Check your Pulse #33

news in the age of abundance, ikigai, sustainability and growth

Welcome to the 33rd edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

This week, I had lunch at a food court with 15 different trash bins to choose from, so finishing my meal required playing some sort of real-world Tetris to properly dispose of my food. I have worked on sustainability related consulting projects, I have a B.A. from Brown, and I invest in CPG companies and yet I still couldn’t figure out what went where. 

The cultural resonance around climate change feels palpable compared to a decade ago. Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager with $7 trillion under management announced that it will avoid investments in companies that have sustainability-related risks while Microsoft announced it will be carbon negative by 2030.

It has long been an economic axiom that growth is good. But in the age of climate consciousness, that idea is coming under attack. The growing “degrowth movement” questions the feasibility and wisdom of consuming more stuff and is calling on advanced countries to embrace zero or even negative GDP growth. 

This is a pessimistic view in that it assumes a world where there is no change or innovation. The degrowthers extrapolate from what is going on today, failing to see that new ideas and technologies might change our trajectory.

Consumers are increasingly spending with their conscience but do not want to sacrifice, and there is a growing wave of companies meeting their needs.

Tesla provides an electric, renewable energy­-based transportation solution, but it’s fast, beautiful, and cool.

Sweetgreen tastes really good, but it it also produced humanely and sustainably.

Nest is state of the art and comfortable, but it’s also energy efficient.

For Days tees are amazing, but they are also manufactured responsibly and 100% recycled.

Just tastes just as good as chicken eggs, but is made from plants.

Rent the Runway gives you access to an endless closet, but doesn’t require you to consume fast fashion.

Beyond Meat tastes delicious and is good for animals and the environment.

And there’s so much more to do.

As Erik Torenberg said this week “Society survives or dies based on its ability to sustainably grow the pie. Without a growing pie, there’s a winner for every loser, and we engage in zero sum conflict

We need to come up with innovative business models that respect our planet and sustain economic growth. We need to create materials that are cheaper and more environmentally friendly without imposing 15 trash bin tests on people.

For founders up for the challenge, this is the time to prove that we can have our cake and eat it too.

🙏🏼

Sari

(P.S. CYP is taking a break next week but will be back on the 23rd)

I was interviewed on Letterlist about my upbringing, how my newsletter came to be, and opportunities in consumer tech. 🎤

Nassim Taleb’s commencement speech at American University in Beirut is such a gem! I have a single definition of success: you look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life. Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel. If you do not feel ashamed, you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions. Success requires absence of fragility. I’ve seen billionaires terrified of journalists, wealthy people who felt crushed because their brother in law got very rich, academics with Nobel who were scared of comments on the web. The higher you go, the worse the fall. For almost all people I’ve met, external success came with increased fragility and a heightened state of insecurity. But self-respect is robust. 💯

This long essay by David Perell (one of the few people who can get me to read a 16,000 word essay) on News in the Age of Abundance is worth every second of your time. I promise it will make you smarter. 📰

Bubble Goods (the online health foods paradise) released a very handy list of branding, fulfillment, and other creative partners/agencies/resources. If you’re building a consumer brand (esp. in food), this is a great list. 🍱

Hamilton the movie is coming in 2021! 🎬

Everything about this 👏🏼👇🏽

Maybe it was growing up in the eighties, maybe it was having a dad who was a corporate, suit-and-tie, nine-to-five real estate guy, maybe it's just my genes, but it's taken me a long time to shake the idea that being productive has very little to do with high-stakes, high-adrenaline meetings, rushing around from point A to point B, stressed out + sweaty, super anxious, frenetic, high-intensity, heart-pounding, advil popping, can't-catch-a-fucking-breath, to-do list crammed with an insane amount of projects that I will probably end up doing all at half mast due to overall exhaustion + depletion + adrenal fatigue that somehow feels like SUCCESS! Lately, though, the more my career takes me in the direction of creative projects that require peace + quiet, alone time, expansiveness of the imagination, (my new favorite quote, thanks to @rachel_williams1, is by Marianne Moore: "The cure for loneliness is solitude"), the more I realize that real power, in my world, has very little to do with big earrings and shoes and shoulder pads and standing at the front of the boardroom with big hair and a fast beating heart, that it requires slowing the fuck down, trusting the wild spirit beyond, staring at the sky, leaning into the abyss, knowing that a good idea — a great idea? — might come through the noise if I allow my mind + heart to remain open enough to hear it. Sitting still is power. I don't have to reach for it, run for it, click for it, wait for it, whine for it, swipe for it, swallow it, fly anywhere to find it. Obsessed with my new Dorothy Medallion necklace by @monicarichkosann that reminds me: "you had the power all along, my dear." (you just had to learn for yourself). #mymrk
February 6, 2020

