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Weekend Briefing No. 312
Welcome to the weekend. I kick off the briefing on a bit of a sad note. This week we lost two incredible people Leila Janah and Clay Christenson. I know each of their individual legacies will have an impact for generations to come.
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267 MM – MoviePass, the once-great $9.95 per month subscription service to see movies in-theater, has sought Chapter 7 protection owing $267 MM to creditors.
1 – Coal is collapsing in Canada, with the share of coal-fired power generation — 16 percent in 2005 — projected to fall below 1 percent by 2040.
Social entrepreneur Leila Janah died on Thursday from complications of Epithelioid Sarcoma, a very rare cancer with which she was diagnosed in April 2019. I only met Leila once, but she’s a shining star amongst our generation of social entrepreneurs. Janah's company Samasource is changing the world because of one simple and brilliant insight: Poor people in African nations are not just in need of philanthropic help, they can also be a resource for companies needing remote work, particularly data input for training AI. Samasource hires people in areas with little opportunity, trains them in AI data input and other computer tasks, and then provides their services to a list of global companies that includes Google, Microsoft, and Walmart among many others. Samasource has provided reasonably paid work to more than 50,000 people. But in the last blog post she published, months before her cancer diagnosis, Janah wrote eloquently about the importance of "planting your own garden," that is finding your own values and passions and returning to those whenever the outside world becomes overwhelming. She wrote: If you don't stack up to your own values, well -- guess what? Everything prior to this moment is over, and everything after this moment is yet unwritten in your life's great story, and you are the sole author and arbiter of what takes place in your garden. There are no excuses; there can be no bitterness towards an unjust world, because in your garden, there is only beauty and light and good, fertilized by the decisions you choose to make. Leila Janah (8 minutes)
The concept “disruptive innovation” was pioneered by Clay Christensen, a high-profile and well-regarded Harvard professor of management who died of cancer at 67. Professor Christensen’s remarkable legacy grew out of a seminal book he published in 1997, The Innovator’s Dilemma. The Innovator’s Dilemma is the revolutionary business book that has forever changed corporate America. Based on a truly radical idea—that great companies can do everything "right" and still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market. In honor of his legacy, I’d like to share, what I believe to be his best work – a talk called How You Measure Your Life? In this talk he notes that we too often measure success in life against the progress we make in our careers. But how can we ensure we're not straying from our values as humans along the way? He examines the daily decisions that define our lives and encourages all of us to think about what is truly important. TED (20 minutes)
We’re proud to be working with the innovative team at Village Capital. Last year their fund, VilCap Investments, made its 110th and final initial seed investment. So, what’s next for Village Capital? This week they are rolling out a “family of funds” strategy: a series of funds focused on investing in seed-stage, impact-driven startups through a variety of different vehicles. The funds will invest in startups that are involved with Village Capital - through our accelerator programs, Abaca, or otherwise. The first fund with MetLife Foundation is focused on direct investments in early-stage startups that are helping low and middle income consumers and small businesses improve their financial health. Why this new strategy? Based on the strong results they’ve seen in their portfolio to date, the traditional next step for their team would have been to raise another, larger mainly-equity-based fund that looks just like the first. But our mission is to reinvent the system. Doing what we’ve done before is not who we are. Here’s why they’ve decided to pursue a family of funds instead: (1) The family of funds model will allow us to explore targeted funds that focus on specific sectors and geographies, rather than forcing investments into a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. (2) The model will allow us to continue to experiment with innovative capital structures. (3) This model will allow us to scale our reach and help be a force multiplier for early stage capital. Village Capital (7 minutes)
Pioneers, Settlers & Town Planners
Innovation takes three types of people: Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners. (1) Pioneers are brilliant people. They are able to explore never before discovered concepts, the uncharted land. They show you wonder but they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn't work properly. You wouldn't trust what they build. They create 'crazy' ideas. Most of the time we look at them and go "what?", "I don't understand?" and "is that magic?". (2) Settlers are brilliant people. They can turn the half-baked thing into something useful for a larger audience. They build trust. They build understanding. They make the possible future actually happen. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers and turn it profitable. (3) Town Planners are brilliant people. They are able to take something and industrialize it taking advantage of economies of scale. This requires immense skill. You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economic and good enough. They take something that exists and turn it into a commodity or a utility (e.g. with Electricity, then Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse). They are the industrial giants we depend upon. Bits or Pieces (9 minutes)
The country that led in technologies using artificial intelligence will dominate the globe. Technological leadership will require big digital investments, rapid business process innovation, and efficient tax and transfer systems. China appears to have the edge in the first, the U.S. in the second, and Western Europe in the third. Perhaps we should look not only at each country’s strength, but at the willingness of economies to remedy their shortcomings. China has to find ways to encourage entrepreneurship and address the massive disparities in education and wealth. Europe has to mobilize large amounts of money and make it easier for investors anywhere to bring inventions to the Single Market. The United States just has to quickly figure out ways to restore competition in tech, finance, health, and public education, so its redistribution systems are not strained. So, who’s most likely to succeed during the next decade? Potentially the United States. Productivity growth will pick up again as businesses take advantage of new technologies, consumers will take home big price and quality gains, and policy types will stop fretting about fears of secular stagnation. If enough of the tax burden is shifted from labor to capital, the incomes of middle-income households will keep pace. Expect the United States to call the shots for the rest of the century. Brookings (18 minutes)
Computers & Commitments
Blockchains are computers that can make commitments. Traditional computers are ultimately controlled by people, either directly in the case of personal computers or indirectly through organizations. Blockchains invert this power relationship, putting the code in charge. As a result, a properly designed blockchain provides strong guarantees that the code it runs will continue to operate as designed. For the first time, a computer system can be truly autonomous: self-governed, by its own code, instead of by people. Autonomous computers can be relied on and trusted in ways that human-governed computers can’t. Blockchains have arrived at an opportune time. Internet services have become central to our economic, political, and cultural lives, yet the trust between users and the people who run these services is breaking down. Chris Dixon (6 minutes)
From dining to nightlife to travel, new options in Japan are catering specifically to individuals have popped up in recent years. It’s known as the ohitorisama movement: people boldly choosing to do things alone in a culture that highly emphasizes group activities and conformity. Even karaoke is going solo – a huge change to the classic Japanese pastime. “Demand for single-person karaoke has increased to account for 30 to 40% of all karaoke customers. What is driving this shift? Part of the equation is that Japanese society is undergoing a seismic demographic shift. The birthrate is falling: last year just 864,000 babies were born – the lowest since records began in 1899. The number of single-person households is rising, up from 25% in 1995 to over 35% in 2015, according to census data. Declining marriage rates are contributing to the rise in people who live alone but so too is the fact that more seniors in one of the world’s fastest-greying nations are becoming widows or widowers. As a result, amid these new demographics, how consumers behave and how businesses cater to them are changing. BBC (10 minutes)
Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis. University of Southern California business professor Bennis and Los Angeles Times reporter Biederman examine six "Great Groups" whose work affected and sometimes changed the modern world. They are the Disney organization and its animated films; the Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center, which designed the first user-friendly computer; the Clinton presidential campaign of 1992 for what the authors deem a remarkable victory; Lockheed's Skunk Works, where the U-2 spy plane and the Stealth bomber were developed; Black Mountain College in the foothills of North Carolina, which lasted only from 1933 to 1956 but attracted many major artists; and the Manhattan Project, whose scientists created the atomic bomb. All of these groups, the authors stress, consisted of enormously talented people with a sense of mission, who worked under a strong leader and were imbued with pragmatic optimism. Each segment is so well told that it has lessons for all. Amazon
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