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.

Cons & Contexts

Context matters. A person at a college football game is unlikely to rip off their clothes and go streaking across the field. It happens, sure, but not whimsically. Streaking is premeditated. How else do they write such witty comments on their bum? But that person might rage. They might tear down the goalposts. They might set a couch on fire. Mobs are infectious.

Music is too. Turn on some good music. The context has changed the person.  

In a Betwixt the Sheets episode, Maria Konnikova talks about her 2016 book, The Confidence Game (Konnikova is one of my favorite non-fiction authors). She notes that con observers typically don’t understand. Too often we say that would never happen to me

But a con artist changes the context. “What we don’t understand” (looking at cons from the outside), Maria says, “is that objectivity goes away when we are emotionally involved. The first thing a good con artist does is get you emotionally involved in the story so that your ‘red flag spotter’ turns off.”

My wife’s grandmother lived to ninety one. She was a collector – of junk. Marketed in small-ish magazines sent directly to her house, she bought statues with American flags and coins and bobbles. She bought “limited edition” coins. She musta had fifty porcelain elephants. Her purchases were emotional: sentimentality, patriotism, greed.

She was a shrewd woman. Sharp too. Her eighty-fifth birthday was an open house and we spent much of the day eating and laughing with her. I was amazed at her observations. She lived through the depression. She worked on a farm. She had nine kids. She outlived some. She was tough, not an easy mark. She was conned. 

Her chotskies were just the artifacts. Family used her too.  

In business there’s an expression: you set the price and I’ll set the terms. You can charge any price if I can pay it whenever, however, and with whatever. Cons are similar: you set the mindset and I’ll set the context

Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner ever – so far. In a New York Times piece, he is quoted “Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.”

Con artists change the context which changes the mood. Their victims are emotionally involved. My grandmother-in-law was emotionally involved. Discipline is a buffer. Contexts change, emotions rise, but  discipline remains. 

Russian Reading List

There’s a financial advisor axiom that the best plan is the one you’ll stick with. For trainers, it is exercises done through a full range of motion. The best endocrinologists find an achievable plan, not an ideal one. There should be one for education too. With that in mind, here’s a list of Russian resources optimized for consumption rather than comprehensiveness.

We’ve done this before with books about China and related, history books that are business books.

The Rest is History (podcast). Some podcasts are better than books because the host(s) add context. Dan Carlin is great at this. Tom and Dominic do too, and their series on Vladimir Putin is excellent.

Red Notice. A finance thriller? Yep. Bill Browder spent decades opening, running, and closing a fund in Russia during the switch from communism to oligarchy.

Muppets in Moscow A 2022 book, h/t Marginal Revolution about Sesame Street in Russia.

Exporting Raymond. We love Phil Rosenthal’s Netflix travel/food show Somebody Feed Phil. This is the story of taking the show Everybody Loves Raymond to Russia.

Koylma Tales via Agustin Lebron called it “a collection of stories of people who lived in the Gulag, possibly the most revealing book on human nature I’ve ever read.” Takes place through the 1930s and 40s.

Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers. Forgot this source. “The true story of the most devastating cyberattack in history,” notes Amazon, “and the desperate hunt to identify and track the elite Russian agents behind it.” 2,000 reviews averaging 4.7.

It’s not the fall…

It’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the impact at the end. 

The best metrics describe a state of the world. Hotness has three audiences. “Fahrenheit is basically asking humans how hot it feels. Celsius is basically asking water how hot it feels. Kelvin is basically asking atoms how hot it feels.” (Reddit

Another is the contrast between American and Canadian avalanches. In the states, a medium avalanche is “relative to the path”. In Canada a medium avalanche “could bury a car, destroy a small building, or break a small tree.” The southern system expects the audience to be familiar with the area

A third is calorie counts. Sure, bananas have calories but they can also be zero-point foods. Counting calories isn’t the point. Weight loss is the point, so what’s the best way to communicate information that leads to those actions? 

About hurricanes: “The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale we use to rate hurricanes is based on only wind and doesn’t take into account the chief hazards which can be storm surge and flooding rains. It’s wholly inadequate. We need to go away from rating one through five based on winds. Hurricane Harvey stalled for days over Texas and caused a hundred billion dollar plus disaster (Harvey made landfall as a category four storm, but most of the rainfall and damages was as a tropical storm).” – Dr. Jeff Master 

Hurricanes need to be rated more like Canadian avalanches. If measuring wind speed rather than rainfall wasn’t enough, there’s another problem: the hundred-year storm

Everywhere I’ve lived has a hundred-year storm. In Ohio (Southeast and Northwest) it was floods. In Florida it is hurricanes. Imagine a category five hurricane that hits Beach City once every hundred years. What chance is there for a storm of that level in the next thirty years? 

