160: When Zuckerberg Emailed Spiegel, Amazon & Rivian EVs, Akre & Topicus, Crowdstrike & SentinelOne, Ben Horowitz & Marc Andreessen, Roper on M&A, and Early-Observers

"it’s actually an undercover beetle"

Facts do not need to be unexplainable, to be beautiful; truths do not become less worth learning, if someone else knows them; beliefs do not become less worthwhile, if many others share them…

…and if you only care about scientific issues that are controversial, you will end up with a head stuffed full of garbage.

The media thinks that only the cutting edge of science is worth reporting on. How often do you see headlines like “General Relativity still governing planetary orbits” or “Phlogiston theory remains false”? So, by the time anything is solid science, it is no longer a breaking headline. “Newsworthy” science is often based on the thinnest of evidence and wrong half the time—if it were not on the uttermost fringes of the scientific frontier, it would not be breaking news.

Scientific controversies are problems so difficult that even people who’ve spent years mastering the field can still fool themselves. That’s what makes for the heated arguments that attract all the media attention.

—Eliezer Yudkowsky

🛀 “Early-adopter” vs “Early-observer”

You’ve probably heard the term “early-adopter” a million times, and it’s clear what it means. But I don’t feel like it describes me.

I’m more of an “early-observer”.

My first smartphone was the iPhone 7, and I bought very few tech gadgets in my life compared to real earl-adopters.

Part of it is probably because I didn’t have money growing up (and the little I had, I’d rather spend on music CDs), and partly because once I started earning money, I would rather save and invest it to someday become financially independent rather than buy toys with it (I don’t have a closet full of cameras and drones and consoles and GoPros and all that kind of crap).

But while I didn’t buy, all this time, I sure observed very closely, and tried other people’s gadgets/computers/consoles whenever I could.

So I guess I’m a kind of early-adopter/late-adopter hybrid, where I’ll often know close to as much about the latest stuff as the early folks, but I just won’t be buying, except a select few things that I feel are really worth it.

🎮👾 I identify as a “non-practising gamer”.

By that I mean I’m culturally very much a gamer, but I don’t really play video games much anymore.

There was a time when I substituted by watching games on Twitch and Youtube — let’s call it gamer methadone — but even that has mostly gone for lack of time.

This made me wonder about other areas of my life where I could consider myself a “non-practising” something.

I’m probably closest in “personal culture” to technologists, engineers, product people, designers, entrepreneurs, musicians, writers…

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m claiming that I can just bestow upon myself everything that goes with being one of these without actually doing it, that’s not it.

It’s more that I feel a stronger affinity for people in those fields than most others, and can usually at least hold a conversation with them where it half-sounds like I know what they’re talking about rather vs a total civilian.

💾 I don’t know how many times I can follow-up on that Google Meet UX thing, but friend-of-the-show Muji schooled me a bit on interface terminology, so I thought I’d share his wisdom here so you don’t make the same mistakes I made:

I knew about the hamburger menu, but didn't know what that other one was called. Clicking on it, I clearly saw it was used as a junk drawer, but kebab's a better name!

What we really need is a pancake stack menu, though...

Update: Apparently I screwed up:

I didn't realize it *had* to be meat... That's why I'm not a software engineer, I guess, can't read the specs ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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Investing & Business

‘In November 2012, Mark Zuckerberg sent a cold email (below) to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.’

Turner Novak:

In November 2012, Mark Zuckerberg sent a cold email (below) to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.

Not long after, Facebook offered to buy Snap for $3B. Spiegel turned it down and — today — Snap is worth $120B+.

LESSON: Never wait for them to come to you, get on the fcking plane

Akre Capital Management Owns Almost 5% of Topicus

Was a bit surprised to see such a large position, but it does make sense. I also picked up more shares post-spin when it dipped to the high 50s CAD, so I guess it’s nice confirmation bias for me to see that they also like it.

If you want to learn more about the company (which was recently spun out of Constellation Software, after the TSS operating group merged with a Dutch company called Topicus), there’s a good writeup by friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚 🥃) The 10th Man:

h/t friend-of-the-show and supporter (💚 🥃) Young Hamilton

P.S. The image says 15%, but if you use the fully diluted share count, it’s closer to 5%. Thanks to Luo Ji for pointing that out.

‘You have to qualify for strategy’

Cedric Chin:

One of the things I like to say is that you have to qualify for strategy.

Small companies usually die of incompetent operations, not lack of strategy, so you don’t get the luxury of thinking about strategy if you can’t execute.

Today someone pointed out to me that if you say “oh, that guy is terrible at strategy”, this is actually a compliment in disguise — it means their operations are decent enough that they get to qualify for strategy.

Ben Horowitz & Marc Andreessen (Podcast)

This is the audio of two different conversations that Ben & Marc had on Clubhouse (A16Z is an investor) a few months ago. I enjoyed it:

Among other things, they talk about remote work. One thing that Ben Horowitz says made a lot of sense — and is probably obvious to an extroverted, sales type, but wasn’t less front & center to an introverted, non-sales type like me: the information you get in a face-to-face sales meeting before the meeting and after the meeting is often more valuable than the information you get during the meeting.

That's part of the value of face-to-face that may get lost with Zoom calls.

