Weekly reading – 16th October 2021

What I wrote last week

Cardless – The startup behind the Boston Celtics, Manchester United and Cleveland Cavaliers credit cards

The virtual tour of Son Doong Cave by National Geographic

Good reads on Business

Semi-Annual Letter to Partners by the DMZ Partners Investment Management. It contains some great nuggets of wisdom with regard to investment and business

Next Act for Apple Veteran Ron Johnson Is Taking Home-Delivery Startup Public. Ron Johnson’s story is proof that even established names can fail. After making his name at Apple, you can argue that he failed at J.C Penney. Now he is working on another startup poised to go public via SPAC. I have to admit, though, that his startup doesn’t sound really exciting or appealing to me.

Bob Iger’s Long Goodbye. “The thing about Hollywood is, you can behave badly, you can be rude, you can make duds, but the thing you cannot do is fuck with people’s money,” says a producer with business at Disney. “You just don’t do that and hide behind technology as the reason why.” It’s really hard to come to a conclusion on whether Chapek is the right person for the job. In his defense, he was dealt with a very bad hand: his predecessor is one of the best CEOs the world has ever seen and his reign started with Covid-19. However, I am not pleased with his handling of the legal scuffle with Scarlett Johansson. That, along with the departures of key creative executives, shows that people’s skepticism of how he works with Hollywood is not entirely imaginary.

Disney’s shift to streaming puts ESPN in awkward position of clinging to the past. “ESPN probably won’t consider a direct-to-consumer service until the pay-TV bundle falls below 50 million U.S. households, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. Disney makes more money from cable subscribers than any other company, and that’s solely because of ESPN. ESPN and sister network ESPN2 charge nearly $10 per month combined, according to research firm Kagan, a unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence. The reverse is true for ESPN. Swapping an ESPN subscriber for an ESPN+ customer, who contributes average revenue of less than $5 per month, is a significant loss for Disney. ESPN+ is a streaming service with limited content.”

The Nasty Logistics of Returning Your Too-Small Pants. “The average brick-and-mortar store has a return rate in the single digits, but online, the average rate is somewhere between 15 and 30 percent. That kind of fraud accounts for 5 to 10 percent of returns. Many retailers don’t allow any opened product to be resold as new. Brick-and-mortar stores have sometimes skirted that policy; products that are returned directly to the place where they were sold can be deemed close enough to new and sold again. But even if mailed-in products come back in pristine, unused condition—say, because you ordered two sizes of the same bra and the first one you tried on fit fine—the odds that things returned to a sorting facility will simply be transferred to that business’s inventory aren’t great, and in some cases, they’re virtually zero.”

Amazon copied products and rigged search results to promote its own brands, documents show. “The documents reveal how Amazon’s private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform. The employees also stoked sales of Amazon private-brand products by rigging Amazon’s search results so that the company’s products would appear, as one 2016 strategy report for India put it, “in the first 2 or three … search results” when customers were shopping on Amazon.in.” The fact that they mine sellers’ data and offer their own private labels isn’t new in the retail world. What I suspect will get Amazon into trouble with lawmakers is the rigging of search results.

EA Sports Is Planning for a FIFA Without FIFA. “Sales of the game, which releases an updated edition every year, have surpassed $20 billion over the past two decades for its California-based maker, Electronic Arts. But FIFA has cashed in as well: Its licensing agreement has grown to become the organization’s single-most valuable commercial agreement, now worth about $150 million per year.”

All That Zaz: With Warner Bros. Discovery Merger, David Zaslav Is Angling to Become America’s King of Content. “I asked him before he had to jump off our Zoom for a parade of meetings with producers and agents and talent and other Hollywood folk. Is there yet another megadeal up his sleeve? Will Warner Bros. Discovery need to get bigger still? “I think this deal will be the first sentence of my obituary,” he said, “that Discovery merged into Warner.” And the second sentence? “It soared.”

