Meth COGS

In profession problem solving we looked at how careers craft thinking. Let’s add DEA agents.

In his podcast with Jocko Willink, Joe Piersante talks about his time working in Arizona and dealing with hundreds of meth labs. If I told you I was in 500 labs, Joe says, it would be an understatement. Meth was the drug of choice in Joe’s region and between the cost to create, the large rural area, and proximity with Mexico it was difficult to police.

“It was bad at first because there was so many,” Joe says. It was too easy. What “put a dent into it,” was the 2005 Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which restricted access to pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical to meth.

The COGS increase changed the business model.

Later in his career and the episode Joe talks about his time in Afghanistan. “We would not go after the poppy farmers because they were made to grow the opium,” Joe said, “The Taliban came in and they had the biggest stick at the time. It was a case of ‘you’re going to grow this or you’re going to get killed.'”

There were no better incentives to offer this group of laborers. “We knew they weren’t reaping the benefits so we tried to find the people getting the money.”

A lotta problems are multi-dimensional. Think about the field of addiction, said David Nutt, it’s about the drug, the person, and the society. Each of those is a lever. Profession problem solving is too. How would an economist solve this? How would a marketer? How would a coder? Each leads to a different island in the archipelago of thought. DEA agents think a bit like business owners, and we can add this approach to the set.

I also learned what Smurfing is/was, a unique JTBD.

The economics of iPhone cases

I tried, and failed, to get a photo of this issue.

For Christmas my youngest daughter got an iPhone. It was BOGO when you add a line, so I got a new iPhone too. For simplicity sake I ordered us Apple cases with the phones. And my case sucks. The silicon marigold iPhone 13 case is the worst I’ve ever owned.

But why?

Apple products are good. The computer I’m typing this on is an Apple product. If it’s read on a phone odds are one-in-three it’s an iPhone. Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world – and has been for many years. What’s going on?

Well first, value is relative. If something is bad, it’s bad relative to what? My previous Smartish and Speck ($12 & $8 respectively) cases were more durable and provided prolonged protection on earlier inferior designed products. I think Apple cases are bad because they lack competition.

Apple, like Aldi, competes in a special way. Both are A+ companies and both compete outside the store. The goal is to get people inside, and if customers come in, they’ve got them. So Apple doesn’t convince me to buy the silicon marigold case rather than the leather case. No, Apple just wants me to buy Apple.

Aldi cereal is a visual example of this model, the boxes are bland (here in B&W) because they don’t have to grab the customer’s attention in the store. Contrast this with Walmart or Amazon where the competition is both inside and outside.

Smartish or Speck compete in the bedlam of Amazon. These cases have to throw sharp elbows in the arena of good, fast, and cheap. I found the Smartish case via a Wirecutter review, so it has to stand out as well. Ditto for Speck.

That said, I don’t know if the Apple case should even be good. Apple’s advantage is packaged hardware and software, not being best in class on accessories. Apple doesn’t sell a great phone case, instead the JTBD is ease and brand.