They also talked about how the world of open source software (Linux, etc) was one of the early examples of fully remote, distributed work, and that there’s many success story there — prob a good idea to learn from their multi-year, sometimes multi-decade experience.

The riff by Ben about the impact of layoffs on employee trust, and how you have to repair this trust immediately because no culture can survive and be effective without it, etc, is very good.

His point about the remaining employees being friends, or at least close, with the laid-off employees is very true — it's not like they're just relieved to not have been cut, they're also pissed that you did this to their friends, and this can be a big hit to a culture and “trust battery”, to use Tobi’s term.

Finally, I also liked Ben's segment of how tough it is to get executive hiring right for first time CEO/founders, because they basically don't even know what it is to be CEO yet — they've never done that job and are learning as they go — and then they're expected to be able to hire a good CFO or CMO or whatever, but they've likely never even worked with a good CFO, and aren't even quite sure what these people do, what is the difference between a good CFO and a great one, etc.

Roper comment on M&A pricing

I thought this was interesting, by a company that constantly looks at a bunch of private high-quality, MSD-grower software companies:

Q: M&A pricing?

A: while we've been in the market and talking with companies, we haven't been actively bidding on a large number of assets in this interim period as we've been deleveraging.

Since the beginning of the year, valuations for the assets that we looked at actually feel like they pulled back a touch. They've actually gotten a little bit better. Maybe moderate, maybe they're flat, maybe they're a little bit better, but they're certainly not increasing, which seems to be the case really since 2013 or '14. So that maybe that bodes well.

Amazon Invests More in Rivian (EV Trucks)

Electric vehicle start-up Rivian on Friday said it closed a $2.5 billion funding round led by existing investors Amazon, Ford Motor and T. Rowe Price.

The company said it has raised about $10.5 billion to date. Rivian closed a $2.65 billion investment round in January and another $2.5 billion round last July. It raised $1.3 billion in December 2019 and at least $1.5 billion before that.

It’s almost like making EVs is really expensive.

the company notified buyers it is delaying deliveries of the R1T pickup until September and the R1S SUV until later in the fall. Scaringe blamed a number of pandemic-related issues, “from facility construction, to equipment installation, to vehicle component supply (especially semiconductors),” according to a letter sent to customers. (Source)

And it’s also really really hard, and problems with any one of hundreds of suppliers and suppliers to suppliers can make everything grind to a halt.

But I’m glad they’re doing it. We’re overdue for a transition to EVs. We’ve had the tech for a while, all we need is to have everybody join the party and ramp up. Economies of scale will do a lot of the rest.

Crowdstrike & SentinelOne

Its interesting to note that Crowdstrike added $144m net new ARR last quarter which is roughly the total ARR SentinelOne has. Its a reminder the beauty and power of large companies that have distribution [&] brand (Source)

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Science & Technology

Reminder That This is What a Big Win Looks Like

In March 2020, a lot of informed opinions converged around vaccine being available in *maybe* 2-4 years, which would be a lot faster than the ˜decade it usually takes.

Now less than 1.5 years later, this many doses have been given globally, with incredible effectiveness and safety:

Vaccine Doses Administered: 3,864,136,981

Sometimes I just have to take a moment to celebrate the hard-fought wins. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making this happen, and lots of healthcare workers & others will feel repercussions for decades... But it could've been much worse without this big win.

Deaths: 4,162,137

Imagine where this other number (which is undoubtedly under-counting it) would be by the end of the pandemic if we only had a vaccine 4 years after the beginning (and with no other miracle therapeutics somehow available *in billions of doses, even in poorer countries*):

Undercover Beetle

I’ve been posting less tree content lately, and more insect content. Not sure if this is cyclical or secular… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Anyway, I saw this huge thing in my backyard (photo doesn’t give a good sense of scale, but it was probably 1.25-1.5 inch long) and from afar I thought it was a huge wasp.

I took the photo above quickly and then walked away.

Moments later, I felt something on the back of my neck. I reached out and felt a big thing; reflexively grabbed it and threw it on the ground, and it was this guy. Adrenaline because I still thought it was a wasp, and figured it’d be quite angry at me…

Thanks to Dave Waters, I learned it’s actually an undercover beetle using mimicry to pass as a wasp:

Clytus arietis, the wasp beetle, is a wasp-mimicking longhorn beetle species in the genus Clytus.

The one I saw is a bit different from the one from this Wikipedia page, but it’s probably just some cousin-species. In any case, TIL.

‘Tracking an Eagle over 20 Years’

Not sure how this was achieved… Guess they preemptively find a way to change GPS tracker batteries before they run out? How do you capture an eagle? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You’ll notice that Eagles avoid large bodies of water. Can’t land on water like a seagull… It’s not because you’re at the top of the pyramid that you don’t have limitations!

h/t to reader Larry Zhong

The Arts & History

Black Pumas — Self-Titled

This one was recommended by friend-of-the-show Muji (💾 — that’s his icon now — check out his writings), and I really dig it.

Only one album out, but they’re really strong out of the gate. Great singing, warm tone, good arrangements, retro-feel, but not like a cover band, plenty of modern twists on things.

Black Pumas is an American psychedelic soul band based in Austin, Texas, led by singer/songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. The group received its first Grammy Award nomination in 2020 for Best New Artist at the 62nd awards.

You need some of this sweet sweet soul in your life, check it out with these convenient links: