October 2021: 

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant - Naval is the founder of AngelList, a company that connects startups, angel investors and job-seekers looking to work at startups.

He is also an early investor in successful companies like Uber, FourSquare, Twitter, Postmates, Opendoor, Clubhouse and many others.

He has distributed a lot of his great knowledge through podcasts, essays and Twitter threads.

Erik Jorgenson combined all of his knowledge and turned it into a great book which I highly recommend reading.

The book is available at https://www.navalmanack.com/ for a donation or it can be downloaded for free.

Erik organized his book into two parts, wealth and happiness. These parts are then further divided in order to help the reader learn how to achieve happiness and wealth.

Some of the nuggets of wisdom that you will learn by reading this book are below.

“Ways to get lucky:

· Hope luck finds you.

· Hustle until you stumble into it.

· Prepare the mind and be sensitive to chances others miss.

· Become the best at what you do. Refine what you do until this is true. Opportunity will seek you out. Luck becomes your destiny.”

The three broad classes of leverage are: labor, money and products with no marginal cost of replication (books, media, movies and code).

“Interview question to Naval: How have your values changed?

Naval’s answer: When I was younger, I really, really valued freedom. Freedom was one of my core values. Ironically, it still is. It’s probably one of my top three values, but it’s now a different definition of freedom.

My old definition was ‘freedom to.’ Freedom to do anything I want. Freedom to do whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like. Now, the freedom I’m looking for is internal freedom. It’s ‘freedom from.’ Freedom from reaction. Freedom from feeling angry. Freedom from being sad. Freedom from being forced to do things. I’m looking for ‘freedom from,’ internally and externally, whereas before I was looking for ‘freedom to.’”

Naval’s three different meanings of life. 1. It’s personal. Everyone has to find their own meaning. 2. There is no meaning to life. We’ve been dead for 10 billion years or more and after we die we will be dead for around another 70 billion years until the heat death of the universe. 3. Is more scientific and complicated. It has to do with us contributing to the heat death of the universe. As we create more and more complex things like art, math, computers and family, we accelerate entropy and we accelerate the heat death of the universe.

“[Wisdom is] understanding the long-term consequences of your actions.”

September 2021: 

Understanding the Music Supply Chain - Have you ever wondered how artists make money off of their music? What about the process from when a song gets created all the way to being played on the radio or your favorite streaming platform? This article answers these questions and it’s actually a lot more complicated than it seems.

One of the reasons why it is so complicated is because of the number of parties involved in making a song and an album. There are the labels, artists, songwriters, producers, musicians, publishers, distributors, managers, agents and lawyers. Then there are also the parties who allow the music to be listened to like the streaming platforms, digital stores and radio stations.

Each one of these parties involved needs to get compensated for their work. The author, Sleepwell, does a really good job of explaining how the whole process works by using some hypothetical examples based on his experience in the music industry.

The most interesting part that I learned from this article was that when an artist signs a contract with a record label, all of their songs created during the contract term are owned by the record label, even if the artist doesn’t resign with their record label after the contract is over.

I have seen a lot criticism from the music artists toward this setup, especially from Kanye West at the end of 2020 and Taylor Swift in 2019. It makes a lot of sense why the artists would want to own their own music.

And with a lot of changes occurring in the music industry, like technology making it much easier to create and distribute music than in the past, it could be possible one day that they will be able to own their old masters without having to shell out tens of millions of dollars decades later.

My Summary: https://sumitupp.substack.com/p/how-are-the-royalties-distributed

August 2021: 

An Introduction to Genomic Sequencing - This is a great article by Bharath Ramsundar on DNA and how the huge decrease in the cost of sequencing have helped us learn a lot more about our biological systems.

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that carries the genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth and reproduction of all known organisms and viruses. Small sections of DNA, known as genes, send messages to RNA to build proteins and construct the organism.

The genome, which is made up of DNA, is the complete set of genetic information in an organism. In theory, one would ideally be able to learn everything about the organism by having access to the genome but that isn’t the case because there are external factors from the environment, or epigenetic mechanisms, that have an effect as well.

Genomic sequencing is a process done in a lab that is used to determine the entire genetic makeup of a specific organism or cell type. This method can be used to find changes in areas of the genome. These changes may help scientists understand how specific diseases, such as cancer, form.

The cost of sequencing a human genome has decreased a lot in the past 20 years and as Bharath Ramsundar mentions in this article, it has led to many applications such as using sequencing to power liquid biopsies for early cancer diagnosis, characterize human microbiomes and rare diseases, and discover new drugs for specific targets.

