by Will Schreiber

Birds, Planes, And COVID’s Chokepoint

On January 22, 1970, a Pan Am Boeing 747 touched down at Heathrow for the first time.1 It was the 747’s first commercial flight. At the time, British Airways had 11 of the jumbo jets on order.

I’ve always wanted to ride on one. I’m too late.

British Airways announced yesterday they’re retiring their entire 747 fleet. Permanently. Its cousins are also in trouble: the double-decker A380 is grounded worldwide.

Landing slots at Heathrow are scarce. In 2016, Oman Air bought a single morning slot from Air France for $75 million. So while the 777, A340, and 787 use less than half the fuel per passenger to fly, airlines need jumbo jets to maximize passenger throughput.

Nowadays double-deckers are merely a waste of fuel. Just like a species facing an extinction event, the 747 got wiped out by an economic chokepoint.

Intelligent-designers often cite gaps in the archaeological record as evidence against natural selection. If evolution inched along slowly, they argue, where are the fossils of almost-humans, and almost-almost-humans, and almost-almost-almost humans? Shouldn’t we find skulls of humans with tiny eyes, slightly-less-tiny eyes, all the way up to regular-sized eyes?

But evolution doesn’t crawl along in a straight line. Adaptation happens slowly, and then all at once. Chokepoints force the “all at once.”

For example, birds in Britain and Denmark have been under attack by asphalt for a century. In Britain, it’s popular to load birdseed into birdfeeders and place them in gardens. Not so in Denmark. Within 40 years, the beaks of British birds have grown 1-2mm longer than their Danish counterparts.2

For millennia the beaks have stayed the same. And then asphalt, in a mere half century, forced British bird beaks to grow up to 10% longer.

Business follows the same pattern. Innovation prods along slowly. And then one day the economy’s equilibrium gets punctured.

We are in one of those economic chokepoints. The 747 and A380 are collateral damage.

What else is facing evolutionary death because of COVID?

It might be better to invert that question. What types of businesses will survive despite COVID? What traits do those businesses have that will spread like memes throughout the economy?

by Will Schreiber

Don’t Judge a Substack By Its Cover

Medium was beautiful when it first launched. The WYSIWYG editor blew my mind. Ads didn’t cover the first three paragraphs. It’s where all the cool kids published.

Reading an article on Medium felt like getting an email from an address in 2004. “This person must know what’s up, they’re on Medium!”

The content was great. There were fantastic Federal Reserve breakdowns and Apple iPhone hot takes.

But when I land on Medium posts now, I find myself discounting the articles before I even read them. Perhaps it’s that every article has the same little M in the top left, the same h1 size and font and color, the same you’ve-reached-your-reading-limit pop-up. Perhaps it’s the fact that Jeff Bezos’ dick pic post lives next to JavaScript framework flamewars. Whatever the case, Medium’s layout no longer magnifies an aura of “expertness” for its authors.

Substack feels a lot like Medium’s early days. It’s great they’ve made newslettering easy. I love reading blogs. But as the number of Twitter bios with Substack subdomains grows, my eagerness to click through is shrinking.

The problem is twofold.

First, there’s a signal problem.

Medium used to amplify credibility. Now I find the opposite to be true for me. “Oh this person just throws stuff on Medium? Probably not worth my time.” X-out.

Second, there’s a visual memory problem.

I’m a sucker for unique CSS. As pretentious as that sounds, it’s not a conscious judgment. Daring Fireball’s grey background is soothing. The big green Marginal Revolution monster is endearing. It’s easy to find Paul Graham’s article in my tabs: it’s the only Yahooo! favicon.

Substack’s (and Medium’s) locked layouts mean I look past the author, read the post, and then move on. It’s similar to Spotify’s Discover Weekly. Despite listening to the playlist on repeat, I can’t name a single artist from it.

People who already have a huge audience will likely succeed massively with Substack. The experience is easy. It’s thoughtful. It’s simple. Lowering the bar for online publishing is fantastic. I am cheering for them.

But I hope I don’t find myself groaning when I click on Substack links.

Medium became a victim of its own success. Too much noise, not enough signal. I wonder how Substack can avoid the same fate.

by Will Schreiber

Timezones, power-ranked: Mountain, Central, Pacific, Eastern

I’ve now lived in all four continental US time zones. Where I wake up impacts my routine.

Central Time has been driving this week’s zen. Easy to wake up at 6:30am, easy to take a mid-day break, easy to hit all my daily process goals.

