Check your Pulse #45

the future of newsletters ✍🏽

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 45th 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’ve been sent this email and you’re not a subscriber, you can join by clicking on this big button below.

Happy Friday, friends.

Not a single day goes by without someone in my Twitter or personal network announcing the launch of a newsletter on Substack.

Earlier this week, Lenny shared his experience running a paid newsletter, which got me thinking about the future of newsletters, and in particular, paid ones.

Relative to creative professions like music and the arts, journalists earn far less (~$5-10 per word), or a few thousand dollars a week, and as traditional media struggles, writers are looking for financially viable ways to do what they love.

The argument for creating niche newsletters that monetize on subscriptions makes sense then, at least on the surface.

But there are a few things worth considering:

First, do we want to live in a world where people pay for content?

I’m not sure. For one, it presumes the most valuable things should be closed, when the beauty of the web is that that zero marginal cost of production means the most valuable things should reach whomever they are relevant to. 

We’ve all benefited from the last generation of tech operators and investors making their content accessible. The people that should be reading Divinations are those that have the potential to build great companies, but may not afford a subscription, not the VCs.

Referring to subscription media, David Perell said:

Subscription publications will reinforce their readers’ perspectives because most people only pay for information they agree with. Thus, an increase in subscription-supported media won’t just fragment information sources. It will fragment society. 

There’s an uncomfortable truth here. The left and the right don’t need different pictures of the world, they need different perspectives of the same picture.  

Are we really trading quantity for quality? 

Few people can get away with starting a newsletter that is only paid. So unless you have a big following, you’ll need a free tier to build an audience. That means you’ll need to produce lots of content.

And having to write several posts a week may lead to the same trap of old media, which was once described by a reporter as, “My job is to type faster than I can think.” 

Creators want, should, and need to monetize. But given the option, my bet is they would want to make their content freely accessible to everyone and monetize in other ways. There are a few companies betting on tipping culture as a viable alternative, like Buy Me a Coffee. Other newsletters, like Dense Discovery monetize via highly relevant and brand-aligned Classified Ads and sponsors. 

There are other models that strike a balance between monetization and accessibility. One example that comes to mind is Tim Carmody’s newsletter where he included a smart feature: If he got to a certain number of paid subscribers, the newsletter was unlocked for all readers. He called it unlocking the commons.  There’s something here — maybe past a certain point, contributions are welcome, but not required.

Bottom line is: I’m not sure that a Free vs. Premium subscription is the right choice for most writers.

In conditions of abundance, information loses its value.

A few months ago, the average conversion rate from free to paid on Substack sat at around 10%. In his tweet, Lenny shared that his was closest to 3-4%. My guess is this is what it’s starting to look like for many publishers. And it makes sense. With infinite supply,  less people convert to paid. 

This aligns with my experience. I love Polina Marinova’s The Profile. She is immensely talented and her newsletter is a joy to read. But I can barely get through the links in the free version, so I don’t really need the premium version with “more content”. I also love The Diff, but I’m perfectly happy receiving one email per week so the premium option doesn’t make sense for me. 

Paradoxically, I pay for Dan Frommer’s New Consumer. It’s once a week, and takes me about five minutes to get through. Relative to long, dense, newsletters with link dumps I’ll never be able to get through, with Dan’s newsletter, I get a sense of completion, and I like that.


Substack is at an interesting crossroads. They need to decide whether they arm the rebels or build an aggregator for consumers. 

Shopify vs. Amazon. 

Shopify chose creators, and Amazon chose consumers. The latter commoditized creators but gave consumers a great experience, while the former honored the creators but generated more friction in the consumer experience.

Platform

Essentially, this implies creating more tools for writers, and competing with the likes of Podia and Circle. For writers with an existing audience, like Ben Thompson, there is no incentive to switch to Substack and give up 10%. But if Substack introduced event management, infrastructure for merch, courses, one-off purchases, self-serve ad/sponsor bookings (unlikely given their anti-ads stance), design customization, and network features, the value calculus might change. 

By adding more features, Substack could enable writers to make their content freely accessible and monetize something else.

