Hello friends! Welcome to another edition of Tidbits.
Summer is almost upon us. Life is starting to return to normal. And the world is healing. All is right with the world!
While businesses and communities are starting to reopen, I can’t help but feel that a lot that has changed will remain changed.
One of the biggest changes is how we shop.
E-commerce is not a new trend. You, very likely, have already been buying things online for years. Maybe you leaned on e-commerce even more during 2020 through new categories like groceries and food, but this train was already in motion years ago.
What I think has likely been a bigger change is on the supply side. COVID-19 created significant supply chain shocks. One of the side effects of that shock is that it gave everyone a chance to rethink how they want to operate.
One of the consequence is that the world may have finally fully embraced a global e-commerce market, both on the consumer side and on the supply side.
A Globalized E-Commerce Market
As a consumer, whether you buy from Amazon or your favorite brands, there’s likely one key thing in common: Whatever you buy is likely made in China.
This shouldn’t be a surprise because we all see the “Made in China” tags on the products themselves.
But what might be surprising to you is how many sellers on e-commerce platforms are already Chinese. Many of the sellers on Amazon, Etsy, etc are not Western companies sourcing from Chinese factories anymore. Many of these sellers are actually Chinese sellers or the Chinese factories themselves selling directly into the Western market.
According to some experts, as high as 40% of Amazon’s top sellers were already Chinese by end of 2020:
In some geographies, the penetration of Chinese sellers is even higher such as in Canada, reaching almost 60%:
Source: Marketplace Pulse
In fact, when Amazon recently banned a couple of top sellers for gaming the system, it left a mark!
If you ever bought power banks, water bottles, toys or other daily goods on Amazon, the chances are your suppliers are from China. Analysts have estimated that the share of Chinese merchants represented 75% of Amazon’s new sellers in January, up from 47% the year before, according to Marketplace Pulse, an e-commerce research firm.
But the get-rich-quick optimism among the cross-border community came to a halt when several top Chinese sellers disappeared from Amazon over the past few days. At least eleven accounts that originate from Greater China were suspended, according to Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of Marketplace Pulse.
Several accounts belong to the same parent firms, as it’s normal for big sellers, those with more than a million dollars in annual sales, to operate multiple brands on Amazon to optimize sales.
In total, the suspended accounts contribute over a billion dollars in gross merchandise value (GMV) to Amazon, said Kaziukenas.Source: TechCrunch
While the penetration of Chinese sellers within Western marketplaces is starting to get meaningful attention now, this is something Capital Flywheels has been monitoring for several years because of how it could threaten the dominance of Western marketplaces within its own market.
Every marketplace has (at least) two sides. Consumers and merchants. Demand and supply. The power of every marketplace rests on its ability to bring these two sides together. Amazon currently has a very strong hold on the consumer side, but the supply side may be under threat.
And if the supply side becomes aggregated by a different player or finds a different route around Amazon (or other Western marketplaces), then that could materially change the market landscape.
Three years ago in The Other Supply Chain Gorilla That May One Day Challenge Amazon, I raised this very possibility by questioning what would happen if a Chinese platform takes control of the supply side:
In reality the supply chain equation looks like this:
Equation 3: Chinese Manufacturers –> Chinese Sellers –> Alibaba / Aliexpress –> Amazon Sellers –> Amazon –> Amazon Buyers
This equation exposes one of the, potentially, weakest links in Amazon’s supply-chain-driven strategy, which I believe is largely undiscussed by US ecommerce market observers/investors.
In the Equation 3 above, Amazon and Alibaba are both platforms. In the current set-up, only a small buffer zone of middlemen sit between Alibaba and Amazon. Those middlemen are likely to be squeezed in the coming years and could potentially one day put Alibaba and Amazon more in direct contact. More direct contact could potentially reduce the effective leverage that Amazon has over the supply-side of the business since Alibaba is a massive entity. But this current set-up would still imply that Alibaba and Amazon would be upstream-downstream partners rather than competitors with Amazon wielding far greater influence over US consumers while Alibaba holds much more power over Chinese suppliers.Source: The Other Supply Chain Gorilla That May One Day Challenge Amazon
At the time, I assumed Alibaba would be the Chinese platform that would challenge Amazon just because of their strength within the Chinese market and the significant investments they are making into logistics that have the potential to strike Amazon where it hurts most (Amazon’s logistics core).
Things haven’t really evolved that way, but the crux of the argument appears to be as true as ever.
