Longreads + Open Thread
Replit, The Wall, Supply Chains, Effort, Crypto and Hedge Funds, The 60s, Conglomerates
Packy McCormick at Not Boring profiles Replit. The barriers to learning to code have dropped significant. If you think of learning-to-code as a product, the existing barriers are still a poor design choice: video games make a point of carefully introducing new mechanics while constantly rewarding players; an MMORPG that had a mandatory multi-hour setup process before your character was allowed to slay their first goblin would probably not convert many users.
J. Weston Phippen on the quest to build a virtual border wall. Replacing a literal border wall with smart cameras and drones extends the political version of the production possibilities curve: reducing immigration is a more right-wing idea, while not-building-walls is more left-win, and the virtual wall accomplishes both (at least as long as no one calls it "the virtual wall").
Apple is struggling to produce enough for the holiday season (Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li, Nikkei). It's a reminder of the surprising consequences of shortages in older chips: "[T]he real headache comes from the tiny "peripheral" components that used to cost only a few cents and which used to attract little attention, such as power management chips from Texas Instruments and transceivers from Nexperia as well as connectivity chips from Broadcom. Such chips are not unique to the iPhone, to smartphones or even to consumer electronics, but are used across computers, data centers, home appliances and connected cars."
Nathan Brooks of Strange Tidings on evidence for the "effort hypothesis": that firms have gotten better at getting workers to work slightly harder, or to lose some downtime. This is probably true at a small scale: there's a reason big retail and restaurant chains can afford to pay higher wages than smaller ones, and some of it comes down to getting slightly more work out of each hour they pay for. It's hard to measure but fits much of the data we have.
Recovering Tradfi Chad on how crypto companies today feel like hedge funds did a decade ago. Is this because every industry gets less fun once there's a playbook that works at scale? Or is it specific to finance?
The Money Managers: a book published right around the peak of the 1960s bull market, this one profiles a series of celebrity money managers. Interestingly, they're mostly at mutual funds rather than hedge funds, and based on what many of them are talking about buying, they largely got blindsided by the 1970s inflationary bear market. On the other hand, one of the managers profiled participated in a very early funding round for McDonald's, and picking a single great growth stock and holding it forever can cover a lot of sins. The book also showcases an interesting cultural shift: an astonishing fraction of the people profiled a) went to Harvard, and b) had some sort of involvement in Broadway, usually as investors. While that is still directionally true, the industry is less overwhelmingly tracked than it used to be.
Lessons from the Titans: Published last year, this book profiles some of the big publicly traded industrial conglomerates: GE, Caterpillar, Danaher, etc. These companies have a lot less visibility than other parts of the market—they're not consumer-facing, but they also don't sport the multiples and growth rates of enterprise software companies. That said, there's a lot to learn from mature businesses with little margin for error (some about how nice it is to work in a high-margin business with low working capital requirements, but also some useful wisdom about risk and safety from companies for which it really matters).
Drop in any links that would be of interest to Diff readers.
There are roll-ups of various e-commerce sellers, like Amazon retailers, Shopify stores, etc. And the roll-up model has been applied to many other industries before. Which industries have been either surprisingly hard to role up, or seem amenable to it but haven't had a roll-up happen yet?
A Word From Our Sponsors
One of the biggest challenges companies face today is reaching their target audience. Wynter aims to close this gap. Wynter is a B2B buyer intelligence tool that helps businesses get feedback on their messaging from their exact target audience.
For individuals, this is a fantastic chance to join Wynter's research panel and:
Give back to the community while earning extra revenue - $90-$200/hr.
Learn what businesses that try to sell to you are testing. Influence their messaging with your feedback.
Super low key time commitment, 10-15 minutes per survey and only when you are available.
Learn more about Wynter's research panels and sign up here.