For example, Femstreet’s weekly newsletter is free. But if you want direct access to the community, you have to pay the monthly fee. Right now, a lot of this is happening outside of Substack. 

The philosophical underpinning here is - is writing a means to an end or the end in itself? 

It’s a fascinating question. 

Jarod Dicker wrote an excellent post this week where he argued the media companies of tomorrow will look like the record labels of today:

By pairing brand reputation with the ability to execute on a creator’s behalf the ability to help build audience, scale a business, administrative operations and benefits such as legal and medical, the next wave of media will be incentivized to have a heavy financial and philosophical interest in the individuals. And so will the talent."

If Substack chooses the platform path, they will have to decide if they will operate as a record label (which implies being very selective about the talent they let into the platform, effectively becoming a modern media brand) or whether they offer the tools to let anyone build.

Aggregator

At first it seems ridiculous that people would switch attention from Facebook/Twitter and pay for it.

But as Adam Keesling wrote:

 If Substack can get a enough writers and subscribers on their platform, it starts to look like a high-quality, ad-free version of Facebook Groups or Reddit. The real power comes when a platform combines these communities. While some of us are a part of one-off communities now, if they were all integrated in the same interface, it could become our default online third space.

With an increasing number of newsletter subscriptions, a single feed with posts from each of my subscriptions is beginning to look like a much better experience than email.

In addition, there are a lot of things I want to be connected to but don’t need a constant connection to.

Today, Substack pushes things as they’re published. But with an increasing supply of high-quality content, Substack is uniquely positioned to improve the content consumption experience and solve for the “what should I read now.” 

Substack was built on the foundation that people don’t subscribe to content, they subscribe to voices they trust. In contrast, at Medium, it almost doesn’t matter who the writer is as long as the post is good.

The challenge for Substack, then, is to build an aggregator that improves the discovery and consumption experience for readers, while still honoring writers and staying true to their purpose.

It would be a shame though, if in the process of empowering writers, they didn’t improve the experience for the overwhelmed consumer. If not for me, do it for my husband and children — who are truly paying the price of my newsletter FOMSI (fear of missing something important).

Platforms vs. aggregators, paid newsletters, and the future of media. It’s such an interesting topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

🔮

Sari

More than half of $100,000-or-higher revenue Zoom customers began with a single employee’s free trial. Bottoms up Saas, y’all 🙌🏽

Archie Williams was wrongly incarcerated for 37 years and he just auditioned for America’s Got Talent. His performance will bring you to tears. 😢

The Canadian government sent out these guidelines for WFH. Talk about good leadership 👇🏾💯

This piece on being a working mother with schools closed made me feel seen. But during just the last three hours of my “work time” this morning, my girls came in eight different times to ask me a question or show off a tiny accomplishment. They are adorable; I am proud of their coloring and delighted by their hugs. But each of those interruptions shattered my concentration, setting me back far more than the handful of minutes they stayed before their dad came in to scoop them up. I started work on this newsletter days ago. I am now trying to finish it with a tiny person hanging on me, begging me to pretend we are both kittens. 👶🏽

This cafe in Japan is using stuffed animals to enforce social distancing 🐷👇🏾

Revisiting this post, because it was so good: For the love of God, please tell me what your company does.🤷🏽‍♀️

But trying to reconcile that with the fact that sometimes, mysterious copy works -> MyMind had me at “a new extension for your mind” 🔮

Other startups on my radar: Foundation (stock exchange for culture), Projector (a more tasteful version of Canva), and Rise Gardens (indoor gardening system for consumers). 🚀

Another excellent post by Julian Lehr on What Shopify and Amazon can learn from Mimetic Theory, the second post on his commerce series. You can read part one here. 🛍️


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

🧼Touch yourself tenderly. Lower your stress levels. Keep it simple. Lauren’s All Purpose Salve.

🌈 ByLilla is the world’s first hair tie that doubles as jewelry. Rebel against the black elastic. 

🚀Dream Ventures - connecting founders to capital & strategic partnerships - $200 for 1 hr Zoom call (fundraise strategy). Email annie@dreamventures.co

🎵SoStereo helps brands & ad agencies gets real music by real artists, fast. Don’t let music be an afterthought, unlock the power of music for your brand marketing.

