Curated Insights 2019.09.20

The financial Turing test

Imagine we could simulate the universe where each time you are born to different set of parents with a different genetic makeup. Sometimes you are born a man. Sometimes you are born a woman. Sometimes black. Sometimes white. Sometimes smart. Sometimes not. Etcetera etcetera. What would you do to have the highest probability of being financially secure regardless of your background?

If you wanted to re-state this question more simply, it is: How do you get rich without getting lucky?


Product-user fit es before product-market fit

The jump from product-user fit to product-market fit is no trivial leap. Skipping what to focus on during the product-user fit stage and prematurely racing to spark the market adoption can actually decelerate your path to product-market fit. Forcing growth on a product that isn’t yet ready for broader adoption will not ultimately convert to a market of highly retained, happy users. And if you don’t listen to the early power users closely enough, you may never discover the insights that get you to a world-class product.

Power users are the biggest sign of product-user fit. Making the leap from product-user fit to product-market fit is about listening to these users to evolve your product to attract more users. When exploring products that have only been in market for a short amount of time, the behavior of power users is often more interesting and important than any aggregate metrics. If the goal is to “make something people want,” then continuously talking to and observing early power users is the only way to really understand what drives both user retention and non-user activation.

5 reasons to consider buying Berkshire Hathaway

First, we think Berkshire’s broad diversification provides the pany with additional opportunities and helps to minimize losses during market and/or economic downturns. Berkshire remains a broadly diversified conglomerate run on a pletely decentralized basis, with a collection of moaty businesses operating in industries ranging from property-casualty insurance to railroad transportation, utilities and pipelines, and manufacturing, service, and retailing. The economic moats of these operating subsidiaries are built primarily on cost advantage, efficient scale, and intangible assets, with some of these businesses being uniquely advantaged as well by their ability to essentially operate as private panies under the Berkshire umbrella. The operating subsidiaries also benefit from being part of the parent pany’s strong balance sheet, diverse ine statement, and larger consolidated tax return.

Berkshire’s unique business model has historically allowed the pany to–without incurring taxes or much in the way of other costs–move large amounts of capital from businesses that have limited incremental investment opportunities into other subsidiaries that potentially have more advantageous investment options (or put the capital to work in publicly traded securities). The managers of Berkshire’s operating subsidiaries are encouraged to make decisions based on the long-term health and success of the business, rather than adhering to the short-termism that tends to prevail among many publicly traded panies. Another big advantage that es from operating under the Berkshire umbrella is the benefit that es with diversification not only within the pany’s insurance operations, but also within the organization as a whole. In most periods, it is not unusual to see weakness in one aspect of Berkshire’s operations being offset by the results from another or from the rest of the organization.


We can be weird, or it can be public

WeWork seems to be facing the traditional tradeoff: Stay private, keep control, but lose access to billions of dollars of funding, or go public, raise unlimited money, and have to act normal. If it does either of those things, that will mark a sort of end of an era. At the height of the unicorn boom, big tech panies could stay private without giving up the benefits of being public, or they could go public without taking on the burdens of being public. Now they might have to make hard choices again.

Shopify is now a major player in e-merce. Here’s how it happened, according to the COO

Over the years, we’ve also realized as we grow bigger, we have incredible economy of scale. If you were to aggregate all our U.S. stores [customers’ sales volume] we would be the third-largest online retailer in the U.S. Amazon is first, eBay second, and Shopify is a very close third. What that means is when we go to the payment panies, when we go to the shipping panies or go to anyone, we negotiate on behalf of more than 800,000 merchants. Instead of keeping the economies of scale for ourselves, we distribute [the benefits] to the small businesses. I think that’s why we have been really successful.


The foodoo economics of meal delivery

The newbies, born more recently, have turned a once-tidy business into a food fight. They include listed firms such as Meituan of China and Delivery Hero of Germany, Uber Eats (part of Uber), Ele.me (owned by China’s Alibaba), and privately held DoorDash, based in San Francisco, and Deliveroo, from London. For most of them, delivery is their core business, so they share their cut of the bill with riders as well as restaurants. This substantially broadens the market to restaurants offering everything from steak to Hawaiian poké bowls. But margins suffer. Funded largely by venture capital, they have thrown subsidies at customers, forcing their veteran rivals onto the defensive. To catch up, the veterans are investing in advertising and delivery networks—at a big cost. This week Grubhub and Just Eat reported slumping earnings, and Takeaway mounting losses, as they spent heavily to fend off the upstarts.

The only mouthwatering aspect of the delivery business is its potential size. According to Bernstein, a brokerage, almost a third of the global restaurant industry is made up of home delivery, takeaway and drive-throughs, which could be worth $1trn by 2023. In 2018 delivery amounted to $161bn, leaving plenty of room for online firms to expand; the seven largest increased revenues by an average of 58%. Their businesses support the trend of 20- and 30-somethings to live alone or in shared acmodation, with less time and inclination to cook. In China, by far the biggest market for food delivery, one-third of people told a survey that they would be prepared to rent a flat without a kitchen because of the convenience of delivery. Delivery also fits neatly with the gig-economy zeitgeist, alongside ride-hailing firms such as Uber, Lyft and China’s Didi.

Moreover, potential growth may be overstated. Subsidies make true demand hard to gauge. When delivery charges and service fees eventually rise, which they will have to if profits are to materialise, some customers may flee. In the meantime, cheap money lets firms undercut rivals but distorts incentives. The war of attrition could get even worse if giants like Amazon muscle in, as it has tried to do by buying a stake in Deliveroo (the deal is stalled at present because of antitrust concerns). Alibaba, Amazon’s Chinese counterpart, uses Ele.me as a loss leader helping drive traffic to its profitable e-merce sites.

Untangling the threads: Stitch Fix is a bargain

There have been numerous emerce 2.0 flameouts over the past decade (e.g. Gilt Groupe, Fab., Birchbox, Shoedazzle, Beachmint, One Kings Lane). Venture capitalists flocked to these businesses due to large addressable markets and strong top-line growth. To be fair, there have been some big winners (e.g. Wayfair) which can justify the VC game. But as Bill Gurley points out, innovations around pricing or distribution — think flash sales and subscriptions in a box — don’t represent core differentiation or sustainable petitive advantages. Additionally, these startups had access to hundreds of millions of VC funding and therefore weren’t forced to prove out the unit economics before scaling rapidly.

Are Airbnb investors destroying Europe’s cultural capitals?

The definitive story of how a controversial Florida businessman blew up MoviePass and burned hundreds of millions

Farnsworth’s pitch to MoviePass: $25 million for 51% of the pany, two seats on the five-member board, and a promise to drop the monthly subscription price, temporarily, from $50 to $9.95, with the goal of hitting 100,000 subscribers. If all went well, the next step would be taking MoviePass public. But Farnsworth’s plan worried Spikes; to him, $10 a month was too low. At that price MoviePass would start losing money when a subscriber used the service more than once a month.

In the US, the average price for a movie ticket is about $9; if a customer ordered a ticket every day for a month (the maximum the MoviePass plan allowed), it would cost MoviePass about $270, of which the subscriber’s fee would cover just $10. But in July 2017, the MoviePass board agreed to the deal. And on August 15, the price drop went into effect. Thanks to word-of-mouth buzz and press attention, within two days subscriptions jumped from about 20,000 to 100,000. MoviePass had transformed from a scrappy startup trying to keep the lights on to a disrupter in the making.

But Spikes saw a looming disaster. The pany was overwhelmed by its overnight success and couldn’t keep up with demand. A quarter-million new subscribers were signing up every month, and MoviePass customer-service lines were flooded with plaints from people who had been waiting weeks for their cards. MoviePass had lowballed the number of cards it would need after the price drop. It got to a point where the vendor making the MoviePass cards didn’t have enough plastic and had to call on its petitors to fulfill all the card orders. “We all knew we were selling something we couldn’t deliver on,” one former staffer said.

