Curated Insights 2018.06.10

Laying the pipes of a post-advertising world

Brands have always fought for a place in consumers’ hearts, and then relied on their loyalty for repeat business. Pipes are structural relationships that don’t rely on such fickle factors. They are built on more vertically integrated distribution channels and behave more like utilities — a way into people’s homes and lives attached to an account.

Amazon is the ultimate pipe. Their entire value is that they bring things to you — the things can change as necessary: movies, pickles, sneakers. They own the interface, the invisible moving parts, and the household. They understand your preferences intimately and have become arbiters of choice in many homes. Alexa, buy batteries. You get a big pack of generic batteries, rated 4.5 stars for a good price delivered to your home. Do we really need brands with brand managers and media agencies competing for our attention or do we just need batteries for the remote? If pipes offer simplified decision making, better value and validation — then brands as we know them lose their value.

Advertising was unsustainable from the beginning, for two key reasons. Firstly, when a market fills up, everyone needs to shout louder to get heard, until the noise drowns everything out and a vicious cycle sets in to the detriment of all. Secondly, advertisers pay to reach people, but the audience also pays, with perhaps the most precious resource of all, their attention. You pay attention, and our attentions are more burdened than ever. This is the perfect recipe for people to opt out, should we give them a way to, and we have. In a very short span of time, ads have gone from having captive audiences to being avoidable. Social feeds are designed to skip over anything that doesn’t interest you. Fast forwarding over TV ads is great, but watching ad free content (Netflix) is even better.

Not adapting carries the risk of becoming a price taker in the long run. Adapting can be either through building your own pipe infrastructure, not an easy task and especially difficult for companies not born out of technology, or renting someone else’s pipe and ceding power to them and again facing the potential of long term decline. Disney has chosen the former. Soon they will launch their subscription video competitor to Netflix. With a lot on the line, a transformation of epic proportions lies ahead. Whether it’s successful or not, it speaks volumes that the owner of the most magical brands in the world is entering the pipe race.

The list of advantages pipes and subscriptions have over brands and ads is overwhelming: more consistent income and cash flow, lower marketing costs, better access to customers, more flexibility and control of customer experience, better valuations and access to capital, better quality data and potential for AI. As these factors compound, the shift in the balance of power will accelerate.

Spotify uproar points to the power of the playlist

The furor reflects a reality of today’s music business: Playlists are the new radio, helping major artists rack up millions of streams and connecting lesser-known acts with new fans.

But the findings highlight how influential Spotify can be in determining which songs, albums and artists succeed in the streaming era, he adds. Justin Barker, group director of streaming strategy for PIAS, a U.K.-based group of record labels that works with musicians such as Father John Misty, says that for the majority of its new artists, roughly 60% to 80% of streams are on playlists owned and operated by Spotify.

Spotify has become “a very powerful intermediary,” Mr. Waldfogel says. “The music industry used to get bent out of shape about how much market share Walmart would have. This makes that seem quaint.”


Here’s what Fiat Chrysler’s five-year road map looks like

Adjusted Ebitda will rise to between 13 billion and 16 billion euros by 2022, up from about 6.6 billion in 2017. The 2017 figure excludes the Magneti Marelli parts unit that Fiat Chrysler plans to spin off at the beginning of 2019. Fiat Chrysler also said it will spend about 45 billion euros on capital investments as it tries to harness an evolving automotive market place driven by electrification, connected services and self-driving cars.

Fiat Chrysler plans to form a captive financial unit in the U.S. The company has an option to buy out its existing partner, Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., and has initiated discussions, Palmer said. Such a move could add $500 million to $800 million in incremental pretax earnings within four years, he said. Fiat could also start its own business, in which case the company envisions about $100 million in incremental profit. A captive finance unit will allow Fiat Chrysler to “participate more fully in capturing value from emerging platforms,” Palmer said, for example by securitizing vehicle fleets and offering access to service providers on a per-mile basis.

Jeep is targeting 1/12 of all sport utility vehicle sales worldwide by 2022, implying a will more than doubling of deliveries to as many as 3.3 million units, based on Bloomberg calculations from the presentation. Maserati will target Tesla Inc. with a full-electric sports car that reaches more than 186 miles per hour. All Maserati powertrains, including the electric ones, will be supplied by Ferrari NV, the supercar maker spun off from Fiat Chrysler in 2016.

