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Pixar's $4B lunch
A single Pixar lunch in 1994 led to 6 films and $4B at the box office
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I just wrapped up a family trip to Manila and will definitely be writing something about the city (and the Philippines) in a future send. Today, we’ll talk about:
The $4B Pixar lunch
A canned water startup valued at $700m
The craziest poker cheating scandal ever
PLUS: Some dumbs memes (eg. how to use “LOL”)
The $4B Pixar Lunch
I’ve been working remotely for 7 years and will never go back to any office environment. I like hours of uninterrupted deep work. And by “uninterrupted deep work” I mean “I look at Twitter every 15 minutes but am still able to jam words on a keyboard because no one is ‘coming by my desk’ to chat”.
Either way, working near other people isn’t for me. But if there’s one creative story that highlights the value of physically being around others, it’s the legendary $4B Pixar lunch.
The lunch was memorialized in a 2008 teaser trailer for the film Wall-E. Andrew Stanton — one of the most prolific Pixar directors — tells the story:
“In the summer of 1994, there was a lunch. Me, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, the late Joe Ranft all sat down [at the Hidden City Cafe in Point Richmond, California near Pixar’s head office]. Toy Story was almost complete and we thought ‘well jeez, if we’re going to make another movie, we better get started now’. So at that lunch, we knocked around a bunch of ideas that eventually became A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo. The last one we talked about that day was the story of a robot name Wall-E.”
Below is a recreation of the table napkin where the four jotted down ideas.
Steve Jobs famously made Pixar's HQ an open structure with an atrium area where everyone had to pass through. Why? He wanted to maximize the amount of interaction between employees from different divisions (Jobs told historian Walter Isaacson that the key to creativity was serendipity). I think the $4B Pixar lunch is a version of this creativity by serendipity.
Toy Story was a smash hit, bringing in a worldwide box office of $245m (this was Hollywood's biggest haul in 1995, beating out Apollo 13 and Batman Forever). Steve Jobs used Toy Story’s success as a launchpad for Pixar’s IPO that same year.
In the following years, Pixar checked off films they ideated during that lunch:
1998: A Bug’s Life ($363m, directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton)
2001: Monsters Inc. ($529m, Pete Docter)
2003: Finding Nemo ($871m, Andrew Stanton)
2006: Disney acquires Pixar for $7.4B. Jobs owned ~50% of Pixar and became Disney’s largest single shareholder, with a 7% stake. The massive pay-off was two decades in the making: in 1986, Jobs paid $5m to George Lucas for the graphics animation company that would become Pixar (and invested another $50m into the company).
2008: Wall-E ($521m, Andrew Stanton)
The Pixar team picked Toy Story — and then A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc. — because it was cheaper to animate toys and animals than humans (in comparison, AI can now pump out high-fidelity graphics based on a simple text prompt).
Each story also had a straightforward-but-catchy-premise: Toy Story (“based on the belief that kids thought toys came to life when nobody was looking”), Monsters Inc. (“Docter suggested that they come up with another popular belief, that monsters were hiding in the children’s closet ready to come out and scare them”), A Bug’s Life (“build on the Aesop fable, the ant and the Grasshopper”), Finding Nemo (Stanton remembered as “a child watching the fish in the tank at the dentists office, and wondering if the fish wanted to go home”) and Wall-E (“What if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot?”).
In the decade after Wall-E, Pixar released two related sequels:
2013: Monsters University ($744m, Dan Scanlon)
2016: Finding Dory ($1B, Andrew Stanton)
All told, these films have grossed over $4B. Meanwhile, most of my lunches end with me wishing I got a Caesar Salad instead of fries (I'm still never going back to the office, though).
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Links and Memes
A $700m canned water startup: The snark was out in full-force this week on news that Liquid Death — which sells water in a can — raised $70m at a $700m valuation. Dozens of cynical takes were like “how can a water company be worth so much?”. The valuation wasn’t surprising to me. I easily spend $15-20 on random beverages anytime I roll into 7-11.
For the cynics, let me introduce you to the absurd bottled water industry. Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coca-Cola (Dasani) sell $1B+ a year of Detroit tap water. I repeat, Detroit tap water. A Consumer Reports study found that Pepsi and Coca-Cola have mark-ups of 133x on the water!
Launched in 2017, Liquid Death sales will hit $130m this year and is “the fastest-growing nonalcoholic beverage brands in history” as detailed in Inc.’s profile of CEO Mike Cessario. It’s a great case study:
Water is a massive category…: Bottled water has surpassed carbonated soft drinks as the top beverage category with estimated sales of $45B in 2022 (on a very related note, China’s richest person — Zhong Shanshan ($60B+) — built an empire on bottled water per The Split newsletter).
…and all about branding: Most bottled water is just re-purposed tap water. Liquid Death differentiates itself by a “give no Fs” skateboarder/heavy metal brand that counts Wiz Khalifa and Tony Hawk among its investors (Cessario is a former ad exec and nailed the motto: “Murder your thirst”).
