[VIC 85] Business trips. International diplomacy. Walking a tight rope. Shake to undo.

Business & Money

I recently went on a business trip to visit a client and discuss ways to expand the relationship.
On the business side, it was about 5 hours in total of meetings wherein we accomplished a lot.
On the relationship side, we enjoyed a boat cruise and a night on the town. It was a blast.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it here anyways. Business is a truly human affair. The human element involves the psychologies of incredibly diverse individuals, all with wide ranging goals (personal & professional), emotional states, and idiosyncratic personalities. What people are willing to share when you’re sitting across from them is vastly different than what they’re willing to share on a conference call. What you learn about some one after having a few drinks or during an Uber ride, is vastly different than what you learn from their LinkedIn profile or their latest blog post.
If you really want to build an enduring partnership (as supposed to a vendor-client relationship) that adds real value for both sides, you have to spend time with people getting to know them.

Human Progress

I’m worried about the progress of international diplomacy. As a (perhaps THE) global superpower, we’re used to making calculated and strategic decisions on how we interact with other nations. Regardless of your political persuasion, I believe it’s fair to say that we’ve always had generally competent people in the oval office, surrounded by other generally smart and competent people in other top positions. And generally, decisions have been made by consulting the top people in their relevant domain (e.g. generals for defense related issues, the fed for financial issues, etc).
All of this is in contrast to where we sit today. The guy in the top spot has an itchy Twitter finger and consultants no one before saying he’ll rain “fire and fury” on another country. Are you kidding me? The entire point of democracy and the apparatus of government is to make decisions by committee and force lots of smart people to collaborate with our collective benefit as their chief aim.

Philosophy

What happens at the intersection of logic/reason and emotion?
Too much emotion, and logic/reason never has a chance.
But too much logic/reason, you’re emotionally blind to other people’s perspectives.
Basically, you’re left walking a tight rope with incredibly powerful and unrelenting crosswinds.
I tend to err on the side of logic/reason, but as you’d imagine, I’m tipping to one side. I need to work on my balance.

My Latest Discovery

Ok, this is an older discovery, but it truly changed my life. Did you know that you can shake your iPhone to undo/redo typing? Like literally shake it. Game changer.

[VIC – 84] Name your own price. AI rockstars. A successful day. I’m a noob!

Business & Money

Most in the tech media spend all their time writing about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and a handful of other tech darlings (not to mention the ones shrouded in controversy, a la Uber, Theranos, etc). Unbeknownst to many, there’s another tech juggernaut that rarely gets any Love. Priceline was founded in 1997 before the internet boom of the early 2000s and made its name on the “make your own price” commercials. Then when everything went bust in 2001 the company’s market value shrank to $130 million. Since then the stock has grown more than 30,000 percent and earnings have risen at a compound annual rate of 42%. That’s faster than Apple, Amazon, Google, and Netflix.
What’s even more interesting is the company’s history of deal-making. Over time they’ve acquired Kayak, OpenTable, Booking.com, and others. Booking.com happens to be the largest hotel accommodation site in the world and perhaps one of the best acquisitions ever.
What’s more, Priceline might be the largest competitor to Airbnb, one of Silicon Valley’s sweet hearts. In 2016 Priceline listed over half-a-million “alternative accommodations” (privately owned homes, apartments, etc) while Airbnb listed 3 million. While that’s only about a sixth of listing volume, Priceline has an advantage if you consider the entire travel experience. You can book your flight, hotel, and make a dinner reservation, all in one place. Airbnb has recently launched its own experiences brand but we’ve only heard rumors about flights and other travel services.
And remember what I wrote about last week, this is another one of those platform businesses with strong network effects.

Human Progress

With so much hype about AI these days, it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise. As such, I tend to skip over AI pieces from main stream media outlets in favor of research and content from deep domain experts. I’ve been asked a bunch of times for recommendations on who to follow, so I thought I would share a few here.
Fei Fei Li is a computer science professor at Stanford where she leads both the AI lab and vision lab. She’s a rockstar in computer vision and played a key role in the creation of ImageNet.
Andrew Ng was chief scientist at Baidu, did a stint leading the AI lab at Stanford, was the original lead on the Google Brain team, and oh yea, also co-founded Coursera. No big deal.
Yann LeCun is the director of AI research at Facebook. Given that data, actually boat loads of data, is required to build effective machine learning models, it’s no wonder that Yann and his team at Facebook are among the best.

Philosophy

Over the last few years, I’ve been constantly working on a list of questions that define a successful day. If I can answer yes to each question on the list, I’m in good shape. Of course, there will be days where I fall short, but the idea is to have more good ones than bad. Here is the list in its current form:
Did I work on my physical fitness?
Did I work on my mental fitness?
Did I make progress towards my goals, however small?
Was I proactive with my time and energy?
When thinking about the important people in my life, did I do something to make one or more of them smile?

My Latest Discovery

I’m such a noob when it comes to travel. Here are two examples:
I just signed up for TSA pre-check. It’s awesome! No lines. I can keep my shoes on. No need to remove my computer. Game changer!
I just realized that you don’t need a specialty credit card that’s associated with a specific airline to sign up for their frequent flyer programs. I’ve been missing out on soooo many miles!!