Here’s how each time zone feels, ranked worst to best:

Eastern Time, “The Hangover”

The first morning in NYC is a gift. I get to choose when to start my day. I can read or write or relax until the rest of America brews its coffee. But I don’t get to choose when to end my day. Happy hour slips past 5pm. Everyone’s checking their email during dinner. I end up staying late to get that support ticket from the west coast done before finally getting in bed by 1am.

At 7am, I snooze the alarm. I don’t get moving until 8am or 9am. My first-to-wake-up advantage is gone. And I’m hungover!

Pacific Time, “The Anxiety”

There is no escaping the existential dread of morning email when waking up in San Francisco. There is no quiet moment of solitude between the first sip of coffee and the first swipe-to-refresh-email. NYC is already firing away!

I used to buffer this anxiety by walking to work every morning. It’s even harder when the office is the cafe and the cafe is the living room.

At least by 2pm there’s time for a guilt-free Barry’s. The ability to enjoy dinner without constantly checking my phone is what makes Pacific Time slightly better than Eastern Time, but I can’t seem to shake the nagging feeling of being hopelessly behind.

Central Time: “Wholesome”

I’ve spent the bulk of my life in Birmingham, Nashville, and Chicago. Central Time. It’s the “just-right” porridge of time zones. As long as I’m up by 7am, I feel like I have time to sit down and think before diving into the day. By dinner time, most things are wrapped up.

But while there’s space at the margins, there isn’t quite enough freedom in either the morning or the evening to feel like there’s time to really back away from the desk.

Mountain Time: “Reckless In A Good Way”

Getting out of bed at 6am in Idaho is perfect.

There’s a full hour before NYC starts going Full Send. And since people know you’re “somewhere in the mountains,” nobody will miss you until 8am.

Work, read, write, whatever. The best part comes at 2pm. NYC knows the work day is supposed to be over. And because you woke up before San Francisco, people on the west coast think you might as well by in NYC.

Go ski a few runs. Go for a hike. Go for a run. Nobody is going to miss you from 2pm-dinner, when you can pick up and answer any remaining questions in your inbox.

by Will Schreiber

Restaurant Revenue and Goodhart’s Law

When we moved to Ketchum two winters ago, Elizabeth got a job waitressing at a little eight-table local restaurant.

The walls were still blank on her first day of work. They’d only been serving guests for a week.

January 2019 marked the restaurant’s first full month of pumping out pizzas and wine. They went on to do ~3x more “monthly” revenue than we did that same month at Bottle. And we had a three year head start!

If each business was reduced to an Excel sheet comparing only revenue, their “$100k of sales in the first month” narrative would outshine our “5-digit MRR three years in” narrative.

But pizza comes with significant marginal costs: flour, San Marzano’s, mozzarella, cooks, hosts and waiters. There’s a reason I’m happy owning Bottle’s current and future cash flow instead.

Everyone jokes about using revenue as a metric. “What we lose per unit we’ll make up in volume!”

But I’ll bite. For software businesses, revenue is a meaningful metric because costs are fairly fixed and familiar: engineers, ads, and AWS bills. This is why the entire SaaS market has been trading ~10x revenue, independent of vertical.

“Fixed and familiar costs” don’t apply to the newest venture-backed businesses, though. As revenue becomes the ultimate metric, software-enabled companies are hacking top line revenue. It’s Goodhart’s Law.

I saw a tweet by Garry Tan yesterday, sharing Truepill’s latest $25 million round:

“Truepill revenue reached $48 million in 2018 and nearly $100 million in 2019; it could reach an estimated $200 million this year as it pushes further into working with health plans, drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers.”1

Maybe those revenue numbers are compelling. Maybe the aren’t. I can’t tell because revenue has lost its meaning. It got me thinking about three things:

1. Restaurant Revenue

I propose a new term: Restaurant Revenue. Restaurant Revenue is revenue that comes with real and significant costs. A pizza. A pizza delivery. A short-term tenant inside a long-term lease. A flu shot. A prescription. These things are inherently different than HTTP packets.

Pharmacies in particular come with incredibly high marginal costs.

I used to think Walgreens used Doritos and Coke to lure people in to buy high-margin drugs. It’s actually the other way around. The pharmacy is a loss-leader to get people to come buy toilet paper and razors. Pharmacies are so low-margin that the undisputed king of low-margin is struggling to make drugs profitable. Their rival Target gave up completely.

Truepill is an API-enabled pharmacy. It’s a great idea. But how much of the $200 million in projected revenue is zero-margin prescription drug revenue?2

If it’s mostly Restaurant Revenue, then it’s a vanity metric.

2. Alpha Revenue

Restaurant Revenue isn’t all bad. Lots of software-enabled companies genuinely reduce costs and induce demand in novel ways.

Thus I propose a second term: Alpha Revenue. Alpha Revenue is the contribution margin that, with a straight face, you can say is added because of software.

Cloud kitchens and Chick-fil-a both sell fried chicken sandwiches. Let’s say a cloud kitchen has trained a robot to hand-batter all the chicken breasts. In doing so, they might knock $0.50 in cost off each chicken sandwich. Alpha Revenue.

Or take Bungalow. They can induce demand from a well-designed website. They can make it easy to split the house and rent by the room. This enables them to turn 3-bedroom houses renting for $3k/mo into 4-bedroom houses renting for $1.2k/room. The Restaurant Revenue is $4.8k/mo, but the Alpha Revenue is $1.8k/mo.

3. Business Models

Eventually, the market will sort the valuations out. But, for any business that lists software engineers in its S1, the market is struggling to discriminate between Restaurant Revenue and Alpha Revenue.

It’s how you end up with an app-driven insurance provider worth $4 billion.

The downstream valuations are having a negative impact on new startups. There’s a pressure to build revenue as fast as possible, Restaurant Revenue or Alpha Revenue be damned.

My friend is starting a women’s hormonal health company. She wants to pair women with PCOS with providers. VC’s are pushing her to “own the entire stack” and bring healthcare providers onto payroll. It’s an easy way to book a lot of top line Restaurant Revenue. She’s wary.

In fact, Truepill just invested in Ahead, a company with full-time therapists on staff ready to provide Telehealth treatment for ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Lots of Restaurant Revenue. Can they produce Alpha Revenue, though?

If Airbnb was raising a Series A today, it’s tough to imagine VC’s not pushing them to “buy the real estate yourselves.” Get the top line revenue to swell, raise the next round, pass off to the public market.

There are better business models than restaurants. Google, Lyft, and Airbnb all invented not only new products, but new business models. Where did all the business model innovation go? I don’t know if it’s a failure of vision or the fact that VC’s got sick of battling independent contractor employment law.

I’ll be curious to see which of these restaurant models end up with enduring Alpha Revenue.

  1. Truepill revenue reached $48 million in 2018 and nearly $100 million in 2019; it could reach an estimated $200 million this year as it pushes further into working with health plans, drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers.

    — Garry Tan (@garrytan) July 8, 2020

  2. Based on known public information, I think Truepill is a fairly capital efficient business. My criticism of revenue as a metric is not a criticism of Truepill as a business.

by Will Schreiber

Long email signatures

I was wrong to think I needed to appear buttoned-up online.

When I was a teenager, I had a personal website with an About Me page. It read like I’d built a compiler for PHP, sold two companies, and achieved alpha day trading. My email signature was five lines long.

I didn’t realize how much people simply crave raw personalities. Typos. Mistakes. Thinking out loud.

When Churchill was asked to replace Chamberlain in the spring of 1940, he kept the 28-year-old John Colville on staff as his secretary.

Colville didn’t like Churchill. He didn’t want bombs to drop on London. He didn’t want his brother to die in France. He wanted to make a deal with Hitler.

He thought Churchill was rash, erratic, and such a blatantly bad choice that Hitler must have been behind Churchill’s rise:

“One of Hitler’s cleverest moves has been to make Winston Public Enemy Number One, because this fact has helped to make him Public Hero Number One at home and in the U.S.A.”1

Within a few months, Churchill had won him over.

Colville would walk in on Churchill naked in his tub, reading papers and dictating speeches. He’d catch the muttered jokes that came out of his mouth after reading disastrous news. He saw Churchill’s tears when ordering to open fire on the French naval fleet.

The standing ovations in the House of Commons didn’t win Colville over. The demands, the jokes, the light blue bathrobes did.

I’m not saying to get drunk and tell jokes until 2 A.M.

But it’s easier than ever to appear professional online. It’s harder than ever to make people laugh out loud.

  1. From John Colville’s diary. The Splendid And The Vile by Erik Larson
by Will Schreiber

The High-Frequency-Trading Of News

If Bush had given his famous bullhorn speech in 2020, I’m not sure I’d have seen it. I’d have likely seen a little clip of the end, when he puts his arm around the fireman and says, “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” But I doubt I’d have seen it in its entirety.1

I’ve yet to listen to an entire Trump speech. He gave a 10 minute national address from the Oval Office back in March. I saw maybe 2-3 minutes of it.

It’s hard to tell if this is unique to Trump, or an indictment of our times.