After a year of missteps, Ikea’s e-commerce business appears to be heading in the right direction. You may think that retailers naturally realize the value of eCommerce and the role that physical stores can play in the fulfillment game. In reality, it takes a once-in-a-generation pandemic for retailers to come to terms with this point. IKEA is one of them. As big and iconic as they are

Other interesting stuff

This 24-year-old dropped out of Columbia to build a $140 million underwear brand. Another example of the American dream right there

Love, Hope, and Worry in Drought-Ridden Page, Arizona

GreenForges digs deep to farm underground. ““I stumbled upon a paper that was analyzing how much food production capacity can we do in cities using rooftop greenhouses,” he said. “It’s a relatively low number; we’re talking 2 to 5% range for the cities of 2050. No one was asking the question, ‘Can we grow underground?’”.

Stats

As of October 2021, only 5% of Twitch users made more than $1,000 in 2021

Thailand has 28 million daily digital transactions as of October 2021, up from 7 million in 2019 and 14.5 million in 2020

“There are over 50 million retirees in the United States and, by 2035, there will be 72 million retirees”

One single mobile device infected with malware costs an organization an average of nearly $10,000, per Apple.

Weekly reading – 9th October 2021

What I wrote last week

The Mundanity of Excellence

Good Business reads

Measuring the Moat. An absolute belter. If you want to understand the bases of competitive moats without paying thousands of dollars for a degree, read this one article instead. Oh and it’s marvelously free.

Google’s pivot away from bank accounts shows why finance is a tough industry for tech giants. The article cited the fear of damaging the cloud business and the regulatory scrutiny as the reasons why Google is abandoning its plan to get into the financial world. But there is perhaps one more reason. Google may have concluded that their organization isn’t set up to do well in the financial world and the likes of Apple or PayPal are far better positioned to compete. Why risking billions of dollars when the upside doesn’t look that likely?

Inside the Rise of the Game-Changing ‘Chipotlane’. “Digital represented a $916 million business for Chipotle in the second quarter of 2021. When Chipotle collected $262 million in digital sales in Q2 2019, it marked a 99 percent year-over-year rise and was more than it produced in all of 2016. The Chipotlane doesn’t have a menuboard. It’s a digital order drive-thru pickup lane where guests who pay in advance arrive and get their food from a quick handoff. Restricting Chipotlanes to digital orders stripped friction out of the process. And it avoided past concerns that kept Chipotle from ever seriously considering the channel, fast casual perception or not. New Chipotlanes continue to open with sales 20 percent higher than traditional formats. They operate with 200 basis-points higher restaurant-level margin. This incremental profit comfortably offsets the $75,000–$100,000 cost of a Chipotlane and yield cash-on-cash return of at least 500 basis points above standard locations, BTIG analyst Peter Saleh said.

LRT Capital Q3 Investor Letter. It includes a nice write-up on Tractor Supply and was written by an intern

Other stuff that I found interesting

Facebook to act on illegal sale of Amazon rainforest. Significant changes only happen when those in power put it to good use. As in this case. It’s a waste and pity that in some cases, powerful entities like Facebook take no action because they fear backlash or hit to their bottom line.

The great Koh Kong land rush: Areas stripped of protection by Cambodian gov’t being bought up. The amount of forest loss has increased markedly in Cambodia in recent years. The same phenomenon has happened in Vietnam for years. What good is technology when we can’t preserve the Earth and natural landscapes for future generations?

iPhone Macro: A Big Day for Small Things

Writing In Public, Inside Your Company. This makes me think a lot about what I can do at work to make writing more popular

Stats

Almost 78% of all new cars in Norway in September were battery electric vehicles

Only 1 out of 4 households in Europe invest in equities and funds since 2008, compared to 50% in the U.S

90% of American shoppers still consider prices as the most important driver in fresh food consumption

40% of US shoppers will start their holiday shopping earlier this year than they did last year. 22% have already begun, with another 22% planning to get started before Black Friday, per Klarna

87% of teens own an iPhone and 88% expect an iPhone to be their next phone; Apple is No. 1 watch brand for first time

The productivity app Notion announced that they currently have 20 million users, 80% of which are outside of the U.S

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 – 25th September 2021

What I wrote last week

Is BNPL replacing credit cards?

