This week's essay is on Roblox - specifically on the economics of Roblox's proprietary currency, and the relationship to airline loyalty programs. You can read it here.

Onto the briefing:

Edward, Startup Curated

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Edward, Startup Curated


Edward, Startup Curated


  • Wrestling, Fans and SuperFans: For a refresher on Fans and Superfans, check out my post from last August. Wrestling has traditionally been driven by FANS - large numbers of people who watched the sport because it was free and easy. But now fans are in decline. Viewership is down 55% since 2015. But… Superfans - people who will go out of their way and pay a premium for the product - are stronger than ever. About 1MM of these Superfans pay a premium to subscribe to the WWE Network. The result is the rights to broadcast wrestling in the US went for $150MM in 2018, but this year sold for ~$750MM. 2023 estimated value is $800MM.
  • Accounting Treatment as Marketing:Matt Levine wrote about Greensill last week. Greensill allows companies to sell bonds based on the value of their accounts payable. The trick is that investors don’t want companies to have large amounts of debt (“risky and bad”), but they love companies with large amounts of accounts payable (“They have leverage over their suppliers. Negative working capital!”). But accounts payable is just short-term debt by a different name (and accounting convention). Greensill has found a way for companies to convert debt into accounts payable - and change a premium for it. As Levine says, “Effectively [the company working with Greensill] was lending itself the money to pay the payables, but in an accounting-efficient way. Not an economically efficient way, probably, since Greensill takes a cut for facilitating the trade. But, again, good accounting tricks are worth money, and presumably this one was worth Greensill’s cut”.
  • Advertising supported Streaming:After many years of exaggeration, traditional, advertising-supported cable television is finally starting to die. It is mostly being replaced with ad-free streaming, but ad-supported streaming is the fastest growing category. There are a large number of potential customers who prefer the convenience of streaming, but are willing to sit through advertisements in order to get a discount on their monthly costs. The problem for advertisers is that the people who are not willing to pay the premium for “ad free” are generally less valuable than the people who are fine paying for the ad free product.
  • Taxonomies:One of the least sexy, but most important parts of running advertising is building a smart “taxonomy”. Taxonomy is really just a naming-convention for your ad units, but it becomes very important if you want to aggregate your data. We had tens of millions of ad units on Google search at APFM, but only thousands of leads/month. Most ads never received a click let alone a lead or an attributed sale in any given month. The only way to understand what we should be willing to pay for an ad unit was to aggregate the data in different ways (i.e., Seattle terms might be worth 30% more than San Fransisco terms. Assisted Living terms might be worth 3x independent living terms. Adding the modified “facility” might be worth 10% more. And so on). Getting your taxonomy right is harder than it first appears. MotionApp has a good write-up on best practices for doing it on Facebook.

Marketing to Employees

  • Teen Vogue:The incoming Teen Vogue editor has had to apologize for old tweets. The apology was forced after staffdemanded it in a public letter.
  • Burger King: The QSR has leveraged “controversial” media for the last few years (see: Burger King vs McDonalds). They have gotten away with showing moldy whoppers and mocking the Royal Family, but last week they ran an ad in the NYTs (and a tweet) that said “Women belong in the kitchen” followed by, “If she wants to of course!” and then, “Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We're on a mission to change the gender ratio in the restaurant industry by empowering female employees with the opportunity to pursue a culinary career… [we will be] launching a scholarship that will help female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!” It was arguably a positive message (women have the the ability to do whatever they want - even follow stereotypes should they so choose) and a positive program (scholarships) to help women in an under-served area (chefs), all told with humor. But it was unacceptable to employees, and so the tweet has been deleted and the company has apologized.
  • McKinsey: The consulting firm has a new managing director. He is in for a tough balancing act. He was “hired” by the other senior partners who were not happen with the paternalism of the previous MD. But he still has to appeal to the junior (and potential) employees who were generally supportive of the firm moving away from serving authoritative governments and “problematic” companies. In his first Q&A he attempts to walk that tightrope. He focuses on how he is going to trust the other partners to do the right thing, “We are a global firm that works in local context, and I think this notion of trust and empowerment enables speed”. But he wants the junior employees to know that he won’t abandon their principles, “I don’t sense that there’s a rejection of our journey to work more responsibly... I also reject the “or” in this notion that you can have a faster or safer firm... I’m eager to build on the progress we’re making through initiatives like the Institute for Black Economic Mobilityand our 10 Actions to combat racismin the workplace. Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be treated as a separate initiative—it must be embedded into everything we do”.
  • Unilever:The company is removing the word “normal” from all of its messaging and packaging.- i.e., Dove Shampoo will no longer have a version for “normal or oily hair”
  • Amazon and Transgender: Amazon is banning the sale of books that frame transgender identities as mental illness.Some people will be upset at “book banning” but Amazon is a private company and can do what they like (the books will still be available at the other bookstores that are “only a click away”). What is more interesting is that Amazon has decided these book are inappropriate on their platform, but Hitler’s book, which “explains” his rational for genocide is fine. It comes down to what Amazon employees care about, and Hitler is too far away (in time and space) to matter. Transgender issues are more front and center.


