I’m following Tom Whitwell’s lead again this year…
The general themes for me in 2018 seem to have been how people and companies earn and spend money, how people view other people, how to be a decent parent, and, as always, how we can better understand ourselves.
There are a few random lessons, too. We published a book at work, which provided a crash course in book unit economics and distribution challenges. Also, my holiday ambition is to battle my ignorance of the oil industry, starting with Saudi Arabia’s history; there are several points from recent readings on that topic. (If you have others, I’d love recommendations.)
- Wool can be worth more than gold. “Incas worshipped vicuña, the miniature cinnamon-hued cousins of the llama.” If precious goods are your thing, Harrod’s carries $544 socks made of vicuñan wool. — Business of Fashion
- Wayfair spent $196 to attract each new customer. “When customers only spend $443 a year, this seems like a rather excessive, and completely unprofitable, acquisition cost.” — CNBC
- In publishing Maple Leaf Rag, Scott Joplin proposed a one cent royalty fee for each copy sold. It provided a steady income for the rest of his life, far exceeding the customary flat fee-based sale of the rights. — Morgan Library
- Bird spends, on average, $1.72 per ride to charge a scooter. The company said it generates, on average, $3.65 in revenue per ride. That’s 47% in COGS before accounting for initial hardware investment ($551/vehicle… down from $600 with scaling), first ride incentives, and other associated costs. — The Information
- “In a typical year, dairy farmers get only 11 cents from every dollar spent on milk.“ — Two Sparrows Farm & Dairy
- Dr. Pepper was able to increase its distribution through soda fountains with both Pepsi and Coca Cola contracts by going to the FDA and having themselves reclassified from a cola drink to a “pepper drink.” — Business Wars Podcast
- Hermes sells a $160 strip of silk called a twilly. “”Twilly… a little piece of silk that we all initially scoffed at… [is] one of our top selling recruitment items…” — Hermès of Paris, Inc. President and CEO of the Americas Robert Chavez at Skift Global Forum 2018
- “At the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago, a man dressed as a cowboy appeared onstage and strangled rattlesnakes by the dozen. He called what came out of them snake oil. People bought it.” — Charlatan
- “Net-a-Porter last year sold its most expensive single piece — a nearly $150,000 Panthère de Cartier watch — on WhatsApp… At Net-a-Porter, a priority customer is called an EIP — short for “extremely important person.” An EIP spends an average of $64,000 annually on fashion — $18,000 at Net-a-Porter — and travels 11 times a year from cities like New York, London, Hong Kong and Dubai.” — Business of Fashion
- In an auction for a rare good, the winning bid pays a “buyer’s premium” to the auction house. For example, at Sotheby’s, the buyer’s premium is 12.9% for any item sold for over $3 million; the Basquiat painting the infamous Jho Low bought for $43.5 million actually cost him $48.8 million at Christie’s. However, many auction houses are removing the buyer’s premium for online-only auctions in order to make them competitive. (Financial Times/Billion Dollar Whale)
- At $450 million, the purchase of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci was record-shattering in the art world. The previous record was $179 million for a Picasso painting in 2015. — Quartz
- “92% of shoppers who start their search for a product on Amazon end up purchasing that product there.” — Amazon Ad Sales Executive Mauricio Guerra Escamez
- Peloton sells a $2,000 stationary bike and a $4,000 treadmill. Once purchased, users pay $39/month for access to classes (or just under $20/month to be an app-only user). So who buys at that price point? Over 1 million people, which the company expects to generate $700M in revenue this fiscal year. “36% of all Pelotons purchased outright in 2017 were ordered in either November or December… Just 2% of upfront bike purchases have been refunded… 71% of September bike orders [were] financed.” “Today, there are roughly 113,000 bikes (a number that’s steadily growing) in homes across the United States alone…” The rumor is there were over 10,000 pre-orders of the treadmill.
