From time to time I’ll post a few recent stories I find interesting. Here you go…
Sadness in Startup World
This article covers the declining fortunes in the tech startup scene. As in past tech downturns, this one is impacted by crappy business models and celebrated malfeasance. Also, as in many downturns, there are a host of investors who should have known better. When it comes to the bad business models of Casper, Uber, Lyft and other “unicorns”, it’s hard to improve upon a quote from a founder who sold his company to WeWork before its celebrated disaster: “You can’t build on top of something that is not strong”. Like the occasionally wildfire, these moments of destruction lead to future growth – something Joseph Schumpeter recognized. Since the article has a paywall, let me borrow a graphic published by The Hustle that captures some of the data:
I was in Paris on business lately, and as I was engaging in repartee (a word that derives from a French term used in fencing) with the locals, I learned:
- The recent transportation strikes in France have caused a big upsurge in French consumers signing up for Amazon Prime. I guess if it’s a hassle to get to the store, it becomes necessary for the store to come to you. Moments like this can have long-term impacts on how people shop, and the small merchants who depend on them.
- It is well known the degree to which the Académie Française – the protector of the French language – tries to defend the purity of their language in the onslaught of American entertainment and new technology. What I heard from mes amis français is that video games are now shipping with their instructions and prompts only in English. Coincidentally, I spoke with someone in the gaming industry a few days after and he verified that the amount of translating required for the top 10 or 12 languages is incredibly expensive and time-consuming for developers, so they’re shipping English only. Consider how this might impact the young generation in non-English speaking countries and how this might impact world commerce of tomorrow. English is the international language of business and diplomacy, so if you were born into the language you should thank your lucky stars. It’s a tough language to learn (consider the plural form of the words dog, deer, and ox to get an idea).
This is a story I’ve been aware of since working with someone who grew up on an almond farm in California (which sounds nice, actually), but The Guardian published this interesting story about rising bee thefts that are plaguing farmers. The skinny: there are over 1M acres of almond trees in California in need of pollination, and each acre needs 2 hives. That’s a lot of bees. The farmers get the bees by renting them – a concept that floored me when I first learned of it. Given the value of the hives (driven in part by declining bee populations), criminals are either selling them or placing them on their own land.
A couple stories that show how humans are prone to spend excess wealth:
- The poor country of Nepal is raking in the dollars as they provide $11,000 hiking permits without limit to those seeking to summit Mount Everest. The ensuing traffic jams have littered the mountain with $550 oxygen tanks, thousands of pounds of frozen excrement, and over 200 dead bodies. The hikers – and their hubris – continue to arrive.
- Richard Branson recently launched The Scarlet Lady – the first of a series of ships catering to the adults-only “booze cruise” market. The ship includes 78 ultra-luxury “RockStar Suites” and 15 “Mega RockStar Suites”. Prices start at $1,600 for the cheapest 3-4 day tours and $19,000 for the full “Mega RockStar” experience.
In this season of Lent, perhaps we can each find a way to take one giant step back from whatever mountains our egos are trying to climb. This is a good season to spend less time drinking on the yacht and more time sending a life raft to someone who needs it.