Weekend Briefing No. 396

Welcome to the weekend.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Two decades later, I struggle to make sense of it, and I can’t put together a coherent narrative of what it all means. But I have been drawn to the human stories about New Yorkers doing what it takes to survive and helping their neighbors.

As a New Yorker myself, I celebrate that hustle, drive, ambition to survive and even thrive. I think one defining characteristic of New Yorkers is that we bounce back. Twenty years later, though we’ll never heal from this deep scar, I think I can say that we have bounced back. We’ve rebuilt and continue to create, innovate and lead.

I have this theory that New York City is at its best right after Labor Day. Everyone is back from their summer holidays and ready to get back to business. There is an energy that’s equal parts ambition and optimism. I absolutely love it.

My September playlist is attempting to channel some of that New York energy. I hope you enjoy.

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Prime Numbers

126 million—A man conned $126 million out of more than 50K victims during the course of six years through an elaborate toner scheme.

1K—Nuclear fusion technology is advancing rapidly, with a 1K-fold improvement in energy output in the last decade. Could nuclear fusion be a viable alternative to carbon-based fuels soon?

60—Women now make up 60% of all college students.

Profit & Purpose IPOs

Seven years ago today, my book Profit & Purpose was released. At the time, the concept was fairly fringe, but it’s so cool to see that this new generation of stakeholder capitalism is becoming more mainstream. Forget Gordon Gekko. The hottest companies launching IPOs are branding themselves as do-gooders. A new generation of companies (including startups such as Rent the Runway Inc., Chobani LLC, Warby Parker Inc. and Allbirds Inc.) are on tap to go public this fall, people familiar with the matter say. They will be doing it with this message: It isn’t just about the money. It is also about the mission. In regulatory filings, companies are referring to themselves as “mission-driven,” counting the environment among stakeholders, highlighting their commitments to charity and touting their sustainable methods. It is partly a shift in corporate—and employee—values and partly virtue signaling. “Thirty years ago, the goal of a company was to serve shareholders,” said John Chirico, co-head of North American banking, capital markets and advisory at Citigroup Inc. “That’s evolved. Everyone is trying to be mission-driven these days. Some companies are founded on that mission. Others have come around to it, and others are not as authentic.” Wall Street Journal (7 minutes)

#clientbrag

I’m so excited that Warby Parker is going public. Though we didn’t do the legal work for the IPO, our firm was lucky to do a little work for them in their early days, and CEO Neil Blumenthal is a member of the Weekend Briefing community. Here are some highlights from their S-1. (1) They are pretty good at making money. They are earning $487 million annually, with a 60% margin. They make glasses but produce nearly software margins. (2) They do it while keeping customers happy. They have a Net Promoter score of 83. (3) They converted to a public benefit corporation in June of this year, showing their commitment to their stakeholders as they enter the public markets.The S-1 states: “As a demonstration of our long-term commitment to promote vision and eye health and to work toward positively impacting the communities in which we operate, we elected in June 2021 to be treated as a public benefit corporation under Delaware law. As provided in our current certificate of incorporation, the public benefits that we promote, and pursuant to which we manage our company, are to provide access to products and services that promote vision and eye health and to work towards positively impacting the communities in which we operate. Being a public benefit corporation underscores our commitment to our purpose and our stakeholders, including consumers and customers, communities, and stockholders.” SEC (42 minutes)

It Girl

If there is such a thing as an It Girl in venture capital these days, 31-year-old Ms. Jin would fill the bill. She sits at the intersection of startup investing and the fast-growing ecosystem of online creators, both of which are red hot. And while she formed her own venture firm, Atelier Ventures, just last year and has raised a relatively small $13 million for a fund, Ms. Jin was among the first investors in Silicon Valley to take influencers seriously. She has written about and backed creators for years. New York Times (12 minutes)

