Podcast Recommendation: “Cafe Insider” & “Stay Tuned with Preet”

Yesterday I shared my personal theory on what makes a great podcaster and recommended “The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast.”

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Today I’m recommending another person I think fits my three criteria, which are, as a refresher:

  1. They’re successful in their field, but not the most successful
  2. The have strong opinions and like to mix it up, but they know how to listen
  3. They don’t care what people think of them, but they want people to tune in

Preet Bharara was the former Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, was fired by Trump and is part of the composite that Brian Koppelman used for the brilliant and sharp-elbowed AG played by Paul Giamatti in the extraordinary “Billions”.

[It’s important to note the word composite in the previous paragraph, because as Preet hilariously told on an early podcast, he told his mother that the AG in “Billions” was based on him and — spoiler alert — in the first scene of the first episode of “Billions,” said AG is the recipient of a sexual act commonly referred to as being showered by a precious metal.]

Preet has two podcasts, the first is “Stay Tuned with Preet” and the second is “Cafe Insider.” It’s confusing, but stick with me. ST is a chart-topper, with the standard podcasting segments: news, interview and listener questions.

“Cafe Insider” isn’t available as an RSS feed but rather, on a landing page, and is unlocked for $5 a month or $50 a year.

In CI, Preet and Anne Milgram, the former AG of New Jersey, break down the news. Like Bret’s paywalled podcast, “Cafe Insider” feels more informal and freewheelin’. The hosts aren’t overproduced or edited, which is what makes for a great podcast in my opinion.

I’m not a fan of the overproduced public-radio style podcast, where the dual sins of audience manipulation (by audio devices, like music and pauses) and the shaping of narrative (with editing) often results in the obscurification of the messy reality of life.

Things just aren’t as [INSERT AUDIO DROP TO TUG AT LISTENER’S EMOTION, FOLLOWED BY A PAUSE] as simple as they seem.

I highly recommend listening to TuneIn and, if you like Preet’s soothing tones and front-line insights, pay for a year of “Cafe Insider.” Paying for content, if you have the means, is a vote of confidence that compels podcasters to keep going.

Links:

Yesterday: Podcat Recommendation: Bret Easton Ellis

Cafe Insider

Stay Tunned (on TuneIn)

Podcast Recommendation: Bret Easton Ellis

My theory of podcasting is that the best shows are hosted by iconoclasts who share three traits:

  1. They’re successful in their field, but not the most successful
  2. The have strong opinions and like to mix it up, but they know how to listen
  3. They don’t care what people think of them, but they want people to tune in

These people are unmanageable by the corporate entertainment complex, so you won’t find them on cable TV.  

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Sure, they would be great guests themselves, but only on a longer form talk show. If you run a network, you would never give them their own show, and if you did it would end in a barn fire.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, by the famous author of books like “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho.”

He starts the podcast with a monologue, something he clearly puts a lot of time into. In these wonderful essays, he will weave together his thoughts on movies, directors and the culture we’re living in. He will get into his personal life, talking regularly about his video game playing, millennial boyfriend and his never-ending, career-long list of tv and movie projects that have failed to get off the ground (“Less Than Zero,” the TV series!).

Next up, he will talk to a guest for an hour or two, and maybe answer some listener questions from time to time. He recently had author Ben Fritz on (who I think used to work for me) and Rachel Kushner, as well as Andrew McCarthy and Nick Jarecki back in 2017.

He doesn’t care what you think of his opinion, and he is willing to change his mind. He appreciates talking to people he doesn’t agree with, and he frequently disagrees with guests.  

These days my movie programming starts with Bret’s suggestions, and then I go to Metacritic to fill in my programming lineup. (How do you make your picks? Comments are open below.)

He used to be on a podcasting network, reading ads half-heartedly (if not sarcastically), but now has a private Patreon feed. This means you have to pay for it, for $2-10 an episode, with higher prices getting you a couple extra minutes of content.

He’s controversial, non-corporate and articulate, and sponsors won’t touch him since he likes to touch the third rail. I don’t agree with everything he says, and sometimes he says stuff that is brutally candid and politically incorrect (his next book, non-fiction, is called WHITE), but he’s smart and entertaining and worth checking out.

Lean Management: The Power of the EOD Report

Wanted to talk to you today about a lightweight management technique I’ve developed over the years called “The EOD and EOW.”

When we hire someone, I tell them that we don’t have management at LAUNCH, that it’s a flat organization and our goal is to stay small but increase our efficiency.