My thoughts on Visa’s new benefits for U.S Signature/Infinite cardholders

Articles on Business

When to Buy Now, Pay Later, and When to Just Pay Now. “Affirm doesn’t report payments on its four biweekly payment zero-interest loans, it said, or when consumers are offered a three-month payment option with no interest. Afterpay doesn’t work with credit bureaus at all. Sezzle Up explicitly informs users that it will report on-time payments to Equifax and TransUnion. Affirm doesn’t charge late fees, but late or partial payments can hurt your credit score, and may prevent you from using the service in the future. Sezzle Up also reports delinquencies. Klarna and Afterpay revoke access to their platform until payment is made. Both companies also charge late fees, tacked onto your next payment. Afterpay charges $8, or 25%, of the purchase, whichever is less, while Klarna charges a maximum $7, or no more than 25%, of the past due amount. Klarna said it will contact users to collect payment before charging a late fee.

This delivery app went above and beyond for its workers. Then Uber took over. Cornershop’s original operating model was more beneficial and friendly towards workers. After the acquisition, life became more challenging for drivers. It remains to be seen whether the regulation in Chile will allow workers to unionize and force Uber to recognize drivers as full-time employees. This is a classic case of conflicting interests between gig companies and drivers as well as of the important role that governments play in this conversation.

Why the University of Florida gets a ~$20m cut of Gatorade profits every year. A fascinating story on a wildly popular drink.

The Most Important iPhone Ever. “What makes the iPhone and perhaps Apple special is that it seems to deliver things that nobody asks for but then everybody wants while eschewing overshooting a performance dimension that a few demand but most won’t use. The tragedy of overservice and disruption is that if you don’t shift the definition of performance eventually you run out of demand at the top of the performance curve. That opens you up to “good enough” competition from below. Instead you need to re-define the notion of performance: compete on a new basis, reset expectations. That the iPhone can find new dimensions of performance and hence demand is effectively a solution to the innovator’s dilemma.”

PayPal Introduces Customers to the Next Digital Payments Era with the New PayPal App. “The new PayPal app will introduce new features including PayPal Savings, a new high yield savings account provided by Synchrony Bank, alongside new in-app shopping tools that will enable customers to earn rewards redeemable for cash back or PayPal shopping credit and uncover deals with hundreds of merchants. Additionally, the new app offers PayPal customers a single place to manage their bill payments, get paid up to two days earlier with the new Direct Deposit feature provided through one of our bank partners, earn rewards and manage gift cards, send and receive money to friends, family and businesses, pay with QR codes for purchases and redeem rewards in-store, access and manage credit, Buy Now, Pay Later services, buy, hold and sell crypto, as well as support causes and charities they care about.”

Other stuff

The tangled history of mRNA vaccines

Stats that may interest you

“One in five consumers made a purchase using a “buy now, pay later” service within the last 12 months.

One in six consumers who made a buy now, pay later service purchase regret doing so, commonly citing high interest rates, a lack of options to build credit, or making unnecessary or unaffordable purchases.”

There have been 47 startup venture deals in Africa in 2021 so far with the average deal size of $21 million

CPC on Amazon ads is $1.27 in August 2021, up from 86 cents from a year ago, according to a survey

31% of online grocery shoppers use PayPal, according to a new study by ACI Worldwide and PYMNTS

Fuel Wasted Due to U.S. Traffic Congestion in 2020 Cut in Half from 2019 to 2020

14% of U.S consumers said they switched to an iPhone from another operating system in the last two years, a report said

Weekly reading – 18th September 2021

What I wrote last week

The importance of reading footnotes

Interesting articles on Business

Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt. The sentence “we’re not going what we say publicly we are” can be applied to any company to some extent. The problem for Facebook is that the trust-eroding incidents happen way too often for a company with grandiose ambitions. Facebook wants us to trust them and use some of the new services for Facebook Pay, but how can trust be formed when stuff like this happens? I am sure this won’t be the last time that Facebook got a PR black eye.

Intuit Agrees to Buy Mailchimp for About $12 Billion. “Mailchimp, established in 2001, is based in Atlanta and is still owned by founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, according to its website. The company, which hasn’t taken any outside funding, began as a web-design agency and ran an email-marketing service on the side that later became its focus. Today it also offers other digital-ad services and customer-relationship- management tools. Already popular among small businesses, Mailchimp became something of a household name in 2014, when it advertised on the first season of the hit podcast “Serial.” The company now serves 2.4 million monthly active users, including 800,000 paying customers. Half of its customers are outside the U.S. It had about $800 million in annual revenue last year, a 20% rise from the year earlier.”

