Curated Insights 2018.05.20

The spectacular power of Big Lens

There is a good chance, meanwhile, that your frames are made by Luxottica, an Italian company with an unparalleled combination of factories, designer labels and retail outlets. Luxottica pioneered the use of luxury brands in the optical business, and one of the many powerful functions of names such as Ray-Ban (which is owned by Luxottica) or Vogue (which is owned by Luxottica) or Prada (whose glasses are made by Luxottica) or Oliver Peoples (which is owned by Luxottica) or high-street outlets such as LensCrafters, the largest optical retailer in the US (which is owned by Luxottica), or John Lewis Opticians in the UK (which is run by Luxottica), or Sunglass Hut (which is owned by Luxottica) is to make the marketplace feel more varied than it actually is.

Now they are becoming one. On 1 March, regulators in the EU and the US gave permission for the world’s largest optical companies to form a single corporation, which will be known as EssilorLuxottica. The new firm will not technically be a monopoly: Essilor currently has around 45% of the prescription lenses market, and Luxottica 25% of the frames. But in seven centuries of spectacles, there has never been anything like it. The new entity will be worth around $50bn (£37bn), sell close to a billion pairs of lenses and frames every year, and have a workforce of more than 140,000 people. EssilorLuxottica intends to dominate what its executives call “the visual experience” for decades to come.

For a long time, scientists thought myopia was primarily determined by our genes. But about 10 years ago, it became clear that the way children were growing up was harming their eyesight, too. The effect is starkest in east Asia, where myopia has always been more common, but the rate of increase has been uniform, more or less, across the world. In the 1950s, between 10% and 20% of Chinese people were shortsighted. Now, among teenagers and young adults, the proportion is more like 90%. In Seoul, 95% of 19-year-old men are myopic, many of them severely, and at risk of blindness later in life.

Del Vecchio paid $645m (£476m) for Ray-Ban. During the negotiations, he promised to protect thousands of jobs at four factories in the US and Ireland. Three months later, he closed the plants and shifted production to China and Italy. Over the next year and a half, Luxottica withdrew Ray-Ban from 13,000 retail outlets, hiked their prices and radically improved the quality: increasing the layers of lacquer on a pair of Wayfarers from two to 31. In 2004, to the disbelief of many of his subordinates, del Vecchio decided that Ray-Ban, which had been invented for American pilots in the 1930s, should branch out from sunglasses into optical lenses, too. “A lot of us were sceptical. Really? Ray. Ban. Banning rays from the sun?” the former manager said. “But he was right.” Ray-Ban is now the most valuable optical brand in the world. It generates more than $2bn (£1.5bn) in sales for Luxottica each year, and is thought to account for as much as 40% of its profits.

The Moat Map

Facebook has completely internalized its network and commoditized its content supplier base, and has no motivation to, for example, share its advertising proceeds. Google similarly has internalized its network effects and commoditized its supplier base; however, given that its supply is from 3rd parties, the company does have more of a motivation to sustain those third parties (this helps explain, for example, why Google’s off-sites advertising products have always been far superior to Facebook’s).

Netflix and Amazon’s network effects are partially internalized and partially externalized, and similarly, both have differentiated suppliers that remain very much subordinate to the Amazon and Netflix customer relationship.

Apple and Microsoft, meanwhile, have the most differentiated suppliers on their platform, which makes sense given that both depend on largely externalized network effects. “Must-have” apps ultimately accrue to the platform’s benefit.

Apple’s developer ecosystem is plenty strong enough to allow the company’s product chops to come to the fore. I continue to believe, though, that Apple’s moat could be even deeper had the company considered the above Moat Map: the network effects of a platform like iOS are mostly externalized, which means that highly differentiated suppliers are the best means to deepen the moat; unfortunately Apple for too long didn’t allow for suitable business models.

Uber’s suppliers are completely commoditized. This might seem like a good thing! The problem, though, is that Uber’s network effects are completely externalized: drivers come on to the platform to serve riders, which in turn makes the network more attractive to riders. This leaves Uber outside the Moat Map. The result is that Uber’s position is very difficult to defend; it is easier to imagine a successful company that has internalized large parts of its network (by owning its own fleet, for example), or done more to differentiate its suppliers. The company may very well succeed thanks to the power from owning the customer relationship, but it will be a slog.

How much would you pay to keep using Google?

Part of the problem is that GDP as a measure only takes into account goods and services that people pay money for. Internet firms like Google and Facebook do not charge consumers for access, which means that national-income statistics will underestimate how much consumers have benefitted from their rise.

Survey respondents said that they would have to be paid $3,600 to give up internet maps for a year, and $8,400 to give up e-mail. Search engines appear to be especially valuable: consumers surveyed said that they would have to be paid $17,500 to forgo their use for a year.


There is another

Spotify has better technology, merchandising (like discovery playlists), and brand. Unlike Apple Music, being a pure-play (as opposed to being owned by a tech giant) gives Spotify more cred among purists, young people, and influencers. The instinct / T Algorithm cocktail has resulted in a firm with 170M users, 75M of whom are premium subscribers. The firm registered €1B this quarter, representing 37% growth. Spotify accounted for 36% of premium music subscribers globally.

What takes Spotify to $300B, and true horseman status? They launch video, and become the most successful streaming entertainment firm, full stop. Netflix’s legacy is on the second most important screen, TV. Spotify was raised on the most important – mobile. Netflix needs to become Spotify before Spotify becomes Netflix. Nobody has cracked social and TV, and as half of young people no longer watch cable TV, if Spotify were to launch video and captured any reasonable share and engagement via unique playlists, then cable and Netflix would begin ceding market cap to Spotify.


Subscriptions for the 1%

The problem with these minuscule conversion rates is that it dramatically raises the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC). When only 1% of people convert, it concentrates all of that sales and marketing spend on a very small sliver of customers. That forces subscription prices to rise so that the CAC:LTV ratios make rational sense. Before you know it, what once might have been $1 a month by 20% of a site’s audience is now $20 a month for the 1%.

There is a class of exceptions around Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime. Spotify, for instance, had 170 million monthly actives in the first quarter this year, and 75 million of those are paid, for an implied conversion of 44%. What’s unique about these products — and why they shouldn’t be used as an example — is that they own the entirety of a content domain. Netflix owns video and Spotify owns music in a way that the New York Times can never hope to own news or your podcast app developer can never hope to own the audio content market.

The Apple Services machine

It is this hardware dependency that makes it impossible to look at Apple Services as a stand-alone business. The Services narrative isn’t compelling if it excludes Apple hardware from the equation. Apple’s future isn’t about selling services. Rather, it’s about developing tools for people. These tools will consist of a combination of hardware, software, and services.

Apple currently has more than 270 million paid subscriptions across its services, up over 100 million year-over-year. Apple is in a good position to benefit from growing momentum for video streaming services including Netflix, HBO, and Hulu. It is not a stretch to claim that Apple will one day have 500 million paid subscriptions across its services. Apple isn’t becoming a services company. Instead, Apple is building a leading paid content distribution platform.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. delivered two major milestones when it reported its earnings Wednesday: record quarterly profits and more than one billion monthly active users on its WeChat platform. The social media and gaming giant, which has been leery of barraging its users with ads, also declared it had raised the maximum number of ads that customers see on WeChat Moments from one a day to two. The app has become China’s most popular messaging service and is integral to driving everything from gaming and payments to advertising for Tencent.

MoviePass: the unicorn that jumped into Wall Street too soon

“The growth-at-all-costs strategy is being funded these days by the venture community, not the public market. The last time we saw the public markets fund a growth-at-all-costs strategy was the 1999 internet bubble, and we all know how that ended.”

The prospect of steep declines in a company’s valuations once it hits the public markets is one reason why U.S. companies are waiting longer to go public. Overall, U.S. companies that have gone public this year have done so at an average market capitalization of $1.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data, a 44 percent increase from the average market cap during the height of the dot com craze in 1999. At the same time, companies are now going public 6.5 years after receiving their first venture capital backing on average, more than double the three years between initial funding and going public in 1999.

Cerebras: The AI of cheetahs and hyenas

The specialist starts out with a technology optimized for one specific task. Take the graphics-processing unit. As its name denotes, this was a specialist technology focused on a single task–processing graphics for display. And for the task of graphics, graphics-processing units are phenomenal. Nvidia built a great company on graphics-processing. But over time, the makers of graphics-processing units, AMD and Nvidia, have tried to bring their graphics devices to markets with different requirements, to continue the analogy to hunt things that aren’t gazelle. In these markets, what was once a benefit, finely tuned technology for graphics (or gazelle-hunting), is now a burden. If you hunt up close like a leopard and never have to run fast, having your nose smooshed into your face is not an advantage and may well be a disadvantage. When you hunt things you were no longer designed to hunt, the very things that made you optimized and specialized are no longer assets.

Intel is the classic example of a generalist. For more than 30 years the x86 CPU they pioneered was the answer to every compute problem. And they gobbled up everything and built an amazing company. But then there emerged compute problems that specialists were better at, and were big enough to support specialist companies—such as cell phones, graphics and we believe AI. In each of these domains specialist architectures dominate.

We are specialists, designing technology for a much more focused purpose than the big companies burdened with multiple markets to serve and legacy architectures to carry forward. Specialists are always better at their target task. They do not carry the burden of trying to do many different things well, nor the architectural deadweight of optimizations for other markets. We focus and are dedicated to a single purpose. The question of whether we—and every other specialist– will be successful rests on whether the market is large enough to support that specialist approach. Whether, in other words, there are enough gazelle to pursue. In every market large enough, specialists win. It is in collections of many modest markets, that the generalist wins. We believe that the AI compute market will be one of the largest markets in all of infrastructure. It will be the domain of specialists.


This $2 billion AI startup aims to teach factory robots to think

What sets Preferred Networks apart from the hundreds of other AI startups is its ties to Japan’s manufacturing might. Deep learning algorithms depend on data and the startup is plugging into some of the rarest anywhere. Its deals with Toyota and Fanuc Corp., the world’s biggest maker of industrial robots, give it access to the world’s top factories. While Google used its search engine to become an AI superpower, and Facebook Inc. mined its social network, Preferred Networks has an opportunity to analyze and potentially improve how just about everything is made.

At an expo in Japan a few months later, another demo showed how the tech might one day be used to turn factory robots into something closer to skilled craftsmen. Programming a Fanuc bin-picking robot to grab items out of a tangled mass might take a human engineer several days. Nishikawa and Okanohara showed that machines could teach themselves overnight. Working together, a team of eight could master the task in an hour. If thousands — or millions — were linked together, the learning would be exponentially faster. “It takes 10 years to train a skilled machinist, and that knowledge can’t just be downloaded to another person” Fanuc’s Inaba explained. “But once you have a robot expert, you can multiply it infinitely.”

China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises

In September Ryanair axed 20,000 flights due to a rostering mess-up made worse by pilot shortages. This forced the low-cost carrier to reverse a longstanding policy and recognise trade unions and agree new pay deals — a move that it said would cost it €100m ($120m) a year from 2019.

China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.

US aircraft maker Boeing predicts China will need 110,000 new pilots in the years through to 2035, and its airlines are expected to purchase 7,000 commercial aircraft over the next two decades.

China’s aviation market grew by 13 per cent last year, with 549m passengers taking to the skies, double the number who flew in 2010. Growth is being driven by the rising middle class, an expansion of routes by Chinese airlines and the easing of visa restrictions by foreign governments keen to attract Chinese tourists.

California will require solar power for new homes

Long a leader and trendsetter in its clean-energy goals, California took a giant step on Wednesday, becoming the first state to require all new homes to have solar power.

