Category Archives: Random

Claiming Your Name

On Domain Names:

Still not convinced? Dixon points to what has happened with another scarce but widely used internet resource. “Domain names are an analogy,” he says. “It would have been absurd to say in 1993 that domain names were worth $10 million each.” But now, that’s a reality.

Sure, $10 million domains aren’t the norm. But according to Dixon, the startups funded by Andressen-Horowitz typically pay a “couple of hundred grand” for a domain name that includes a no-more-than-average word. “Probably the best investment in computer history would have been buying domain names in 1993,” he says. “Better than Amazon. Better than Google.”

Grit and Self-Control

Grit and Self-Control are more important than IQ in predicting success says Angela Duckworth, a MacArthur Fellow (“Genius”):

Duckworth’s work primarily examines two traits that she demonstrates predict success in life: grit—the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals—and self-control—the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses. A major difference between the two qualities is that grit equips individuals to pursue especially challenging aims over years and even decades, while self-control operates at a more micro timescale in the battle against what could be referred to as “hourly temptations.”

In her early work, Duckworth and colleagues devised empirical measures of grit and self-control in both children and adults and established their predictive validity for a number of dimensions of success. They found that these traits predict objectively measured success outcomes, even when controlling for cognitive ability. For example, in prospective longitudinal studies, grit predicts final ranking at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, persistence at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and graduation from Chicago public high schools over and beyond standardized achievement test scores; likewise, self-control predicts report card grades and improvements in report card grades over time better than measured intelligence.

The Price of Insecurity

In the words of the Economist’s Schumpeter, this appears to be an enviable niche to occupy:

Though lesser firms may be facing disruption, McKinsey dispenses a special sort of consultorial fairy-dust that is hard to replicate, and as much in demand as ever. The global ruling class is seized with a toxic combination of status-obsession and status-insecurity. Decision-makers also fear being swept away by one of Mr Christensen’s disruptive forces. They seek constant reassurance and reaffirmation from prestigious institutions. McKinsey knows better than almost anyone how to exploit this peculiar mindset. That will guarantee the Firm a solid future, even if no one can prove that its advice actually does any good.

The Chinese Hedge

A one-way on-call fleet of jets out of China (like high-end real estate in Manhattan and London) might be a strong business, based on this view out of China in the FT:

Until a few years ago, David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University and a leading expert on China’s political system, was a strong proponent of this view. But he has changed his mind and now believes that the party is in a state of decline that echoes the dying days of Chinese dynasties throughout history.

The signs include a hollow state ideology that society does not believe in but ritualistically feigns compliance with, worsening corruption, failure to provide the public with adequate social welfare and a pervasive public sense of insecurity and frustration. Other signs include increasing social and ethnic unrest, elite factionalism, over-taxation with the proceeds mostly going into officials’ pockets, serious and worsening income inequality and no reliable rule of law.

Shambaugh says a powerful indicator of just how little faith exists in the system is the number of wealthy Chinese elites with offshore assets and property, offshore bank accounts and children studying in western universities.

“These individuals are ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, as soon as the political system is in its endgame – but they will remain in China in order to extract every last Renminbi possible until that time,” he says. “Their hedging behaviour speaks volumes about the fragile stability of the party state in China today.”

Offline SEO

I am not sure if this is sui generis, if it’s even accurate, but this discussion in the Economist does raise an interesting question:

Britain’s brick-burdened retailers may be heartened, though, by the example of Dixons Retail, owner of Britain’s biggest electronics and computer retailers, Currys and PC World, and of similar chains in other countries. Between 15% and 20% of sales at Dixons are online, depending on the season, and the proportion is rising. But Dixons thinks the advantages which online-only merchants get by doing away with shops and sales staff are undercut by the need to pay more than high-street shops do to acquire customers (largely by paying Google for clicks on adverts) and to spend a lot on shipping. So instead of doing away with shops and sales staff, Dixons is trying to get more out of them.

Maybe the value in offline retail is to get consumers to your online site, without having to pay for expensive Google Adwords or other online acquisition techniques.

Another reason why Amazon is so well-positioned in the US.  It has a much lower consumer acquisition cost than competing retailers because so many customers (30%) start their online product searches there.  See here.

The Next Willie Mays Is Not Playing Baseball

That is what matters.

