Discover more from SatPost by Trung Phan
"This is pointless"
Thoughts on persistence, time and the power of compounding.
Thanks for subscribing to SatPost.
Today, we’re talking about the power of compounding with some different stories including James Dyson, Jack Butcher and Kobe.
Also this week:
Lululemon’s “job to be done”
Meet Altasia: the alternative to manufacturing in China
And some very dope memes (including MBA stuff)
James Dyson invented the bagless Dyson vacuum.
The vacuum is great (I know because my wife makes me clean up chip crumbs after I eat a bag of Ketchup-flavoured Doritos in bed). This vacuum is also one of the best “never give up” and “persistence” stories in corporate history.
Today, Dyson the inventor is worth $8B and has created a line of popular home appliances including fans, hair dryers and air purifiers (I know because my wife made me buy them, too). But the journey to get the vacuum to market in the early 1990s took an outrageous 15 years and 5,127 prototypes.
In 2014, Dyson wrote about the experience for The Globe & Mail:
Failure is just part of the process. It took me 15 years and 5,127 attempts to develop the first bagless cyclonic vacuum. And I won't lie, it was frustrating, aggravating – but it was also invigorating, exciting. What matters about failure is that you learn from it.
Not only do people cringe at the thought of failing, but we're also an impatient bunch. We want success fast; the quick buck, the overnight sensation, the teenage billionaire. And, for the highest return on investment.
Some lucky people make it that fast, making headlines while they're at it. But they're a rare bunch. Designing something that works well requires careful thought and precise measures, then relentless testing and prototyping. It takes time. Perhaps the biggest thing that holds invention back might be our impatience.
If you asked me to bottle the Dyson story up into a single image, I would give you this gem from Visualize Value. The payoff for most worthwhile endeavors takes time. But when it hits, it really hits.
The above visual was created by my friend Jack Butcher. Together, we co-host the Not Investment Advice (NIA) podcast with our other buddy Bilal Zaidi. A running story we’ve covered on the podcast this year is Jack’s NFT project called Checks (and before you ask: I don’t own any and this is not investment advice).
What started as cultural commentary on the verified blue checkmark symbol has turned into a leading NFT collection (and full-blown internet sensation). While the NFT space has seen ups and downs over the past year, Jack’s project is truly a standout:
Open to everyone: The project launched on the Ethereum blockchain as an “open edition”, meaning anyone could have bought an NFT for only $8 (which is the monthly price to be verified on Twitter). Ultimately, Jack sold 16k of these Checks art pieces (each is an identical 8 x 10 grid of the famous verified badge).
A live project: Jack has changed the visual of the artwork a number of times and there is game-like mechanism to reduce the supply of NFTs to a single Black Check.
Incredible meme: The simple 8 x 10 grid is a great template for creating new looks.
On that last point, here are 3 versions of the Check’s NFT template. The first is an actual Checks NFT piece. The second is from Budweiser (substituting its crown logo for the checks). And the third is a riff that Jack made to raise $100k for victims of the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
The reason I’m telling you the Checks story is because Jack is a living embodiment of the Visualize Value “This is Pointless” image he created.
While working at an ad agency in New York five years ago, Jack had ambitions of “being an artist” and wanting to “sell art”.
Back then, his first real attempt to break into the art world involved paying $400 to an exhibitor and spending another $800 to print his artwork on canvases to be sold. What did the $1200 investment net Jack at his first art show? He sold two posters for $40 (I’m not great at math but think that’s a negative return).
If there was ever a moment to say “this is pointless” and pack it in, that first art show was it. But Jack didn’t and — after creating a design brand (Visualize Value) that amassed a large online audience — all the work compounded into the massive Checks hit.
“The ‘This is Pointless’ image is the most popular Visualize Value piece ever produced by probably a factor of 10,” Jack tells me. “I think because it reflects a truth many of us either experienced, or are hoping is not the case when we’re toiling away without payoff in sight. Just keep going.”
You know what other viral chart looks similar to Jack’s “This is Pointless” chart? This one that tracks Warren Buffett’s net worth over time.
Buffett is currently worth $109B (combined, me and him are worth $109B). Wildly, $108.4B — or 99.5% of that sum — came after he turned 50 years old.
In the must-read book The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel has a great line about Warren Buffett: “His skill is investing, but his secret is time.”
Housel explains further:
“If you want to do better as an investor, the single most powerful thing you can do is to increase your time horizon. Time is the most powerful force in investing. It makes little things grow big and big mistakes fade away. It can’t neutralize luck and risk, but it pushes results closer towards what people deserve.”
