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6 thoughts on "Elon Musk" by Walter Isaacson
Including the Twitter deal, SpaceX's "Idiot Index", the manufacturing "algorithm", management style and Big Tech beefs (Bill Gates, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos).
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Today, we are talking about Walter Isaacson’s biography on Elon Musk.
Also this week:
Is the iPhone overpriced?
Absurd Hollywood celebrity auctions
…and them fire memes (including Beyond Burger)
Walter Isaacson’s new book “Elon Musk” came out last week.
It is the latest entry in a series of books that Isaacson has written on innovators and inventors including Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Jennifer Doudna, Steve Jobs and a little-known 15th-century Italian artist named Leonardo da Vinci.
In service of the SatPost subscribers, I read the book twice. Well, the first time doesn’t really count…
…but I did read the whole thing on Kindle and took a ton of notes.
Before diving into the book, I listened to Isaacson’s podcast interview with Lex Fridman. There were three takeaways from the conversation that shaped how I read the bio:
Chronological: Isaacson writes the story of all of his subjects in a chronological manner, drawing a straight line from birth to adulthood (there is very little jumping around the timeline). He takes this approach because he wants to show an individual’s development process and illustrate how previous life experiences influence future decisions.
What can you learn?: People are complicated. Reading a biography isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with everything that a person has done. There are aspects of a person’s life that you may want to emulate and other parts that you definitely don’t want to. Read it. Learn and apply any applicable lessons to your life (when Elon is asked during a business summit on how someone could emulate him, he replies “I’d be careful what you wish for…I’m not sure how many people would actually like to be me…the amount that I torture myself is next level, frankly”).
Anecdotes: Isaacson explains insights through anecdotes rather than explicitly laying out the lessons.
Isaacson spent over 100 hours with Elon over the past two years and collected many different perspectives by interviewing dozens of people who have interacted or worked closely with him.
The book’s linear blow-by-blow narrative provides talking points for every perspective.
If you like Elon, you will find stuff to support your position. If you dislike Elon, you will find stuff to support your position. If you don’t know much about Elon — and are basing most opinions on the recent Twitter/X culture wars — you will definitely learn something new.
Since SatPost is nominally a business and tech newsletter, I am sharing my notes on:
“The Algorithm” for Manufacturing
SpaceX and the “Idiot Index”
Finding the Right Metric
The $44B Twitter deal
Elon vs. Big Tech CEOs
Elon was born in South Africa in 1971 and had a difficult upbringing. His father Errol was emotionally abusive to his mother (Maye) and all the children (Elon, Kimbal, Tosca). Errol and Maye divorced when Elon was nine and the children spent the next decade growing up very independently. Elon did not have many friends and was often bullied.
There were a few ways that he coped: 1) throwing himself into books; 2) spending countless hours on computer programming and strategy games; 3) shutting out emotions (it was a defensive maneuver against fear but also meant diminishing empathy).
“This emotional shutoff valve could make him callous,” writes Isaacson. "But also made him a risk-seeking innovator.”
Elon immigrated to Canada alone at the age of eighteen. Throughout his personal life and future endeavors — Zip2, PayPal, Neuralink, OpenAI, SpaceX, The Boring Company, Tesla, and Twitter — one can repeatedly observe the combination of traits from his childhood (fearlessness, the ability to tolerate pain, risk-seeking, and analytics over emotions).
Before getting into specific management stories, I think it is important to lay out the objectively insane accomplishments by Elon and his teams. When the SpaceX Falcon 1 reached orbit in 2008, it was the first privately-developed rocket ever to do so (prior to that, only nation states — USA, Russia, China — with like a million times the resources had done it). Tesla is the first US car manufacturer to mass-produce vehicles without going into bankruptcy in the past 100 years (and now has a larger market cap than the next six largest automakers combined).
These accomplishments are steps towards larger goals: 1) making humanity a multi-planetary species (SpaceX); and 2) accelerating the world's transition to sustainable energy (Tesla).