- In 2017, Amazon retained $3 billion in cash just in unredeemed gift cards. — Financial Times
- In 2017, approximately 42% of global e-commerce transactions took place in China, more than France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. combined. — McKinsey Global Institute
- “If you can get two orders from every hundred catalogs you mail, you’re doing quite well. Sounds crazy, right? But that’s a solid response.” — Paul Miller, American Catalog Mailers Association
- “On average, shoppers expect to spend $1,007.24 each [during the 2018 holiday season]. Of that, they’ll spend $637.67 on gifts. Another $215.04 will go for food, decorations, flowers, and greeting cards. They’ll also spend $154.53 to take advantage of the seasonal deals and promotions.” — The Balance
- “~10% of online sales on Black Friday went through Shopify stores. Five years ago it was below 1%.” — @Tobi
- In 2018, 143 buildings 200 meters tall or higher were constructed around the world. China built 88 of those skyscrapers. — Statista
- “With nearly 40 million in sales last year, the used-car market is more than double the size of the new-car business… Profit margin on a used-car sale was nearly 7% last year, more than double the return on a new-vehicle sale.” — WSJ
- “85% of luxury growth in 2017 fueled by Generations Y and Z… Luxury brands are reinterpreting streetwear to appeal to younger consumers. T-shirts, down jackets and sneakers were among the standout categories in 2017, growing by 25%, 15% and 10%, respectively.” — Bain Capital
- The giant advertising holding company WPP started as “a little-known U.K. manufacturer of wire shopping carts called Wire & Plastic Products.” — Financial Times
- Square has issued over $3 billion in small business loans at an average size of $6,000. The loans are paid back based on daily revenue metrics. — Former Square CFO Sarah Friar at the 2018 Code Commerce
- “The 1,000 largest public companies in the U.S. took an average of 56.7 days to pay their bills last year.” Some corporations are pushing for close to a year, giving them cash float and causing troubles for suppliers. — WSJ
- Amazon requires a minimum wholesale discount on a book’s list price of 30%. Most bookstores require a minimum of 52% to pick up the title.
- Kindle offers two royalty options to authors. Price a book below $9.99 and the author will receive a 70% royalty on each book purchased. Price at $10 or above and the author will receive a 35% royalty. Guess which one Amazon prefers?
- Amazon is in a league of their own — one that leads to a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon. “When JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet…” — Vanity Fair (Lawsuits are pending with Oracle around the conflict-of-interest issue in play.)
- “We hate to break it to you, but we saw a Martian sunset all the way back in the ’70s. We got an even better view in 2005 and got it in video version in 2015.” While social media went abuzz about the new picture of a Mars sunset, a reporter laid out the facts. — Cincinatti.com
- Dollar stores may have a more complex role in lower socioeconomic settings than previously recognized. “As limited as their offerings are, dollar stores are now feeding more Americans than Whole Foods is, and they’re multiplying rapidly. Since 2011, the number of dollar stores nationwide has climbed from about 20,000 to nearly 30,000. There are now more dollar stores than Walmart and McDonalds locations combined.” — ILSR
- In the 1980s, the U.S. federal government created a program to employ farmers to reforest depleted land as a long-term investment vehicle. It hasn’t turned out well. “A glut of timber has piled up in the Southeast. There are far more ready-to-cut trees than the region’s mills can saw or pulp. The surfeit has crushed timber prices in Mississippi, Alabama and several other states… The region has more than six million owners of at least 10 wooded acres [each].” — WSJ
- Oil extraction in Saudi Arabia began in 1932. Representatives from multiple countries had looked for years, but Americans finally found it. The Saudis were paid a royalty for use of the land, and the original agreement was supposed to last from 1932 to 2012. Obviously, the Saudis demanded changes in the coming decades. — Saudi, Inc.
- During WWII, Mussolini targeted Britain-backed Bahrain, but one plane got off track and ended up bombing Tehran. It made minimal impact because the bomber targeted flares, but it caused the U.S. to leave Saudi Arabia in the early 1940s and effectively stopped oil flow from the country until 1947. — Saudi, Inc.
- “Hip-hop represents 38% of U.S. on-demand audio streams, Nielsen Music says, more than rock (20%) or pop (16%).” — WSJ
- Colin Morris used the Lempel-Ziv algorithm to analyze the repetitiveness of song lyrics. It’s hard to summarize without his visuals. Repetitiveness seems to have peaked in 2014, but many of the most famous artists today have highly repetitive lyrics. Check it out.