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There isn’t a massive reporting structure and you have to manage yourself, and the primary way we do that is an end of day report called the EOD.

The implicit deal is that you’re not going to be micromanaged, or candidly, managed at all, but you will need to “put up numbers” and be accountable to the rest of the team.

The report format is simple and has the following characteristics:

  1. It’s a bullet point list of what you worked on today.
  2. It should take no longer than five minutes to write.
  3. It should include links (i.e., Google sheets, Asana projects, Squarespace, ad campaigns, video clips, etc.).
  4. It can include any blockers or challenging problems you’re facing.
  5. Bonus points if you include a graph, table or chart once and awhile.
  6. Bonus points if you educate the rest of the team in your email.

It’s at once deceptively easy and frustrating at times. If you’re in your email box all day, on social media or reading the news, you might find yourself with zero bullet points at lunchtime (we don’t put in stuff like “checked email” or “read the news” in our EODs).

If you’re not GSDing (getting sh@W$%t done) the EOD lets you know that. So, we now explain to new team members — especially “young guns” (people with under 10 years experience) — that if they are concerned about their EODs being light, to talk to some team members and say, “how can I help more? I’m concerned I’m not contributing enough.”

Ninety percent of the time the people we hire embrace this agreement and crush it. Ten percent of the time we have folks who “forget” to do their EOD, or they send their EOD the next day. Sometimes folks figure out that they’re not passionate about our mission and they’re not a culture fit for our company, and we part ways.

Other times managers realize that they made a bad hire because the person doesn’t have time management skills or, well, enough skills to GSD!

Senior folks in the organization (my top four people, whom I refer to as the “Fantastic Four”) do an EOW (end of the week, sent to each other and to me).

Folks in the organization added to the EOD process by creating a draft email at the start of the day with the top three bullets of what they want to get done.

This may all seem super obvious, but if you deploy the EOD/EOW system, at least in a small company, you’ll find out that performance increases and “lack of communication” errors and frustrations go way down.

You also inspire the ETBs (early true believers) and flush out the clock punchers.

The Ultimate Outsider’s Hack: Read All The Biographies

Something Like An Autobiography: Akira Kurosawa: 9780394714394: Amazon.com: Books

A waiter at Sugar Bowl this weekend recognized me from my podcast, and after a couple of meals in the dining room, got up the nerve to tell me he was a huge fan. This is, for the record, one of the most wonderful things a podcaster can hear.

If you see me out, even if I’m with my family, do not hesitate to say “hello,” give me a fist bump, take a selfie (if so inclined), and let me know what your favorite episode is. I like being a micro-celebrity and I love talking to people–don’t be shy!

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): https://ctt.ac/3np2d ]

Anyway, he asked me for three book recommendations for a young person starting out.

When I was younger I wanted to be rich and powerful because I grew up poor and powerless. How anyone got rich and powerful was an enigma to me because I didn’t know anyone rich or powerful–until I started reading biographies.

Biographies are the ultimate outsider’s hack. They enable you to hear all the details of how powerful, important and rich people became those things. Often they will share what they learned, regret and would do differently.

I recently finished Mike Ovitz’s “Who is Mike Ovitz,” and I was blown away. I’m actually listening to it a second time, and he’s committed to coming on the podcast this year.

Ten other biographies I recommend:

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  2. Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa (top three director for me).
  3. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
  4. One of a Kind: The Story of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar, the World’s Greatest Poker Player by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson
  5. All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
  6. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace
  7. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
  8. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
  9. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
  10. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder

Some of these are amazing to listen to on Audible as well — get your free book at audible.com/twist (ohhhh…… auuuudible!).

Note: I realize I don’t have any biographies written by women on this list. Does anyone have a top ten for me to read next? I’ve got #Girlboss in my queue but could use some more. The comments are open!

The Three Vendor Rule

When I first started doing events in New York City in the 90s, the first one called “Ready. Set, Pitch,” I realized that vendors would give us wildly different quotes — often for the same exact thing.

That is when I came up with The Three Vendor Rule.

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I told my team to obtain three quotes for everything we did, from A/V to space to food to furniture rentals.

As anyone who has done any management will predict, I got pushback … but not from the vendors, from my own people!

Why do we have to do all this redundant work?

Why couldn’t we just use the same vendor as last year?

In my younger days I would simply say “do it” and walk away. Later on I would say “either you can do it or I will do it.”