Elon initially believed there was a low probability that either venture would succeed.
Many people in Silicon Valley — the home of innovation in the 2000s — agreed the bets were speculative at best:
Sequoia’s Mike Moritz passed on Tesla. He felt competing with Toyota and legacy auto was “mission impossible.”
Investor Peter Thiel — who merged payments firms with Elon to form PayPal — called the startups “crazy bets”.
Reid Hoffman — who also worked at PayPal and co-founded Linkedin — told Elon that SpaceX didn’t have a business model (Hoffman reflects on his initial reaction by saying “What I didn’t appreciate is that Elon starts with a mission and later finds a way to backfill in order to make it work financially).
To make these grand missions a reality, Elon maintains a constant state of urgency by employing “surges”.
What is a surge? At least 2-3x a year, he sets an insane deadline which requires all-hands-on-deck and around-the-clock activity in order to meet a goal. This could be manufacturing a battery part for Tesla. Or stacking rocket stages onto the launchpad for SpaceX.
Isaacson explains that the surges are sometimes for goals that aren’t immediately mission critical and that the deadlines were often unrealistic. For Elon, his surges are a way to prevent complacency and “extrude shit out of the system”. He believes that innovation is not guaranteed. We can’t simply assume that things will improve but must constantly take action (an example he often cites is the lack of space-faring progress at the end of the 20th century even after all the gains made from the Moon landing in 1969 and the period afterwards).
The pace of work at Elon’s companies is “hardcore” and not for everyone. There are many stories of Elon treating employees in a cold manner (analytics over emotions) which requires other key execs (eg. Gwynne Shotwell at SpaceX or J.B. Straubel at Tesla) to provide a higher-empathy intervention.
A salient example of Elon sidestepping emotions to further the mission is SpaceX’s first successful rocket launch. Elon had been pushed out of PayPal by Peter Thiel and other team members in 2001. He felt betrayed and was upset for a long time but kept the relationships. In 2008, SpaceX was on the verge of bankruptcy before Thiel’s venture firm Founders Fund invested $20m.
Here is how Elon remembers it:
It was an interesting exercise in karma. After I got assassinated by the PayPal coup leaders, like Caesar being stabbed in the Senate, I could have said ‘You guys, you suck.’ But I didn’t. If I’d done that, Founders Fund wouldn’t have come through in 2008 and SpaceX would be dead. I’m not into astrology or shit like that. But karma may be real.
Those who have worked with Elon for a long time know when he is entering a mood known as “demon mode”, which is when he is particularly prone to outbursts. Isaacson believes that “demon mode” relates to his childhood — specifically his ability to turn off emotions — and highlights a few instances where the “demon mode” passes with Elon going back to work completely forgetting the contentious interaction.
When Isaacson asked Elon about these outbursts, he said that a single lagging employee could be holding back an entire team (which is unfair to the larger group).
“I give people hardcore feedback, mostly accurate, and I try not to do it in a way that’s ad hominem,” Elon tells Isaacson. “I try to criticize the action, not the person.”
It may not always appear to be the case, but one thing is certain: Elon never asks an employee to do something he wouldn't do himself. He typically works 100-hour weeks and rarely takes time off. When he did take a break to visit South Africa in 2001, he contracted malaria and almost died. The lesson he learned from this experience was that “vacations will kill you”.
Elon’s “office” is right on the factory floor. He wants the ground truth and that is the best way to get it (this is the same reason that designers work next to engineers manufacturing the products; the designs have to be practically implemented in the real world).
The structures at Tesla (~20 direct reports) and SpaceX (~15) are also flat. For Twitter/X, he said he’s open to having up to 20 direct reports.
Isaacson writes this about his famous habit of sleeping at work:
“He had slept on the floor of his first office at Zip2 in 1995. He had slept on the roof of Tesla’s Nevada battery factory in 2017. He had slept under his desk at the Fremont assembly plant in 2018. It wasn’t because it was truly necessary. He did it because it was in his nature to love the drama, the urgency, and the sense that he was a wartime general who could rally his troops into battle mode.”
