Brian Koppelman’s Career Capital

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

If you want to snuggle into something longer, here’s a brief tour through Brian Koppelman’s career. Three choices available; save for later or pdf or ebook ($4.99 at Amazon).

If you want to snuggle in and have it read to you, that’s also available.

I can’t say what drew me to Koppelman, we’ve written about him before; Brian Koppelman and Brian Koppelman and David Levien but this was fun to put together. Here’s the introduction if you’d like to see the flavor.

Brian Koppelman’s career as a filmmaker is like his first movie; Rounders. He wins with good hands. He loses with bad hands. He loses with good hands too. He bellies up to the table, gets a break, and shows up the next day.

Life, wrote Scott Adams, is like “A reverse casino. In a casino, if you gamble long enough, you’re certainly going to lose. But in the real world, where the only thing you’re gambling is, say, your time or your embarrassment, then the more stuff you do, the more you give luck a chance to find you.”

Koppelman was the guy that studied poker odds and won a big pot. He worked on Rounders, Knockaround Guys, and The Illusionist. Then he lost or broke even on a bunch of hands. In a sense that’s all that could have happened when you finish a movie like Oceans 13 which starred Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney. When Runner Runner came out, Koppelman told his friends not to see it. When his role on the television show Vinyl fell through he was gobsmacked. When he gets stuck writing Solitary Man he gets really stuck.

Then, he starts Six Second Screenwriting Lessons on Vine. He starts podcasting. He starts writing Billions.

Koppelman’s film career mirrors a successful poker career. Don’t blow up. Play games you can win. Get back to the table. Ditto for how Billionaires make actual billions. Just like financial capital, Koppelman has compounded career capital due to small investments; in projects and with people.

David Levien is Koppelman’s best friend (since he was fourteen). He’s a crucial supporting character here. Part of the reason this is about Koppelman and not both is because Koppelman puts out so much material while Levien does less. Ditto for Amy Koppelman. Brian gives her a lot of credit for the initial nudge and continuing support. When asked for advice, Brian’s first suggestion is to marry someone who supports you.

Brian Koppelman will be our subject but he hasn’t done it on his own.

One programming note; all unattributed quotes are from Brian Koppelman.



Decision Making

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

This seems a good point to recap some decision-making advice.

1/ Check your ego at the door. Good decision making means always learning.  “Humility,” wrote Tariq Farid, “is never a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of willingness. Unlike seventh-grade history, the world changes. Good decision makers are curious, nosey, insatiable.

2/ Think in dials not buttons. Yes and No are not the only possible outcomes. There are always shades of gray.

3/ Go with the base rate. Too often we don’t follow the base rate when we are unsure. Annie Duke explained to Barry Ritholtz that people don’t like to do things rotely. Instead, she has to reframe the situation to her clients, that, you have to be very wise to figure out the base rate is the right strategy.

4/ Record the decisions. People (please sit for this) have this tendency to make themselves look good. Luckily for you and I, this is mostly other people. WE keep a decision journal.

5/ Talk with others. Whether it’s red teaming or something else, the best decision makers get feedback from other people. This could be a formal process or emerge on its own. Josh Wolfe said that the worst investment decisions his firm makes are when everyone agrees. “The biggest mistakes are when an entrepreneur comes in and we won’t let them leave, we want to give them terms on the spot.”

6/ Recognize the role/roll of luck. Dice are the canonical example but there’s some luck in anything we do. Michael Mauboussin put it this way; anything out of your control can be considered luck. Anything in your control is a skill. So…

7/ Build up your skill.In Mauboussin’s work, he uses the two-jar model to explain outcomes. While the luck jar is independent, the skill jar is entirely dependent on what we spend our time on. “People often talk about following your dreams,” said Brian Koppelman, “but you also have to work ferociously hard.”

8/ Schedule your tweets before the second glass of wine. Annie Duke said that we tend to make wise long-term resolutions but make dumb short-term implementations. I want to lose weight but I also want to eat potato chips. We can design a solution, such as the one-hour diet. For the one-hour a week we’re in a grocery store we don’t buy potato chips.

