[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!