The larger takeaway here is not financial. The actual takeaway is that with any worthwhile endeavor, time is the great multiplier. You are either compounding your knowledge, your network, your reputation, your skill or your money. Often these are growing together and the biggest payoff — as long as you don’t interrupt the compounding — is weighted towards the end of the journey.
One caveat: you have to find that “worthwhile endeavour” and know it’ll be worth many years of your time. Not many people are built to knock out 5,127 prototypes over 15 years. And there’s value in quitting: Dyson shuttered an electric vehicle project after spending more than $600m on it (that’s another piece I need to write).
But when you do find that endeavour, let effort and time work its magic.
Since I’m jacked up on Red Bull, I’ll leave you with one more story that drives home the point: when Greg Popovich became head coach of the San Antonio Spurs in 1996, he hung a quote by Danish-American poet Jacob Riis in the team’s locker room. The framed quote was the Spurs' mantra as it won 5 championships over the next two decades (in fact, the quote is so good that LA Laker legend Kobe Bryant later put a photo of it next to his own locker stall).
The Riis quote read:
"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it -- but all that had gone before."
As you grind away, your inner voice might say “this is pointless”. But if you’re in it over a long timeframe, tell your inner voice to STFU because the effort is definitely not pointless.
Today’s SatPost is brought to you by Bearly.AI
Why are seeing this ad?
Because I co-founded an AI-powered research app called Bearly AI. And I stare at the user metrics 19 hours a day to see if it ticks up. Also, it's a great tool to boost your:
Reading (instant summaries)
Writing (grammar, rewording, auto-gen text)
Digital art (text-to-image tools via DALL-E and Stable Diffusion)
The best part: it’s all available in a single keyboard shortcut.
Links and Memes
Lululemon’s “job to be done”: One of the most cliche concepts you learn during an MBA is the idea that business is about “jobs to be done”. Here’s a canonical example: Why do people buy 3/4 inch drill bits? It’s not because they want 3/4 inch drill bits, it’s because they want a 3/4 inch hole (making the hole is the “job to be done”).
Anyways, I recently learned Lululemon’s “job to be done” when it popularized yoga pants. According to the biography of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson, the “job to be done” was solving the “camel-toe problem” and helping customers wear the same pants all day:
“…what I really saw was the possibility of customers using our [pants] not just for yoga but walking to the studio or gym and back. Solving the camel-toe problem was probably the key invention. Without that solve, the pants couldn’t be worn on the street. [Customers'] valued time above all else. If they could go to a yoga class then to coffee and then shopping without needing to change between activities, I could save them 45 minutes a day.”
Lululemon went on to solve a problem for men by creating the ABC line of pants: ABC literally means “anti-ball crushing” (yes, I’m aware that Wilson has said some suspect things including the fact that he named the company “Lululemon” because Japanese people can’t pronounce ‘Ls’ and it made the brand sound Western).
Meet Altasia: When I moved to Vietnam in 2008, I underestimated how much street pho I’d eat over the next 5 years. I also frequently heard the phrase “China Plus One”: it’s the idea that foreign countries establishing supply chains in China should diversify to other countries just in case (hence the “Plus One”). Vietnam is on China’s souther border, so it was often the “Plus One” country.
But the reality is that China’s manufacturing has become so good that no single Asian country is remotely close to replacing it. However, the US-China trade war in recent years has pushed multi-nationals to really diversify business. And The Economist has a great breakdown of an alternative to the China supply chain...which is a collection of 14 Asian countries called “Altasia” (see the map below):
"Altasia looks evenly matched with China in heft, or better. Its collective working-age population of 1.4bn dwarfs even China’s 950m. Altasia is home to 155m people aged between 25 and 54 with a tertiary education, compared with 145m in China—and, in contrast to ageing China, their ranks look poised to expand. In many parts of Altasia wages are considerably lower than in China: hourly manufacturing wages in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are below $3, around one-third of what Chinese workers now demand. And the region is already an exporting power: its members sold $634bn-worth of merchandise to America in the 12 months to September 2022, edging out China’s $614bn."
The Altasia countries have cut more trade deals in recent years and other countries can learn to work with the Altasia supply chain by looking at Japan’s commercial history. Why? Because Japan has been building a non-China supply chain in Southeast for decades.
Other baller links:
I rewatch Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Together at D5 Conference 2007 probably once a year (YouTube)
…and here some wild tweets
I felt this next tweet in my bones (referring to my BA, CFA and MBA…which are all completely useless to me):
New rule: if someone sends you a voice memo longer than 85 seconds, you can unfriend them.
Finally, a product that needs to exist: