Weekend Briefing No. 211

Welcome to the weekend. I just wanted to start by saying a quick thanks to everybody who responded to last week’s briefing. I’ve been doing this for over 4 years and have never had so many people respond so overwhelmingly positive. I’m feeling the love! You can see a few of those responses in the Feedback Loop section below.

Prime Numbers

60,000,000 – Although it has long been known that Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel rejected a $3bn bid from the Facebook founder in 2013, it was just recently disclosed that Mark Zuckerberg tried to buy Snapchat not once but twice, offering just $60m when the company was starting to take off.

100 – Scientists studied more than 1,000 foods, assigning each a nutritional score. They came up with the 100 most nutritious foods. Almonds top the list. Second is Cherymoya (yeah… I hadn’t heard of it either).

100 – With massive amounts of energy needed to obtain bitcoins, large cryptocurrency mining companies have established a base in Iceland, a cold North Atlantic island with an abundance of renewable energy from geothermal and hydroelectric power plants.

Mining operations in Iceland will use 100 megawatts this year. That is more than households use on the island nation of 340,000, according to Iceland’s National Energy Authority.

The Tyranny of Convenience

Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today. In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. Given the growth of convenience — as an ideal, as a value, as a way of life — it is worth asking what our fixation with it is doing to us and to our country. Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are. New York Times (12 minutes)

Wall Street & Guns

Wall Street may not be able to prevent school shootings, but it might be able to nudge this country toward making our schools safer for our kids. When does taking a stand against social harm outweigh a financial objective? It’s a reasonable question for BlackRock – who is a major stockholder of the Remington the producer of the AR-15. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink recently released a letter to CEO’s noting that, “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.” Denying the purveyors of assault rifles the financial means to produce and distribute them is a power that financial firms do possess. Many banks and brokers already avoid the gun industry, which scores low on most ESG screens – for environmental, social and governance – in part because of the regular controversies surrounding the lethal misuse of their products. Fink could pick up the phone to just three CEOs and remind them of what he asked on behalf of BlackRock’s clients just last month: “To demonstrate the leadership and clarity that will drive not only their own investment returns, but also the prosperity and security of their fellow citizens.” Reuters (7 minutes)

Seed Phase

Talking to entrepreneurs about early stage funding gets confusing.  “We did a pre-seed, followed by a seed, then a bridge and an A. Now we’re raising an A-2 to scale. But it’s definitely not a B – that’ll come in 18 months.” What?!? So, Homebrew – an early stage investment firm – decided to just call it the “seed phase” because they believe seed isn’t a round, it’s a period of time where you are starting, learning and iterating to a business that has proven its core value proposition and raises a Series A to begin scaling. Why does this matter to founders? A few reasons. 1) Series A investors are increasingly looking for de-risked companies and are willing to pay more for momentum. While there still exists conviction-based VCs, many more are momentum-based. That is to say, evidence of a startup being a potential outlier is worth a lot more to them. 2) Startups are raising more total dollars, in various configurations, to get to the point where a strong Series A can occur. Many of our most successful investments have raised 2-3 rounds of capital before going out to do a Series A, in various configurations, in order to build not just product-market fit, but a real company! Hunter Walk (4 minutes)

Addition by Subtraction

Rodney Dangerfield’s stand up is a masterclass on how to improve by reduction. Dangerfield worked for decades as a comedian until he figured out the thing, his insight: “by eliminating every extraneous element, you could isolate what makes it work and just do that.” Dangerfield reduced his act to just two lines: setup and punchline. Willie Nelson once remarked that “three chords and the truth — that’s what a country song is.” What do you do? How would you describe it at its most essential? What extraneous elements can you remove from your product or service to get closer to that core? These are not rhetorical questions. Think about them and email me your answers. I’ll feature the best ones next weekend. Aweisman (4 minutes)

The Science of Influence

Throughout school and in our professional lives, we’ve learned to build strong, well-reasoned arguments with a lot of evidence. But nobody taught us to talk to System I — even though that’s what we need to do to actually get things done. System I is the part of the brain that handles the simple things: sensory input, automatic and unimportant decisions (i.e. I’m going to reach for my drink), casual social interactions, and other inbound signals that can be processed rapidly and rather easily. System II is the higher-order, logical part of the brain. “It’s the part that thinks at the speed of the voice in your head,” he says. It brings processing power to bear on decisions and problems that require deeper thought. System I is involuntary; System II is deliberate. System I thinks in black and white; System II sees many shades of gray. To be a persuasive leader / salesperson, you need to speak to System I. First Round Review (22 minutes)

Brand & Belonging

Rapha Cycle Club (RCC), a membership organization grown around Rapha’s cycle apparel business. The RCC has all the hallmarks of traditional faith / community groups: rituals, local organizers, chapters and clubhouses around the world, symbols, shared identity, and social activities. Why would a for-profit brand put so much work into building belonging? The simple answer is because of the deep brand loyalty it engenders as well as the commercial opportunities it creates. The longer answer is: The commercial opportunity exists because we need belonging at a fundamental level. We are increasingly connected but alone. We have a crisis of belonging–and brands are stepping in into the vacuum created by social isolation. Is this a good thing? Fast Company (6 minutes)

2018 World Press Photo Finalists

Ok… time to look at beautiful photography. These are the top images being considered to win awards in the 61st annual World Press Photo Contest. Jury members selected the nominees in eight categories, including the new environment category, from submissions made by 42 photographers hailing from 22 countries. The Atlantic (12 minutes)

Feedback Loop

Congratulations, Kyle! You have an inspiring story and a powerful brand. –Aimee Groth

I love the manifesto. Thanks for sharing. – Chris Chopp

Love love love Westaway and the new $10,000 Series A. Our team is prepping for our Series A and legal has honestly been a barrier. Refreshing to hear there are firms out there (at least one) who are value driven and impact focused rather than obsessed with billing in 5 minute increments and charging clients for sending emails. Wishing you continued success. – Kristian Pettyjohn

Hope you are well…I am a long time reader from Pakistan! By way of intro, I am the founder of Ansaar Management Company, the only private affordable housing developer in PK and have been the second most successful equity exit of acumen since its inception. – Jawad Aslam

So glad you wrote this. It is great to see what you have built and what you are all about. I am constantly forwarding your emails to inspired people (and those in need). Cheers and thank you! – Jeffrey Saad

From the Community

Jerri Chou released a podcast and a blog on belonging and isolation in a digital age.

This week Billy Graham – America’s Pastor – passed away. My friend Jonathan Merritt wrote a touching piece in the New York Times on how Graham had influence on the public square without being a partisan.

Weekend Wisdom

“I haven’t written my own epitaph, and I’m not sure I should. Whatever it is, I hope it will be simple, and that it will point people not to me, but to the One I served.” – Billy Graham

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.