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 #44

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 44th 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 Wednesday, friends.

And a warm welcome to the new subscribers since last week.

I try to begin each newsletter with an extended thought or observation. Unfortunately I don’t have one for you this week. My personal bandwidth has narrowed significantly, largely because I have two little children at home, but also because I am spending a lot of my time working on an exciting personal project (I’ll have more to share soon). So instead of adding filler, I’ll just leave you with some great links this week.

🙏🏼

Sari

Saddening, shocking, and uplifting/confusing stats 👇🏾

Creative Covid Launches on my radar this week 🚀

  • Distance disco is a digital matchmaking dance party: find the person dancing to your song! 🕺🏽

  • Eschaton is a virtual club and interactive performance that airs Saturday nights at 10pm EST. Think of it as a digital version of Sleep No More, where the audience navigates through dozens of rooms at their own pace, witnessing diverse performances from burlesque to magic. Too soon to call this Digitally Native Vertical Theatre (DNVT)? 🎭

  • WFH Jammies combine the formal look of a shirt up top with loose comfort everywhere else. The perfect pandemic uniform. 💤

  • Ikea released instructions on how to build forts using things in every home (blankets, chairs, stools) to help entertain kids. 🛏️

  • SML is a beautifully designed site launched with the goal of helping small businesses build an online presence. They are starting with step by step instructions on building a Shopify store as well as a moodboard for inspo. 💻

  • A party in a shared google doc and the thinking behind it. 🥳

  • Dropbox launched Until We Meet Again, a collection of Dropbox folders from artists and makers that you can send as a digital care package to someone you love. 📁🧠

The commencement speech David Brooks would not have been able to deliver in person. No, my worry is that, especially now that you’re out of college, you won’t put enough really excellent stuff into your brain. I’m talking about what you might call the “theory of maximum taste.” This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff. The theory of maximum taste says that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit—the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming. 🎓

A collection of 40 beautifully designed e-commerce sites. 🛍️

I love this 👇🏾

Speaking of words, this is the most valuable copywriting advice I’ve seen. A must read for founders and anyone really. 💯

Andrew Chen on Why Writing is The World’s Best Networking Activity. Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity – stay home, don’t go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down. 🙌🏽

Burger King’s brilliant guerilla marketing example proves it is possible to get the world’s attention using no money and a lot of creativity. 🍔

Alright, he’s hired 👇🏾

A fantastic compilation of insightful coronavirus memos from the best investors and operators. A great resource to bookmark and come back to. 📝

So many takes on Clubhouse. To me, it just goes to show how much people misunderstand the Venture Capital business model, for better or worse. Also, an important take 💬👇🏾

The Wunderman Thompson consumer trends report came out last week, and it didn’t disappoint. 👀

Cool startups on my radar this week: Monument, Fluent, Taika, Vital. 🚀

So much content with sweeping generalizations no one disagrees with is being shared (i.e. telehealth and remote work will rise) online. Here’s some more nuanced takes I found interesting:💭

Facebook launched Shops yesterday (a big deal for the D2C community) in partnership with Shopify. This comes a day after Julian published this piece with thoughts on e-commerce, why Instagram is a threat to Shopify, and why demand aggregation is always more powerful than supply aggregation. Too much reliance on a powerful gatekeeper like Instagram is a risk for Shopify and its merchants. This illustrative breakdown of the Facebook + Shopify integrated platform shows that it's very likely selling through Shops is more expensive for DTC brands than traditional wholesale. I’ll be watching this space. 👀👇🏾


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

🎁 Elevate your gifting game with Give Wink’s curated selection of personalized gifts for anyone on your list incl. corporate gifts. Need help? Our gift gurus help you get it done.

🖊️ Get a magical notebook for your iPad and Apple Pencil. Penbook, the new note-taking app, comes with hundreds of beautiful, dynamic stationeries to soak up your creativity.

👙MIGA Swimwear collaborates with women that have different health conditions to create bold swimsuits made to be worn by all. Perfect for sunbathing in your roof or garden.

💬Dream Ventures connects founders to capital & strategic partnerships - $200 for 1 hr Zoom call (fundraise strategy). Email annie@dreamventures.co to learn more.