July 2021: 

The Metaverse - Mark Zuckerberg recently announced in Facebook’s last earnings call that they setup a team within the company to help carryout Mark’s vision of developing a metaverse.

The Verge did an interview with Mark following their earnings call and here is how Mark described the metaverse:

“You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it. And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.”

Later on in this interview, The Verge and Mark discussed an essay that venture capitalist Matthew Ball wrote. Matthew’s essay is about what the metaverse is and what is required for it to be created.

I recommend reading Matthew’s essay because I think that the metaverse is a really interesting idea and that it will be here someday in the future but just not soon. Even Matthew Ball estimates that we are decades away from an idealistic version of the metaverse because of the number of improvements that need to be developed in technology for it to take place.

In addition to reading his essay, I also created a summary of the essay that you can read as well by the following this link:

https://sumitupp.substack.com/p/the-metaverse

“Matthew [Ball] is keeping track of the metaverse around the following 8 categories which can be thought of as a stack:

1. Hardware

2. Networking

3. Compute

4. Virtual platforms

5. Interchange tools and standards

6. Payments

7. Metaverse content, services, and assets

8. User behaviors”

-------------------

“Mark Zuckerberg says that, “the hardest technology challenge of our time may be fitting a supercomputer into the frame of normal-looking glasses. But it’s the key to bringing our physical and digital worlds together.”

-------------------

“Increasing the number of players on a single game has always been limited. Right now, Roblox can do 200 and has up to 700 in beta testing but a fully imagined metaverse essentially requires no limit to this “number of players”.

‘The question of whether you can build one game that many millions of players can play, all in one shared world, together, that’s a really interesting challenge for the game industry now.’

- Tim Sweeney.”

-------------------

“If value in the metaverse will be primarily driven through virtual world and virtual creations, rather than better phones, then we want most profits going to developers of the virtual platforms and the developers on them. However, you can’t access the Metaverse except through hardware, and every hardware player is fighting to be the (or at least a) payment gateway to the Metaverse. This is why Facebook, which lacks a major operating system, is investing so heavily in Oculus. And why Snap is developing its own AR hardware, while defending Apple’s 30% take.”

June 2021: 

Jeff Bezos' Shareholder Letter - Jeff Bezos just wrote what looks to be his last shareholder letter since he is transitioning out of the CEO role.

All of Jeff Bezos’ letters are worth reading since he is one of the best innovators and capital allocators of our time but I thought this letter was one of his better ones.

Here are some of the topics Jeff discuses in his last letter to shareholders:

- He shares a touching letter from a shareholder who only could afford two shares of Amazon back in 1997 but has held on since.

- He discusses all the value that Amazon has created for all its stakeholders over the last two decades.

- He commits to two big new goals for Amazon.

- He briefly addresses some of the news reports about the treatment of their employees.

- He discusses climate change

- And he finishes with a metaphor on how Amazon must never be average.

It’s well worth your time.

Have a read by following this link to the full letter:

https://s2.q4cdn.com/299287126/files/doc_financials/2021/ar/Amazon-2020-Shareholder-Letter-and-1997-Shareholder-Letter.pdf

You can also read the summary that I created here:

https://sumitupp.substack.com/p/jeff-bezos-last-shareholder-letter

May 2021: 

Your Life Journey Exercise - In this post, Ray Dalio discusses an exercise that he created to help people put their life and the lives of the people they care about into perspective and to help them get what they want by planning for what is to come in the future.

To do this, he created a life arc which consists of three very different phases and lasts on average about 80 years.

Phase 1 — under the care of your parents and in school.

Phase 2 — others are dependent on you and you’re working.

Phase 3 — you’re out of work and free from all of the challenges that you face in the 2nd phase so you can enjoy the end of your life and pass away.

A lot of this post isn’t really anything new but it does organize life into a way to help you better reflect on it and understand what is coming in the future.

Ray mentions that the more you visualize your life over the next 10 years, the better it is more likely to be.

And here is a link to the full article:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-life-journey-exercise-ray-dalio

And here is a summary that I created:

https://sumitupp.substack.com/p/summary-of-your-life-journey-exercise

April 2021: 

How A Handful Of Chip Companies Came To Control The Fate Of The World - This month’s Best Read of the Month is from Brinton Johns and Jon Bathgate of NZS Capital who do an amazing job discussing the semiconductor industry and how it got to be so important to the world.

Almost every industry in the economy runs on computer chips in one way or another whether it is airlines, food delivery, health, military, transportation and agriculture.

