Weekend Briefing No. 405
Welcome to the weekend.
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1,200—A scuba diver found a 1,200-year-old canoe in a lake in Wisconsin.
128.8—The Ingenuity aircraft on Mars made another flight, a 128.8-second flight that took the helicopter almost 400 meters across Mars.
60—Australia, allegedly the origin of avocado toast, is in the midst of a brutal avocado glut as weakening demand and a surge in production—up 65% this year alone—creates a perfect storm of low pricing. The supermarket price of an avocado has hit guac bottom (you’re welcome) and is now around $.60.
Language/Market Fit (LMF) is when you find the exact right words to explain your product or service to prospective customers, words that resonate with goals and struggles that are already in their brains. Before LMF, growth feels like pushing on a string, a lot of work for incremental gains. Your Facebook ads barely pay for themselves, and your AdWords don’t. Your marketers struggle to deliver results despite success with previous companies. Your salespeople (other than your founder) struggle to sell your product. And your conversion rates hover between 0.5% and 3%. On the other side, companies with LMF normally get conversion rates from 8% to 40%, which results in much stronger unit economics. Why the sudden jump? Visitors to your site or app store listing bring different levels of intent. It’s easy to convert high-intent users. But if you’re an unfamiliar startup, most of your visitors will have low intent, more curious than desperate. As you tighten up your language, you’ll be able to cut through to that massive pool of low-intent traffic. In this article, learn why LMF should be “step zero” for startups, explaining the neurological basis for this phenomena and showing how startups can find it in his four-step framework. If you’re a pre-product/market fit founder, or a head of product or growth, his approach can save you a lot of time and wasted cycles. First Round Review (21 minutes)
McDonald’s and Artificial Intelligence
In the near future, you could order your Big Mac from a bot. Or maybe you already have. Restaurants have been experimenting more with artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, especially as companies struggle to find entry-level workers. McDonald’s has been working on tech-savvy drive-thrus for a while. In 2019, it acquired the startup Apprente, which specializes in voice ordering, and created McD Tech Labs. In June, it tested the tech in 10 Chicago drive-thrus, allowing customers to tell a computer their order. The bots were ~85% accurate. McDonalds has a long way to go before it can roll out AI to all 14K of its U.S. restaurants. But as it stands, 20% of orders in McDonald’s six top markets are already made digitally through apps, kiosks or for delivery, accounting for $13 billion in sales. The Hustle (4 minutes)
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations and Governance
One of the most immediate challenges facing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized finance (DeFi) communities is to figure out governance—the act of managing collective decision-making in order to optimize funds and operations. These coordination costs can be radically reduced in new types of decentralized networks, in which smart contracts enable participants to govern cooperatively. These new networks are called decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs)—collections of people coming together with aligned incentives and common interests, with no one leader or single point of failure, and run almost entirely by code. Despite the moniker, DAOs are typically not completely autonomous—someone needs to create decision frameworks to ensure a DAO is governed effectively and financially incentivize network participants to participate so the DAO can grow. Many questions greet DAO creators and participants, then: What are the decisions that need to be made? What kinds of financial incentives can be used? Under what conditions should DAOs be formed? What are the main governance tasks that are required today? And what tools can be used to help govern? This article explores the history and key areas of governance in DAOs. Future (16 minutes)
Adam Neumann’s Regrets
Since being forced out of WeWork two years ago, Adam Neumann has stayed quiet in public about the near-collapse of the co-working empire he co-founded. But at the DealBook Online Summit on Tuesday, he admitted to regrets and tried to revise the record about what happened. “I have had a lot of time to think, and there have been multiple lessons and multiple regrets,” he said in his first public interview since leaving the company. Among the mistakes he identified: (1) He conceded that WeWork’s rapid rise—at its peak in 2019, the company was valued at more than $47 billion—may have had a corrosive effect on his thinking. “It went to my head,” he said. “You lose focus on really the core of your business and why this business was what it meant to be.” (2) “It was never my intention not for the company to succeed,” he said, expressing regret at the employees who joined the company only to see their stock options drop deep underwater after WeWork’s valuation fell to about $9 billion. (3) He regretted WeWork’s overcomplicated accounting measures, such as the notorious community-adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (or EBITDA), which drew derision from analysts and prospective investors. “When it comes to finance, it’s better to be boring,” he said. New York Times (6 minutes)
Public Transit Can Save the World
The recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that a hotter, wetter, more inhospitable future is all but certain. The transportation sector is responsible for nearly a third of greenhouse gases, most of which come from tailpipe emissions. High-quality mass transit can do a lot to fight climate change, but only if people are willing to use it. Cleaner air, a cooler Earth, more vibrant and diverse cities—these are the things that reliable public transportation can give us. The question is not whether public transportation can survive COVID-19; it’s whether we can survive without public transportation. The Verge (11 minutes)
Autonomous Water Taxis
This week, scientists from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Senseable City Laboratory launched the first self-navigating, fully autonomous robot boats. They call ’em Roboats (geddit?), and they made their maiden voyages in the canals today. The boats are big enough to carry five people. The team suggests they can also be used to collect waste, deliver goods and do other “boaty” things that people do with boats. The straight-out-of-Blade Runner vessels are battery-powered and can charge wirelessly when they’re at the dock. The team claims there’s enough juice on board for 10 hours of operation. To autonomously determine a free path and avoid crashing into objects, Roboat uses lidar and a number of cameras to enable a 360-degree view. Navigation is done much like you would in a car—using GPS to figure out a safe route from where it is to where it’s going. TechCrunch (4 minutes)
Starting a legal weed business isn't easy. It can take $1 million in startup capital to even get a license. And to keep a cannabis business going? That means jumping through complicated regulation hoops. If they can play the game right, cannabis entrepreneurs could be set up for success in an exploding marijuana industry. But with weed still federally illegal, companies could face fines or jail time if they don't follow the rules. In this video, Business Insider visited three companies in Colorado and Oregon to see how they're dealing with the ever-changing regulations. Could things get easier if weed becomes federally legal? YouTube (13 minutes)
Sam Walton by Sam Walton. Meet a genuine American folk hero cut from the homespun cloth of America's heartland: Sam Walton, who parlayed a single dime store in a hardscrabble cotton town into Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world. The undisputed merchant king of the late 20th century, Sam never lost the common touch. Here, finally, inimitable words. He is genuinely modest but always sure of his ambitions and achievements. Sam shares his thinking in a candid, straight-from-the-shoulder style. In a story rich with anecdotes and the "rules of the road" of both Main Street and Wall Street, Sam Walton chronicles the inspiration, heart and optimism that propelled him to lasso the American Dream. Amazon
Most Read Last Week
Digital Scarcity—One of the new, unique ideas that defines web3 technology is actually digital scarcity. Using blockchains, computers can create scarcity in ways only humans have been able to reliably do before but at the near-zero cost levels of other digital media.
The Economics of Decarbonization—There is a $56 trillion investment for global infrastructure that will be necessary if we’re to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Time Millionaires—Time millionaires measure their worth not in terms of financial capital, but according to the seconds, minutes and hours they claw back from employment for leisure and recreation.
About the Weekend Briefing
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The things that we love tell us what we are. – Thomas Aquinas
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