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 #43

the overwhelmed consumer

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 43rd 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 Friday, friends.

Here’s two interesting charts I’ve been thinking about:

Our ability to adapt to technology has not kept up with the pace with which we are creating new technologies (graph 1). This abundance has moved the Internet up the funnel from value to expertise. We are hungry for experts, for recommendations, for sense makers and curators (graph 2).

The CVS aisle was unbundled, paving the way for hundreds of startups that started out with a simple mission: to reduce the burden of choice. The problem is these brands ultimately faced the same dilemma: as long as the number of buyers of these products increased, so did supply, and so the landscape has become as crowded as CVS. There are over 70 mattress companies selling “the only mattress you’ll ever need”. To make things worse, we now have a cool brand for toothbrushes, another for toothpaste, and another for floss, with the added friction of having to transact across multiple sites.

This phenomenon is not unique to retail.

We can work from anywhere now, which means the boundaries between work and life have blurred, and we’re losing the ability to fully shut off.

We can meet an infinite number of people online, but we lack the digital spaces that are conducive to vulnerability and deep relationships. (A good litmus test for this is - how many of the relationships you’ve made online will show up at your funeral?)

No matter how much time I spend catching up on all the interesting links in my inbox, the Internet generates content way faster than I am able to consume it.

We only have twenty-four hours in a day, and technology can’t change that. Without tools to help us navigate this abundance, we will continue to accumulate mental and behavioral debt.

So what does the overwhelmed consumer need? I see three things:

  1. Tools that give us psychological freedom: We have to learn to live in healthy ways with our freedom and abundance instead of obsessively checking our smartphones. This can come in the form of restrictions or controls on our blind consumptions (like Rescue Time and Flipd), companies that place our emotional well being first (think mood trackers), and those that prioritize healthy habits, like meditation and mindfulness apps. The Paper Phone is a fun digital wellbeing project. In this category, I’m also intrigued by Hey, the soon to launch email alternative by the team at Basecamp, and the recently announced The Browser Company

  2. Trusted brands and Curators: No one can listen to every song, read every article or research every baby formula brand. A good curator will reduce the number of options you have to consider. Curated is a shopping site that pairs you with an expert, Tropic helps businesses find the right software for their needs and spares them of countless hours of research. Block Renovation helps with bathroom and kitchen remodels, curating fixtures and materials to reduce the burden of choice. News feeds were supposed to curate our information diets, but algorithms are great at giving you something you like and terrible at giving you something you love. Newsletters have resurfaced as an interesting alternative. If someone is doing the hard work of going through lots of sources and summing up the best of it for you, you can lean on that. But again, newsletters are facing the same dilemma. As the number of newsletter subscribers increase, so will the number of publishers, until email becomes as crowded as our social media feeds. As long as this cycle continues, there are opportunities for new creative business models.

  3. New UIs that recognize the importance of context. These days, we get so much of our content in bite-sized, isolated bits — links in an email, tweets, Slack messages, blog posts. We consume information because it’s in front of us, rather than because it’s relevant for us. This continually present dynamic discourages reflection and thought. The future of content is about interfaces that can help us make sense of, process and synthesize ideas in depth. Roam is an interesting emerging player here, building what they call “a note-taking tool for networked thought”. Their design leaves a lot to be desired, and the use case is single player, at least for now. Outside of Roam, this space is relatively untouched. The opportunity is there for people to reimagine the architecture of knowledge, not just horizontally, but for specific use cases, and importantly, in multi-player modes. Content feeds need to incorporate goal-orientation and move away from their never-ending-now orientation. Implicit here is the idea that information has become commoditized and what matters is its relational value.  (Side note: I have a side project in the works here!)

Every new technology goes through a phase of euphoria, followed by disillusion. The same is true of the Internet. As we step on the slope of enlightenment, we should ask ourselves - if we were to build the Internet from the ground up with an unwavering commitment to honor people’s time and attention, what would we build?