The new requirement, to take effect in two years, brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now. It will add thousands of dollars to the cost of home when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.

Just half a percent

If you save $5,000 a year for 40 years and make only 8% (the “small” mistake), you’ll retire with about $1.46 million. But if you earn 8.5% instead, you’ll retire with nearly $1.7 million. The additional $230,000 or so may not seem like enough to change your life, but that additional portfolio value is worth more than all of the money you invested over the years. Result: You retire with 16% more.

Your gains don’t stop there. Assume you continue earning either 8% or 8.5% while you withdraw 4% of your portfolio each year and that you live for 25 years after retirement. If your lifetime return is 8%, your total retirement withdrawals are just shy of $2.5 million. If your lifetime return is 8.5% instead, you withdraw about $3.1 million. That’s an extra $600,000 for your “golden years,” a bonus of three times the total dollars you originally saved.

Your heirs will also have plenty of reasons to be grateful for your 0.5% boost in return. If your lifetime return was 8%, your estate will be worth about $3.9 million. If you earned 8.5% instead, your estate is worth more than $5.1 million.

Keep your investment costs low.
Slowly increasing your savings rate over time.
Consistently saving while treating investment contributions like a periodic bill payment.
Bettering your career prospects to increase your income over time.
Avoiding behavioral investment mistakes which can act as a counterweight to the benefits of compounding.

Curated Insights 2018.05.13

Who’s winning the self-driving car race?

Only Waymo has tested Level 4 vehicles on passengers who aren’t its employees—and those people volunteered to be test subjects. No one has yet demonstrated at Level 5, where the car is so independent that there’s no steering wheel. The victors will also need to pioneer businesses around the technology. Delivery and taxi services capable of generating huge profits is the end game for all.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts that robo-taxis will help the ride-hailing and -sharing business grow from $5 billion in revenue today to $285 billion by 2030. There are grand hopes for this business. Without drivers, operating margins could be in the 20 percent range, more than twice what carmakers generate right now. If that kind of growth and profit come to pass—very big ifs—it would be almost three times what GM makes in a year. And that doesn’t begin to count the money to be made in delivery.

Waymo had three collisions over more than 350,000 miles, while GM had 22 over 132,000 miles.

After Waymo, a handful of major players have demonstrated similar driving capabilities. It’s hard to say anyone has an edge. One advantage for GM: There’s a factory north of Detroit that can crank out self-driving Bolts. That will help GM get manufacturing right and lower costs without relying on partners. Right now, an autonomous version of the car costs around $200,000 to build, compared to a sticker price of $35,000 for an electric Bolt for human drivers.

Musk wants to use cameras and develop image-recognition capabilities so cars can read signs and truly see the road ahead. He has said Tesla is taking the more difficult path, but if he can come up with a better system, he will have mastered true autonomy without the bulky and expensive hardware that sits on top of rival self-driving cars. “They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary,” Musk told analysts in February. “And I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

China’s got Jack Ma’s finance giant in its crosshairs

The rules will force Ant and some of its peers that straddle at least two financial industries to obtain licenses from China’s central bank and meet minimum capital requirements for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The companies’ ownership structures and inter-group transactions will also be restricted, the people said, adding that the rules need approval from China’s State Council and are subject to change.


Starbucks: A big deal should mean a sharper focus

The deal appeared positive because it ”accelerates the reach of Starbucks’ channel development segment globally by providing Starbucks with a strong distribution partner; and enables Starbucks to step up shareholder returns.

CEO Kevin Johnson said as much on the conference call. “We’ve been very focused on streamlining the company in a way that allows us to put our focus and energy behind the highest priority value creation drivers for the company,” he said. “And certainly, our retail business in the U.S. and China are the two big growth engines.”


Tinder: ‘Innovation’ can help it fight off Facebook

“In digital, and especially on mobile, there is always one brand that defines each core use case,” Ross wrote. “In dating, it is Tinder, whose user base and subscription base continue to explode globally. We don’t see that changing, even with scaled competition from Facebook.”

Tinder’s brand, scale and “freemium” model—with free basic access and the opportunity to pay up—should continue to make it appealing to users (particularly younger ones) even as new competitors emerge, according to Ross. “There is no real reason for singles not to still use the platform,” he wrote.

“The hard paywall brands tend to be those that are for the more serious online dater,” Ross noted, including older users and those seeking comparatively long-term relationships. “This is not only where Facebook has said it will focus, but also where it can best leverage its data and recommendation capabilities.”


Why A.I. and cryptocurrency are making one type of computer chip scarce

Crypto miners bought three million G.P.U. boards — flat panels that can be added to personal and other computers — worth $776 million last year, said Jon Peddie, a researcher who has tracked sales of the chips for decades. That may not sound like a lot in an overall market worth more than $15 billion, but the combination of A.I. builders and crypto miners — not to mention gamers — has squeezed the G.P.U. supply. Things have gotten so tight that resellers for Nvidia, the Silicon Valley chip maker that produces 70 percent of the G.P.U. boards, often restrict how many a company can buy each day.


PayPal: How it can fight back against Amazon Pay

“Given its two-sided network of 218 million consumers in the PayPal digital wallet and 19 million merchants for whom PayPal provides online & mobile merchant acquiring services, plus Xoom and Braintree, PayPal benefits from one of the most extensive payments ecosystems globally. Within this ecosystem, PayPal offers the best mobile wallet with an 89% conversion ratio from shopping cart to payment, creating strong consumer and merchant lock-in.”

It has other ways to provide incentives. “PayPal enjoys strategic alliances with Visa, Mastercard, Google, Facebook, Apple, Alibaba, Baidu, and a number of financial institutions, including Bank of America and HSBC, allowing it access to a vast customer base and potential consumer incentive plans,” they wrote, noting an HSBC offer to pay customers $25 if they link their cards to PayPal.

Etsy CEO: ‘Signs of progress’ in boosting repeat business

Etsy isn’t trying to become a place people shop every day, but it does want people to shop there more often. (The company cites figures saying 60% of customers buy just once a year.) It said both new and repeat buyers were up 20% year-over-year in Q1, which Silverman called “early signs of progress.”

Management wants to increase the “lifetime value” of a shopper by creating a cycle in which the company pays an acceptable rate for a new user, converts them to a buyer and then a repeat buyer, and then translates the money that buyer provides into more efficient marketing that acquires more new customers.

As Warren Buffett’s empire expands, many jobs disappear

Despite Buffett’s folksy image, Berkshire has thrived for years by keeping things lean and buying companies that—in his own words—are run by “cost-conscious and efficient managers.” The result? Buffett hasn’t shut down many operations during his five decades atop the firm. But more than two dozen of his companies employ fewer people today than they used to.

Berkshire often doesn’t note in the data when one of its businesses buys another, which can make it seem like there’s hiring when the conglomerate is just absorbing people. The company also doesn’t always make clear when units are combined or spun out of others.

The formula behind San Francisco’s startup success

Losing money is not a bug. It’s a feature. Not making money can be the ultimate competitive advantage, if you can afford it, as it prevents others from entering the space or catching up as your startup gobbles up greater and greater market share. Then, when rivals are out of the picture, it’s possible to raise prices and start focusing on operating in the black.

You might wonder why it’s so much better to lose money provided by Sequoia Capital than, say, a lower-profile but still wealthy investor. We could speculate that the following factors are at play: a firm’s reputation for selecting winning startups, a willingness of later investors to follow these VCs at higher valuations and these firms’ skill in shepherding portfolio companies through rapid growth cycles to an eventual exit.

Cheap innovations are often better than magical ones

Much of what we call “artificial intelligence”, say the authors, is best understood as a dirt-cheap prediction. Sufficiently accurate predictions allow radically different business models.

If a supermarket becomes good enough at predicting what I want to buy — perhaps conspiring with my fridge — then it can start shipping things to me without my asking, taking the bet that I will be pleased to see most of them when they arrive.

Another example is the airport lounge, a place designed to help busy people deal with the fact that in an uncertain world it is sensible to set off early for the airport. Route-planners, flight-trackers and other cheap prediction algorithms may allow many more people to trim their margin for error, arriving at the last moment and skipping the lounge.

Then there is health insurance; if a computer becomes able to predict with high accuracy whether you will or will not get cancer, then it is not clear that there is enough uncertainty left to insure.


The future of digital payments? Computational contracts, says Wolfram

Wolfram anticipates at least three levels of computational contracts, from minor transactions (less than $50) to mid-level (thousands of dollars) and high-end (in the millions).

“The lowest level–typically involving small amounts of money–one will be happy to execute just using someone’s cloud infrastructure (compare Uber, AirBnB, etc.),” he writes in his blog post. “There’s then a level at which one wants some degree of distributed scrutiny, and one expects a certain amount of predictability and reliability. This is potentially where blockchain (either public or private) comes in.

“But at the highest level–say transactions involving millions of dollars–nobody is going to realistically want to completely trust them to an automated system (think: DAO, etc.). And instead one’s going to want the backing of insurance, the legal system, governments, etc.: in other words one’s going to want to anchor things not just in something like a blockchain, but in the ‘weightiest’ systems our current society has to offer.”

A hedge-fund fee plan that only charges for alpha

Consider a hypothetical traditional hedge firm that has $1 billion of assets under management and another that charges a fulcrum fee of 0.75 percent, plus a quarter of the profits. If the markets rise 10 percent and the fund outperforms by 200 basis points, or 2 percent, a traditional hedge fund would charge $20 million (2 percent of $1 billion), plus a performance fee of $24 million (20 percent of the $120 million in gains) for a total of $44 million. Our hypothetical fulcrum fund would charge $12.5 million — a management fee of $7.5 million (0.75 percent of $1 billion), and a performance fee of $5 million (25 percent of the 2 percent above-market gain). The breakdown of the $24 million performance fee portion of the traditional hedge fund works out to $20 million for plain old beta and $4 million for alpha. That total is five times more than what the fulcrum shop charges for investment gains.

Now imagine a scenario where the market is up by 10 percent and a fund is up only 8 percent, or has 2 percent underperformance. The traditional hedge fund would have charged $20 million (2 percent of the $1 billion in assets under management) plus a performance fee of $16 million (20 percent of the $80 million in gains) for a total of $36 million dollars. Meanwhile, the fulcrum fund would charge $7.5 million (the 0.75 percent management fee), but it also would give a refund of $5 million (25 percent of the 2 percent, or $20 million, in underperformance). The net charge to clients would be $2.5 million. This is a small fraction of the amount charged by a standard hedged fund.

Why winners keep winning

With that 20% initial advantage, the final market share increases significantly. What is even more amazing is that this advantage was only given in the first round and everything after that was left to chance. If we were to keep increasing the size of the starting advantage, the distribution of final market shares would continue to increase as well.

The purpose of this simulation is to demonstrate how important starting conditions are when determining long term outcomes. Instead of marbles though it could be wealth, or popularity, or book sales. And most of these outcomes are greatly influenced by chance events. We like to think in America that most things come down to hard work, but a few lucky (or unlucky) breaks early on can have lasting effects over decades. If we look at luck in this way, it can change the way you view your life…

I ask you this question because accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is one of the most freeing ways to view the world. Why? Because when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.

Curated Insights 2018.05.06

WeWork’s $20 billion dream: The lavishly funded startup that could disrupt commercial real estate

The company makes money primarily through rent arbitrage: charging its members more than it has to pay its landlords. The principal means of accomplishing this is by packing a lot of people into its locations. In WeWork’s buildings, the average square footage per person hovers around 50 square feet. This compares to 250 sq ft for commercial offices industry-wide. Despite this small footprint, members pay an average of $8,000 per year, with WeWork capturing a healthy 30 – 40% operating margin, according to the company.