Google emerges as early winner from Europe’s new data privacy law

The reason: the Alphabet ad giant is gathering individuals’ consent for targeted advertising at far higher rates than many competing online-ad services, early data show. That means the new law, the General Data Protection Regulation, is reinforcing—at least initially—the strength of the biggest online-ad players, led by Google and Facebook Inc.

Havas SA, one of the world’s largest buyers of ads, says it observed a low double-digit percentage increase in advertisers’ spending through DBM on Google’s own ad exchange on the first day the law went into effect. On the selling side, companies that help publishers sell ad inventory have seen declines in bids coming through their platforms from Google. Paris-based Smart says it has seen a roughly 50% drop. Amsterdam-based Improve Digital says it has experienced a similar fall-off for ads that rely on third-party vendors.

It took a $1 billion IPO for people to see why Adyen matters

By 2017, Adyen was processing in excess of $122 billion in payments for the year, an increase of 61 percent from the year before, and generated $1.2 billion in revenue, according to financial filings. Uber Technologies Inc., Netflix Inc., Spotify Technology SA, and Facebook Inc., are all customers.

Despite its success so far, Adyen still has some ways to go to catch up with the largest payments firms — Vantiv, Chase Paymentech and First Data each handle about $1 trillion annually — but Adyen differs from many of its rivals in a number of ways: Its transaction processing fees are typically lower than those of other young e-commerce oriented payments firms such as Stripe or Square, and it can handle transfers in more currencies and payment types than Chase Paymentech or Vantiv.

Olivier Bisserier, the chief financial officer at Booking.com, an Adyen customer, told Bloomberg in 2016 that he liked that Adyen was willing to “think like a tech company” rather than a bank. When Booking.com expanded into Argentina, Adyen helped build its payments processing gateway for that market at a time when larger payments processors were refusing to do so until the travel site could show significant sales volumes from the new geography.

Janitors are becoming millionaires thanks to this stock’s 9,500% rally

Sunny Optical’s affluent employees have benefited from the largesse of Wang Wenjian, who started the company in Yuyao, a small city on China’s eastern coast, in 1984. When Sunny Optical restructured from a so-called village and township enterprise into a joint-stock company in the 1990s, Wang took the rare step of distributing stakes beyond top management and later organizing the holdings into a trust that now has about 400 holders and owns 35 percent of the Hong Kong-listed company. Leaving a 6.8 percent stake for himself in 1994, Wang allowed quality inspectors, company cooks and cleaners to subscribe for shares at a negligible cost based on their position and years of service.

“When money gathers, people will be apart; when money is scattered, people will gather.”

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 2018.05.06

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 2018.04.01

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 2018.03.18

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up. -- Steven Hawking (1942-2018)

An Apple R&D bonanza

Much of this focus mantra is driven by the fact that Jony Ive and his Industrial Design group oversee Apple’s product vision and the user experience found with Apple products. With only 20 or so members, Jony and team can only do so much at any given moment. In a way, Apple’s organizational and leadership structure serve as safeguards preventing Apple from spreading itself too thin and doing too much. Instead of trying to expand the design team in order to work on more products, Apple’s strategy appears to be to do the opposite and place bigger bets on a few products.

These bigger bets come in the form of owning the core technologies powering Apple devices. Apple wants to reduce dependency on others. We are quickly moving to the point at which every Apple product will be powered by core technologies developed in-house. Such a reality would have been a pipe dream just a few years ago. Apple believes this strategy will give them an advantage in the marketplace. It’s a new twist to the Alan Kay line about “people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” We are moving to the point at which companies serious about software should design their own silicon. Having $285 billion of cash on the balance sheet gives Apple the freedom to pursue this ambitious goal. It is this motivation to control more of the user experience while pursuing new industries to enter that is driving the remarkable increase in Apple R&D expenditures.


Apple goes from villain to coveted client with this Finnish firm

Created through a merger of Sweden’s Stora AB and Finland’s Enso Oyj in 1998, the company has spent billions shifting from the declining paper business — as people increasingly switched to digital from printed newspapers — to focusing on innovative wrappings made from tree and plant fibers. More than a third of its sales now come from consumer board and packaging solutions, up from a fifth two decades ago.