How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids in the Digital Age This makes more sense to me: “According to the latest research, encouraging your children to think critically about the media they’re consuming is much more important than playing screen-time babysitter.” 👈🏽💻

So many people fell for this! 😂

@Humansofny tells the story of Bobby Love, the man who escaped from prison and changed his identity. His wife found out 40 years later. 😮

More than 15,000 Amazon sellers surpassed $1 million in sales in 2019. 📈

I love the Japanese concept of Ikigai ("reason for being). If you do what pays well and you’re good at, you’ll be rich but bored. If you only do what you love and are good at, you’ll be happy but poor. The true win is when what you love, are good at, and pays well intersect. 👇🏽

Excellent roundup of DTC Valuations by Alex Taussig. If you’re a consumer founder, a must read. 👍🏼

A solid report on what can we learn from retail exits of the 2010s. One of the most important conclusions is that raising a lot of money did not necessarily mean a company’s exit value would be higher. 👇🏽

On a related note, Casper’s IPO is sobering news for the ecosystem (its valuation was cut to $500m after last raising at a $1.1b valuation in the private markets). Web Smith makes a compelling argument for capital constraint 👇🏽

Some interesting observations in this Techcrunch article that takes a close look at different business models: 1) ARR ≠ revenue: SaaS companies have higher “quality” revenue that grows every year. $1,000 of ARR will grow to $1,200 of ARR next year, but $1,000 of mattress revenue probably means $0 of mattress next year. 2) Margins: Uber, Lyft, Casper, Peloton, and Sonos have 40-50% gross margins (vs. 80%+ SaaS gross margins), so they need 2x as much revenue to earn the same number of gross margin dollars. 3) Growth and scale: Many of the non-SaaS companies can grow much larger than SaaS companies more quickly, and they are targeting significantly larger markets (e.g., transportation vs. data visualization) 📉

Li Jin on why and how creators can  make more money from fewer fans. The creator economy is in the midst of a decisive shift—from a “bigger is better,” ad-driven revenue model to one of niche communities and direct user-to-creator payment. 💯

Wren is a new service that makes it easy for anyone to calculate and offset their carbon footprint through a monthly subscription. Through a series of questions, Wren calculates your CO2 emissions and automatically offsets your emissions, so you can live carbon neutral. I believe this trend will only grow and be integrated into our everyday life — for example, when I buy a plane ticket or a new AC unit, I will have the choice to offset it directly in the checkout process. Carbon offset resellers have existed for a while, but the majority of them offer a poor customer experience and lack transparency. While I appreciate what they’re building, I find it hard to justify that a company in the carbon offset stack can generate high margins— as a consumer I’d want to maximize the amount of money that goes to fighting climate change, not for a middleman to make a profit. A potential solution to this is if the carbon offset aspect is given for “free” and the product monetizes other aspects. For example, Doconomy is a credit card with carbon offset features, so they can monetize in other ways. For the most part, these carbon offset resellers are “marketing” companies attracting eyeballs and converting them, which means there are limited barriers to entry and defensibility is unclear. As a consumer, I’m going to start offsetting my emissions. As a VC, I’m holding off until the economics are clearer.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

If you're enjoying this newsletter, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up.

And if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Thanks for being here!

Check your Pulse #32

challenge networks, Judy emergency kits, and schlep blindness

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the 32nd edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

As someone who feels very comfortable being the loudest voice in the room, I’ve been thinking a lot about my speaking to listening ratio.

Many of us are guilty of starting a conversation but not giving ourselves a chance to listen to what others are saying because we’re too busy formulating our reply. I read somewhere that on average, we retain just 25 percent of what we hear!

I certainly have the tendency to take mental side trips when I should be listening.

Stephen Covey articulated this better than I ever could have: “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

One of the steps I’m personally taking towards better listening is building a personal challenge network — a group of people I can rely on to give me unvarnished feedback and help me see my blind spots. I borrowed this idea from Adam Grant.

Most of us have a support network of friends and family that we rely on for praise and reassurance. A support network listens to you. A challenge network, in contrast, helps you become a better listener.