It turns out Shopify would play the leading role. Shopify itself is not a marketplace, but it is the single most important connector that allows sellers (including many Chinese sellers) to tap every Western marketplace that matters including Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, Facebook / Instagram, Pinterest, Snap, Google Shopping, etc.
Turns out – Shopify is a marketplace aggregator. Shopify doesn’t aggregate consumers, but it certainly does an unbeatable job at aggregating all the marketplaces into an easy to manage channel for merchants around the world.
And Shopify alone is helping Chinese sellers penetrate directly into Western marketplaces. It is helping Chinese supply entirely skip western merchants and sell directly into Western marketplaces.
In addition, Shopify is helping Chinese merchants set up their own websites to sell directly to consumers, entirely circumventing Western marketplaces.
So, you might ask what’s the big deal? Shopify is doing well…that’s not news. Some Western players passing the baton to another Western player. Seems normal?
That’s why I think the bigger question is to consider the whole picture that is forming around how supply chains are shifting.
For consumers, e-commerce and the online world was already one big market. Consumers can buy anything from anywhere! It’s a globalized consumer market already.
But for suppliers, the world was very much still a localized market. Supply chains historically were quite long and one supplier will often hand off the goods to another middleman at the border. And that receiving middleman will be responsible for getting it to the final end consumer or one step closer to someone that can.
Now this is changing. Now supply is also becoming global. One big market.
Shopify’s core value proposition sort of depends on the size of the merchant. For small merchants, Shopify’s easy-to-set-up website capabilities are bar-none. But for large merchants, this might just be a nice to have. I suspect Shopify’s core value proposition for both small and large merchants (and especially large merchants) is quickly shifting to Shopify’s premier position as a marketplace aggregator. It’s very simply the easiest way to manage sales across the rapidly proliferating digital channels out there including your primary brand website as well as Amazon, Etsy, Ebay, TikTok, etc. As the list gets longer, the value of aggregating all of that gets bigger.
But that’s where things start to get a little weird.
Because many Chinese merchants / suppliers are discovering they can just go straight to consumers. Supply is finally becoming global! And if they are able to cement those direct relationships in the long-run, Shopify might not even be necessary as one of the last middlemen left in the chain (albeit the best positioned one).
One of the rising examples that’s getting a lot of attention recently is Shein. I’ve personally never heard of them until recently because I’m not in the target demographic, but it just overtook Amazon.com as the most downloaded e-commerce app in the US.
Judging from what the media is saying about it, it’s definitely doing something right:
If you’re not familiar with Shein, an online fast-fashion retailer based in China, odds are you’re not a teenage girl.
The company has attracted a young and growing fanbase with the constant deluge of trendy, inexpensive new clothes it releases online and through its app, as well as with its aggressive social-media marketing. It advertises heavily on platforms such as Facebook, maintains a network of influencers who promote it on TikTok and Instagram, and regularly reposts photos from customers to keep them sharing its clothes online. In the past year, celebrities such as Katy Perry and Lil Nas X have performed at events Shein streams to shoppers.
Whatever tensions exist between the US and Chinese governments, American shoppers are not shying away from the retailer. Shein has twice ranked second only to Amazon as the favorite shopping site of upper-income US teens in a biannual survey of US teens by Piper Sandler, an investment firm. In the most recent installment, which included some 7,000 American teenagers, 7% of upper-income teens picked Shein as their favorite website for shopping.
That’s well behind the 56% who chose Amazon. But Shein came in ahead of household names such as Nike and Urban Outfitters, and its share keeps growing. For the first time it also broke into the top-10 favorite clothing brands listed by teens.Source: Quartz
Even the highly influential Packy McCormick over at Not Boring substack has taken a liking to the business (which I highly recommend reading):
I can’t believe I’d never heard about today’s company before. It’s a juggernaut, and it’s changing the face of ecommerce. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this company, just remember you heard it here first.Source: Not Boring
What Shein represents is the brave new e-commerce world that we may be heading towards when supply becomes truly globalized as well.
Shein is getting western consumers to directly download their app and buy directly from them. And the data that they can gather directly from consumers becomes a flywheel in its own right, leading to faster product development and insights that few can match.