9/ Biases are like coffee grounds; filter and swallow. This morning I discovered my coffee filter had a hole after I started drinking the coffee. Biases are like that. We can design our life (#8) and get help from friends (#5) but we’ll never be able to eliminate all the biases we have. That’s fine. Notice the mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

10/ What kind of distribution is this? There are two big distributions types to be aware of; normal and power laws. Normal distributions like height have helpful means. Power laws have unhelpful means, and a whole lot more going on. We looked at Brian Arthur’s work in this podcast episode. Knowing what kind of system you’re in affects what kind of information you’ll see.


Thanks for reading.

Annie Duke

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Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Annie Duke joined Barry Ritholtz to talk about her book Thinking in Bets. The book is a good introduction to someone who wants to understand decision making. Here’s a YouTube playlist of clips of things Duke writes about:

In the book, Duke introduces the term resulting.

“We have this very uncertain relationship between decision quality and outcome quality.”

“Learning from your outcomes is a really poor strategy. It’s great if you’re playing chess; but it’s terrible if you’re playing poker, it’s terrible if you’re investing, it’s terrible if you’re driving.”

This was something we looked at in the Traffic podcast. The system we call driving offers terrible feedback for the human. But camera and radar make it better. Why? Feedback. After it therefore because of it isn’t always right reasoning.

Duke writes about Pete Carroll and explains why the intercepted pass play was a good play call. Carroll explained his  philosophy this way:

“The winning/losing thing. The judgment at the end of it. You can’t focus on that. If you focus on that you’re missing all the things that happen in the meantime. What really gets you there are the good plays, one after another. One step at a time. One thought at a time. If you believe and trust in that, the outcome will turn out the way you want it to.”

Carroll must be a 76ers fan. Duke uses Daniel Kahneman‘s two systems to explain. “We’re pretty good at understanding our goals…the problem is all the small execution decisions along the way.”

We tend to choose goals in System 2 (thoughtful, wise) but pursue them in System 1 (reactive, myopic). Wes Gray suggested making those small, middle, execution steps part of the big goal planning.

Luck “The problem with luck,” Duke explained, “is that if you were unlucky there’s nothing you can learn to improve your execution of decisions in the future.”

Why is it so difficult?

“Generally we don’t have enough data to do it and generally we field outcomes one at a time…We live in this noisy system where sometimes we drive through red lights and we get through just fine and sometimes we go through green lights and get in an accident. It’s not perfectly linked together like a game of chess”

Okay. Instead of just saying luck is hard to untangle from skill is there practical advice? Yes!  Michael Mauboussin suggests we figure out how replicable something is. Rolling a seven with a pair of dice is pure luck. Sports and games are less luck and more skill. Chess is almost purely skill.

For things that are less skillful, assume the base rate. What’s the base rate? Cade Massey explains:

Success requires a mix of humility and ego. It’s an attitude of, I believe I can do this though it’s not guaranteed. Duke said:

“I think there’s a difference in being humble in the face of the game you’re playing and humble in the face of the opponents you’re facing.”

“The more you play the more you realize you have no idea what you’re doing at this table.”

“I think once you’ve survived a long time, whether it’s poker or anything else, you’ve probably developed some more humility around the rightness and wrongness of your decisions in the first place.”

Tariq Farid of Edible Arrangements put it this way. “Humility is never a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of willingness — to learn, collaborate, benefit from the experience. Arrogance, on the other hand, is often a sign of insecurity and can be an immediate turn-off when dealing with anyone in a business venture.”

At the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship Duke defeated her mentor – and one of the best poker players ever – Erik Seidel. How?

“I ended up facing Eric Seidel at the final table and I knew he was going to outthink me. So I injected a lot of luck into that match. I understood that if I had to execute a lot of decisions where he has the edge I’m going to be in big trouble.”

Daryl Morey said something similar about the pre-20017 Houston Rockets. When asked about playing the Golden State Warriors Morey suggested a one-game playoff. Why? More variance in small sample sizes. Fun statistic professors point out that it’s the lowest population counties that have the highest cancer rates. Is it because of access to services? No, it’s about statistical variance. Do you know where cancer rates are the highest? Other low population counties.

Perpetual beta. Duke asks, do you want to be someone who goes around justifying your beliefs or do you want to be someone who verifies the world?

“The person who wins at a bet is not the one who affirms their prior, it’s the person who has the most accurate model of the world.”

