[VIC – 99] I met Nostradamus 🔮. I present to you, 2U 😏 . Unguided meditation. iPhone X 📱

Business & Money

I was talking with someone over the weekend that said “tech stocks are about to crash.” I wanted to pin a gold star on his/her chest emblazoned with word “Nostradamus.”
Predicting what’s going to happen in the market is easy. I mean seriously easy. Here are a few other predictions that you can take to the bank:
Retail, as a category, will recover from the current slump.
Crypto will see a serious correction.
Facebook will fail, or at least become a shadow of its current form.
All dips in the market eventually bounce, and all high flyers eventually lose steam. The prediction isn’t the hard part. Investing is all about timing. Whether you make or lose money is all about when you buy and sell.
So going back to the person I mentioned at the top of this section, what I’d be really curious to understand is that person’s definition of “about to.” Because I agree, tech stocks are “about to” crash. Valuations ARE quite lofty and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a correction in the short term. However, if I think about Amazon as an example, I plan to hold that stock for the next decade at the very least. And when the inevitable correction comes, I will likely add to my position to take advantage of the short-term drawdown.

Human Progress

Education is one vertical that hasn’t benefitted from digital transformation in the same way that other verticals have. Classrooms and the education system more broadly look much as they did 100 years ago. And it really sucks that this is the case because higher education is likely the best way for an individual to achieve upward mobility.
The most frustrating part of this story is that we have all of the tools to make digital education a reality. Students all walk around with supercomputers in their pockets. We have cloud computing and cheap internet access. There’s no shortage of students thirsty for knowledge and and no shortage of educational resources to quench that thirst.
Now it isn’t all doom and gloom. For years now we’ve seen glimmers of hope from online learning platforms like Udemy and EdX. Their user numbers have grown exponentially and they power the ability for continuous learning in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Then there are companies like General Assembly and Hack Reactor that have built immersive certificate programs allowing people to quickly gain new skills and jump-start careers.
Many colleges and universities are even offering their courses online in the form of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. And while this is a great thing, too many are simply uploading lectures and coursework to the internet thinking that will be enough. But it won’t. True digital education at scale will require an approach from first principles.
I’m happy to say that I recently became aware of a company called 2U that is taking such an approach. 2U takes the engineering prowess and agility of a Silicon Valley upstart, and combines it with the centuries-old knowledge and faculty of top universities. In other words, they’ve built a software platform and suite of services that work to accelerate digital transformation at some of the best universities in existence, including Harvard, Northwestern, NYU, and Georgetown. Take a read of the CEO letter from 2U’s 2016 annual report.
And do you want to know what makes me really gitty about 2U, this is marketplace business with serious network effects. The more degree programs offered by 2U, the more students will be attracted to online education. And more students will attract more schools to participate and more degree programs from existing partners. And to sprinkle a cherry on top, 2U will be collecting tons of data along the way about what markets need what programs, which programs are doing well, which degrees lead to job placements, etc. If Google, Facebook, Amazon, and all the platform businesses have taught us anything, it’s that network effects combined with massive datasets pave the way for machine learning to speed up the flywheel.
And the flywheel has only begun. Founded only 9 years ago, 2U has about $200 million in revenue across 24 degree programs from 18 university partners. Revenue growth has been insane and that degree program number will more than triple by 2020.
Ps this isn’t some small scrappy startup. TWOU is a public company and you can come along for the ride! (disclosure: long TWOU)

Philosophy

I’ve gotten the question a few times recently that asks how to transition from guided to unguided meditation. That is, to transition from wearing headphones and listening to instructions, to simply sitting down in silence left to your own devices. The guided sort are great, but the challenge there becomes the fact that you are reliant on the guide and/or the instructions. So then if your phone dies or you forget your headphones, your meditation practice suffers.
So in response to those questions, I’ll outline my process here (I’m no meditation expert – I’ve simply borrowed bits and pieces from things I’ve read and/or guided meditations I’ve done):
First, I usually just sit down to a few deep breaths to relax my mind and body. I tend to do these loudly enough so that someone could hear them if they were sitting close by. For me, these breaths help to release any built up tension and get settled.
Next, I move to checking in with all of the sounds in the room. Those sounds usually consist of buzzing appliances, vehicles outside, my dog walking around, plumbing, and many other things. But the point is not to identify each sound and it’s source, but simply to notice them. It’s pretty remarkable how many sounds there are at any given moment that we are generally oblivious to during the course of regular life.
Next, I check in with my body. I can usually feel the pressure of the floor on my ankle bones more so than any other point of contact. Sometimes there is soreness in my lower back. I can feel my chest and lungs expanding and contracting with each breath. If I pay especially close attention to my breath, the expanding feeling can even be felt in my shoulders and my back. In fact, you can almost feel it throughout your entire body.
Finally, I move to checking in with my mind. Sometimes it’s restless and thoughts about the coming day try to creep into awareness. Sometimes there’s fatigue and a feeling that I haven’t fully woken up yet. Other times a bit of apprehension if I know my schedule is jam packed. On the best days, there’s just an overwhelming sense of calm, relaxation, and simple presence.
What you’ll notice from reading the above is that there aren’t any special tricks. It’s mostly just noticing what’s happening and being present. Checking in with the sounds, physical discomforts, and the movements of the mind simply point your awareness at the here and now. And with each new sounds or sensation, the idea is to simply notice it and move on. A great meditation session is not the absence of all of those things that creep up, but simply the ability to notice them for what they are, without allowing any fixation, emotional connotation, or the like.
I hope this helps.