This recent Protocol article indicates many Chinese sellers are already starting to see this potential and pivot in this direction:
Chinese companies used to be known for making cheap and low-quality stuff for other firms’ international brands. No longer. The “Made in China” of cheap, brandless, low-quality stuff is ending. “Branded in China,” complete with cheeky English names and savvy, localized social media branding strategies, is just beginning. Chinese companies are flocking into overseas markets, but with a twist: Many of their devoted customers don’t know they’re from China.
In China’s ecommerce sector, the practice is known as building “independent sites (独立站)” overseas. It’s a clear pivot away from the earlier practice of selling via third-party ecommerce platforms like Amazon and AliExpress. In 2020, China’s crossborder ecommerce exports totaled $174 billion, up 40.1% from 2019, according to a recently published industry report by Equal Ocean, a tech-focused Chinese think tank. This compares with the 4.5% growth rate in domestic ecommerce.
HOTO, a Chinese tech company making run-of-the-mill home tools with sleek designs, epitomizes this shift. It plans to open its own online store for U.S. and European consumers in June and has hired an American marketing firm to produce localized promotional content. Promotional images on Instagram have a minimalistic vibe, very different from its nondescript branding on Amazon.Source: Protocol
I don’t really have a key message this time.
I can only wonder what the future will look like, especially for the following:
1/ What happens when global supply goes direct to consumers? What place and role do local marketplaces need to play in order to ensure their dominance?
2/ What happens to local distributors and brands? I think we can already see traditional distributors like Macy’s falling by the wayside, but what about smaller brands that basically are just conduits for Chinese supply? For example…Hanes…or…
3/ And for the Chinese suppliers that are not capable enough to directly reach consumers, what happens if they get aggregated on the other end by a Chinese platform (possibly still Alibaba or someone else)?
🤑 Economics / Markets
Crypto might be on the rocks…but everything still seems to be about crypto…
#1 Fund Managers Say ‘Long Bitcoin’ Is the Most Crowded Trade in the World
The poll, which captures 194 fund managers with $592 billion worth of AUM overall, says that “Long Bitcoin” is the most crowded trade in the world right now.
This isn’t the first time that the cryptocurrency topped the list. Actually it was at the peak back in January, right before it went onto explode higher. It also topped the charts back in 2017 the last time crypto went nuts.Source: Bloomberg
But with that said…
So while it’s tempting to read some contrarian signal into this, note that Long Tech or Long FANG or Long UST have frequently been identified as the most crowded trade and generally… these trades have done quite well.Source: Bloomberg
Echoing what I said last week, I don’t know if there’s anything really meaningful here in the long-run. All I can observe is a lot of people have an interest in it including a lot of smart tech and finance people.
But there is definitely a lot of unhealthy and unsustainable behavior as well. Thought this Bloomberg piece was very engaging about how there is a lot of dark promotion going on and how many people are minting coins left and right (that have no potential to amount to anything technologically important in the long run).
But I have to admit, I would get a kick out of seeing this $ASS Coin Billionaire on Forbes Billionaire list.
#2 $ASS Coin Billionaire: Tales From the Fringe of the Crypto Craze
The Bud Light Mango Mai Tais were beginning to take hold when Eric Hackney — 38, unemployed and ticked off by watching other people get rich — figured, What the hell? and laid $500 on some crazy-sounding thing called ASS Coin.
“Screw it. Let’s go. Let’s see what happens,’’ Hackney thought.
ASS Coin: officially, that’s Australian Safe Shepherd, one of those obscure virtual currencies that have YOLO’d and FOMO’d their way from crypto in-jokes to soaring — and now sinking — monuments to these strange financial times.
And so it is that Eric Hackney, husband of Brittany, father of two, former bartender, became the owner of 20,000,000,000 ASS Coins with his $500 investment.Source: Bloomberg
And here’s the truth…nothing more truer has ever been said:
His wife tried to talk him down.
Don’t you get it? she asked.
Get what? Hackney replied.
People nowadays like stupid shit. They don’t care. They follow the crowd.
“We are sick of the traditional financial system,” says Ramy Bekhiet, 27, and an engineer by training. He used to watch TV and play video games after work. Now, he works from 7 a.m. to about 3 p.m., and then starts his second shift: trading from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.Source: Bloomberg
But crypto is becoming too big to ignore now. It’s increasingly clear that governments will be stepping in to do something about it because it’s starting to have a major impact on global financial systems.
Blockchain technology may be resilient to government actions because of its decentralized nature, but at the end of the day, you are not decentralized. The government has full power to control and dictate your actions.