Pat Dorsey: Never put any moat on a pedestal

The same way you evaluate any other business, which is trying to think about the present value of future cash flows. This is an area where the world has changed pretty significantly over the past couple of decades because, 30 years ago, most investments were done via the balance sheet. They were investments in buildings, in factories, in railroads, in lootives and all those came out of the balance sheet. Today, a lot of investment happens out of the ine statement. If you are a software pany, and you are acquiring new customers, who might have a nine to 10-year lifespan with the business, that es out of sales and marketing, and so that depresses your current margins.

But it seems insensible to me to argue that I should not invest in a customer who could be with me for 10 years and who will pay me 3% more every year as I raise prices. Why is that not just as valuable an investment as a machine that will wear out in 10 years? One is an appreciating asset and the other is a depreciating asset. The former — the customer — es by way of investing through the ine statement and depresses current margins. As for buying the machine, it is just a capital expenditure. If you have a business that is re-investing heavily today, a software pany or an Amazon for example, you have to think about the incremental unit economics. How much does it cost to acquire each customer and how much value do they deliver over some span of time, and then try to think about what does this business look like at steady state, say in a five or 10-year timeframe. You know what margins it will have once the investment slows down and then you discount those cash flows back to the present.

So far, Uber and Lyft have peted very heavily on price. That was evident in both of their IPO filings, they have been trying to undercut each other on price, which is not the sign of a healthy petitive dynamic that’s going to result in great return for shareholders. Maybe that will change, I don’t know. But, when I see two big panies trying to basically undercut each other on price and, it’s not really clear who is going to win, I’d rather just stay on the sidelines and watch. One of the most important things for an investor to do is to maximise return on time. By analysing Uber and Lyft, we probably aren’t going to get a lot of advantage, because everybody and their mother is trying to have an opinion on these things, and it’s just not clear how the petitive dynamics will pan out long term. So we’ve spent literally zero time on them!

A lot of it es down to the unit economics of the business. Boeing and Airbus need to absorb a lot of fixed costs. Building an aircraft factory, investing and designing a new aircraft, requires a lot of very high fixed costs, and so they need to absorb that. And so, each incremental plane sold is very important to both panies. So they need to take market share from each other. Whereas for Visa and Mastercard, their fixed cost for the payment networks, those costs were sunk decades ago. Their network is there. It exists. So there’s no incentive to pete on price, because they don’t have the same economics of cost absorption.

When to sell and when a moat is weakening are really two different questions. But I would say, the biggest signal that a moat is weakening is the lack of pricing power. If a business historically had been able to raise prices and is no longer able to raise prices, that generally indicates that its petitive advantage is weakening or disappearing.

Howard Stern is getting ripped off

Take a look at Joe Rogan, who currently has the most popular talk show podcast with over 200 million downloads per month. This number es from Joe himself1, but let’s assume he was exaggerating and it’s only 100 million downloads per month.

Assuming he sells ads at a low $18 CPM (cost per thousand listeners) and sells out his ad spots, he’s making approximately $64mm in annual revenue. If he’s on the higher end, at $50 CPM, he could be making as much as $240mm per year2. The only factor that would change this is how many free ads Joe gives to panies that he has a personal equity stake in (like Onnit, the supplement brand he co-owns).

That means that Joe makes somewhere between $64-$240 million per year in revenue from his podcast advertising alone—and that’s handicapping his audience by half what he claims to have. That number also doesn’t include any additional revenue generated from his wildly popular YouTube channel, which has over 6 million subscribers.

Based on existing advertising revenues alone, Joe Rogan could easily be worth over a billion dollars, even if he doesn’t realize it. If estimates are correct, he owns a business that produces somewhere in the neighborhood of $60-$235 million/year in profit and is likely growing at 30–50% annually (assuming his audience is growing alongside the podcast ecosystem)3. If it were publicly traded, his podcasting business could easily fetch a valuation in the billions.

Even the small stresses of daily life can hurt your health, but attitude can make a difference

When people talk about harmful stress — the kind that can affect health — they usually point to big, life-changing events, such as the death of a loved one. A growing body of research suggests that minor, everyday stress — caused by flight delays, traffic jams, cellphones that run out of battery during an important call, etc. — can harm health, too, and even shorten life spans.

Curated Insights 2019.09.06

Where the opportunities are in regulated marketplaces: Managed marketplaces

The licensing of workers was more critical in a “pre-internet” world, since licenses established consumer trust by signaling the skills or knowledge required to perform a job. But today, digital platforms can mitigate the need for (some) licensing by establishing trust and ensuring quality through other means — such as user reviews, platform requirements, and other mechanisms like pre-vetting and guarantees.

“Managed marketplaces” models in particular can be helpful in establishing user trust, because they intermediate parts of the service delivery, adding value by taking on functions like identifying high-quality providers, standardizing prices, and automating matching between demand and supply. As scrutiny around safety for marketplaces continues to rise, the importance of trusted labor bees even more significant. In childcare, for instance, people don’t want to just see a list of all possible caregivers — they want to know with certainty that the providers they’re hiring are trustworthy and qualified, and a managed marketplace can capitalize on this user need by thoroughly vetting all supply.

Managed marketplaces can greatly mitigate the need for licensing because users trust the marketplace itself, particularly on the highly managed side of the spectrum. Such platforms can enable high-quality, but unlicensed, suppliers to offer services alongside licensed providers — and in doing so, promote entrepreneurship and alleviate supply constraints.


The Big Short’s Michael Burry explains why index funds are like subprime CDOs

The dirty secret of passive index funds — whether open-end, closed-end, or ETF — is the distribution of daily dollar value traded among the securities within the indexes they mimic. In the Russell 2000 Index, for instance, the vast majority of stocks are lower volume, lower value-traded stocks. Today I counted 1,049 stocks that traded less than $5 million in value during the day. That is over half, and almost half of those — 456 stocks — traded less than $1 million during the day. Yet through indexation and passive investing, hundreds of billions are linked to stocks like this. The S&P 500 is no different — the index contains the world’s largest stocks, but still, 266 stocks — over half — traded under $150 million today. That sounds like a lot, but trillions of dollars in assets globally are indexed to these stocks. The theater keeps getting more crowded, but the exit door is the same as it always was. All this gets worse as you get into even less liquid equity and bond markets globally.

This structured asset play is the same story again and again — so easy to sell, such a self-fulfilling prophecy as the technical machinery kicks in. All those money managers market lower fees for indexed, passive products, but they are not fools — they make up for it in scale. Potentially making it worse will be the impossibility of unwinding the derivatives and naked buy/sell strategies used to help so many of these funds pseudo-match flows and prices each and every day. This fundamental concept is the same one that resulted in the market meltdowns in 2008. However, I just don’t know what the timeline will be. Like most bubbles, the longer it goes on, the worse the crash will be.


Debunking the silly “passive is a bubble” myth

So index funds hold less than 15% of shares in public panies. And according to former Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb, indexing in stocks and bonds globally represents less than 5% of global assets.

When you buy an index fund of the total stock market, you are literally buying the stock market in proportion to the shares held by all active investors. If you sum up the collective holdings of active managers, what you basically get is a market-cap-weighted index. Index fund investors are simply buying what the active investors have laid out for them.

Charley Ellis wrote in his book, The Index Revolution, that indexing accounts for less than 5% of trading, with the remaining 95% or so done by active investors. This will always be the case, no matter the amount of money flowing into index funds.

When an index fund investor sells, they’re technically selling their holdings in direct proportion to their weighting in the index. So there is little market impact involved. Again, index fund investors are simply owning stocks in the proportion that all active investors own stocks. Plus, index funds never lever up your holdings. They never receive a margin call. They don’t put 30% of your holdings in Valeant Pharmaceuticals. And no index fund has ever closed up shop to spend more time with their family.

Why the Periodic Table of Elements Is More Important Than Ever

How Amazon’s shipping empire is challenging UPS and FedEx

Amazon now delivers nearly half of its orders, pared with less than 15% in 2017, according to estimates from research firm Rakuten Intelligence. It is now handling an estimated 4.8 million packages every day in the U.S. … The U.S. Postal Service, once the primary carrier of Amazon parcels, delivers about half the share of packages than it did two years ago.

Asahi’s voracious thirst sees it take crown as king of M&A in Asia

At a news conference in Tokyo this month, Mr Koji said the pany would focus on strengthening its three core markets in Japan, Europe and Australia:?“That will be our priority and we’ll subsequently consider whether we will do further merger and acquisition deals.”

Suntory, known for its Yamazaki whisky, bought US spirits maker Beam for $16bn in 2014, creating the world’s third-largest spirits maker. Before that, Kirin had made a disastrous foray into Brazil with a $3.9bn acquisition of family-owned Schincariol in 2011.

Asahi went on a buying spree of its own with a $1.3bn acquisition of New Zealand’s Independent Liquor in 2011 and other smaller deals in Australia, China and Malaysia. In the decade before 2016, it spent $3.9bn on 24 outbound deals, according to Dealogic, but none had any serious impact on its balance sheet. Their geographical reach was limited, with its overseas business making up less than 15 per cent?of revenues.

Deep dive into the General Electric-Markopolos case – Here: The Baker Hughes accounting

Admittedly, GE has never been at the forefront of conservative accounting application. Looking into the history of the pany we can find a couple of examples of quite aggressive representations of its economic situation. But with regard to the Baker Hughes accounting we cannot find anything wrong (but of course, it could be that we missed something). Moreover, the Markopolos report does not e even close of what is necessary to assess the accounting treatment here. We do not want to judge to harshly on the report (with regard to the Baker Hughes accounting) because at least the economics are correct – but also disclosed by GE – but all in all the Markopolos report really seems to be a bit light in accounting from our subjective point of view.

The Amazon is not Earth’s lungs

The Amazon produces about 6 percent of the oxygen currently being made by photosynthetic organisms alive on the planet today. But surprisingly, this is not where most of our oxygen es from. In fact, from a broader Earth-system perspective, in which the biosphere not only creates but also consumes free oxygen, the Amazon’s contribution to our planet’s unusual abundance of the stuff is more or less zero. This is not a pedantic detail. Geology provides a strange picture of how the world works that helps illuminate just how bizarre and unprecedented the ongoing human experiment on the planet really is. Contrary to almost every popular account, Earth maintains an unusual surfeit of free oxygen—an incredibly reactive gas that does not want to be in the atmosphere—largely due not to living, breathing trees, but to the existence, underground, of fossil fuels.

After this unthinkable planetary immolation, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere dropped from 20.9 percent to 20.4 percent. CO2 rose from 400 parts per million to 900—less, even, than it does in the worst-case scenarios for fossil-fuel emissions by 2100. By burning every living thing on Earth. “Virtually no change,” he said. “Generations of humans would live out their lives, breathing the air around them, probably struggling to find food, but not worried about their next breath.”

Why Indonesia is shifting its capital From Jakarta

As well as bursting at its seams, the city is sinking. Two-fifths of Jakarta lies below sea level and parts are dropping at a rate of 20 centimeters (8 inches) a year. That’s mostly down to the constant drawing up of well water from its swampy foundations. Stultifying traffic congestion and polluted air are a daily reality for Jakarta’s 10 million inhabitants. The gridlock costs an estimated 100 trillion rupiah ($7 billion) a year in lost productivity for the greater Jakarta area, known as Jabodetabek, enpassing 30 million people.

Jakarta will keep growing. The population is on course to reach 35.6 million by 2030, helping it topple Tokyo as the world’s most populous city. Since the greater metropolitan area generates almost a fifth of Indonesia’s GDP, Jakarta will continue to be the country’s main mercial hub. There’s a $43 billion plan to sort out the traffic, including a Mass Rapid Transit rail line that opened in 2019. As for Jakarta’s submergence problem, the president is planning a giant wall to keep big waves out.

Better is fragile — different is king

Most of us grew up believing that, to pete, we need to be better than the petition. We need better skills, better players, better résumés. But what happens when your best is no longer good enough? What happens when that amazing software application you just spent beaucoup bucks developing is blindsided by an even better program? One that’s less expensive, to boot?

Better is fragile. It can be trampled in a nanosecond. Attempting to be better puts panies on a hampster wheel, running faster and faster—and in the same direction as everyone else—to keep up. Better is weak.

Different is king. When you can differentiate yourself in the market, you step off the hamster wheel, never to return. You only look back to witness the frenzy your brand is causing in the hamster cage you left behind.

Here’s your choice: Spend a lot of time and money in pursuit of better. Or find what makes you different, and then do it on purpose.


A silent interlude

Warren Buffett hasn’t been reading five newspapers every day for seven decades for no reason. The trick is to find the right balance between exposure to the news while honing the ability to distinguish between news and noise.


Running your trading as a business

Imagine that you are pitching your trading business to a venture capitalist. How will you convince the VC that this is a business worth investing in?

Reasonable investing philosophies

Personal finance > investing, at all ine levels, because a good saver who doesn’t invest will be fine but a great investor mired in debt and overspending can be wiped out.

Curated Insights 2019.08.23

The WeWork IPO

Given this vision, WeWork’s massive losses are, at least in theory, justifiable. The implication of creating a pany that absorbs all of the fixed costs in order to offer a variable cost service to other panies is massive amounts of up-front investment. Just as Amazon needed to first build out data centers and buy servers before it could sell storage and pute, WeWork needs to build out offices spaces before it can sell desktops or conference rooms. In other words, it would be strange if WeWork were not losing lots of money, particularly given its expansion rate.

What is useful is considering these two graphics together: over 300 locations — more than half — are in the money-losing part of the second graph, which helps explain why WeWork’s expenses are nearly double its revenue; should the pany stop opening locations, it seems reasonable to expect that gap to close rapidly. Still, it is doubtful that WeWork will slow the rate with which is opens locations given the pany’s view of its total addressable market.

The sheer scale of this ambition again calls back to AWS. It was in 2013 that Amazon’s management first stated that AWS could end up being the pany’s biggest business; at that time AWS provided a mere 4% of Amazon’s revenue (but 33% of the profit). In 2018, though, AWS had grown by over 1000% and was up to 11% of Amazon’s revenue (and 59% of the profit), and that share is very much expected to grow, even as AWS faces a petitor in Microsoft Azure that is growing even faster, in large part because existing enterprises are moving to the cloud, not just startups.

WeWork, meanwhile, using its expansive definition of its addressable market, claims that it has realized only 0.2% of their total opportunity globally, and 0.6% of their opportunity in their ten largest cities. To be fair, one may be skeptical that existing enterprises in particular will be hesitant to turn over management of their existing offices to WeWork, which would dramatically curtail the opportunity; on the other hand, large enterprises now make up 40% of WeWork’s revenue (and rising), and more importantly, WeWork doesn’t have any significant petition.

In short, there is a case that WeWork is both a symptom of software-eating-the-world, as well as an enabler and driver of the same, which would mean the pany would still have access to the capital it needs even in a recession. Investors would just have to accept the fact they will have absolutely no impact on how it is used, and that, beyond the sky-high valuation and the real concerns about a duration mismatch in a recession, is a very good reason to stay away.

Pershing Square on Berkshire Hathaway

Berkshire’s primary asset is the world’s largest insurance business, which we estimate represents nearly half of Berkshire’s intrinsic value. In its primary insurance segment, Berkshire focuses on the reinsurance and auto insurance segments. In reinsurance, Berkshire’s strong petitive advantages are derived from its enormous capital base, efficient underwriting (a quick yes or no), ineffable trustworthiness, and its focus on long-term economics rather than short-term accounting profits, all of which allows the pany to often be the only insurer capable of and willing to insure extremely large and/or unusual, bespoke insurance policies. We believe that Berkshire’s reinsurance business, operating primarily through National Indemnity and General Re, is uniquely positioned to serve its clients’ needs to protect against the increasing frequency and growing severity of catastrophic losses. In auto insurance, Berkshire subsidiary GEICO operates a low-cost direct sales model which provides car owners with lower prices than petitors that rely on a traditional agent-based sales approach. GEICO’s low cost, high quality service model has enabled it to consistently gain market share for decades. The enduring petitive advantages of Berkshire’s insurance businesses have allowed it to consistently grow its float (the net premiums received held on Berkshire’s balance sheet that will be used to pay for expected losses in the often distant future) at a higher rate and a lower cost than its peers. While Mr. Buffett is best known as a great investor, he should perhaps also be considered the world’s greatest insurance pany architect and CEO because the returns Berkshire has achieved on investment would not be nearly as good without the material benefits it has realized by financing these investments with lowcost insurance float.