Platform businesses with network effects. Musk vs Zuckerberg. Subatomic particles. Duo neck pillow.

Business & Money

In looking at my investment portfolio, I noticed that nearly all of my holdings are platform businesses with strong network effects.
I define a platform business as one that creates more value for the businesses built on top of it than the platform business captures itself. Take Amazon for example. If you add up the value of all of the businesses that sell their products via the Amazon marketplace and leverage their fulfillment services, that would be a much larger number than Amazon’s market cap.
Network effects occur when the value of the network increases as more participants join. Take Apple. As more people use iPhones, more developers are incentivized to build apps for iOS. As more apps are available in the app store, more users are incentivized to join the platform.
If you look at the most valuable public companies in the world by market cap, 7 of the top 10 are platform business with strong network effects (AAPL, GOOGL, MSFT, FB, AMZN, BABA, TCEHY). This might be the most powerful business model in existence.
The latest addition to my portfolio is Teladoc (TDOC). It is a telehealth company that provides on-demand medical services via mobile devices. If you think about many of your doctor’s appointments, there’s no reason that they couldn’t have happened via video chat from your iPhone. Right now, TDOC is a B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) service in that they sell to companies, and the companies, in turn, offer the service to employees as part of a benefits package. But I see no reason they can’t enter the B2C channel directly.
And healthcare is perfect for a platform business with network effects. You have providers and patients that come together to form the perfect marketplace. With more providers, the service is better for patients and vice versa. And due to the regulatory environment, this could be a winner take all market where the first to scale takes the lion’s share of the profits leaving a long tail of companies to fight over the scraps.

Human Progress

In reading business and technology news these days, you’d be hard pressed to avoid pieces on artificial intelligence and automation. Still, it’s not every day that two tech luminaries way in on the subject and get into a twitter spat more common of Donald Trump or a couple of c-list celebrities.
When asked about Elon Musk’s warnings about the existential threat posed by AI, Mark Zuckerberg replied with “I have pretty strong opinions on this. I am optimistic. And I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios — I just, I don’t understand it. It’s really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.”
Then Musk fired back with this gem.

As funny as this is, our time is probably better spent thinking about the real implications of AI. Without trying to guess about specific future scenarios, the general possibilities might look like the following:
1. AI is caught up in the hype cycle. We’ll continue to get better search results, more personalized Facebook feeds, and even robot radiologist that can read x-rays and CT scans better than a human. That said, to say AI poses an existential threat to human civilization is simply an exaggeration and overly pessimistic.
2. AI will be massively beneficial. Human productivity and industry will see incredible gains due to the automation of boring and repetitive work. Entire industries will be transformed as the rate and efficiency of production explodes. While these things are clearly positive, there will likely be large sections of the population that see unprecedented changes to their lifestyle and ability to make a living.
3. Take number 2 to the extreme. The AI explosion will lead to superintelligent machines and there will be no more jobs left for humans to do. Best case we become cyborgs completely integrated with technology. Worst case, we become paperclips.
Something akin to number 2 seems to be the most likely scenario. But however things end up, it will be important to ensure that the gains of this technology are appropriately distributed across society and that negative externalities are minimized. We’ll need to ensure that all groups (political, racial, economic, etc) are at the table and engaged in thoughtful conversation.

Philosophy

In quantum mechanics (the study of the motion and interaction of subatomic particles), you are never sure of a particle’s specific location. Instead, you can only calculate the probability of the particle’s position at a given time.
I find this idea to be extremely elegant and one that should be applied to other areas and not just this specific domain.
Much of life seems to exist in polarities. It’s hard for some people to conceptualize being transgendered because they have only ever understood male and female. People identify as democrat or republican. A statement is either true or false.
If the very foundation of matter and reality is imprecise, we as human beings would be well served to understand that idea and think in those terms more broadly.

My Latest Discovery

A friend recently told me about the Duo travel pillow. If you travel a lot for business or pleasure, this is a must add to your travel accessories.

[VIC 82] Don’t be a dummy. Owning vs renting. Coming together and falling apart. OfferUp

Business & Money: don’t be a dummy

I came across an incredible quote this week from Howard Lindzon that went as follows:
“I am always willing to let an investment become a trade and try not to let a trade become an investment.”
Before I touch on why I love this, here’s some background. The price of Ethereum has recently been falling. In response, Howard bought the dip with the idea that the price would likely bounce and trend higher over the long run. When it did, jumping from $140 to $240 in one week, he sold off some of the position to capture some of the profits.
With that context, Howard’s activity looked like that of a trader. When the price dips on an asset, and the trader can’t figure out why, they might buy the dip to capture a short term gain. This idea, however, flies in the face of how Howard previously has spoken about crypto investing. He’s been quoted as saying that he views this asset class as a long term play, similar to a venture capital investment. So why sell to make a quick buck if you’re taking a long term approach?
The idea is actually quite simple if you really think about it. If an investment gives your a return in 1 week, that you would otherwise be happy with over two years, it’s ok to take some money off the table.
I bought into Ethereum at $30. When it hit $300, I took some money off the table.
I bought into Bitcoin at $330. When it hit $2,000, I took some money off the table.
I bought Nvidia at $60. When it tripled in a year, I sold off most of the position.
When things are going well, it’s tempting to get greedy and keep pushing for more. But we live in an unpredictable world and we’re in the midst of one of the longest bull cycles on record. Don’t be a dummy!