As military historians know, better than looking at current victories in judging the future course of a war is looking at re-supply lines and logistics.  This was the lesson the British Empire learned in the Revolutionary War, as early victories could not be sustained as supplies and personnel could not be replenished across the ocean.

On the day that we expect the  once potential “greatest player ever” to be suspended a season and a half to a lifetime, the baseball grey hair might want to consider that lesson.  The quintupling of revenues in less than two decades and the recent sale price of the LA Dodgers should not give false comfort.  More important is what is happening “down the supply line.”  The numbers to pay attention to — as a dad of a young told me — are that Little League participation is down by over a third, and leagues are struggling to fill teams.

Virtual Webvan

In 2000, Sequoia and others lost hundreds of millions as Webvan’s national distribution business fell apart; I lost $1000 investing in its IPO.

Today, FreshDirect does locally what Webvan endeavoured to do nationally.  Yet, over the course of a week, we still choose to shop for groceries through a mix and match combination of five sources: Western Beef, Trader’s Joe, a local “farmer’s market,” Whole Foods, and Amazon.

That makes Instacart such an interesting idea: no large costs to build warehouses and a distribution network, and perhaps better matching customer shopping behavior.  It is not clear what the business model is other than delivery charges, but my guess is that the arbitrage opportunity in prices at local supermarkets — price differences which are surprisingly high – may provide an interesting arbitrage opportunity.

This is how BusinessWeek describes the business:

Its 10 full-time employees, mostly engineers, work from a small office in San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood. The company’s app sends customer orders to about 200 independent Bay Area personal shoppers, who receive commissions based on the number of items and orders they deliver in their own vehicles. The app features detailed maps of local supermarkets and can direct the personal shoppers to specific aisles. Founder Apoorva Mehta says Instacart’s “secret sauce” is its fulfillment software, which allows the online retailer to combine orders placed at different times and fill them from different stores—supplementing frozen food from Trader Joe’s with fresh fruit from Whole Foods and cereal from Costco. Customers assemble their orders with lengthy drop-down menus on Instacart’s website or app.

Education Is Not The Answer

Yesterday was catching up on Krugman day:

The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report on a dozen major new technologies that it considers likely to be “disruptive,” upsetting existing market and social arrangements. Even a quick scan of the report’s list suggests that some of the victims of disruption will be workers who are currently considered highly skilled, and who invested a lot of time and money in acquiring those skills. For example, the report suggests that we’re going to be seeing a lot of “automation of knowledge work,” with software doing things that used to require college graduates. Advanced robotics could further diminish employment in manufacturing, but it could also replace some medical professionals.

So should workers simply be prepared to acquire new skills? The woolworkers of 18th-century Leeds addressed this issue back in 1786: “Who will maintain our families, whilst we undertake the arduous task” of learning a new trade? Also, they asked, what will happen if the new trade, in turn, gets devalued by further technological advance?

And the modern counterparts of those woolworkers might well ask further, what will happen to us if, like so many students, we go deep into debt to acquire the skills we’re told we need, only to learn that the economy no longer wants those skills?

Education, then, is no longer the answer to rising inequality, if it ever was (which I doubt).

Putin Jacks Up Kraft

Vladimir Putin responds to the notion that he gives a crap about such small loot such as a NE Patriots Super Bowl ring:

You know, I don’t remember either Mr. Kraft, or the ring. But if it is such a big treasure for Mr. Kraft and the team – I remember some souvenirs were being presented – I have a suggestion.

I will ask a jewelry firm to make a really good and big thing, so everyone will see it is a luxury piece, made of quality metal and with a stone, so this piece will be passed from generation to generation in the team whose interests are represented by Mr. Kraft.

This would be the smartest solution partners can ever achieve while tackling such a complicated international problem.

The Internet Kill Switch

Yep – the Chinese have one.

They have already demonstrated this by cutting off the Internet for ten months or so to the Muslim Uighur region of Xinjiang. The Economist explains how the central government has the capability to do this for the entire country, and how it would go about doing so:

The Great Firewall could easily block the foreign internet for most users in China; an unexplained glitch actually made this happen by accident one day last year for a couple of hours. Some large enterprises, banks and foreign companies have leased their own lines out of China, which might need to be shut down separately. As for the domestic internet, which would be of most concern to the party, shutting down the country’s home-based internet service providers, and with them access to microblogs, video sites, bulletin boards and the rest, should be within its capabilities.