Edward, Startup Curated

  • Notice the similar ranking for “should the company be broken up”. All of these questions are really asking the same question…:
Edward, Startup Curated


AI/Maching Learning/GPT-3

  • Multimodal Neurons: OpenAI (the creators of GPT-3) are at it again. This time they explain their techniques for using “multimodal neurons” to have the AI render unique visual depictions using written descriptors. Some examples:
Edward, Startup Curated

COVID and the New World Order

  • Commuting: Commuting was down last year for pretty obvious reasons. Inrix has quantified the impact: “Nationwide commuters spent an average of 26 hours sitting in traffic, down from 99 hours in 2019”. I expect most of that saved time was spent on childcare for those with kids, and Netflix for those without.
  • Psychics:Yelp has looked at how interest in various business-types changed last year. The winner was drive-in movie theaters (up +329%), but other outdoor activities also did well (Horseback riding +41%, Disc Golf +73%). More surprising (to me) was that interest in psychics and astrologers was way up (+74%, +63%). Humans have a need to be in control, and when they can’t be in control, they need to pretend they are in control. Perhaps we will see a a similar pattern if someone quantifies general acceptance of conspiracy theories last year as well?
  • College Admissions:Applicationsfor September 2021 are up 11%, but applicants are up only 2.4% . The small increase in applicants is a little surprising given the number of deferrals in 2020 (but perhaps the students who deferred did not need to re-apply?). If deferrals don’t count this year might be a challenging one to gain admittance - which is definitely what the candidates are thinking as they applying to a lot more schools!
  • Zoom Interruptions: Kids interrupting zoom calls has become pretty commonplace this past year, but four years ago when it happened to Robert Kelly while he was being interviewed by the BBC it became a global meme. For the four-year anniversary he posts a short Twitter thread on the common questions he gets about the event.
  • Lifestyle changes: Sleeping more, exercising less. Related: Smokers quitting attempts dropped by 27%.
Edward, Startup Curated


  • YipitData: The PNW company is looking for a head of marketing. Venture-backed. >$50MM in revenue, growing at +60%/year. Needs someone with a spike in lead gen. Location agnostic. Contact me if interested.
  • Mimetic Traps:Good essay on what “mimetic traps” are and how to deal with them. The concept is that we often get trapped doing someone without knowing why we are doing it - other than that we have always been doing it. I think the idea is closely tied to “sunk cost”, but it is not exactly the same. The essay is about academia, but I think many professionals get stuck this way. Worth reading.
  • Pushing hard: How hard do you push before you give up and say something is impossible? This from David Goggins is interesting (as he teaches himself how to swim with his hands and legs tied behind his back).
Edward, Startup Curated

It seems a little nuts, but it was not the first time it was done. Simon Bolivar:

Edward, Startup Curated

Edward, Startup Curated


Edward, Startup Curated

Edward, Startup Curated

Keep it Simple,


Edward, Startup Curated