Human Progress: owning vs renting

When I was 13 or so, I was obsessed with amassing a massive DVD collection. Anytime I went to Blockbuster to rent a movie, I would stop by the $5 box to see what I could add to my shelf. Then Netflix came along.
Remember that massive binder you used to drive around with that held all of your CDs? Add a 6-disc changer and now you can really stunt! Enter iTunes, and now Spotify.
One of the happiest days I can remember was buying my first car. I took the morning off of school on my 16th birthday to be sure I got my license at the earliest possible time and hit the road. I ditched my car in 2013 for Uber + public transportation.
Perhaps the single most tectonic shift in the economy that I’ve seen during my lifetime has been the shift away from owning towards renting and subscriptions. We ride in other people’s cars, sleep in their beds, and stream what ever type of media we’d like to consume. And all without buying anything.
The question I have is, where does this stop? As technology reduces friction and makes renting/subscribing, instead of owning, more practical, I wonder what personal and cultural preferences will prove too strong a counterbalance.
You probably thought the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s bed was gross 10 years ago, but Airbnb has made that normal and culturally acceptable. Right now, I’d say it’s pretty gross to think about sharing clothing. What if, instead of packing clothes, I could show up at a destination with fresh fits waiting for me in my hotel/AirBnB. Probably viable, but not sure about underwear and socks. Perhaps that too will change over time.

Philosophy: coming together and falling apart

Everyone knows about the Big Bang. It’s that theory of the universe’s birth that states that some 14 billion years ago the universe was this infinitely small, dense, hot place. Then a massive “explosion” tore things apart with unfathomable energy, creating all matter and hurling it in all directions at once.
Despite the evidence of cosmic background radiation, constant expansion, and the like, I don’t like this theory. Now I’m no cosmologist or astrophysicist and don’t purport to understand this topic at a deep level. Rather, I don’t like the theory because it begs the question, what happened before the Big Bang?
In talking about the birth of the universe, I can only apply the conventional meaning of the word “birth.” Babies are born, but you can explain what happened before. Sex, fertilization, gestation, and all that jazz. So the “birth” isn’t really a beginning in any real sense. Companies and ideas can also be born, but after a period of critical thought, amassing knowledge, etc.
So, coming back to the universe, my simple mind has difficulty conceptualizing what is meant by the “birth” of the universe as suggested by the Big Bang.
As such, the theory of the universe known as the Big Bounce makes much more sense to me. This is a hypothetical model of the universe that describes a cyclical process wherein the universe goes through constant expansion and contraction. So that big “explosion” referenced in the Big Bang, that was actually the result of the collapsing of a previous universe (the “bounce”).
And this second theory seems to follow the model that all other processes, both biological and not, follow.
Tides come in, and they go out.
Organisms are “born” and they die.
The planet freezes, and it thaws.
Empires rise, and subsequently fall.
All things seem to come together, then fall apart. They come together again, and then they fall apart again.

My Latest Discovery: OfferUp

The lady and I have increasingly been using OfferUp to buy used goods from local people. It’s basically Craigslist, but better. Since you have people tied to a profile and email address, you get real identity, and thus, more safety in the marketplace. It’s also mobile friendly allowing you to easily transact from your phone.

[VIC – 81] She loves a sale. The evolution of regulation. Playing not to lose. The Big Sick.

Business & Money: she loves a sale

My fiance loves a good sale. Whenever she happens upon one, she gets really excited. “How could I not buy this?? I’m actually saving money.”
This mindset isn’t rare. In fact, it follows basic economic theory. Keeping all else equal, demand rises if price suddenly fall. In reverse, prices go up, demand falls. Pretty straight forward.
The funny thing is, the opposite is true in the markets. Prices go up, investors buy more. Prices go down, investors rush for the exits.
The interesting question, for me at least, is what is the cause and what is the effect? Do falling prices incite fear in the markets, or do fearful investors cause recessions? Conversely, do rising prices lead to optimism and confidence, or do those mindsets push markets higher?
Or is it just a self-perpetuating cycle?
Hmm…

Human Progress: the evolution of regulation

Regulation and innovation go hand and hand. We all want new cool things that increase productivity and make life easier, but not at the expense of our safety and well being.
And if you think about regulation, in and of itself, it too goes through constant iteration, albeit much slower.
To start out, it was all about command and control. We created rules and laws that defined what a person/entity could or could not do. And that’s all well and good with lots of simple things. You have to pay your taxes. You can’t kill people. Seems logical.
But that doesn’t quite cut it when you want to encourage a certain activity without forcing someone’s hand. For example, you might want to encourage investment or economic activity in a particular region. You can’t simply make it illegal to do business elsewhere. But what you can do is create incentives or rebates that incite the same effect. You might, for example, provide tax rebates for particular types of investments or reduce start-up costs for new businesses.
In other words, when the sticks and stones of laws and legal bureaucracy don’t suffice, these market-based regulatory schemes often work nicely.
But now, in the information age, we have an altogether different regulatory framework taking shape. As software infiltrates every area of life, this new framework is often referenced by the simple phrase, “code is law.” That is, regulation can simply be written into the code base for any product or service. A few examples:
Late last year, a car sharing service built on top of Facebook acquired a smaller competitor. In doing so, it was now required to have a Facebook account in order to use the service. While many services offer a “sign up with Facebook” option, in addition to a regular (email/password) signup option, now only the first was available. So, if you want to use the service, I hope you’re prepared to hand over all of your personal information. What does that say about privacy regulation and digital identity?
iOS 11 will come with a safe driving feature this fall. So, instead of a fine or penalty if you’re caught texting while driving, it will now become increasingly difficult to even do it in the first place. Does that infringe on individual freedoms/rights? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something to think about.
Looking into the future, is it even possible to flee the police in a self-driving car? Not likely.
But, at what point will code-based limitations on behavior and free will become unethical? Should people have the choice to make the “wrong” decision?