The Crypto Dons of Beirut

In October 2019, outrage at decades of entrenched corruption and the government’s failure to provide the most basic of public services exploded into massive street protests, which briefly looked like the beginnings of a full-scale revolution. The government resigned, foreign aid was withheld, remittances dried up and the whole shaky fiscal edifice that was the Lebanese economy came apart at the seams.  That’s when Lebanon’s cryptocurrency market took off. Mario Awad is one of Lebanon’s main suppliers of a cryptocurrency stablecoin called Tether (USDT). Over-the-counter (OTC) suppliers like him are part of a complex and legally murky ecosystem through which cryptocurrency is purchased abroad, sent to Lebanon, and then distributed through a network of dealers to be sold to clients in exchange for cash. The OTC ecosystem in Lebanon largely operates using Tether, a cryptocurrency pegged to the U.S. dollar and therefore subject to fewer price fluctuations. The process works like this: A client who wants to buy cryptocurrency will usually open a wallet on an exchange (the most popular in Lebanon being Binance) and then meet with an OTC dealer to hand over cash dollars. The dealer will send the same amount of Tether—minus a commission ranging from 0.5–5%—to their account via a peer-to-peer transaction. The client can then pursue whatever crypto-investment strategy they see fit with the USDT in their digital wallets. Sellers, in turn, use the hard cash they are taking in to buy from larger Tether suppliers in a chain that stretches outside of Lebanon. The Rest of the World (16 minutes)

eVOTL

Aviation is heading toward a major transformation whose impact will be felt throughout the mobility sector. As mobility-as-a-service gains acceptance and new technologies become available, the transportation industry is increasingly looking to the sky for innovative, sustainable ways of moving people and goods from one place to another. Funding for these future air mobility (FAM) solutions has skyrocketed—with an 83% annual increase in just the past five years to a total of more than $10.3 billion. In the first five months of 2021 alone, the industry attracted more than $4.6 billion in funding from venture capital funds and through announced intended mergers with special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). Most of this funding of the past years has centered on manned advanced air mobility (AAM) solutions, with electric vertical takeoff, landing (eVTOL) air taxis and other passenger options accounting for nearly 80 percent of the total funding. McKinsey (6 minutes)

Talent Magnet

Tyler Cowen is an economist that has spotted top talent in fields ranging from biotech to literature, often years before insiders. How does he do it? Tyler’s success at discovering and enabling the most talented people before anyone else notices them boils down to four components: (1) Distribution: Tyler promotes the opportunity in such a way that the talent level of the application pool is extraordinarily high and the people who apply are uniquely earnest. (2) Application: Emergent Ventures’ application is laser focused on the quality of the applicant’s ideas, and boils out the noise of credentials, references and test scores. (3) Selection: Tyler has relentlessly trained his taste for decades, the way a world class athlete trains for the Olympics. (4) Inspiration: Tyler personally encourages winners to be bolder, creating an ambition flywheel as they in turn inspire future applicants. Beginnings (12 minutes)

Major Life Change

The lockdown that we’ve all just lived through created a period during which a lot of people had the opportunity to reflect on plans for a career change. But reflection alone doesn’t get people very far. Those who are mostly likely to act during this kind of period are those who actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition: (1) Separation. Change begins with being separated from our normal routines, which can result in a shake-up of our identities. (2) Liminality. Normal rules are temporarily lifted, and one can experiment without committing. (3) Reintegration. Our ability to take advantage of habit discontinuity depends on what we do in the narrow window of opportunity that opens up after routine-busting changes. Harvard Business Review (9 minutes)

Bookshelf

Solomon’s Gold by Neal Stephenson. In the year 1714, the world is a most confused and unsteady place—especially London, center of finance, innovation and conspiracy—when Daniel Waterhouse makes his less-than-triumphant return to England’s shores. Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, confidant of the high and mighty, and contemporary of the most brilliant minds of the age, he has braved the merciless sea and an assault by the infamous pirate Blackbeard to help mend the rift between two adversarial geniuses at a princess’s behest. But while much has changed outwardly, the duplicity and danger that once drove Daniel to the American Colonies is still coin of the British realm. *The Baroque Cycle*, Neal Stephenson’s award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Nas in Angola—When an epic Nas concert goes awry, a promoter and his detoxing son are trapped thousands of miles from home.

Hamlet Incarcerated—Shakespeare may seem like an odd match for a group of hardened criminals, but they may understand the Bard on a level that most of us might not.

World Wood Web—A forest can feel like a place of great stillness and quiet. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city at rush hour.

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 Liam Martens.

Tweet of the Week

just finished up my first week at @LererHippeau and have received a ton of inbounds about my path to VC and how I ended up at LH. In summary, never underestimate the power of a tailored, cold email! Sharing tips/tricks and my story below. @meaganloyst

Should We Work Together?

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Weekend Wisdom

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.Alan Watts

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