Square Offers Sellers and Consumers a New Checkout Experience with Cash App Pay. It’s a natural progression in my opinion. Square is competing with PayPal to be the Super App for consumer financial needs as well as the go-to partner for commerce. PayPal has enabled payments by QR Code and mobile wallet for a while. Now, Square and Cash App have it too.

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show. “For the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies into how its photo-sharing app affects its millions of young users. Repeatedly, the company’s researchers found that Instagram is harmful for a sizable percentage of them, most notably teenage girls. Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform. The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core. The research has been reviewed by top Facebook executives, and was cited in a 2020 presentation given to Mr. Zuckerberg, according to the documents.” Guess what Facebook chose to do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Adobe jumps into e-commerce payments business in challenge to Shopify. The race to be the force that powers eCommerce features some of the biggest firms in the world: Amazon, Walmart, Shopify, PayPal, Adobe and Square. If you notice, the first three have fulfillment capabilities. PayPal bought Happy Returns. So it’s only a matter of time the latter three build out their own fulfillment muscle.

Amazon Is Doing It. So Is Walmart. Why Retail Loves ‘Buy Now, Pay Later.’ “Shoppers spend more at Macy’s when they use installment plans offered through Klarna Bank AB, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said on a recent earnings call. Klarna also is helping the retailer attract younger customers, he said. A desire to boost loan approvals was among the reasons Walmart in 2018 decided to end its decadeslong credit-card partnership with Synchrony Financial. Citigroup Inc. saw a sevenfold increase in the dollar amount of credit-card purchases converted to installment loans in July, compared with the same month a year prior, said Gonzalo Luchetti, head of Citigroup’s U.S. consumer bank.”

Other stuff I find interesting

One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia. I hope down the line, years from now, there will be folks who come across what Ksenia Coffman did and be thankful that she did. Same way as I do today.

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

Stats

“Close to half of all new U.S. gun buyers since the beginning of 2019 have been women”

55% of shoppers start their 2021 holiday season shopping before Thanksgiving

Source: JungleScout

Weekly reading – 11th September 2021

What I wrote last week

I did a quick review to show which remittance services you may want to use to transfer money to Vietnam or India

My reservation on PYMNT’s study on Apple Pay’s usage in stores

Interesting articles on Business

Why the global chip shortage is making it so hard to buy a PS5. In the silicon manufacturing process, for the most advanced tool inside a fab, typically you’ll have hundreds of different tools. Actually in a large fab, like one you might see at TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), you’ll have thousands of these tools. And these tools are big machines that process these wafers and do various things. And most tools cost, starting with a couple of million dollars, to the most expensive tools are in excess of 150 million euros. In Asia, they’ll build these things in a year. They’ll move in equipment in the second year, get it qualified, running, by the end of the year. In the US, or in the West, it takes a lot longer, because we don’t have the same mentality they have in Asia. We’re going to do all the permitting, all the hearings, and all that stuff. So it wouldn’t surprise me if it took 50 percent longer to twice as long. Now, let me tell you why that’s a problem. Because to your second question, a modern fab these days, one of the closer-to-leading-edge ones will cost you $10 billion-plus for the smallest efficient scale, and a really efficient scale will probably cost you closer to $20 billion. Think about how much depreciation that can generate. In Asia, the mentality is every day, every hour this thing isn’t running costs me tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. I’ve been in Asia on Christmas Day, and there are people out there with jackhammers and pouring concrete because it was like, “Man, every minute this thing gets done sooner, we can start generating cash.” We do not have that mentality in the West.”

Companies Need More Workers. Why Do They Reject Millions of Résumés? A gap on a resume should not be used to disqualify a candidate immediately. Many need to take a break, whether it was because a family member was sick or it was for their mental health. A less-than-stellar historical record shouldn’t disqualify a candidate either. We all make mistakes and we all deserve chances. Plus, if someone has the necessary skills, does it matter where they got those skills? Does it matter if they don’t have a degree? We use software to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of applications a year. It’s understandable. But I do believe that we can write better software to accommodate hiring needs and give people chances.