Philosophy: playing not to lose

I play on a basketball team with a group of friends from college. It’s really great to see these guys on a more regular basis. It reminds me of why we were so close in the first place.
In a game a few weeks back, we were winning by about 20 points at half time to a clearly inferior team. In the second half, we decided to slow the game down to protect the lead. The thought process was basically to play not to lose, instead of playing to win.
Let’s step away from the game for a second. In business, if you’re crushing the competition and making boat loads of money, do you take your foot off the gas and play to “protect the lead.” OF COURSE NOT! You keep innovating and killing it to pour gas on the fire.
When you finally win over the girl of your dreams, do you sit back and stop trying so hard in the relationship? I CERTAINLY HOPE NOT! THAT WOULD BE 🍌🍌🍌🍌🍌!! You wine and dine the hell out of her and remind her every day that she’s the most beautiful creature on the planet!
So back to the game. Long story short, we went on a 10-minute scoring drought, blew the lead, and lost the game. Why did we lose? Well, the reason is pretty damn obvious in hindsight. Why the hell would you do in basketball what makes absolutely no sense in every other arena in life?
Lesson learned!

My Latest Discovery: The Big Sick

The Big Sick is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time! No seriously, go check it out! In case you haven’t caught the trailer, here it is:

[VIC – 80] Two horses 🐎 🐎 . Advanced trading for all. Not so fast 🏃. Shitty push notifications.

Business & Money: two horses

Here’s a thought experiment:
You own two horses.
One is winning every race and seems to get stronger by the day. You were super lucky to acquire him via a deal with an old friend.
The second horse you have raised from a baby, but he’s very slow and always finishes near the back of the pack.
It’s important to note that horses are expensive and time-consuming to train and maintain.
Given limited time and financial resources, what do you do? Continue trying to train both, or let the slow one chill in a field with some yummy grass while pouring all of your time and energy into the fast one?
Ok, stupid question with an obvious answer. But in life, when emotions and egos are involved, sometimes things are less clear.
I say this because I’ve decided to spend a little less time thinking about what personal project I will work on next. Not because the entrepreneurial voice inside of me is any quieter of late, but because I’m already on a winning team. In the last 2 years at work, we’ve brought in an additional $32 million of capital, grown in size by 500%, closed a ton of deals, and established ourselves as a serious player in our market.
I hope that doesn’t sound pompous because that is the opposite of the point I’m trying to make. Rather, the point is that I believe my thinking has been a little off. The chances of success for a startup at our stage is 100,000,000% higher than trying to build something from scratch. So given my goals and limited time/resources, it makes far more sense right now to double down on the winner and save other opportunities for some time down the road.

Human Progress: advanced trading for all

Historically, advanced trading techniques have been reserved for sophisticated investors, money managers, and the like. But technology is changing that. Specifically, the team at Robinhood is doing great work to democratize investing for the average person.
They’ve recently launched Robinhood Gold which adds a number of advanced features. While trades will always be free, for a flat $10 per month you can get:
1) Trading on margin (margin works just like a credit card where you are buying something with borrowed money). Robinhood will lend you money to buy stocks. If you see an opportunity unfolding, but you don’t have extra cash in our account, you can trade on margin. And the great part is, anyone can sign up for Robinhood Gold for the same $10 per month regardless of the size of your account or your investing experience. With most traditional brokerages, applying for a margin account sucks. There’s usually a long application process which asks about your annual income, net worth, investing experience, and a bunch of other things. Like I said, it sucks. Of course, the amount you can borrow is proportional to your account balance.
2) Instant settlement – when you sell stocks or deposit cash into your account, you no longer have to wait for the funds to settle (~3 business days). You can trade immediately.
3) Extended hours – instead of only trading between the normal market hours of 9:30am – 4:00pm EST, you can now trade 9:00am – 6pm EST. This is great if you like to trade on special announcements and events like quarterly earnings. With earnings releases, which usually happen after market close, prices often move much more during after-hours than they do during the day. Now you can take advantage.
It’s really exciting when technology makes things accessible where they otherwise wouldn’t be.

Philosophy: not so fast

For every yin, there is a yang.