Apple has undergone its own shift, away from plastic packaging. For its recent iPhone 8 launch, Apple used a fiber-alternative instead of the polypropylene wrap around the power adapter. The packaging for the iPhone 7 used 84 percent less plastic than the previous version.


Intel fights for its future

“…Broadcom is already an Apple parts supplier, and it wouldn’t want to jeopardize a good relationship with a negotiation over royalties. The exact percentage that Qualcomm charges in royalties is of the utmost importance to a standalone Qualcomm…But for a merged Broadcom-Qualcomm, the exact amount of the royalty would be less important than a good working relationship with Apple.”

If the dispute is settled, Intel loses its wireless modems deal with Apple. No mobile CPUs + no modems = nothing of substance. Broadcom would be in charge — they would hold all the cards.


Google wants to impose order on India’s street address chaos

Google is tackling the project as part of its own search for the next billion users. Non-standard addresses now increase the costs of running all types of commerce from ride-hailing to online retailing and food delivery. Plus Codes — in a ‘6-character + city’ format — can be generated and shared by anyone on Google Maps, while apps that use location services can incorporate those codes on their own platforms. And a user can enter the Plus Code into searches to call up a location. Google Maps is also adding voice navigation in six more Indian languages, after introducing Hindi three years ago.

WhatsApp could shake up digital payments in India

At stake is an Indian digital payments market that Credit Suisse Group AG estimates could be worth $1 trillion within five years and has homegrown and global players jostling for dominance. WhatsApp joins Google, Alibaba-backed Paytm, a unit of local e-commerce leader Flipkart and dozens of others already vying for customers as smartphone adoption surges. Mobile payments caught fire at the end of 2016 when the government’s demonetization temporarily took 86 percent of all paper currency out of circulation to tackle corruption.

“WhatsApp is likely to change the digital payments scenario by cannibalizing other wallets’ users and adding new converts,” said Satish Meena, an analyst at Forrester Inc. “Its base of 200 million users, a daily active usage that’s about 20 times higher than Paytm’s, and the fact that Indian users spend a lot more time on WhatsApp than even on parent Facebook has huge advantages,” said Meena.


Amazon turbocharged Audible’s domination of audiobooks

Audible accounts for about 41 percent of all audiobooks sold, including digital and physical formats, according to researcher Codex Group LLC. Amazon also sells audiobooks directly through its website and, with Audible, accounts for more than half the market. Audible doesn’t disclose financial information, but says its annual subscriber growth is in double digits. Most customers pay $15 for a monthly subscription that comes with a single audiobook. (A la carte, they often cost more than $20.) The company’s library includes 400,000 titles.


How Amazon’s bottomless appetite became corporate America’s nightmare

For many companies, perhaps what’s scariest is that Amazon has lots of room to grow, even in retail. In the U.S., more than 90 percent of all retail sales still happen in physical stores. In some big categories, including home furnishings, ­personal-care products, toys, and food, the brick-and-­mortar numbers are even higher. As the share of online shopping continues to increase, Amazon seems likely to benefit the most. It’s responsible for roughly 44¢ of every dollar Americans spend online, and it’s now mixing in retail stores.

Amazon is far from invulnerable. All the same old red flags are there—a puny 2.7 percent e-commerce profit in North America, massive outlays to establish delivery routes abroad—but few are paying attention. Anyone buying a share of Amazon stock today is agreeing to pay upfront for the next 180 years of profit. By one measure, it’s generating far less cash than investors believe. And its biggest risk may be the fear of its power in Washington, New York, and Brussels, a possible prelude to regulatory crackdown.


Netflix’s secrets to success: Six cell towers, dubbing and more

Why Netflix almost never goes down. The company’s service achieved an availability rate of 99.97% in 2017, according to Netflix engineering director Katharina Probst. Part of that is due to the fact that Netflix learned from outages early on, and now uses Amazon’s AWS data centers across three regions. When one of those regions does go down, Netflix automatically redirects all of its traffic to the two other regions.

In fact, the company even tests this fall-back regularly by just taking a region offline itself — something the company calls chaos engineering. “We intentionally introduce chaos into our systems,” explained Probst. Up until recently, it took Netflix up to an hour to successfully redirect all requests in case of such a massive failure. More recently, the company was able to bring that time down to less than 10 minutes.