The surprisingly big business of Library E-books

PayPal To Acquire Paidy. PayPal agreed to acquire Paidy, a BNPL provider in Japan, for $2.7 billion in cash. Paidy reportedly has 700,000 merchants and more than 6 million users. As PayPal itself already has more than 400 million users, this acquisition isn’t likely about inflating the user base. The second reason is likely capabilities. Paidy, which shoppers can use without creating an account first or using a credit card, has a proprietary machine learning models to evaluate credit worthiness of consumers. In other Asian countries, it’s not uncommon for shoppers to pay cash on deliveries for online orders. Perhaps this is something that PayPal wants to replicate in other Asian markets.

Australia’s Top Court Finds Media Companies Liable for Other People’s Facebook Comments. The Court’s argument is that media companies post articles to stimulate conversations and engagement through comments. Hence, they should be liable for such comments. I don’t think that line of reasoning totally lacks solid grounds. I mean, a company’s Facebook page is essentially its property where it has the ability to curate (with Facebook’s help, of course) and it should have some responsibility for defamatory comments taking place there.

Source: CNBC

Stuff that I found interesting

This wildly reinvented wind turbine generates five times more energy than its competitors. This proposal, if materialized, can generate power for up to 100,000 households with one station while reducing the waste that is usually seen with the traditional turbines.

A great series on the study of obesity

Stats that may interest you

Mobile transactions in Vietnam are expected to increase by 300% between 2021 and 2025

Apple has around 52% to 57% of the mobile game transactions market (page 138)

Even though Apple doesn’t have a separate P&L for its line businesses, the Court found that the App Store’s operating margin is approximately 75% (page 145)

Weekly reading – 4th September 2021

What I wrote last week

Important investing lessons that I learned

Business

Google Pay team reportedly in major upheaval after botched app revamp. 92% of mobile wallet transactions in the U.S in 2020 were on Apple Pay. If I were an Executive at Google, I’d question why a firm with limitless resources, world-class engineering and ownership of Android couldn’t get Google Pay to be an equal competitor to Apple Pay. One can argue that Apple should have some credit with popularizing Apple Pay. If the driving force were the Cupertino-based company’s dominance and monopoly, why wouldn’t Google replicate that success with its own digital wallet?

How one woman helped build the #AppleToo movement at tech’s most secretive company. I never want to read about anybody being mistreated at their workplace. This #AppleToo movement is no exception. I am very disheartened to read about a group of folks being mistreated and disrespected, especially at a company that I long admire for other reasons.

PayPal is exploring a stock-trading platform for U.S. customers. It came as no surprise to me that PayPal is planning to launch a stock-trading feature. The ambition to be the Super App for consumers’ financial needs has been in full swing for a while. The company is putting the pieces of the puzzle together and this is one of them.

Affirm Holdings’ Moat: Why World’s Largest Retailers Want Affirm. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in this piece, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some good points.

Why Marta Ortega Pérez Is the Secret to Zara’s Success. This is one of the more interesting points in the article: Every morning after dropping off her son at school, Ortega Pérez gathers with the company’s CFO, Miguel Díaz, and other top staff around an industrial table out on the open floor to review global rankings for such bestselling pieces as a minimalist black spaghetti-strap summer dress, or a rococo printed pajama-style blouse with matching shorts. Orders heading to stores are constantly adjusted, an anomaly in an industry that typically plans merchandise drops well in advance. (Zara’s operations are supported by an in-house technology product team that uses  Netflix as a measuring stick for both consumer-facing and back-of-house innovations, including a mock fulfillment center floor set up to study the movements of a box-moving robot.)

