What I Have Been Reading – March 2019

A collection of articles and things I have learnt over the course of March 2019.

Luxuries Become Necessities

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.



Great Companies Create Markets

According to Uber’s first pitch deck, their total addressable market was 4.2B. Last year they made 11.3B in revenue. 

The Lesson: Great companies don’t capture total addressable market. They create it. 

As Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said: “Cars are to us what books are to Amazon.”

What is Amazon

What started as an algorithm for finding the best physical products globally became a platform for creating any customer-centric experience that the company came across.  The future of Amazon could go either way: either it will find a way to keep incentive structures intact and dominate the global economy for many years to come, or it will become another company that was successful until it wasn’t.



The Other Side Of Financial Independence Retire early

With an increased desire to retire early, many individuals are choosing to live with an exceptionally frugal self-imposed mandate to save as much as possible before hitting their desired retirement date.  Some individuals, such as Sylvia Hall, are able to save as much as 70% of their after-tax income, setting firm limits in every part of their daily spending.




On graduating Gross hopped on a train to Las Vegas and turned $200 into a tidy $10,000 in five months. But he later calculated that it only worked out to be $5 an hour. “It was hard work. I never went to the movies, I never had a friend, I didn’t have a car and there were no hookers or any of that shit,” he says. “It was just 16 hours a day of blackjack.”

Financial Times


The Cost Of Stress

Stress is the leading workplace health problem.  It’s not just employees that are hurt – employers bottom lines can be dramatically affected by the negative consequences of stress and unhealthy work places.  Companies often don’t realize the cost of unhealthy work environments on their revenue and profits.



Perfection is overrated

Let’s look at something like Prisma, a photo filter app which tried to pivot to become a social network. Prisma surged in popularity upon launch by making it trivial to turn one of your photos into a fine art painting with one of its many neural-network-powered filters.

It worked well. Too well.

Since almost any photo could, with one-click, be turned into a gorgeous painting, no single photo really stands out. The star is the filter, not the user, and so it didn’t really make sense to follow any one person over any other person. Without that element of skill, no framework for a status game or skill-based network existed. It was a utility that failed at becoming a Status as a Service business.



San Francisco Is About To Mint Thousands Of New Millionaires

The thought of Silicon Valley and big paydays often go hand in hand given how many successful IPO’s that have been seen over the years and there’s more to come.  This year alone Uber, Lyft, Slack, Postmates, Pintrest, and Airbnb are all slated to go public; and they’re all in the bay area.  Following a successful launch they will mint another class of multi millionaires that has financial planners, real estate agents, and even the tech buses that move them scrambling to prepare.  One thought that comes to mind is what impact will this have on the already expensive real estate market throughout the bay area.



Consumer Power and The Internet

By creating unlimited shelf space and reducing information asymmetries, power in the internet age is shifting from suppliers to customers. The world is increasingly demand driven. Customers have more choices than ever before. They can buy anything, at any time. Through the internet, brands can serve a long-tail of unmet consumer needs, which weren’t served by big box retailers. Small direct-to-consumer brands are popping up left and right. Their products go beyond their utilitarian purposes and reflect the identities of people who buy them. From dairy-free yogurt, to anti-razor bump grooming products, to the assortment of milks (oat, almond, skim, soy, coconut, rice, hemp, plant, cashew, macadamia, hazelnut, pea, flax, peanut, walnut) so large that you need a rolodex to keep track of them all, the products themselves differentiate these upstart brands from incumbents



The Continental Axis Hypothesis

“One of the most striking hypotheses in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel was that technology diffused more easily along lines of latitude than along lines of longitude because climate changed more rapidly along lines of longitude making it more difficult for both humans and technologies to adapt.

Thus, a long East-West axis, such as that found in Eurasia, meant a bigger “market” for technology and thus greater development.”



Innovation Before Its Time

It took 50 years after the invention of canned food for someone to invent the can opener. And we put a man on the moon before we put wheels on suitcases.

How is that possible?

The can opener had to wait for thinner cans: early tins were too hefty to submit to anything less than a chisel. In the case of wheeled luggage, the barrier may have been social acceptance. Luckily Robert Plath, who patented the two-wheeled Rollaboard in 1991, was a Boeing 747 pilot with Northwest Airlines, who began selling his invention to other pilots and crew. When passengers began asking to buy them, he started the Travelpro company.




On September 24th, 1980, a man wearing cowboy boots and carrying two brown suitcases entered Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. One suitcase held $777,000 in cash; the other was empty. After converting the money into chips, the man approached a craps table on the casino floor and put everything on the backline. This meant he was betting against the woman rolling the dice. If she lost, he’d double his money. If she won, he’d lose everything. Scarcely aware of the amount riding on her dice, the woman rolled three times: 6, 9, 7.

“Pay the backline,” said the dealer. And just like that, the man won over $1.5 million. He calmly filled the empty suitcase with his winnings, exited Binion’s into the desert afternoon, and drove off. It was the largest amount ever bet on a dice roll in America.

The Paris Review

Design Flaws

Theres nothing I like about umbrellas.

They blow up in wind, so they’re easily wrecked under conditions in which they’re supposed to be used. They have long metal spikes at about eye level, so they’re clearly a safety hazard. Everything about it strikes me as wrong. I’ve seen people try to innovate in with air blowers to blow the water away from you, funky folding designs, etc.

But I’m almost positive there exists some very simple mechanical design to improve the umbrella.

Zen Black


How To Talk To Powerful People

Don’t treat them with a sense of awe, but don’t be condescending and say you’re the smartest person in the world. And the biggest thing is to make them laugh once in a while.

Walk into the room, make them laugh, make them feel like you have the answers to their problems, and that you’re comfortable in your own skin. An ingrained sense of comfort in your own skin… find a way to sit in the room relaxed

Andreessen Horowitz


The Power Of Writing

Writing is how you get attention. And in today’s world attention is the most valuable resource. 

Major companies spend billions of dollars on advertising each year in order to interrupt people for a chance at getting attention for their products. Writers get that for free. They have tens of thousands of people raising their hands to say, “Sign me up. I want to read everything you write. You have my attention.” 

Then when the writer uses a small portion of that attention to promote something else that will benefit the reader, hundreds or thousands of them buy it. Writers can gather attention better than anyone else. And in today’s business world attention is the most valuable resource. 

That’s why my friends who are writers are the best paid of anyone I know.