#3 U.S. Treasury seeks reporting of cryptocurrency transfers, doubling of IRS workforce
“As with cash transactions, businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would also be reported on,” the Treasury said in the report, which noted that these assets, are likely to grow in importance over the next decade as a part of business income.Source: Reuters
And honestly…how decentralized is crypto anyway? Seems like it’s pretty centralized…
#4 China vows to crack down on bitcoin mining, trading activities
China will crack down on bitcoin mining and trading activities as part of efforts to fend off financial risks, the State Council’s Financial Stability and Development Committee said on Friday.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV on Friday warned against “systemic risks” of cryptocurrency trading in a commentary on its website.
“Bitcoin is no longer an investment tool to avoid risks. Rather, it’s a speculative instrument,” the broadcaster said, adding the cryptocurrency is a lightly-regulated asset often used in black market trade, money-laundering, arms smuggling, gambling and drug dealings.
Virtual currency mining is big business in China, accounting for as much as 70% of the world’s crypto supply according to some estimates, although others say that proportion has fallen in recent years.Source: Reuters
#5 Netflix Seeks Executive to Expand Game Efforts
In recent weeks, Netflix has approached veteran game industry executives about joining the company, the people said. While the company has already dabbled in games—for example, it created a game based on “Stranger Things” with an outside developer—it is looking at boosting its investments in the category. One option the company has discussed is offering a bundle of games similar to Apple’s online subscription offering, Apple Arcade, one of the people said.
Games overall are a faster-growing part of the entertainment business than television and movies, and they also compete increasingly with filmed entertainment for the finite attention spans of consumers. In fact, Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings in the past has cited the popular game Fortnite as a bigger competitor for Netflix than other subscription video services because of the amount of time kids and young adults spend playing it.Source: The Information
The last edition of Tidbits highlighted how Netflix was possibly getting into enterprise SaaS software, now they might want to become a game developer?
I think it fits, though. And the opportunity is definitely large.
#6 Snap Partner Summit 2021
This has to be one of the most fascinating keynotes I’ve seen in a while. Snap continues to be one of the few companies that view the world so differently, it forces me to sit down and rethink my assumptions. Very well worth watching.
And they launched AR glasses!
On Thursday, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel unveiled the company’s first true augmented reality glasses, technology that he and rivals like Facebook think will one day be as ubiquitous as mobile phones. A demo showed virtual butterflies fluttering over colorful plants and landing in Spiegel’s extended hand.Source: The Verge
It looks like Tesla’s Cybertruck converted into sunglasses, but the content itself looks compelling!
While my bet is still on Apple for the hardware (given battery, chip, display, and design expertise), there is no denying that Snap is likely light-years ahead of anyone else when it comes to compelling AR content. Even if Apple (or whoever, maybe Facebook) wins the AR hardware race, Snap is likely to be the killer content app for any platform.
#7 Snap is buying its AR display supplier for more than $500 million
Snap has agreed to acquire WaveOptics, the supplier of the augmented reality displays that power its new Spectacles glasses, for more than $500 million, The Verge has learned. The deal is Snap’s largest ever, underscoring the company’s long-term bet that AR eyewear will eventually go mainstream.
WaveOptics primarily makes waveguides, a display technology that allows for the overlaying of virtual objects onto the real world through a transparent surface like glass, and accompanying light projectors. Snap is using WaveOptics displays in the new Spectacles announced this week, which it isn’t selling widely but is giving to a small number of AR effect creators.
Even still, buying WaveOptics is partly a defensive move by Snap. Many of its larger tech rivals are working on their own waveguide technology as they plan to debut AR glasses. Google, which first broke into the space with Google Glass in 2013, recently posted a slew of listings for a new team dedicated to building waveguides. Apple bought the holographic waveguide-maker Akonia in 2018 and is planning to announce an AR headset as soon as next year. And Facebook has said that it’s building custom waveguides for future AR glasses, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes will one day “redefine our relationship with technology.”Source: The Verge
#8 Snap, Rivals Power AR Advertising Boom to Woo Homebound Shoppers
When American Eagle Outfitters Inc.’s in-person sales took a hit from the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the retailer decided to make a bigger bet on an emerging tool for reaching customers: augmented reality.
Suffering from declining sales and mulling store closings, the retailer turned to Snap Inc.’s popular Snapchat video-sharing app to connect with teenagers who could no longer frequent the malls that make up American Eagle’s main business.