“When you view your beliefs as under construction, you don’t end up with these full-on reversals that I’m an idiot.”

Phillip Tetlock writes about perpetual beta in Superforecasting and points out that it goes along with a growth mindset. How does Duke do this? “I have to make sure I’m openminded to the information and that I’m information hungry.”

Unsexy careers Playing poker, making wine, writing movies – these are all very sexy careers. Which also means they’re damn hard to dominate. When Ritholtz asked Duke for advice to a young person considering poker she said:

“Now that it’s been on television, it’s a little more glam, know what you’re getting into. It’s a grind. You have to put in your hours because the amount of money you make is tied to the amount of hours you put in.”

Careers pay financially and emotionally. If you’re not getting paid in the former, advised Scott Galloway, then make sure you’re getting paid in the latter. Sometimes we assume the two are tied; that only sexy jobs pay well. But as investors like Brent Beshore know, that’s just not the case.


Thanks for reading.

Tiffany Zhong

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Tiffany Zhong spoke with Khe Hy about Gen Z.

Our X Y Z generation demarcation marks our technological revolution. Past transitions like the industrial revolution, Ford’s assembly line, and the shipping container were specifically somewhere. Today the change could be everywhere. Breaking Smart explains this nicely.

Zhong grew up in San Francisco. She had a Blackberry at fifteen and spent a lot of time on Facebook. One day her dad asked why she wasn’t creating something herself, instead of consuming it from someone else. This was Zhong’s see-it-to-believe-it-moment.

“I was like, Wow, there are people behind these platforms that I’m using. There are designers and engineers and product people and CEOs and founders and I could get access to them if I tried hard enough.”

That question “led me to using Twitter.” Zhong didn’t think of emailing people when she could tweet at them. She asked questions. She replied. She learned.

During Brian Koppelman’s press tour for Billions, many interviewers are surprised that billionaires will open up to Koppelman. Well, Koppelman replies, who doesn’t want to be understood? Zhong had the same experience.

Tiffany shifted from just adding questions to adding value.

“I changed my tagline to, would you be up for grabbing a coffee and in exchange, I’ll give you my perspective on anything consumer related from a real teens point of view…That’s how I got my foot in the door, they didn’t really know any teens.”

They didn’t really know ____ is the seed for a startup surprise. Sarah Tavel with Pinterest, Katrina Lake with Stitch Fix, and Brian Chesky with Airbnb are all examples of venture capitalist ignorance.

Twitter helped, Zhong explained, because “Twitter taught me a lot about emotional intelligence and talking to people.” Just not overnight. “It took me five years to get me to where I am today.” Five years of work is a good reflection point. Stratechery, for example, just turned five. Brainpickings is older and wiser:

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When not on Twitter, Zhong worked at Product Hunt. “I was at Product Hunt when I was sixteen, this was in high school…Senior year of high school I was working basically full-time hours at Product Hunt.” What kind of skills does a high schooler have?

 “I didn’t have a strong network back then but I did have my perspective and I was willing to work hard and spend time on janky early apps and give feedbacks to founders.”

Tiffany’s experience reminded me of the Douglas Adams quote, why are there still sharks in the ocean, because nothing is better at being a shark than a shark. What’s your competitive advantage? You.

“I did not have any other skills other than knowing how to tweet and being Gen Z.”

After a year with a VC firm Tiffany heads to UC Berkeley. This part made me laugh:

TZ: “I wanted to build things rather than spend all my time meeting founders and investing in things.”
KH: “So you went to college because it was going to give you free time to work on projects?”
TZ: “Basically.”

But college didn’t work out. Rather than advising her peers to also drop out, Zhong said, “I don’t think everyone should drop out. There’s a lot more to that. What will you be doing instead and who will you be doing it with?”

Ben Carlson wondered, is college worth the cost?. While I advocate for the DIY MBA it’s been reading Annie Dukes Thinking in Bets that’s made me think less in buttons and more in dials.

That means going from A or B to, How can I tune this? I talked to high school students and some of them stream college courses at high school. Those kids are planning on 18 months at an Ohio State satellite campus and then two years at the main campus. The best education seems to be a cycle of finding and solving problems.

Zhong said, “The only skill you need is to be able to think creatively and use your resources well. You don’t need to know how to code…If you can write and sell you can get very far in life.” This echoes Seth Godin‘s advice to teach people how to ask interesting questions and solve problems.

