Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!
"Make it shorter" is one of my favorite pieces of advice.
Even if we weren't living in the attention economy, there are mostly only benefits from making "it" shorter. It being the memo, the meeting, the film, the book, the deck. I've rarely had someone tell me something was too brief. Just that they wanted more of it.
Shorter doesn't mean less content. It means more precision. More sophistication. And hence more power.
Some of you have requested that you receive my blog posts as email. Thank you for that.
Unfortunately the GDPR going into effect today means that I won't be able to continue having that functionality. I don't want to risk managing your personal data (aka email addresses) on a blog that blurs the line between personal and commercial.
The GDPR is well-intentioned but will end up like the cookie directive. It benefits large companies and consumers just click "OK."
Ultimately the solution to data ownership and privacy needs to be technical. I'd like true control of my personal data, allowing corporations and governments to access it only as needed (similar to OAuth), but making sure it isn't distributed in a thousand different places and being able to revoke permissions as I see fit.
Unfortunately legislatures, including the European one, aren't sophisticated enough to mandate such changes. And so all we do is enrich lawyers.
At least we all get a full Reset on email newsletters. For a few months. #cynical
What is your true inner self? Of the many viewpoints you’ve adopted, the thoughts you now have that aren’t originally yours, the mental models and patterns that were given to you by birth, by teachers or through circumstance, what below all that is really You?
It’s easier to say what the true Self likely isn’t. It’s not the fear that makes us lethargic. Not the anger that makes us lash out. It isn’t the ego that makes us greedy. Those are layers we’ve built up to deal with a world we have been taught is a place of scarcity and violence. Of winners and losers. Of right and wrong.
What are the masks you wear? What are roles that we just act out? What if you strip away the protective layers, the self-destructive patterns, the conditioning and reflexive reactions?
When you peel away at that onion of Self, what is there in the end? It begins, perhaps, with taking responsibility for ourselves in a world that just seems to compete on victimhood. Taking responsibility not just for our situation, but also for our perceptions. If psychedelics have taught me anything, it is that perception is a choice, and so we are responsible for how we view the world. Remember that next time you read an article that is trying to scare you, whether it is to entertain you or to rally you to a cause.
Taking responsibility for even our unconscious reactions (id), learning to practice circumspection and tolerance, breeds cooperation. This is the logical approach to surviving in a social species. You can’t do it alone. It is still egoic ambition, but rationally channeled.
As you gain self-mastery and the needs of the ego change - isn’t it insidious? - we develop compassion. Emotionally such empathy allows us to operate from a place of genuine concern or care. In service to others, rather than ourselves, or so it would have us believe. The motivation is too often that we want to be liked, accepted, perceived as better, in a position of power over others.
As you approach authenticity in individuals, the perspectives of "responsibility-for" and "in-service-to" are reconciled by discovering a wider purpose to dedicate yourself and your organization to. This purpose suffuses the world with meaning. It creates opportunity everywhere. It inspires others. It is perhaps egoic in its need to achieve, but in its creativity is is an extension of the true “authentic” Self.
So what lies at this very core, once we have shed all the layers of id and ego? There was a time we used to call this the soul, atman, spirit, anima… Liberated from a conditioned self, the mystic-sage is in essence Being, life that has consciousness.
Authenticity is when this true essence of ourselves shines through the layers. The leaders we follow, the causes we support, the purpose we find it meaningful to dedicate our lives to - these all touch our true authentic selves, our “soul.” All wisdom traditions encourage the transcendence of the outer layers of “self” to live from the inner core of “Self.”
Authenticity, viewed in this way, isn’t a canvas of tastes, styles, or fashions. Authenticity isn’t “personality”, but how true people are to their real inner selves. It also isn’t relativistic - it is a firm absolute: there is, really, only one one true inner Self. It can find different expressions, can create in different ways. But the core is the same for everyone and, most importantly, it is a shared core.
The consequences of operating from this realization, both personally and as an organization, are radical. I hope to meet more startups and founders who do.
Over the last decade, technology has become ubiquitous in our lives. Internet connectivity has grown to over 90% in the US and Europe. There are now over 4 billion people connected to the internet globally; 3 billion use social media, 90% of them from their mobile device. As a species we are well on the way to being always on, always connected.