And battle mode is where Elon operates best. “[Fighting] to survive keeps you going for quite a while,” he says. “When you are no longer in a survive-or-die mode, it’s not easy to get motivated every day.”
When SpaceX was on the edge of bankruptcy, he told the employees that he would “never quit”. It’s clear when reading Isaacson’s blow-by-blow of the darkest days for Tesla be SpaceX that Elon’s pain tolerance is off the charts (and it’s not clear what could actually ever make him ever quit).
This work environment is not for the faint of heart. One former SpaceX employee put it like this:
“He’s willing to just throw his entire being at his mission, and that’s what he expects in return. That has a good and bad side. You definitely realize that you’re a tool being used to achieve this larger objective, and that’s great. But sometimes, tools get worn down and he feels he can just replace that tool.”
Could these goals be accomplished without “demon mode”? Isaacson relates a relevant Steve Jobs story:
When I was reporting on Steve Jobs, his partner Steve Wozniak said that the big question to ask was “Did he have to be so mean? So rough and cruel? So drama-addicted?”
When I turned the question back to Woz at the end of my reporting, he said that if he had run Apple, he would have been kinder. He would have treated everyone there like family and not summarily fired people. Then he paused and added, “But if I had run Apple, we may never have made the Macintosh.”
Elon kind of summed it up during his SNL monologue.
“To anyone I’ve offended,” he said during his May 8th, 2021 appearance. “I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”
“The algorithm” for manufacturing
I mentioned earlier that Isaacson likes to use anecdotes to illustrate key points. He does so repeatedly when discussing the manufacturing process for Tesla and SpaceX.
Elon developed an approach called “The Algorithm” based on his experience ramping up Tesla Model 3 production in 2017 and 2018 (Isaacson writes that it was the “most hellacious period of his life”; Elon says it was “mind-bogglingly painful”).
Make the requirement less dumb: “The requirements are definitely dumb; it does not matter who gave them to you. It’s particularly dangerous when they come from an intelligent person, as you may not question them. Everyone’s wrong. No matter what you are, everyone is wrong some of the time. All designs are wrong, it’s just a matter of how wrong. Whatever requirement or constraint you have, it must come with a name (not a department). Because you can’t ask the departments, you have to ask a person. The person putting forward the requirement must take responsibility for it. Otherwise you could have a requirement that basically an intern [randomly came up with] 2 years ago.”
Try to delete part of the process: “If parts are not being added back to the design at least 10% of the time, [it means that] not enough parts are being deleted. The bias tends to be very strongly towards ‘let’s add this part or process step in case we need it.’ But you can basically make an ‘in case’ argument for so many things. And for a rocket that is trying to be the first fully re-usable rocket…you really need to run tight margins. Because if you don’t run tight margins, you will get nothing to orbit.”
Simplify or optimize: “Simplify and optimize the design. The reason this is the third step and not the first step is because the most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize something that should simply not exist. Why would people do that? Well, everyone’s been trained in high school and college that you gotta answer the question. If you tell a professor ‘your question is dumb’, you will get a bad grade. You have to ask the the question [whether something should exist or you will work on optimizing the thing that should simply not exist].”
Accelerate cycle time: “You’re moving too slowly, go faster. But don’t go faster until you’ve worked out the other three things first.”
Automate: “Then the final step is automate it. Now, I have personally made the mistake of going backwards on all five steps multiple times. On the [Tesla Model 3 battery pack manufacturing], I automated, accelerated, simplified then deleted.”