All this has led to Zebra Intelligence. “Everything around Gen Z basically.” Zhong, like authors such as Andy Weir and Steven Kotler, formed a project around questions people asked her.

What does Zebra Intelligence do?

“We help teach high school and college students things that they need to know but that they don’t learn; how to talk to adults, how to cold email, how to do double-opt-in intros, how to work with adults to create a product scope.”

What is Zebra Intelligence?

“A platform that connects brands and teens to deliver continuous consumer insights.”

Why is this important?

“Anyone who does stuff in product, design, engineering, or wants to start their own company should know how to talk to and interview users or potential users…Being able to talk to people in an unbiased manner is crucial.”

One theme of failed startups was not asking critical questions to unbiased users. You can’t ask your mom if a product is great because your mom will answer about you, not the product.

Understand what job your customer is hiring for. IDEO, Tariq Farid, and Susan Tynan have all proved how important this is. Zhong is proving it too.


Thanks for reading. I’m mikedariano.

Katrina Lake

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Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

When my wife’s first fix arrived the value was obvious. Stitch Fix founder, Katrina Lake’s How I Built This podcast (and other interviews) are another template for startups. It’s a similar path to Instagram & theSkimm, only Lake has taken one further step, straddling the online and meatspace worlds. Let’s see what she did.

Note, Tren Griffin had a typically erudite post on Stitch Fix.

Lake got the idea for Stitch Fix when she was a restaurant and retail consultant. Large retailers wanted ideas from smart young people (like Lake) but they acted on few if any. One of Lake’s ideas was to make a store half museum, half warehouse. Customers could scan items from one side and they would be collected and delivered to a changing room from the other.

“I had all these ideas on what these businesses could do better,” Lake said. Yet, “People looked at me like I had seven heads.”

This is good! Andy Rachleff said Wealthfront was a radical idea. Scott Norton advocated zigging when others are zagging. Peter Thiel asks about what do people not agree with you on. Eddie Izzard puts it this way: “(history + change in society) * change in technology = the future”.

Lake’s job was to suggest new glasses to men who wanted to stay blind. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it,”  wrote Upton Sinclair.

This isn’t to say that the people Lake advised were obtuse or ignorant or illogical. They were locally logical. Their incentives were tilted toward the status quo. No one gets fired for buying IBM and no one gets fired for saying no to a museum/warehouse mutt.

Lake left advising and began capitalizing, but it was “A weird time (2007-2009) to be in venture.” But it was also instructive.

“The most important learning was that all these people were just like super unqualified normal people – just like I was…I didn’t need to be in the peanut gallery lobbying my ideas at other people, I could just do it myself.”

She watched for a company to join. No good fit appeared. Two years later she left for business school.

At this point in her podcast with Guy Raz I was cheering for her to say I knew B-School would be a waste of my time and I could learn everything I needed as I went. Lake did not say this. It’s helpful she didn’t. We advocate for the DIY MBA and collect (minor degree curriculums). But Lake said:

“I was never going to quit my job and have this gap in my resume. I can take these two years and be a mediocre student. My end goal is to have a company funded, paying myself a salary and paying back my students loans on the day I graduate then the risk profile of entrepreneurship is tenable to me.”

When asked if her MBA was useful and worth it, Lake told Bloomberg:

“It was absolutely the right thing for me. I had no history of being an entrepreneur. I loved the classes. I learned to be able to present thoughts quickly, which helped with pitching, leadership, running meetings. I was very deliberate about what I was going to get out of it.”

It’s a great approach. Who could argue when your plan B is an MBA from Harvard.

Shipping up to Boston (from California), Lake considered the hunting and fishing industries.

“I had collected a bunch of thesis in my head. If you look at industries, the hunting and fishing industry is massive, people are super compassionate about it, it’s fragmented but also concentrated. There are elements of fashion, whether it’s technology or actual fashion, things go out of style.”

But it wasn’t a good fit. Lake kept thinking and tinkering. She paid attention. Elle wrote that Lake was part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group that delivered fresh produce to her Cambridge apartment. Hmm, a regular delivery, that’s interesting.

As Griffin wrote, Lake is more missionary than mercenary. Great brands are built on belief, Phil Knight at Nike and Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia are two examples.