Just a moment ago I was celebrating the benefits of having a brokerage account in your pocket. And that is surely a good thing. But not ALL good.
If you think about the relentless progression of technology, the goal is always to make things easier. There was a time when you had to take a check to a bank to deposit it. Now you simply pull out your phone, snap a picture, and voila. Check deposited. Just get back from a trip? No longer do you have to drop the film off at the store, wait a few days, pick up the pictures, and mail them to loved ones. Just upload the photos to Facebook along the way and your friends and loved ones can experience everything with you as it happens.
In the aforementioned examples, easier is a good thing. I can’t think of a reason I would want to waste time and energy driving to a retail bank location or developing film.
But going back to a mobile brokerage, I’m not so sure. If you are just getting started with investing, the last thing you should be doing is trading in and out of positions on a regular basis. First off, it doesn’t make sense for tax purposes. You pay far higher taxes for short-term positions. Secondly, when access too easy, emotions will lead you to do stupid things. You’ll be inclined to sell stocks that are underperforming and buy more when you’re in the green. I’ve been guilty of both. Thirdly, you can’t do any real research in the app. Key statistics, ratios, earnings, research, financial statements, none of it is accessible. In other words, the app makes in incredibly easy to do all of the things you shouldn’t do while making it impossible to do the things you should do.
And you can’t even blame people for making bad decisions. We have all of these psychological bugs as human beings that so often lead us astray. A mobile brokerage provides an excellent opportunity for our fundamental limitations as humans to run amuck.
And you can see these examples all around us. Social media is probably the most obvious. You have all of these incredible benefits that the technology has bestowed upon us like constant connectivity to loved ones, excellent content discovery, etc. But there’s also this dark underbelly that facilities the spread of misinformation, harassment, privacy infringement, and a boat load of mindless time wasting.
We really need to figure out a better way to ensure that our technologies are being leveraged in ways that add optimal value while also protecting us against our own weaknesses as human beings.

My Latest Discovery: shitty push notifications

In my declining use of Facebook over the years, I’ve discovered just how psychologically nefarious that company is.
When I was a regular user, the push notifications were pretty relevant. So and so tagged me in a photo. So and so commented on my post. I had all of these ongoing conversations and threads related to how I was engaging on the platform.
Now that I rarely post (outside of giving you guys a heads up about new issues of VIC – I know, that’s pretty meta), the notifications are utterly ridiculous. Here’s a sampling from this week:
“Do you know so and so?” Why am I being notified with a question asking if I know a random person, with whom I happen to have 2 mutual connections?
“So and so is interested in an event near you.” Ugh, ok…
“So and so just posted for the first time in a long time.” IDGAF! I didn’t even engage with that person when I was a regular user.
“So and so commented on so and so’s photo.” Are you kidding me? I commented on a photo from an old friend last year, so now you will notify me when anyone else (regardless of if I know that person) comments on that photo?
The funny thing is, I think I have more notifications now then I did when I was opening the app all the time. They’re trying so hard to get me to waste time scrolling through my feed so they can sell my attention to advertisers. And once you log in, they’ve mastered the game of attention. You get mini hits of dopamine as you scroll through the endless vacation photos, baby pictures, and cat videos.
Lucky for me, given I own a chunk of FB stock, most don’t have the discipline to look away.

[VIC – 79] WIFI. Crisis Text Line. 📖 vs 💻. StashInvest.

Business & Money: WIFI

A friend and I were recently talking stocks and he asked me what pick I was most excited about right now. I answered with Boingo Wireless (ticker WIFI). Here are my reasons:

While smartphone growth in terms of total subscribers has slowed substantially in recent years, mobile data is exploding. People are spending more time than ever on smartphones and the growth shows no signs of abating.

And much of that time is now spent consuming mobile video. Video is far more intensive on the network then text, images, or audio.

Mobile networks were not built with this deluge in mind. As a result, most of the growth will be handled by WiFi and DAS (distributed antenna systems). Roughly 80% of mobile data consumption happens on WiFi.
The big wireless carriers are engaged in a race to the bottom. All are launching unlimited data plans due to consumer demand, which is putting serious strains on margins. Simultaneously, in order to acquire customers, they are rapidly reducing pricing and offering ridiculous promotions like a free year of service if you switch providers.

Given all of the above, Boingo seems positioned perfectly. They are partnering with the cell providers which allows the providers to automatically offload capacity to DAS (Boingo is one of the leading providers). They’re also building out DAS at strategic locations like airports, stadiums, military bases, and the like. And these contracts are all 10+ years in duration. That’s predictable revenue if ever seen it! Take a look at their latest investor deck if you’re curious.

The primary risk I see comes from carrier competition. Theoretically, carriers could choose not to partner with Boingo in favor of building DAS infrastructure themselves. But this seems unlikely because 1) building DAS is altogether different than building wireless networks. 2) Margins are already under a ton of pressure making this level of capital investment hard to swallow. 3) Cell companies are too busy trying to become content/media companies.

Human Progress: Crisis Text Line

All of the AI applications that you read about in the media reside in the for-profit realm. You have silicon valley and Detroit battling it out in self-driving cars. The big tech companies fighting for supremacy in voice assistants. Everyone trying to figure out how to use AI & ML to add real value to the bottom line.

