[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 – 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?

[VIC – 72] This sucks 😩. Holographic mustaches. Just do something. The Internet History Podcast. Why are they trying to kill me? 🔫🔫

Business & Money

You know what sucks, deciding not to purchase a stock, then watching it go on a tear. 😩 😩 Check out Wix:

If you’re unfamiliar with this company, they create self-service web design software that allows anyone to setup and launch a site in minutes.
I was planning to make the purchase in early February when WIX was at $60, but decided the company was overvalued. Now things are above $80 five months later and I feel like an idiot.
That said, it makes me feel better to reiterate why I decided to pass:
First, the company was valued at about 10 times 2016 sales, that’s really high.
Second, if you read through the annual report, the company spent over 50% of revenues on sales and marketing last year. That’s also really high.
Related to this, Wix operates in a very competitive market. You know a market is really competitive when a free, open-source competitor (WordPress) own over 50% market share. Thus, sales and marketing spend will have to remain high to acquire new customers and there will likely be pricing pressure in the future which would have a negative impact on revenues.
In the end, this post may just serve to lessen the FOMO effect I’m feeling right now. But more importantly, when I think about my investment returns over time, it’s an exercise in reviewing the decisions that I did make, and the resulting outcomes, rather than focusing on the ones that I missed.
There will always be ones that get away – great white buffalo. (Leave a comment if you get the reference 😂😂)

Human Progress

Are you guys familiar with the show “Silicon Valley?” It’s a satirical series about a fictional technology startup (called “Pied Piper”) in San Francisco. The show’s lead character, Richard Hendricks, is a socially awkward computer programmer trying to strike it rich by developing a next-generation compression algorithm.
At one point in the show, Richard is fired from his CEO role and is forced to shop his talents at other startups in the valley. One company that aggressively tries to recruit him is developing a technology to overlay 3-dimensional mustaches on your face during video chat.

It’s pretty clear that this “mustache tech” is taking a shot at all of the lofty claims by tech companies to be building revolutionary software, much of which has no real market and/or value.
What’s interesting, though, is that SnapChat has built a real business based on similar technology. They leverage advanced computer vision technology that allows users to apply lenses and filters to their photos. Pokemon Go also applies computer vision to map your environment and place Pokemon into the real world.
I don’t use SnapChat much and I haven’t played Pokemon Go, so perhaps I am part of a small minority that didn’t recognize the reference to augmented reality (AR). But AR, sometimes referred to as mixed reality, will likely turn out to be one of the most revolutionary technologies of the 21st century.
I wonder what other technologies are now in the “gimmick” phase with seemingly no practical application, that will one day turn out to be game changers.

Philosophy

I was listening to a podcast recently wherein Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) was talking about losing her husband. While on vacation, he collapsed while exercising and was dead before he hit the floor. It turns out that he had a serious heart condition that had gone undiagnosed.
For obvious reasons, the sudden loss of her husband and the father of her children was incredibly difficult. What made it harder still was that many of the people closest to Sheryl had no idea how to be supportive. Some would say “Hey Sheryl, how’s it going?” as if nothing had happened. Others would completely avoid speaking to her in fear of saying the wrong thing.
Luckily one of Sheryl’s closest friends is the renowned psychologist and social scientist Adam Grant (you may know him from his New York Times Best Seller Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World).
One thing that Grant encourages people to do that are in a support role for someone going through a difficult time, is to do something. That is, don’t ask “is there anything I can do?” or “do you need anything?” Instead, stop asking questions and do something.
This is one of those pieces of advice that seems so obvious in hindsight. A person that’s struggling to keep it together probably doesn’t have a checklist of items that they need help with. They haven’t written down a list of how people can be most helpful. In fact, they are often struggling to get out of bed or eat a nutritious meal. Grant suggests preparing a healthy meal and dropping it off or showing up unannounced to clean up around the house.
So next time someone is in pain, don’t ask if there’s anything you can do. Just do something!

My Latest Discovery

I’m really enjoying the “Internet History Podcast.” It starts out with the creation of the first consumer web browser in the early 90s and goes all the way up through the dotcom era of the early 2000s. If you’re at all curious about how Google became so dominant, why Windows became to defacto operating system, or what social networks looked like before Facebook & Twitter, you should definitely check this one out!