The process came to be after significant trial-and-error. Elon wanted to automate most of the Tesla factory but he discovered that the company was automating processes that were less efficient:
During his push to ramp up production at the Nevada battery factory, Musk learned that there are certain tasks, sometimes very simple ones, that humans do better than robots. We can use our eyes to look around a room and find just the right tool we need. Then we can weave our way over, pick it up with our fingers and thumb, eyeball the right spot to use it, and guide it there with our arm. Easy, right? Not for a robot, however good its cameras […]
At Fremont, where each assembly line had twelve hundred robotic devices, Musk came to the same realization he had in Nevada about the perils of pursuing automation too relentlessly. Near the end of the final assembly line were robotic arms trying to adjust the little seals around the windows. They were having a hard time. One day, after standing silently in front of the balky robotics for a few minutes, Musk tried doing the task with his own hands. It was easy for a human. […]
Musk took responsibility for the over-automation. He even announced it publicly. “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” he tweeted. “To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”
Isaacson notes that there are a number of “corollaries” to the Algorithm including:
All technical managers must have hands-on experience. For example, managers of software teams must spend at least 20% of their time coding. Solar roof managers must spend time on the roofs doing installations.
Camaraderie is dangerous. It makes it hard for people to challenge each other’s work. There is a tendency to not want to throw a colleague under the bus. That needs to be avoided. It’s OK to be wrong. Just don’t be confident and wrong. Never ask your troops to do something you’re not willing to do.
The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics. Everything else is a recommendation.
Larry Ellison on Elon’s manufacturing efforts
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has been a long time mentor to Elon. He was also Steve Jobs’ best friend and has only ever served on two boards outside of Oracle (Apple, Tesla). Ellison compared the two and highlighted the difficulty in manufacturing:
[Ellison] said they both had beneficial cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. “OCD is one of the reasons for their success, because they obsessed on solving a problem until they did,” he says.
What set them apart is that Musk, unlike Jobs, applied that obsession not just to the design of a product but also to the underlying science, engineering, and manufacturing.
“Steve just had to get the conception and software right, but the manufacturing was outsourced,” Ellison says. “Elon took on the manufacturing, the materials, the huge factories.” Jobs loved to walk through Apple’s design studio on a daily basis, but he never visited his factories in China. Musk, in contrast, spent more time walking assembly lines than he did walking around the design studio.
“The brain strain of designing the car is tiny compared to the brain strain of designing the factory,” he says.
Isaacson has a number of anecdotes in the book showing how Elon visualizes solutions to design problems.
Here’s an example at the Tesla factory:
One day Lars Moravy, a valued top executive, was working at Tesla’s executive headquarters a few miles away in Palo Alto. He got an urgent call from Omead Afshar asking him to come to the factory. There he found Musk sitting cross-legged underneath the elevated conveyor moving car bodies down the line. Again he was struck by the number of bolts that had been specified. “Why are there six here?” he asked, pointing. “To make it stable in a crash,” Moravy replied. “No, the main crash load would come through this rail,” Musk explained. He had visualized where all the pressure points would be and started rattling off the tolerance numbers at each spot. Moravy sent it back to the engineers to be redesigned and tested.
SpaceX and the “Idiot Index”
After netting $180m from eBay’s acquisition of PayPal in 2002, Elon invested all the money back into startups (“I put $100m into SpaceX, $70m into Tesla, and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent.”)
To make his space vision a reality, Elon flew to Moscow with a small team and attempted to purchase three repurposed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for $7 million each. After several rounds of negotiations, he had $21 million ready to pay, but the Russians altered the deal to $21 million for each rocket (totaling $63 million). Spoiler alert: the deal didn’t happen.
Upon returning to America after his final failed trip, Elon crunched the numbers and realized it was possible to build rockets from scratch at a much more economical cost:
Ever since he flew back from Russia and calculated the costs of building his own rockets, Musk had deployed what he called the “idiot index.” That was the ratio of the total cost of a component to the cost of its raw materials. Something with a high idiot index—say, a component that cost $1,000 when the aluminum that composed it cost only $100—was likely to have a design that was too complex or a manufacturing process that was too inefficient.
Elon calculated that rockets have an “extremely high idiot index” (another thing with a high idiot index: the single over-ripe banana I bought from 7-Eleven for $1.50 this afternoon). After calculating the cost of carbon fiber, metal, fuel and other materials, Elon found that the finished rocket he tried to purchase cost 50x more than the inputs.
The US aerospace industry was not much different and rocket-building had become way too costly by the early 2000s. One major issue is that the government awarded defense contracts on a cost-plus model. The “plus” in the model is a guaranteed margin on top of the inputs (say, 10%). Cost-plus is problematic because the vendor has no incentive to reduce costs. In fact, it is financially beneficial when costs increase (I’m not good at math but 10% of a $250K cost is more than 10% of a $150k cost).
Decades of cost-plus contracts had made aerospace flabby. A valve in a rocket would cost 30x more than a similar valve in a car, so Musk constantly pressed his team to source components from non-aerospace companies.
The latches used by NASA in the Space Station cost $1,500 each. A SpaceX engineer was able to modify a latch used in a bathroom stall and create a locking mechanism that cost $30. When an engineer came to Musk’s cubicle and told him that the air-cooling system for the payload bay of the Falcon 9 would cost more than $3 million, he shouted over to Gwynne Shotwell in her adjacent cubicle to ask what an air-conditioning system for a house cost. About $6,000, she said. So the SpaceX team bought some commercial air-conditioning units and modified their pumps so they could work atop the rocket.
Today, more than 70% of SpaceX’s parts are made internally and the company can send cargo to orbit at 1/10th the cost of its competitors (Tesla — which initially started by using parts from other automakers — has also vertically integrated much of its operation to keep costs down and control the entire manufacturing process).
SpaceX is so far ahead of the field that it is on pace to send 80% of the global payload to orbit in 2023.
Finding the right metric
Ted Merz, who used to be the Global Head of News Product at Bloomberg, has an insightful article about how the company's founder (Mike Bloomberg) uses metrics as a management tool. One metric that is prominently displayed around the office on TV screens is the number of Bloomberg terminals sold year-to-date.
This single number helps to focus efforts on one definable and critical goal:
Bloomberg’s success is due in part to a clarity of mission that the board embodies, as well as a willingness to share that information to motivate employees.
It’s not always easy to select one number that defines a business. It needs to be a number that is significant but cannot easily be manipulated and won’t spawn too many unintended consequences. That sounds easy enough, but many companies cannot bring themselves to do it.
Instead, they generate and publicize a blizzard of data — in part because they can and in part because they believe it better captures the complexity of the modern world. Business schools and consultants recommend managers adopt a dizzying array of KPIs (key performance indicators) or OKRs (objectives and key results) as a way to track progress.
Something is gained with such precision, but something is lost too. Specifically, it’s more difficult to convey a clear objective employees can rally around.
Elon’s companies all have overarching missions (eg. SpaceX makes it possible for humans to become a multi-planetary species) but he also believes that innovation is “driven by setting clear metrics”:
SpaceX: Cost per ton lifted into orbit.
Tesla: During Model 3 “production hell”, the magic number was 5,000 cars per week (for autopilot, it’s “number of miles driven without human intervention”)
Here is a metric-related story for Starlink (SpaceX’s satellite internet array):
For Starlink, he surprised [SpaceX VP of Engineering Mark] Juncosa by asking how many photons were collected by the solar arrays of the satellite versus how many they could usefully shoot down to Earth. It was a huge ratio—perhaps 10,000 to 1—and Juncosa had never considered it. “I certainly never thought of this as a metric,” he says. “It forced me to try some creative thinking about how we could improve efficiency.”
Finding clear goals is one reason Elon can juggle so many balls. Isaacson says that Elon isn’t a multi-tasker but serial-tasker.
He deals with the single issue at hand with his entire focus — whether it’s a feature for X or a rocket valve issue or Tesla financials — then move on to the next task.
Isaacson does not that in-between these tasks, he’ll quickly unwind by playing mobile game Polytopia or firing off some tweets.
The $44B Twitter deal
The saga of Twitter has been well-documented for over a year, beginning with Elon's takeover offer last spring. Here are some new details on the deal that I learned from the book.
A fateful meeting: After Elon had built up a ~9% stake in the company, Twitter tried to placate him with a board seat. After meeting Parag Agrawal — the Twitter CEO who succeeded Jack Dorsey — Elon told Twitter Chairman Bret Taylor that Parag was too nice. Elon argued that Twitter needed a “fire-breathing dragon” to reinvigorate the company and that Parag “is not that”. Elon turned down the board seat and moved to take Twitter private.
Twitter offered a tiny discount: Shortly after Elon’s $44B bid, the stock market tanked and it became clear that he had overpaid. He sued to get out of the deal but his legal team advised that the lawsuit was unlikely to be successful. Twitter was probably worth half the original offer but the biggest discount the board would consider was 4% (any savings on the purchase price were irrelevant as Elon would have had to re-arrange the $13B debt financing, and the terms would have been worse due to the worsening interest rate environment).
Jack Dorsey had $1B+ in Twitter stock: The Twitter co-founder originally agreed to roll over his equity stake. In other words, he kept the stake in the private company (which saved Elon the cash outlay). As the deal neared closing, Dorsey hinted that he actually wanted to cash out but Elon convinced him to roll over the stake by agreeing to make Dorsey whole at the purchase price ($54.20 per share) if Dorsey ever needed the money.
Ari Emanuel’s $100m offer: The CEO of talent giant WME told Elon that his company — with connections in sports, entertainment and advertising — would completely overhaul Twitter for $100m. The head of Elon’s family office said it was “the most insulting, demeaning, insane message” whereas Elon was “more sanguine and polite” as he “valued his friendship with Emanuel”.
Big Tech CEO Beefs
Isaacson’s book details a few battles Elon had with other leading tech execs including:
Larry Page: The two were close with Elon often crashing at Page’s Palo Alto house. Tesla had plans to collaborate with Google on AI and self-driving. However, they had a falling out over the ethics of AI. Elon thought that Page was too sanguine about the prospects of AI surpassing human intelligence (and the two really stopped talking after Elon woo’d Google’s AI scientist Ilya Sutskever to join OpenAI for a $1.9m salary and bonus).
Bill Gates: Elon refused to support Gates philanthropic ventures because Gates’ family office was shorting Tesla stock. Even after Elon took some shots at Gates online, the Microsoft co-founder said “You can feel whatever you want about Elon’s behavior but there is no one in our time who has done more to push the bounds of science and innovation than he has.”
Tim Cook: After the Twitter acquisition, Elon tweeted concern over Apple’s App Store tax and potential app censorship. Oracle’s Larry Ellison advised Elon to make nice with Apple, so he went down to Apple HQ and had an hour-long chat with Cook. Isaacson writes, “Musk had a deep appreciation for the difficulty of supply-chain management, and he considered, rightly, that Cook was the master.”
Jeff Bezos is the CEO rival who recieves the most ink. The Amazon founder actually launched his space company — Blue Origin (2000) — before SpaceX (2002).
I have been following their space rivalry for years but Isaacson uncovered some new insights including how they swapped factory tours:
They met in 2004 when Bezos accepted Musk’s invitation to take a tour of SpaceX. Afterward, he was surprised to get a somewhat curt email from Musk expressing annoyance that Bezos had not reciprocated by inviting him to Seattle to see Blue Origin’s factory, so Bezos promptly did.
Musk flew up with [his first wife] Justine, toured Blue Origin, then they had dinner with Bezos and his wife MacKenzie. Musk was filled with advice, expressed with his usual intensity. He warned Bezos that he was heading down the wrong path with one idea: “Dude, we tried that and that turned out to be really dumb, so I’m telling you don’t do the dumb thing we did.” Bezos recalls feeling that Musk was a bit too sure of himself, given that he had not yet successfully launched a rocket.
