Remite, Ulink Remit, Western Union and Wise. Here are the results:

$1,000 from the U.S to Vietnam$1,000 from the U.S to India
Wise22,544,180 VND72,450 INR
Money Gram22,537,350 VND72,663 INR
Ulink Remit22,226,000 VND72,565 INR
World Remit22,140,076 VND71,930 INR
Xoom/PayPal22,348,000 VND72,034 INR
Western Union22,468,068 VND72,606 INR
Figure 1 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam & India using different remittance services

In both cases, Wise, Western Union and Money Gram are very competitive. Ulink Remit should be considered if the destination is India. Both World Remit and PayPal should not be considered. I don’t know about the value of a few Rupees in India, but if I have to lose a couple of thousand Vietnam Dongs on every $1,000 sent back home, I’ll be put off. Personally for me, Western Union, Wise and Money Gram will be the go-to services to send money to Vietnam. What is yours?

Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam through different providers
Figure 2 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to Vietnam through different providers
Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to India through different providers
Figure 3 – Net amount received when $1,000 is sent to India through different providers

Figure 4 – It’s weird to see WorldRemit is the recommended provider here