Weekend Briefing No. 385

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

40,000,000—In 2020, nearly 40 million guns were purchased in the U.S. The number of people stopped from buying guns through the U.S. background check system hit an all-time high of more than 300K (about twice as many as 2019).

5,000,000—Students, community leaders, celebrities and politicians in Ghana all came together earlier this month to plant 5 million trees as part of the Green Ghana program.

23.6—The median existing-home price for all housing types saw a record year-over-year increase of 23.6 percent in May 2021. Properties typically sold in 17 days.

Gandhi & Ford

A couple years ago, I gave a lecture at Harvard’s iLab about blending profit and purpose. I think you may enjoy this four-minute video clip from that lecture. Here’s the main idea: Over the last four decades, shareholder maximization has been great for big business, its shareholders and CEOs in the short term, but disastrous for the majority of people and the planet in the long term. We often turn to philanthropy to fix these social and environmental problems. However, philanthropy is often little more than virtue signaling and conscience laundering. It also happens to be mostly ineffective. Neither shareholder-maximizing capitalism nor philanthropy seem to offer the best way forward. What we need is reformation: a revised version of capitalism that creates a positive impact on people, planet and profitability, yet doesn’t rely on donations or handouts to survive. It trades products or services to create a sustainable flow of income.  This income is used to tackle a social or environmental issue. Think of it like combining the heart of Gandhi with the brain of Henry Ford. YouTube (4 minutes)

Tech in Africa

I lived in Kenya in 2013, and I’ve been keeping an eye on the tech scene in Africa for a while. I have yet to come across a solid briefing of tech in Africa. This in-depth briefing on the tech scene in Africa is definitely worth a read. Here are some highlights: (1) Demographic tailwinds. Today, Africans make up 16% of the global population; by 2050, they will comprise 25%. A frankly staggering 80% of population growth will accrue to urban centers, creating the world’s largest metropolitan areas. By 2050, 10 of the biggest 50 cities will be Africa. (2) Capital. Though the continent only attracted 0.5 percent of venture capital investment in 2020, the growth in investment has been significant. Since 2015, the continent has seen more than 40% in annual VC capital growth. That’s a startling trajectory. (3) Misconceptions. There are three misconceptions that need to be debunked: a) Africa is a unified market. b) All the startups are “X for Africa.” c) You can use the same multiples to value African startups. The Generalist (28 minutes)

Inflation

Inflation is real. Consumer prices jumped 5% in May from last year, the fastest pace since 2008. Here’s where you might be feeling the bump: (1) Gas: The pump anxiety is real. Gas prices are up a whopping 56% since last May. (2) Cars: Consider the bus. Used car prices are up 30%, and insurance is up 17%. (3) Flights: Your Miami getaway ticket is looking like a roundtrip to Europe — +24%. (4) Laundry: Grab the quarters. Washing machine and dryer prices = +26%. (5) Ride-hail: When the Uber/Lyft surge pricing seems endless. Transportation services = +11%. (6) Food & Bev: Restaurant food (+4%), alcohol (+1.6%), cereal and baked goods (0.6%). Peanut butter has been a victim of price hikes, too. The U.S. recovery has global implications. That’s because the U.S. economy accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s economic output. America’s booming recovery is starting to drive up inflation around the globe. That’s pushed some central banks in other countries to raise interest rates early—while many developing economies are still struggling as COVID-19 surges. Looking ahead, continued inflation in the U.S. could slow the global recovery. Robinhood Snacks (4 minutes)

Earth’s Heartbeat

A new study of ancient geological events suggests that our planet has a slow, steady “heartbeat” of geological activity every 27 million years or so. This pulse of clustered geological events, including volcanic activity, mass extinctions, plate reorganizations and sea level rises, is incredibly slow, a 27.5-million-year cycle of catastrophic ebbs and flows. But luckily for us, the research team notes we have another 20 million years before the next “pulse.” Many geologists believe that geological events are random over time. But this study provides statistical evidence for a common cycle, suggesting that these geologic events are correlated and not random. A graph in the study shows that some of those times were tough—with more than eight of such world-changing events clustering together over geologically small timespans, forming the catastrophic “pulse.” Science Alert (8 minutes)