🙏🏼

Sari

My all-time favorite writing advice: "When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”  ✍🏽

A collection of very good tweets about advertising, marketing, and creative strategy. 💯

Clayton Christensen, one of the best thinkers on management, strategy, and competition passed away last week. One of his best works is an essay called “How will you measure your life?” - I highly highly recommend it. “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”🧬

A good rule for building strong companies: No Politics. Politics is defined as "the simple act of saying different things to different people." 💬

Miss Americana, the new Netflix documentary on Taylor Swift’s life is very very good.🎬

Japan now has over 70,000 people who are more than 100 years old. 👵🏽

I’ve been enjoying Oprah’s 2020 vision tour podcasts. Particularly loved the episodes with Lady Gaga, Amy Schumer, and Tina Fey. 🎙

The average U.S. football fan will consume 10,821 calories and 180 grams of saturated fat on Super Bowl Sunday. 🍟😮

A beautiful thread full of Kobe Bryant’s lessons and memories. But also, legacies are complicated. 🏀

Goldman Sachs will no longer do IPOs for companies with all-male boards. 👏🏼

This @humansofny post sums up how I feel about being a working mother. 👩‍👦‍👦

I keep coming back to this 2012 Paul Graham essay on schlep blindness: There are great startup ideas lying around unexploited right under our noses. One reason we don't see them is a phenomenon I call schlep blindness. Schlep was originally a Yiddish word but has passed into general use in the US. It means a tedious, unpleasant task. 💻

A fantastic speech on Solitude and Leadership. It's about why leaders need to spend time alone, even though most people think of solitude as the antithesis of leadership. (40 minutes).

Very good presentation by Ben Evans on the macro and strategic trends in the tech industry. 📈

The media seems to focus on negative consumer IPOs, but One Medical had a quiet but successful IPO, soaring 58% from its IPO price. If you’re interested in reading more about One Medical, I recommend checking out this S-1 teardown! 🏥

The Economist examines the success stories behind disruptive consumer startups, the branding fueling their growth, and the realities of going to battle with billion-dollar incumbent brands. 🛒

I love the sentiment behind this Ann Miura (@annimaniac) piece: you need a minimum viable company, not a minimum viable product 💰

YES 👇🏽

More than 60% of Americans have no disaster plan or supplies on hand in the event of an emergency situation. Judy is applying the DNVB playbook to selling emergency kits. What sets them apart (outside of their brand) is the educational tools and resources to use the supplies effectively — when you visit their website, there’s a nifty little tool that lets you enter your zip code to understand the natural disasters that could occur in your area. You can then download a corresponding plan to understand how to better prepare for unpredictable emergencies. A quick search for my hometown (Miami) offered me kits and information on hurricanes, floods, and pandemics. On the one hand, it’s a challenging category. Humans are notoriously myopic, and the phenomenon where people assume they’re not in danger until it’s already too late is well documented. In the past, I’ve waited until the city enters into hurricane panic mode to load up on supplies, and at that point the simplest thing is to visit my nearest Home Depot. So it’s not totally clear to me whether dumping money into Instagram ads will get people on a sunny day in Miami to load up on emergency supplies. On the other hand, with natural disasters happening more frequently, it seems that building a D2C brand may just be the gateway for Judy get into services, which is where the real market opportunity might be. As the number of natural disasters rises, consumers will need much more than just flashlights to deal with emergencies. I’m excited to see how they evolve, and for now, impressed with their branding.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

If you're enjoying this newsletter, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up.

And if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Thanks for being here!

Check your Pulse #31

the future of work, your life's network effects, kencko

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the 31st edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

A hundred years ago, most jobs required your hands and few relied on your brain. You didn’t think; you labored, and your work was visible and tangible.

Today, that’s flipped.

Roughly 80% of jobs are service-driven jobs that have titles like “managers and professionals.” These are decision-making jobs that rely on your thoughts as much as your actions.

In a world with routine manufacturing jobs, the amount of hours that you put into doing something was a good proxy for what kind of output you get. Even if you’re the best hamburger flipper in the world, how many hours you work is still a good proxy for how many hamburgers you flip.

But in the jobs of today, it is much more important to have good judgment and work on the right thing than it is to work many hours. 

You can work for one hour, make a good decision and have a huge impact, or you can spend 500 hours coding the wrong product feature and have no effect. The outputs are very disconnected from the inputs.