My Latest Discovery

The new iPhone is pretty magical. My favorite part is FaceID. Before the haters jump in, Yes, Apple was NOT first to market with this technology. But as usual, they’ve done it perfectly and made it magical. An example of this is when you get those notifications that pop up on your lock screen. I just got a pop-up for an upcoming calendar event, and when I glanced at my phone, it automatically unlocked to reveal the true content of the calendar notification. That feels like magic.
With so many things being awesome, there are also a few things that suck. One of those is that the control panel is in the top right corner. With the added screen real estate, it’s a pretty far journey for my thumb to make it to the top right corner of the screen. I’m hoping one of you kind readers has a trick for me to get around this.

[VIC – 95] Coughing on the froth. (Lack of) progress in corporate taxation. It seems to me. AirPods are dope!

Business & Money

Netflix is an incredible company. I don’t spend much time in front of the TV these days, but when I do, Netflix is often what I’m using. From an equity perspective, the stock has also been good to me. Very good.
BUT.
I sold my entire position this week. Let me explain why.
In 2007, Abbey (the UK’s 2nd largest mortgage lender) increased the amount that it was willing to lend homeowners to 5X their annual salary. The historical benchmark was 3.5X.
Just this past June, Argentina issued $2.75 billion of century bonds at an interest rate of 8%. And this was just as it was coming out of default. Actually, Argentina has defaulted on its debt 5 times in the last century, and 8 times in the last 2 centuries. What’s more, this most recent bond issue was heavily oversubscribed.
I point out these 2 examples because we are in the “this time is different” phase of the current bull market. People are forgetting what happens when debt markets get frothy. And right now, the froth is so deep you can swim in it.
To bring it back to Netflix, they’ve just announced a new (junk) bond issue to raise $1.6 billion to fuel its content spending machine (planning to spend $7 – $8 billion on content next year). COUGH COUGH. Please excuse me, I was chocking on the froth for a moment.
And the new debt sits on top many other concerning facts. The company burns cash faster than a California wildfire and has had negative free cash flow forever. The cost per subscriber is climbing faster than the revenue per subscriber. If there’s one company that might overcome all of this, it’s Netflix. But I’m not willing to make that bet, especially in this market climate.
It’s possible that we have a ways to go in this bull market. And perhaps I will miss out on a solid portion of the upside for Netflix in the near term. But those that rise the highest during bull markets will fall the farthest in bear markets. And that is exacerbated when you have shaky fundamentals.
And don’t forget, there’s nothing stopping me from getting back in when things come back down to earth.
I’ll remind you, THIS TIME IS NOT DIFFERENT!

Human Progress

Amazon has made nearly $470 billion in revenues over the last 5 years. They’ve paid $2.4 billion in corporate income taxes over the same period. That doesn’t seem right.
Bezos and his executive team are getting incredibly rich, they’re creating a ton of shareholder value, but it seems society should see some of this value creation. We have public schools, infrastructure, social security, and many other things that we’ve agreed as a population are important.
Amazon has been making incredible progress over the years in cloud computing, automation, machine learning, and e-commerce. But their business model has also revealed a glaring lack of progress in how we look at corporate income tax. It doesn’t seem right that you can run a business at break even and avoid paying taxes, while also enjoying cheap access to capital like it has never been seen before.
And I’m not at all proposing that there exists an easy solution. But I think we need to start getting creative and trying new things. Perhaps businesses above a certain market cap could be taxed based on a percentage of revenues. Perhaps that percentage could change based on industry and/or fixed vs variable cost structures. Perhaps taxation could show up higher on the income statement before R&D expenses are taken out.
Who knows.
But I do believe that there are tons of people way smarter than I am that could spend a bit more time with this one.