As a consequence, the consumer economy has been changing dramatically. Retail is being radically reorganized, from the paradigm of the 20th century, the automobile, to the paradigm of the 21st, the smartphone. Footfall at malls and big box stores in developed countries is down. Ecommerce continues to grow at a brisk 20% globally, now well above its ceiling penetration projections. Amazon is emerging as a possible monopolist, likely to take up to 10% of all retail sales. Selection, convenience, and price looks set to dominate all commodity categories.
And yet… consumer preferences seem to be fragmenting. Big is less and less better. Emerging tastes skew small, local, authentic, purpose-driven. Consumers used to trust big brands. Scale conferred huge advantages in pricing power, margins, access to supply chain, and ubiquity on the shelves of retailers. No longer. An increasingly economically, commercially, and environmentally literate and conscious younger consumer increasingly distrusts big brands. The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated feelings of being cheated and precipitated a flight towards authenticity and perceived value for money. In conjunction with the hyper-growth of natural, organic, and wellness (see LOHAS), consumers are flocking towards brands that either confer meaning or are fully utilitarian.
At the same time, the rise of ecommerce means shelf space is no longer a moat. Educated by Amazon et al., consumers are comfortable buying online and companies can sell directly over the internet. What’s more, over the last 20 years an ecommerce infrastructure has been built that is able to perfectly serve even the smallest of players. Third party logistics providers (3PL) operate massive warehouses that offer full pick-and-pack services and integration with last mile delivery companies that can service consumers almost anywhere in the world.
The flip side of the logistics revolution is that supply chains have become increasingly accessible. Shenzhen as the belly button of our global materialist culture is open for business to the entire world. Increasing competition and decreasing prices are forcing original design manufacturers (ODMs, as opposed to OEMs), to accept smaller batch orders, albeit for prepayment. China has quietly morphed from a merely inexpensive to an extremely sophisticated, high-quality manufacturing hub. In response, European manufacturers focused on luxury, fast fashion, and core product innovation (for example, tech athleisure) are also accepting smaller clients. The decreased cost of doing business globally, along with well established container and air shipment routes, are making product sourcing accessible to any well-financed or well-networked startup.
The upshot? It used to take millions of dollars and several years to launch a brand. Now it takes weeks and $25,000. The result is a Cambrian explosion of new brands in nearly all consumer categories.
Our thesis is that there exists, certainly in the next five years and perhaps well into the next decade, an unprecedented opportunity to build new category-defining digitally-native, vertically-integrated brand (DNVB) companies that dominate specific verticals or niches within verticals.
If that's what you're building, come and talk to us. email@example.com will find me.
I am quite serious: go read it. And reflect on the rise and (proposed) fall of authenticity as a central driving force of culture. Because most of the authenticity we come across is as faux as the top-down mass media broadcasts that came before it. Worse: it pretended to be something different.
What Shorin proposes, and what rings true to me, is that network effects of meaning are emerging. Under authenticity, scale decreases value. But for a connected consumer, this is clearly not true - we revel in the memes, the hashtags, the shared experiences.
"We live in a time where brands are expected to not just reflect our values but act on them. Trust in business can no longer be based on visual signals of authenticity, only on proof of work."
The wonderful Forerunner Ventures newsletter (new website, check it out) brought to my attention Yanxuan, an incredibly rapidly scaling marketplace by NetEase. Check out the front page (Google translated):
The concept is simple: source unbranded product from manufacturers that also produce for large brands. Use same or similar designs and much lower price points. Will they eventually get in trouble with the brands or lose some ODM manufacturers because of their claims? Possibly. But until then it feels like a scaled Chinese Everlane... and it also does $1.8 billion in revenue :)
Good life, less expensive indeed. Did you know that Prada already sources 20% of its range from China (WSJ paywall)? Chinese manufacturing isn't just cheap, it's also gotten incredibly high-quality. While Europe was mucking about with its Euro bs.
If you are thinking about launching a Yanxuan type of business in Europe or the US, get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org will find me.