Computer chips have become so important to the economy that if some of the biggest players in the chip market like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturer (TSMC), ASML, Lam Research, Cadence, Synopsis and KLA-Tencor were to cease operations then the global economy would very likely experience a huge setback in growth.

And here are some of the factors that could pose a risk to the semiconductor industry:

  • Almost all of those computer chips are manufactured on an island (Taiwan) whose sovereignty is in dispute.

  • One organization named ASML has a huge lead in photolithography*.

  • Almost all memory (95%) is made by only three companies (Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron).

  • It’s almost impossible to design a chip without using the software of only two companies — either Cadence or Synopsis.

Here is a link to the full whitepaper:

https://www.nzscapital.com/news/semiconductors

And a summary that I created for you to read:

https://sumitupp.substack.com/p/summary-of-how-a-handful-of-chip

March 2021: 

What Paul Graham Worked On - Paul Graham is one of the founders of a very popular and successful seed accelerator called Y Combinator which has been an early investor in many successful companies such as Airbnb, Stripe, Instacart, Coinbase, Dropbox, Twitch, Reddit, DoorDash and many others.

He also founded Viaweb which was eventually bought out by Yahoo.

At the end of Paul’s tenure at Yahoo, Paul had an interesting conversation with his boss that he describes in this essay where his boss thought he was lying to him about why he was leaving Yahoo which Paul later realized was because his boss was afraid that he was going to start another company to compete with Yahoo. Keep in mind this was during the Dot Com bubble.

Here is how Paul describes this encounter:

“When I said I was leaving, my boss at Yahoo had a long conversation with me about my plans. I told him all about the kinds of pictures I wanted to paint. At the time I was touched that he took such an interest in me. Now I realize it was because he thought I was lying. My options at that point were worth about $2 million a month. If I was leaving that kind of money on the table, it could only be to go and start some new startup, and if I did, I might take people with me. This was the height of the Internet Bubble, and Yahoo was ground zero in it. My boss was at that moment a billionaire. Leaving then to start a new startup must have seemed to him an insanely, and yet also plausibly, ambitious plan.

But I really was quitting to paint, and I started immediately.”

Paul is also very widely known for his great writings that he’s done on his website, paulgraham.net, and for starting the website Hacker News.

In this essay Paul talks about his journey from college as an undergrad all the way to right after he transitioned out of his leadership role at Y Combinator.

It’s a very interesting journey and is filled with lots of great advice from his experiences.

February 2021: 

Something of Value - Howard Marks’ memos are one of my favorite writings to read.

I always look forward to reading his memos as soon as they come out and this one I thought was one of his more informative ones.

In this memo, he discusses value investing and growth investing, and I think it’s one of his more informative ones not only because it’s packed with so much great experience and knowledge from Howard’s career but also because I can sense a shift in his perspective a little bit.

His stance toward the high growth stocks today and Bitcoin I believe would have been different ten years ago.

Ten years ago I think he would have dismissed them a lot more based on the traditional value measures such as P/E and P/S but today he is taking a lot more of an open mind and not dismissing them outright.

I wasn’t expecting this which led me at first to wonder if this was a sign of a top in a bull market that has seen a rapid rise from its bottom back in March 2020.

I then wondered that since he was having this discussion with his son that it was making it harder for him to be unbiased but in my opinion I don’t think this is the case.

Although in my opinion the market has seen a rapid rise from it’s March 2020 low and there are probably some areas of the market that are trading at excess valuations and could pose the risk of being in a bubble, I think that there are also some tech companies that do have large total addressable markets and require a lot less capital to grow to capture these markets therefore they aren’t as limited as companies in the past that traded at high valuations but required lots of capital to grow so there high valuations could be justified to an extent.

Howard mentions this important aspect in his memo and he also does a good job defining what value investing is and describing its history going back to Benjamin Graham.

He then delves into Warren Buffett and how he embraced using value investing to invest in growth stocks and that there is no difference between value stock investing and growth stock investing since value investing is buying an asset for less than what it’s worth and all investments — whether growth stocks or value stocks — should be bought at a price that is less than what they are worth.

Howard then goes on to mention many discussions he has had with his son that I felt were very informative because these are two very knowledgeable investors who have opposite views on certain stocks and are factoring each other’s point of view in order to make the correct decision.

One of the informative discussions they had was on when to sell or trim a position even if that position has gone up a lot.

This memo is one of Howard’s longer memos but also one of his best ones so I highly recommend giving it a read, especially if you’re interested in picking stocks.