To appease Japan Fair Trade Commission, Apple agreed to relax its anti-steering rules for Reader apps globally. What it means is that the likes of Spotify and Netflix should be able to sell digital goods to consumers without paying commission to Apple by adding a link to an outside webpage. Historically, Apple was vehemently against this, but the regulatory pressure has been piling up around the world so I guess this is Apple’s pre-emptive action to hopefully get some relief. I have seen some developers skeptical of how this change in policy will actually pan out. I mean, they have reasons to, but given the resources and clout at Apple’s disposal, this is a great step for developers. For consumers, this remains to be seen. One of the selling points of the App Store is that consumers feel safe whenever they make a purchase. Since Reader apps can now direct consumers to outside the App Store, it will depend on who will make the determination as to which app can qualify for the new policy. There remains a possibility that some developers with a harmful agenda can camouflage their app as a Reader App and commit fraud.

Apple Plans Blood-Pressure Measure, Wrist Thermometer in Apple Watch. Apple’s positioning of the Apple Watch is very smart. It’s not trying to compete with normal watches whose main function is to tell time or luxury watches whose main value is the bragging rights. By focusing on the watch wearers’ health, Apple sticks to its core value of providing hardware that is personal to consumers and its strengths, mainly the combination of hardware & software as well as its ecosystem.

How Disney and Scarlett Johansson Reached the Point of No Return. The legal debacle with Scarlett Johansson is unfortunate and worrying as it foreshadows what could be in store for Disney in the future if they didn’t learn from this lesson. According to the article, it could have been avoided, yet here we are. Plus, the pandemic, the interconnectedness of Marvel storylines, the pressure on the bottom line and the priority status imposed on Disney+ make release distribution a delicate matter. While Black Widow brought in $60 million in extra revenue and profit from the Premier Access, Kevin Feige, the Marvel boss, wasn’t happy about it. Putting “Black Widow” on Disney+ conflicted with Mr. Feige’s tiered approach—creating TV shows that complement movies on the big screen. He resisted plans for the movie’s simultaneous release, in part because he didn’t like the idea of having one of Marvel’s few female-driven movies demoted to the at-home streaming service, said people familiar with his thinking.

Other stuff I found interesting

Indonesia, More Majestic Than Ever by Boat. I have never been to Indonesia, but I’d love to. And of course, by boat, if possible.

These charts show which states will get the most money from Biden’s infrastructure bill. Regardless of the criticisms of this bill, I am pleased to see more investments in the embarrassing and decaying infrastructure in this country.

Can ‘smart thinking’ books really give you the edge? Makes you really think about it

Stats that may interest you

Vietnam saw $16 billion in remittance in 2020

52% of young adults in America lived with parents in 2020. The figure jumped to 71% for people aged 18 – 24

Cash accounted for 78% of transactions at Point of Sale in the EU in 2020

YouTube Music hit 50 million subscribers, up from 30 million reported in October 2020

Weekly reading – 28th August 2021

What I wrote last week

My review of three books: 1/ Stray reflections; 2/ An ugly truth and 3/ Obviously awesome

Business

Facebook says post that cast doubt on covid-19 vaccine was most popular on the platform from January through March. The fact that this article was published on a Saturday means that Facebook doesn’t want too many people to see it. I honestly can see the bull case for Facebook. However, it will be remiss to not mention the monumental challenge of content moderation that the company has to face. Because when false information runs rampage on its platforms, it may affect the engagement of users; which in turn can adversely affect advertising that is Facebook’s bread and butter.

Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores. Retailers are suffering from supply shortages; which is exacerbated by higher-than-expected demand. But if these hiccups are overcome, it means that there will be a growing retail segment in the coming months and by extension, likely, a healthy economy.

Diem: A Dream Deferred? Facebook has a lot going to their advantage: almost limitless resources, four of the most popular social networks in the world, 1/3 of the global population are its users, a money printing machine that is growing at a scary clip. But there are a couple of challenges that Facebook will have a hard time to overcome. First, it’s content moderation. Should I say: content moderation without pissing off anybody. As you can see, the task sounds almost impossible. When you moderate content by people with vastly different ideologies, you are almost certain to upset somebody. Facebook doesn’t have the luxury of having upset users or lawmakers. Hence, it’s not a problem that Facebook will easily solve. Second, public trust. The company has been around for almost 20 years and it has not garnered a lot of trust. As long as it continues to rely on advertising, capturing data and more importantly be embroiled in misinformation, the public trust will likely continue to evade them. As the article from Coindesk pointed out, trust is paramount in the payments/finance world. How on Earth would Facebook succeed in it?

