Weekly reading – 23rd July 2022

What I wrote last week

Three things a company can to hire great new entry-level staff and integrate them successfully

Business Unlimited Ultimate+ For Iphone

Business

Consumer Trends 2022: Mid-Year Update. An interesting study on consumer behavior by Coefficient Capital. One thing that stood out as terrifying to me is that 39% of the surveyed folks sayed they’d vote for Donald Trump if he runs for President in 2024

($) 71 Cities and Towns Are Paying Tech Workers to Abandon Silicon Valley. It’s Working. Local economies need bodies, tax revenue, consumption and entrepreneurship. Without these incentive programs, smaller cities have little chance to stand out and be the next destination for highly skilled workers. I really hope that somebody will conduct a wide range study on how effective such programs are.

From $25 billion to $167 million: How a major crypto lender collapsed and dragged many investors down with it. You live by the hype, you die when it dies. A rude reckoning for crypto traders

($) CFPB to Push Banks to Cover More Payment-Services Scams. Up to now, banks only have to repay the money that customers lost in fraudulently induced transactions. If the report is true, banks will soon have to provide more protection for consumers, investigate more transactions and potentially have to repay the money lost in scams that were even authorized by the end users. I welcome the proposal. Fraud is the number one concern when it comes to real time payment. Zelle, to the industry insiders, is littered with frauds. Having the regulatory push from the CFPB will force major banks to take more actions to protect the end users. On the flip side, more oversight may curtail the investment and interest in real time payment from financial institutions. But I think it’s a risk worth taking.

Target puts the squeeze on suppliers after inventories pile up. Relying on major retailers boosts a supplier’s scale tremendously, but also means that an abrupt change can seriously hurt the supplier’s margin. Dealing with expensive excessive inventory, retail giants like Target or Walmart pressures their suppliers to hold what they previously committed to take on and eat the cost. These suppliers are likely to swallow this bitter pill since a lot of future business is on the line here

Lessons from Germany’s Midsize Giants. A great collection of great mid-size companies from Germany that have the same formula to success as Aldi. I believe you get more value from reading this article and studying these companies than from a lot of business strategy textbooks at school

Other stuff I find interesting

The 2022 13-Inch MacBook Air. John Gruber’s review is excellent, as usual. I have to admit that it nudges me towards buying one later this year

($) Afghan Economy Crumbles Since Taliban Takeover. The economy collapsed. Demand evaporated. Financial support from other countries was cut off. 90% of the citizens don’t eat sufficiently while half of the population face acute hunger. The Talibans do not know how to run the country. What a catastrophe!

($) MBS’s $500 Billion Desert Dream Just Keeps Getting Weirder. “MBS, as he’s known abroad, was in the early stages of one of the largest and most difficult construction projects in history, which involves turning an expanse of desert the size of Belgium into a high-tech city-region called Neom. Starting with a budget of $500 billion, MBS bills Neom as a showpiece that will transform Saudi Arabia’s economy and serve as a testbed for technologies that could revolutionize daily life.” As I read this article, I couldn’t help but feel sad. The amount of money and resources poured into this grandiose project fueled by the ambition, if not delusion, of one powerful man could have helped a lot of unfortunate people around the world.

Case Study 8: How Hertz Paid Accenture $32 Million for a Website That Never Went Live. It’s mind-blowing that Accenture couldn’t even deliver the responsive design and decent security features after receiving a lot of money from Hertz. I don’t know how complicated Hertz wanted their website and mobile application to be nor do I know how the office politics involved is. But based on the description of the requested elements, I have a feeling that a $2 million to a Vietnamese ads agency would get the job done.

U.S. Wind Energy Is (Finally) Venturing Offshore. “Capturing offshore wind in the U.S. has long been an uphill battle, with various stumbling blocks in the terrain. Objections from fisheries, skepticism from conservationists and tenuous support from tourism have all stalled development in the past decade. That is, until May of 2021, when the U.S. Department of the Interior approved construction of a sprawling wind facility several miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.”

Stats

In 2021, venture capitalists invested $14.8 billion into startups in Latin America. The nearly $15 billion was more than the previous six years of venture investment combined

Forests Now Cover 2% of Iceland, a 6-fold increase since the 1990s

Since 2012, the SEC has awarded $1.3 billion to 278 whistleblowers

63% of African American students in K-12 in San Francisco are chronically absent, compared to 46% Latinx, 20% White and 8.4% Asian

YouTube has 5,500 channels in the US with more than 1 million subscribers in 2021

Source: Sensor Tower

Weekly reading – 16th July 2022

Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wonderful talk by Howard Marks at Goldman Sachs

Other things I find interesting

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

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

Stats

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

June U.S. eGrocery sales total $7.2 billion

Prime members purchased more than 300 million items worldwide this year

Source: awealthofcommonsense

Weekly reading – 9th July 2022

Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other stuff I find interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats

India consumed 6 million tons of meat in 2020

40% of Google users use IPv6

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

FedEx estimates savings of $400 million annually from retiring mainframes

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

Weekly reading – 2nd July 2022

What I wrote last week

How does credit card direct mail process work?

Business

A great podcast episode on Don Valentine and Sequoia Capital. I guarantee that this is way better than Don Valentine’s profile on Wikipedia.

($) Spotify’s Billion-Dollar Bet on Podcasting Has Yet to Pay Off. “Over the next four years, Ostroff spent more than $1 billion on the business, licensing shows, buying production studios, and signing exclusive deals with celebrities, including the Obamas, Kim Kardashian, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Last year, Ostroff’s research and data team asked a question that many at Spotify already knew the answer to: Had any of this spending yielded a major new hit? The team produced a report that basically said no, according to five current and former employees who didn’t want to be named discussing internal business.” A very interesting story on the development of podcasts at Spotify. They used to like Netflix making a lot of shows and movies without anything concrete in return. The new internal structure is now in place to help Spotify better at making shows. I think they may be better off by following the model of HBO and Apple. But as a company that is never actually profitable, Spotify doesn’t have the luxury that Apple or Warner Bros has.

($) The Surprising Reason Your Amazon Searches Are Returning More Confusing Results than Ever. “The problems Amazon took on once it opened up its marketplace to sellers in China have become more evident in recent years. My Wall Street Journal colleagues in 2019 uncovered thousands of banned, unsafe or mislabeled products in Amazon’s catalog, most of which came from China-based sellers. It also became apparent that Amazon sellers were gaming Amazon’s algorithms to get goods listed as high in its search results as possible, and even going so far as to bribe Amazon employees in China to help boost items’ rank. The Amazon spokeswoman says the company spent more than $900 million last year to combat counterfeiting, fraud and other abuse—an effort she says involved 12,000 people. The company stopped more than 2.5 million fraudulent attempts to create new seller accounts, she added, down from over six million the prior year.”

‘Wallets and eyeballs’: how eBay turned the internet into a marketplace. This article is actually an excerpt for an upcoming book calling for the de-privatization of the Internet. It basically calls for another version of the Internet where people would be less motivated to create their own content because capitalism and competition wouldn’t work. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how good it is, but it’s still cool to read up on the birth of one of the most important marketplaces we have ever had.

Lessons from an investing legend. Anyone interested in investing should have a read. Everything Peter says is similar to what I have read from some of the greatest investors

($) Inside Didi’s $60 Billion Crash That Changed China Tech Forever. It further solidifies my stance that as long as the current regime stands and it surely looks that way for years to come, I won’t buy Chinese stocks. Didi at its peak was worth $100 billion. Now it’s a shell of its former self because of actions from the government. Worse, the leaders at Didi, all Chinese and with resources to spare, didn’t understand why the government acted the way it did. Then, how could a foreign investor hundreds of miles away?

($) Draymond Green, Podcast Star, Turns an Unsparing Mic on Himself. I listened to Draymond’s podcast a few times and while it does carry a sense of disruption and fresh air, compared to the likes of First Take or Undisputed, I still want to hear more basketball analyses from Draymond. He is an intelligent player and a 4-time champion. He surely is capable of producing basketball breakdowns for casual fans like Kobe once did with Detail. I’d love to hear more about the preparation before games or during off-season. I’d love to hear about the mental struggle of players during injury rehabilitation. Dray has much to offer and I hope he will bring it instead of cat fights and trash talk against the incumbent media. On a side note, after the liquor industry, athletes are marching into the media space. With their fame, connections and insider knowledge, they are greatly positioned to make a splash in this industry.

Other stuff I find interesting

Nigerians are learning to buy now and pay later. “In a country where only 2% of the 106 million adult population have access to bank credit, credit cards are also conspicuously absent, as banks shy away from consumer lending. BNPL is becoming a rising alternative and is set for further growth, as Nigerians embrace digital credit. BNPL thrives in markets with integrated identity systems, consumer credit culture, and decent consumerism, where people are able to pay for not just essential items like food and fuel but are also willing to buy nonessential items like cars and gadgets. However, the Nigerian market struggles with efficient identity systems, over 100 million Nigerians, or a little less than half the population do not have any form of recognized ID. And following the economic slump over the last eight years, many households are barely clinging to whatever funds they have after spending on rent, food, and other necessities. A June 2021 report showed 61% of the country’s adult population suffered “severe financial distress” over the previous 12 months, forcing many to cut down on expenses.”

($) Norway Was a Pandemic Success. Then It Spent Two Years Studying Its Failures. “Norway’s government had the foresight during the first days of Covid-19 to appoint a panel called the Koronakommisjonen. Its mission was figuring out what the Norwegians did, what they could have done and what they should do. This crisis was barely under way when they began preparing for the next one. The next lesson from the Koronakommisjonen reports is the power of not pretending to know more than you do. Nobody really knew anything early in the pandemic. Anybody claiming otherwise should have known better.”

Mediterranean Diet Reduces Depression In Young Men, Study Says. One of the things I want to try till the end of the year is to try Mediterranean diet

Behind the scenes of Waymo’s worst automated truck crash. I have always believed that we are still a long way from having automated vehicles on the streets. Nothing has made me changed that belief, not even a little bit.

Stats

“Ground beef prices are up 36% from a year ago, while chicken breasts gained by a third”

Klarna is reportedly valued at $6.5 billion, down from $45 billion in 2021. Talk about a new definition of a down round

Source: Self.inc

Weekly reading 25th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Books on Payments

Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and took away abortion rights

Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Twitter

Other stuff I find interesting

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

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

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

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

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

Stats

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

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

Covid vaccines saved 20 million lives in the first year

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

Source: IMF

Weekly reading – 11th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Apple Pay Later

Business

Macy’s, Gap and Other Clothing Stores Are Stuck With the Wrong Items. An interesting report on how retailers got forecasting and inventory badly wrong. Macy’s, Walmart, Gap, Kohl’s, just to name a few, have a lot of inventory that they can’t sell at the moment or at least can’t sell fast enough. Remember that the executives at such companies are experienced and paid handsomely to nail down forecast. The fact that their calculations are so far off shows how unpredictable consumer behavior changes in this environment

Grocery’s Greatest Stories. Progressive Grocer has an interesting multi-part series on the history of grocers in the U.S, ranging from the start of Albersons or Walmart to the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon.

Axon Ditches Plans for Weaponized Taser Drones as Majority of Ethics Board Resigns. It’s a dangerous, revenue-driven and badly-conceived idea to develop drones to address mass-shootings. What are they trying to achieve with this kind of products? Who would fly these drones and could those drones even navigate through schools’ hallways? If a shooter knows about the drones, comes to a school, shoots people and leaves quickly before anyone could even fire up those expensive toys, what good would it be? More importantly, what if these drones fell into the wrong hands? I am happy that folks on Axon’s Ethics Board stood up for what they believed in and resigned in protest. As a shareholder of Axon, I am disappointed.

Charlie Munger: Full Transcript of Daily Journal’s 2022 Annual Meeting. It’s mind-blowing that Charlie Munger can be this clear in his thinking at 98. I am such a strong admirer of him.

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto explains five-year journey back to top end of F1. It’s down to the people and the “no blame” culture, not the machinery. This issue is about the painful recovery of Ferrari. As the most famous and successful team in F1, Ferrari has disappointingly failed to win a title since 2008. 2020 was the worst year on record. The car was as slow as a tractor. However, Ferrari has bounced back amid the largest rule changes in the last few years. The Prancing Horse won the most poles this year, bagged two wins and are the two top teams of the paddock along with Red Bull.

How Two Africans Overcame Bias To Build A Startup Worth Billions. A sneak peek into the fintech startup scene in Africa. Much as I admire the two men on the cover, I was abhorred by the fact that a VC firm wanted a discount because Chipper Cash is from Africa.

Engineer Who Fled Charges of Stealing Chip Technology in US Now Thrives in China. Semiconductor is so important that whatever country “owns” it will have outsized influence in the world. China wants global domination and definitely doesn’t want to be beholden to any country for chips. Yet, semiconductor is the one area that it still lags behind other advanced nations. Hence, it resorts to theft of intellectual property to close the gap. It deserves every condemnation there is.

Behind Apple’s Megadeal for Brad Pitt Formula One Racing Film From Joseph Kosinski. “The key to the deal is a theatrical distribution component. But instead of a token release in a small number of theaters or a day-and-date opening, the movie would have an exclusive — and global — run of at least 30 days (one source says it could even go as high as 60 days) before heading to the Apple TV+ platform. In another first, insiders say the theatrical component is structured in a way that would see Apple and the filmmakers split the take from the big-screen release 50-50. The unique deal, in essence, pays the creative team three ways: their upfront fees, their hefty buyout fees and the theatrical backend.”

Other stuff I find interesting

Cao Bang – a green pearl in northeastern mountains. Imposing, magnificent and beautiful Cao Bang in Vietnam

How to buy a chicken sandwich in Shenzhen. Fascinating read on the livestream e-commerce space in China. Total Addressable Market is estimated at $100 billion. In 2021, there were 461 million people who shopped on livestream in China.

The New LaGuardia Is Haunted by the Mistakes of its Past. An interesting read on the redesign of LaGuardia airport. I was there a few months ago and I had to say that I was surprised to see the modernity of the airport. I still held onto this notion that LaGuardia was this old place in a decaying condition. Landing in the new Terminal B from Omaha was an eye-opener. Hence, it’s great to read the context on why the airport went through such a transformation

Adult Children of Work-Visa Recipients Forced to Return to Parents’ Countries. It’s just terribly sad to read that children of Dreamers have to voluntarily leave the US because they cannot get a valid status. It is NOT their fault at all. The only thing that is wrong for them is to spend most of their lives in a country with a broken immigration system. Look at the biggest companies in the US and in the world. From which country are their CEOs? India! Then, how come do we need to make them wait for years and years to get a Green Card? It’s insanely infuriating.

The epic story behind the Ferrari and Lamborghini rivalry. A great story and reminder that you should not piss off your customers

Stats

Average Order Value at the top-performing quartile grocers is 46% higher than that of the other stores

Walmart is building 4 next-generation fulfillment centers in the next 3 years that can provide next-or-two-day shipping to 75% of the US population

Nearly 20 million people watched the Jan 6. hearing

Pokemon Go surpassed $6 billion in lifetime player spending

Food-at-home prices in May up 11.9% from a year ago

Weekly reading – 4th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Book Review: Trillion Dollar Triage

How Walmart Is Betting On Stores To Catch Amazon In E-Commerce

Business

Amazon Briefing: One year into Andy Jassy’s tenure, sellers see subtle strategic shifts. Under Bezos, Amazon was maniacal about being consumer-oriented. Using the iron grip on consumers, especially Prime members, Amazon managed to exert their bargaining power on merchants. According to the article, there are already subtle changes under Jassy regarding how to work with merchants. Merchants have more dialogue with senior folks from Amazon, but they are expected to spend more on ads and prove their unit economics value to Amazon. The push to grow ads revenue may have one important downstream effect: if shoppers are bombarded with sponsored items instead of what are best for them, there is no telling how that could damage Amazon and loosen their grip on prized Prime members

The first act of the streaming wars saga is over — Netflix’s fall from grace has ushered in the pivotal second act. The first phase is to establish presence. Now, all these streamers need to figure out some tough questions. First, how can they make money while spending a lot of money on content? Streaming is an arms race. You need great content all the time to acquire and retain subscribers. But investors’ patience is wearing thin. They want to see profits. Hence, streamers have a tough balancing act on hands. Secondly, ads or no ads? Disney+ and Netflix are planning to go live with ads-supported plans later this year. However, ads is not a trivial business. There is also a question of consumer experience. Additionally, expanding internationally or not expanding? An international expansion requires extra investments in marketing and content. If you go to India without local content at a dirt cheap price, you won’t win the battle. But this goes back to the first question. If a streamer spends too much on content and marketing, how can it turn profits? All in all, such an interesting space to keep an eye on

Facing Inflation-Weary Shoppers, Grocers Fight Price Increases. As inflation keeps rising, consumers turn to private labels instead of more expensive national brands. Private labels give grocers a higher margin, but the key here is to keep customers happy while resisting the pressure from vendors. Those who can make shoppers happy in tough times like this may get the permanent business in the long run. For me, Aldi has been my go-to grocer for a long time with their highly competitive grocery prices.

Bull Market Rhymes. “I don’t think investors are actually forgetful.  Rather, knowledge of history and the appropriateness of prudence sit on one side of the balance, and the dream of getting rich sits on the other.  The latter always wins.  Memory, prudence, realism, and risk aversion would only get in the way of that dream.  For this reason, reasonable concerns are regularly dismissed when bull markets get going. “

Spotify Podcasters Are Making $18,000 a Month With Nothing But White Noise. Who would have thought that white noise could be a lucrative podcast category?

Other stuff I find interesting

Sun-Starved Sweden Turns to Solar to Fill Power Void. It’s intriguing that Sweden shut down two nuclear plants and relies on solar power for electricity despite lacking sunlight for a long period of time in a year.

While Electric Vehicles Proliferate, Charging Stations Lag Behind. There are 93,000 public charging stations in the country, but it’s estimated that we need 1.2 million more. That’s how much we are lagging behind. The governments, local or federal, need to take a lead in this and perhaps losses too in the beginning to encourage more purchase and usage of electric vehicles.

90% of Women in India Are Shut Out of the Workforce. I have to say that this is an eye-opening yet disappointing read. I 100% support gender equality. To me, there is absolutely no reason why female can’t work or receive the same level of treatment as men do. Hence, it’s insane to think that only 10% of women in a country with 1.3 billion people in population are working. How much more productivity could be unlocked if women could work?

AC Milan’s ‘Mind Room’: The story behind an innovative psychology lab. Fascinating!

Here’s why you shouldn’t miss ‘bột chiên’ while in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s one of my all-time favorite dishes in Vietnam and Saigon. You don’t experience the local cuisine until you try it

Stats

Disney+ Hotstar Hits 5 Million Subscribers in Indonesia

App Store stopped nearly $1.5 billion in fraudulent transactions in 2021

Safari reached one billion worldwide users

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Weekly reading – 28th May 2022

Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other stuff I find interesting

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

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

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

Stats

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

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

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

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

Source: STR

Weekly reading – 21st May 2022

What I wrote last week

Want to do something? Do it right away!

Business

What Happened When a Wall Street Investment Giant Moved to Nashville. AllianceBerstein uprooted its headquarters from New York to Nashville, Tennessee to save $80 million a year. The move has been smooth so far, but the interesting thing here is how some large corporations, once exclusive to mega cities on the coasts, are open to moving to smaller towns. My colleague mentioned his college mates got great job offers from an investment firm in Arkansas. Boise in Idaho attracts interest from tech workers too. Snowflake already moved its headquarters to Montana. It’ll be interesting to watch what this trend will do to real estate.

A great podcast with Ted Weschler, a lieutenant of Warren Buffett. Listening to him bolsters my belief that to even have a chance at being good in investing, you need to read a lot, especially what other folks don’t, to create and connect the dots.

Marriott Rolls Out Media Network That Lets Brands Reach Travelers on Its Apps and TV Screens. I really wonder how this will actually work. The first requirement is that Marriott needs to profile and segment customers such as travel enthusiasts, cooking lovers or pet owners, so that their ads can be targeted. Then, it’s a matter of scale. In a 500-room hotel or resort, how many are actually pet owners at the same time? This makes me think that at least in the beginning, the ads won’t be targeted. Also, how would Marriott measure the effectiveness of the ads? Guests will likely just look at the screens and…move on. This service will aid brand awareness, but tracking conversion will be tricky.

Mastercard launches tech that lets you pay with your face or hand in stores. We’re still a long way from having this sort of technology ubiquitous. What intrigues me when I think about this is when governments around the world can have a unified database that recognizes folks based on biometrics. The amount of red tape and administrative work can be reduced significantly.

There’s a New Media Mogul Tearing Up Hollywood: ‘Zas Is Not Particularly Patient’. The new boss at Warner Media is bringing discipline, work ethic and a new culture to the company. A pretty interesting read on Zas.

The Algorithm is a Lie. A very smart take on Netflix and the long-standing assumption that Netflix is great at mining data for actionable insights.

Other stuff I find interesting

Innovative Fish Farms Aim to Feed the Planet, Save Jobs and Clean Up an Industry’s Dirty Reputation. A super interesting read on what is being done to protect the fishing industry in Maine.

Germany Declares Crypto Gains Tax-Free After 1 Year — Even if Used for Staking, Lending. Other securities can still be taxed after one year of holding, but crypto currencies aren’t in Germany. I wonder how Germans think about this since I assume stock holders outnumber crypto investors.

Take a look inside the Finnish bunkers capable of withstanding a nuclear attack. Today, the Finnish Parliament approved the application to join NATO. Putin threatened to retaliate, but seriously, what did he expect the people of Finland to do after watching what he did to Ukraine?

An interesting read on MOBI and EPUB book format. I love Kindle, but their previous requirement that users must use MOBI format was super annoying. So I am glad that they accept Epub now.

Stats

“The median pay package for chief executives of the biggest U.S. companies reached $14.7 million in 2021”

Pollutions accounted for one out of every six deaths globally in 2019

11.3 million guns were manufactured in the US in 2020. I had to look at the figure one more time to actually believe it. 11.3 million, I mean why do you need that many?

