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Weekend Briefing No. 199
Welcome to the weekend. It’s the 199th installment of the Weekend Briefing. We want to do something cool to celebrate the 200th next week, but we’re at a bit of a loss. You have any ideas? If so, just reply to this email. If we use your idea, I’ll give you a shout out.
This week has been marked by Bitcoin mania (see Prime Number below). But, in the world of social enterprise, an article about Etsy’s transition in leadership (and potential shift in values) has been a hot topic. So, I placed the Etsy story first today and for the first time I'm giving space for a reflection / response from B Lab's co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert as the second story. I hope it makes for interesting reading. I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback on this important discussion.
If you’re like me, you overdose on Christmas music in December, so if you’re looking for some, here’s my Ultimate Christmas Music playlist, but if you just want some good non-Christmas tunes, here’s my December playlist.
11,155 – The price of Bitcoin is breaking records, this week it blew past the $10,000 mark and peaked at $11,155.20. It took Bitcoin a bit over two weeks to go from $7,000 to $8,000, and just a week to reach $9,000. Just three days later it crossed $10,000 and on that same day it crossed $11,000.
14,355 – On Tuesday, a California federal court ordered the popular cryptocurrency exchange and wallet service, Coinbase, to turn over records on 14,355 customers with more than $20,000 in Bitcoin to the Internal Revenue Service.
75,000,000 – Back in 2009, James Howells set up an old laptop to mine bitcoin. Four years later, he'd forgotten about his horde, and during a clean out, he chucked his hard drive. Thanks to the digital currency's value skyrocketing from between $300 and $1,000 in 2013 to more than $10,000 this week, his pile is now worth $75 million. Time to go dumpster diving.
A few quarters of tepid results in the public markets seemed to make investors impatient and a classic clash of corporate governance came spilling into view — how can a company like Etsy balance the short-term demands of its shareholders with its high-minded long-term mission? In May, the board fired CEO Chad Dickerson, did 2 rounds of layoffs and installed a new CEO, Josh Silverman. Mr. Silverman insists Etsy is still a mission-driven company even though he dismantled the Values Aligned Business team and will not renew its B Corp certification. Many of the perks remain in place, though the new focus on profitability has sapped many employees of their enthusiasm. But Mr. Silverman says Etsy’s greatest potential for impact is helping sellers — many of whom are women running small businesses — increase their sales. “The company had the best of intentions, but wasn’t great at tying that to impact,” Mr. Silverman said. “Being good doesn’t cut the mustard.” Once a beacon of socially responsible business practices with a starry-eyed work force that believed it could fundamentally reimagine commerce, Etsy has over the past year become a case study in how the short-term pressures of the stock market can transform even the most idealistic of companies. New York Times (11 minutes)
Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, shares his perspective on the Etsy story here: Business leaders wishing to build a world-changing business are best served when they embed those intentions in their corporate structure; otherwise, the world may change their business. While public companies have unique challenges in pursuing adoption of the benefit corporation legal structure (which Etsy was required to do to maintain its B Corp Certification), in general global institutional investors have already accepted the benefit corporation structure for public companies. Laureate Education, Natura and Danone are successful examples. A Credit Suisse analyst pointed to Danone's commitment to the benefit corporation as one reason Danone was unlikely to be forced to accept an unwanted takeover offer from 3G/Kraft-Heinz. B Lab is grateful for the contributions Etsy has made in the past to the accelerating momentum of the B Corp movement. B Lab hopes that Etsy will continue to use the B Impact Assessment (used by more than 15,000 companies) as an internal tool for impact management and employee engagement. B Lab looks forward to exploring with Etsy the possibility of developing a new tool for external communications and public accountability by companies seeking to engage meaningfully with the B Corp movement but are not Certified B Corps. Westaway Review (4 minutes)