WeWork is shifting from leases to co-management deals. In this scenario, landlords might pay for the renovation and buildout of offices and/or split membership profits 50/50, similar to the management agreement popularized by the hotel industry. Neumann says WeWork has followed this strategy nearly 100% of the time in markets like India and Israel.

In cities where there are numerous WeWork locations, each additional location serves to drive down membership churn. Artie Minson, WeWork’s former COO and current President, has noted, “in cities where WeWork opened more locations, membership cancellations declined.” While the vast majority of WeWork’s membership plans assign its members to a location, it does let members switch between locations.

First, it can quickly expand at scale, opening between 500K – 1M sqare feet per month. And second, it can design spatially efficient offices in non-identical locations. Both of these accomplishments rely on defensible strategic advantages, namely, a control of the complete building lifecycle and a mastery of data-informed design.

Why Amazon and Google haven’t attacked banks

Cloud spending by banks is expected to skyrocket. By 2021, banks globally are forecast to spend more than $12 billion on public cloud infrastructure and data services, up from $4 billion last year. By many metrics, the cloud business offers better opportunities to tech firms than, say, retail banking. Overall cloud-industry revenues are growing at about 60% year-over-year, Jefferies estimates. Meanwhile, retail-banking revenue, comprising products such as checking accounts and cards, at most big banks is growing at a fraction of that rate. And any real foray into banking or financial products could also entail substantial regulatory issues and expense.

Experts say Tesla has repeated car industry mistakes from the 1980s

Robots are supposed to allow production of more cars with fewer workers, but one ironic consequence of over-automation is that it can actually require more workers. Ingrassia and White report that GM’s Hamtramck plant had around 5,000 workers on its payroll in the mid-1980s, compared to 3,700 workers at a nearby Ford plant with many fewer robots. Yet the Ford plant was “outproducing Hamtramck by a wide margin.”

This kind of rapid iteration works well in the software industry because a programmer can change one line of code and then re-build the entire project with the click of a button. But physical manufacturing isn’t like that. Car design decisions have to be translated into physical tooling that takes months to build and fine-tune. And rapid iteration is a nightmare for suppliers, Shook added. “I talked to a supplier and asked ‘who’s your worst customer'” Shook said. “The answer was Tesla. How can you be a good supplier when you don’t know when you’re supposed to deliver?”

Free cash flow to whom?

Alphabet has 1,000 shares trading at $50. They buy back 100 shares for $500. They should now have 900 shares. However in their financial statements, it says they now have 1100 shares, due to 200 shares being issued to employees. Those 100 net new shares are worth $500, which we then subtract from the financial year’s free cash flow, to arrive at a new Free Cash Flow with Hypothetical Cash Compensation™ metric.

When a company’s share price is rising, prospective employees are more than happy to be paid in stock units that incrementally mature over four years. Companies with the best-performing stocks will be able to attract the best talent, which (all else being equal) should improve the performance of the business, and therefore increase the share price in a virtuous cycle.

But that cycle can effectively function as a type of confidence game as well. While it makes good times look especially good, it can make the bad times far worse. In a severe share-price decline, engineers will likely be reticent to receive stock-based compensation instead of cold hard cash, which would put pressure on operating margins and cash flow. And as share prices fall, companies would have to pony up more stock to provide the same compensation, and further dilute the shareholder base.

Air pollution kills 7 million people a year, WHO reports

Nine of 10 people around the world are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia, where in some areas airborne toxins were five times WHO limits and disproportionately affected the poor and most vulnerable. About 3 billion people are breathing deadly fumes from domestic cooking stoves and fires. Household air pollution caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2016.

The Grumpy Economist: Basecoin

The Fed was founded in 1907 in part to provide an “elastic currency,” exactly the lesson missing from bitcoin and at the center of basecoin. Alas, the Fed trades money for treasury bonds, backed by taxes, not for Fed bonds backed by future seignorage. And laws against using foreign currency or issuing private currency help a lot. Basecoin buyers will soon learn the lesson that bonds cannot pay more interest than money in a liquid market, and that claims to future seignorage cannot back money in the face of competitive currencies.


Ray Dalio: An unconventional take on success

Everything I’ve done with a singular focus on economics has fallen short. Everything I’ve pursued because I believed in the intrinsic value has exceeded expectations. Assessing a business based on unit economics is especially popular today. But a durable competitive advantage comes from the value it creates for its stakeholders. If you get that right, the unit economics will follow. Economics is not always an accurate reflection of intrinsic value. The same can be said of a career.

Curated Insights 2018.04.29

Amazon shareholder letter 2017

In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope. Even in the example of writing a six-page memo, that’s teamwork. Someone on the team needs to have the skill, but it doesn’t have to be you. (As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors’ names never appear on the memos – the memo is from the whole team.)

How China is buying its way into Europe

We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli & C. SpA to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon Holdings Ltd., while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

Is Google cheap?

According to Net Market Share, Google has around 82 per cent of the entire online search market. That figure includes China, where they are banned. Bing has around 5 per cent of the pie so, if the 3 trillion figure for Search holds true, Microsoft’s competitor processes 6,022 searches per second, versus Google’s 96,450.

Our readers may also point out Alphabet’s dependence on advertising revenues, a historically cyclical business which is an easy tap to turn off for many corporations in economic downturns. That being said, one could easily counter by mentioning the good ship Alphabet’s serene sail through the currently stormy waters of the wider advertising world. Or the fact that there are very few alternatives in terms of audience reach.

We have not even accounted for Google’s famed ‘Other Bets’ line — a collection of misfit, moonshot investments including self-driving software Waymo, health-data laboratory Verily Sciences and Alphaville favourite, smart-city planner SideWalk Labs.

Open, closed, and privacy

To focus on simply Google and Facebook, though, is to miss how much other data collection is going on: ad networks are tracking you on nearly every website you visit, your credit card company is tracking your purchases (and by extension your location), your grocery store is tracking your eating habit, the list goes on and on. Moreover, the further down you go down the data food chain, the more likely it is that data is bought and sold. That, of course, is as open as it gets.

First, it is even more unlikely that a challenger to either will arise without meaningful access to their proprietary data. This, to be fair, was already quite unlikely: the entire industry learned from Instagram’s piggy-backing on Twitter’s social graph that sharing data with a potential competitor was a bad idea from a business perspective.

Second, Google and Facebook will increasingly be the only source of innovations that leverage their data; it will be too politically risky for either to share anything with third parties. That means new features that rely on user data must be built by one of the two giants, or, as is always the case in a centrally-planned system relative to a market, not built at all.

Third, Google and Facebook’s advertising advantage, already massive, is going to become overwhelming. Both companies generate the majority of their user data on their own platforms, which is to say their data collection and advertising business are integrated. Most of their competitors for digital advertising, on the other hand, are modular: some companies collect data, and other collect ads; such a model, in a society demanding ever more privacy, will be increasingly untenable.


Facebook beats in Q1 and boosts daily user growth to 1.45B amidst backlash

Zuckerberg says one of his biggest regrets is that Facebook didn’t get to shape the mobile ecosystem because the company was still small when iOS and Android launched. That’s why Zuckerberg is adamant about Facebook having a major role in the future of virtual reality and augmented reality, which he sees as computing platforms of the future.

Global recorded music revenues grew by $1.4 billion in 2017

Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, up from $16 billion in 2016 — an annual growth rate of 8 percent. Streaming revenues in particular have contributed to this growth, and were up 39 percent year-over-year to reach $7.4 billion, or 43 percent of all revenues. But perhaps the biggest story of all is the growth of artists without labels. With 27.2% year-on-year growth this was the fastest growing segment in 2017.

Investing and business lessons from Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures)

Venture investors are looking for large addressable markets. How big is the market? What is the problem that you’re trying to solve? Who’s on your team? And how relevant is the team to that problem? What is the product that you’ve built, if you have built something? Or what do the wireframes look like? What kind of traction or feedback have you gotten from the market in terms of whether people are going to like the product, or whether they do like the product? What does the financial model and the economic model look like? What are you going to do with the money?” “What is the mission and vision of the company? Venture investors are looking for a big mission and vision that’s quite ambitious and that can be backed up by, ‘Here’s where we want to be and here’s how we’re going to get there over time. This is what we want to get done the next 12 months or the next 18 months.’

If you don’t attack a big market, it’s highly unlikely you’re ever going to build a big company. Great markets make great companies. We’re never interested in creating markets – it’s too expensive. We’re interested in exploiting markets early. I like opportunities that are addressing markets so big that even the management team can’t get in its way.

Why is China treating North Carolina like the developing world?

It’s about 50 percent cheaper to raise hogs in North Carolina than in China. This is due to less-expensive pig-feed prices and larger farms, but it’s also because of loose business and environmental regulations, especially in red states, which have made the U.S. an increasingly attractive place for foreign companies to offshore costly and harmful business practices.

How?

The market is all about discounting and expectations. It always has been and it always will be.

On January 31, 2006, Google Inc. announced its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2005: revenues up 97%, net profit up 82%. It’s hard to imagine how such phenomenal growth could be bad news. But Wall Street’s analysts had expected Google to do even better….Google’s stock fell 16% in a matter of seconds, and the market in the shares had to be officially halted. When trading resumed, Google, whose stock had been at $432.66 just minutes earlier, was hammered down to $366…Google earned about $65 million less than Wall Street had expected, and in response Wall Street bashed $20.3 billion off Google’s market value.

Basis—the “stable” cryptocurrency with $133 million invested—explained

Basis coins won’t be directly backed by dollars or any other asset. Instead, the Basis blockchain will attempt to adjust the supply of Basis coins over time to maintain a peg to the dollar, much as foreign central banks expand and contract their own money supplies to maintain a stable currency value.

The more consequential change is the addition of a third asset class called bonds. When the value of Basis coins falls, the system creates new bonds and sells them for Basis coins. Each bond has a face value of one Basis coin (and hence $1), but investors can acquire them at a market-determined discount.

Then, during a subsequent expansion, the system pays back these bondholders before paying anything out to shareholders. Bondholders get their money back in a first-in-first-out order, with the oldest bond being repaid first.

In effect, buying a bond amounts to making a bet that the demand for coins will rebound in a timely fashion. The less confident the market is that this will happen, the steeper the discount—a bond might sell for 0.8, 0.5, or even 0.2 Basis coins—and the greater the potential profit.

Kids worldwide spend less time outdoors, and then need glasses

Eyeglass sales are expected to double globally between 2012 and 2026, and the amount of time people are spending indoors may be a leading cause. By 2050, half of the global population, or almost 5 billion people, are projected to be nearsighted, up from a quarter, or 1.4 billion, in 2000.

Interestingly, however, while outdoor time helps to prevent nearsightedness, it doesn’t seem to affect its progression once it develops. The same recent summary suggests that the rapid rises in Asia are related in part to outdoor time: “The limited questionnaire data available suggests that the time that children spend outdoors is lower in the developed countries of East and Southeast Asia.”

Curated Insights 2018.04.22

Disneyflix is coming. And Netflix should be scared.