Here are some great quotes I gathered from Howard’s investment memo:

“When you find an investment with the potential to compound over a long period of time, one of the hardest things is to be patient and maintain your position as long as doing so is warranted on the basis of prospective return and risk. Investors can easily be moved to sell by news, emotion, the fact that they’ve made a lot of money to date, or the excitement of a new, seemingly more promising idea. When you look at the chart for something that’s one gone up and to the right for 20 years, think about all the times a holder would have had to convince himself not to sell.”

— — — — —

“Thus, to me the essential underlying principles of value investing are these:

— the understanding of securities as stakes in actual businesses,
— the focus on true worth as opposed to price,
— the use of fundamentals to calculate intrinsic value,
— the recognition that attractive investments come when there is wide divergence between the price at which something is offered in the market and the actual fundamental worth you’ve determined, and
— the emotional discipline to act when such an opportunity is presented and not otherwise.”

 

January 2021: 

1,500 People Give All The Relationship Advice You'll Ever Need - I’ve included Mark Manson in my Best Reads of the Month list before and I’m going to do it again because he does another fabulous job in writing this article.

Mark Manson crowdsourced a relationship guide by asking his readers who have been married for 10+ years and are still happy in their relationship to share what lessons they learned and what is working for them.

He also asked people who were divorced what didn’t work for them.

The results he got were incredible and he did notice a pattern in the lessons that repeated themselves so he compiled those lessons that many successful couples (and those lessons on what didn’t work from people who were divorced) and he created this article.

The lessons that Mark found on what make a great relationship are:

1. Be together for the right reasons

2. Have realistic expectations about relationships and romance

3. The most important factor in a relationship is not communication, but respect

4. Talk openly about everything, especially the stuff that hurts

5. A healthy relationship means two healthy individuals

6. Give each other space

7. You and your partner will grow and change in unexpected ways — embrace it

8. Get good at fighting

9. Get good at forgiveness

10. The little things add up to big things

11. Be practical, and create relationship rules

12. Learn to ride the waves

“Trust is like a china plate — if you drop it and it breaks, you can only put it back together with a lot of work and care. If you drop it and break it a second time, it will split into more pieces and it will require more time and care to put back together again. But drop and break it enough times, and it will shatter into so many pieces that you will never be able to put it back together again, no matter what you do.”

— — — — —

“[John] Gottman has been able to narrow down four characteristics of a couple that tend to lead to divorces (or breakups). He has gone on and called these ‘the four horseman’ of the relationship apocalypse in his books.

  1. Criticizing your partner’s character (“you’re so stupid” vs “that thing you did was stupid.”)

  2. Defensiveness (or basically, blame shifting, “I wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t late all the time.”)

  3. Contempt (putting down your partner and making them feel inferior.)

  4. Stonewalling (withdrawing from an argument and ignoring your partner.)”

— — — — —

“Don’t ever be with someone because someone else pressure you to. I got married the first time because I was raised catholic and that’s what you were supposed to do. Wrong. I got married the second time because I was miserable and lonely and thought having a loving wife would fix everything for me. Also wrong. Took me three tries to figure out what should have been obvious from the beginning, the only reason you should ever be with the person you’re with is because you simply love being around them. It really is that simple.

 

- Greg”

December 2020: 

APIs All The Way Down - I’ve been very interested in APIs due to their growing importance as we continue to proceed through this current transition to a more digitalized economy.

You’ve probably interacted with many APIs in your daily life without even knowing it since they make up such a crucial part of the tech stack that is part of the apps we use on a daily basis.

API stands for application programming interface and it is really just a bunch of code that is wrapped up into an easy- to-use interface.

The best example I like to use when trying to explain what an API is by talking about Uber because Uber is really just a bunch of APIs working together.

The three main functions that Uber uses to carry out its ride-hailing service are text/call, maps/GPS and payments, and it is these functions that are all carried out by APIs that are part of Uber’s tech stack.

Those APIs are:

Twilio — Twilio’s API is what makes it possible for you to make a phone call or send a message on the Uber app.

Google Maps — Google’s APIs for its map are what allows you to track where the driver is located, what his path is to picking you up and then dropping you off.

Stripe — Stripe’s API is what is used to process payments.

These 3 APIs make up the bulk of Uber and are all carried out by APIs which have become a very important part of our lives.

It would take hundreds of millions of dollars and years of work for Uber to develop their own code to build a payments processor or a map or a way to send messages on their app so by using Twilio, Google and Stripe it saves them lots of money and time.

This allows them to build an app for ride-hailing much faster than if Twilio, Google and Stripe didn’t have these APIs to essentially allow Uber to “outsource” these basic functions to make their app work seamlessly.