Philosophy

I came upon a quote this week that read “great musicians know when they are out of tune. Poor musicians do not.” To use different language, I read it as “it’s easy for smart people to say ‘I don’t know.’ Stupid people think they know everything.”
I once read an article from Albert Einstein from the time when he was first formulating his ideas that would lead to the birth of quantum theory. The article begins,
“It seems to me that the observations associated with blackbody radiation, fluorescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light, and other related phenomena connected with the emission or transformation of light are more readily understood if one assumes that the energy of light is discontinuously distributed in space.”
I love the way that it begins with “it seems to me.” Here is one of the most brilliant minds to ever grace the earth stumbling upon one of THE transformative ideas in modern science, and he hesitates with the humility that only a great man can have.
I think this happens because the more one reads and learns about the world, the more apparent it becomes how little we actually know and understand about how things work.
Further, there’s this concept in science known as an “effective theory”. That is, a theory that applies in practice and is observable in everyday life. Since we’ve mentioned quantum theory, we can stay on this subject. Before quantum theory, Newton’s laws were the end-all-be-all in terms of describing the motion of objects. But if you zoom in enough, these laws will start to break down, and quantum mechanics takes over. That, however, doesn’t make Newton’s laws any less true. These laws make up an “effective theory” in that they work well to describe reality with regards to human experience. Quantum mechanics is simply more fundamental, more granular if you will.
Personally, I believe it makes sense to approach everything I know as an effective theory. Here is what I’ve learned and here is how it applies. But, at some future juncture, it’s likely that I’ll learn a new piece of information or idea that allows for a more precise understanding of how things work. And that new knowledge will allow me to go beyond my previous limitations, and thus should be welcomed when it arrives.

My Latest Discovery

Apple AirPods are incredible for so many reasons.
First off, no more dealing with a tangled cord after retrieving them from my backpack.
Second, the pairing with my watch, phone, and computer are seamless. I no longer have to pair and un-pair multiple times per day.
Third, the AirPods themselves hold a great charge and, given you toss them in the case when you’re not using them, they’re constantly being recharged (though constant charging is generally not great for long-term battery life, so we’ll see where this one nets out).
With AirPods, you can really start to see a future where you don’t need to bring a phone every time you leave the house.

[VIC – 90] Lift raising capital. Paradigm shifts in computing. No mac & cheese. Camp Calm.

Business & Money

Apparently, Alphabet (Google) is batting around the idea of a $1 billion investment in Lyft. This is funny and ironic for a whole host of reasons, but I’ll leave those for another day. The thing I’m really thinking about is, what if Lyft just accelerated IPO plans and listed early as a means to raise capital, instead of relying on the private markets?
This would poor serious gasoline on the fire that is the burning chaos over at Uber. First off, I doubt Uber’s private valuation would hold up if the market had an opportunity to value its closest rival. This would lead to serious markdowns from the late stage investors and mutual funds, more board disputes, and more disgruntled employees. It also might further delay Uber from going public to give it more time to grow into its private valuation. Further, it might give Lyft the opportunity to control their own narrative instead of constantly living in Uber’s shadow.
Of course, this is all really just an interesting thought experiment. Once both companies are public, who went first won’t really matter. But it’s interesting to think about nonetheless.

Human Progress

We went from mainframes to PCs, PCs to the internet, and from the internet to mobile. But what comes after smartphones?
Apple would like to think it has something to do with the Apple Watch, and they may be on to something. At their latest Keynote, Apple announced that Watch 3 comes with built-in cellular capability, which is the beginning of the watch’s untethering from the iPhone.
If you remember, this is exactly what Apple did with the iPhone. When the original iPhone launched, it required that you had iTunes running on a computer to be able to use it. That’s how you got your music, backed up data, and installed software updates. Then the app store launched and you could download all software over the air, stream music, and do anything else that software developers could dream up.
Now with Watch 3 + Airpods, the same thing is happening. You can start to imagine a world where you don’t actually need to carry around a smartphone all the time. And as Siri continues to improve, coupled with powerful NLP technology, Apple could be ushering in the next major paradigm shift in computing.

Philosophy

One of the things I love about meditation is the mindfulness that cultivates outside the practice itself.
I went to grab my normal lunch at Dig Inn this past Friday. When I arrived, I saw the macaroni and cheese looking fresh and delicious. Despite my elimination of dairy lately, I thought “maybe I’ll have a cheat day and treat myself to some mac & cheese.” Then not even a second later, I thought “nah, that’s just a temporary craving and I don’t really want it that bad.” The craving had appeared then disappeared in my mind, just like that.
Then I got to the register and the cashier proceeded to ring up the person in line behind me as if I wasn’t even standing there. I got annoyed for a half second, then it was gone. I was in no particular rush.
Then, as I proceeded to the cutlery station to retrieve a pair of silverware, that same girl who had been rung up before me viciously cut me off to get her silverware first. I stepped back, watched her walk away, and just had a little laugh to myself. It’s so confusing to me how rude people can be, while being completely oblivious to it. Haha. No big deal. I just sat down, enjoyed a wonderful lunch, and subsequently had a wonderful day.
All of these cravings and emotional responses just rise and fall seamlessly when you recognize them for what they are, and realize that they need not upset your mindset.

My Latest Discovery

I’ve written here before about how much I love Raptitude, “a blog about getting better at being human.” David Cain, the blog’s author, also runs a virtual mediation retreat called Camp Calm. Registration for the next session opens up this week if you’d like to check it out. It’s a very lightweight introduction to mindfulness and meditation. You won’t regret it.