Weekend Briefing No. 397

Welcome to the weekend.

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Prime Numbers

67,521—The median U.S. household income dropped by $2,000 between 2019 and 2020, a decline of almost 3%, to $67,521. It marked the first significant decline in the measure in a decade.

268—The speediest drive-thru of 2020 was Taco Bell, with an average time of 268 seconds, followed by KFC with 272 seconds, 286 seconds at Carl’s Jr and 295 seconds at Dunkin’.

80—According to a Pew Research study, 80% of people were willing to make “some” or “a lot” of changes about how they live and work to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Mailchimp

Software firm Intuit announced Monday that it is acquiring email marketing software startup Mailchimp in a $12 billion deal. For co-founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, the cash-and-stock acquisition amounts to a big payday that is 20 years in the making. The Atlanta-based company’s email marketing tools cater to small businesses, and its founders have maintained a small business philosophy even as the company ballooned to revenues that reached $800 million last year. That philosophy has come most notably through Chestnut and Kurzius’ decision to reject outside investments entirely, instead choosing to bootstrap the company through their own mettle. As a result, Chestnut and Kurzius each hold a 50% stake in the company. The deal entails $300 million in employee bonuses, meaning the remaining $11.7 billion—evenly split between cash and Intuit stock—will be paid out to the two co-founders. Forbes (8 minutes)

MVT

Instead of launching your startup with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), test specific hypotheses that you have about a market. Evaluate the veracity of those hypotheses individually using Minimum Viable Tests (MVT). Collectively, these tests allow you to predict whether a market will appreciate the product before launching an MVP. An MVP is a basic early version of a product that looks and feels like a simplified version of the eventual vision. An MVT, on the other hand, does not attempt to look like the eventual product. It’s rather a specific test of an assumption that must be true for the business to succeed. The MVT process has a major impact on how you build a company. MVP methodology says you build an MVP, see how it goes and slowly iterate upon it until it hits product/market fit. Instead, I believe you can more efficiently run a number of MVTs, create a vision for a product that fits a market and then go into a “build phase.” In the MVP strategy, you have no strategy: You throw things at a wall until it sticks. In the MVT world, you take your time to discover a strategy; once you have one, you move forward with conviction. First Round Review (22 minutes)

Small But Mighty

Sila Nanotechnologies is producing a battery that’s as powerful as current options but 33% smaller. Sila makes its batteries from next-gen “silicon anode material,” which replaces the graphite in the lithium-ion batteries used in most technology today. That allows more lithium atoms to get packed into the battery, increasing efficiency. Sila’s battery will make its real-world debut in Boston start-up Whoop’s 4.0 fitness tracker, a Fitbit competitor that has a host of activity-tracking features, from sleep patterns to heart rates and skin-temperature sensors. Sila’s partnership with Whoop is an effort to start out small before transitioning into bigger applications like smartphones, electric vehicles and renewable energy. Sila expects its batteries to make their way into cars by 2025, which it hopes can lower the price of electric vehicles and extend their range. Morning Brew (3 minutes)

Exponential Age

It’s hard for us to fathom exponential change, but our inability to do so could tear apart businesses, economies and the fabric of society. At the turn of the 2020s, exponential technology has become systemically important. Every service we access, whether in the richest country or the poorest, is likely to be mediated by a smartphone. Every interaction with a company or our government will be handled by a machine-learning algorithm. Our education and healthcare will be delivered through AI-enabled technologies. Our manufactured products, be they household conveniences or our houses, will be produced by 3D printers. Exponential technologies will increasingly be the medium through which we interact with each other, the state and the economy. For the people and companies who understand this shift, the exponential gap creates a huge opportunity. Those who harness the power of exponentiality will do much better than those who don’t. This isn’t simply about personal wealth. Our rules and norms are shaped by the technologies of the time—those who design essential technologies get a chance to shape how we all live. And these people are in the minority. We are witnessing the emergence of a two-tier society—between those who have harnessed the power of new technology and those who haven’t. WIRED (16 minutes)