Master walks through this math. A one-percent chance each year is a ninety-nine percent non-chance. Multiply a ninety-nine percent non-chance thirty times and the hundred-year storm has a 26% chance of occurring in a thirty-year window. 

It’s not the hurricane winds that get you, it’s the flooding afterward. Yet we measure the winds. 

White water white wash

We like things we are good at and we are good at things we intentionally practice.

We practice better numeracy through examples like A+ BS HSA rates. The point there was that organizations choose favorable framing in absolute or relative numbers.

Numbers are just characters in a story.

LoTR has Frodo. Stranger Things has Eleven. Batman has Batman. Tim Harford’s advice for better numeracy is to ask who is telling me this story and why are these the characters?

A clever example comes from the August 2022 episode of Acquisitions Anonymous where the hosts discuss a Vancouver white water rafting company. Business pitches use numbers to tell a story about why a business is worth a lot of money. Like a job interview or a date, it’s a polished version. 

This particular pitch used a blended SDE (seller’s discretionary earnings) multiple. Rather than value the business on elevated 2021 numbers, the seller’s broker included 2019 & 2018. That is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and co-host Bill D’Alessandro pulled away the mask. 

Yeah, Bill begins, blended earnings are often good but the 2021 Covid-19 bump is so large it pushes the weighted average higher than any other year. Pre-Covid-19 the SDE was around three-hundred-thousand-dollars but the weighted average is over five-hundred. 

Averages, weighted or otherwise, work best with distributions like number of autos owned, Wordle guesses, or years of school. 

Averages, weighted or otherwise, work terribly with distributions like financial wealth, number of testicles (an average of one), and movie revenue. 

Stories work best with coherent characters. Number stories work best with coherent calculations. We are experienced with stories about people. We stop books, leave theaters, or stream something else if we don’t like the way things fit together.

We’ve so much less experience with numbers. 

But now we have a little more. Thanks Bill.

How to write great copy

Neville Medhora writes great copy because Neville Medhora made copywriting easy. Let me give you his steps.

But first, a warning. Copywriting can work too well. There are many scammy producers who use copywriting to sell scammy products. Copywriting joins JTBD and negotiations and Alchemy as selling tools to be used ethically.

Copywriting has two huge benefits. First it filters your listeners. I never have hecklers at my comedy shows said John Cleese because the people who come are all people who know what I’m going to say! Copywriting influences the stakeholders, who allow a certain freedom of movement – or not.

The second power of good copywriting is the magic of customer-acquisition-cost. With the right CAC, all business models work. Pirate Booty has good copywriting, informing parents that it’s “great for lunches”.

Copywriting can seem difficult because we start at the BLANK PAGE. But Neville Medhora created a system that makes copywriting easy. Anyone can write like Neville if they just follow his steps.

  1. No blank pages. Medhora maintains SwipeFile.com for inspiration. He also keeps a list of posts he’d like to write. Medhora is curious and one of his inspirations, Joseph Sugarman, wrote that the best copywriters “hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting.” Like a chef with a well stocked kitchen, Neville never starts with nothing.
  2. Start writing – with a framework. Medhora likes the AIDA framework: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. He starts each piece with this outline and fills in each section. Remember, this is supposed to be easy.
  3. Find their thinking words. Amazon reviews are a “cheat sheet” for language. My research led to a book review which said this helped me have a healthy conversation with my spouse of 20+ years. Another review said it helped me maximize the time with my kids before they “flew the roost”. The book was about personal finance, but the language of the customer was “relationships”.
  4. Write the zero draft. It’ll be bad. It will look bad. Whatever.
  5. Let the draft marinate. Let your subconscious work. While you wait write 25 headlines – this is advice from Neville’s buddy Sam Parr.
  6. Edit your draft
    1. Does every line “earn it’s pixels”?
    2. Words or pictures? If your product/feature must be described, use words. If your product should be seen (like software), use gifs.
    3. Can you describe aspects the customer doesn’t appreciate but exist nonetheless? Our furniture is kiln dried for 72 hours…. a furniture website might say. Maybe everyone does this, or it’s not special within the industry but it’s not well known outside it.
    4. Do you need to punch it up? Add a cheat sheet, a rating system, embed a picture gallery, or make a cost breakdown.
    5. The more your reader knows the less you need to communicate. And vice versa.

