Can someone be, like MKBHD?

Can someone become like you now Guy Raz asked Marques Brownlee?

It’s different today. “I’ve noticed that in polls of younger people their dream jobs used to be firefighter or movie star, but they all say YouTuber now”, said Marques, “this is fascinating to me because when I started that did not exist.”

If something is legible it’s something to compete on. But illegible things – becoming a YouTuber before it was a thing – make the competition harder.

Legible means playing according to the rules of the game. Illegible means making up the rules as you go. “I just wanted to make the kind of videos I liked to watch,” Marques notes. Illegible also means there’s time to find your rules. Brownlee spent years making videos. He admits that the early ones are hard to watch because they’re so bad. That’s fine!

With value comes competition, and the market mechanism whirls to life. “Your margin,” Bezos believed, “is my opportunity”. Alpha erodes.

Except in some places like the new, the foreign, the unaccounted, the unfavorable, the silly, and so on. Not every new thing ‘works out’ but every new thing has less competition.

The invisible visible

In the beginning, we measured the world one way. Then another way came. This way offered different fidelity, and we used that. Sometimes the thing we measured was a fixed supply, and the new fidelity changed demand and prices. Then a new new way came. The first two examples are this. Sometimes there is is no supply constraint and no change in price. The second two examples are that.

Investing. There are at least two areas where the invisible became visible. One is quantitative. It’s in the numbers, not the stories, where good investments can be found. A second is in scale. It’s the size of the company where there’s information which is invisible at one scale but very clear at another.

Moneyball. Like quant investing, Moneyball is a way to use numbers to find patterns and to frame our thinking.

Personal. “You work with a lot of teams”, Shane Parrish prompted, “what have you learned about making good decisions?” Well, says Diana Chapman, “people don’t practice nearly enough candor.” The whole episode (#130) is basically about this, making the invisible visible in our collection of relationships. How? Through candor.

Jobs to be done. The JTBD framework is a way of articulating purchase decisions. People take action to change what? We’ve many examples of this: Leatherman tool, Headspace meditation, and Instagram stores.

One way to find the recently visible is in words. What was so great about Chapman’s podcast with Parrish was the embodiment of her ideas. Chapman is physical: use notecards, stand here, dress like this and act accordingly. We are a visual species. Today’s prompt then: What is invisible here?

Words mean Competition

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

The easiest competition is a competition with no one. Peter Thiel wants entrepreneurs to go from Zero to One. Bob Moesta wants business owners to think about nonconsumption. Investors want to fish by themselves.

A good sign for a lack of competition is a lack of words, metrics, numbers, figures, or ways to describe the thing. Sabermetrics provides a clear example, creating new words like WAR (wins-above-replacement). Early on it was only natives that spoke that language. With time it became legible and numerical.

Recently I was researching Shopify for a client and the Reddit message boards are full of good questions, helpful advice, and sad stories. The most helpful comment was this, “drop shipping worked before there was a name for it.” 

Like comets passing past planets; ideas are unknown, known and captured, or lost again. Once an idea has been collectively captured it takes a form, it becomes easy, and it’s hard to create value from it. Ben Savage explains this idea in his comment about blockchain.

There’s little doubt that in 2020 we will generate, collect, clean, and analyze more data than we did in 2019. That’s a lot of potential legibility. However, more data doesn’t mean good data.

Ask any parent what the best restaurant meal is like and they’ll tell you, 100% of the time, it’s when a waiter takes special care of the children. Early food, extra apps, special cups, jokes, magic tricks, whatever. This is low hanging fruit, easy to see, guaranteed to please.

“A larger sample size doesn’t give you a better answer to a bad question.” — Bob Moesta

I don’t get more excited for new years than I do new months but they do provide an artificial break — like a paragraph — to pause and prepare.

We can take a breath and business owners can ask, am I going to sell the same things to new people or new things to the same people? To avoid the competition and make a difficult task slightly easier it will help if there aren’t quite words for what you’re doing.

Thanks for reading.