First 18 Months

After starting his second company in 2019, Suhail Doshi wrote down useful lessons about the first 18 months of a startup. (1) Be married to the problem, not the technology. If you’re married to technology, you might easily give up due to stress induced by setbacks or boredom. Being married to the problem will motivate you to have the perseverance to continue through hard times or tedious work. (2) During the first six months of my startup, I largely focused on the eradication of risk: Will people want this? Will people pay? Can this make a profit? Can it scale one day? Will the tech work? You just need to know there’s a solution. (3) Sometimes smart people didn’t like my idea. You don’t need to persuade everyone! Instead, I used it as an opportunity to understand their opposition and worked hard to see the truth of their opinions. I used it as a moment to strengthen my understanding from a smart critic. (4) I was ruthless about ensuring I had as much deep work time as possible. Live somewhere boring. Eliminate meetings. Don’t meet investors if you’re not raising capital. Build a rhythm each day that enables the largest chunk of hours to get great work done. Users will notice your pace. Suhail Doshi (7 minutes)

Prestige Inhibits Innovation

Why did the industrial revolution happen when it did? Specifically, why didn’t it happen much earlier, in Rome? Rome at its peak was plausibly as rich as Europe on the eve of the industrial revolution. Why did it decline rather than generate sustained growth? Short answer: The wrong activities were prestigious. The only high-status way to earn an income was to be a rentier. The ubiquity of slavery, as well as being a moral horror, meant that manual work—and certainly any attempt to increase productivity—was low status. As a result, there was little room for a culture of innovation to thrive. This raises interesting questions: What is prestigious today that holds society back? What activities do we need to increase in social status? Thoughts In Between (5 minutes)

Failure

On a snowy day in late 1927, a young corporate executive looked down past his toes, past the trusses of the bridge he was standing atop, and stared into the choppy waters of Lake Michigan. Earlier that year, his first daughter had died and he had lost his job as president of a building company. For years, he had been plagued by a fear of failure and now it had all come true. He had no job, no savings to fall back on, and his wife had just given birth to his second daughter. With no employment prospects and a hungry family, he had resolved to jump off a bridge so his family could get the life insurance payout. Standing on the bridge looking down, he had a realization that would define the remainder of his life. If he was willing to end his life, he had nothing to lose by trying to live in ways he had not yet imagined. Seeing as he was already prepared to die, whatever time he had left could simply be viewed as an experiment to see what he could contribute to humanity. It didn’t matter if it didn’t work out, it was all gravy. That man was Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, who became one of the most productive scientists of the 20th century. He published more than 30 books, invented the term Spaceship Earth and designed the geodesic dome. Here are his rules for overcoming failure: (1) Treat failure as feedback, not fatal. (2) Have strong views, weakly held. (3) Double down on strengths, don’t worry about weaknesses. (4) Manage downside risk. (5) Be process driven, not goal driven. Mission (12 minutes)

Bookshelf

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert. Book Three in the Magnificent Dune Chronicles—the best-selling science fiction adventure of all time. The Children of Dune are twin siblings Leto and Ghanima Atreides, whose father, the Emperor Paul Muad’Dib, disappeared in the desert wastelands of Arrakis nine years ago. Like their father, the twins possess supernormal abilities—making them valuable to their manipulative aunt Alia, who rules the Empire in the name of House Atreides. Facing treason and rebellion on two fronts, Alia’s rule is not absolute. The displaced House Corrino is plotting to regain the throne while the fanatical Fremen are being provoked into open revolt by the enigmatic figure known only as The Preacher. Alia believes that by obtaining the secrets of the twins’ prophetic visions, she can maintain control over her dynasty. But Leto and Ghanima have their own plans for their visions—and their destinies. Amazon

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Startup Mental Game—NFX just released helpful mental models for startup founders.

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway—Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by Mahdi Soheili.

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. I hope it helps you gain deeper insight and equips you to create meaningful impact in the world. Many readers have asked about how we can work together. In case you’re interested, I run a law firm for startups. We try to keep things simple by offering transparent flat fees. We structure our engagements in two ways: (1) Per-project flat fee engagements—No billable hour means no surprise legal bills. (2) General Counsel—A simple monthly fee for all your day-to-day legal needs. It was recently recognized as one of Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas. If you’re interested, let’s jump on a call to see if you’re a good fit for the firm. Click here to schedule a call.

Weekend Wisdom

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.Buckminster Fuller

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