The last time I can remember watching an entire speech was on May 1, 2011, when Obama walked down a long hall in the White House up to a podium and announced that Seals had killed Osama Bin Laden.2

The news had leaked a little before his address. I had been studying for a test in the library. I walked back to my dorm to watch with everyone else. As he spoke, people started streaming into the streets with American flags and Roman candles.

Before the “Captured And Killed” address, I remember watching both Obama and McCain give their convention speeches. I watched Obama’s infamous ’04 DNC speech. And I remember seeing Bush that day at Ground Zero.

But in the last 8 years, I haven’t watched a single speech start to finish.3

Instead, I see shorter clips uploaded to Twitter. If I’m curious, I’ll Google the quotes to try to find the original video. This often takes me to YouTube, where I’ll search for “Trump Speech Rosegarden”, only to be met with a wall of MSNBC and Fox and CNN and TwoGuysNamedDan videos showing the same 10 second clip of Trump followed by 9 minutes of discussion.

Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, and the Twitter Industrial Complex behave like high-frequency traders, front-running news stories with speed and opinion. We the citizenry are retail investors, our leaders are institutional investors, and the news is the black box in the middle. They’re taking advantage of our information asymmetry to tell us, “You got a fair deal! You don’t need to see the whole market to know you got a really good price! We promise :)”

Years ago, I thought Twitter and Instagram meant I’d get to learn more about our leaders and current events. But I don’t see raw bullhorn speeches anymore. Everything is trimmed.

Where can I hear a Senator speak for longer than 15 seconds?

CSPAN, I know. But there’s some self-deception going on. We’re tricked into thinking we’re plugged in to what’s happening. Oh cool, AOC is showing us around her apartment!

The reality is much different. Imagine going to see the Mona Lisa. You get to the Louvre and walk up to the painting. When you get there, the painting is behind a curtain and instead you’re shown a photo of the Mona Lisa, with arrows and circles drawn over the top, directing your attention specifically to her left eye.

I’m finding it increasingly hard to just see the Mona Lisa.

  1. I watch lots of old speeches by Clinton, Reagan, Bush, Johnson, and others. But something feels different about these old-school speeches, I’m not sure what.

by Will Schreiber

Google blew a ten-year lead.

Back when there were rumors of Google building an operating system, I thought “Lol.”

Then I watched then-PM Sundar Pichai announce Chrome OS. My heart raced. It was perfect.

I got my email through Gmail, I wrote documents on Docs, I listened to Pandora, I viewed photos on TheFacebook. Why did I need all of Windows Vista?

In 2010, I predicted that by 2020 Chrome OS would be the most popular desktop OS in the world. It was fast, lightweight, and $0.

“Every Windows and OS X app will be re-built for the browser!” I thought. Outlook->Gmail. Excel->Sheets. Finder->Dropbox. Photoshop->Figma. Terminal->

All of your files would be accessible by whoever you wanted, wherever you wanted, all the time. It was obvious. Revolutionary.

I haven’t installed MSFT Office on a machine since 2009. Sheets and Docs have been good enough for me. The theoretical unlimited computing power and collaboration features meant Google Docs was better than Office (and free!).

Then something happened at Google. I’m not sure what. But they stopped innovating on cloud software.

Docs and Sheets haven’t changed in a decade. Google Drive remains impossible to navigate. Sharing is complicated. Sheets freezes up. I can’t easily interact with a Sheets API (I’ve tried!). Docs still shows page breaks by default! WTF!

Even though I have an iPhone and a MacBook, I’ve been married to Google services. I browse Chrome. I use Gmail. I get directions and lookup restaurants on Maps. I’m a YouTube addict.

Yet I’ve been ungluing myself from Google so far this year. Not because of Google-is-reading-my-emails-and-tracking-every-keystroke reasons, but because I like other software so much more that it’s worth switching.

At WWDC, Apple shared Safari stats for macOS Big Sur. It reminded me how much Chrome makes my machine go WHURRRRRR. Yesterday, I made Safari my default browser again.

My Gmail inbox has become a mailbox stuffed with clothing flyers, SaaS mailers, and Rollbar alerts. I love when people respond to Second Breakfast, but their responses get lost amid a sea of plastic bottles. I started using HEY last week. My new email is I love it so far.

I’ve given up on Google Docs. I can never find the documents Andy shares with me. The formatting is tired and stuck in the you-might-print-this-out paradigm. Notion is a much better place to write and brainstorm with people.

The mobile Google results page is so cluttered that I switched my iPhone’s default search to DuckDuckGo. The results are a tad worse, but I’m never doing heavy-duty searches on the go. And now I don’t have to scroll past 6 ads to get the first result. DuckDuckGo’s privacy is an added bonus.

I still use Google Sheets heavily. But wow, Airtable makes Sheets feel decrepit. Where’s the easy API? New ways of formatting? Better collaboration? Simple sheet-as-a-database?

My new usage patterns:

  • Email: Gmail HEY
  • Search: Google DuckDuckGo (mobile) and Google (desktop)
  • Maps: Google
  • Docs: Google Notion
  • Sheets: Google
  • Video: YouTube (but increasingly I’m noticing other people use Twitch, Instagram, and TikTok)
  • Video Calls: Google Meet Zoom

I’m a long shareholder of Google. It’s amazing how they have four monopolies and only monetize one of them. I’m confident they have a bright future ahead.

But the lack of innovation is frustrating. The product goals are all over the place. Microsoft has a new clear mission: The Cloud. What’s Google’s clear mission?

It feels like they blew a 10 year lead.

by Will Schreiber

Picky Eaters, Philanderers, and Hamlet

Yesterday on Twitter, Andrew Wilkinson asked why anyone would optimize for something other than personal and family happiness.1

Leah Culver responded that she at least wants to make an impact and contribute to society. And then, in an Internet rarity, she said “Maybe it’s really good for society to have both viewpoints!”2

Her comment reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately: it was good for humans to have both picky and adventurous eaters.

I was a lightly-fried-chicken-tenders, crust-off-my-PB&J, only-cheese-pizza-please picky eater. I marveled at my friends who could pick up whole pickles and bite into them.

Perhaps I’m justifying my childhood. But humans needed people who’d eat those new berries and also people who wouldn’t.

We don’t appreciate how the differences between us are features instead of bugs. We crave to know what’s The Right Thing To Do and what’s The Wrong Thing To Do.

There’s rarely Right or Wrong, though.

Richard Dawkins has run models to find out if philandering is a more successful male mating strategy than being faithful. The steady state always ends up being a mixture of Hugh Hefners and Carl Fredricksens. Usually more Carl Fredricksens, but a mixture.3

Is that good or bad? Wrong question.

Almost every story - whether it’s a “Man In A Hole” story or a “Boy Meets Girl” story or a “Cinderella” story - involves good people facing bad situations who eventually triumph.4

Like Liam Neeson fighting and shooting and punching his way through terrorists to get his kidnapped daughter home.

Or Rachel Chu getting rejected by her boyfriend’s family, only to overcome their doubts and marry him in the end.

There’s a clear line separating good from evil, right from wrong, good guy from bad guy.

And then there’s Hamlet.

Hamlet’s father dies. His mother remarries his Uncle. Fine. He goes to see a ghost of his father. Is the ghost real? Who knows. He stages a re-enactment of his father’s murder. The re-enactment flops. As he talks to his mother, he sees curtains blowing in the wind and he accidentally stabs Polonius. Nothing happens. Then he dies in a duel. Is he going to go to heaven or hell? Maybe.5

“We are so seldom told the truth. And Hamlet tells us we don’t know enough about life to know what the good news is or bad news is. Thank you Bill.” -Kurt Vonnegut

The truth is “Yes.”

  1. It's truly insane to me that people optimize their life for anything but lifestyle/personal/familial happiness.

    What else is there?

    — Andrew Wilkinson (@awilkinson) June 15, 2020

  2. Maybe it’s really good for society to have both viewpoints!

    — Leah Culver (@leahculver) June 16, 2020

  3. The ‘philanderer’ strategy was postulated, not as the way males behave, but as one of two hypothetical alternatives, the other being the ‘faithful’ strategy. The purpose of this very simple model was to illustrate the kinds of conditions under which philandering might be favoured by natural selection, and the kinds of conditions under which faithfulness might be favoured. There was no presumption that philandering was more likely in males than faithfulness. Indeed, the particular run of the simulation that I published culminated in a mixed male population in which faithfulness slightly predominated (Dawkins 1976a, p. 165, although see Schuster & Sigmund 1981).

  4. This is a condensed version of Vonnegut’s wording. I haven’t read Hamlet since middle school and I struggle to read Shakespeare. To me, the ambiguity of Vonnegut’s stories are what make Vonnegut brilliant. I like that he feels the same way about Shakespeare.

by Will Schreiber

Birmingham’s Original Sin

Last Monday, I wrote down a bunch of potential blog topics:

Deleting Twitter off my phone. How meritocracy is like free will: better to believe it isn’t an illusion. Taking noon-2pm off each day. Remote culture. Perception of time. The cult of Ayn Rand. “I want to know where I’m going to die, so I never go there.”