$10K Work

My friend Khe Hy is on a mission to get you to stop doing low-value work and focus your energy on work that really moves the needle. He’s devised this framework he calls $10K work—in other words, busywork. Full stop. A litmus test for $10/hour work is: Could I do this hungover? Nuff said. For jobs that are $100 per hour, this is busywork scaled up a bit with some nifty tech. At $1,000 per hour, this is the equivalent of a law firm partner. He’s trading time for a lot of money, but he lacks leverage. Then there are $10,000-per-hour jobs, which are a peculiar cocktail of your industry, skills, passions, curiosities, relationships and vision. They’re high-skill and high-leverage work. A small touch creates a huge impact. Khe is hosting the $10K Summit—a free, three-day event to help you achieve your goals and get more out of life. You’ll learn real-life tactics from James Clear, Rachel Rodgers, Anne-Laure Le Cunff, Dan Runcie, and many other high-performing executives and entrepreneurs. Each guest will provide actionable and fluff-free insights on how they leverage themselves to: (1) perform at the top of their game without the unnecessary struggle; (2) channel their time and energy into their most important work; (3) prioritize realistically and ruthlessly on tasks that move the needle; (4) achieve peace of mind so that they can actually enjoy their time off. Check it out, and sign up. $10K Summit (4 minutes)

Automation

Telephone operation, one of the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s, provided hundreds of thousands of female workers a pathway into the labor force. Between 1920 and 1940, AT&T adopted mechanical switching technology in more than half of the U.S. telephone network, replacing manual operation. Although automation eliminated most of these jobs, it did not affect future cohorts’ overall employment: the decline in demand for operators was counteracted by growth in both middle-skill jobs like secretarial work and lower-wage service jobs, which absorbed future generations. Using a new genealogy-based, census-linking method, we show that incumbent telephone operators were most impacted by automation. A decade later, we’re more likely to be in lower-paying occupations or have left the labor force entirely. National Bureau of Economic Research (22 minutes)

Space X

Here’s a beautiful photo essay of the SpaceX leading up to their Inspiration4 crew launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday evening. The first all-civilian flight to orbit is a proof of concept for SpaceX and the broader private spaceflight industry, which wants to send many more people to space in the coming years and decades. Coincidentally, I just finished reading a book called Liftoff on SpaceX as well. It’s featured in the Bookshelf below. Wall Street Journal (6 minutes)

Bookshelf

Liftoff by Eric Berger. This is the dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX—and Elon Musk—from a shaky start-up into the world’s leading-edge rocket company. Out of money and with a single Falcon 1 rocket left in its factory, SpaceX decided to try one last, dramatic launch. Over eight weeks, engineers worked furiously to prepare this final rocket. The fate of Musk’s venture mirrored the trajectory of this slender, single-engine rocket aimed toward the skies. If it crashed and burned, so would SpaceX. In September 2008, SpaceX’s last chance for success lifted off and accelerated like a dream, soaring into orbit flawlessly. That success would launch a miraculous decade for the company, in which SpaceX grew from building a single-engine rocket to one with a staggering 27 engines; created two different spacecraft; and mastered reusable-rocket descents using mobile drone ships on the open seas. It marked a level of production and achievement that has not been seen since the space race of the 1960s. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

September Playlist—These are fresh tunes curated by me.

It Girl—If there is such a thing as an It Girl in venture capital these days, 31-year-old Li Jin would fill the bill.

Profit & Purpose IPOs—For Allbirds, Warby Parker and other fall IPOs, greed is out. Do-gooding is in.

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 SpaceX.

Tweet of the Week

I had a gift of rhyme and a big imagination and that’s just how I started … and how I’m still a-goin’. @DollyParton

Should We Work Together?

This newsletter is my passion project. When I’m not writing, I run a law firm for entrepreneurs. Rather than the antiquated billable hour model, we’ve developed an innovative new model called General Counsel. For a flat monthly fee, we provide ongoing legal guidance. No limits. No clock counting. Just quality advice every step of the way. We believe this new model is the future of law. Apparently, we’re not the only ones, Fast Company recently recognized General Counsel as a World Changing Idea. 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 cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.Max De Pree

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