Grab has 30.9 million monthly users as of May 2022

65% of Disney+ subscribers said Movies were the top reason to subscribe

Weekly reading – 14th May 2022

What I wrote last week

Uber Q1 FY2022 Results

Book Review – After Steve: How Apple Became A Trillion-Dollar Company And Lost Its Soul

Business

Newest trend in delivery apps: move from cars to e-bikes. Micromobility is great for short-distance deliveries in a busy city like San Francisco. This is how Grab Food, Shopee Food and others manage deliveries in Ho Chi Minh City. Consumers order food within 3-4 kms most of the time. Traffic jam is a feature of the city. If couriers used cars for deliveries, there wouldn’t be any food delivery business! eBikes are also environmentally friendly. I hope to see more innovation and governmental subsidies in this space

John Gruber on the European Commission’s calling Apple Pay an illegal monopoly. I like John’s takes on Apple-related things. He is experienced and more importantly nuanced and fair. “This passage, as well as much of the rest of the E.C.’s “statement of objections”, seeks to dismiss the hard work Apple has done to make Apple Pay successful. Yes, NFC is an industry standard, and Apple Pay is, in part, built on top of that. But before Apple Pay, NFC was hardly used, even though Android had supported it since 2011. When Apple Pay launched in late 2014, its support for the existing NFC infrastructure was so good, it worked with many credit card terminals that had no explicit support for “Apple Pay” specifically. Apple Pay was so easy to use people were using it at retailers who weren’t even Apple Pay partners. That’s not a credit to NFC, which had been in place for years. That’s a credit to Apple. I honestly don’t understand where the E.C. sees anticompetitive behavior with Apple Pay. What I see is market share dominance stemming from the hard work of designing better integration into iOS and iPhones and educating users about the feature. How else could the iPhone’s share of NFC payments so far exceed the iPhone’s share of mobile phone sales? I’m not saying Samsung and Google suck at this, per se, but Jennifer Bailey’s team at Apple is really good, and perhaps just as importantly, really diligent about this sort of thing.”

Congress is ‘moving too slowly’ on semiconductor supply crunch, Commerce Secretary says. The dysfunction and ineffectiveness of Congress, especially in this matter, will cost America a lot both in the short and long term.

Buy Now, Pain Later? An interesting read on BNPL and specifically Affirm

Don’t forget Microsoft. Business schools around the world should teach students about Microsoft and its revival by Satya Nadella.

Business Travel Rebounds as Execs Choose (Real) Face Time Over Zoom. I, for one, am curious about whether business travel will come back to the pre-pandemic levels and how it will come back. During the pandemic, articles were written on how business travel would never be the same. Anecdotally, my colleagues at work traveled to Omaha, Nebraska for monthly meetings and quarterly department reviews as if nothing had happened in the past two years. China remains a question mark. Because they remain persistent on the zero-Covid strategy, they are not a viable destination at the moment. And I hope that the prolonged fight with Covid does not give other variants a chance to spring up. I think we have enough of a pandemic for, let’s say, the next few decades.

Inside the Collapse of CNN+, the News Channel’s ‘Apollo Mission’. The launch of CNN+ seems rushed and more like a political move by some executives than a savvy business initiative

How Gillette Embraced the Beard to Win Over Scruffy Millennials. Gillette went from demonizing beards to embracing them. After years of fruitless resistance and declining sales, they finally realized that their bread and butter product is no longer what men want. More than half of the men in the world don beard, including two-thirds of millennial men. Sensing that the tide they were going against was too strong, Gillette launched new beard-friendly products rolled into a line named King C. Gillette. A deviation from what the company is always known for, but a good strategic shift, I think.

Other stuff I found interesting

Could solar power solve Puerto Rico’s energy nightmare? I can’t imagine living in this day and age without electricity. Especially when that happens in a U.S territory.

Moon soil used to grow plants for first time in breakthrough test. This discovery inspires a lot of questions, possibilities and dreams

Cat Litter Could Be Antidote for Climate Change. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have “cat litter could absorb methane before it goes up in the air” in my 2022 bingo card. But it’s a nice surprise and discovery.

Stats

NYC subway ridership as of March 2022 is 60% of the pre-pandemic levels

Germany has 9% of all bitcoin nodes

“In 2021, U.S. podcast advertising revenues rose to $1.4 billion”

Only 50% of the time when a PayPayer user goes to a site that has PayPal does that user use PayPal