In her time consulting, Lake noticed that small dropoffs cascaded into large effects. If a business’s revenue decreased by ten percent, then those marginal dollars had to shoulder more fixed cost.  “Blockbuster,” Lake said, “is kind of the best example of this.” Netflix didn’t have to gain 50% market share, they only had to gain 15. With that loss, Blockbuster would flounder and the 85% remaining would have to find an alternative. Like Netflix.

“There was also a mass depersonalization in a retail store. You don’t need iPhone chargers or diaper purchases to be personal, but this ignored the category of apparel that’s deeply personal.” Why couldn’t a business offer a personal service Lake wondered.

🔑 “The idea was, how can you deliver a personal experience in apparel and use data and technology to make it scalable and make it better.”

In Boston, Lake started to experiment and talk to her customer. These two small acts; test and question, are crucial. Susan Tynan said:

“At Living Social, I sold a lot of framing deals so I knew customers were looking for a deal in this category…I started talking to everybody about it. Imagine me at a cocktail party or a friend’s baseball game talking to people about it and I kept hearing the same stories about six-hundred dollars worth of framing and I couldn’t believe it.”

At IDEO they talk to customers a lot. CEO Tim Brown said that people tour their offices and ask where is everyone? Good designers said Brown, go out and talk to the users. When Fashionista asked Lake for advice she said:

“I would really focus on product/market fit and really understanding your client. I think this is a world where it’s very hard to get people’s attention and it’s … the customer is the most honest. You can come up with all the ideas that you want and then customers ultimately vote with their dollars. So I think the quickest way that you can get feedback from your clients and listen to your clients, and evolve to be able to have the right products for them: All of that is the right place to start.”

What did Lake find out? Surveys worked. Ten items were too many. Brands weren’t sticky. How did she do this? A credit card or two and free online survey tools. Specifically:

“I was buying inventory from boutique stores in Boston and would keep track of their return policy. Then when someone would fill out their profile I would put together a box of things that were relevant based on what they shared in their profile. If they liked it they would write me a check. If I didn’t sell it I would return it.”

“I wasn’t making any money, I just wanted to see if this would work.”

Businesses have to have customers, this is the iron law of the market. Don’t try to sell seven-fingered gloves said Tony Hsieh. Lake told Bloomberg:

“That ‘working mom’ profile is our bread and butter. Someone who is time-starved feels like she is super-busy and doesn’t have time to shop but is excited to have fresh clothes. The time-starved mom is, on average, 39. We also have the working gal profile, she’s more like 30. We have a lot of teachers.”

First, there were ten, then twenty, then thirty-five customers. “We had a wait list for a long time because we didn’t have clothes to send to you that were relevant and demand outpaced what we had.” For people who did get the boxes, Lake sent PayPal request and paper surveys.

The business grew and more people signed up. Stitch Fix expanded into places customers had queued up. “We had 80,000 people on a wait list for plus size before we even launched the business.”

Though a technology company, much of Stitch Fix’s early work wasn’t technical. I was reminded of simplicity in a podcast between Maria Popova and Tim Ferriss. As he often does, Ferriss asks about the tools Popova uses. It’s fun to see the what which is easier to adopt than the why or the how. But Popova is remarkably simple. For exercise on the road, she carries a weighted jump rope. For edits, she emails her post. For hosting it’s WordPress. Lake started simply too, with Paypal and Google Docs. That’s how super unqualified normal people start.

Lake pitched her idea. Venture Capitalists hated it. It was too different for them.

“When you’re doing something nobody else is doing you are either the smartest or the stupidest person in the room.”

Part of the reason may have been that it was a service for women and Lake needed capital to buy inventory.  “Raising money was really hard.” Another headwind was the company size. The home run approach to venture capital was “another dynamic, they want you to be a zero or a billion and everything in the middle is not that attractive.”

Stakeholders influence decisions. How many teams passed on Stitch Fix because they were focused on a round number? How many teams passed on Stitch Fix because – as Lake put it to Elle – “They were like, ‘You want $2 million to buy dresses?’”