For more than the last decade, Berkshire has grown its float at an 8% pounded annual growth rate while achieving a negative 2% average cost of float due to its profitable insurance underwriting, while incurring an underwriting loss in only one out of the last 15 years. These are extraordinary results particularly when pared with the substantial majority of insurance panies which lose money in their insurance operations and are only profitable after including investment returns. Furthermore, we believe that Berkshire’s cost of float will remain stable or even decline as its fastest growing insurance businesses (GEICO and BH Primary) have a lower cost of float than the pany’s overall average. Since the end of 2007, we estimate that Berkshire has averaged a nearly 7% annual rate of return on its insurance investment portfolio while holding an average of 20% of its portfolio in cash. Berkshire has been able to produce investment returns that significantly exceed its insurance pany peers as the bination of the pany’s long-duration float and significant shareholders’ equity allow it to invest the substantial majority of its insurance assets in publicly traded equities, while its peers are limited to invest primarily in fixed-ine securities. We believe these structural petitive advantages of Berkshire’s insurance business are enduring and will likely further expand. Berkshire also owns a collection of high-quality, non-insurance businesses, which include market-leading industrial businesses, the largest of which are the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Precision Castparts, an aerospace metal parts manufacturer. While Berkshire’s non-insurance portfolio is prised of highly diversified businesses that have been acquired during the last 50 or so years, we estimate that the portfolio derives more than 50% of its earnings from its largest three businesses: Burlington Northern (>30%), Precision Castparts (~10%), and regulated utilities (~10%).

While we have utilized a number of different approaches to our valuation of Berkshire, we believe it is perhaps easiest to understand the pany’s attractive valuation by estimating Berkshire’s underlying economic earnings power, and paring the pany’s price-earnings multiple to other businesses of similar quality and earnings growth rate. Using this approach, we believe that Berkshire currently trades at only 14 times our estimate of next 12 months’ economic earnings per share (excluding the amortization of acquired intangibles), assuming a normalized rate of return of 7% on its insurance investment portfolio. While generating a 7% return on such a large amount of investment assets is not a given—particularly in an extraordinarily low-rate environment—we believe that Berkshire’s ability to invest the substantial majority of its insurance assets in equity and equity-like instruments and hold them for the long term makes this a reasonable assumption. Based on these assumptions, we believe that Berkshire’s valuation is extremely low pared to businesses of similar quality and growth characteristics.

WeWTF

The last round $47 billion “valuation” is an illusion. SoftBank invested at this valuation with a “pref,” meaning their money is the first money out, limiting the downside. The suckers, idiots, CNBC viewers, great Americans, and people trying to feel young again who buy on the first trade — or after — don’t have this downside protection. Similar to the DJIA, last-round private valuations are harmful metrics that create the illusion of prosperity. The bankers (JPM and Goldman) stand to register $122 million in fees flinging feces at retail investors visiting the unicorn zoo. Any equity analyst who endorses this stock above a $10 billion valuation is lying, stupid, or both.


The dating business is IAC’s best asset — and its greatest challenge

Match is among IAC’s greatest hits. The stock has nearly doubled this year alone, thanks largely to soaring Tinder membership. IAC sold a portion of Match in a 2015 IPO at $12. The stock is now $85, and IAC’s Match stake is worth close to $19 billion. It accounts for more than 90% of IAC’s current $21 billion market value.

This month, Levin and IAC disclosed a solution to the Match problem. The pany is considering distributing Match shares to its shareholders in a tax-free transaction. And IAC is thinking about a similar handoff of its 84% stake in ANGI Homeservices (ANGI). That operation is a $4.3 billion market-cap business that IAC created in 2017 by acquiring publicly traded Angie’s List and merging it with IAC-owned HomeAdvisor.


How big stars maximise their take from tours

Historically, tours were loss-leaders used to promote albums. As revenues from recorded music have collapsed and productions have bee increasingly elaborate to draw the crowds, ticket prices have risen steeply. The cost of a concert ticket in America increased by 190% between 1996 and 2018, pared with 59% for overall consumer prices. But as the continued success of scalpers demonstrates, they are still far below the market-clearing price.

How aggressively cute toys for adults became a $686 million business

Funko Pops are now available from 25,000 retail brands worldwide, from Walmart to Amazon to Hot Topic and even, somewhat bizarrely, Foot Locker. In 2018, the pany’s net sales increased 33 percent to $686.1 million, with figurines accounting for 82 percent of all sales. After the pany released its Q2 earnings report in early August, declaring that sales up are 38 percent pared to this time last year, CEO Brian Mariotti called his pany “recession proof.”

Collectors like Jack make up 36 percent of Funko’s customers, while 31 percent are “occasional buyers.” Wilkinson says Funko Pops appeal to both markets because of the “science of cute” behind the figurines’ design.

Funko now has more than 1,000 licensed properties, from the Avengers to the Golden Girls, Fortnite to Flash Gordon, Stranger Things to The Office. “Evergreen and classic” properties like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Disney make up nearly half of all Funko Pop sales, but the pany is seemingly constantly procuring new, unexpected licenses, from drag queens to food mascots to NASCAR drivers.

A May 2019 investor presentation from the pany boasts that a Pop can be designed and submitted to a licensor in 24 hours, molded into a prototype in 45 days, and “sourced from Asian facilities while maintaining quality control” in just 15 days. Funko also prides itself on its low production costs — each new figure costs between $5,000 and $7,500 to develop.

Is it possible, then, that Funko will run out of things to Pop? At present, the pany’s profits continue to climb, from $98 million gross profit in 2015 (when Funko had just 205 active properties) to $258 million in 2018. History has shown us that collectibles tend to decline in popularity, and it is possible that Funko Pops could go the way of the Beanie Baby. Yet at present, there are more than enough fans keeping the pany in business.

To encourage collectors, Funko uses many tried-and-tested market tricks, like releasing toys exclusive to certain locations (Mr. Rogers is exclusive to Barnes & Noble) and producing limited-edition runs (only 480 holographic Darth Mauls were released at San Diego ic-Con in 2012). Yet the pany doesn’t just rely on people like Jack and Tristan. A third of all customers are only occasional buyers, and the customer base appears to be a diverse set of people with a diverse range of fandoms. In 2018, no single property made up more than 6 percent of purchases; Pops related to new theatrical releases enpassed 20 percent of sales, TV show-related Pops accounted for 16 percent, and gaming Pops made up 17 percent. There is a roughly equal gender split in customers (51 percent women to 49 percent men), and last year, international sales grew 57 percent.

Interestingly, Funko’s average customer is 35 years old — two years younger than Jack, who says his date recovered from seeing his spare room. “The rest of the night went very well and we went on several more dates,” he said. Although it ultimately didn’t work out with her, Jack says his “crazy room of Funko Pops” didn’t have “too much influence on it either way.”


Move over Lego: The next big collectable toy powerhouse is here

Collectibles are a $200 billion market on their own, and video games are on pace to be a $300 billion industry by 2025. And Funko sits right in the middle of it all.

Funko is very good at what it does; its revenue and fanbase is proof of that. But when Microsoft reached out about a video game collaboration, there were all sorts of new questions on Funko and Microsoft’s part because Funko wasn’t just an aesthetic anymore; it had to be interactive for the first time. And interactive is tricky. It forces designers to decide, how does a Funko walk? How does a Funko fight? Can a Funko bleed? (No, by the way, they can’t).