But in film, as in television, Disney relies on middlemen to deliver its content—and middlemen always take a cut. To buy a ticket to see a Disney film in theaters, you pay an exhibitor that keeps about 40 percent of the ticket price. What if Disney bypassed the middlemen and put a highly anticipated film like Black Panther on its streaming service the same day it opened in theaters—or made the film exclusive to subscribers? In the short term, sacrificing all those onetime ticket buyers might seem financially ruinous. But the lifetime value of subscriptions—which renew automatically until actively canceled—quickly becomes profound. If the film’s debut encouraged just over 4 million people to sign up for an annual subscription to a $10-a-month Disneyflix product—about the same number of subscribers that Netflix added the quarter it debuted its original series House of Cards—Disney would earn a net revenue of nearly $500 million in just the first year. Black Panther was a massive hit as a theatrical release; it could have been even bigger had it been used to transform onetime moviegoers into multiyear Disneyflix subscribers.

The math might make this seem like an easy call for Disney, but let’s not underplay how radical this move would be, and how seismic the effects on the existing entertainment industry. In recent years, the theatrical-release business has been carried by blockbusters—and Disney has been perhaps the most reliable producer of those. From 2010 to 2017, films earning more than $100 million have grown from 48 percent to 64 percent of the domestic box office, according to the research firm MoffettNathanson—and Disney has made the year’s top-grossing film in six of the past seven years. If Disney moves its films, en masse, to a proprietary streaming platform, it would smash movie theaters’ precious window of exclusivity and leach away crucial revenue. Exhibitors such as AMC and Regal may find themselves on an accelerated path to bankruptcy or desperate consolidation.

In this vision, Disneyflix wouldn’t just be Netflix with Star Wars movies—it would be Amazon for Star Wars pillowcases and Groupon for rides on Star Wars roller coasters and Kayak for the Star Wars suite at Disney hotels. That’s a product that could rival Netflix and create the kind of profits Disney has enjoyed during its unprecedented century of dominance. The company just has to destroy its own businesses—and the U.S. entertainment landscape—to build it.

Zillow, aggregation, and integration

To quickly summarize, I wrote that Aggregators as a whole share three characteristics:

  • A direct relationship with users
  • Zero marginal costs to serve those users
  • Demand-driven multi-sided networks that result in decreasing acquisition costs

This allows Aggregators to leverage an initial user experience advantage with a relatively small number of users into power over some number of suppliers, which come onto the platform on the Aggregator’s terms, enhancing the user experience and attracting more users, setting off a virtuous cycle of an ever-increasing user base leading to ever-increasing power over suppliers.

Not all Aggregators are the same, though; they vary based on the cost of supply:

  • Level 1 Aggregators have to acquire their supply and win by leveraging their user base into superior buying power (i.e. Netflix).
  • Level 2 Aggregators do not own their supply but incur significant marginal costs in scaling supply (i.e. Airbnb or Uber).
  • Level 3 Aggregators have zero supply costs (i.e. App Stores or social networks)

Remember, Zillow is in nearly every respect already an Aggregator: it is by far the number one place people go when they want to look for a new house, and at a minimum the starting point for research when they want to sell one. They own the customer relationship! What has always been missing is the integration with the purchase itself — until last week. Zillow is making a play to be a true Aggregator — one that transforms its industry by integrating the customer relationship with the most important transaction in its respective value chain — by becoming directly involved in the buying and selling of houses.

Here, though, Zillow’s status as an almost-Aggregator looms large: we now have years’ worth of evidence that realtors will do what it takes to ensure their listings appear on Zillow, because Zillow controls end users. It very well may be the case that realtors will find themselves with no choice but to continue giving Zillow the money the company needs to disrupt their industry.


Facebook to put 1.5 billion users out of reach of new EU privacy law

If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.

The change affects more than 70 percent of Facebook’s 2 billion-plus members. As of December, Facebook had 239 million users in the United States and Canada, 370 million in Europe and 1.52 billion users elsewhere.

In practice, the change means the 1.5 billion affected users will not be able to file complaints with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner or in Irish courts. Instead they will be governed by more lenient U.S. privacy laws, said Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London. Facebook will have more leeway in how it handles data about those users, Veale said. Certain types of data such as browsing history, for instance, are considered personal data under EU law but are not as protected in the United States, he said.


Why all my books are now free (aka a lesson in Amazon money laundering)

One reader forwarded this article on Amazon Money Laundering written by Brian Krebs. He argues that serious money laundering is going on with stolen credit cards: “Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60 percent that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made.”

My guess is eventually you’ll see the government step in, fine the crap out of Amazon, which will then be followed by a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit.

The iPhone X generated 5X more profit than the combined profit of 600+ Android OEMs during Q4 2017

The iPhone X alone generated 21% of total industry revenue and 35% of total industry profits during the quarter and its share is likely to grow as it advances further into its life cycle. Additionally, the longer shelf life of all iPhones ensured that Apple still has eight out of top ten smartphones, including its three-year-old models, generating the most profits compared to current competing smartphones from other OEMs.

Apple remained the most profitable brand, capturing 86% of the total handset market profits. Further splitting profits by model, the top 10 models captured 90% of the total handset profits.

Car dealerships face conundrum: Get big or get out

Dealers say they need to as much as triple revenue in the next half-decade to offset shrinking margins and increasing competition from companies that didn’t exist a decade ago…These developments have helped fuel consolidation of the 16,800 U.S. dealerships into the hands of fewer owners. The top 50 dealer groups are poised to book more than $175 billion in revenue this year, compared to $144 billion when Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. entered the sector four years ago.

Your future home might be powered by car batteries

By allowing car batteries to serve as a residential power source, Nissan says its vehicle-to-home service cuts utility bills by about $40 per month. Still, only about 7,000 car owners have adopted the system in the six years since it started, a tiny number compared with the 81,500 Leaf EVs that Nissan has sold so far in the country.

A small test this winter showed how hard it is just to get people to charge their cars at the right time. (Selling power back to the grid is a separate can of worms.) Nissan and the utility convinced 45 of their own employees to install home chargers and try monitoring electricity demand on weekends, using a smartphone app. Even though volunteers got free shopping points on Amazon as a reward for buying power when there was glut, only about 10 percent succeeded.

It’s a slow beginning, but Nuvve Chief Executive Officer Gregory Poilasne says vehicle-to-grid systems could eventually speed up the adoption of electric vehicles once people realize their batteries can earn them money. Poilasne says his clients make more than $1,000 per car each year by trading power to the spot market.


Blockchain is about to revolutionize the shipping industry

Should they succeed, documentation that takes days will eventually be done in minutes, much of it without the need for human input. The cost of moving goods across continents could drop dramatically, adding fresh impetus to relocate manufacturing or source materials and goods from overseas.

“This would be the biggest innovation in the industry since the containerization. It basically brings more transparency and efficiency. The container shipping lines are coming out of their shells and playing catch-up in technology.”

In 2014, Maersk followed a refrigerated container filled with roses and avocados from Kenya to the Netherlands. The company found that almost 30 people and organizations were involved in processing the box on its journey to Europe. The shipment took about 34 days to get from the farm to the retailers, including 10 days waiting for documents to be processed. One of the critical documents went missing, only to be found later amid a pile of paper.

Chinese money floods U.S. biotech as Beijing chases new cures

Venture-capital funds based in China poured $1.4 billion into private U.S. biotechnology firms in the three months ending March 31, accounting for about 40 percent of the $3.7 billion that the companies raised in the period overall, according to data provider PitchBook. At the same time a year earlier, Chinese funds invested $125.5 million, only about seven percent of the total.

China once lagged other countries in drug spending despite its large population, but outlays have expanded over the past decade. In 2012, China surpassed Japan to become the second-largest global drug market behind the U.S., according to a report from health-technology firm Iqvia, formerly known as QuintilesIMS. It could spend as much as $170 billion by 2021, compared to $116.7 billion in 2016, the firm said.

Selling drugs in China is also getting easier. Western companies usually waited for approval elsewhere before starting clinical trials in China because of the country’s cumbersome rules. But those restrictions have been relaxed, leading U.S. companies to view China as a more important market, and making Chinese investors hungry for to share in the returns from new therapies.

Technique to beam HD video with 99 percent less power could sharpen the eyes of smart homes

Backscatter is a way of sending a signal that requires very little power, because what’s actually transmitting the power is not the device that’s transmitting the data. A signal is sent out from one source, say a router or phone, and another antenna essentially reflects that signal, but modifies it. By having it blink on and off you could indicate 1s and 0s, for instance.

Assembly and rendering of the video is accomplished on the receiving end, for example on a phone or monitor, where power is more plentiful. In the end, a full-color HD signal at 60FPS can be sent with less than a watt of power, and a more modest but still very useful signal — say, 720p at 10FPS — can be sent for under 80 microwatts. That’s a huge reduction in power draw, mainly achieved by eliminating the entire analog to digital converter and on-chip compression. At those levels, you can essentially pull all the power you need straight out of the air.

Casualties of your own success

I valeted at a hotel in college. We parked 10,000 cars a month. And we banged one of them up every month, like clockwork. Management found this atrocious. Every few weeks we’d be scolded for our recklessness. But one accident in 10,000 parks is actually pretty good. If you drive twice a day, it’ll take you 14 years to park 10,000 times. One bent fender every 14 years is a driving record your insurance company won’t bat an eye at. The only reason we seemed reckless is because we parked so many cars. Size (or volume) put a negative spotlight on us that being less busy with the same parking skills would have masked. Big companies deal with this too. Chipotle sells half a billion burritos a year. You, at home, washing everything in bleach, could never make one carnitas burrito a day for half a billion days (1.4 million years) and expect to avoid a foodborne illness.

One is that everything moves in cycles. You can’t extrapolate the benefits of growth because growth comes attached with downsides that go from annoying at one size to catastrophic at another. Rising valuations that come with investment growth is the clearest example, but it’s everywhere: Headcount, media attention, AUM, and influence have downsides that can eventually grow faster than their benefits. Remembering that volatility is attracted to outlier growth puts many things about business and investing in context.

The second is size is associated with success, success is associated with hubris, and hubris is the beginning of the end of success. Some of the most enduring animals aren’t apex predators, but they’re very good at evasion, camouflage, and armour. They’re paranoid. I always come back to the time Charlie Rose asked Michael Moritz how Sequoia Capital has thrived for three decades, and he said, “We’ve always been afraid of going out of business.” Paranoia in the face of success is extremely hard but in hindsight it’s the closest thing to a secret weapon that exists.

Debt recycling

By investing a total of $55,097.13 I was able to purchase 3 properties over a 5 year period, with a combined value of just over $1,000,000. Two years later I sold one of the properties, using the proceeds to reduce the leverage of the remaining portfolio. I was able to recover my $55,000 of cash contributions, and still be left with equity worth over $473,000. At that point I could have sold a second property and used to proceeds to fully pay off the mortgage on the remaining property. This could have provided me with rent/mortgage free accommodation for the rest of my life, or alternatively contributed $26,000 in annual free cash flow towards covering my own lifestyle costs.


Why ‘sleep on it’ is the most useful advice for learning — and also the most neglected

Walker relates problem solving to the REM phase of sleep, demonstrating that it is in this critical stage of unconsciousness that we form novel connections between individual chunks of knowledge. REM sleep is where our ideas crystallise and recombine into new, creative thoughts.

The premise of adaptive timetabling does not fit will with a standardised model that runs on a fixed clock. Sleep does not lend itself to the measurement paradigms of today’s education system. Education is mired in empiricist dogma, hell-bent on measuring whatever it can, and then assigning importance only to what has been measured. It should be evident that the nature of problem solving, so much of which is rooted in unconscious thought, is holistic and beyond the blunt tools of written assessment. Any timed exam that seeks to capture students’ problem solving skills within a fixed period is, by the findings of neuroscience, a contradiction in terms.