Of course folks would take weeks to get this done, waiting on the third quote, melee fighting and more. “I love this vendor” and “they were loyal to us” and “this is a waste of my time.”

My team was fighting me on saving money. It was bonkers.

So, I re-stated my rule to be:

“Ask seven vendors for a quote, bring me the first three complete ones.”

The results were stunning across the board. We would have vendors we used last year charge us 2-3x as much for the same thing, a year later! Some vendors would charge us $1,500 to rent a monitor that costs … wait for it … $1,500! One vendor would charge $1,000 to rent a projector while another, $2,500 — for the same projector.

My team started to understand we were being ripped off and they started to join my team to work the vendors, as opposed to working their boss (me).

So, I further amended the rule to be:

“Ask seven vendors for an itemized, apples-to-apples quote, bring me the first three complete ones in a spreadsheet with the % difference in pricing highlighted.”

By doing this we immediately found a range of prices from, say … $15,000 to $50,000, for the same thing.

Then I would ask the team to work the quotes, pointing out things that were bonkers to the vendors. I would give them language to use that was non-accusatory, like:

“I notice that this projector is $2,500 on Amazon and you’re charging us $2,000 to rent it. Perhaps you can look into that for us?”

Or

“Right now your quote is amazing, thanks so much for the effort. As a final step I emailed you four items that are a bit outside of market pricing. If you could review them and make any changes before I submit my recommended vendor to my manager that would be great. Again, thanks so much!”

That’s called the shit sandwich in the business: say something nice, drop the bad news and then finish up with more pleasantries.

Of course, once vendors had completed two hours of work, they were more likely to come down on price because they were invested in working with us.

One time we had a surplus so I told the team “if we use that projector (or other item) 3x we can just buy it and own it. Look into that.”

Now we own our own video switchers and cameras. We can run our own events and we no longer have to ask for quotes on these items.

We could do this because we had the data.

As a final step, when we have two or three vendors in the same zone we simply ask them if they can do it for 10% less. This works every time, because we’ve created a competitive marketplace.

Now, the three vendor rule is a best practice more than a rule, stated as:

  1. Ask seven vendors for an itemized, apples-to-apples quote, bring me the first three complete ones in a spreadsheet with the % difference in pricing highlighted.
  2. Ask the vendors to update non-competitor parts of their quotes.
  3. Ask internally: Should we consider rolling our own (service) or buying this item outright?
  4. Have a second person ask the top 2-3 vendors to give us a 10% discount.
  5. Pick the most reliable vendor with the best product.

Now, when we onboard a new team member, we share the best practice with them and tell them “this is important work,” and they just do it.

This is the big lesson: Management is about explaining how to do things, why to do things and codifying everything. Then, refining it, repeating it and making your team feel 10 feet tall when executing.

When you become great at something and establish true understanding, you can name it well. In this case, my team will say “three vendor rule” at a meeting and we all know what that is and why it’s important.

Now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, I try to focus some of my time on codification of the most important things we do. Writing is clarity of thinking, so being able to write this very post means I’ve obtained clarity.

This is why writing is such an undervalued skill in the world — and why I’m focusing on it so much.

[Wrote this on my iPhone, slopeside at Sugar Bowl in a blizzard. My daughter just showed up for breakfast, so I gotta bounce. Please say something in the comments, so I know people are reading and I keep the streak alive!]

Should I move my startup to Silicon Valley: the 2009 & 2019 answers compared

Often the best advice is situational, and the situation here in the Bay Area has changed dramatically in the past decade. Today I wanted to detail the two answers a founder would receive to the question, “Should I move my startup to Silicon Valley?” depending on if they asked it in 2009 or 2019.  

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Should you move to Silicon Valley: The 2009 answer

It was easy to give advice 10 years ago when founders asked me if they should move to Silicon Valley. The answer was a wholehearted “yes!” Given without reservation or consternation because:

  1. The sheer number of investors here
  2. The density of talented people here

High-growth startups, defined as the ones trying to hit $100M in revenue in under a decade (what you need to attract the elite investors and to achieve unicorn status), need talented team members and mountains of cash.

There is no place in the world with more of those two things than the Bay Area.

If you want to take over the movie business, you go to Los Angeles because that’s where the talent, money and distribution is. If you want to build a unicorn or decacorn, you come to the Bay.

It’s never really been a major debate.

Great founders can come from anywhere, but they build large businesses here.