The real story of Supreme

Twenty-five years later, as fads (like televised street luge) have fallen by the wayside, Supreme remains a skate brand—a purveyor of all the hard and soft goods one needs for the sport. But it is something much more than that, too. Since its beginning, in 1994, Supreme has slowly worked its way to the very center of culture and fashion. Or more accurately, culture and fashion have reconfigured themselves around Supreme. Supreme’s clothing and accessories sell out instantly, and the brand has bee a fashion-world collaborator of the highest caliber with projects now under way with designers high (me des Gar?ons, Undercover) and low (Hanes, Champion). Though the particulars of the privately held pany’s business are undisclosed, a $500 million investment in 2017 from the multinational private equity firm the Carlyle Group, for a 50 percent stake, put Supreme’s valuation at $1 billion.

The formula for success—for building a brand that lasts for 25 years—sounds simple enough: Create a high-quality product that will last a long time, sell it for an accessible price, and make people desperately want to buy it. But executing such a plan is far trickier. And in figuring out how to thrive according to strict adherence to its own highly specific principles and logic, Supreme has, deliberately or not, re-arranged the alignment of the entire fashion industry.

Powerful as Supreme has bee as a trendsetter, the pany is still fiercely mitted to its own novel approach. Supreme didn’t launch a website until 2006. It was purposefully late to Instagram, too. Outside of Japanese fashion magazines and downtown NYC wheat-paste poster campaigns, Supreme’s only real marketing efforts are made in the skate world. Conveniently, marketing to skaters is likely the best way for Supreme to market to the fashion world. In other words, the fact that Supreme doesn’t pander to the fashion industry only makes its allure more powerful.

ETF fear mongering myths

Even if every ETF investor wanted to sell (which would never happen), remember that ETFs only own approximately 6% of the stock market and 1% of the bond market.

Curated Insights 2019.08.16

The arc of collaboration

As the ecosystem of specialized SaaS apps and workflows continues to mature, messaging bees a place of last resort. When things are running smoothly, work happens in the apps built to produce them. And collaboration happens within them. Going to slack is increasingly a channel of last resort, for when there’s no established workflow of what to do. And as these functional apps evolve, there are fewer and fewer exceptions that need Slack. In fact, a sign of a maturing pany is one that progressively removes the need to use Slack for more and more situations.

And core Dropbox is not a solution to this. People store their documents in it. But they had to use email and other messaging apps to tell their co-workers which document to check out and what they needed help with. Dropbox understands this concern. It’s what’s driven their numerous forays into owning the workflows and munication channels themselves. With Carousel, Mailbox, and their new desktop apps all working to own that. However, there are constraints to owning the workflow when your fundamental atomic unit is documents. And they never quite owned the munication channels.

Slack is not air traffic control that coordinates everything. It’s 911 for when everything falls apart. Every slack message about a new document your feedback is wanted on or coordinating about what a design should look like is a failing of process or tools. Slack is exception handling. When there’s no other way to make sure someone sees and update, or knows context, Slack is the 911 that can be used.

And as Figma expands into plugins, the ecosystem will continue to solve for more and more of the needs and exceptions. Over time, our workflows align with our functional flows. And collaboration is no exception. And Figma is not alone. More and more apps in all categories understand that collaboration should and must be built in as a first party if they want to best serve their customers. Notion, Airtable, etc all understand this. The feedback loops of collaboration get so short that they bee part of the productivity loop.

Disruption: Finding the right balance in confinement care

Unlike 28 Days, Pantang Plus has 150 confinement therapists (aged between 25 and 60) working directly with the start-up. The pany had to recruit a workforce of that size after they were challenged to do so. “During MaGIC’s accelerator programme in 2016, we could only handle four therapists at a time. But after that, we were tasked to take in 100 of them. So by word of mouth, we managed to recruit 102 therapists,” says Zamzana, adding that Pantang Plus also received a RM30,000 grant to kick off its business.

When orders started pouring in, the pany needed to process the transactions quickly. It was difficult as it had to acmodate massage bookings, process quotations, confirm orders and send out therapists. After enlisting Hisamudin, a former systems engineer who had sold his media start-up, she managed to expedite the processes. The duo were coached to focus on a certain segment and they chose the affluent and urban market.

According to Hisamudin, by tapping this particular segment, they get fewer customers but each of them is more lucrative. The pany managed to grow its business from 20 bookings in 2016 (which work out to about RM43,347 in sales) to 156 bookings (RM418,540) last year. Since its debut, the pany has paid out about RM280,000 to therapists.

Before the online platform was set up, there was a lot of back and forth with the customers and building trust was not difficult, says Zamzana. But now that a lot of the processes are automated, she has noticed that customers are more hesitant and apprehensive about the services it offers. “So, I created a standard operating procedure (SOP) where we meet with customers for personalised consultation sessions so we can manage their expectations,” she says.

There is also an SOP for customers to protect the therapists. “There have been cases where they were mistreated, paid unfairly or were told to do all sorts of things beyond their job scope. The SOP lays out the conditions that govern the packages that are subscribed to. So, I take full responsibility if the customer is not satisfied or if the therapist is mistreated,” says Zamzana.

Hisamudin says the pany is constantly improving the platform to automate the back-end process for both the customer and therapist. “We also plan to automate the payment gateway so we don’t have to check whether we have received payments from customers, which can be tedious,” he adds.

WeWork’s S-1: some quick observations

In connection with this offering, Rebekah and Adam are dedicating additional resources to amplify the positive global impact of our organisation. This effort is designed to enable us to scale our social and global impact as the pany grows. Rebekah and Adam Neumann have pledged $1 billion to fund charitable causes. To fulfil this pledge, Rebekah and Adam will contribute cash and equity to charitable causes within the 10 years following this offering. Their first contribution aids in the conservation of over 20 million acres of intact tropical forest, including the region pictured on the final page of this prospectus. To evidence their mitment to charitable causes and to ensure this mitment is meaningful, if Adam and Rebekah have not contributed at least $1 billion to charitable causes as of the ten-year anniversary of the closing date of this offering, holders of all of the pany’s high-vote stock will only be entitled to ten votes per share instead of twenty votes per share.

Adam currently has a line of credit of up to $500 million with UBS AG, Stamford Branch, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and Credit Suisse AG, New York Branch, of which approximately $380 million principal amount was outstanding as of July 31, 2019. The line of credit is secured by a pledge of approximately [blank] shares of our Class B mon stock beneficially owned by Adam. In addition, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. has made loans and extended credit to Adam totalling $97.5 million across a variety of lending products, including mortgages secured by personal property. None of these other lending products are secured by a pledge of any of Adam’s shares of capital stock in the pany.

Asset managers with $74 trillion on brink of historic shakeout

In this new environment, the beneficiaries have been the world’s largest asset managers, who are wielding far more influence and increasingly attracting a larger share of investor money. They’ve been able to take advantage of their size to keep overall expenses down and help make up for lower fees. Crucially, they’re also the most likely to be offering both passive investments as well as actively managed funds. That means the biggest firms are just getting bigger: The two largest U.S. indexing titans—BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard—oversee bined assets of around $12 trillion this year, up from less than $8 trillion just five years ago.

Fidelity Investments once boasted the world’s largest mutual fund. But the Fidelity Magellan Fund that stock-picking star Lynch propelled from a $20 million offering into a multibillion-dollar behemoth is not even in the world’s top 25 mutual funds today, according to Morningstar. In a sign of the times, only three of the top 10 funds worldwide are actively managed funds, Morningstar data show.

Europe’s fund industry has remained fragmented, in part, because it’s dominated by divisions of banks and the link hasn’t been an advantage as the financial firms focused less on building their fund units and more on averting crisis after crisis.

The booming, ethically dubious business of food delivery

In 2020, more than half of restaurant spending is projected to be “off premise”—not inside a restaurant. In other words, spending on deliveries, drive-throughs, and takeaway meals will soon overtake dining inside restaurants, for the first time on record. According to the investment group Cowen and pany, off-premise spending will account for as much as 80 percent of the industry’s growth in the next five years.


