Check your Pulse #15

🎡 the technology of kindness, never-ending now, and cauliflower gnocchi ⏳

Welcome to the 15th edition of Check your Pulse, a weekly newsletter where I share a collection of thought provoking things designed to help you stay inspired and create meaningful impact. If you know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can subscribe here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

Last year, I published a request for startups - a list of scattered themes/ideas I wanted to see in the world. One of them related to understanding other people’s lives: 

As capital increasingly concentrates, I worry about our capacity to think about problems that are not first-world problems. More expensive olive oil, or matcha infused deodorant is great, but I wonder how much we are leveraging technology for maximum impact. We need to close this gap in a way that helps people understand how people of different means think and live their life. How can we learn about people whose lives look nothing like ours so we can build products that better serve the bottom of the pyramid? How can we weave different POVs into our feeds?

I was reminded of that this week, as I visited corner stores in the outskirts of Guayaquil, Ecuador (I traveled there for work).  The corner stores I visited are the kind where the average transaction is under $1 and paid in coins, where customers buy rationed portions of rice and daily serving shampoo sachets or a single diaper as they need them — even though smaller quantities cost more. Being poor is expensive. 

The contrast to my life is stark. I order Instacart at least once a week, rarely have cash on hand, and the instant gratification economy has made its way into every area of my life - Netflix, Amazon, and an app for pretty much everything.

When William Gibson said, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” he was referring to the differential access to technological developments based on wealth and location. 

This is worsened by the fact that we have all retreated to our own socioeconomic and cultural bubbles, where exposure to people who think and act differently from us is rare.

Now, more than ever, we need to talk to the people whom we can’t find in our feeds. We need to come out from behind our digital avatars and community of friends and speak real words, with our real voices, to real humans whose lives are very different from our own.

It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. But our future depends on it.

🙏🏼

Sari

“Each of us is becoming more confident about our own world just as it drifts farther from the worlds of others. Empathy requires us to understand that even people who disagree with us have a lived experience as deep as our own. But in the fractured landscape of social media, we have little choice but to see the other side as obtuse, dishonest or both. Unless we reverse this trend and revive empathy, we have little chance of mending the tears in our social fabric.”

-Jamil Zaki, The Technology of Kindness

caught my attention

This stopped me on my tracks. Thank you to Elizabeth Gilbert for the reminder. Have mercy on mothers. They were doing their best, and so are you. ❤

In this piece, David Perrell argues that the structure of our social media feeds traps us in a Never-Ending Now — blind to our place in history, engulfed in the present moment, overwhelmed by the slightest breeze of chaos. Like hamsters running on a wheel, we live in an endless cycle of ephemeral content consumption — a merry-go-round that spins faster and faster but never goes anywhere. 🎡

Amazon is good at launching its own brands, but poor at sustaining their growth. This article makes the point that, on its own, each brand is decent, but on Amazon they get lost in the noise. If you're "the everything store," you have little economic incentive to devote your user's valuable screen time to build loyalty to a single brand. The opportunity cost is selling that user a host of 3rd party products and earning a markup on all of them. That's the essential problem for Amazon executing in the brand business. 🛍

Samsung launches Airdresser - a smart closet that cleans and straightens clothes for you. I was impressed by the sleek design, which looks more like a startup that hired Red Antler than a 100-year old company. 👗

This interview of Richard Montanez, the former Frito-Lay janitor with a 4th grade level education who created Hot Cheetos is full of wisdom. His name will be everywhere soon, as his life is being turned into a movie (directed by Eva Longoria). 🎥

I learned how to fold a fitted sheet with this lovely NYT tutorial and it was the highlight of my week. 🛏

I devoured Natalie Beach’s exposé of her friendship with Instagram star Caroline Calloway as if it were a mystery novel; it sent me off to research Caroline on Instagram and read all of the news clips that ensued. 😳

A crowdsourced thread on what killed your startup. Posted some of the answers below - but overall two takeaways: a) we don’t do a great job of talking about the most important cost of starting a company - our mental and emotional well-being b) we need to shift our culture from one that celebrates raising money to one that celebrates making money. 💭

  • Instead of working on what users actually wanted, we worked really hard to solve a problem that seemed fundable, but did not exist, and by the time we realized it, we were both out of money and energy.

  • Didn’t focus on revenue early enough.

  • We tried building a company around a new technology instead of a customer need.

  • Complacency from having funding

  • Mental health issues/wasn't solving a problem that I cared enough about.

For the love of god, please tell me what your company does is so good. 📜

We are nothing yet we are everything. No video visualizes this better than this psychedelic trip that starts at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago and slowly transports us to the outer edges of the universe. 🌘

I enjoyed Kara Swishers’ interview of The Wing CEO Audrey Gelman on Recode Decode. 🎀

Wow, for the first time since 1986, vinyl is going to sell more units per year than CDs. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. 💿

We Might Be Reaching ‘Peak Indifference' on Climate Change. “The psychologist Robert Gifford once enumerated the ‘seven dragons of inaction’ on climate, from ingrained habits (car culture) to lack of trust (in, say, scientists) to numbness (statistics overload). As the crisis grows, our indifference grows too. But at some point, a crisis gets so bad that it becomes unignorable. Our indifference reaches a peak, begins to decline – and panic emerges.” 🌲

A wonderful read on why we need to rethink our obsession with scale. ⚖

Has anyone else joined the cult of Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi? Oh, and it has it’s own Instagram account. 🍝

have you heard of?

Light Phone is a phone designed to be used as little as possible. When the founders first launched, it was intended as more of an experiment. Now, Light Phone has come out with a new version that aims to eclipse your smartphone entirely.  While the original only let you store nine contacts in its address book, the latest version has an unlimited address book, texting, directions and faster connectivity speeds. For $350, it’s an escape from the never-ending cycle of mindless scrolling. The proliferation of digital detox products certainly speaks to our dissatisfaction with our relationship to our phones, but I happen to think that the real problem is not the hardware (the phone) but rather the software/apps we use. We wouldn’t need a light phone if the apps on our phones were more responsibly designed. Competing with the behemoths at Apple seems like a challenging business proposition, but I’ll be curious to see if the team at Light Phone can transition from an experiment to a viable business.

overheard on twitter

If you’re wondering who’s behind this newsletter:

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, storyteller, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on Twitter, Medium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

I always like to hear from readers, so don‘t hesitate to share your thoughts and feedback with me.

And, if you enjoyed this newsletter, please forward it to a friend, and encourage her to sign up at sariazout.substack.com

Thanks for being here!

Sari

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