The point is the nature of work has changed.

As automation takes over routine work, conceptual and creative work become more important. It’s almost impossible to work for eight hours a day in the jobs so many of us have today. I can’t spend eight hours thinking about a company’s pricing strategy without exhausting my brain and draining my creativity.

This meshes with a Stanford study that showed walking increases creativity by 60%:

Everyone eventually has to sit down and produce their work, and are held to goals and quotas. But as the economy shifts to knowledge work, we should respect that what actually produces good work can at first look lazy.

In other words, we need to shift the way we measure our work from one focused on measuring inputs (how many hours we work) to one that measures output (impact of our work, goals we achieve).

It seems if you get down to it and are focused on the right thing, 4-5 hours of desk work is enough time to do substantial and meaningful work.

In John Wooden’s words, “We can’t mistake activity with achievement.”

I can't shake the feeling that this is an extremely important idea to internalize.

🙏🏼

Sari

Best thing I read this week: Your Life Is Driven By Network Effects. Share this with a younger person in your network and potentially alter their life trajectory. Our networks shape our lives, and there are only seven major turning points in life that shape our networks: what family you're born into, high school, college, first job, marriage/choosing a life partner, where you live, and reassessments. 🎡

Good Businesses Have Margins, but the profit margin is less important than the other ones: margin for your time, sanity, physical health. 🔲

The number of Americans working from home full time has nearly tripled over past 20 years, and the trend is accelerating. 🏠

This line from Monica Aldama, the no-bullshit career coach in Netflix’s docu-series Cheer really stuck: “You keep going until you get it right, and then you keep going until you can’t get it wrong.” 🔥

The percentage of U.S. listed companies that lost money in the last 12 months is about 40%, which is the highest level since the 1990s when setting aside post-recession periods (WSJ).

Scott Galloway’s 2020 predictions 🔮

Even disrupting buttons was hard. Keep at it, founders! (via CB Insights) 👇🏽

Love this list of emotions that you feel but didn’t have a word for until now. The limits of language are the limits of your world!💡👇🏽

I love Bessemer’s anti-portfolio where they honor the companies they passed on (like Airbnb, Google, and PayPal) 🙉

I enjoyed this episode of Invest Like the Best (one of my fave podcasts) with USV partner Rebecca Kaden, where she gives an overview of some of the opportunities for technology and startups to change education, financial services, and well-being. 🎙

Great post by Sam Altman on how to invest in startups. I have noticed that people can become much tougher and more ambitious rapidly, but people tend to be either slow movers or fast movers and that seems harder to change.  Being a fast mover is a big thing; a somewhat trivial example is that I have almost never made money investing in founders who do not respond quickly to important emails. 💎

Great profile on Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom, and his journey to building a profitable $20B company with 50K+ customers without ever traveling for customer meetings. “When Yuan flew to New York for the IPO, it was just his eighth work trip in five years.” 😮 📹

Interesting chart on recent IPO performance. Software IPOs seem to be doing well, the challenge appears to be in the “tech-enabled” businesses. 👇🏽

Kencko transforms fresh, organic fruit and veggies into convenient drink packs that are easy to consume. Just mix a kencko sachet with your favorite liquid and your 2 servings/day are ready to drink. Each kencko packet contains approx 200 grs of nutritious organic fruit & veg and nothing else. When I spoke to the founder earlier this week, he shared his vision of getting more people to eat fruits and vegetables. It makes sense, considering only one in ten adults in America meet the federal fruit and vegetable recommendations. I’m not sure how much of a supply chain moat he can build around this business or if this is a pure brand/marketing play, but I just placed my first order and I’m excited to give it a go.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

If you're enjoying this newsletter, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up.

And if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Thanks for being here!

Check your Pulse #30

sofar sounds, ocean eyes, and the coming wave of filtering and curating

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the 29th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy Sunday, friends.

Wherever you look, people are talking about being overwhelmed.

In a relatively short timeframe, we went from a place where people’s window to the world was relatively small — the city they lived in, the people in their neighborhood, the members of their church/synagogue — to a place where everybody has a window to the world in their pocket.

Throughout history, the media business was predicated on scarcity. There were huge barriers to entry, like expensive printing presses and distribution infrastructure.

In contrast, today, the Internet has eliminated barriers to entry, effectively making everyone a journalist. You can now communicate with anybody, access millions of people on social networks, ask the world any question you have, and search for any product you can imagine and have that delivered to your doorstep overnight.