- 6 in 10 Americans only read news headlines. — This Idea is Brilliant
- “In poker, the bulk of what goes on is watching. An experienced player will choose to play only about 20% of the hands they are dealt, forfeiting the other 80% before even getting past the first round of betting… a whole lot to be learned from watching…” — Annie Duke’s Thinking In Bets
- In supporting early math literacy, two concepts are overlooked and yet vital. The first is Cardinality: the fact that the last number in the set represents the total. The second is Subitizing: ability to recognize a number of objects or symbols without counting (like how you instantly recognize the pattern of 4 dots). — The Most Important Year
- Our senses record “a total bandwidth of 11 million bits per second. Yet of this massive flow of information no more than about 40 bits per second actually reaches consciousness.” — The Hour Between Dog and Wolf
- “Exaptation” is the name of the evolutionary period in which an organ is adapting to serve a new function as its previous one becomes less critical (can be behavioral or anatomical). — This Idea is Brilliant
- Study examined genomes of 37,000 people w/ schizophrenia, compared them w/ 113,000 healthy subjects. “Identified an astounding 128 gene variants connected with schizophrenia… occupied 108 locations on the genome.” — No One Cares About Crazy People
- 1.4 million Americans spent a night in a homeless shelter at some point in 2016. 554,000 people were living in shelters or on the street on a given night in January 2017. — Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
- “Nearly 70% of high-school graduates go to college…” 40% of those who go to college in the U.S. will not earn a degree within 6 years. — WSJ
- There are 2,754 billionaires in the world, representing $9,205 billion in wealth. — WealthX
- A survey asked 2,000 people who have a net worth of at least $1 million (including many whose wealth far exceeded $1M) “how happy they were on a scale of one to 10, and then how much more money they would need to get to 10. ‘All the way up the income-wealth spectrum basically everyone says [they’d need] two or three times as much’ to be perfectly happy.” — The Atlantic
- I discovered a letter written by President Theodore Roosevelt in which he promotes eugenics, and I’ll never forget it. “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stock, physically and morally…” — Letter
- “‘The parties in our heads…’ are not the parties in real life… Republicans thought 38 percent of Democrats were gay, lesbian or bisexual, while the actual number was about 6 percent. Democrats estimated that 44 percent of Republicans make more than $250,000 a year. The actual share was 2 percent.” — FiveThirtyEight
- “In Ancient Rome, when a general had achieved a great victory he was awarded a Triumph, a ceremonial parade… To prevent the general’s hubris from ruining him, they placed in his chariot a slave whose job it was to whisper in the general’s ear a reminder that he is not a god… To bring home the point he would hold in the general’s line of vision a human skull, a memento mori, a vivid sign of his inevitable fate.” — The Spider Network
- “Nigeria… will have a population larger than that of the United States by 2050.” — The Next Factory of the World
- “The United States has as many as two billion parking spots for about 250 million cars… The area of parking per car in the United States is larger than the area of housing per human.” — CityLab
- Fine dark chocolate should contain only four ingredients: cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and soy-based lecithin. — Obroni and The Chocolate Factory
- About 80% of the world’s vanilla is grown in the Malagasy jungle. — WSJ
- While visiting Costa Rica, we encountered a new-to-us animal called a coatimundi. While adorable from afar, apparently they do not hesitate to bite humans. There are signs on major roads warning not to feed them.
Favorite Article: Tie between How E-Commerce Is Transforming Rural China & Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money Favorite Letter: John McCain’s Farewell Letter Favorite Non-fiction Book: Three-way tie between No One Cares About Crazy People, The Hour Between Dog & Wolf & Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Cartel Favorite Fiction Book: The Pillars of the Earth Favorite TV Show: The Night Manager Favorite Play: Aaron Sorkin’s Adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird Favorite Quotes:
“It had occurred to me that Darwin & Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving. Describing life otherwise was like painting a tiger without stripes… I’d come to understand that the easiest death wasn’t necessarily the best.” — Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
“You’re probably wondering what we’re trying to do. It’s hard to say. We hope that we have something here… We’ve been working quite hard at it. We hope you can dig it. To describe it any further would be difficult without sounding like bullshit.” — Rolling Stone, Vol. 1, №1
“Excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of god through excessive humility.” — Pillars of the Earth
“Life, despite all its griefs and fears and jolts, should be good and happy, like a journey in a rickety old carriage in the company of others (and with a window to look out of).” — The Book of Disquiet
Tom Whitwell’s 2018 “52 Things” List