🍳 Brunch Briefing | Death of the Godfather

Super Bowl commercials, Elon's new jam, and Rocket League

Image result for clayton christensen

In this week’s BB, you’ll learn about…

🏀 The other baller

🚀 In what country Jake Paul > Neil Armstrong

🧠 Google buddying up

⚡ The risk of recharging

🌀 If Red Antler and disaster relief had a baby

👀 Investing and product openings, and the chance to work with Plaid’s CEO

📉 The symbolism of Rometty’s replacement, sex ed, and Elon’s ED(M)

😄 The riddler with a winning smile

🤝 In case you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, the inaugural edition of “The Miss” was released earlier this month. James Beshara, founder of Tilt, shared a couple deals he wishes he could get another chance at, including Suhail Doshi’s new co, Mighty. Per Twitter, it seems like he might get a shot after all. Check out the exchange below for the play-by-play, and let’s hope February’s iteration leads to something similarly fruitful! Thanks again to James for joining.

🐰 Overheard

(Quotes from clever people)

Today, an anecdote, from the Godfather of Innovation Theory.

I played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team. We worked our tails off and finished the season undefeated. The guys on the team were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. We got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament—and made it to the final four. It turned out the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday. So I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?”

I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment—so I didn’t play in the championship game.

In many ways that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances…The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.

During a week in which one of America’s great sportsmen passed away, another baller was lost: on January 23rd, Clayton Christensen died at the age of 67. He had battled cancer for nearly a decade. He leaves behind a business landscape still in the thralls of his ideas.

One example is his concept of ‘disruption’. Today, that word has become so ubiquitous in the world of startups as to be almost meaningless; not so when Christensen defended his doctoral thesis on the early disk drive industry in 1992. What he found was counterintuitive: great companies could become weaker by playing to their strengths. Specifically, by acting rationally and maximizing short to medium term profits, companies ended up fixated on sustaining technologies that drove modest improvements — for disk drive manufacturers that meant increasing memory and speed — rather than disruptive ones. This left them vulnerable to attack from insurgents that targeted smaller markets with more radical products. Often, these products were initially worse; the 8-inch disk drive was less useful than the established 14-inch because it was incompatible with mainframe computers, the primary customer. But by winning customers in the minicomputer space, and improving performance, 8-inch drives eventually began to take marketshare among mainframe customers. This pattern repeated itself as drives shrunk from 14 inches down to 2.5, before disappearing themselves.

Beyond his brilliance, those who knew him describe Christensen as an unquestionably moral individual, with an acute sense purpose, and unflinching commitment to his family. It is perhaps for those reasons, as much as his academic work, that he was tapped by Harvard Business School’s graduating class to explain his algorithm for living a good life. Among his lessons, these three suggestions stood out:

As we mourn the death of an icon, there is still much to learn from tech’s teacher. Reading Christensen’s words, I was reminded by how much work I still have in front of me, and how much joy can be found in the process. Here’s to hoping we all find our purpose, make time for those we love, and of course, stay clear of the clink.

🖼️ 1000 words

(Something to look at)

China’s youth looks to stars, America’s turn to their screensIn honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Harris Poll conducted a survey of children across the US, UK, and China. While the majority of China’s kids dream of space exploration, it was only the fifth most popular job for those in the US and UK. Instead, the 2K surveyed in those countries have their sights set on small screen fame, something that YouTuber DeStorm Power — famous for his catchphrase "Wuz up, World?,” apparently — has seen first hand, “Every time I go to schools, the most said thing from 90% of kids is, ‘I want to be a YouTuber.’ They want to be social-media stars.”

While reveries apple-cheeked moron Jake Paul fill impressionable heads, the reality of living for likes is often less glamorous. A recent interview with five would-be ‘kidfluencers’ lays bare the long hours and sparse rewards that are the case for most.