Less publicized are applications in the nonprofit world. One such example involves Nancy Lublin and one of her nonprofits called Crisis Text Line. The organization provides relief to those in crisis via text messaging. How is AI relevant here you ask?
It turns out that people in crisis use certain trigger words in their messages that might reveal how likely they are to harm themselves. What are the first words that come to mind that might signify a suicide risk? Perhaps, death, die, suicide. That’s exactly what I thought too. After feeding all of the text messages into a database with the associated outcomes, then running a machine learning algorithm over all the data, it turns out we were wrong. Words like Tylenol, ibuprofen, and a crying face emoji were far more likely to lead to a suicide attempt than words like die or suicide.

Check out Nancy’s story in a recent episode of the Masters of Scale podcast from Reid Hoffman.

Philosophy: Books vs blogs

There’s an epic battle playing out in my psyche and I thought I would let you in on the mayhem.

In the right corner wearing the blue gloves we have books. I love books. They allow you to dive deep on a subject or story and require a certain level of sustained attention. It’s a kind of commitment to inquiry, analysis, and learning that I truly believe is vital so self-development. The great ones take on a life of their own and withstand the test of time, passing on their wisdom for posterity. Since we’re riding with the boxing analogy, let’s call books the intellectual heavyweight.

In the left corner wearing the red gloves we have blogs. I love great blogs. Not the shallow pop culture stuff, but blogs from interesting and insightful people that produce quality long-form brain food. Given their relative brevity, you get a far more diverse set of authors and ideas than is possible in the realm of books. You also avoid the trap that many book authors fall into wherein they pontificate about a subject for pages on end when an idea could have been just as easily presented in a paragraph. In other words, the value per word is far greater on a blog. You also have a level of interactivity with blogs offered by the comments section and their inherent shareability.

These two fighters seem to always go the full distance and end in a draw. And that’s ok because I don’t believe there has to be a clear winner. Both are wonderful in their own right.

I WILL add one thing though. At the end of the “blog” section, I mentioned interactivity as a point in the win column for blogs. However, books force another type of interactivity. While you don’t get to discuss things with the author or other readers, a great book forces you to interact with yourself in a way that sometimes carries much greater weight than interacting with others. They challenge your ideas and perspectives and often force you to reconsider things. And for more than 10 or 15 minutes. This might be why, for me at least, books get the nod.

And in boxing for that matter, things were clearly better back in days of heavyweight slugfests!

My Latest Discovery: StashInvest

A friend of mine reached out a few months ago asking about investing in stocks. I spoke to him for a while about my approach to picking companies. After the discussion, the friend said that they wanted to start investing, but many of the stock they wanted to buy were really expensive. One was Priceline which currently trades at $1,874. Given he wanted to start with a small portfolio, it’s pretty tough to diversify if you’re spending almost $1,900 for one share of one company.
Lucky for my friend, Stash (the company is actually called Collective Returns) is breaking down barriers for entry-level investors. They allow you to buy fractional shares and you can open an account with as little as $5. Gotta love how technology democratizes things!

[VIC – 78] A master plan. The evolution of free speech. Pause and begin again. The most enjoyable book.

Business & Money: a master plan

Do you remember back in 2006 when Elon Musk posted his master plan for Tesla? In short, the steps were as follows:
1) Build a high-end electric sports car
2) Plow all of the $ from sales back into the company in order to move down market with a more affordable model
3) Make consumers “energy positive” (produce more than you consume) via electric cars + other sustainable products like solar panels.
While Elon is killing it and following his plan to a T, he’s not the only one with a master plan. Brian Armstrong, founder & CEO of Coinbase (the largest cryptocurrency exchange), published his own version this week. Brian is on a mission to “create an open financial system for the world” (aka bring digital currency to the masses). I’d recommend taking 4 minutes to read the entire post, but just in case you’re feeling lazy, I’ll summarize it for you.
1) Make it really easy for normal people to invest in digital currency via a retail exchange (Coinbase’s product in its current form).
2) Make it easy for professional traders and institutions to participate in the exchange. Professional traders = higher trading volumes = more liquidity = lower volatility.
3) Create a mass market application to allow regular people to start getting real value from the payment network. In other words, build the killer app for digital currency. (just like the web browser did in facilitating the explosion of the consumer internet)
4) Pour gasoline on the fire by building/investing in/partnering with new applications for digital currency.
I can’t wait to look back on this moment in 10 years and see where things stand. Exciting times we live in!

Human Progress: the evolution of free speech

One of my primary news sources is the Economist. In reading a European publication, and also in speaking with European friends, it seems there are still remnants of social democracy across the pond. By that I mean that there is some memory of shared public space and the public good.
By contrast, individualism reigns supreme in the American context. It’s a core tenant of liberal democracy. Free speech is an excellent example of this. Any person should be able to say anything at any time via any medium (with rare exceptions like saying “bomb” on a plane). This is all good and well. Except for when it’s not.
We now live in a time of so-called “fake news” or “alternate facts.” So, regardless of truthfulness or verifiability, anyone can post a story on social media that has the potential to reach millions in an instant.
It seems we may have arrived at a point where we need a progression or evolution of the concept of free speech. It seems we are in need of shared standards around the quality of information. And these standards should not illicit feelings of an encroachment on the first amendment. I don’t believe a commitment to high quality information and truth equates to censorship.