How the supermarket helped America win the Cold War

Between 1946 and 1954 in the U.S., the share of food bought in supermarkets rose from 28 percent to 48 percent. By 1963, that number had risen to nearly 70 percent. A&P had so much market power that the Department of Justice went after it for antipetitive practices. This was an interesting development, considering that the U.S. Government played such a significant role in the creation of supermarkets in the first place.

RV Capital’s view on Variable Interest Entities

The VIE structure is incredibly favourable from a Chinese perspective. Control of the panies remains in China. The contractual right to cashflow is mainly theoretical as most panies reinvest most of their earnings (which makes sense given the opportunities for growth). Finally, it aligns with the government’s legitimate aim to foster a petitive and vigorous economy that the costs of said petition are borne in part by foreign capital whilst the benefits accrue exclusively to its citizens. Why would China ever do anything to risk the VIE structure when anything that superseded it could only possibly be less favourable?


Tenure voting and rethinking what’s fair in corporate governance

Tenure-based voting would allow all shareholders to have an equal opportunity to earn a greater say in a pany’s governance. All longer-term investors — with the definition of “longer term” agreed upon by the pany and its shareholders — would earn more rights to weigh in on strategy and management, while shorter-term investors would simply vote with their feet by selling their shares if they aren’t aligned with that strategy. In adopting a tenure-based voting system, a pany and its shareholders would need to determine the time periods associated with higher-vote stock. For example, all shares could start with one vote per share as of the acquisition date of the shares, and after, say, a two-year hold period, accrete to 1.5 votes per share, with perhaps additional votes per share for each additional holding period. If an investor were to sell her shares, the new holder of the shares would start at one vote/one share and begin a new holding period. The rules could be tailored to achieve whatever goals the shareholders have in mind, probably requiring a majority of shareholders to approve the initial plan (or any substantive modifications).

Curated Insights 2019.08.09

Good for Google, bad for America

A.I.’s military power is the simple reason that the recent behavior of America’s leading software pany, Google — starting an A.I. lab in China while ending an A.I. contract with the Pentagon — is shocking. As President Barack Obama’s defense secretary Ash Carter pointed out last month, “If you’re working in China, you don’t know whether you’re working on a project for the military or not.”

Netflix is not a tech pany

Hence, Netflix isn’t using TV to leverage some other business – TV is the business. It’s a TV pany. Amazon is using content as a way to leverage its subscription service, Prime, in much the same way to telcos buying cable panies or doing IPTV – it’s a way to stop churn. Amazon is using Lord of the Rings as leverage to get you to buy toilet paper through Prime. But Facebook and Google are not device businesses or subscription businesses. Facebook or Google won’t say ‘don’t cancel your subscription because you’ll lose this TV show’ – there is no subscription. That means the strategic value of TV or music is marginal – it’s marketing, not a lock-in.

Apple’s position in TV today is ambivalent. You can argue that the iPhone is a subscription business (spend $30 a month and get a phone every two years), and it certainly thinks about retention and renewals. The service subscriptions that it’s created recently (news, music, games) are all both incremental revenue leveraging a base of 1bn users and ways to lock those users in. But the only important question for the uping ‘TV Plus’ is whether Apple plans to spend $1bn a year buying content from people in LA, and produce another nice incremental service with some marketing and retention value, or spend $15bn buying content from people in LA, to take on Netflix. But of course, that’s a TV question, not a tech question.

Why we sold Trupanion

Why is Trupanion not outpacing the industry when it is the first name many pet owners hear? It could be that pet owners hear about pet insurance from their vet, go home, pare prices, and choose a more affordable option. It’s not an impossible problem for Trupanion to solve, but again, consumers don’t typically understand insurance value until they file a claim.

But at an investor event we attended a few months ago, Darryl said that he was making plans to switch to an executive chairman role in 2025. While we understood Darryl’s choice on a personal level, it also sharply increased our uncertainty around whether pany management will be able to successfully build a moat and transform pet insurance as we had hoped. In our opinion, Trupanion will continue to need a visionary leader in the CEO role and finding another visionary to replace Rawlings will be a massive challenge.

Given the industry’s rapid growth, we think it’s perfectly normal for both regulators and pet insurance panies to have some growing pains. While Trupanion has been fined, faces more state investigations, and admits it should have paid more attention to regulators as a stakeholder, we considered these matters minor to our thesis. Regulators may require Trupanion’s Territory Partners to be licensed in all states, but this is more like a speed bump rather than a roadblock.


TGV Intrinsic on MercadoLibre

Network effects are among the highest entry barriers for petitors to build and leverage business. As market leader, MercadoLibre has been able to permanently focus on strengthening the network effects of the marketplace and eliminate points of conflict in transaction processing between buyer and seller. The most important point of conflict between seller and buyer in the past were the payment arrangements. To simplify this process, MercadoLibre launched its own payment service “MercadoPago” in 2004 (parable to PayPal). MercadoPago provides a secure way to pay for goods and simplified the coordination between buyers and sellers in terms of payment. Today, over 90% of the value god goods sold on MercadoLibre is paid with MercadoPago, which equates to a payment volume of 11 billion US dollars.

Apart from that, logistics costs in many Latin American countries pose a major hurdle for buyers and sellers. The investments required to setup one’s own logistics system are high, delivery times in Latin America are relatively long, and service is rather mediocre. With the founding of MercadoEnvios in 2013, MercadoLibre took over an ever more extensive control over the logistics of goods in several steps. Today, MercadoEnvios operates its own logistics centres, takes over the first mile from the seller or organises the last mile to the end customer with selected partners. In 2018, at least part of the logistics was taken over by MercadoEnvious for 66% of the goods sold through the marketplace. Thanks to the sizeable investments in a proprietary payment system and the continuous expansion of its own logistics, MercadoLibre has massively expanded its marketplace and the network effect that has been set in motion over the past two decades. The value of these investments is reflected in the growth in the number of transactions amounting to 28% per annum over the past decade.

The value of this ecosystem lies in the ever-growing economy of scale. MercadoLibre has more touch points with its customers than its petitors, be it specialised online retailers, payment service providers, or logistics panies. At each of these points of contact, MercadoLibre can distribute its costs in customer acquisition to more services than its petitors. As a result, the costs for new customers per product are lower than for petitors. Second, MercadoLibre can freely decide which areas of a customer relationship to monetise and which not. For example, MercadoLibre may offer MercadoPago payment service to new brick-and-mortar retailers for free but would require a marketplace transaction fee for this merchant’s online product sales. A specialised payment provider does not have this flexibility. As a result, MercadoLibre has created a flexible and cost-effective customer acquisition engine that only very few panies have.


Zebras can change their stripes

Since 2012, JUVE has gone on to secure many other high profile “free” transfers with established winners such as Dani Alves and Sami Khediera, but then also find those that have significant upside potential like Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley an, and Emre Can. By far, the most impactful and value-accretive “free” transfer was Paul Pogba. In 2012, Juventus signed 19 year-old Pogba from Manchester United, and only four seasons later (and after winning four league titles) sold him back to Manchester United for a world-record fee of $116 million. In total, since 2011, the top 10 free transfer signings by Juventus have created $204m of value (i.e. market value of the players at time of signing) and over $135 million of cash from transfer sales proceeds. Yes, Pogba was an outlier, but JUVE has utilized the free transfer market better than any other club over the past decade.

Let us not forget this is a business, and Ronaldo prints money. Before the ink dried on the contract, the Ronaldo effect took Juventus, and Italy, by storm. His name generated over $60 million in jersey sales in one day – that is the best global branding a club can ask for. JUVE’s Twitter account showed a 10% increase in followers on the day he was signed. Then ESPN acquired the U.S. Serie A TV rights at a massive step-change in the fee ($55 million per year, versus $28 million previously) only one month later. And to no one’s surprise, the first game aired on August 18th showcasing Ronaldo in his new black and white jersey. Your author duly signed up for ESPN+ exclusively to live stream I Bianconeri. The acquisition led to a nice bump in GreenWood’s performance, and most importantly, Ronaldo helped his team win another Serie A title.