Abundance is the definitive feature of today’s age.

In many ways, that’s a good thing. But it’s also TOO MUCH. I don’t want to be closed off to the world, but the digital infrastructure of Facebook and Google has overwhelmed the natural capacity of my brain. An analog world wasn’t great. A digital world is overwhelming. How can I bring it all in?

Current options leave us with an all or nothing relationship with technology. You are either always on (connected and distracted), or you’re off and constantly wondering if you’re missing something important. FOMSI (Fear of Missing Something Important) is a real thing, it keeps us subscribed to newsletters even after they haven’t delivered real benefits, and keeps us refreshing Instagram even if it makes us unhappy.

I came across this chart a few weeks ago that argues that human’s ability to adapt to technological change is increasing, but it’s not keeping pace with the speed of scientific and technological innovation.

It makes sense. We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and technology can’t change that. This has led to what many have coined the “attention economy” — tech companies caught in a zero-sum race for our finite attention.

I’m spending a lot of time thinking about opportunities to filter and solve for information overload, tools that leverage technology but also have an honest understanding of our human limits, tools that help us direct our attention to things that matter.

I have some ideas that have been marinating in my head for months, but I’d love to hear from you. What tools, frameworks, or habits do you have that help you filter, control, and curate your content diet?

Stay free, friends 🙏🏼

Sari

My friend Adrian at The Proof asked me to share my favorite products, and the post is live here. 🛒

A worthy read: The great paradox of our time: everything is both better and worse than ever before. 😧

The Finnish are just better at life! Posti, the USPS equivalent in Finland, launched a space called Box,  a self-service collection point for citizens to pick up online orders. It includes a recycling area, fitting rooms, and a product show space. I want to move in! 👍🏼💌

Microsoft has promised to go carbon negative by 2030, and remove all the carbon it has ever emitted into the atmosphere by 2050. They lay it all out in this very good promo video. 🌳

I finally watched The Joker this week. Love it or hate it, what a powerful film! While we’re at it, Knives Out was great. Highly recommend. 🎥

A video talk of Mark Zuckerberg at Stanford in 2005, where he describes Facebook as “an online directory for students.” The video only has 3,000 views. What a hidden gem! 💭

I’m listening to Alicia Keys cover of Billie Eilish’s Ocean Eyes on repeat because it’s so good! 🎶

It’s crazy that there used to be an ashtray in every airplane seat not too long ago. The U.S. Army used to give cigarettes to every soldier, and cyclists in the Tour de France used to smoke to increase blood flow. According to Wikipedia, “the U.S. ban on inflight smoking began with domestic flights of 2 hours or less in April 1988, and to all domestic and international flights in 2000.” It makes me wonder what things we do today will seem crazy 30 years from now. Eating meat, perhaps? 🚬🥩

Why are so many brands pivoting to coziness? 🛋

The difficulty of being in the present sums it up perfectly. Much of what ruins the present is sheer anxiety. The present always contains an enormous number of possibilities, some hugely gruesome, which we are constantly aware of in the background. Anything could theoretically happen, an earthquake, an aneurysm, a rejection – which gives rise to the non-specific anxiety that trails most of us around all the time; the simple dread at the unknownness of what is to come.

This twitter exchange made me LOL 😂👇🏽

The responses to this Twitter thread were really entertaining and will take you down a rabbit hole 👇🏽

Casper’s S-1 came out and a lot of people seem to think that Casper has an awful business - there are 175 mattress companies selling the same product and the company keeps losing money. Here are a couple of good threads from @DKThomp@danprimack@jstoffer, and @post_market. This piece by 2pml was particularly good. In sum, it seems like DNVBs are wonderful places for consumers to shop in, but terrible places for investors to park their money. 💤

The Away story keeps getting more confusing. 🤔

Zume (the Softbank backed company that dreamed of building a robot pizzeria) has now announced plans to close the pizza delivery business and pivot to sustainable packaging. Packaging sounds like a new business, not a pivot to me. 🍕📦

Bloomberg published a piece on dating Bumble and its founder Whitney who’s on a mission to build a safer dating app for women. I’m not justifying the behavior mentioned in the article, but I also can’t help but think this is just the media hunting for tech blood. Reminds me of one of my favorite Roosevelt quotes: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…”

This thread from a16z’s Li Jin about community-based brands is worth a read. Just as in 2018 everyone wanted to be a lifestyle brand, in 2019 everyone claimed to be a community-based brand. Yes, it pays off to be a lifestyle and/or community-driven brand, but only when the necessary ingredients are actually in place – slapping the adjective in your PR efforts does not automatically make you one. 👥

@Nik_Quinn’s predictions for 2020 🔮

Sofar Sounds puts on concerts in people’s living rooms. Nearly 1 million guests have attended Sofar’s intimate shows in unique venues around the world. It’s a global community that offers an alternative to late-night, dark and dirty club shows that don’t appeal to hard-working professionals or older listeners. And it’s immensely scalable - like Airbnb, Sofar Sounds doesn’t own the venues, it simply offers a trusted platform to connect the venue/homeowners to artists that they curate. For artists, it’s a chance to be discovered. Sofar expands the market by making any space a potential “venue” and therefore expanding the number of places where artists can perform. Recently, they’ve gotten into problems with musicians on the platform claiming they only make $100 per show and the company is growing at the expense of hardworking people that actually provide the service. This gets to the heart of my post last week where I predicted that marketplaces need to transition from being intermediaries that take a commission to being collectively owned. Sofar is a wonderful idea, business, and community. But if they don’t figure out how to satisfy the artists, they too will get disrupted.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

Want more?

Follow me on TwitterMedium, and Instagram.

Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

If you're enjoying this newsletter, I'd love it if you shared it with a friend or two. You can send them here to sign up.

And if you come across anything interesting this week, send it my way! I love finding new things to read through members of this newsletter.

Thanks for being here!

Check your Pulse #29

the 20s, psychedelics, and product zeitgeist fit

Welcome to the 29th edition of Check your Pulse, a tech and startups newsletter designed to make you feel human. I try to make this one of the best emails you get each week. If you’re enjoying it and know someone who’d like this sort of thing in their inbox, they can sign up here.

Happy new year and new decade, friends!

Can you believe that ten years ago, we didn’t have Instagram? Or Uber, or Airbnb? Just ten years ago Blackberry did $20B in revenue and was competing with Apple for market share. Last year they did $0.9B in revenue.

It’s easy to look at the tech giants today — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon — and assume that they will remain unchallenged by 2030 (Ben Thompson at Stratechery wrote an excellent post on the subject this week).

A common theme throughout history is that progress happens too slowly for people to notice while setbacks happen too quickly for people to miss.

There’s been quite a few prediction posts making rounds on the Internet about what the 20s will look like— Alex Danco’s predictions for the 2020s, Fred Wilson’s What will happen in the 20s, Frank Chen’s life in 2030, and The Generalist’s predictions for the decade.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite is Morgan Housel’s, 2020 - what a time to be alive, where he argues “the difference between an optimist and a pessimist isn’t usually over substance. It’s the time frame they’re looking at. Problems are easier to spot today, but progress is almost always more powerful over time.”

I won’t take a bet on when, but here’s a combination of what I think and hope will happen in the 20s:

The dominant business model of the Internet, based on extracting and exhausting our attention spans, will lose favor as people will transition from free social media platforms that turn us into addicted extremists to niche subscription services built on platforms like Substack or Podia. This will mark a transition from audiences to communities, from reach to depth, from algorithmic-driven feeds to human curators. Our digital social environments will feel very different, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all crave. Email newsletters grow to become the next big social network. This creates opportunities for platforms built to support those creators, like Letterwell (which I discovered on ProductHunt earlier this week). Instagram becomes the next QVC. They’ve been quietly laying the groundwork to become a shopping paradise. The combination of limited loyalty for incumbents, information overload, and an abundance of choice means the long tail of sellers/D2C brands that breed trust will continue to proliferate. The primary economic beneficiaries of this commerce renaissance will be the platforms (Instagram, Shopify, FBA, etc…) not the brands. Instagram ditches like counts and other consumer apps follow, shunning ego analytics in favor of features that reflect our happiness offscreen. The 2020s will see out cognitive dissonance strained further as we allow voice assistants, wearables, and cameras everywhere to permeate our lives and we come to terms with the fact that advanced technology and privacy are incompatible. Sustainability will become the definitive status symbol, because if we don’t get on top of the climate crisis, nothing else matters. This creates opportunities for brands like For Days (where I am an investor) and aggregators like Package Free, as well as software solutions that help  businesses and consumers manage and measure emissions (Wren/Pachama). The paradox/trade-off between our dual desire for sustainability and convenience will make things slow. People want a better world but it’s hard to reconcile this with our penchant for laziness and instant gratification. Movement on the regulatory front will be required to make real progress. We will finally reckon with the consequences of inequality — the top 10 percent of humanity having 90 percent of the planet’s wealth. The only way to fix the problem is to transfer wealth and/or increase income. Token-enabled business models will emerge as a a feasible way for tech companies to spread the wealth and align their users behind their success. Marketplaces will evolve from being intermediaries that take a commission on each transaction (causing participants to resent them) to being collectively owned platforms that reward those that contribute (making users more committed). Aligning everyone on the way up (shared equity, unity) will represent an important paradigm shift. We will see more widespread adoption of policies like Universal Basic Income that break the job loop which currently has people trapped. Too many of our smartest minds are working on trivial tasks and spending their time in corporations where they feel invisible. They're bored, unchallenged, and under-employed. I believe freeing these people is the most important opportunity of our lifetime.