Yet, maybe the lack of fundraising helped. On Exponent #143 Ben Thompson talked about Dropbox and Twitter. In some ways, Thompson notes, those companies were too successful. They weren’t forced to figure out a business strategy. Maybe the opposite occurred for Stitch Fix. Without venture money, the company was forced to excel at inventory management, balance cash flow, and crush marketing. They kept serving customers, one of whom was Amie Fineberg. Lake told Elle:

“One of those loyal clients was Amie Fineberg, who happened to be the executive assistant to Bill Gurley, a general partner at the venture capital firm Benchmark. “She was like, ‘I think you should know the staff is spending a lot of money with this company,’” Gurley recalls. He set up a meeting with Lake, and although he was skeptical at first, having worked with and experienced the pitfalls of e-tail, he was “blown away” by the company’s financials.”

Benchmark led a twelve million dollar B Round in 2013.

By 2014 Stitch Fix was a profitable company.

What helped get them there was good data. “We were always a data company,” said Chief Algorithms Officer Eric Colson. How do data and fashion go together? Lake explained what Tyler Cowen wrote, “We see it as both are uniquely good at different things. The stylist should never worry about whether or not you hate yellow, the data will take care of that.”

“We don’t have opinions here, we have hypotheses,” Colson told BuzzFeed News. “And we test them to make sure we’re acting in our clients’ best interest.”

Stitch Fix went public in November 2017. Lake and her son were there to ring the bell. Initially, she didn’t want to be seen as a Woman CEO, just a CEO. But:

“Being part of what opens peoples lens of possibility is really powerful. Now I’m proud to be part of that and wear that label and it’s good that people can see more examples of what success could look like that maybe are different from what it’s looked like in the past.”

See-it-to-believe it is a powerful concept. Jessie Itzler, Judd Apatow and Joe Rogan, and Kara Swisher all started because they saw someone do something and thought, Yes. That!


Thanks for reading.

Danny Meyer 2

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

In our first round with Danny Meyer we looked at his book Setting the Table and took away these lessons:

  • Do something that interests you.
  • Understand your (and employee’s) incentives.
  • Be there for a deep understanding.
  • Be different in a way you can be excellent.

Let’s dig into more of Meyer’s advice.

Meyer sat down with Gary Vaynerchuk.

Meyer is, according to Gary, curious. “Twitter at it’s best is a listening platform,” Vaynerchuk said, “You are great at what you do because you macro listen to your employees, to the market, to the consumer, you’re a listener.”

Meyer experiments. “Daily provisions was an accident…my favorite kind of accident.” Meyer had a little extra room to do something, but what? Experimental optimism may make Meyer an Intelligent Fanatic.

Meyer knows a job is more than work. “I can never imagine not working because it’s brain and heart food.”

Meyer focuses on the most important things. When Vaynerchuk suggested Meyer start a podcast he replied:

“My own team is begging for the same thing but my answer is this; for ten years before I wrote Setting the Table my team was like, ‘you gotta write a book’ and I said ‘we already have cookbooks.’ They said, ‘No, we don’t want a recipe for how you do food, we want a recipe for how you do business.’ What do people need to hear in a podcast that doesn’t already exist?”

Meyer communicates well. At one point they asked Alexa for the best restaurant in New York City and there was no answer. That led Vaynerchuk to say:

“Who has the leverage? In this scenario, Amazon has the leverage. It’s not that Danny’s firm wants to spend all this marketing money to be a paid endorsement, he wants to win on his own merit…99% of restauranteurs don’t want to be at the mercy of Alexa. That’s just Zagat twenty years later. That’s just the New York Times twenty years later.”

“I think the way to not be at the mercy of a third party is to be a tremendous communicator at scale. For you to do what you need to do well, you need to have a podcast and a blog post and an Instagram account and Twitter and Facebook and a YouTube vlog and all of the above.”

“If you ask me, there is nothing more important than the ability to communicate with the end consumer because it keeps you from being vulnerable to the technology revolution happening.”

“Instagram (for marketing today) is the cost of entry.”

Ben Thompson’s body of work emphasizes the pinch point where the value is captured like fish in a net.

If someone is a Naked Brand, is scale communication is the antidote to the aggregator’s paradox?

Meyer said about brand building:

“I really believe that powerful brands emerge when you don’t pursue them becoming a powerful brand…Thing number one, if you want a powerful brand, you gotta pursue the things you’re passionate about and it’s possible a successful brand will ensue.”