Targeting specific demos: The origin story for Liquid Death is that Cessario was working a concert in his early-20s and noticed that the bands were drinking water out of energy drink cans. Everyone needs to hydrate and some people want to look cool doing it. Liquid Death is a big hit at bars and clubs for people who don’t want to drink alcohol but want to fit in by holding something approximating an alcohol container. In a strategic coup, Liquid Death has big distribution through events giant Live Nation (which is also an investor).And let’s not forget that aluminium cans are way better for the environment than plastic bottles.
The brand is clearly not for everyone and Cessario knows that (I interviewed Cessario back in 2020 and he quoted a line from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard: "If you’re not pissing off 51% of the people, you’re not trying hard enough.").
So many cheating scandals right now:
Chess: Over the past month, the chess world has been watching drama unfold between leading world champion Magnus Carlsen and young 19-year old upstart Hans Niemann. TLDR: Carlsen withdrew from a match against Niemann and accused him of cheating (Carlsen had a 6th sense that Niemann was making some unusual — probably computer-assisted moves — while acting very nonchalant…there’s a wild rumor that Niemann was receiving computer signals via anal beads). Anyways, a 72-page report from Chess.com came out and said its likely that Niemann has cheated in 100+ online games during his meteoric rise into a top 50 player.
Fishing. Yes, fishing. Here is a hilarious NPR headline “The scales turn against 2 fishermen after weights are found in fish at a tournament”. Here’s a vid of when they were caught (effin’ embarassing).
Poker: I suck at chess and don’t know how to fish, so this last scandal hits closest to home. TLDR: Fairly new-ish poker player Robbi Jade Lew makes a series of completely inexplicable plays against veteran Garret Adelstein and wins a $270k pot. Adelstein accuses Lew — who’s poker hand was absolute trash — of cheating. After making some nonsensical rationalizations about her hand, Lew offers to refund Adelstein $135k and he accepts believing she cheated him (and the gesture was a quasi-admission of guilt).
If you have any interest in poker, watch the original video: an early defense of Lew’s actions by poker superstar Daniel Negreanu (which basically boils down to people make ridiculous poker decisions all the time) and a video breakdown of a leading theory on how she cheated (a vibrating device).
For the poker story, I was 90/10 leaning towards Lew just making a ridiculous play (based on my own history of making awful poker plays). But then the Casino released a note on Thursday to indicate that one of the workers had taken $15k from Lew’s pile but she declined to press charges (Lew and this worker followed each other on Twitter before he deleted his account a few days ago). It’s getting weird enough that I’m leaning towards “likely cheated”.
On news of the three scandals, people are asking “why is there so much cheating going on now?”
I don’t think it’s new. People are just getting caught. All this stuff is recorded and picked apart by thousands of interested participants. The incentive to cheat is also high in so many seemingly random place (eg. fishing) since the internet can make niche events quite lucrative.
A mind-blowing stat: Per The Economist, people in India spend $130B a year on their multi-day weddings (matchmaking, events, high-end videos, gold gifts, food, venues etc). That ranks as the country’s 4th largest industry, behind energy, banking and insurance. But ahead of cars, steel and tech.
Here’s a very funny 5-minute Hasan Minhaj bit: “White People At Indian Weddings”.
And here some gold tweets:
Last week, I wrote about the $600m Spirit Halloween business and how the “slap the Spirit banner on failing organizations” meme template has infinite use cases. Well, Credit Suisse has been in the news because some investors believe the Swiss bank is facing a “Lehman Moment”. The bank maintains that it’s in a strong position and has rallied in recent days. But the memes are still gold.
Ok. Elon’s lawyer sent a letter to Twitter saying he’s ready to close the $44B deal. Why? Some combination of 1) his legal case is weak; 2) the actual court date is coming up and he really doesn’t want to deal with it (there’s a big SpaceX Starship launch coming up that probably needs his attention; 3) he doesn’t want any more texts to leak; and 4) he was unable to negotiate a lower deal price (he tried to get a 30% discount but the most Twitter would discuss is 10% and that negotiation went nowhere).
The Delaware judge is giving Musk until end of October to close the deal or a trial will commence in November to settle the dispute. However it shakes out, the lawyers are winning so hard right now: Dealbook estimates that fees so far have been as high as $300m (one lawyer said Musk is probably paying $30-40k a day right now).
Do you ever notice how online recipes all have some ridiculous narrative pre-amble? It’s because long-form content typically ranks higher on Google’s search algorithm (a post with only a recipe has less SEO juice). Hence, this next tweet…
…now, I thought Amy was being hyperbolic for comedic effect. But then I read the replies and — holy crap — turns out the New York Times actually started a shortbread recipe with a 9/11 story…
I may be the most guilty person in the world of throwing “LOLs” into text chats without meaning it. However, when I say “I’m legit crying”…I am legit crying.