Curated Insights 2018.04.15

Mark Zuckerberg: “We do not sell data to advertisers”

There is a very common misconception that we sell data to advertisers, and we do not sell data to advertisers. What we allow is for advertisers to tell us who they want to reach and then we do the placement. So, if an advertiser comes to us and says, ‘Alright, I’m a ski shop and I want to sell skis to women,’ then we might have some sense because people shared skiing related content or said they were interested in that. They shared whether they’re a woman. And then we can show the ads to the right people without that data ever changing hands and going to the advertiser. That’s a very fundamental part of how our model works and something that is often misunderstood.


Sen. Harris puts Zuckerberg between a rock and a hard place for not disclosing data misuse

So to sum up: in 2015, it became clear to Facebook and certainly to senior leadership that the data of 87 million people had been sold against the company’s terms. Whether or not to inform those users seems like a fundamental question, yet Zuckerberg claimed to have no recollection of any discussion thereof. That hardly seems possible — especially since he later said that they had in fact had that discussion, and that the decision was made on bad information. But he doesn’t remember when this discussion, which he does or doesn’t remember, did or didn’t take place!


Google and Facebook can’t help publishers because they’re built to defeat publishers

Here’s the problem: No matter how hard Google and Facebook try to help publishers, they will do more to hurt them, because that’s the way they’re supposed to work. They’re built to eviscerate publishers.

Publishers create and aggregate information and present it to users in return for their attention, which they sell to advertisers. And that’s exactly what Google and Facebook do, too: Except they do a much better job of that. That’s why the two companies own the majority of digital ad dollars, and an even bigger chunk of digital advertising growth. (Yes, those numbers can change — but if anyone displaces Google or Facebook, it will be another tech company.)

Amazon’s next mission: Using Alexa to help you pay friends

Mr. Bezos gave employees a mandate last year to push financial services as a key initiative, according to a person briefed on the matter. The company also restructured internally to add its digital wallet, Amazon Pay, to its team that focuses on Alexa as part of plans to make voice commands the next wave of commerce, according to other people familiar with the company’s plans.

If Amazon can move more transactions to its own rails or get better deals from card companies, it could save more than an estimated $250 million in interchange fees each year, Bain & Co. consultants say.


Is Amazon bad for the Postal Service? Or its savior?

An independent body, the Postal Regulatory Commission, oversees the rates that the Postal Service charges for its products. By law, the agreements it cuts with corporate customers like Amazon must cover their “attributable costs” that directly result from their use of the postal network.

While the Postal Service is subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, there is an exemption in the federal law that allows it to avoid releasing particulars of its deals with private businesses like Amazon.


Amazon is not a bubble

Thanks to its significant time-lag between selling an item and paying a supplier (estimated at 80 days by Morningstar) Amazon has been able to self-fund its growth almost entirely from cash from operations over its 25-year corporate history. In fact they last tapped the equity markets for funding in 2003, and in the last quarter of 2017 reported $6.5bn of free cash flow.

Ensemble Capital Q1 2018: Netflix

In the US, it has more subscribers than all of the cable TV companies combined, and it has a penetration rate of about 40% of all US households. And it’s still growing. Based on its massive global subscriber base, Netflix is now the 2nd largest pay TV service in the world behind just China Radio & TV. Yet Netflix is still growing subscribers at a 20% clip.

None other than the “Cable Cowboy”, John Malone, the business genius who pioneered the development of cable TV, shares our view on this topic. Talking to CNBC last year, Malone said that the most important question in the TV industry is “Can Netflix get enough scale that nobody really can challenge them?” and then went on to say that in his opinion the traditional pay TV companies no longer have any chance of overtaking Netflix. When the interviewer asked if the pay TV industry could band together to create their own Netflix-like service as Malone had been urging for years, he simply replied “It’s way too late.”


Apple now runs on 100% green energy, and here’s how it got there

At the moment, this conversation involves a healthy dose of education. “What we say is that we’ll be there with you,” Jackson recounts. “We’ll help you scout deals, we’ll help you evaluate whether they’re real, we’ll help you know what to negotiate for, because most of these folks, they’re trying to make a part, and so what we can do for them is be sort of their in-house consulting firm.” But she adds that there will likely come a time where Apple will require suppliers to run their businesses on clean energy as a condition of a business relationship.


[Invest Like the Best] Pat Dorsey Return – The Moat Portfolio

Chegg is a company we own right now where the historical data looks awful and it’s because they just sold a business, and the performance of this asset intensive textbook rental, that’s what’s in the historical data. The performance of the asset light, super high incremental margin study business is buried in the segment results…

The legacy business for Chegg is textbook rental…of course, this is a business that’s fairly easily replicable, there are very low barriers to entry and so Amazon and Barnes and Noble essentially crushed them in the textbook rental business. The founders were fired by the venture capitalists who poured $220mn into the business, a new CEO was brought in, and he realized that the only asset Chegg had at that point was a brand. They had 60%, maybe 70% unaided name recognition on college campuses…so, they invested in a bunch of other businesses and the one that’s worked out really well for them is essentially building a digital library of step-by-step answers to end of chapter study questions. So, if you took engineering or math or organic chemistry, there’s going to be a series of questions at the end of the chapter, so did you understand what you just read, and if you didn’t you probably won’t do so well on the test. What they’ve done is gotten exclusive licenses for 27,000 ISBNs and answered every single question and indexed it on Google, that being pretty important because the college student today copies and pastes. They copy the question and they put it in Google and search on it. Chegg comes up as the first organic result, which is how their user base has gone up 2.5x in 3 years with marketing costs being the same as they were 3 years ago…

Now Chegg has to pay money, big money, for those licenses to get that content, and so to some extent the publishers – Pearson and McGraw Hill – do have a lever over Chegg in that respect. We think those relationships are good, they recently renewed one of their licenses at similar cost to what it was a few years ago, largely because the publishers themselves are struggling and this is a very high margin source of income for them. And most college students, they’ve never heard of Pearson, that name means nothing to them. So if Pearson were to take all their textbooks and try to do this themselves, we think the marketing costs would be enormous…you do have some crowd sourced competitors to Chegg, where students basically post their own answers but here’s the thing. When you think about the value to a student of getting a 3.5 instead of a 3.0 GPA or passing a certain class that’s required of their major, the marginal benefit of paying $14.95/month for Chegg and knowing it’s the right answer…vs. just crowd-sourcing it on reddit, it’s a good cost-benefit.

So Workiva, they have 96% client retention, 106% revenue retention because they keep upselling clients. And what they did is create a product that lets companies do SEC filings much more efficiently than the old way, which was mark up a pdf and send it to RR Donnelley and the Donnelley sends it back to you and then you mark it up and send it back to them…so needless to say, [Workiva] went from 0% to 50% share in 6 years. In fact, the people who do external reporting – they’ve got 80% share of the Fortune 500 right now – people actually won’t go to work for another firm that doesn’t use Workiva…

It’s not an easy product to create because essentially what they had to do was replicate Excel in the cloud and enable it for scores of simultaneous users. There’s no check-in/check-out the worksheet. And then also the data points get linked inside your enterprise and so you might way we need to report this EBIT line, well that’s the function of Bob here and Jane over there, and their numbers roll up into mine and I link that inside my enterprise, so if you had a new product you’d have to break all those links and re-integrate it. So, not impossible but external reporting teams, even Wal-Mart, a huge company, their external reporting team’s like 20 people, so it’s feasible to do a rip-and-replace. But where things get interesting for this business and where the TAM gets much larger is internal reporting, where you’re rolling up data across the entire enterprise and then putting it together for the CFO/CEO or whatever, because then the linkages get much greater and the number of users becomes much bigger and the more users you have within an entity whose workflow would be disrupted if you got a new product, the stickier the product becomes…

In Workiva’s example, their customer acquisition costs really spiked about a year and half, two years ago because instead of going after the broader internal reporting market, they tried to pivot going from the SEC market to the Sarbanes Oxley market, SOX reporting, which didn’t work very well because with external reporting you were just saying ‘hey, you should just use Wdesk instead of Donnelley or Merrill…our product is superior’. Customer goes ‘why, yes it is.’ There is no SOX product, there is no product for SOX reporting, it’s a whole bunch of cludged together internal processes, so that’s a much harder sale, going in and saying ‘pay money for a product that is replacing an internal process that you’re not actually paying money for, it’s just sort of wasting people’s time’. That’s harder to put a number on if you’re a CFO or CEO, so that really spiked up their customer acquisition costs. Once they pivoted back to enterprise sales and frankly just reorganized their sales force geographically instead of functionally – which means less travel – customer acquisition costs came back down.

The U.S. states most vulnerable to a trade war

How to understand the financial levers in your business

Whatever your business, build a business model that includes all of your assumptions — and build the model so you can pressure-test variables and find your levers. Once you’ve identified them, build MVPs to test those assumptions in more detail. It’s really important to experiment early and get some good data on what works (and what doesn’t), before you start ramping up and pouring lots of money into marketing and execution. Some changes can have exponential effects — for better or for worse.

Want to keep your wine collection safe? Store it in a bomb shelter

Shipping wine in the country is tightly controlled by a web of state laws, and it is illegal for individuals to ship wine themselves across state lines. Having wine storage in different states can ensure that collectors get the wine they want regardless of where they live.

Storage fees can be as low as $1.25 a month per case of wine, which holds 12 regular bottles or six magnums. Of course, wine collectors rarely store just one box, and they are not putting it there for just a month.


What it takes to out-sleuth wine fraud

Ms. Downey offered advice and provided counterfeit-detection tools for seminar participants, including a jeweler’s loupe, a measuring tape, a UV light and UV-visible pens. She outlined her authentication process, which begins with careful scrutiny of the wine bottle—the loupe proved handy here—notably the label, the paper it’s printed on and the printing method and ink, as well as other components such as the capsule and the cork. Ultra-white paper, detectable under UV light, wasn’t in commercial use until the 1960s. With the aid of a microscope, one could detect if the paper was recycled, which would mean the wine couldn’t have been produced before the 1980s, when recycled paper was introduced for labels.

Above all, she emphasized that wine fraud isn’t a victimless crime. “It affects people who work very hard to make good wine, who are proud of their wines and their appellation,” she said. “It ruins their reputation and it destroys all their hard work.” With the right tools and a gimlet eye, she believes, we can all play a part in protecting that work.

Curated Insights 2018.04.08

The most important self-driving car announcement yet

The company’s autonomous vehicles have driven 5 million miles since Alphabet began the program back in 2009. The first million miles took roughly six years. The next million took about a year. The third million took less than eight months. The fourth million took six months. And the fifth million took just under three months. Today, that suggests a rate on the order of 10,000 miles per day. If Waymo hits their marks, they’ll be driving at a rate that’s three orders of magnitude faster in 2020. We’re talking about covering each million miles in hours.

But the qualitative impact will be even bigger. Right now, maybe 10,000 or 20,000 people have ever ridden in a self-driving car, in any context. Far fewer have been in a vehicle that is truly absent a driver. Up to a million people could have that experience every day in 2020.

2020 is not some distant number. It’s hardly even a projection. By laying out this time line yesterday, Waymo is telling the world: Get ready, this is really happening. This is autonomous driving at scale, and not in five years or 10 years or 50 years, but in two years or less.


Facebook, big brother and China

Whether users are OK with this is a personal judgment they make, or at least should be making, when using the services. In open and democratic societies, perhaps users are less worried about what large corporations, who can be secretly compelled to hand over data to the state, know about them. Users are protected by the rule of law, after all. If they are going to see advertising in exchange for content, storage and functionality, then they would rather see relevant than irrelevant advertising alongside their web pages, emails, photos, videos and other files. Most citizens are not criminals and not concerned about what the state knows – they just want to share their holiday photos and chat with each other and in groups via a convenient platform, knowing that Facebook can mine and exploit their data.

But in authoritarian states such as China which control what their citizens can see and which lack a reliable rule of law, such networks pose a bigger threat. Tencent, for example, with its billion active accounts, knows the social graph of China, who your friends and associates are, where you go, what you spend (if you use their payment app) and what you say to each other and in groups on the censored chat platform. Similarly Sina Weibo. The state security apparatus has access to all of this on demand, as well of course as access to data from the mobile phone operators. So even if you stay off the Tencent grid, if you use the phone network then the state will know a lot about anyone you call who is a user of these platforms, as well as being able to profile you based on your repeated common location with other users. All of this data is likely to be accessible to the state in China’s forthcoming Orwellian Social Credit System, a combination of credit rating with mass surveillance. Knowledge is power. No wonder then that China won’t allow Facebook into the game.

Nvidia announces a new chip… But it’s not a GPU

The new chip, NVSwitch, is a communication switch that allows multiple GPUs to work in concert at extremely high speeds. The NVSwitch will enable many GPUs – currently 16 but potentially many more – to work together. The NVSwitch will distance Nvidia from the dozen or so companies developing competing AI (artificial intelligence) chips. While most are focused on their first chips, Nvidia is building out highly scalable AI systems which will be difficult to dislodge.


Nvidia: One analyst thinks it’s decimating rivals in A.I. chips

[Nvidia CEO] Jen-Hsun [Huang] is very clever in that he sets the level of performance that is near impossible for people to keep up with. It’s classic Nvidia — they go to the limits of what they can possibly do in terms of process and systems that integrate memory and clever switch technology and software and they go at a pace that makes it impossible at this stage of the game for anyone to compete.

Everyone has to ask, Where do I need to be in process technology and in performance to be competitive with Nvidia in 2019. And do I have a follow-on product in 2020? That’s tough enough. Add to that the problem of compatibility you will have to have with 10 to 20 frameworks [for machine learning.] The only reason Nvidia has such an advantage is that they made the investment in CUDA [Nvidia’s software tools].

A lot of the announcements at GTC were not about silicon, they were about a platform. It was about things such as taking memory [chips] and putting it on top of Volta [Nvidia’s processor], and adding to that a switch function. They are taking the game to a higher level, and probably hurting some of the system-level guys. Jen-Hsun is making it a bigger game.

Nervana’s first chip didn’t work, they had to go back to the drawing board. It was supposed to go into production one or two quarters ago, and then they [Intel] said, ‘We have decided to just use the Nervana 1 chip for prototyping, and the actual production chip will be a second version.’ People aren’t parsing what that really means. It means it didn’t work! Next year, if Nervana 2 doesn’t happen, they’ll go back and do a Nervana 3.


Apple plans to use its own chips in Macs from 2020, replacing Intel

Apple’s decision to switch away from Intel in PC’s wouldn’t have a major impact on the chipmaker’s earnings because sales to the iPhone maker only constitute a small amount of its total. A bigger concern would be if this represents part of a wider trend of big customers moving to designing their own components, he said.

Apple’s custom processors have been recently manufactured principally by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd. Its decision may signal confidence that TSMC and other suppliers such as Samsung Electronics Co. have closed the gap on Intel’s manufacturing lead and can produce processors that are just as powerful.

Live Nation rules music ticketing, some say with threats

Ticket prices are at record highs. Service fees are far from reduced. And Ticketmaster, part of the Live Nation empire, still tickets 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country. No other company has more than a handful. No competitor has risen to challenge its pre-eminence. It operates more than 200 venues worldwide. It promoted some 30,000 shows around the world last year and sold 500 million tickets.

Though the price of tickets has soared, that trajectory predates the merger and is driven by many factors, including artists’ reliance on touring income as record sales have plummeted.

Live Nation typically locks up much of the best talent by offering generous advances to artists and giving them a huge percentage of the ticket revenue from the door. Why? Because it can afford to. It has so many other related revenue streams on which to draw: sponsorships for the tour, concessions at venues, and, most of all, ticket fees. The fees supply about half of Live Nation’s earnings, according to company reports.

Critics say enforcement of the consent decree has been complicated by what they call its ambiguous language. Though it forbids Live Nation from forcing a client to buy both its talent and ticketing, the agreement lets the company “bundle” its services “in any combination.” So Live Nation is barred from punishing an arena by, say, steering a star like Drake to appear at a rival stop down the road. But it’s also allowed, under the agreement, to redirect a concert if it can defend the decision as sound business.

Roku’s business is not what you think

That’s far from the only ad inventory Roku has access to. The Roku Channel offers free-to-watch popular movies, which Roku sells ad time against. Many of Roku’s “free” channels are ad supported, with Roku having access to all or some of the ad time on many of those channels (not all of them).

While selling ads is the biggest piece of the company’s Platform business, there are some auxiliary sales as well. See those Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, YouTube, etc. buttons on your Roku remote? The company was paid to put them there. Additionally, some TV brands have licensed the right to include Roku OS right into their television set, another source of revenue.

All told, Platform revenue is 44% of total sales, and growing rapidly. In fact, it more than doubled in 2017, and has increased more than 3-fold over the past 2 years. Even better, Platform revenue carries a gross margin near 75%, meaning that already it makes up 85% of Roku’s gross profitability. Completing the trifecta of good news, Platform sales are far more recurring and reliable in nature than hardware sales, giving the company a firmer footing from which to expand their business. Bottom line here? Roku is not really a commodity hardware maker. It is more of a consumer digital video advertising platform.

There is no shortage of ways to get streaming content. And all of them are fighting tooth-and-nail for users. Google and Amazon practically give away their devices to get users into their ecosystem. Against that lineup, it really has very few competitive advantages. There is no meaningful lock-in to the platform. It is really quite simple and painless for a consumer to switch from a Roku to a competing offering. Getting new customers is even more of a dog fight.

Netflix makes up over 30% of streaming hours through Roku’s platform, but the channel provides essentially no revenue back. Same for Amazon, Hulu, and the most popular ad-supported video network in the world, YouTube. Roku relies on monetizing Roku Channel and other, less prominent content channels. However, there is nothing stopping those other channels from switching to a different ad provider, or (if they are large enough), building out their own.


Alibaba is preparing to invest in Grab

Alibaba leaned heavily on its long-time ally SoftBank — an early backer of Tokopedia and Grab — to get the Tokopedia deal ahead of Tencent. That’s despite Tokopedia’s own founders’ preference for Tencent due to Alibaba’s ownership of Lazada, an e-commerce rival to Tokopedia. SoftBank, however, forced the deal through. “It was literally SoftBank against every other investor,” a separate source with knowledge of negotiations told TechCrunch. Ultimately, Alibaba was successful and it led a $1.1 billion investment in Tokopedia in August which did not include Tencent.

CRISPR recorder

While the Cas9 protein is involved in cutting and correcting DNA, the Cas4 protein is part of the process that creates DNA and genetic memory. CRISPR evolved from a bacterial immune defense system in which bacteria destroy viral invaders. Now we are beginning to understand how bacteria detect the invaders and remember the encounters. With Cas4, bacteria can record these encounters in their DNA, creating a permanent ledger of historical events.

Our understanding of Cas4 is rudimentary, but its potential applications are provocative. Not only will it timestamp key events, but it should be able to monitor how an individual’s body works and how it reacts to different kinds of bacteria. A Cas4 tool should be able to fight antibiotic resistance, an important use case addressing a significant unmet need.

How do wars affect stock prices?

Our research is not alone in reaching this conclusion. A 2013 study of US equity markets found that in the month after the US enters conflict, the Dow Jones has risen, on average, by 4.0 percent—3.2 percent more than the average of all months since 1983. A 2017 study found that volatility also dropped to lower levels immediately following the commencement of hostilities relative to the build-up to conflict. During the four major wars of the last century (World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the First Gulf War), for instance, large-cap US equities proved 33 percent less volatile while small-cap stocks proved 26 percent less volatile. Similarly, FTSE All Share and FTSE 100 volatility has historically fallen by 19 and 25 percent over one- and three-month horizons following the outbreak of conflict.

Regression to lumpy returns

Missing a bull can be even more detrimental than taking part in a bear. Following the two huge bear markets we’ve experienced this century, many investors decided it was more important to protect on the downside than take part in the upside. Risk is a two-way street and I’m a huge proponent of risk management, but investors have taken this mindset too far. Missing out on huge bull market gains can set you back years in terms of performance numbers because you basically have to wait for another crash to occur, and then have the fortitude to buy back in at the right time. I have a hard time believing people who missed this bull market because they were sitting in cash will be able to put money to work when the next downturn strikes.


How to talk to people about money

In the last 50 years medical schools subtly shifted teaching away from treating disease and toward treating patients. That meant laying out of the odds of what was likely to work, then letting the patient decide the best path forward. This was partly driven by patient-protection laws, partly by Katz’s influential book, which argued that patients have wildly different views about what’s worth it in medicine, so their beliefs have to be taken into consideration.

There is no “right” treatment plan, even for patients who seem identical in every respect. People have different goals and different tolerance for side effects. So once the patient is fully informed, the only accurate treatment plan is, “Whatever you want to do.” Maximizing for how well they sleep at night, rather than the odds of “winning.”

Everyone giving investing advice – or even just sharing investing opinions – should keep top of mind how emotional money is and how different people are. If the appropriate path of cancer treatments isn’t universal, man, don’t pretend like your bond strategy is appropriate for everyone, even when it aligns with their time horizon and net worth.

The best way to talk to people about money is keeping the phrases, “What do you want to do?” or “Whatever works for you,” loaded and ready to fire. You can explain to other people the history of what works and what hasn’t while acknowledging their preference to sleep well at night over your definition of “winning.”

Curated Insights 2018.04.01

Amazon is already reshaping health care

All three of the biggest U.S. PBMs will be tied to three of the country’s biggest insurers. CVS, Express Scripts, and UnitedHealth process more than 70 percent of all U.S. prescriptions. Post-merger, three companies will insure more than 90 million people in some capacity, process more than 3.5 billion prescription claims, and generate more than $500 billion in revenue.

The merging companies have claimed huge cost savings will flow to consumers from these deals, but I’m skeptical. Research suggests costs can actually end up rising in some cases of health-care consolidation. Less competition means more pricing power for the companies that remain. Markets with more insurers have lower premiums, while prices rise when hospitals buy physician groups. Though these are vertical deals, they will add to the market power of major players in already heavily consolidated industries, which seems like a recipe for monopolistic behavior.

Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it

If the government instituted new rules for tech platforms collecting persona information going forward, it could effectively lock in Facebook’s lead in the data race. If it becomes more cumbersome to gather this kind of data, no competitor might ever amass an index of psychographic profiles and social graphs able to rival Facebook’s.

We’ve already seen that first-time download rates aren’t plummeting for Facebook, its App Store ranking has actually increased since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and blue chip advertisers aren’t bailing, according to BuzzFeed. But Facebook relies on the perception of its benevolent mission to recruit top talent in Silicon Valley and beyond.


Facebook knows literally everything about you

But my favorite thing is probably peer-to-peer payments. In some countries, you can pay back your friends using Messenger. It’s free! You just have to add your card to the app. It turns out that Facebook also buys data about your offline purchases. The next time you pay for a burrito with your credit card, Facebook will learn about this transaction and match this credit card number with the one you added in Messenger. In other words, Messenger is a great Trojan horse designed to learn everything about you.

There’s one last hope. And that hope is GDPR. Many of the misleading things that are currently happening at Facebook will have to change. You can’t force people to opt in like in Messenger. Data collection should be minimized to essential features. And Facebook will have to explain why it needs all this data to its users. If Facebook doesn’t comply, the company will have to pay up to 4 percent of its global annual turnover. But that doesn’t stop you from actively reclaiming your online privacy right now.


How Facebook helps shady advertisers pollute the internet

Those who were caught and banned found that this was only a minor setback—they just opened new Facebook accounts under different names. Some affiliates would buy clean profiles from “farmers,” spending as much as $1,000 per. Others would rent accounts from strangers or cut deals with underhanded advertising agencies to find other solutions.

Affiliates say Facebook has sent mixed signals over the years. Their accounts would get banned, but company salespeople would also come to their meetups and parties and encourage them to buy more ads. Two former Facebook employees who worked in the Toronto sales office said it was common knowledge there that some of their best clients were affiliates who used deception. Still, the sources said, salespeople were instructed to push them to spend more, and the rep who handled the dirtiest accounts had a quota of tens of millions of dollars per quarter.

How Alibaba and Tencent became Asia’s biggest dealmakers

The reach of Tencent and Alibaba in their home market dwarfs that of the big tech groups in the US. While the latter accounts for less than 5 per cent of all venture capital flows in their home market, Alibaba and Tencent account for 40-50 per cent of venture capital flows in mainland China, according to data from McKinsey.

The downside is that their new investors might have different agendas than simply the financial performance of the new companies. The risk is that Alibaba and Tencent might be willing to sacrifice their interests in the companies they back if their own goals shift.

But he worries that entrepreneurs might also be forced to prematurely choose sides in the rivalry between the competing ecosystems of one or the other internet giants in ways that can leave a young company exposed.


SoftBank Vision Fund CEO explains plan to build the biggest network of tech companies in the world

The fund aims to be the largest shareholder in 100 technology companies around the world after it has finished investing all of its money, he said. The goal is to create the biggest ecosystem of tech companies in the world.

Part of the strategy will include investments strategically moving operations beyond their home markets and into other countries, where they can be linked with other holdings in the fund, Misra said. The fund will actively push many of its investments to work with each other, creating a web of companies controlled, or heavily influenced, by SoftBank and its CEO Masayoshi Son, Misra said.

Dropbox and Box were never competitors

Vast majority of Dropbox’s combined business and consumer revenue of more than a $1 billion came from consumers. Dropbox has always offered an attractive consumer storage tool. “Dropbox is primarily a consumer company with 500 million users, [with] only about 300,000 teams using their business offering.” For now though, even with this business push, Pelz-Sharpe points out that most of Dropbox’s business customers are small teams of 3 or more people with a dash of larger implementations. “Nor are people building much on top of Dropbox in the way of business applications – it remains primarily a very efficient file sharing system,” he explained.

This in contrast to Box, which has been working primarily with large enterprise companies for years to solve much more complex problems around content. Aaron Levie from Box said he’s absolutely rooting for Dropbox, but they have always been going after different markets, since Box decide to go enterprise about two years into its existence. “We are fundamentally building two very different companies. Both are large markets. While there is no limit to the scale they could become, we have built a very different business around how do you serve [large companies] and deal with unstructured company data — and it’s a very different product set [from Dropbox],” Levie told TechCrunch.


Micron: You don’t know how big this memory stuff is, says Instinet

DRAM and NAND storage have become the choke point in system level performance across multiple applications; cloud vendors, for example, are boosting memory content to speed up performance. These cloud companies are very sophisticated about hardware architecture. Vendors are spending tremendous amounts of capital to reduce wait times in servers. This means maximizing the amount of memory around the processor and greater use of NAND flash.

Robots could replace surgeons in the battle against cancer

Moll says he focused on lung cancer for two reasons. It’s the deadliest cancer, killing 1.7 million people a year globally, according to the World Health Organization. (That’s double the next-highest total, for liver cancer.) And it’s the perfect proving ground, he says, for medical robots.

No medical regulator in the world has approved fully robotic surgery, so for now surgeons who sign up for Auris’s pilot program will drive the bot. The doctor guides the scope through the lung, starting in the trachea, with a video screen to help navigate. A camera view is on the screen’s left side, and a CT-scan-created map and turn-by-turn directions are on the right. Auris tracks the probe’s precise location, in part, by comparing data from the camera view to the 3D map, and by using an electromagnetic sensor that works a bit like a miniature GPS. The idea is to collect data after every surgery and feed it back into the navigation software, improving it over time.

Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today.

Curated Insights 2018.03.25

What’s next for humanity: Automation, new morality and a ‘global useless class’

“Time is accelerating,” Mr. Harari said. The long term may no longer be defined in centuries or millenniums — but in terms of 20 years. “It’s the first time in history when we’ll have no idea how human society will be like in a couple of decades,” he said.

“We’re in an unprecedented situation in history in the sense that nobody knows what the basics about how the world will look like in 20 or 30 years. Not just the basics of geopolitics but what the job market would look like, what kind of skills people will need, what family structures will look like, what gender relations will look like. This means that for the first time in history we have no idea what to teach in schools.”

Leaders and political parties are still stuck in the 20th century, in the ideological battles pitting the right against the left, capitalism versus socialism. They don’t even have realistic ideas of what the job market looks like in a mere two decades, Mr. Harari said, “because they can’t see.” “Instead of formulating meaningful visions for where humankind will be in 2050, they repackage nostalgic fantasies about the past,” he said.

Investing is hard

On April 1st 1976, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple. Wayne drew the first Apple logo, wrote the three men’s original partnership agreement, and wrote the Apple 1 manual. Jobs and Wozniak each owned 45% and Wayne 10%. Two weeks later, he sold his 10% interest for $800. This 10% interest would be worth $90 billion today. He was closer than anyone to the visionaries of Apple, and he still sold.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in 3 paragraphs

In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.

Cambridge Analytica has significant ties to some of President Trump’s most prominent supporters and advisers. Rebekah Mercer, a Republican donor and a co-owner of Breitbart News, sits on the board of Cambridge Analytica. Her father, Robert Mercer, invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica on the recommendation of his political adviser, Steve Bannon, according to the Times. On Monday, hidden-camera footage appeared to show Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, offering to bribe and blackmail public officials around the world. If Nix did so, it would violate U.K. law. Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix on Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica also used its “psychographic” tools to make targeted online ad buys for the Brexit “Leave” campaign, the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, and the 2016 Trump campaign. If any British Cambridge Analytica employees without a green card worked on those two U.S. campaigns, they did so in violation of federal law.


Facebook and the endless string of worst-case scenarios

“I have more fear in my life that we aren’t going to maximize the opportunity that we have than that we mess something up” Zuckerberg said at a Facebook’s Social Good Forum event in November. Perhaps it’s time for that fear to shift more towards ‘what could go wrong’, not just for Zuck, but the leaders of all of today’s tech titans.

Most recently, Facebook has found its trust in app developers misplaced. For years it offered an API that allowed app makers to pull robust profile data on their users and somewhat limited info about their friends to make personalized products. But Facebook lacked strong enforcement mechanisms for its policy that prevented developers from sharing or selling that data to others. It’s quite likely that other developers have violated Facebook’s flimsy policies against storing, selling, or sharing user data they’ve collected, and more reports of misuse will emerge.


The Facebook brand

This episode is a perfect example: an unintended casualty of this weekend’s firestorm is the idea of data portability: I have argued that social networks like Facebook should make it trivial to export your network; it seems far more likely that most social networks will respond to this Cambridge Analytica scandal by locking down data even further. That may be good for privacy, but it’s not so good for competition. Everything is a trade-off.


Inside Apple’s secret plan to develop and build its own screens

Controlling MicroLED technology would help Apple stand out in a maturing smartphone market and outgun rivals like Samsung that have been able to tout superior screens. Ray Soneira, who runs screen tester DisplayMate Technologies, says bringing the design in-house is a “golden opportunity” for Apple. “Everyone can buy an OLED or LCD screen,” he says. “But Apple could own MicroLED.”

Creating MicroLED screens is extraordinarily complex. Depending on screen size, they can contain millions of individual pixels. Each has three sub-pixels: red, green and blue LEDs. Each of these tiny LEDs must be individually created and calibrated. Each piece comes from what is known as a “donor wafer” and then are mass-transferred to the MicroLED screen. Early in the process, Apple bought these wafers from third-party manufacturers like Epistar Corp. and Osram Licht AG but has since begun “growing” its own LEDs to make in-house donor wafers. The growing process is done inside a clean room at the Santa Clara facility.

The secretive company that pours America’s coffee

Keurig is offering distribution services to an increasingly broad network of outside brands through its Dr Pepper Snapple deal. It will also be able to sell its coffee, part of an armada of 125 beverage brands, to new customers. Peet’s distribution system is a regional one that doesn’t cover certain retailers such as convenience stores, popular stops for consumers who don’t want to wait in line at larger stores. Dr Pepper’s larger fleet will enable Peet’s ready-to-drink beverages to get into more stores.

Drake and Fortnite create a “crossing the chasm” moment for gaming

While the gaming market is large, generating $100 billion in revenue globally, it reaches relatively few people compared to the music market. Interestingly, music touches almost everyone on earth but generates only $16 billion in revenue per year.

Twitch is the other beneficiary, of course. Twitch is cementing its position as a modern-day ESPN with 15 million daily viewers who spend on average almost two hours per day on the platform.


Oasis hedge fund boss bets on Japan’s professional gaming scene

Strict anti-gambling laws had prevented paid competitions for years, but the industry’s move this month to issue professional gamer licenses is allowing them to sidestep the regulations. Fischer says that lays the groundwork for publishers to grow audiences, sell more games and begin generating new revenue from broadcasting rights and advertising.

Worldwide esports revenue, including media rights, advertising, ticket sales and merchandising, will reach about $5 billion annually by 2020, almost as much as the world’s biggest soccer league today, according to market researcher Activate. The total audience for competitive gaming will grow to 557 million people by 2021 from 380 million this year, according to researcher Newzoo.


Why watch other people play video games? What you need to know about esports

Competitive video game playing, more commonly known as esports, drew 258 million unique viewers globally last year, according to research firm SuperData. For perspective, the National Football League said 204 million unique viewers tuned into the 2016 NFL regular season in the U.S., based on Nielsen data. Just like “real” sports, esports makes money off of investments, branding, advertising and media deals, raking in $1.5 billion in revenue last year, said SuperData. The firm expects the esports industry to hit 299 million viewers this year and top $2 billion in revenue by 2021.

The two things we look for in a management team

As the slide mentions, Verisk decides on buybacks or M&A depending on the available opportunities. Even if they don’t always make the correct assessment in hindsight, we like that there’s a process in place. We were further impressed that Verisk followed the above slide with IRR results from their capital allocation decisions. Again, this level of transparency is rare, but we welcome it and would like more companies to follow suit.

Samsonite wants to spend up on handbags

Parker said Samsonite isn’t actively approaching potential buyers, and the company will likely spend the next year or two consolidating after its $1.8 billion acquisition of luxury bag maker Tumi Holdings Inc. in 2016 and the $105 million purchase of online retailer eBags Inc. last year. The non-travel products market could be a potential space for deals in the future, he said in a separate interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday.


How one investor turned a bet on the Swiss Central Bank into millions

Still, the root of the gains for Mr. Siegert and the SNB’s other 2,191 private investors is a bit of a mystery. The SNB isn’t like other stocks and pays a tiny dividend. It is governed under laws for both public and private institutions, and owned primarily by individual Swiss states, known as cantons, and cantonal banks. Public-sector bodies own almost 80% of voting shares.