Philosophy: pause and begin again

I wanted to share a snippet from a guided meditation session a few days ago. (you’ll have to imagine that dreamy guided meditation type of voice)

Just to help you maintain that focus on the breath,
just silently starting to count the breaths as they pass.
One with the rising sensation.
Two with the falling sensation.
Then three, then four.
Just up to a count of 10.
When you get to 10, you can stop,
then start again at 1.
Just try that a couple of times through.
Remember to allow thoughts to come and go,
but the moment you get distracted,
just gently bring the attention back again,
to that physical sensation of the breath

It’s perfectly normal for the mind to wander off.
Remember as soon as you get distracted,
as soon as you realize that the mind has wandered off,
just gently bringing the attention back again
and just picking it up on the number you left off on.

This is such a powerful idea. Many people say that the hardest part about meditation is calming the mind. You have so many thoughts running around at any given moment. How can you possibly just sit and think about nothing?
But that’s exactly the point. It’s perfectly normal to get distracted. It’s not about being perfect, but instead just allowing the distraction to come and go. As soon as the mind wanders off, just refocus the attention and begin again.
There are so many of these moments in life. For me personally, I lose deals at work, get upset with my fiance, have disagreements with family and friends… the list is never ending.
Whenever these things happen, meditation has made it easier to simply pause, refocus, and begin again.

My Latest Discovery – the most enjoyable book

Surely You Must Be Joking Mr. Feynman is one of the most fun and enjoyable books in existence. It’s not often that I’m constantly chuckling and smiling to myself as I flip through the pages of a book.
The book is about the life of the world renowned and Nobel winning physicist Richard Feynman. It’s really just Feynman telling short stories throughout his life in very simple and informal terms. He has an unbelievable way using seemingly frivolous events to convey profound ideas. It’s truly amazing!
BUT WAIT!! If you decide to check it out, watch this video first.

It’s Feynman talking about light. Seeing his quirky mannerisms and hearing how excited he is allows you to really see and hear the stories while you read.
If you don’t laugh while reading this, leave me a comment and I will reimburse you for the cost of the book. Scouts honor!

[VIC – 77] Greedy when others are fearful. Signal v Noise. Maps. Google Authenticator.

Business & Money

Warren Buffet is famously quoted as saying that it’s important to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when other’s are fearful.” When people are greedy, demand is high and prices go up. Thus it’s easy to overpay for things. Inversely, when people are fearful, demand is low and prices fall. This can lead to good value buying opportunities.
Safe to say that people are greedy right now. The markets are frothy.
If you look at Berkshire’s financials, their market cap is north of $410 billion. Almost a quarter of that is held in cash and other short-term investments. This ratio of cash to value is really high. When the inevitable correction comes, they’ll willing and able to acquire good business on the cheap.

Human Progress

One of the side effects of technological improvement has been an ever increasing access to information. You can whip out your smartphone and get the answer to any question you might have.
While this is great for many reasons, it’s also terrible at the same time. Specifically, it makes is much harder to differentiate signal vs noise. I constantly have to remind myself of this when it comes to investing. The tendency is to want to check my portfolio on a daily basis hoping for a quick shot of dopamine whenever I see a green arrow pointing up. But, daily stock performance is guaranteed to be more noise and less signal.
No one puts the signal v noise discussion in better context than Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his great book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. Here’s an excerpt:

Philosophy

A few weeks ago I needed to visit a jewelry store. I pulled out my phone, typed in “jewelry store” in Google Maps and viola, there were 5 stores within a ten block radius. I chose one and was on my way. As I neared my destination, the streets become increasingly packed with people. I probably should have picked a store that was NOT in the middle of a high traffic area of Manhattan during rush hour.
This got me thinking about maps in general, and how deficient they are. The map I looked at on my phone showed me a grid of NYC streets. It didn’t show may how many people might be in my target area during a specific time of day. Had I been a tourist, I may have jumped in a cab, only to find out that the subway would have been a more efficient means of transportation.
If you’re a city planner, maps of sewage systems and electrical lines would be equally, if not more important than ones showing street names. Or perhaps you want to consider a map of real estate values.
On an even larger scale, think about the map of the entire world. The first problem is that trying to represent a spherical object like a planet on a flat piece of paper will immediately cause problems. Shapes and sizes will inevitably be distorted. Africa, for example, would have to be 13-14x the size it usually appears on world maps.
Zoom out even further, a map of the solar system is actually a pretty ridiculous representation. It’s as if distance and size are of menial importance. It’s only real value is in gleaning the order of the planets from the sun.
All this is not to say that maps are useless tools in understanding the world, but any one map will always have serious limitations. You have to consider the subjective perspective of the creator, the mediums it’s presented on, when it was made, and many many other facets.

My Latest Discovery

I’ve recently switched to using Google Authenticator for all two-factor authentication (2FA). It’s much safer than receiving 2FA codes via SMS because Google Authenticator is not tied to your phone number. If a bad actor hacks a phone system, then can intercept 2FA codes coming in via SMS. One could even port your cell number without you knowing which would allow them to do the same. There has been a spate of recent attacks that have followed this formula so do yourself a favor and get Google Authenticator or something similar that doesn’t rely on your phone number.