Question Of The Week

Why is everything next to the checkout line terrible for you? Tobacco, Candy, magazines encouraging a consumerist culture… all the worst things in life are offered up while you’re at your most vulnerable.
How would Tobacco consumption change if cigarettes were in the back corner of the store? If candy was placed next to weight loss supplements?
It seems we could encourage our retail outlets to support healthy habits instead of trying to destroy us for profit.
Thoughts?

[VIC – 69] Early stage investing. Everything is digital. We can do better. National Poetry Month. Flattery or plagiarism?

Business & Money

When thinking about early stage investment opportunities, conventional wisdom says that these are generally reserved for silicon valley elites. There’s a small cabal of elite VCs that get access to all of the best deals and companies, while most are shut out. Thus the astronomical returns that accrue to these firms far out pace what the average person can expect to make while investing.
While mostly true, there are a few other ways to get a foot in the door for early stage opportunities. Here are a few:
1) You can always invest in startups yourself. Title III of the Jobs Act opens up the opportunity for regular retail investors to get their turn at startup investing. Regular people can create an account with any number of equity crowdfunding platforms (e.g. SeedInvest, MicroVentures) to participate in startup fundraising. While Title III is a good thing in general terms, it’s very unlikely that I’ll try my hand at picking individual companies. Chances are, all the best deals will be picked through by the VCs, angel syndicates, or individual angel investors. In other words, the equity crowdfunding platforms likely offer the bottom of the barrel in terms of investment opportunities. The platforms do take on some of the due diligence work to de-risk things a bit, but chances are you’ll still lose your money.
2) More realistically, you can try to take advantage of early stage opportunities by investing in public companies. For example, take artificial intelligence. We’re clearly in the hype cycle for AI and every company, both large and small, are trying to participate in the “AI gold rush”. To understand where the investment opportunities lie, we first need a bit ot context. Without getting into the weeds, deep learning is a subset of machine learning that uses computational systems loosely modeled on the human brain. Deep learning systems require a lot of processing power and thus require advanced GPUs (graphical processing units) which are far more powerful than their CPU (central processing unit) brethren. There are basically 2 companies that own the GPU market, Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices, and both are publicly traded. NVDA is up 285% this year and AMD is up 481%. Not bad at all for a public market returns.
3) One slightly more esoteric way to get involved, and somewhat similar to above, involves investing in underlying technologies. Not investing in companies that produce the underlying technology, but the technology itself. I’ll give you two examples. First, think about the early days of the internet. Everyone and their mother were building internet based businesses and every one of those required a website. If you went on a buying spree in the 90s purchasing as many domain names as possible, you would be incredibly wealthy today. The average domain back then sold for around $0.50 – $5.00. Today, the average 5 letter word in the dictionary will cost you anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000 if you want to purchase the domain. That multiple is (you guessed it), 🍌🍌🍌🍌🍌! Secondly, I’m betting that cryptocurrencies will explode over the next 5 years. The value has already gone up over 100x since inception, and I’d say were in the first inning with no outs. I’ve been purchasing modest amounts of Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two leading cryptocurrencies, betting that they will be far more valuable in a few years. I’m less worried about these as digital currencies or stores of value, and more excited by the applications that will be built on the underlying technology. We’ll have to wait to see how this last one pans out.

Human Progress

If the 20th century was an industrial century, the 21st will be a digital one. Absolutely everything is going (or has gone) digital. Money, media, communication, commerce, conflict… everything. This transformation will, of course, bring great progress. But, it will also bring unprecedented risk. Cyber security risk that is. As the number of connected devices goes through the roof, so too do the number of vulnerabilities. I’m no cyber security expert, so I won’t try to delve into the details of the myriad vulnerabilities. Instead, I’d like to suggest 3 simple ways to greatly improve your digital security profile.
1 Turn on 2-factor authentication (2FA) for your email. For those unaware, 2FA is the process by which you use a second device to verify your identity. So when you log into your email account on your laptop, it will ask you for a password that you need to retrieve from your phone (SMS). As a result, you have a second layer of protection from someone trying to gain unauthorized access. And, while you can also enable 2FA on many other applications, email lies at the crux of everything. Anytime you need to reset a password, the reset link is sent via email. Thus, if someone gains access to your email, they likely have access to everything.
2 Use a VPN (virtual private network). VPNs offer a simple way to protect the data being transmitted over wireless networks by forcing all of your data through a server run by a VPN provider. These providers encrypt all of the data providing, again, another layer of protection. These require a simple, low-cost software download from any of a number of reputable providers. This is especially important if you regularly use public wifi networks (e.g. coffee shops, NYC parks & subways, etc). Anyone on these networks can access your data if it’s unprotected.
3 Use a secure browser (e.g. Opera). These run security checks in the background while you browse (checking for phishing, malware, etc) and many also include free built-in VPN software.
None of these will guarantee that you’re 100% safe, but you’re far better off with them than without.