This is me thinking in public. What am I missing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

🙏🏼

Sari

(P.S. As a reminder, I’m donating 100% of classified ad revenue directly to families hurt by Covid-19. Click here to book an ad and scroll down to see this week’s supporters - they’re 👌🏽)

Creative Covid launches on my radar this week 👇🏽

Cent is a new creative income product, where creators and fans earn money together. 💭

Kevin Kelly (the co-founder of Wired) shared 68 Bits of Advice on his birthday and there is so much wisdom here. 💯

  • Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

  • Don’t be the best. Be the only.

  • You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.

A handy (and pretty) list of companies committed to packaging transparency and sustainability, made by Lumi. 📦

Revisiting this Farnam Street podcast interview with parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. I felt that bribes and threats, rewards and punishments, which by the way, have become an insidious part of our culture, really interfere with raising an ethical human being. I want a child who will stand up for values and against injustices when it costs them, not when they’re getting rewarded for being good because it’s all about getting caught. 👩‍👦‍👦

Derek Thompson argues that the pandemic will change American retail forever and is accelerating the big-business takeover of the economy (in the past month, chains have taken $3 out of every $4 spent eating out). If cities become less desirable in the next few years, they will also become cheaper to live in. In time, more affordable rents could attract more interesting people, ideas, and companies. This may be the cyclical legacy of the coronavirus: suffering, tragedy, and then rebirth. 🏢

A report by a group of indie anti-consultants with unexpected provocations, ideas, and action frameworks to navigate the Covid-19 crisis. 🧠

Sister is reimagining what business would look like if it were built on feminine principles. 👇🏾

Bryce Roberts on how profitability is more achievable than a Series A round. 💎

What’s missing from Zoom reminds us what it means to be human.

There’s Zoom fatigue, and then there’s the Zoom Bachelorette raising 40k in one hour (a good read on the future of celebrity, media, and entertainment) 📹💍

Shopify launched Shops and a lot of people shared their “take” - Nathan Baschez thinks Shopify got the problem right and the solution wrong and Dan Frommer thinks it’s all uninspiring. As for me? I’m wrangling two pre-schoolers and haven’t had a chance to check out the app yet. 🛍️

A thoughtful take by Byrne Hobart on VC incentives An investment that’s produced a 10x return and no media coverage is worse for one’s career than a 2x return from a famous company. 📰


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

🛒58 Clicks: Set up, mange and grow your online store. We are Shopify Experts.

🍸*COMING SOON* Just in time for spritz season, GHIA is a new spirits-free aperitif made for sipping from sunset to sunrise. All botanicals, no added sugar + no booze = no hangover

🎁Need a meaningful gift? Fondfolio helps you collect answers to thoughtful questions and create a beautiful book for a friend. Free giftwrap, free shipping. Handmade in Toronto.

🍽️Mode Living offers stylish and easycare table linens, placemats and much more. Create your fine dining experience in the comfort of your home.

🤰🏽The Limitless Pregnancy is a new podcast by @theroospace about the intersection of health + wellness and pregnancy. Listen and enjoy, mamas!

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 #42

why we aren't building and capitalism 2.0

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 42nd 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 Monday, friends.

If you’re in tech, you probably read Marc Andreessen’s important, well-written and uplifting essay published last week: It’s Time to Build

It’s hard to see this essay as anything other than tautological - of course we should be innovating. The more important question is: why aren’t we?

There were lots of smart reactions. The VC business model is predicated on investing in infinite-upside, software-driven outcomes where marginal costs are zero. Ben Thompson of Stratechery argued that if we let go of the requirements to invest in companies with 90%+ gross margins, the possibilities are endless, but we need to figure out an investing model that is suited for this. Yoni Rechtman argued that we’re not building because we’ve stopped funding basic research. And Venkatesh tweeted that VCs don’t invest in new things, rather, they invest upon patterns they have seen before.

Many of us would agree that we don’t need Liquid Death or CBD dog treats, and that devoting our collective attention to an invite-only audio party app called Clubhouse is an inefficient use of our talent and time. But what’s our incentive to build anything else?

In Issue 29, I wrote: 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.

People have an inherent capacity to build, but the vast majority ignore it. Why? Because their mental bandwidth is consumed by earning a living. People are tired, anxious, and broke. Without the economic freedom to be able to walk away from a bad job (or a partner for that matter) for fear of not being able to feed their family or make rent, how can we expect more people to build? 