Shareholders have no say in the SNB’s monetary policy or how it manages its massive 790 billion franc war chest of foreign-currency stocks and bonds, built up through years of interventions to weaken the franc.

On the plus side, the SNB is ultrasafe. It prints its own currency—and the franc is among the world’s strongest—which it uses to buy assets. When the SNB loses money, it can always print more. Recently, its profit has been on a tear, aided by rising global stock markets, low bond yields and a weaker franc. The SNB earned a record 54 billion francs in profit last year.


Tencent’s 60,000% runup leads to one of the biggest VC payoffs ever

The stake Naspers bought for just $32 million in 2001 — when Tencent was an obscure Web firm in a nation where few people used the Internet — is now worth $175 billion.

The sale of 190 million shares, worth $10.6 billion based on Tencent’s closing price in Hong Kong on Thursday, will cut the stake held by Naspers to 31.2 percent from 33.2 percent. It’s the first time Naspers has reduced its holdings in Tencent since investing in the company. Naspers won’t sell more shares in the company for at least three years, it said.

Has China overtaken the U.S. in terms of innovation?

In 1996, China invested 0.56 percent of its GDP in R&D, while the U.S. invested 2.44 percent of its GDP. In 2015, China invested 2.06 percent of its GDP, whereas the U.S. invested 2.79 percent. That is, the R&D intensity in China increased by 1.5 percentage points and in the U.S. by only 0.3 percentage points.


Harvard’s nutty idea: Cracking into the almond market

Around 80% of the world’s almonds are currently produced in California, whose almond plantations in its Central Valley have generated strong returns for investors for many years. Volatile weather in recent months, including frost and storms, have hurt estimates for the state’s almond harvest this summer, helping to push wholesale export prices for U.S. almonds to near a two-year high of $6,807 a metric ton.

Consumption of almonds grew 15% from 2012 to 2017, according to estimates from Euromonitor International, which forecasts 4% annual growth through 2021.

In Australia, nuts generate gross revenue of 8,097 to 12,146 Australian dollars (US$6,314 to US$9,471) per acre, roughly 40 times that of grains for the same area, according to the Australian Nut Industry Council. At current wholesale prices of about US$7 per kilogram in Australia, almonds offer a gross margin of around 45% before overhead costs and other expenses, according to Tim McGavin, chief executive of Laguna Bay Pastoral Co., an agricultural asset manager in Brisbane.


Elderly in U.S. are projected to outnumber children for first time

The Census Bureau projects the country would grow to 355 million by 2030, five million fewer than it had estimated three years ago. That is an annual average growth rate of just 0.7%, in line with recent rates but well below historical levels.

Lower population growth could drag on economic growth. This year’s prime-age workforce—ages 25 to 54—is about 630,000 smaller than the Census Bureau projected it would be just three years ago. The bureau projects the prime-age workforce will grow 0.5% a year through 2030, down from a 2014 projected annual rate of 0.58% for the same period.

The share of Americans who are foreign-born, now about 13%, is expected to reach a record 14.9% by 2028, topping a mark set in 1890. That share would rise to 17.2% by 2060.

Does indexing threaten the market?

But from the above results and others, it does not appear that the current level of indexing is a significant problem. This assumes the 24.9% figure for index equity mutual funds and indexed ETFs as a fraction of all U.S. equity mutual funds. As mentioned above, there are no firm figures for institutional indexing or international markets, but it seems unlikely that overall indexed investments exceed the level of roughly 25%.

Along this line, we remain concerned about the fact that many new index ETFs might not be truly independent of the creation of the index, as mentioned above. Even more importantly, given that many of these ETFs and indices are designed via a process of computer exploration of many different component weightings, these ETFs are highly vulnerable to backtest overfitting. As mentioned above, a 2012 Vanguard report found that while 87% of newly published indexes outperformed the broad U.S. stock market over the time period used for the backtest, only 51% outperformed the broad market after inception of the ETF tied to the index.


“I hope for Goldman Sachs’ bankruptcy”: Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Skin in the Game

Our conversation concludes on an optimistic note: “We’ve survived 200,000 years as humans,” says Taleb. “Don’t you think there’s a reason why we survived? We’re good at risk management. And what’s our risk management? Paranoia. Optimism is not a good thing.” Is the paradox, I ask, that human pessimism offers grounds for optimism? “Exactly,” Taleb replies. “Provided psychologists don’t fuck with it.”


What your fund management job will look like in a decade

Asset managers are being squeezed as increased regulation drives up costs and investors shift more money into lower-cost investment products. The solution? The greater use of technology and data-mining to defend margins, reduce expenses and win more client business.

While alternatives still only account for about a tenth of assets, they contribute about 30 percent of revenue, and Oliver Wyman sees that growing to about 40 percent by 2025. That trend will continue to benefit the bigger players able to offer a wider range of investment strategies.

Asset managers that analyze their customer relationship information in conjunction with the asset allocation preferences of both existing and potential customers will gain an advantage. The bigger the firm, the more data it will have available and the more resources it can throw at improving its analytic capabilities.


NASA study: Astronaut’s DNA no longer identical to his identical twin’s after year in space

Though most of Kelly’s biological changes returned to baseline levels after returning to Earth, seven percent of his genes point to possible long-term changes, according to the study. NASA’s preliminary findings were validated this week, according to Space.com. “The Twins Study has benefited NASA by providing the first application of genomics to evaluate potential risks to the human body in space,” according to a release from the agency.

Curated Insights 2018.03.11

Warren Buffett is even better than you think

What makes Buffett special, however, is that he has outpaced the market by a huge margin, even after accounting for those profitability and value premiums. The per-share market value of Berkshire has returned 20.9 percent annually from October 1964 through 2017, according to the company. That’s an astounding 9 percentage points a year better than a 50/50 portfolio of the Fama/French profitability and value indexes for more than five decades.

It’s a feat that can’t be dismissed as mere luck. For one thing, Buffett has been shockingly consistent, beating the 50/50 profitability/value portfolio during 40 of 44 rolling 10-year periods since 1974, or 91 percent of the time. Also, Buffett’s margin of victory is “statistically significant,” as finance aficionados would say, with a t-statistic of 3.1. That’s a fancy way of saying that there’s an exceedingly low likelihood that his outperformance is a result of chance.

How Amazon can blow up asset management

In addition to its home page, Amazon is rich with the most important resource in asset management: trust.

Amazon’s hidden advantage is its ruthless commitment to per customer profitability. I’m willing to bet that the firm has our number. It knows our lifetime value as customers and how we stack up against our cohorts by age, zip code, film preference, etc. Similarly, Amazon has shown that it doesn’t hesitate to fire unprofitable customers who abuse the return privilege. If it exercises the same discernment in avoiding the worst clients, incumbent asset managers stand to lose. Amazon has no legacy costs and no legacy relationships in asset management. Furthermore, it will not plead for such relationships. If you’re a 3rd party fund manager, for instance, getting on Amazon’s platform will be like the Godfather’s offer you can’t refuse. To me, asset management is the type of utility business that Amazon could easily disintermediate, for both its own benefit and the benefit of average investors worldwide. If you thought the overbuilt status of bricks and mortar retailing provided the kindling to the Amazon explosion in retail, the abundance of asset managers (especially active asset managers) provides the uranium for an apocalypse that could be much worse.


Lloyd Blankfein’s big, tricky, game-changing bet

Blankfein insists such pessimism is unwarranted in the long run. Within five years, he thinks, Marcus has the potential to dominate the refinancing of credit card debt by offering clients interest rates that are half of the penalties charged by card issuers. “The big banks have no incentive to do this — to offer a product that competes directly with their credit cards,” he says.

Blankfein insists investors will once again favor Goldman because the market forces behind its model are timeless. “We buy things from people who want to sell and sell things to people who want to buy, when in the real world, those buyers and sellers don’t usually match up,” he says. “Those things have been going on since the Phoenicians.”

Why Spotify won’t be the Netflix of music

Licensing deals are negotiated every couple of years, so investors will have to wait for the next chance to strike a new bargain. Growing bigger should help Spotify cut incrementally better deals, but won’t resolve the basic problem that ownership of must-have content is concentrated in so few hands. The big three plus Merlin accounted for 87% of songs streamed on Spotify last year.

But music is different: Apart from the concentration of rights ownership, new albums don’t have the same marketing pull as a new TV series. Spotify’s prospectus argues that “personalization, not exclusivity, is key to our continued success.” Competing with the record labels to get a better deal just doesn’t seem a viable option.

Why software is the ultimate business model (and the data to prove it)

The Demand for Software is very strong and stable — Spend on software has grown at ~9% for about a decade. Looking forward Gartner estimates show that the Software category is expected to grow 8–11% versus the U.S. economy at 2–3% and broader technology spending at 3–4%. Software is a GOOD neighborhood to live in.

Signals from the Stock Market: “In the short term the market is a popularity contest; in the long term it is a weighing machine.” — Warren Buffett. Over many years, the market reflects the true substance of a business — here you can see that over the last 15 years, a broad basket of software companies has created meaningfully more value than a broad basket of businesses.


Analysing software businesses

Business models are increasingly moving to SaaS business models because it benefits the customer. Even though the total cost of ownership of the software between the two is similar, the cash flow profile for the customer is different. SaaS shifts laying out cash for a license (capex) to an ongoing pay-as-you-go model (opex).

Investors also prefer SaaS models for two main reasons: 1. Higher predictability of future cash flow – SaaS has higher recurring revenue than license model. This provides a more consistent stream of cash flow with less ‘renewal’ risk at the end of every license. 2. Cost structure – the larger the upfront license cost, the larger the sales team required. SaaS models usually have a lower sales and distribution expense than license models.

Another reason SaaS businesses are popular with PE is because software economics match the return profile of of both VC and PE investors. Firstly, the original product with a fixed cost base plus increasing returns to scale earns a high ROIC and can scale with little capital. This matches the low-hit / high multiple return rate VC crave as they can pick the correct product and then sale with little marginal cost. PE then acquires from VC and provide the capital to acquire new products to bundle with the original offering. This strategy also matches the return profile of PE as they can acquire and add various products to the platform over the 5-7 average holding period of PE portfolio companies. Although the economics are not as good as VC stage due to the capital required, the risk is relatively lower as you have product-market fit and sticky customers.

‘Success’ on YouTube still means a life of poverty

Breaking into the top 3 percent of most-viewed [YouTube] channels could bring in advertising revenue of about $16,800 a year. That’s a bit more than the U.S. federal poverty line of $12,140 for a single person. (The guideline for a two-person household is $16,460.) The top 3 percent of video creators of all time attracted more than 1.4 million views per month.

Ideas that changed my life

Room for error is underappreciated and misunderstood. It’s usually viewed as a conservative hedge, used by those who don’t want to take much risk. But when used appropriately it’s the opposite. Room for error lets you stick around long enough to let the odds of benefiting from a low-probability outcome fall in your favor. Since the biggest gains occur the most infrequently – either because they don’t happen often or because they take time to compound – the person with enough room for error in part of their strategy to let them endure hardship in the other part of their strategy has an edge over the person who gets wiped out, game over, insert more tokens, at the first hiccup.

Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. People believe what they’ve seen happen exponentially more than what they read about has happened to other people, if they read about other people at all. We’re all biased to our own personal history. Everyone. If you’ve lived through hyperinflation, or a 50% bear market, or were born to rich parents, or have been discriminated against, you both understand something that people who haven’t experienced those things never will, but you’ll also likely overestimate the prevalence of those things happening again, or happening to other people.