Weekend Briefing No. 279
Welcome to the Weekend.
2035 – Finland has pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2035 as part of a policy program that includes a major increase in public spending on welfare and infrastructure.
50 – Malaria was cut in half last year in India. India reports an estimated 5.1 million cases in 2018 compared to 9.6 million in 2017.
40 – Pushup capacity is strongly associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk. If you can do 40 or more pushups you are 96 % less likely to experience a cardiovascular event than those who could do only 10 or fewer.
At Union Square Ventures’ recent CEO summit, they focused on the power of trust in the startup ecosystem. Here are some takeaways from that presentation: (1) Trust is offense (trust gaps create opportunities for startups) as well as defense (trust is a moat). (2) Promise Market Fit. Every brand has a core promise. Choose your core promise right and keep it. Breaking that core promise is the biggest threat to any brand. Keeping that promise creates long-term loyalty even as competition proliferates. USV (8 minutes)
Make Friends with the Monster
When you’re at an early-stage startup, a significant percentage of your time is spent feeling like the whole thing might go off a cliff. All the emotions that come with navigating a fast-growing company are like a monster chewing on your leg whose sole job is to make you the worst version of yourself. He represents all of the emotions and insecurities that can get the best of you at work. It could be territorialism, anxiety, fear, doubt, politics, envy, FOMO, you name it. He’s like a backpack you can’t take off, a weight that you carry around with you. Sometimes Bob is just nibbling on your toes, but other times, he’s eating your whole leg. No matter how hard you try to ignore him or get rid of him, he’s always going to be with you. You need to make friends with the monster because like it or not, he’s on this journey with you. Your number one job in a rapidly scaling startup is to not let the monster eat you alive. The skill you need to develop is managing him. First Round Review (14 minutes)
Nearly half of humanity does not have internet access, and a lot of those people are in Africa. Africa has the world’s lowest share of people using the internet at a meager rate of under 25%. The cohort of 800 million offline people spread across the continent’s 54 countries is younger and growing faster than most, but incomes are lower and a larger share of residents live in rural areas that are tough to wire for internet access—or, for that matter, electricity. Enter a $20 device with smartphone brains and a five-day battery. Most companies are trying to make internet-connected devices ever more powerful and capable, but KaiOS went the other way. It rethought everything to keep the essential capabilities of smartphones but strip out costs and preserve battery life for people who likely have spotty access to electricity. These devices, which have a smartphone brain in the body of 1990s candy bar phones, are aimed at bringing down the digital divide for the bottom billion. Bloomberg (12 minutes)
Radicalization on YouTube
“I fell down the alt-right rabbit hole,” says 26-year old Caleb Cain. “I just kept falling deeper and deeper into this, and it appealed to me because it made me feel a sense of belonging,” he said. “I was brainwashed.” Mr. Cain, 26, recently swore off the alt-right nearly five years after discovering it, and has become a vocal critic of the movement. He is scarred by his experience of being radicalized by what he calls a “decentralized cult” of far-right YouTube personalities, who convinced him that Western civilization was under threat from Muslim immigrants and cultural Marxists, that innate I.Q. differences explained racial disparities, and that feminism was a dangerous ideology. The radicalization of young men is driven by a complex stew of emotional, economic and political elements, many having nothing to do with social media. But critics and independent researchers say YouTube has inadvertently created a dangerous on-ramp to extremism by combining two things: a business model that rewards provocative videos with exposure and advertising dollars, and an algorithm that guides users down personalized paths meant to keep them glued to their screens. To Mr. Cain, all of this felt like forbidden knowledge — as if, just by watching some YouTube videos, he had been let into an exclusive club. New York Times (17 minutes)
When chef Davide Cerretini’s restaurant Botto Bistro opened its doors in 2009, Yelp had entrenched itself as the controller of every small business’s online reputation — and fate. In the months after Botto Bistro’s grand opening, Cerretini began receiving dozens of calls from Yelp salespeople, who implored him to buy ads. According to Cerretini, when he rebuffed these offers, he’d often notice that freshly posted 5-star reviews would be removed from his page — often no less than 24 hours after getting off the phone with a Yelp rep. “I came from Italy, and know exactly what mafia extortion looks like,” he says. “Yelp was manipulating reviews and hoping I would pay a protection fee. I didn’t come to America and work for 25 years to be extorted by some idiot in Silicon Valley.” Soon, he came to a realization: “What if I don’t give a shit about reputation? What if I take away their power by actually making it worse?” One morning in September of 2014, he placed a simple sign in front of Botto Bistro: Give us a one star review on Yelp and get 25% off any pizza! Hate us on Yelp. (The discount was later increased to 50%.) The Hustle (7 minutes)
The Minimum You Need to Succeed
George RR Martin writes on an ancient program called Wordstar 4.0 on a dos computer. He is selling more books than nearly anyone on the planet and his computer can't even send an email. Think about that for a moment. So often we think that we need more to be successful. More outside funding for our startup. More software programs or productivity tools to handle our to-do list. More business contacts, a bigger network. More clothes or cars or credit cards. But maybe what we really need is less. Maybe what we really need are fewer distractions and more focus. Maybe what we really need are a few carefully chosen constraints that narrow our energy onto what really matters rather than compiling a bunch of resources that pull us away from what we actually need to do. It's very possible that eliminating distractions, not accumulating resources, is the best way to maximize your potential. Constraints drive creativity. What is the minimum you need to succeed? James Clear (6 minutes)
In our information-saturated age, business leaders won’t be heard unless they’re telling stories. Facts and figures and all the rational things that we think are important in the business world actually don’t stick in our minds at all. But stories create “sticky” memories by attaching emotions to things that happen. To tell a good story… DO: Consider your audience — choose a framework and details that will best resonate with your listeners. Identify the moral or message you want to impart. Find inspiration in your life experiences. Embed conflict to motivate and inspire. DON’T: Assume you don’t have storytelling chops — we all have it in us to tell memorable stories. Give yourself the starring role. Overwhelm your story with unnecessary details. Harvard Business Review (8 minutes)
Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins. This book grew out of a series of letters to the author’s daughter concerning various things—mostly about money and investing—she was not yet quite ready to hear. Since money is the single most powerful tool we have for navigating this complex world we’ve created, understanding it is critical. “But Dad,” she once said, “I know money is important. I just don’t want to spend my life thinking about it.” This was eye-opening. I love this stuff. But most people have better things to do with their precious time. Bridges to build, diseases to cure, treaties to negotiate, mountains to climb, technologies to create, children to teach, businesses to run. Unfortunately, benign neglect of things financial leaves you open to the charlatans of the financial world. The people who make investing endlessly complex, because if it can be made complex it becomes more profitable for them, more expensive for us, and we are forced into their waiting arms. Here’s an important truth: Complex investments exist only to profit those who create and sell them. Not only are they more costly to the investor, they are less effective. The simple approach he created for her and present now to you, is not only easy to understand and implement, it is more powerful than any other. Amazon
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True friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils. Strive to have friends, for life without friends is like life on a desert island... to find one real friend in a lifetime is good fortune; to keep him is a blessing. -Baltasar Gracián