Even among those that find an audience, the grind takes a toll. Despite at one point reaching 300K subscribers and getting a shoutout from Pewdiepie, 10 year old Dane now loses about 1K viewers each time he posts. “My channel is pretty much dying,” he said, “I guess it’s because I don’t upload that often. I just get too sad about it to make videos.”

😱 Signs of the apocalypse

(Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!)

The Mechanical Murk. Last week we talked about the atrocities YouTube moderators are often exposed to; workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform may have it just as bad. Turkers, as they are often called, complete ‘micro-tasks’ in exchange for small sums of money. While some appreciate the flexibility that working online, answering surveys, and tagging images gives them, others report a darker side. Without warning, some Turkers report viewing beheading videos, botched surgeries, and child pornography. One respondent that saw images of children noted, “There was NO warning that I would have to look at images like this, and it paid A QUARTER.”

Fumble. Like many others, Google’s Super Bowl commercial was released early this week, showcasing a distraught, dementia-riddled widower feeding anecdotes about his wife Loretta to the company’s voice assistant. In trying ingratiate the Google Home as cheery and erstwhile family historian, the company succeeds only in painting a bleak dystopia of our twilight years.

Meanwhile, Amazon crushed it with this take on what life was like before Alexa. Very funny.

📡 Signal

(One exploding Google Trend)

Is the juice worth the squeeze?
The next time you find yourself low on battery, it may not be worth it to recharge. “Juice jacking” is a cyber attack that takes place through a USB charger — by plugging in one’s phone, a data connection is established and malware installed. In many ways, it’s the successor to the card-skimming scams that relied on users swiping illegal readers. While the scam has risen significantly in the public consciousness over the past few years, it may be more puff than peril. Though LA’s District Attorney issued a warning about juice jacking at the end of 2019, they confirmed they had no cases that involved the technique.

Still, if you’d like to air on the safe side, best practice is to use your own cable and charge via an electric outlet.

🚢 Shipping News

(The most interesting product launch of the week)

Apocalypse chic. Fear is a favored tactic of the advertiser. Earlier this week, disaster preparedness company Judy launched, hoping that consumer disquiet can still be effectively monetized. With the subtlety of hazard lights, Judy sells paltry emergency kits at a significant mark up. The company’s $180 “Mover Max” bag includes batteries, wet wipes, and a thin roll of duct tape, among other standard items. The most expensive object included seems to be a multi-tool. Ostensibly equivalent products are available on Amazon for as little as $11.99. For all its talk of preparedness, Judy seems to believe that a glow stick and a 400 calorie apple cinnamon ‘food bar’ will get you through your next flash flood.

Bearing a likeness to just about every other D2C brand of the last decade, there is something uncomfortable in the slickness of the product, like a can of mace in millennial pink. Fear of annihilation and a carefully chosen color palette are not natural bedfellows.

For all I dislike, Judy says a great deal about who we are at the moment. In “The Nostradamus List,” my predictions for 2020, I suggested that a commitment to sustainability would become the definitive status symbol. Judy seems to take that premise and distort it through a funhouse mirror, showing we are already doomed. I suppose we might as well look good while the world burns.

🔟 Jobs

(The jobs you need, and no more)

  1. VC Associate - Two Sigma (NYC). No further introduction is needed given that we featured a summer gig from the firm last week. This is for folks ready to hop in full-time.

  2. VC Associate - Mystery (NYC). This growth-stage firm is looking for someone to join the ranks. While a similar listing showed up earlier in the year, this was posted in the past 5 days. Perhaps the application they’re looking for is yours.

  3. Investment Associate - Virgin (NYC). The house that Branson built is looking for a passionate, adventurous soul ready to dive in. Unlike Branson, who started his first business at age 16, the ideal applicant has worked in banking or management consulting.

  4. Analyst - Attention Capital (NYC). Joe Marchese’s newest venture is focused on businesses in the ‘attention economy.’ The founder of Human Ventures is looking for an analyst to help identify and diligence businesses for this new holdco to buy or invest in.