Each morning, I sat down to write. Even with a dozen prompts, I couldn’t type. I was thinking about the videos of unarmed protestors getting sprayed with tear gas, and worse.

Dave Chappelle has a bit in Killin’ Them Softly about the difference in black people’s and white people’s experiences with cops.1 Textbook “it’s funny because it’s true.” The painful part is how, twenty years and four Presidents later, nothing has changed.

I grew up in Birmingham. I went to an all-white high school. We took field trips to the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Museum. I thought my physical proximity to LBJ’s chapter in history meant I had a special view of race relations. It’s amazing what we justify.

Birmingham is a comparatively new city. When Lee surrendered to Grant, only 2,000 people lived in all of Jefferson County.

After the civil war, a geologist discovered limestone beneath Red Mountain. He called it “by far the most deeply interesting material fact on the American continent.” Jefferson County became the only known place in the world where you could find coal, limestone, and iron ore. Combine all three and you get steel.

By 1920, just two generations after the discovery, 300,000 people lived in Birmingham. It was the fastest-growing city in the country. “Magic City.”

Most of those 300,000 migrants came from northern industrial hubs. Birmingham’s steel industry had worked hard at recruiting both white and black laborers to fill their fiery furnaces.

It hadn’t been easy. White people in 1870 viewed factory workers as “wage slaves.” To them, America was still Jefferson’s agrarian dreamscape. A steel executive summed it up in an 1889 essay: “Skilled workers would not work for long in a society where labor was looked upon as the connecting link between blacks and whites.”2

So how did Birmingham’s boosters convince 300,000 people to move south?

They promised a rigid social order,3 one where only white people could be promoted into management. A flyer for the Avondale Iron Works explicitly read, “[We] do no consider black people reliable for higher grades of employment.”

“[Birmingham is] a place where labor and capital has an opportunity to build a social order in which the free labor ideology will be realized,” the boosters promised young white steel workers in ad after ad.4

Either I was sick for the “Steel Industry And Its Labor Market Day” in 4th grade Alabama History, or we skipped it completely.

At the time, I thought the worst of racism was behind us. After all, the Civil Rights Act was signed 40 years ago! I was wrong.

When I learned more about Birmingham’s birth, it made sense to me why 80 years later MLK’s famous letter came from Birmingham’s jail.

This isn’t a criticism of Birmingham in particular. I like Birmingham. As an export, it’s depressing how Nashville and Chicago and Seattle and Boston and SF are equally blind.

De facto segregation across our country proves foundations are hard to fix.

There’s a quote from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that I love, when Lisbeth is asked who deserves to be punished for the plight of women who are raped:

“There are no innocents. There are, however, different degrees of responsibility.”

I am responsible.

  1. Iron and Steel: Class, Race, and Community in Birmingham, Alabama

  2. The built-in caste system had the dual advantage of pitting black and white people against each other in order to prevent labor unions from forming.

  3. John Witherspoon Dubose, one of Birmingham’s early steel executivess, commented about the racial divide: “[it] excites a sentiment of sympathy and equality on their [white workers’] part with the classes above them, and in this way becomes a wholesome social leven [sic].”

by Will Schreiber

The coffee doesn’t taste any good.

Back in February, I had a routine. My light alarm would turn on. I’d chug some water, put on my shoes, and head outside. There wouldn’t be cars on the road yet. I’d watch the sun rise somewhere around Van Ness. After 2.7 miles, I’d be at Industrious.

The office would be empty. The lights would be off. Nobody was expecting an email from me. No calls on my calendar. No nagging tasks.

I’d pour myself coffee. Sitting by the window with a steaming mug waiting for the world to wake up was the best part of the day.

Since March, we’ve been making French Press every morning. We buy nice beans. We grind them ourselves. We use an electric kettle to hit 212° water.

The coffee doesn’t taste any good.

Perhaps I’m waking up too late. It’s tough knowing New York is getting ready for lunch by the time I fill my mug. Or perhaps I’m checking my email too quickly.

I’ve tried getting out of bed, walking around the block, and then coming in for coffee. It doesn’t help it taste better.

I’ve tried taking the coffee with me on a morning walk. I’ve tried drinking the coffee while wearing a robe. I’ve tried drinking the coffee in jeans. I’ve tried reading while sipping. I’ve tried writing. I’ve tried programming.

I end up staring out the window, my mind jumbled.

I don’t know how to make it taste good again.

by Will Schreiber

I Am Nothing and Also Something

Most of my friends growing up had the same hair style: long bangs, swiped across the forehead. The style is often paired with boat shoes, Costa Del Mars, and golf shirts. Brodie Croyle and John Parker Wilson both have vintage “Southern Swoops.”