I’ll expand on this in another issue, but for now, welcome to the 20s. There’s so much to look forward to.

🙏🏼

Sari

What a touching story!

If you’re a founder, this thread is for you. Even the most “successful” startups often feel like they’re falling off a cliff. 🧗🏾‍♂

If you haven’t been listening to Dolly Parton’s America, you should. It’s a fascinating, nine-part series on Dolly’s life with an emphasis on her unique status as a universally (conservative, liberal, gay, straight, American or Kenyan) beloved icon. You don’t need to love her music to love this series. 📽

I echo everything Paul Graham says on Having Kids. I hate to say this, because being ambitious has always been a part of my identity, but having kids may make one less ambitious. It hurts to see that sentence written down. I squirm to avoid it. But if there weren't something real there, why would I squirm? The fact is, once you have kids, you're probably going to care more about them than you do about yourself. And attention is a zero-sum game. 👨‍👦

I love Zak the Baker’s (my fave bakery in Miami) reflection on the new year and his aspiration to get better, not bigger. 🥖

Three theories for why you have no time via The Atlantic. The household economy of cooking, cleaning, washing, and grocery shopping has changed dramatically in the past 100 years with a plethora of labor saving appliances, but its evolution tells an illuminating story about why half a century of labor-saving technology does not appear to have saved the typical housewife even one minute of labor. In short, better technology means higher expectations, and higher expectations create more work. ⌛

WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann has just been cast in the upcoming show chronicling the company's journey and he'll be played by Nicholas Braun (aka Cousin Greg on HBO's "Succession." ) 💯

A list of companies that took environmental and political stands in 2019. 👏🏼

The emotional journey of creating anything great via John Do 👇🏽

A powerful article on relationships and resentment. 💏

Douglas Abrams’ Rules of Technology are spot on: 1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works 2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it 3) Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. 🚀

The future of work 💻

Does your company have Product zeitgeist fit? 🧠

While it’s nice to look back and celebrate what worked, it’s also useful to look back at the biggest flops of the decade to understand what didn’t work and reflect on why. 📉

Earnest Capital, a new type of fund providing funding for bootstrappers, shares their investment memo. It’s a great analysis on the evolution of software and opportunities today. 👍🏼

Psychedelic drugs are undergoing a surprising renaissance — once viewed as “drugs of abuse”, regulators and investors are now coming around to their potential uses in treating depression, addiction, and the existential fear of death faced by many people with cancer. In a podcast episode on the Tim Ferris show, Michael Pollan (author of popular books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma) argues that mental healthcare in the U.S. is broken and psychedelics may just save the day. According to Michael, over the next decade, as psychedelics become decriminalized in many Western places, their use will grow primarily through microdosing, not high-dose experiences, and used to treat conditions like depression, alcoholism, anxiety, OCD, etc… One of the most interesting startups in the space is Mindbloom, which offers legal, clinician-prescribed ketamine therapy. It starts with an online candidate assessment for indications of depression or anxiety. If you qualify for the treatment, you book a visit where you’re given a Ketamine tablet that dissolves under your tongue and dive inwards on a 1 hour introspective journey. Whether this becomes mainstream or not remains to be seen, but it’s exciting to see new approaches to mental health treatment come to market.

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

My name is Sari Azout. I am a design-thinker, strategist, and early stage startup investor at Level Ventures and Rokk3r. My mission is to bring more humanity and creativity to technology and business.

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Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

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