By the end of the run, American Eagle had sold $2 million in products from the store and had 50 million engagements. The sales were a drop in the bucket for a company that closed the last quarter in 2020 with $1.3 billion in revenue, but represented a new way of reaching younger customers.
“It was really a light bulb that, wow, this is a new way to consider not just engaging with Gen Z but also shopping with Gen Z,” said Craig Brommers, American Eagle’s chief marketing officer. “I think we’ll see an acceleration of this trend in the months and years ahead.”Source: Bloomberg
And nothing like another reminder of how AR can have very important commercial value, too! AR is not just about fun. This could be very transformative for businesses and commercial engagement.
#9 The Korean Chatroulette-style dating app quietly taking over the world
Prince was stuck at home, days into the most recent Covid-19 lockdown in Istanbul, when he decided to open Azar, a South Korean “social discovery” app that resembles Chatroulette. “My friend told me I could meet girls on here, but I’m not really looking for that,” he said after matching randomly with a Rest of World reporter in April. “I thought, let me see if I can just have fun and chat with people.”
Launched in 2014, Azar essentially took the video cam sites of the mid-aughts — think Omegle and Chatroulette — and built a fully formed app ecosystem on top. The platform uses a proprietary algorithm to make video matches, which takes into consideration your hobbies and language preferences, according to Hyperconnect spokesperson James Kang. “It’s different from a dating app, in which you are only communicating with a desired gender for dating purposes and, typically, to meet offline,” he said. “Azar can be used for making friends from around the world regardless of gender and age, sharing daily life and interests and hobbies, and studying languages.”Source: Rest of the World
Match acquired Hyperconnect / Azar recently. This piece gives an interesting look into what Azar is.
#10 More Funding Flows Into Pipe
Miami-based Pipe confirms that it has actually raised $250 million at a $2 billion valuation in a round that was “massively oversubscribed,” according to co-founder and co-CEO Harry Hurst.
As a journalist who first covered Pipe when they raised $6 million in seed funding back in late February 2020, it’s been fascinating to watch the company’s rise. In fact, Pipe claims that its ability to achieve a $2 billion valuation in just under a year since its public launch in June of last year makes it the fastest fintech to reach this valuation in history. While I can’t substantiate that claim, I can say that its growth has indeed been swift and impressive.
Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)
The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.Source: TechCrunch
For offline businesses, most companies usually take out working capital loans or will factor their receivables in order to fund ongoing working capital needs. The challenge for most businesses is funding the inventory and inputs before the customer pays. Even if a customer buys something, the customer may take a while to pay. Most businesses will usually seek ways to turn the receivable into cash before the customer pays.
In a way, Pipe is doing something similar to SaaS software businesses. SaaS software businesses tend to have very sticky recurring revenues. Given how sticky and recurring the revenues are, there should be a way to turn those anticipated revenues into cash before the customer pays. The SaaS company gets money faster which can help accelerate investments (or reduce the need to raise equity), and investors get to receive high quality cash flows.
Could be very big. Might be worth investing in (or working at).
#11 Planet Airbnb: Inside Brian Chesky’s plans to conquer a reopened world
Chesky chooses his words carefully, and one of the stories he tells me (twice) is about a RISD professor who changed his life. “Brian,” the teacher said, “you can do anything you want in life—just not all at the same time.” Chesky remembered the line, but apparently forgot the lesson. “I don’t think the story is unique to Airbnb,” he adds. “An entrepreneur has an idea, they hit on success, and they start thinking, Maybe I can do something else.”
Spin or not, it’s evident that Chesky’s rightsized vision for Airbnb is no less ambitious. On the contrary, he seems more committed than ever to expanding Experiences—tourist outings, such as an Indigenous cooking class in Mexico City or a rice paddy tour of Vietnam, which are highly curated. When I ask Chesky about the program, he waxes on about a post-pandemic world in which the collapse of traditional tourism operators leaves a “void” in communities that is filled by Airbnb hosts. “They can offer homes, they can offer experiences,” he says. “We’ve only scratched the surface.”
The more Chesky talks, the less chastened he sounds. Experiences, he suggests, is the solution to the last-mile problem of “belonging anywhere,” to closing the gap between Airbnb as a travel brand and a lifestyle curator able to offer an endless buffet of activities that comprise an Airbnb economy.Source: Fast Company
He thinks big.
I’m not sure I have drunk the Kool-Aid, yet…but even if I don’t really believe the mission of “belonging anywhere”, Airbnb is a pretty incredible business. It was a bit too expensive for my taste a few weeks ago, but it’s gotten a lot cheaper.
#12 Facebook Debuts “Live Shopping Fridays”
Facebook wants to whet consumers’ appetite for live streamed shopping with this week’s launch of “Live Shopping Fridays” event series, which will see larger brands live streaming beauty, skincare, and fashion content on a weekly basis. The event begins Friday, May 22nd and runs through mid-July, with streams from brands like Abercrombie and Fitch, Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Sephora, Dermalogica, Alleyoop, and Zox.
The brands will use their live shopping events in a number of ways. They may give a behind-the-scenes look at their business or they may partner with creators to showcase their products in “how-to” style videos, for example.
During the live streams, viewers can comment and ask questions which brands can read and respond to. Shoppers can also tap on the products displayed in the stream to learn more without having to leave the video. If they want to buy, they can add them to the cart and check out at any time — during or even after the event has wrapped. The brands receive the customer’s shipping information, and if the consumer opts in, they can gain access to other details as well, like email and phone number.Source: TechCrunch
#13 Pinterest Introduces Idea Pins
Pinterest is expanding further into the creator community with today’s launch of a video-first feature called “Idea Pins,” aimed at creators who want to tell their stories using video, music, creative editing tools and more. The feature feels a lot like Pinterest’s own take on TikTok, mixed with Stories, as the new Pins allow creators to record and edit creative videos with up to 20 pages of content, using tools like voiceover recording, background music, transitions and other interactive elements.Source: TechCrunch
#14 ByteDance Founder Steps Down as CEO Ahead of Mega IPO
Zhang will hand off the chief executive officer role at TikTok’s owner to human resources chief Rubo Liang, he announced in an internal memo posted online Thursday. The billionaire entrepreneur remains chairman but plans to relinquish most of his day-to-day duties because they were an increasing burden on his time, a person familiar with the matter said.Source: Bloomberg
I’m disappointed to hear Zhang Yiming is stepping down, but it seems like he will still be very involved with the business. A lot of Chinese founders have stepped down recently. And many of them seem to have totally removed themselves from the business.
But Zhang Yiming really does seem to be stepping down in order to improve the company and allow himself to do what he does best if his letter is any indication. Seems sincere and is one of the most thoughtful letters I’ve seen any founder / CEO write as part of the handover process:
Between graduating from college and starting ByteDance, I spent a lot of time thinking and learning about challenges like effectively disseminating information, using technology to improve products, and approaching the development of a company, much like one would a product: through constant re-evaluation, adjustment, and iteration. That period of profound thinking and ideation helped lay the groundwork for ByteDance. With our business growing well, it is time to think about how we can, not simply scale, but make innovative, meaningful, long-term progress towards our mission to “Inspire Creativity, Enrich life.”
Innovation and success are rooted in years of exploring and imagining what is possible. However, few people have real insight into the future, preferring to model on current and past achievements. People are amazed by the success of electric cars, but they forget that Tesla is 18 years old and first experimented with laptop batteries to power its vehicles. People know about Apple’s software management tool HomeBrew, but few realize that computer geeks were discussing the Apple I in the HomeBrew Club in the 1970s. Virtual reality, life science, and scientific computation are playing a bigger role in people’s lives as technology brings ever-greater impact to society. This type of progress requires us to break through the inertia, and to keep exploring.
At our 7th anniversary, I shared a line from Alice in Wonderland: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” I like to think about possibilities that are still just that: possibilities. For a long time, I’ve put my online status as “Daydreaming.” What I mean isn’t that I’m zoning out, but rather that I’m thinking about possibilities that people might think are just fantasy. In the past three years, many things that seemed like fantasies have, in fact, become reality.
Yet I worry that I am still relying too much on the ideas I had before starting the company, and haven’t challenged myself by updating those concepts. As an example, before 2017, I spent a lot of time keeping track of developments in machine learning. However, since then, while I do my best to bookmark technical articles online, I haven’t had the time to make much progress digging into the area. During technology meetings, this sometimes means I actually struggle to keep up with the discussion.Source: Bytedance
#15 Gojek to Merge With Tokopedia to Create Indonesia Tech Giant
“It’s a union of equals,” Gojek co-Chief Executive Officer Andre Soelistyo, who will head the combined app giant, said during a media conference via Zoom. “We are creating probably the first platform in the world that combines very distinctive platforms — e-commerce, on-demand and financial services — into one larger ecosystem.”Source: Bloomberg
Source: Deal Street Asia
As anticipated, Gojek and Tokopedia are merging.
It’s a very interesting basket of services.
But my bet is still on Sea as the dominant ecosystem in Southeast Asia. These markets are not winner-take-all, though.
#16 Google I/O
Google held its annual conference. Google I/O reminded me why Google continues to maintain the reputation of having the most technical chops. The demonstrations were very technically impressive. But with that said, it’s clear almost everything they demonstrated that was interesting is still just that…a demo.
LaMDA was the centerpiece:
Artificial intelligence is a huge part of Google’s business, and at this year’s I/O conference, the company highlighted its work with AI language understanding. The star of the show was an experimental model called LaMDA, which Google says could one day supercharge the ability of its conversational AI assistants and allow for more natural conversations.Source: The Verge
Very impressive. But I still question whether AI is most useful in the form of a conversational knowledge bot. I don’t really get the obsession with conversational bots. I understand the commercial application of bots to automate things, but Google’s vision here goes way beyond what, for example, your bank bot might want or need. It seems very much to me like the Japanese obsession with robots in the 1980s. And the Japanese spent 3 decades researching robots with no commercial applications.
Someone needs to turn this tech into something more commercial, please! Research and experiments are all good, but it doesn’t begin to change and impact the world until it has wide commercial applications.
The other thing that looked really cool was Starline:
Google is working on a next-gen video chat booth that makes the person you’re chatting with appear in front of you in 3D. You can see them from different angles by moving around and even make eye contact, Google said during a preview of the project at its I/O conference today.
The system is called “Project Starline,” and it’s basically a really, really fancy video chat setup. The platform uses multiple cameras and sensors to capture a person’s appearance and shape from different perspectives. It then stitches those together into a 3D model that’s broadcast in real tihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSjFqqCyp5Qme to whomever they’re chatting with. In Google’s preview, Starline was used for person-to-person calls (not group chats), and both sides seemed to be using specialized tech so it could all work.Source: The Verge
This is very sci-fi-ish. Again, very technically impressive! But I’m not sure how this gets commercialized. It’s a whole room set-up. But I suppose we could have a telephone booth Renaissance in the future? Instead of AT&T telephones at every corner as was the case a few decades ago, maybe there will be Starline booths every other block?
Google announced a bunch of new features for Google Maps at its 2021 I/O developer conference today, including upgrades to its handy Live View tool, which helps you navigate the world through augmented reality.
Live View launched in beta in 2019, projecting walking directions through your camera’s viewfinder, and was rolled out to airports, transit stations, and malls earlier this year. Now, Live View will be accessible directly from Google Maps and will collate a lot of handy information, including how busy shops and restaurants are, recent reviews, and any uploaded photos.Source: The Verge
Now this I can see commercial applications for. Now, I just have to wait for AR to be more prevalent and natural.
#17 Lisa Su – CEO of AMD (Part 1)
Excellent collection of quotes from Lisa Su on a wide variety of topics, including:
On her career and life advice to new college grads: The best piece of advice I got when I was a young engineer was to run toward problems. Many people tend to shy away from problems. To advance in your career, you need to be smart and capable, but you also need to be lucky. And you can make your luck. The way you do that is to do a great job on something that’s really, really hard. Don’t be afraid to take that risk. Some of my best work was done under an enormous amount of stress, but it brings out the best in you. So I tell people, “Look for those hardest problems and volunteer to help solve them.”  (May-17)Source: Outliers Substack
I talk a lot about Nvidia around here, but AMD and Lisa Su definitely deserves a very honorable mention. Lisa Su will quite likely go down in history as one of the most impressive CEOs, turning AMD around from near bankruptcy and irrelevance just a few years ago to seriously threatening Intel. In a way, what Lisa accomplished is almost as impressive as what Steve Jobs accomplished when he returned to Apple in the mid-90s.
Just a few days ago, AMD announced a $4 billion stock buyback. Today, AMD is worth almost $95 billion. $4 billion may not seem that impressive relative to its current market cap, but just 6 years ago at the height of AMD’s problems, the whole company was just worth $2 billion! If someone told me in 2016 that AMD would be able to conduct a $4 billion buyback (twice it’s market cap in 2016) 5 years in the future, I would have assumed you are out of your mind.
What an incredible feat.