Sure, we would see a Groupon (Chicago), Tumblr (New York) and Snapchat (Los Angeles), now and then, but we would see many more Ubers, Airbnbs, Facebooks, Googles and Teslas in the Bay.  

Supply and demand worked exceptionally well for Bay Area investors, who didn’t feel any FOMO by sticking to startups in the Bay Area. Candidly, most VCs still don’t want to get on planes and do board meetings in places that are more than 1-2 hours away from the Valley (read: Seattle to San Diego).

Should you move to Silicon Valley: the 2019 answer

Over the past decade the delta between running a business in the Bay Area and everywhere else expanded dramatically.

Apartments in the San Francisco and the Bay Area are two to five times that of other cities. Heck, I’ve been reading about American developers moving to Tokyo and Kyoto to work remotely while living epic, affordable lives in one of the highest-functioning cities in the world.

Compensation will vary 2-3x as well in many cases. Combine that with the short tenure of people in Silicon Valley, typically calculated in months/quarters, while talent in other cities settle in and stick around for years, and it’s no wonder that VCs themselves are changing their position on the location of your startup.  

Additionally, “remote work” has gone from a strange phenomenon a decade ago, to — at least for startups — commonplace today.

Add all this up, and I’ve seen the same VCs who insisted on founders moving to Silicon Valley in order to get funded, telling founders it’s great to come to Silicon Valley, but it’s also fine to stay where they are.

Often, the best advice is to split a startup’s office functions across geos, with corporate and product being in the Valley and everything else being “wherever makes things grow faster.”

I’ve seen startups raise $3m in the Valley with a plan to burn $250k a month, then move to Canada and have their burn drop by 75% — expending their runway by a couple of years.

If you do choose to be here in the Bay Area as a nascent startup, incurring the costs, you will be taken more seriously by most VCs — even though they will deny this. The thinking by some is that if you can’t figure out how to navigate the Bay Area you won’t navigate your business.

Talk about mixed signals!

Bottom line: Raising money is still much easier when your HQ is based in the Valley, but deploying capital across geos and embracing remote workers will stretch that cash meaningfully. Check back again in a year, if the economy and housing crash in 2020 the 2009 answer might be the correct one again!

How can I do an MVP for a delivery service I want to start?

ShaneRMTanner on Reddit asks: How can I do a MVP for a delivery service I want to start? The basic idea would is this: A delivery service for people who use Offerup and Letgo auction apps. I do and continue to get validation on this idea. It plagues me that I have thought and continue to think about a solution to this problem. Maybe it’s something I’m not seeing, but, I’m driven to find the answer or move on.

Shane: The concept of an MVP (minimum viable product) is to do the LEAST work to answer the HARDEST questions.

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Before defining the MVP, you want to define the question(s) you’re trying to answer.

The questions I have about your business, as an investor, are:

  1. How much are people willing to pay for a delivery service, and can this amount build a highly profitable business?
  2. Can you acquire a customer profitably — and how.
  3. Finally, I would want to know what the scale of the business could be. Will one million people use it every month? Week? Day? Hour?

To answer number one and two, you could build landing pages using a service like Unbounce that say some something like

Offerup & LetGo users: Get Toronto delivery in under an [ hour/two hours/same day ] for up to 100lbs for [ $50 / $100 / $150 ]. Enter your email to schedule a shipment in under 10 minutes”

After you test that, you can see how many folks actually give you your email for same day vs. one hour, and for $50 vs. $150.

That data should give some really great insights on customer acquisition, like, what did it cost per click to the landing page and for each email submitted?

Depending on what data you get, you can start building the MVP or run another series of landing pages to answer even more questions.

This is your Captain speaking, I’m turning on the fasten seat belt sign

Friends,

This past weekend, I sent the email below to the 250+ founders I’ve invested in. The goal of this email was to prepare my founders for what happens to startups when a market corrects and then collapses.

I’m not calling a top to the market, or a crash, but rather giving my founders  a blueprint of how to survive and thrive in a down market.

I hope this is helpful to you as well. Feel free to forward it to a founder you know, as they might not be thinking about these issues.

Best, Jason@18.234.176.227

[ Click to Tweet: https://ctt.ac/84ceF ]

—-

Launch Portfolio Founders,

We are in year 10 of the current bull market.

Chaos reigns from Washington to Moscow and all of you are all competing for attention for customers and talent with an unprecedented number of highly-skilled founders running impressive businesses.

Having seen this movie up close three times in my startup career, I wanted to take a moment to explain to you what happens to startups when markets correct — and sometimes collapse.  