APIs have allowed lots of new applications and software to be created which have all made a big difference in our lives in making it more convenient.

November 2020: 

The Overton Window - I’ve never heard the term Overton Window mentioned before until I was listening to an episode of the All In Podcast a month ago but now I am hearing it a lot more often.

As defined by Sean Stannard-Stockton of Ensemble Capital in this article, “the Overton Window is a concept named for Joseph Overton [where] Overton argued that the range of political policy possibilities was not directly related to any politician’s individual preferences, but rather by the range of options that are politically acceptable to mainstream voters. This range of politically acceptable outcomes changes over time, but at any given moment, only policy options that fall within the Overton Window have any hope of becoming reality.”

There are so many policies that have shifted recently and Sean does a fabulous job in this article discussing the Overton Window and some of the big policy changes that have happened recently that would have been thought of as almost impossible last year.

One of those policy shifts he discusses is a meeting he had on March 9th when it was still at the time thought of as not thinkable to cancel a client meeting until only one week later when San Francisco locked down the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic and canceled all in person meetings.

Ever since then, the Overton Window has shifted and not meeting clients in person has been deemed acceptable and policy.

Another shift in Overton Window is the Fed’s decision to seek an average of 2% inflation and to allow inflation to run above 2% for a period of time if necessary.

Here is Sean on inflation:

“The fed no longer views any inflation of over 2% as a signal that they must reduce their support for the economy. Rather they see getting inflation over 2% as a sign that they are succeeding and do not plan to start tightening monetary support unless evidence builds that inflation is shifting towards a persistent 2%+ level.”

Just one year ago, allowing inflation to run above 2% wasn’t their policy or allowable but with so much struggle to generate inflation in the U.S. economy and with the backdrop of the pandemic creating deflation in many areas including travel, entertainment, real estate and retail the Fed decided to shift their policy.

Sean discusses other shifts occurring today in the Overton Window such as working from home, modern monetary theory and unemployment insurance.

October 2020: 

Monopolies Are Distorting The Stock Market - There is a lot of discussion going on with what to do with the monopolies in big tech, especially with the Department of Justice musing about breaking up the big tech companies, but what is less talked about is the market power of the companies in many other industries including beer, washer and driers, mayonnaise, corn seed, dialysis center, cell phone providers and many more.

When you look closer at these industries and many others you notice a very large market share concentrated in very few names and sometimes it’s hard to notice because a lot of the brands are all owned by one corporation but are marketed under different names.

For example, Proctor and Gamble owns several consumer brands such as Crest toothpaste, Oral B, Tide detergent, Bounty paper towels, Pampers, Pepto-Bismo and several other household names. In other words, Proctor and Gamble and a few other companies have a heavy concentration of market share in most of their industries and they’ve enjoyed this for decades… well, until recently.

There is one thing that is different today than the past 30 years and that is direct-to-consumer selling and the rise of social media marketing that has taken down the barriers for new companies to enter markets and allowed new companies to sell directly to the consumer. And Harry’s razors is probably the best example of why companies like Proctor and Gamble aren’t being looked at by the Department of Justice despite owning several brands in a concentrated industry.

Companies like Proctor and Gamble don’t pose as much of a threat because of new technology that has greatly weakened the barriers-to-entry and it’s most likely that new technology gets better in the future whereas it looks like the big tech companies will enjoy their monopolistic power for decades to come.

In this great article, Kai Wu takes a deeper look at the monopoly power of companies in several industries including some where you probably didn’t even realize how concentrated the industry really is. He also discusses how they gained their monopoly power and the ramifications of it.

September 2020: 

Everything is Fucked But Hope Springs Internal Matthew Castel from Logos LP give his thoughts on what’s currently going on in the markets, the economy and with the virus. He also shares some very interesting images related to pandemic deaths, Europe’s 2nd coronavirus, who owns the most U.S. debt and which countries have the most STEM grads.

He then shares an interesting thought from Mark Manson’s book Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope on the importance of hope. He explains that we all need hope that the future will be better and if we have no hope then anxiety, mental illness and depression can set in.

In other words, chronic anxiety is a crisis of hope.

“[Mark] Manson reminds us that, hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness and depression. It is the source of all misery and the cause of all addiction. Chronic anxiety is a crisis of hope. It is the fear of a failed future. Depression is a crisis of hope. It is the belief in a meaningless future. Should we be surprised that such mental illnesses are on an eighty year upswing among young people and a twenty year upswing among the adult population?”

He then furthers these thoughts on hope and mental illness to the pandemic that is shattering hope all over the world.

It’s a great read that I really enjoyed.