Philosophy

You know that philosophical question, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I’ve been thinking about my own version. “If a person apologizes for a certain wrongdoing that they’ve committed, but the victim is not around to hear it, did the apology actually happen?” I would answer “no” to both questions. In the first, the tree hitting the ground would clearly disturb the adjacent air creating sound waves. But “hearing,” that involves those same sounds waves interacting with an ear drum and the associated nerve endings that translate those vibrations into an intelligible signal. In my own version of the question, the same logic applies. Yes, the apology is spoken, but the act of apologizing, if it is to be at all meaningful, involves both the speaker’s message and the listener’s reception and interpretation thereof. So even if the apology is heard, but there is no eye contact or a lack of conviction in the voice of the apologizer, we’ve adulterated the content of the words.
I began thinking about this when someone posted on Facebook about what’s often referred to as the Apology to Native Peoples. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of it (I had not before coming across this post). In essence, this was a resolution signed by President Obama in 2009 as an acknowledgment of the depredations and mistreatment of Native Americans by the US government. A formal apology of sorts. I see two glaring problems right off the bat.
First, the delivery. The resolution was quietly passed, buried deep within the Defense Appropriations act of 2009 (not an obvious location for such a resolution). But no attention was drawn to it. It’s almost like the apology was whispered under the breath so that no one could hear it. Not an apology at all if you ask me. If no one can hear it, it’s safe to assume that the act itself is narcissistic or inward focused. It serves to remove some guilt or responsibility, without putting the speaker at any risk or empathizing with the listener.
Secondly, the language.
“Whereas the arrival of Europeans in North America opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.”
A new chapter?!?! Are you kidding me?? Let’s drop the warm and poetic language and call a spade a spade.
“Whereas while establishment of permanent European settlements in North America did stir conflict with nearby Indian tribes, peaceful and mutually beneficial interactions also took place.”
Peaceful and mutually beneficial? 😂😂 What a joke!
“Whereas Native Peoples and non-Native settlers engaged in numerous armed conflicts in which unfortunately, both took innocent lives, including those of women and children.”
Innocent lives taken on both sides? More like genocide or extermination of one side and flourishing on the other.
There is so much power in language. What is said is often less important than how it is said.
All of this makes me think about my own progress in delivering apologies. I, for one, can say I have a long way to go. I’ve often delivered apologies while staring at the floor, using defensive language, voice raised, arms crossed, and no eye contact. If I can’t do any better, our nation and our federal government likely can’t either. 😩 Come one! We’re better than that!

My Latest Discovery

On the same topic of native peoples, Layli Long Soldier is both a US citizen and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation (a Native American Tribe). She is also an incredible poet. And, I’ve discovered that April happens to be National Poetry Month. I thought I would share one of her exquisite yet painful compositions called “38.”

I would highly recommend you listen, but if you prefer to read, you can do so here.

Question Of The Week

When is it ok to copy?
I’m thinking about this in the wake of rampant copying by Facebook. After seeing the success of SnapChat, Zuckerberg has basically copy/pasted SnapChat’s best features, pixel for pixel, into all 4 Facebook properties (WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger, And Facebook).
I’m specifically thinking about this in relation to other great innovations that have been copied and commoditized. In the digital realm, think about the like button or the news feed. Basically every social application now has both. Someone had to be first. In cars, what about sunroofs? Whoever came up with the sunroof is a genius. Now every car on the block has one. The inventor must be pissed!
When does copying stop being the sincerest form of flattery and become plagiarism? Should there be more IP protection for digital products? Would this impact innovation in a negative way? So many questions!