Weekend Briefing No. 219

Welcome to the weekend.

Prime Numbers

643,000,000,000 – Since the 2008 financial crisis, America’s 6 biggest banks have logged $643 billion in profits.

1879 –Robert Gair is credited for inventing an efficient way to mass-produce the foldable cardboard box. Inspired by a printing room mistake, Gair devised an economical cut-and-crease process in 1879 that allowed him to make millions of boxes for biscuits, tea, tobacco, toothpaste, and cosmetics. He thus started a cardboard kingdom from my neighborhood DUMBO.

.04 – Though 5% of Americans reported owning cryptocurrencies, apparently only 0.04% of Americans reported cryptocurrency gains or losses on their tax returns.

The $100 Laptop

When One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), unveiled the “the green machine” or simply “the $100 laptop” in 2005 it was like nothing the world had ever seen. It was a bold device with a bold mission… then it all went wrong. The hardware was not as rugged as it needed to be, the software was limited and slow, and the price was yet to hit $100. To get the price as low as possible, they were producing it in Shanghai, but every time OLPC met with a head of state they’d said, ‘Can we build the laptop in our country?’ They were asking us about pride, not price. They were asking us about control and ownership of the project. Most importantly, low priced netbooks came onto the market, though they weren’t $100, they were cheap enough to be competitive, they ran Microsoft Windows and they worked. Lastly, internal conflict broke apart the founding team and fragmented the organization. Ultimately, the utopianism set unrealistic expectations around what the laptops should be able to accomplish. The Verge (23 minutes)

Crypto Crackdown

New York’s attorney general has launched an initial probe into 13 cryptocurrency exchanges, one of them being the Gemini exchange that’s run by the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler. Coinbase, the U.S.’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange, was also included. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday that he wants to “improve transparency and accountability” in the sector. The probe is a fact-finding mission rather than a crackdown, with Schneiderman’s office asking the exchanges to provide details on their operations, internal controls and safeguards. Fortune (5 minutes)

Phone Bored

Today’s teens are still bored, often incredibly so. They’re just more likely to experience a new type of boredom: phone bored. It’s tempting to think that mobile devices, with their endless ability to stimulate, offer salvation from the type of mind-numbing boredom that is so core to the teen experience. But humans adapt to the conditions that surround them, and technical advances are no different. What seemed novel to one generation feels passé to the next. To many teens, smartphones and the internet have already lost their appeal. Phone boredom occurs when you’re technically “on your phone,” but you’re still bored out of your mind. It’s that feeling when you’re mindlessly clicking around, opening and closing apps, looking for something to do digitally and finding the options uninteresting. The Daily Beast (6 minutes)


Danone North America (formerly DannoneWave) became the largest public benefit corporation last year with over 6,000 employees and over $6 billion in revenue.  This week it made the announcement that it has also become a certified B Corp. To be designated a B Corp, a for-profit company must pass a set of standards regarding its social and environmental performance. While some stakeholders may worry that big changes to become more environmentally friendly will increase costs, Danone North America’s larger suppliers have seen the opposite happen. CNBC (5 minutes)

Culture & Growth

Marissa Mayer was employee 20 at Google and left Google to become chief executive of Yahoo in 2012, this is her take on maintaining culture while a company grows: When you’re in the tens of people, the idea itself either attracts people or it doesn’t. People are there because they think the problem you’re trying to solve is just that important.The next phase is where it’s really critical and it’s hard. Getting from 100 employees to 1,000, you have to be very careful. There’s a strategy around compensation at that point, where you really want somebody who’s coming for the right reasons. To get the people who are really aligned with the mission, you want to make sure that they’re fairly compensated, but not necessarily motivated by that compensation. I had a strategy both at Yahoo and at Google of “meet, not beat.” It’s the trade-off between mercenaries and missionaries. And then around 1,000 people, the culture and the mission become self-reinforcing. At Google I’d always ask new people, “Why did you come?” When we were about 1,200 people, all of a sudden, for the first time, I actually heard the answer, “I came for the culture.” New York Times (7 minutes)

Zero Defects

Many viewed Uber’s travails are a symbol of Silicon Valley comeuppance, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi saw something less loaded: a sophisticated tech company that had taken on too much, too quickly, and whose systems groaned under the weight and confusion. Growth, not quality, had been its guiding principle for too long, he said. Khosrowshahi would rather go at a pace slow enough to hit perfection than tolerate pretty good. In other words, something like Zero Defects. But these values are so antithetical to the way Uber has worked that even if the employees wanted to work differently, they might not know how to go about it. Uber’s CEO has a radical new vision for the firm. It involves diligence, care, and doing things right. So, will it work? Is it possible to reform the culture of Uber? Wired (13 minutes)

Career Advice

Choosing a career is an important, but daunting task. Leave it to Wait But Why to break it down for you in a very long form article. When selecting a career consider: 1) The general landscape. Take our best crack at evaluating the world’s current career landscape—the full range of options available (or create-able). 2) Specific game boards. For any careers that sound remotely interesting, ponder what the deal might be with that career’s current game board—the parties involved, the way success seems to be happening for others recently, the most up-to-date rules of the game, the latest new loopholes that are being exploited, etc. 3) Starting point. For those paths, evaluate your starting point, based on your current skills, resources, and connections relevant to that field. 4) Success point. Think about end points and where on each line your star should be placed. Ask yourself what’s the minimum level of success you’d need to achieve in order to feel happy about having chosen that career path. 5) Your pace. Make an initial estimate for what your pace of improvement might be on these various game boards, based on your current pace-related strengths and how much you think you can improve at each of them (in other words, how much your speed might be able to accelerate). 6) Your level of persistence. Evaluate the amount of time you think you’ll be willing to put into each of these respective paths. Wait But Why (134 minutes) 

From the Community

My friend and Weekend Briefing community member Emily Steel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reportage uncovering years of sexual harassment from Bill O’Reilly leading to his firing. So proud of you Emily! Check out her acceptance speech.

My client General Assembly was acquired for $412.5 MM by Swiss staffing and workforce development company Adecco. I’m especially stoked for Matt Brimer who got engaged and sold his company in the same week… not a bad week!

Tala just raised a $65 MM round of financing. Congrats to Shivani Siroya and her team.

Mustard Seed was featured in an article on how impact investing can exceed average returns in Pitchbook.

Weekend Wisdom

“With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” – US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley in response the White House’s assertion that she was confused about the sanctions against Russia.

About the Weekend Briefing

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