In short, I want to explain to you how to avoid having your startup die when the stock market crashes — just in case the market turns.

In my estimation there is a 20-30% chance we could have “an event” in the near term (the next two years), and since there is never a bad time to make long-term plans you should read this email twice, and discuss it with your senior team.

Continue reading “This is your Captain speaking, I’m turning on the fasten seat belt sign”

Defending self-driving cars in the face of tragedy

Last month we reached the tragic, and long-dreaded, moment in the history of self-driving cars: the death of an individual who didn’t opt into using self-driving technology. (In this case, it was a pedestrian, but it could have been passengers in a non-self driving car).

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This follows the May 7, 2016 Florida death of a driver using Tesla’s driving-assist technologies (“autopilot”), which are often confused with self-driving technology.

Since that time, two other deaths have occurred while autopilot was engaged, including a driver in China on January 20, 2016, and the recent crash here in the Bay Area on March 23rd.

Four tragic deaths, in four separate instances, using two different flavors of self-driving tech (driver assist & fully automated), but one common thread which we must, as a society and industry, address candidly: user error and — most confoundingly — the abuse or misuse of this technology.

I’m a strong believer, and investor, in self-driving technologies.

I’m a shareholder in all three of the major players in self-driving: Tesla, Uber and Alphabet (aka Google), which owns Waymo. Two of those names, I own blindly via my Wealthfront “robo-portfolio” (i.e., I don’t actively trade them and don’t know how much I own of each). I invested in Uber, which is still a private company, during their seed round.

I also own two Teslas with self-driving technology, the Model X and the Model 3, and I’ve logged over 20,000 miles on autopilot.

I use autopilot almost every day on the 101 freeway, the same road where the most recent death with autopilot engaged occurred. It’s important to note that I’m not saying “autopilot death” here, but rather a death that occurred with autopilot engaged.

This is an important distinction, because in all three autopilot cases — and I want to be careful to not blame the victims here — the users appear to have potentially misused — or perhaps even abused — the technology.

Continue reading “Defending self-driving cars in the face of tragedy”

“Why do you hate crypto, Jason?” (I don’t, but… )

“If you are right, that 90% of crypto projects are scams or incompetent, what do you gain by taking that position publicly?” asked a close friend.

I took a moment to think it through.

[ Click to Tweet (can edit before sending): https://ctt.ec/3a1P0 ]

Why was I sounding the alarm on Twitter, my podcast, and CNBC, that civilians should be very careful investing in virtual currencies that are unregulated, anonymous, easily manipulated, phenomenally hackable, global, and often run by bad actors or the incompetent?  

“To protect people from losing their money?” I answered.

I’ve got a complicated relationship with crypto, having monitored early projects like Bitcoin with enthusiasm.

Six years ago I wrote a piece called “The Most Dangerous Project We’ve Ever Seen,” that introduced many in the investment community to Bitcoin.
http://www.launch.co/blog/l019-bitcoin-p2p-currency-the-most-dangerous-project-weve-ev.html

Full disclosure, while I don’t trade cryptocurrencies, I have a lot of exposure to it by investments in startups like Robinhood, Abra, and Talla.com (to name a few notable projects).

Here are five important points I would like to state for the record:

  1. This Will End Badly For Most

It would take me ten articles to catalogue all the risks and scams in this emerging space, but to give you the broad strokes here are the critical issues that most savvy people — including those with large positions in crypto — all agree on.

Billions of dollars in crypto have already been stolen, and *most* of the ICOs I see are horrible ideas run by people who have no track record or ability to execute.

Bitconnect is an instructive example that you can read about here:
http://nymag.com/selectall/2018/01/ponzi-scheme-bitcoin-site-bitconnect-shuts-down.html

Most importantly, you should watch this hilarious video:
https://youtu.be/lCcwn6bGUtU

And read about these pump and dump chat rooms, where thousands of people (it seems) are buying crypto coins before marketing them to the next group of suckers.
https://theoutline.com/post/3074/inside-the-group-chats-where-people-pump-and-dump-cryptocurrency?zd=1

Now, it is *possible* that while most projects fail, most of the money in crypto could wind up going to a smaller number of higher quality projects that become long-term successes — but that is obviously not guaranteed.

In fact, it’s possible that Bitcoin could go to zero (which I talk about below).   

Continue reading ““Why do you hate crypto, Jason?” (I don’t, but… )”