We’ve structured a society where survival and dignity are tied to having a job, where workism is our unofficial religion.

Our imagination for how the nature of work can change is incredibly limited, but surveying history paints an always changing relationship to work:

in 1780, ~80% of human attention in the US was dedicated just to feeding ourselves. Today, that's <5%,.

Similarly, 80% of human attention today is on economic activity. In World After Capital (one of my favorite books - but you can start with this video), Wenger invites us to consider a world where capital still plays a role, but it shifts to ~20%.

Capitalism works well when you have markets that can have prices. 

But what is the price for you to discover your life’s purpose? Or to prepare for a pandemic? There is no market mechanism that will allocate collective attention to this problem.

Consider this:

The difference between whether we embrace automation or are afraid of it depends on whether we, as a society, decide to protect people in our transition to automation.

And to protect people, we need to break the link between work and dignity. Holding onto the relics of an old world won’t do us any good considering the kind of societal and technological disruption we face. 

Wenger states:

We did not remain foragers after inventing agriculture. We did not remain farmers having invented industrial machines. We should not remain laborers having invented digital technologies.

Today’s situation has shown that our prosperity was built on a shaky foundation. Suddenly, the idea of unconditionally providing all citizens an income floor sufficient for existence — a universal basic income — is not so crazy.

Already, 40% of workers in rich countries feel their jobs are pointless. If we let people decide for themselves how to best serve humanity, how could we possibly end up with a distribution of labor more inefficient than the one we already have?

One of my favorite all-time quotes is Charlie Mungers, “Show me the incentive, I’ll show you the outcome.”

So… how do we encourage more people to build? A good start would be incentivizing people to leave their bullshit jobs and to focus instead on realizing their potential, taking chances, creating, imagining, building.

Enabling people’s basic needs, it seems, is a prerequisite for this.

I’ve long believed business is the best tool for making change. But startups cannot solve everything. For more people to participate in building, we need to introduce meaning to our political and economic systems and have the moral imagination to embrace Capitalism 2.0 —where people are not workers, but humans with hopes, aspirations, and creative energy.

🙏🏼

Sari

(P.S. As a reminder, I’m donating 100% of classified ad revenue directly to families hurt by the pandemic. Scroll down to see this week’s supporters - they’re 👌🏽)

Creative Covid launches on my radar this week 🧠👇🏽

  • Mail This lets you skip the post office and send mail from your device. 📭

  • Design studio Neighbourhood Creative launched Take Away, a cookbook series that gives restaurants and chefs a way to earn much needed cash. 👨🏾‍🍳

  • Family Meal is making beautiful, downloadable recipes from some of the best restaurants in NYC. Download and donate. 👩🏽‍🍳

  • Hotel brand Zoku has launched Private WorkLofts – for €50 you get a workspace for the day, plus room-service lunch, stationary and supplies. 📝

  • Berlin-based florist up with a restaurant to create DIY dinner with flowers, a package with prepared food ingredients and flowers. 🌸

Watching this rooftop to rooftop tennis is giving me life 🎾

Here’s a great excerpt from an incredible interview with Larry David. 👇🏽

I love this explanation of why kids often write letters backwards: We mistake the direction of letters because nature is symmetrical. A butterfly, for example, looks the same on both sides, so there is no cost to reversing how something looks in your mind. 🦋

Another Pandemic Woe: Zoom Fatigue If you've found videoconferencing exhausting lately, you’re not alone.  😩

This just launched minimal corporate swag startup is 💯🥤

This made me laugh: a teacher taking attendance in 2026. 📝

Incredible portraits of life under lockdown. 📷

This is almost as good as Community Adjusted Ebitda 👇🏽

This poem is really very good 💯👇🏽

⚡Startups have laid off over 25k employees in the last month. If you are looking for talent, here’s a very good list of people affected.