I have a version of the swoop.

Like the dropping of R’s from “Harvard Yard”, bangs over the forehead give away people’s childhoods. Dressing and talking are identities. Identities grant access to tribes.

The problem with identities is all the maintenance. It’s like trying to trim all the bushes in the Biltmore gardens. Endless.

However far you can run, somebody can run further. However much Vonnegut you’ve read, somebody has read all his books and essays and personal letters. However many fish you have caught, somebody has caught more and has epic stories to tell about all of them.

If somebody sacrifices even more for their kids than you, are you a bad parent? If you take a day off work, are you a bad entrepreneur?

Exhausting. So I swore them off. “I Am Nothing,” I pronounced in the words of Paul Buccheit.1

I like this viewpoint. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and Munger teach others how to reduce the surface area of their identities. I am me, nothing more.

But recently I discovered a positive use case for identities.

If you’re standing in front of the fridge and trying to avoid packaged food, ask yourself, “What would a healthy person eat?”

If you’ve got a pile of Amazon boxes and you’re sick of tripping over them, ask yourself, “What would an organized person do?”

James Clear suggests using identity in this way in Atomic Habits. Our human brains try very hard to be consistent. By defining who we want to be, we can drive our behavior.

If we tell ourselves we are studious before deciding how to spend our time, we’re more likely to read Slaughterhouse Five than to binge Schitt’s Creek.

Here goes nothing: I am disciplined.

by Will Schreiber

Stay, leave, or create a hacker house?

We moved to SF in October. After 18 months of lugging my Osprey around, I wanted an office to walk into and a coffee shop to meet new friends in.

Industrious is now closed.

Bean Bag is closed.

So much for having an office and meeting new people.

Our one bedroom is $3,400/mo, not including the internet, water, electric, and trash. We aren’t allowed to sublet. It’s a two-month penalty for breaking the lease.

Bottle is remote. Elizabeth is now indefinitely remote. We are mulling three options.

Option 1: Leave. $

We break the lease, suck up two months of rent, visit family and friends, and then move somewhere new in the fall. Maybe we move across the country. Maybe we build an a-frame in Idaho.

Option 2: Wait it out. $$$

Stay in the lease. Visit some family this summer or rent a house for a week or two somewhere just to get out of our little apartment. Recognize that people will be willing to make new friends again, perhaps sooner than we think.

Option 3: Create a hacker house. $$

We break the lease, find a four-bedroom, granite-countertop home in a climate where it cools off at night, convince 4-6 other people to join us, and spend the summer with a tightknit group of people* who want to work during the day and split cooking duties at night.

*Romantically this would be either close friends or people who are also building companies.

by Will Schreiber


I feel like I’ve been late to everything in life.

I was late to learn to talk.

Late to walk.
Late to start kindergarten.
Late to learn phonics.
Late to read Harry Potter.
Late to get an Xbox.
Late to black out.
Late to choose a major.
Late to make real friends.
Late to start programming.
Late to buy a suit.
Late to get a job.*
Late to drink coffee.
Late to open a 401(k).
Late to start writing.
Late to learn design.
Late to get married.*
Late to move to a new city.
Late to thank my parents for everything they’ve done.
Late to start blogging.
Late to start tweeting.
Late late late late late late late.

It’s why I like this quote: “Don’t mistake speed for precocity. The world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.”1

*Still pending…

  1. Cennydd Boyles, on product management. (Not life)
by Will Schreiber

What if I run out of things to say?

Michael Arndt wrote the script for Little Miss Sunshine in three days in May of 2000. He didn’t think the movie would get made. “Just too small and indie.”

Seven years later, he gave an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards for “Best Original Screenplay.”

In an interview, Arndt said he thought he’d write maybe 50 scripts in his life. Perhaps five of them would make it to the big screen. Maybe one or two would amount to something.1

“What an analytical mindset,” I thought. “So does he think his career is nearing the finish line?” Then I forgot about it.

A couple years ago I read a New Yorker profile of Trump. “He considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.”2

It’s the same mindset as Arndt’s “fixed production” guess. “You have a limited amount of good ideas. Once you use all those good ideas up, you’re done!”

Arndt at least is aligned with show business folklore.

In NYC in the 1960’s, comedians would gather at Lindy’s Deli to chat about the industry. If somebody signed a deal to do a weekly or monthly show, the comedians believed their career would flame out. The way to have longevity was to stick to guest appearances.3

Careers were like candles. If you burned them from both ends, they were over twice as fast.