The periodic table of investments

Winner-take-all phenomenon rules the stock market, too

Just 1.3% of the world’s public panies account for all the market gains during the past three decades. Outside the U.S., the gains are even more concentrated, with less than 1% of all equities driving all of the net appreciation in share prices.

Just five panies — Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Amazon. Inc., Alphabet Inc. (Google) and Exxon Mobil Corp. — accounted for 8.3% of global net wealth creation. It is hard to imagine a greater example of the winner-take-all distribution — these five panies account for just 0.008% of the total sample set of 62,000 publicly traded panies. Expand that to the top 0.5%, or 306 panies, and they account for 73% of global net wealth creation. The best performing 811 panies (1.33% of the total) accounted for all net global wealth creation.


Negative rates could happen in America, too

What’s behind negative interest rates? Many observers blame central banks like the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) that are taxing banks’ excess reserves with negative deposit rates and have made bonds scarcer by removing them from the market through their purchase programs. The BOJ now owns about half and the ECB about 30% of the bonds issued by their respective governments, according to Bloomberg.

However, we believe central banks are not the villains but rather the victims of deeper fundamental drivers behind low and negative interest rates. The two most important secular drivers are demographics and technology. Rising life expectancy increases desired saving while new technologies are capital-saving and are being cheaper – and thus reduce ex ante demand for investment. The resulting savings glut tends to push the “natural” rate of interest lower and lower.

LBOs make (more) panies go bankrupt, research shows

According to researchers at California Polytechnic State University, roughly 20 percent of large panies acquired through leveraged buyouts go bankrupt within ten years, as pared to a control group’s bankruptcy rate of 2 percent during the same time period.


Is great information good enough? Evidence from physicians as patients

We pare the care received by a group of patients that should have the best possible information on health care service efficacy—i.e., physicians as patients—with a parable group of non-physician patients, taking various steps to account for unobservable differences between the two groups. Our results suggest that physicians do only slightly better in adhering to both low- and high-value care guidelines than non-physicians – but not by much and not always.


Health facts aren’t enough. Should persuasion bee a priority?

Those who were most opposed to genetically modified foods believed they were the most knowledgeable about this issue, yet scored the lowest on actual tests of scientific knowledge. In other words, those with the least understanding of science had the most science-opposed views, but thought they knew the most.

Curated Insights 2019.08.02

Notre-Dame came far closer to collapsing than people knew. This is how it was saved.

The fire warning system at Notre-Dame took dozens of experts six years to put together, and in the end involved thousands of pages of diagrams, maps, spreadsheets and contracts, according to archival documents found in a suburban Paris library by The Times.

The result was a system so arcane that when it was called upon to do the one thing that mattered — warn “fire!” and say where — it produced instead a nearly indecipherable message.

Hidden networks: Network effects that don’t look like network effects

There are a host of panies that build the tool or product before they build the network. Delicious (with bookmarks) or Instagram (with filters) are the classic examples of a “e for the tool, stay for the network” pany. But there are also panies building the network before they build the actual product or tool. Think of this as “e for the network, stay for the tool.”

These panies can be especially formidable because no one understands the power of what they’re doing until it’s too late to pete. The concept is that you start by building a munity that acts like a network, with users interacting, engaging, and generally creating value for each other. Eventually, a product is introduced that catalyzes or amplifies the way the network engages. Before the product arrives, there isn’t anything measuring or monetizing the network, so it can be difficult to really see the strength and potential of these networks.

These latent networks are the hardest “hidden network effects” to both predict and execute. Often times these munities are actually an audience rather than a latent network, meaning users derive value from the central node, not the network. When it’s just an audience, the tool or product ends up scaling more like a linear business (e.g., a DTC product) than a network. Differentiating a product-less network from an audience is very difficult. Many a celebrity entrepreneur has believed they had a network that wanted to engage with each other, before realizing that what they actually had was an audience that just wanted a piece of their celebrity heroes.

So what’s the test to tell whether there is a latent network waiting to be activated? A network engages, an audience consumes. Look to see if the network’s users are engaged with each other or just the central node. Ask yourself who is getting additional value when someone new enters this munity. If it’s all (or at least some) of the munity members, then it’s a network. If it’s just the central node, then it’s probably an audience.

How Etsy crafted an e-merce eback

The pany is plowing some of its revenue into better online tools for sellers, such as a dashboard to track orders and streamline payments. To grow, “Etsy really needs to offer vendors that support,” says Oweise Khazi, research director at Gartner. And some of Etsy’s most important plans involve its search engine. Fisher, the technology chief, says improved search results added tens of millions of dollars to GMS last year, but there’s room for improvement. Etsy’s search algorithm has long favored lower-priced items, since they tend to sell more frequently. The site now intends to give higher-priced and better-quality goods more weight in search rankings—-making Etsy’s brand more upscale and encouraging shoppers to also consider buying a desk when they’re searching for a desk lamp.

Search tweaks will also help Etsy attack another sore point: shipping. Sellers currently have great leeway to set shipping fees, something that the pany believes can turn off buyers. Some 30% of items are eligible for free shipping; Silverman wants to push that figure toward 100%, even at the risk of upsetting sellers. In July, Etsy announced a push to make free shipping standard for orders of $35 or more. Sellers won’t be required to waive shipping fees—but Etsy’s algorithms will give ranking priority to products and sellers that ply, effectively forcing their hand.

Choice Equities on PAR Technology

Par’s third and most interesting business segment is Brink. This unit started in 2014 when PAR acquired Brink Software, a small entrepreneurial operation out of San Diego. The Brink offering acplishes many of the same POS functions as the legacy hardware business, but the software ponent is delivered via the cloud and accordingly offers a few critical advantages. For one thing, updating software is seamless with an off-premise offering as it can be initiated from the cloud and updated onsite without any further physical software or hardware add-ons. Additionally, customers get to convert their large and lumpy and sometimes difficult to forecast hardware capex spend to small ongoing monthly payments that are highly forecastable. This business has already turned into a fantastic acquisition, with sales up 25-fold since it was acquired. But we think Brink may be just hitting its stride.

Today Brink has around 8,000 installed restaurants and an impressive customer list. This list includes new customer wins in growing concepts like Sweetgreen, Mod Pizza and Cava but also established concepts like Arby’s and Five Guys. Focusing on the U.S. market first, there are a little over 300,000 quick serve and fast casual restaurants. Brink is currently focused on the Tier 1 and Tier 2 segments, which total ~170,000 locations as their core petency and differentiation es from not only their ability to serve these multi-location customers successfully, but also their ability to handle these large-scale integrations seamlessly. We note our research indicates Brink is the only cloud POS provider who has successfully pleted a 1,000+ store rollout, of which Brink has two to its claim. Given existing relationships with customers with a total restaurant count near 35,000 restaurants today, they appear well positioned to continue to convert both existing and new customers alike to the Brink solution.

Looking out over the next year or two, we think it’s conceivable that Brink could sign up at least 20,000 restaurants. Beyond this, we see upside potential to this number from wins in the tier three category, and looking further out, international expansion. In addition to restaurant growth, we also think Brink could grow their monthly recurring revenue (MRR) per customer. Currently they earn just under ~$200/month from their cloud customers, or around $2,000 in average revenue per user (ARPU). Given the POS offering is typically regarded by restauranteurs as the brain or control center of the restaurant, we believe other add-on functions like food temperature monitoring, delivery optimization or inventory management features could be added into the Brink software package driving MRR higher. And the pany is currently planning on introducing a payments solution which would be further additive to MRR.

A review essay of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Admittedly, such pessimism sells. For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell, and bee huffy and scornful when some idiotic optimist intrudes on their pleasure. Yet pessimism has consistently been a poor guide to the modern economic world. We are gigantically richer in body and spirit than we were two centuries ago. In the next half century—if we do not kill the goose that laid the golden eggs by implementing leftwing schemes of planning and redistribution or rightwing schemes of imperialism and warfare, as we did on all counts 1914-1989, following the advice of the the clerisy that markets and democracy are terribly faulted—we can expect the entire world to match Sweden or France.