Amex to woo retailers with biggest fee cut in 20 years

At a presentation for investors in New York last week, the company said the global average of the fees it charges merchants — known as its discount rate — would decline five or six basis points this year, to about 2.37 per cent. Each basis point is equivalent to about 11 cents of earnings per share, said Don Fandetti of Wells Fargo Securities.

The fee cuts for 2018, which are about double previous guidance, are the latest sign of competitive and regulatory pressures on the biggest US consumer finance company by market value. American Express is facing questions from Wall Street about competition from US banks, which use the rival payment networks Visa or MasterCard. Big-spending Americans have flocked to premium cards issued by banks.


SoftBank looks to invade Wall Street’s turf

Until recently, SoftBank’s fledgling investment arm was little more than a group of analysts in Tokyo and London sifting through possible deals. Buying Fortress provided the group with a template to use as it moved to becoming an actual institution, with a formal investment committee, compliance department, trading desk and investor relations unit. The new entity is now 1,000 people strong.


How China’s Huawei killed $117 billion Broadcom deal

Huawei uses Broadcom’s chips in networking products such as switches that direct data traffic between connected computers. Qualcomm also works with Huawei. The two said on Feb. 21 they completed testing on technology that advances faster 5G mobile services. Under one envisioned scenario, wireless carriers may be forced to turn to Huawei or other Chinese companies for cutting-edge telecoms gear. That’s unacceptable for a U.S. government that, concerned about the security of Huawei’s gear, has already blocked the sale of the Chinese company’s smartphones on American carriers’ networks.

Government officials and industry executives have long harbored suspicions that the closely held Huawei works primarily for Chinese government interests, especially as it sells increasing amounts of critical telecoms infrastructure to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

WordPress is now 30 per cent of the web

Public data recorded that WordPress’s share of the top 10 million websites had ticked over from 29.9 per cent to 30 per cent. The firm put some context on that data by noting that 50.2 per cent of the world’s websites don’t run a content management system (CMS) at all. That means WordPress has over 60 per cent share among websites that do run a CMS. That’s a dominance few products in any category can claim. It’s also notable that WordPress has nearly ten times the market share of its nearest competitor, Joomla, which has 3.1 per cent share of all websites and 6.3 per cent of the CMS-using population.

Share buybacks work better in theory than in practice

The top 20 companies in terms of buybacks accounted for almost 50 percent of total expenditures.

The main problem with buybacks is that effects of bad decision-making don’t become clear until much later. To paraphrase Jeff Macke, stock buybacks are an allocation decision that has a hypothetical value to shareholders, but a real explicit value to option-holding executives. These people are supposed to be managing companies for the long term but get compensated over the short term. This misalignment if incentives should be a concern. It does seem like those with a vested short-term interest in stock prices put a thumb on the scale away from investments or dividends and towards buybacks.

Diving into the detail, the top culprit was Biotech companies, with 97% of biotech IPOs in the loss making camp. Second place, no prizes for guessing, was Technology companies at 83%. But interestingly enough that left 'all other companies' at 57% - which is actually a record high.

What’s the biggest trade on the New York Stock Exchange? The last one

Last year, 26% of all trading activity on the NYSE’s flagship exchange took place in the last trade of the day, up from 17% in 2012, exchange data shows. Last year, trades at the close accounted for more than 8% of trading volume in S&P 500 stocks, nearly four times what it was in 2004, according to Credit Suisse .

At least $10 billion worth of shares are traded in the NYSE’s closing auction on an average day, with a final tally of stock prices typically listed by 4:05 p.m.

A fund manager such as Vanguard, for instance, might need to buy millions of shares at a time. Making such a big purchase in the middle of the day could dry up supply, causing the price of the stock to jump—bad for Vanguard. By waiting to trade at a time when there are millions of shares being bought and sold, the risk of moving the price is reduced, saving Vanguard money.

Last year, the NYSE collected $87 million—45% of its net revenue from the exchange’s core stocks-trading business—from trading at the close, according to the research firm Equity Research Desk. The NYSE’s maximum fees for trading at the close have gone up 16% over three years, according to regulatory filings.


Is the US stock market overvalued? Depends on which model you ask

The Fed model was valid during the period from 1958 to 2010. Since after 2010 there has been no relationship between the stock’s earnings yield and the bond yield, the Fed model cannot be used to judge whether the US stock market is overvalued. In other words, the Fed model cannot support the high current CAPE ratio on the grounds of the low-rate environment.