That’s it!

If you want more from Neville check out his podcast episode with Sam Parr or use ListenNotes.com to search for other interviews.

“It’s impossible”

Kris surfaced this work and had some excellent notes.

“Impossible things happen fairly often. That doesn’t mean things are actually impossible just that we thought they were impossible. There’s a corollary to this: enough people relying on something being impossible makes that thing more likely in a perverse feedback kind of way.”

Agustin Lebron

We’ve covered this idea: something is always happening. But Agustin furthers the thought. If many people think something is impossible then it is underpriced. Agustin gives the example of the housing crash of 2008. Home values don’t go down, was one impossible pillar. Another was that home values don’t crash across the country. These two impossibles fed certain incentives.

Sports offer a good view on ‘impossible’. There’s always an inevitable team. It’s impossible they lose. Yet the better bettor ‘shorts the narrative‘. The Wharton Moneyball hosts regularly pillory “once in a generation talent” that arrives every other year.

Agustin is a trader but like with Bayesianism, we can adopt the philosophy. Impossible/Inevitable comments are signals of confidence not accuracy, and should be priced accordingly.

“Aviation porn”

Jobs-to-be-done is one of our favorite topics because the examples are just so much fun. Here is another.

“What we are trying to do is what I call ‘aviation porn’. The reason people subscribe to Flying (magazine) is because of the beautiful photography, the long form evergreen articles, and the fact that when their friends and family come over they see the aviation publication. It takes a lot of work and effort to become a pilot and the people that are pilots are super dedicated to it and want to show their friends.”

Craig Fuller, Think Like an Owner podcast

Fuller explained that when he took over the magazine there was a push to go more digital, and he did that, but not without forgetting the JTBD of the print magazine.

TTID: Canadian software

Our this time is different examples have noted that when the overall system (airline regulation) or when the technology within the system (high jump pads) changes then this time is different. While confirming evidence isn’t a perfect indicator, it’s nice to note:

“If you have a mining business then base rates can tell you something. But over the past ten years there’s a new crop of businesses that have no historical analogs. This sounds like ‘this time is different’ but sometimes it kind of is. These businesses (software SAAS) grow fast, they grow organically. In a couple years they have global reach and no capital requirements. They can click a few buttons on AWS and suddenly they have more servers. They have expensive stocks so they can hire the best engineers, all around the world because everything is remote.” – LibertyRPF, Infinite Loops, October 2021

Often, TTID is used to support a narrative claim, and in general it pays to ‘short the narrative’. But sometimes TTID is right, the world changes. It’s a bit like finding a needle in a haystack (if there even is one).

The base rate for TTID is low. But when systemic rules or new technology allow the job to be done we can look closer.


Liberty has a nice Substack.

Parenting advice about lacrosse

The best parenting advice for me has been small bits that, like train switches, change the outcome direction. This too shall pass as well as a few deep breaths does wonders. Resetting expecations closer to reality helps too. We’ll add another today.

Todd Simkin wanted to quit lacrosse. He wasn’t quite as good as the other kids, or as fast. It was hard. He was in high school. There were other things to do, not that Simkin knew what they were when asked. So, he told his dad over dinner we was quitting lacrosse. Then, Simkin went to bed. This is what his dad said the next morning.

“Come into the living room, I want to talk to you. I’ve been thinking about it all night and it’s really bothering me. I haven’t heard why you wanted to quit other than you’ve been frustrated with your coach. There’s not enough here. It doesn’t make sense. You have to explain it in a way that makes sense for me to be supportive of this.”

Another bit of parenting advice is to avoid unnecessary ultimatums. Pick that up or else you’re going to bed right now!! Though it’s the mad emoji feeling in the moment it’s the zen emoji we should strive for. That’s kinda what Todd’s father did.

“This was such great parenting. It wasn’t saying: this is what you have to do or, here’s what you can’t do. Instead it was: if this is a reasonable or consistent or rationale choice I’ll back you up on this. If it’s rash and has long-term consequences then there are implications here that require appropriate weight and thought.” – Todd Simkin, The Knowledge Project, September 2021

Todd didn’t have a great answer so he didn’t quit the team, but he also didn’t play the next year.

There’s a lot of empathy in this podcast episode. It’s about understanding where people are physically, mentally, emotionally and meeting them there and it’s fully of helpful advice for our personal and professional relationships.


Give someone a hug today. Digital or physical, doesn’t matter. 🤗