And this was a good part on how each person feels about the other’s engineering skills:
Bezos was skeptical, indeed dismissive of Musk’s practice of spending hours at engineering meetings making technical suggestions and issuing abrupt orders. Former employees at SpaceX and Tesla told him, he says, that Musk rarely knew as much as he claimed and that his interventions were usually unhelpful or outright problematic.
For his part, Musk felt that Bezos was a dilettante whose lack of focus on the engineering was one reason Blue Origin had made less progress than SpaceX. In an interview in late 2021, he grudgingly praised Bezos for having “reasonably good engineering aptitude,” but then added, “But he does not seem to be willing to spend mental energy getting into the details of engineering. The devil’s in the details.”
The two have been living very different lives in recent years. Elon sold his mansions and moved into a small home near the SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Anyone who has seen DailyMail tabloids in the past few years will know that Bezos is retired AF and getting his yacht on.
Musk tells Isaacson:
“In some ways, I’m trying to goad him into spending more time at Blue Origin so they make more progress. He should spend more time at Blue Origin and less time in the hot tub.”
Anyway, the most surprising part of the Elon vs. Bezos segment was when I did a CTRL+F for “Trung Phan” in the Kindle version of the book. Why? It turns out Isaacson cited a Twitter thread I wrote in July 2021 as one of the sources.
That was very cool to see and something I would never have found if I had only listened to the book at 9x speed on Audible.
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Links and Memes
Is the iPhone overpriced? Apple iPhone overpricing is an iconic meme but it hasn’t been true in recent years.
What happened? Unit sales exploded from 2010 (40m) to 2015 (231m) but sales have levelled off with each subsequent year selling fewer units (other than 2021). In response, Apple did increase the price of the iPhone X:
2016: iPhone 7 ($649-$849)
2017: iPhone X ($999-$1,149)
Prices for future models have crept up with the Pro/Pro Max lines and larger storage options (the iPhone 14 Pro Max with 1T of storage costs $1,599). However, you are getting more bang for your buck with better materials, chips and camera. For example: the iPhone Pro 15 starts at $999 (which is $797 in 2017 dollars).
Remember, Apple stopped reporting units sold in Q4 2018. It wants the narrative to be focused on services and the installed base (1B+). From 2015 to 2022, *total* iPhone revenue went from $155B to $205B. How much is $205B in 2015 dollars? $158B. Over this period, services revenue has gone from 10% of sales to 26% of sales.
For more on the Apple keynote, check out:
“iPhone 15/15 Pro Impressions: Not Just USB-C!” (a 13-minute video breakdown) by Marques Brownlee
“A Literary History of Fake Texts in Apple's Marketing Materials” by Max Read.
Here some other baller links for you:
I did a deep-dive podcast on the psychology of the film Apocalypse Now and the history of Vietnam War films with Jim O'Shaughnessy and Rob Henderson. (Infinite Loops)
“Journalism Needs More Taylor Swift Reporters” (Nate Silver)
“Could TikTok Kill Amazon?” (Turner Novak)
“What Google’s Ani-Trust Trial Means for the Company — and Your Web Browsing” (The Vox)
…and here them fire posts:
This next gag is the funniest things I saw last week. A bunch of Hollywood celebrities launched some eBay auctions (eg. lunch, Zoom calls) with the money going towards striking crew members. So, a bunch of people on Twitter/X began photoshopping fake celebrity auctions…and they are gold (click through this thread).
Finally, the biggest social media internet L of the week belongs to the Beyond Meat account. TLDR: Beyond Meat makes plant-based “meats” such as sausages and burgers (they used to offer a breakfast sausage wrap for Tim Horton’s which really slapped).
The company went public in June 2021 with a valuation of $9B. Someone named Farmer Bill’s threw a jab at Beyond Meat and — admittedly — Beyond Meat had a strong clap-back. However. HOWEVER…
…Farmer Bill’s rolled with the punches and then went absolutely nuclear by pointing out how poorly Beyond Meat has performed as a public company in the funniest way possible (it is now worth less than $700m).
An earlier version of this article referred to “demon mode” as “dark mode”.