Very thoughtful post that argues that the Internet tailwinds that propelled meteoric growth in Silicon Valley are stalling. What’s next? Internet company revenue will become zero-sum as companies compete over ever-shrinking slices of consumer attention. 🤔

A great list of KPIs and valuation metrics for 60+ public companies, sorted by specific business models such as ad-based, e-commerce, marketplaces/ listings, subscription, gaming and fintech. 📊

Thoughts from Mary Meeker, author of the annual Internet Trends report, on what will change the most post-COVID 🧠👇🏽

  • Scientists and engineers will get more seats at the table

  • Companies will get comfortable with new work environments

  • Digital transformation will accelerate in all industries

  • On-demand services will continue to drive economic growth

  • Governments will become better technology consumers

  • Healthcare delivery will improve, and healthcare data will finally become useful

  • Media will become more social and engaging


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

📸Evan Robinson is a photographer & director who works with startups like Magic Spoon, Four Sigmatic, Athena Club - all from a home studio that's conveniently, very isolated.

🏖️SORA collaborates with female artists to make beautiful multi-purpose towels from recycled material. Perfect on top of a yoga/gym mat, as a bath towel, or at the beach.

🏠Through its ingenious design process and unique client experience SDH Studio Architecture + Design works alongside their clients to create state of the art breathtaking designs!

🎥Learn how to become an expert video storyteller ⁣from an award-winning fmr. TODAY show producer. Video can be overwhelming but your brand needs it. Come for a free Masterclass.

🎁Want to send love while social-distancing? Small Packages has gifts for birthdays, sympathy, and more. They’re affordable ($35/$50/$100) & full of beautiful, premium items.

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 #41

creative responses to covid, signaling, and what comes next

Hi, I’m Sari Azout and this is the the 41st 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 subscribe here.

Happy Thursday, friends. Or as we call it now: day.

Most of us, it turns out, are non-essential, in the sense that our occupations aren’t needed for the basic functioning of society. So we’re sitting at home, refreshing our Twitter feeds in hopes of finding or developing “a take” that resonates.

This rush to develop “a take” to the rhythms established by Twitter, Medium and the prevailing network of the day favors publishing over reflecting. 

And publishing, in general, favors doom and gloom. People don’t like to report optimism out of fear of seeming oblivious.

And so the stories of innovative things companies are doing and new products that are being created go largely unreported.

Here are some of the most creative Covid pivots or product launches I’ve seen:

Most startups right now are focused on defense - they’re cutting costs and extending runway. But surviving this crisis doesn’t mean they’ll thrive once it’s over. The ones that will thrive are building new products, developing new capabilities, and reading the room. 

And the room reads: consumer spending is slowing down, but consumer culture is speeding up. 

Eleven Madison (the most expensive restaurant in NYC) is now a communal kitchen and LVMH is manufacturing hand sanitizers.

Things that once seemed impossible have become inevitable. 

In Signaling as a Service, Julian argues that most of our everyday actions can be traced back to some form of signaling or status seeking. 

If VC funded DTC brands with a premium mediocre, clean but staged, aspirational millennial bourgeois aesthetic defined the 2010s, something else will define the 2020s. 

We are moving away from the aspiration economy and towards the restraint economy. People are socially shaming the greedy and irresponsible. These days, it seems, we want to signal our generosity, our shared humanity, our communal values. 

As Ana Andjelic said: Mechanisms of social imitation and self-perception that created a recognizable DTC aesthetic… are also able to make obsolete the economic, social, and political system that has proved inadequate to deal with our global crisis.

If this is the birthing point for a lot of cultural shifts, the question we should be asking is not when will we return to business as usual, but rather how can we transform business as usual into something else, something better, something that aligns with our evolving values.

🙏🏼

Sari

(P.S. As a reminder, I’m donating 100% of classified ad revenue directly to families hurt by the pandemic. If you want to support this initiative while promoting your business to an audience of over 5,000 high quality subscribers, click here to book an ad and scroll down to see this week’s supporters)

Hermes brought in $2.7M in one day for one store in China when they reopened. 🛍️

Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. This piece has been making rounds on social media, and for good reason. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud. 🧠

This very polite toddler had no one to say hello to on his morning walk, so he pretended. 🚶🏽

Did you know that if you copy something on your iPhone, you can paste it on your Mac? MY LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. 🤯