When the safety net pays for itself

Adults use benefits that end up costing additional money—an extra 60 cents or so on top of the $1 you spent. But health care and education for kids often reduces dependence on aid and lifts earnings. Over time, you get back your $1—plus about 47 cents.

Universal laws of the world

In law, the reason the burden of proof lies with the prosecution is that it’s often impossible to prove something didn’t happen. Outside of the courtroom the opposite rule prevails, and the mentator is allowed to give an opinion but the critic must debunk him with evidence.

There is a thriving market for bad mentary because they give readers intellectual cover against their own biases, prejudices, and incentives. When many people want bad mentary to be right it bees harder to convince them that it’s wrong.

Curated Insights 2019.07.26

The amazing story of Guidewire Software

Let’s find something that’s unglamorous. Let’s find something that’s substantial and vertically specific. Let’s find an area where really quality software engineering can create deep definitive economic value. That led us more or less like a beeline straight to property and casualty insurance. It’s about a $2 trillion industry in terms of total revenues and they pay out about 60 or 70% of that every year in claims. That’s what they do. They intermediate risk and then they pay out to claimants. There’s an asymmetry between the fact that the average claims worker is paid maybe $40,000 a year, but is writing out checks for $2 or $3 million a year and doing it in 1980s COBOL mainframe systems and buried in paper with all kinds of manual processes, et cetera. Our thesis was that these individuals, as hardworking as they may be, were making systematic errors that were causing dead weight economic loss. It’s not just the better software would make their lives more ergonomic and productive, that they would actually prevent errors that were dead weight lost to their own panies. That there would be a very pelling economic value proposition there.

He says, “When I was in college, there was a guy who managed somehow to date every beautiful woman who went to our school, and he was very ordinary looking and very average in every sense. When I asked him what his secret was, he said, I’m just the guy that asks the most. I’m going to be the guy that asked the most, and I have no problem being rejected.” He says, “I’m going to be that guy and we’re going to be that pany. We’re going to be the pany that asks the most.”

There are other businesses that people don’t imagine that have enormous economic value to them, but they’re standing behind a huge barrier to entry. There’s nothing particularly technologically innovative of what we’re doing, but we’re going to climb this huge barrier to entry and get to the other side. The reason that you don’t see other panies doing this is because that barrier is so high. If you believe in petitive markets, there’s no such thing as a fantastic market with no petitors. The reason that this market is not populated with others is that this barrier to entry is so damn high and we’re going to be climbing it for a long while and we’re 10% up the mountain.” Some version of that message was what we used. That’s also how we forted ourselves when it felt like we had no shot.

How deal for SABMiller left AB InBev with lasting hangover

Nevertheless the numbers are undisputed: to get the deal approved by regulators and then to manage debt, AB InBev has sold off parts of SABMiller worth nearly one-third of the target’s one-time enterprise value of $122.5bn. In doing so, AB InBev lost just under half of the $7.1bn in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation that it acquired through the SABMiller, according to Jefferies analyst Ed Mundy. The average multiple fetched by the disposals was 10.2 times ebitda, against the 17.3 times that AB InBev paid for the brewer.

One bright spot from SABMiller is that AB InBev is now among the top four brewers in Africa, where the population is largely young and expected to drink more beer as economic growth gathers pace. It acquired a 20 per cent stake in the Africa business of privately held Castel, which is widely seen as a potential takeover target if the 92-year-old French billionaire owner ever wants to sell. In Colombia, it mands a near monopoly position.

Part I: A history of Visa |?Part II: An overview of Visa

The beauty of Visa’s business model is that they get paid every time one of their cards are used—a flat fee of $.07, plus 0.11% of the transaction amount (and more for international transactions). So the more dollars that flow through Visa’s network, and the more transactions that they process, the more money they make. Visa makes money three ways: service fees, data processing fees, and—if the transaction involves banks in two different countries—cross-border fees.

Curated Insights 2019.07.19

Disneyland makes surveillance palatable—and profitable

Despite these familial concerns, Disney’s data mining never faced the sort of scrutiny that Silicon Valley has. The reason is fairly simple: Disney World is the real-world manifestation of a walled garden, a family-friendly environment without a perceived risk of children being exposed to inappropriate content like on YouTube or Twitch. Wired once called this data-driven customer relationship “exactly the type of thing Apple, Facebook and Google are trying to build. Except Disney World isn’t just an app or a phone—it’s both, wrapped in an idealized vision of life that’s as safely self-contained as a snow globe.”


Ray-Ban owner in talks for GrandVision at $8 billion value

By adding GrandVision, which sells prescription glasses, contact lenses and other eyecare products, EssilorLuxottica would gain more than 7,000 stores in more than 40 countries. GrandVision operates under retail brands including Brilleland and For Eyes. In addition to its well-known sunglass labels, including Oakley, EssilorLuxottica owns store chains like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision.

EssilorLuxottica’s interest in GrandVision es only two months after the pany defused a leadership dispute that weighed on its shares. The eyecare maker, the result of a merger of France’s Essilor and Italy’s Luxottica, said in May that it would seek a new chief executive officer — an effort to find a promise between Chairman Leonardo Del Vecchio and Vice Chairman Hubert Sagnieres. The dispute flared up after the panies sealed their $53 billion merger last year, with Del Vecchio saying he wanted to appoint his deputy as CEO and Sagnieres countering that the Italian was making false statements in an effort to seize control of the group.


Shopify and the power of platforms

This is how Shopify can both in the long run be the biggest petitor to Amazon even as it is a pany that Amazon can’t pete with: Amazon is pursuing customers and bringing suppliers and merchants onto its platform on its own terms; Shopify is giving merchants an opportunity to differentiate themselves while bearing no risk if they fail.

Curated Insights 2019.07.12

Spotify’s moats, management, and unit economics

Podcasting is a relatively nascent industry that is booming. As the #2 podcast player in the world, Spotify should benefit greatly from this trend. While Apple continues to dominate podcasting, their share has quickly fallen from 80% to 63% the past few years. Meanwhile, Spotify has been gaining share every year.

Around 85% of Spotify’s content is controlled by the three big record labels, plus MERLIN (a digital rights agency that represents thousands of independent labels). It’s great when a pany has captive customers that results in pricing power. It’s not great when a pany is a captive customer of their suppliers and thus has less control over their costs. With that being said, Spotify has a lot of power over the record labels as well.

In 2018, streaming accounted for 47% of global recorded music revenue—and Spotify has almost 70% market share of global streaming revenue. Look at the below chart showing industry revenues over time (purple is streaming revenue). If the major record labels want to continue enjoying the growth they’ve experienced the past few years, they have to work with Spotify.

China’s total number of births dropped over 10% last year

The total number of births in China last year dropped by 2 million from 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics announced at a news conference on Monday. The massive drop — from 17.23 million to 15.23 million — indicates that China’s birth rate last year was the lowest the country has seen since famine-stricken 1961.

Curated Insights 2019.07.05

How Honda survived a trade war with the US and won over Americans

Today, Honda, Nissan (NSANF), Toyota (TM) and Subaru (FUJHF) all operate manufacturing plants across the United States, with Toyota and Mazda planning a new $1.6 billion auto assembly plant in Alabama that will employ around 4,000 people when it opens in 2021. Last year, Japanese car makers created 1.6 million jobs in the US, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

While Japanese car makers claim to build one third of all vehicles in the United States, and purchased $61.2 billion in US auto parts in 2018, many of those cars use imported Japanese parts, which were worth $16 billion last year.

Air conditioning is the world’s next big threat

Because of the bination of population growth, rising ines, falling equipment prices and urbanization, the number of air-conditioning units installed globally is set to jump from about 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion by the middle of the century, according to the International Energy Agency.

BNEF expects electricity demand from residential and mercial air conditioning to increase by more than 140% by 2050 – an increase that’s parable to adding the European Union’s entire electricity consumption. Air conditioning will represent 12.7% of electricity demand by the middle of the century, pared to almost 9% now, it thinks.