Okay, but how do you explain Michael Crichton or Quentin Tarantino?

Or take Louis CK, who spent years putting together an hour of material. Once he had his hour, he’d give it over and over again every night. It was good enough to get him gigs and pay his bills. Then, in 2005, George Carlin suggested he throw his hour away and start over. Not this one time, but at the end of every year.4

I hesitated to start publishing a blog. What if I ran out of things to say?

  1. His “hits” include Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so he’s tracking a little above his prediction.
by Will Schreiber

Patio11’s Law

@mmcgrana: Patio11’s Law: The software economy is bigger than you think, even when you take into account Patio11’s Law.1

A few years ago, I woke up in Sunriver, OR, and went to make coffee. The house had one of those bed-and-breakfast-type coffee trays. Drip machine. A stack of filters. Three bags of French roast coffee.

I picked up one of the bags of grounds and dumped it in the machine. Power on. As I trashed the wrapper, I noticed “Royal Cup Coffee” printed on the front.

Royal Cup is a family-owned business based in my hometown. I always thought it was a regional company. It made me smile that they had processed, roasted, packaged, serviced, sold, and delivered packets of coffee to this little house in the Pacific Northwest.

Then I googled them. I told my uncle how big they’d gotten. “Wait until you find out about the $100 million company that chops all the pre-cut fruit you buy in supermarkets,” he said.

There’s a thrill in finding quiet companies, operating in the background, cashing checks. Software has exploded the number of these businesses. Ten people working remotely can make millions of dollars a year.

No giant warehouses required.

My favorite example is ConvertKit. None of my friends have heard of ConvertKit. They ended 2019 with $20 million in ARR. Revenue is growing 30% year-over-year. They have 48 employees.2

Back to Patio11’s Law.

Austen Allred shared how, when matching Lambda graduates to jobs, he’ll discover software companies he’s never heard of in Oklahoma pocketing $10m/year in profit. Doing things like “making actuarial software for funeral homes.”3

It’s not surprising. Of the 3,000+ software companies acquired over the last three years, only 7% got TechCrunch, Recode, HN, or other mainstream tech coverage.4


Most software businesses are silently marching along in the background. The best ones won’t be acquired any time soon. Why would you get rid of a $10 million/year annuity?

Patio11’s Law: The software economy is bigger than you think, even when you take into account Patio11’s Law.

Note: Patrick McKenzie did not name this “law.” His blog is gold.

  1. "patio11's Law": The software economy is bigger than you think, even when you take into account patio11's Law.

    — Mark McGranaghan (@mmcgrana) May 12, 2020


  3. One of the most interesting things about Lambda School is running into all the little software companies you’ve never heard of quietly pulling in $10m/yr in profit with a team of 25 in some city in Oklahoma you’ve never heard of

    — Austen Allred (@Austen) May 12, 2020

  4. I actually have numbers on this: I found > 3000 software firm acquisitions over 3 years, and then looked at how many got a “mainstream tech” outlet mention (eg TrchCrunch, ReCode, HN, etc): ~7%

    — Einar Vollset (@einarvollset) May 12, 2020

by Will Schreiber

The “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t” Fallacy

Is there a term for a problem that is exacerbated by its solution?

A couple years ago, I got into an argument with a friend about a carpooling company.

“I like the mission of reducing the number of cars on the road,” he said.

I think making carpooling easier is wonderful. But if you wanted fewer cars driving to office buildings, you should make it more expensive to commute in cars.

Pooling the gas expenses and riding with other humans makes driving 30 minutes to and from the office a little less horrific. Less horrific commuting means more people will put up with it.1

The common narrative is that Lyft takes cars off the road. But the ease and cheapness of having a Lyft drop you off at that bar across town (instead of walking to one next door) means more people spend more time in cars than they used to.2 3

And does anyone believe 5G is going to solve our wireless spectrum crunch? Faster video streaming means more people streaming videos on their phones. The better our wireless technology gets, the more clogged our airwaves become.

I first learned about this dilemma from Thomas Sowell. He pointed out how, after Washington D.C. completed new interstate mileage, traffic got worse instead of getting better.

Maybe it’s the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” fallacy?

[Edit May 12, 2020] @bschne pointed me to the Jevons paradox, which describes innovation-driven induced demand.

  1. My brother commutes to Pittsburgh from Morgantown. He has said before that, without fellow carpoolers, he’s not sure he’d still be making the drive.
  2. The situation is so bad in places like Nashville that they’ve had to re-engineer traffic flow and setup specific ride share pickup points to try to alleviate the gridlock.
  3. Uber/Lyft Joint Study On Congestion