The Shiller model is over-simplistic. It is justified only on the grounds that there is an empirical inverse relationship between the CAPE value and the subsequent stock market return over horizons ranging from 10 to 15 years. What is less known about the validity of the Shiller model is that it has forecasting power only for real returns.

The other serious problem with the Shiller model is that it cannot be successfully used to time the market. If the investor believes in the validity of the Shiller model, this investor should buy the stocks in the early 1970s. However, in this case, the investor would be highly disappointed because the stock prices had been decreasing till the early 1980s. Similarly, if the investor uses the Shiller model, this investor would sell stocks in the early 1990s, missing out on huge net gains over the full bull/bear cycle.

Pozen Priorities

“The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go. They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel.”


Ironies of luck

If risk is what happens when you make good decisions but end up with a bad outcome, luck is what happens when you make bad or mediocre decisions but end up with a great outcome. They both happen because the world is too complex to allow 100% of your actions dictate 100% of your outcomes. They are mirrored cousins, driven by the same thing: You are one person in a 7 billion player game, and the accidental impact of other people’s actions can be more consequential than your own.

In investing, a huge amount of effort goes into identifying and managing risk. But so little effort goes into doing the same for luck. Investors hire risk managers; no one wants a luck consultant. Companies are required to disclose risks in their annual reports; they’re not required to disclose lucky breaks that may have led to previous success. There are risk-adjusted returns, never luck-adjusted returns.

Here’s why Stephen Hawking never won the Nobel prize in physics

It takes decades to build the scientific equipment to test theoretical discoveries; to put this into context, Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves in space, which he first proposed in the 1920s, was only recently proven in 2016.

One of Hawking’s most important finds was “Hawkings Radiation,” the theory that black holes are not completely black after all, but emit radiations that ultimately cause them to disappear. The issue is, the technology needed to observe this radiation will take years and cost millions before Hawking’s theory can ever be verified.

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.

Curated Insights 2018.02.18

Amazon’s latest ambition: To be a major hospital supplier

The pilot is customized for the hospital system’s catalog of supplies, the official said, allowing employees to compare prices the system negotiates with its distributors against those in the Amazon Business marketplace. In response to questions about these efforts, Amazon said it is building technology to serve health-care customers, and seeking to sell hospitals on a “marketplace concept” that differs from typical hospital purchasing, which is conducted through contracts with distributors and manufacturers.

So far, some hospitals have been reluctant to buy supplies from Amazon Business, for reasons including lack of options and lack of control over purchases and shipping, which hospitals closely safeguard to ensure prompt arrival of goods.

Hospitals typically contract for assurances that products will be available and delivered securely, she said. “It’s a little different than being out of a size 6 dress. I can’t be out of a six French catheter,” said Ms. McCready, who oversees the hospital system’s $3 billion annual budget for supplies, contract services and pharmaceuticals. Ensuring continuity of product supply is also crucial, said Donna Drummond, Northwell’s senior vice president of consolidated business services. When doctors and nurses reach for a familiar product, they know its specifications. Jumping online to look for the best deal could disrupt that continuity, she said. Northwell is “not ready to move from our current model,” Ms. Drummond said, but added: “We are open to a competitive market.”

Fees and administration, marketing and shipping costs account for an estimated 20% to 30% of health-care supply costs, according to a November research report by Citigroup Global Markets Inc. “There’s a lot of people with fingers in the pie,” said Rob Austin, an associate director with Navigant Consulting Inc. and former hospital supply-chain executive. “There is a huge opportunity.”


Amazon threat has Maersk racing to stop clients becoming rivals

It’s not just a question of a smooth delivery, said Skou. Giant retailers like Amazon also want better information about shipments to manage supply chains as effectively as possible. Maersk is rolling out a new digitization strategy to modernize an industry in which bookings often still take place by phone. Last month, it formed a joint venture with IBM to develop the use of blockchain technology to manage and track cross-border trade.

“The ability of Maersk to understand the market and integrate with a big company like Amazon is very clever,” Benito said. “They realize that Amazon can be a disruptor, so it’s better to try and work together.”

How delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats may put your favorite restaurant out of business

In 2016, delivery transactions made up about seven per cent of total U.S. restaurant sales. In a research report published last June, analysts at Morgan Stanley predicted that that number could eventually reach forty per cent of all restaurant sales, and an even higher percentage in urban areas and among casual restaurants, where delivery is concentrated. Companies like GrubHub maintain that the revenue they bring restaurants is “incremental”—the cherry on top, so to speak, of whatever sales the place would have done on its own. They also argue that delivery orders are a form of marketing, exposing potential new customers who might convert to lucrative in-restaurant patrons. The problem is that as consumers use services like Uber Eats and Seamless for a greater share of their meals, delivery orders are beginning to replace some restaurants’ core business instead of complementing it. (In the Morgan Stanley survey, forty-three per cent of delivery patrons said that a meal they ordered in was replacing one they would have otherwise eaten at a restaurant.) And, as delivery orders replace profitable takeout or sit-down sales with less profitable ones—ostensibly giving restaurants business but effectively taking it away—the “incremental” argument no longer holds. “It’s total bullshit, and you can quote me on that,” Justin Rosenberg, the C.E.O. of the Philadelphia-based fast-casual chain Honeygrow, told me. “I’ve spoken to C.F.O.s of bigger fast-casuals, and they’ve said the same thing.”

It’s worth noting that, even while charging restaurants steep rates, most delivery platforms are not yet profitable, either. Their hope is that order volumes will one day become high enough—and couriers will deliver enough orders per hour—to push them into the black.


Airbnb reportedly built an internal hedge fund that makes $5 million per month

According to Bloomberg, Tosi “quietly built a hedge fund within the company’s finance department. He used a portion of capital from the balance sheet to buy stocks, currencies, and fixed-income securities, mimicking the treasury fund he ran at Blackstone. The side project represented 30 percent of the company’s cash flow last year and made about $5 million a month for Airbnb, the people said.”

New DNA nanorobots successfully target and kill off cancerous tumors

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

Saving for old age: the global story (part II)

This country for old men and women would have had 222m people in it, assuming it was launched at the end of 2015. Assume all Chinese move there on their 60th birthday, and by 2025 you would expect the population of Oldland to be 300m.

It is well known that savings rates in China are already high. If greater portions of these savings are shifted into a funded pensions infrastructure which looks anything like that of the US, this would boost demand for the kinds of assets pension funds usually buy: stocks and bonds.

It may already be happening. The Willis Towers Watson report states that China has the fastest compound annual growth rate of pension assets over the past five years, at 18 per cent. The second highest, at 13 per cent, is South Korea. The third is Hong Kong, at 10 per cent (HK also has the fastest 10 year growth rate — there is no such figure for China).

Audio boom: how podcasters make a living

The defining year for podcasting was perhaps 2014, when NPR launched Serial, a true-crime series that became a global phenomenon and the fastest podcast to reach 5m downloads on iTunes. It triggered a wave of wannabes. That year, Apple installed the podcast app into its operating system — suddenly iPhones had podcasts on the home screen. Today there are more than 500,000 active shows on iTunes, including content in more than 100 languages.

In 2006, only 22 per cent of Americans had heard the term “podcasting”, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. Last year it was 60 per cent. Thirty-one per cent of 25- to 54-year-olds said they had listened to a podcast in the past month compared with 16 per cent four years earlier. Networks such as Gimlet, or the crowdfunded Radiotopia, have helped to professionalise podcasts by attracting large audiences and advertising revenues.


An ‘iceberg’ of unseen crimes: Many cyber offenses go unreported

To many criminologists, academics and law enforcement leaders, crimes like car theft are anachronisms in a modern era in which the internet’s virtual superhighways have supplanted brick-and-mortar streets as the scenes for muggings, prostitution rings or commercial burglaries. They see dips in traditional violence and larceny as offset by a twin phenomenon: A surge in the evolving crimes of the digital era, and the fact that they are not fully captured in law enforcement’s reporting systems.

The wealth of Sapiens

True wealth is not money. It’s the option to buy what you truly need. If money can’t buy what you need, you’re on even footing with the poorest person out there. Wealth is a society where you can trust complete strangers with your child’s life. Wealth is having friends, colleagues and family who support you. Who take care of the things you can’t, without hesitation. Wealthy is when strangers rent you cars for 1-way trips at 3am over the internet.