  5. Head of Cx - Onaroll (NYC). Shift workers rarely get the praise they deserve. Onaroll is helping fix that and is looking for someone to serve on the frontline. They’re also looking to bring on founding engineers.

  6. Lead Product Designer - Chief (NYC). This female first member’s club is apparently on a tear. Hop aboard for a chance at a career making gig.

  7. Operations Associate - Afore Capital (SF). As seed rounds increase in size, some funds are finding opportunity by going earlier. Afore is among those establishing themselves as true pre-seed firms alongside Hustle, Notation, and my place of work, Charge.

  8. Product Analyst - NfX (SF). ‘A VC that runs like a software company.’ That’s the promise of NfX, a SOMA-based fund looking for a quantitatively-inclined product person.

  9. VC Associate - Techstars (Toronto). In conjunction with Colliers International, Techstars is running a proptech focused incubator. If occupancy rates increase your heart rate, this could be a good fit.

  10. Analyst - Zach Perret NewCo (?). The Plaid CEO is looking for 5-10 hours/week worth of help for a new project. If you have the time, and an astute understanding of the startup world, it sounds like an unreal chance to work alongside one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the last 5 years.

🐒 Long tail

(Best of the rest)

Damn, Ginni. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty stepped down this week. In a synecdoche of the company’s evolution, she was replaced by cloud SVP Arvid Krishna who will be joined by Red Hat executive Jim Whitehurst, serving as President. It is the first time Big Blue has chosen to separate the CEO and President roles. Though Rometty has gotten credit for evolving the company from its on-prem stack, the stock declined 25% over her tenure with the exec overseeing 22 consecutive quarters of dwindling revenue.

Keyboard Jocks. With over $16MM in scholarships available to eSports athletes across 170 colleges, high schools have begun to follow suit. This year will see schools in 17 states (and DC) run gaming teams. That’s been something of a learning for parents, but as students demonstrate the teamwork and communication skills picked up through games like “Rocket League,” some are softening. "It's something they're aiming for,” one mother noted. “There's goals here for school pride."

TikDoc. Gone are the days of watching an old VHS in a stuff room. Today’s sex ed is distributed over TikTok by enterprising doctors looking to “meet [students] where they are.” That’s part of a greater trend in which doctors are increasingly turning to the Bytedance-owned app to educate the public about different health issues, with some practitioners racking up as many as 3MM views. Gotta respect the effort.

ThELONious Monk. The Tesla CEO took time off from crushing the company’s earnings call to release a new EDM track. “Don’t Doubt Ur Vibe” is a moody, thoroughly decent follow up to last year’s “RIP Harambe” which suggested listeners should mourn the famous gorilla by ‘sipping Bombay.’ In a strange twist, when using Soundcloud’s app to hear the song, listeners are apparently taken to a track called “Erectile Dysfunction” by almndjoy. The rap has seen a huge uptick over the last 48 hours, reaching 113K plays.

Head east, Aliens. When a range of religious scholars were asked which faith would be most accommodating to terrestrials, the most common response was not altogether surprising: “Buddhists, hands down” said Professor Liz Wilson of Miami of Ohio. Christians, apparently, would be less chill. Amidst the answers were some fascinating tidbits, including the revelation that Pope Leo XIII established a space observatory in 1891 to study ‘unexplained flying objects.’

🧩 Puzzler

(A question, conundrum, or riddle to mull over)

I only lie down once, when I die. What am I?

A short, deceptively tricky riddle this week, though if previous editions are anything to go by, the responses will be quick to pour in. Last week, Adriana V found herself at the head of the pack, keeping her strong streak going. She was first to hit gold with our previous puzzler, providing the right answer: a dentist.

She was joined by the usual suspects including SEV, Arnold G, CLL, and Stephen C. Despite a valiant (and very detailed) attempt to convince me the answer was ‘Death,’ involving rigor mortis and staph aureus, fan favorite NMT missed out. Next time.

Wishing American readers a happy Super Bowl Sunday, and the rest of you just a genuinely lovely day. 💙