Very useful templates to help you say no in any situation. 🕚

Getty artworks were recreated with household items by creative people all over the world. 🖼️

This 30 second video doesn't get good until about the very end, but it gets GOOD.🥚

This excerpt from the book Bullshit Jobs feels more relevant than ever: "Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried. Those who work shit jobs tend to be the object of indignities; they not only work hard but also are held in low esteem for that very reason. But at least they know they’re doing something useful. Those who work bullshit jobs are often surrounded by honor and prestige; they are respected as professionals, well paid, and treated as high achievers—as the sort of people who can be justly proud of what they do. Yet secretly they are aware that they have achieved nothing…” 🎓

Morgan Housel on what’s next. If everyone agrees how economically destructive this was, the debate will be easy: Laws will be passed installing new unemployment benefits, worker protection regulations, bailout clauses, etc. But if we have 40% of the population whose jobs were completely devastated by the crisis while another 60% didn’t feel much pinch – they may have actually enjoyed having no commute – the debate will be much harder. 👷🏾‍♀️

Bored.Solutions is a place to find ideas of things to learn, make & do while self-isolating. 🍄

Watch this six minute-documentary if you want to feel hope. At age thirteen, Michael lost both of his arms. He had no drawing ability before the accident, but at age 16, he discovered he could draw with his mouth. 🎨

When asked what the difference between a Product Manager and a UX designer is, Ryan Singer of 37 signals responded: “To put it briefly, the difference between the designer role and the manager role is whether they have the luxury of thinking about one problem at a time” I love this answer! 🤔

This family’s lockdown themed rendition of Les Miserables is really good. 🎤

The parents are not ok 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦

A great excerpt from Sarah Frier’s just-released book about Instagram: Zuckerberg’s purchase of Instagram, considered wildly overpriced at $715 million in 2012, is worth more than $100 billion today. Instagram now delivers $20 billion in annual revenue, more than a quarter of Facebook’s total. And Zuckerberg’s promise to leave the Instagram team largely independent inspired other founders to join Facebook, too. In 2014 he bought WhatsApp for a then-stunning $22 billion, solidifying Facebook’s dominance over modern communication, and paid $2 billion for the virtual-reality company Oculus, whose hardware he hoped would lead the way into the future… People are looking at Facebook’s buy today and thinking “what the fuck?” I’m looking at it and thinking that Facebook is ingenious. They’re one of the few large companies that understands how to and when to acquire. You don’t buy at the peak. You buy on the ramp up to the peak. 📱

Ben Evans on what will last from this period of mandated remote working, shopping and living, and what will not stick. 📔

If you haven’t already maxed out on the “how to navigate the crisis” articles, this one is really good. First Round pulled together all of the advice they’ve been sharing with entrepreneurs. 💯

Dan Grover, a product designer and entrepreneur who formerly lived in Guangzhou, wrote an outstanding piece that documents how Chinese technology companies responded to the coronavirus crisis and argues that Silicon Valley can do more to help. 🇨🇳

How the virus transformed the way Americans spend their money. Among other stats: change in spending on e-scooters is down 100%, fast fashion down 95%, airlines down 92%, fitness & gyms down 75%. 😧


I'm donating all classified ad revenue to families hurt by the pandemic. Click here to book a classified ad - you’re supporting a worthy cause while being seen by an audience of over 5,000 high-quality subscribers.

💤 Sunday Citizen’s mission is simple: comfort first. From crystal weighted blankets to comforters, everything we make is soft as a cloud and easy care. Meet radical softness.

🍫 Revol Snax makes the ultimate sweet treats for keto, paleo, and vegan lifestyles. For those who believe in the low carb lifestyle. Satisfy your sweet cravings with delicious bites!

📝 We wanted a notes app that feels like a real notebook – one that balances simplicity with utility, makes writing delightful, and helps us focus and be present. So we built Minimal.

🏡There is an art to selling fine homes. We position your property in its finest light to showcase its true value. To get a free home valuation click here.

💦LMNT is proud to support the CYP out of work initiative. Our electrolyte drink mixes are used by Navy SEALs & NFL players, intermittent fasters & energy-seeking entrepreneurs

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!

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