[VIC – 76] Running 🏃🏃 for the exits. Early = wrong. Toasters as teachers 📝. Filter by unread. Do dreams 😴 mean anything?

Business & Money

Take a look at Best Buy and Home Depot over the last year:

At a time when most retailers seem to be hemorrhaging, these guys are both trading at all times highs. This fact reminds me of 2 key points in investing:
It’s not an abstract philosophical game. Regardless of what people are saying, you simply have to think deeply about the business and analyze the numbers. It’s purely rational.
Second, and more importantly, when everyone is running for the exits, it’s a great time to look for cheap opportunities to buy. When the housing market crashed, it was a great time to buy real estate. After the internet bubble burst, great engineers and companies could be acquired for next to nothing.
If investing was about consensus, everyone would be rich.

Human Progress

I want to talk about cryptocurrencies and the underlying technology today. But before we dive in, I realize I’ve written on this subject before without providing adequate context and background to why it’s really important.
First, let’s consider banks. Banks have essentially unfettered control over money. They can print it (causing the value to fall). They cash restrict your access to it (e.g. in the case of a run on the bank = close banks when too many people are attempting to withdraw cash). They prey on the poor with myriad fees and predatory loans. The list goes on and on. And the best part, when they screw up, there are basically no repercussions (hence the term “too big to fail”).
Long story short, the incentive structures are all messed up. And given that these centralized institutions control our financial system, we’re basically forced to simply sit on our hands and pray they do the right thing (don’t hold your breath).
It is here that we arrive at the central tenant of the blockchain (the technology behind cryptocurrencies): it’s decentralized nature. There is no central entity (person, company, government, etc) that controls the entire system. Instead you have a distributed system (think ledger or database) where each entry is verified by lots of independent and self-interested parties (“miners”). As a result, you have inherent trust baked into the system. All participants rely on all other participants for the safety and integrity of the system. Incentives are beautifully aligned. (The implications go far beyond money, but this core tenant provides enough context for now)
So why are we revisiting the subject this week? Because of the price action of course.

This past week, 9 different people hit me up asking where/how to buy cryptocurrency. And many were people completely outside of the crypto.. actually the technology industry altogether. This is a telltale sign that we’re in bubble territory. Speculators and uninformed consumers are artificially inflating the value of cryptocurrency right now. And moreover, we don’t have any mainstream consumer application that would equate to higher demand (and higher prices as a result). It reminds of the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s when regular people were sinking their life savings into internet stocks, only to have it all evaporate overnight.
But the dot-com bubble is a prudent analogy for another reason. While companies were going bust left and right, many were actually incredible ideas that would later become valuable in their own right. Remember WebVan? It was FreshDirect before FreshDirect. Or what about the spectacular failure of Pets.com? Just a few months ago PetSmart acquired Chewy.com for $3.35 billion. It’s too bad that being early is synonymous with being wrong.
Similarly, I am a blockchain bull all day every day. It seems obvious that this technology will be absolutely revolutionary. But how many real consumer applications are viable today? Maybe a few. But there are a ton of things that need to be figured out first. What’s happening right now is speculation, plain and simple. Don’t be a sucker! If you want to get involved, park 1-2% of your portfolio in a secure crypto wallet and let it sit there for the next 10 years. In the meantime, it’s a good time to start educating yourselves about what’s coming.

Philosophy

So I wanted to show you my toaster:

You’ll notice that the power is set to level 5. This is a recent change. Up until last week, it was set to level 3. I think it came that way when I bought it. And level 3 was a great setting. It cooks waffles perfectly. The only downside is that you to run it twice to achieve said perfection. So when the waffles pop up, I would simply push the button down again for one more cycle and viola. Perfect waffles.
One day last week my fiance noticed this pattern and asked, “why don’t you just increase the power setting so that you only have to run it once? Wouldn’t that be faster?”
“Blasphemy,” I thought to myself. I already had a fool proof system of cooking waffles.
For some reason, I kept thinking about the toaster at random moments throughout the day. Of course it would be better to find the optimal power setting, but that would force me to venture into uncharted territory (a.k.a. untested power settings).
The next morning I decided I was in a risk-taking mood. I switched the power setting to 6 and pushed the button down. It was a grueling 90 seconds of weighting. Then pop! They were too done! Not burnt per say, but more done than I preferred. I knew I should have stayed with my system!
The next morning I was at it again, but with level 5 this time. To my surprise, the waffles were perfect. That wasn’t so bad after all. One false start the day before, but now back on solid ground.
While this is a pretty trivial example, fear of change is a real thing. I spent almost 4 years avoiding the power setting on a toaster due to fear of change. If an obstacle this small can cause such cognitive dissonance, one can only imagine what happens when larger ones present themselves.
I appreciate my toaster for this much-needed reminder.

My Latest Discovery

I’m either an oblivious idiot, or you will thank me effusively. Did you know that this little icon filters your inbox by “unread.”

I’ve wondered so many times why there was no easy way to do this. All the while, it’s been right here in front of me.

Question Of The Week

Whenever I have a dream, I tend to journal about it the next day to parse it for meaning. I’ve always felt that dreams were a great way to listen in on your unconscious mind. What do you think? Do you place any value or meaning in your dreams?