The Digital Payment Giant That Adds Up. Merchants are going down the omni-channel route that allows shoppers to shop in multiple ways. This will be the key to Adyen’s growth. I like the fact that they prefer building in-house and maintaining the one-ness of their platform to acquiring capabilities from other companies through M&A and bundling different tech stacks into one. Working at a company that suffers from systems not talking to each other, I know first-hand how that could become a significant problem in no time. In addition, I really look forward to Adyen coming to the U.S with a banking license. I am not sure the folks at Marqeta share my enthusiasm.

Buying a bank turned LendingClub around. Now the fintech industry is watching. It requires a lot of work and preparation to get a banking license. The benefits of owning a charter; however, include less dependency and more control over your own fate, margin and operations.

What I found interesting

Inside Afghanistan’s cryptocurrency underground as the country plunges into turmoil. One can argue that cryptocurrency can be a savior in crises like what is going on in Afghanistan. The thing is that if something requires there to be a crisis to drive adoption, I am not sure that something is as good or revolutionary as some may think.

An immense mystery older than Stonehenge. It’s profoundly impressive to me that prehistoric people could transport stones that weighed tons to the top of a hill 6000 years ago. Think about that for a second. They must not have had all the tools that we came up with up hundreds of years later. It’s just extraordinary. If I ever have enough money and time, Gobekli Tepe, Machu Picchu, Egypt and Greece are where I wish to go.

Bigger vehicles are directly resulting in more deaths of people walking. Take a trip to Europe and you’ll see how absurdly big vehicles in the U.S are compared to those in Europe. And the implications aren’t necessarily positive. I’d argue that it’s considerably better to have smaller vehicles or fewer vehicles on the roads.

European Sleeper Trains Make a Comeback. I really wish that Americans would share the same enthusiasm about travelling by train as Europeans do. Personally, I enjoyed the train ride from Chicago to Omaha. If there were a reliable Wifi, I’d take trains every single time over flights and especially driving.

Apparently, there is a 2021 Global Crypto Adoption Index and Vietnam is ranked as #1. Below are the two reasons that experts say are why Vietnam’s adoption is so high. I am not sure how I should feel about it. On one hand, this index is not negative in nature. Hence, the #1 ranking certainly feels good. On the other hand, the alleged reason that young people don’t know what to do with ETF is alarming. That implies a lack of understanding in investing and a tendency to gamble in cryptocurrencies.

“We heard from experts that people in Vietnam have a history of gambling, and the young, tech-savvy people don’t have much to do with their funds in terms of investing in a traditional ETF, both of which drive crypto adoption,”

Source: CNBC

Stats that may interest you

In 2019, 70% of music in Japan was consumed via CDs

eCommerce made up 13.3% of total retail sales in the U.S in the 2nd quarter of 2021, indicating that the Covid effect has tapered off

46% of retail BNPL shoppers didn’t use their credit cards because they wanted to avoid high interest rates

The U.S online lottery ticket market will reach $2.3 billion by the end of 2021, a 25% YoY growth

Weekly reading – 21st August 2021

What I wrote last week

I came across a couple of posts from Afghanistan veterans on their experience there

My notes from the 2021 Debit Issuer Study

My thoughts on recent developments from PayPal

Business

Inside HBO Max’s Scramble to Fix Its Glitchy App. In the streaming world, the user experience is critical in keeping customers engaged and the churn down. HBO Max fumbled the ball terribly with their confusing brands, products and messaging in the beginning. I don’t think I am a dumbass, but I didn’t even know the difference between HBO, HBO Max or HBO Now. Then, they out together an app that was littered with bugs as summarized in the article. The reason, as reported, is that they merged the two legacy apps that were built for different purposes. One was built to offer ad-free content while the other featured commercials. It is not a surprise that bugs happened. What is a surprise is that an institution like HBO or Warner Media let it happen in the first place.

Amazon Plans to Open Large Retail Locations Akin to Department Stores. This move may be Amazon’s attempt to copy what other retailers like Target do. They fulfill online orders from their network of stores. It takes a lot of stores to cover the country and logistics management to figure out the inventory and the actual shipping. We’ll see.

