Check your Pulse #34

the creative economy, we're not really strangers, and the immediacy filter

Welcome to the 34th 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.

Hello from Harbor Island, Bahamas!

The beaches here are insanely beautiful.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed lately: across categories, there’s been a move towards smaller, more niche offerings revolving around delivering joy, personalization, and fun.

DateMyFriend.ppt is a match-making live event where people pitch their single friend to the crowd with a Powerpoint deck. With 45% of current or recent users of dating apps saying that these platforms makes them feel frustrated, DateMyFriend is a reaction to swipe right fatigue.

In theory, Amazon, Walmart, and Target can serve all our shopping needs. But people are gravitating towards highly creative experiences like Popup Grocer that deliver delight and extreme curation.

Manrepeller is launching Hold The Phone, a text-based hotline for people looking for style advice and shopping recs. There are plenty of fashion startups offering “algorithmic recommendations” and places like Shopbop and Netaporter have every piece of clothing you’ll ever want. But consumers have choice anxiety and they want humans to help them.

A small handful of media conglomerates have scale (CNN, Fox, NYT, WSJ). But people are gravitating towards a long tail of niche independent creators like The New Consumer, 2pm, that are more intimate and less reliant on click-bait entertainment. 

Headspace and Calm have achieved meaningful scale, but there’s an emerging long tail of meditation experiences like The Big Quiet and The Cushion Crawl that offer uplifting IRL experiences, pop culture and community.

Each new generation provokes a massive explosion in the volume of the thing it helped create. The large social networks, e-comm companies, media companies, dating apps, and meditation apps will continue to succeed. But many of their users will be systematically poached by smaller, more organic, human-scale competitors.

In Invisible Asymptotes, Eugene Wei writes: “We focus so much on product-market fit, but once companies have achieved some semblance of it, most should spend much more time on the problem of product-market unfit.”

For example, the massive social graph Facebook created is a blessing until it’s a curse. A graph that conflates everyone you know is intimidating to broadcast to. This is one of the diseconomies of scale for social networks like Facebook.

The real product of any company is the feeling you are left with after you are done with it. Scale gives us convenience, reliability, and choice. But it doesn’t deliver delight, creativity, joy, surprise, or community.

MSCHF, Poolside.fm, Jacuzzi Club, Madhappy, and WNRS (featured later in this issue) are just a few examples of creative brands and side projects that come to mind. They are inventive precisely because they avoid the trap of creativity under the gun.

Most successful niche winners will likely not reach $200m in revenue, but these businesses will be strong because they are so meaningful to their customers. Freed from the demands of VCs to hit growth targets, founders can take chances to create the intangibles that amaze people.

My hope is that more creative people who have something to say have the courage to bring it to the world on their terms.

Because the Internet rewards scale, but it also rewards those who deliver value in the form of extreme curation, originality, creativity, joy, and fun.

🎯

Sari

This is very true. “Many young ppl feel constrained by lack of big network, but IMO they're constrained by the value they can provide a network” 💯

There’s a lot of truth here: the problem with tech media is not that they don’t understand tech. It’s that they don’t understand business. I'd say the real blind spot in business journalism is understanding that all companies, even the big successful ones, are a shitshow inside. That's not evidence that they're corrupt or malevolent or necessarily mismanaged. It's just that business is messy, and fast-moving businesses trying to do something new are even messier. 📰

A great list of 1 on 1 meeting questions 👍🏼

These face ID compatible respiratory masks are hilarious, but also what world do we live in? 😷

This visualization of money flows is really good. On a related note, this Bloomberg profile of what it takes to be in the 1% around the world that shows that in UAE, you’ll have to make $1m a year, in the U.S. $489K, and in China $107k will put you there. 💰

Great observation (although there’s a certain amount of survivorship bias here) 👇🏽

I love the idea of an immediacy filterOne of the most useful bits of advice I ever got, came from the writer Anne Herbert who said that whenever she got an invitation to do something months away or even a week away, she asked herself whether she would accept the gig/meeting/task if it was tomorrow. The answer was often no. I use that immediacy trick all the time, and it has served me very well.” 📆

This Reddit thread asks what little known but obvious facts will make you feel stupid. My favorite response: Percentages are reversible. 8% of 25 is the same as 25% of 8 and one of them is much easier to do in your head. 🤯

These 10 covers of Joni Mitchell's “A Case Of You” are so good! 🎤

The most incredible immunity supplement I’ve taken. I’ve been using it since Samin Nosrat recommended it in Tribe of Mentors. If you are a parent to little children, you need this. 💊

A rare talk by the author of one of my favorite books, The Untethered Soul. 🙏🏼

A list of tweets with 40 concepts for understanding the world 🌎

Every product team and founder should read this: 12 signs you’re working in a feature factory 🏭

A bunch of nicely organized startup decks 📔

A more nuanced take on the D2C space by Maveron. Plus this tweet by @web on linear commerce is worth thinking about. 🛍

A16Z released the Marketplace 100, a ranking of the largest and fastest-growing consumer-facing marketplace startups, along with some insights and conclusions. 📈

Bill Gurley’s (@bgurley) interview on Recode Decode is really good. My favorite line: “There's this old saying about selling dollars for 85 cents. But there's a truism to it. You can create infinite revenue if you sell dollars for 85 cents. And if you give consumers more value than you charge them for, they will love you. And I remind entrepreneurs all the time that Webvan had the highest NPS scores of any company I've ever known. It wasn't that the consumer proposition didn't work, it was that the economics didn't work.” 🎧

We’re Not Really Strangers (WNRS) is a purpose driven card game and movement all about empowering meaningful connections, with 150 questions and wildcards that designed to deepen your relationships. Sample questions include things like: “Do you think I was popular in school?” and even things like “How are you, really?” The game has become a phenomenon, with 1.4m followers on their Instagram, which feels like your pseudo-best friend and life coach. WNRS is a recipe for a different kind of game night. If Cards Against Humanity represented modern card games at their edgiest, this new wave represents card games at their most earnest. WNRS might be best described as cards for humanity. As I mentioned in the preamble, I think we’ll start to see even more of these novel experiences appear, that not only increase connectedness, but that are unashamedly fun.

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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Know a founder i should meet?

Drop me a note at sari@level.vc

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