Marketer Ryan Holiday wrote, “You know what the single worst marketing decision you can make is? Starting with a product nobody wants or nobody needs.” If Meyer’s Shake Shack hamburgers were foul no one would eat there. If churn was elevated customers weren’t elated. How?

“Make sure your staff understands why you got into this business in the first place. What’s their job when they come to work.”

Brands are one way a business can develop pricing power. Meyer has lived our Moats and Allocators post; harvest gains and allocate to the most fruitful fields.

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Thanks for reading.


Grab Bag #5

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

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Incentives matter, so what are you measuring? Brendan Harris was a college baseball player and now works in the major leagues in player development. On Wharton Moneyball he talked about measuring the right incentives.

“You had to hit .300 to move up a level. A .300 batting average is now the .370 on-base percentage in terms of what’s valued. The same for a .500 slugging percent. If you can continually drive balls into the gap and control the zone you will move up. In the past, you’d have to hit .300, which kind of put you in the mindset of, ‘Is a walk really that valuable to me? I can expand the zone a little bit and poke that ball to right.'”

Incentives also explain part of America’s opioid condition. Gimlet’s Science Vs. podcast on Opioids tells the oscillating story of pain management. Like Goldilocks, we’ve haven’t found just right. The back and forth is jostled too far because of incentive errors.  Physician salaries, for example, were based on the pain scores their patients reported and pain scores were influenced by opioids.

Test your assumptions. Last week I made a mistake. A friend noted that it was a dumb thing to do. It was. Of course, it was! If I realized it was dumb a priori I wouldn’t have done it. This is true for all our actions. However, some areas give us a glimpse of alternative futures.

In the NFL, for example, teams tend to not go for it on fourth down as often as expected value calculations suggest. Well, the wise coach may say, our team wasn’t playing that well today. Now there’s an app for that (assumption).

Frank Frigo explained the service his company offers to coaches for when they offer counterarguments.

“There could be a whole slew of arguments you could create. We allow the user to test those assumptions. Let’s make your team the worst rushing team in the NFL. Let’s make your opponent the best rushing defense in the NFL. Now, let’s re-simulate it to see how it affects your decisions…We stress that if you put in extreme counterarguments and it doesn’t flip the direction of the decision it’s pretty irrefutable evidence that you might be missing something.”

This isn’t only in sports. Brian Koppelman said that Johnny Chan in the final Rounders movie was Phil Helmuth in the original Rounders script.

Why change? Director John Dahl asked. Koppelman explained:

“At first I wanted to say ‘No’ but then Dave (Levien) and I went away and tried it. Which I think all writers, all creators should do. Because our ego is inextricably invested in our work and our initial reaction is often anger and it crowds our thinking.”

“John Dahl is an incredible senior officer. As director of the film he could have insisted upon, but he did the opposite. He said, ‘Why don’t you guys try it?’ We went back and we did it and it was immediately clear to us that it was the right choice.”

Distance neutralizes eroneous assumptions. It’s Wes Gray’s advice to plan in system two. David Benioff created distance by pitching title ideas to friends. Sherlock Holmes created distance by pulling down his cap and thinking. Walter Mischel saw students create distance to pass ‘the marshmallow test.’

Where to get ideas. Twyla Tharp wrote:

“You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going.”

Tharp also calls it scratching.

“Scratching can look like borrowing or appropriating, but it’s an essential part of creativity. It’s primal and very private. It’a  way of saying to the gods, ‘Oh don’t mind me, I’ll just wander around in these back hallways…’ and then grabbing that piece of fire and running like hell.”

Benioff found his ideas in Russian journals, a trip to St. Petersburg, Russian ex-pats in Brooklyn, and the public library.

Brian Koppelman said, “In terms of making the characters feel real, we do a lot of research in advance.” Billionaires are happy to talk, he said, so long as you don’t call them out. Solitary Man, Koppelman said, was a composite too.

Ideas come from being nosey. Ideas come from IDEO-like work. Ideas, said Shawn Coyle, take work.

“In the creative world there’s no magic pill, there’s no magic solution to becoming more creative, to become better at what you’re doing. It’s basically learning how to work the most efficiently without letting resistance overwhelm you.” – Shawn Coyle


Thanks for reading.