Jay Z just did an intimate video interview with the T Magazine where he touches on wide ranging topics such as: 1) Growing up in poverty, but raising your kids as a wealthy man. “fairness and compassion and empathy and a loving heart… those things translate in any environment. Those are the main base things that you want — well, for me, I would want my child to have.” 2) Racism. “If I’m being quiet and entertaining, everyone’s cool. Ah man, it’s great. You don’t feel racism. But when you try to challenge the club, it’s like, Oh, nah, we should have a seat at this table. It gets into a weird space.” 3) Pain. “there was a lot of fights in our neighborhood that started with “What you looking at? Why you looking at me? You looking at me?” And then you realize: “Oh, you think I see you. You don't want me to see your pain. So you put on this shell of this tough person that's really willing to fight me and possibly kill me 'cause I looked at you.” T Magazine (35 minutes)
Graphene is my favorite material. It’s a wonder-material that is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms. It's incredibly strong, but it was definitely a shot in the dark to see what would happen if it was fed to spiders. Scientists mixed a graphene solution that when fed to spiders allows them to spin super-strong webbing. How strong? Strong enough to carry the weight of a person. These spiders might soon be enlisted to help manufacture enhanced ropes and cables… maybe a space elevator. I love science! MNN (5 minutes)
Protestant Work Ethic
The influence of Protestantism on American capitalism has been a matter of considerable debate since German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. According to a new study, the connection between work and happiness is much more intense in Protestant countries than in others. Protestants suffer intense hardship from unemployment; the psychic harm from unemployment is about 40 percent worse for Protestants than for the general population. This also holds true for non-Protestants living in Protestant countries, where they suffer more from unemployment than their global neighbors. In other words, Protestantism may not make you rich, but it sure makes you unhappy when you’re not rich. The old Calvinist doctrine of a livelihood as the source of one’s value, and a sign of God’s favor, wreaks great havoc on people’s lives when that livelihood is gone. Pacific Standard (5 minutes)
Chinese in the West
What does the Western Elite look like from the perspective of a Chinese person? Most Americans have the goal of changing something—Stanford business school’s motto is “change lives, change organizations, change the world”— though they rarely seem to know what or how; or what the role of chance and circumstance is. But if the goal is to change something, they must have the ability to determine the future, mustn’t they? The great American dream itself is a determination to take control of one’s own destiny and live an extraordinary life from an ordinary background. What he realized is that if we look at one individual’s life in isolation, it is very tempting to come to the conclusion that one’s particular actions lead to whatever happens next. But if we look at the society as a whole or look across generations, we can see that people with very similar backgrounds can take similar actions and end up with vastly different results. In such a world, the vast majority of things are outside our control, determined by God or luck. After we have given our best and once the final card is drawn, we should neither become too excited by what we have achieved nor too depressed by what we failed to achieve. We should simply acknowledge the result and move on. Maybe this is the key to a happy life. American Affairs (13 minutes)
Poor Hungry Determined
Richard Montañez was an outstanding janitor at a Frito Lay plant. He paid attention and began to realize that Frito-Lay’s products were all salt or BBQ flavors — nothing spicy or hot. Later on, he stopped at a local vendor to get some elote — a Mexican street corn covered in chili powder. He looked down and had a realization: What if I put chilli on a Cheeto? Thanks to a broken machine at the factory, Montañez was able to procure some Cheetos without the cheese coating. He took them home, dusted them with his own homemade chili powder, and handed them out to his family and coworkers. The spicy snack was met with universal enthusiasm. It was then that Montañez remembered a Frito-Lay corporate video tape he’d seen. In the video, disseminated to the company’s 300k employees worldwide, Frito-Lay CEO had made a proclamation: “We want every worker in this company to act like an owner. Make a difference. You belong to this company, so make it better.” He called up the CEO directly (amazingly, he actually got through) and told him about the idea, then presented it to him when he came to the factory. Today Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are the hottest selling snack at Frito Lay. Montañez is now a VP and teaches MBA classes. Recently, a student asked him how he was teaching without a Ph.D. “I do have a Ph.D.,” he responded. “I’ve been poor, hungry and determined.” The Hustle (6 minutes)