Walmart’s e-commerce business is set to hit $75B in sales this year

Paying With a Credit Card? That’s Going to Cost You. If this trend is legit and merchants continue with the surcharge (which is not an uncommon practice in Vietnam), it and the growing popularity of BNPL will have adverse effect on credit card spend. Remember: BNPL is mostly funded through debit cards

How the Apple lobbying machine took on Georgia, and won. Apple is my largest position. However, I found the whole lobbying issue troubling. It’s nothing different from companies writing bills and lawmakers enacting such bills.

What I found interesting

‘Likes’ and ‘shares’ teach people to express more outrage online

China Passes One of the World’s Strictest Data-Privacy Laws

Another excellent post by Morgan Housel. In light of what happened in Afghanistan today, I can’t help but think about what small events in the past could have prevented this war in the beginning and what would happen to the people of Afghanistan in the future after the U.S pulled out

One is to base your predictions on how people behave vs. specific events. Predicting what the world will look like in, say, 2050, is just impossible. But predicting that people will still respond to greed, fear, opportunity, exploitation, risk, uncertainty, tribal affiliations and social persuasion in the same way is a bet I’d take.

Another – made so starkly in the last year and a half – is that no matter what the world looks like today, and what seems obvious today, everything can change tomorrow because of some tiny accident no one’s thinking about. Events, like money, compound. And the central feature of compounding is that it’s never intuitive how big something can grow from a small beginning.

Source: Collaborative Fund

Stats that may interest you

50% of surveyed Americans have no problem with false information online

Target’s Circle Rewards Program reaches 100 million subscribers

Weekly reading – 14th August 2021

What I wrote last week

I wrote about Square’s acquisition of Afterpay

Business

In the Streaming Wars, Sony Stands on the Sidelines. I think for the short term, it makes sense for Sony to adopt a zig-when-everyone-else-zags strategy as building a streaming service is not Sony’s strength. Of course, no strategy is risk-free. If the big streamers can create content on their own and don’t need Sony any more, the iconic Japanese firm will be in deep trouble. It is a big bet from Sony, but as the market stands today, I don’t think the company has too many options left.

Rappi’s poor service opens the door for competition, but users aren’t leaving yet. Two things from this article struck me: 1/ even though they were horrible incidents with services and customer support, there hasn’t been a customer exodus from Rappi yet. 2/ RappiPay is the most profitable and fastest growing part of the company. If the challenging delivery gig doesn’t work out for the company, it can pivot to be a full blown fintech.

Amazon’s $1.5 billion air cargo hub starts operations. In the arms race to compete with other retailers or eCommerce platforms like Shopify, solidifying or even adding to their advantage in infrastructure and last-mile delivery is the right move for Amazon. Just look at the price tag of the cargo hub. If anyone wants to compete with Amazon on this front, that’s at least what they should expect to spend. And it’s a tall order for many companies. With that being said, having another cargo hub doesn’t guarantee success, so it will be interesting to follow this market in the near future.

Excerpt: How Google bought Android—according to folks in the room. The founders of Google, especially Larry, do seem to have excellent foresight in acquiring Android. I look forward to this book.

What I found interesting

John Gruber’s excellent post on Apple’s new “Child Safety” measures. The nuances and details laid out by John are very enlightening and important in understanding what Apple is doing here.

Reality has a surprising amount of detail. The devil is in the details

Archaeologists discover 4,000-year-old ancient city in Iraqi desert. Imagine you see now something that existed 4,000 years ago. That must be a surreal feeling.

Believing In Yourself is Overrated. This is Better. I am not really a fan of the “fake it till you make it” mentality. So I am very glad that Ryan Holiday wrote about it since he is far more eloquent than I can ever be. In short, the more effort you put in something, the more confident you are in yourself

Stats that may interest you

Momo has 60% of Vietnam’s mobile payments market

Amazon has 11% of the U.S ads market

Amazon spent $6.2 billion on video and music content in the first 6 months of 2021. To put it in perspective, Netflix spent a tad lower than $8 billion on content in the same period