ButWhatFor? Four for Friday | No. 038

The Way of Archery, Manufacturing the Middle Class, 95% of Market Cap, and Beehiiv

E J
May 13, 2022

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ButWhatFor? Four for Friday

One Quote

These days people want to improve overnight, so when they hear they have to dedicate a year before achieving results, they get scared.

Little do they know: if they practice without technique, they will get further and further away from achieving good results. By the time they reach old age, they have failed to learn anything.

If you use proper technique to practice, you can actually count the days that it takes to improve. After a year you will have reached a high level of shooting.

How is this not a shortcut?

— Gao Ying, in The Way of Archery [1637], as translated by Justin Ma & Jie Tian

 It's funny to see how, no matter how far you go back in history, there is a longing for the "good ol' days." All the way back in 1637, an old man was complaining about the degradation of the art he spent his entire life practicing - archery.

But there is something relevant in what he says. He is worried about those who have not learned the value of patient progress and instead prefer the feeling of progress regardless of actual advances. Moreover, he belittles the time scale that most of us fret over.

And, man, that kind of stings when I think about it - because Gao Ying is talking more or less about me.

It's so easy to get pulled into doing some action that feels like progress, regardless of whether or not there is anything actually progressing, and find false contentment there. You then wake up a year later and find that not only haven't you made any forward progress, but you have in fact stepped backward due to the lack of focus and laziness that have been forged into solid chains of unfortunate habits.

So - if something is worth doing and you want to get better, focus on it. Measure it. Seek guidance and feedback from those that have maybe gone before you. Don't view progress as the goal but instead see correct actions as the aim.

If you do that, Gao Yin suggests you might shoot your arrow straight. 

One Long

The natural question is how much the values systems inculcated by these companies, whether directly or indirectly, stick around after the companies themselves become less significant. Even before the US car industry struggled with competition from imports, it had trouble keeping workers motivated. 

On the other hand, a lot more of the US workforce is on some kind of tracked career progression than was the case when Ford was starting up—we may not technically have seniority-based roles, but most of us expect to be earning more money over time in whatever we do.  So that aspect of the growth of the auto industry might be one of those permanent pieces of infrastructure laid down by a temporary industry boom, like the US’s still-excellent freight railroads (courtesy of 19th century overbuilding) and the early 2000s’ abundant fiber connectivity (available at pennies on the dollar from bankrupt 90s darling telecom plays). 

This set of middle-class values is not necessarily ideal, from either a moral standpoint or a more aesthetic one. But that makes them a bit like Henry Ford’s $5 day: soulless and boring, but still quite financially rewarding for everyone involved. 

— Byrne Hobart, writer of The Diff

In a bid to deal with high employee absentee and turnover rates (10% daily and 370% annually, respectively), in 1941 Henry Ford doubled salaries at one of his facilities to $5 a day in order to attract workers. He also focused on hiring only employees that had families to support because he thought they were less likely to quit, and the efficient assembly lines that Ford had standardized lost most of that efficiency when you were constantly training new hires and dealing with labor shortages.

In effect, Ford was paying up for consistency. And this had a wide-ranging impact given the importance of the auto boom to the US economy. Byrne Hobart digs into the good, the bad, and the interesting here about what that means for American corporate culture still today.

One Short

Dan Rose is the Chairman of Coatue Management, a $70bn dollar asset manager founded in 1999. He was a relatively early employee at both Amazon and Facebook, and during those stints, he played a part in helping the companies survive market-wide downturns in 2000 and 2009 that could have otherwise signaled bankruptcy for the fast-growing but cash-flow-negative businesses. 

If you are in the public markets, you know that year-to-date has not necessarily been fun for most people's portfolios - and it has been specifically really unfun for some high-flying tech companies that have lost 75%+ of their market caps.

So Rose shared a bit about his experiences having survived similar downturns. While these are geared towards businesses, there are some interesting takeaways that have broader application...

  • "Raise capital when you can, not when you need it...Don’t wait until your back is up against the wall"
  • "Growth can wait, survival cannot... Change the tone [and] it starts from the top"
  • "Some people step up in a crisis - they are your future leaders. Others will jump ship - good riddance"
  • "Accept the unacceptable... and never look back"
  • "Communicate, a lot"

One Extra

Migrating to Beehiiv from Substack

I have historically used Substack.com to write this newsletter, and it has worked wonderfully. However, I have struggled with the lack of customization in the email templates themselves, and I had expected there to be more community-related features added to the platform over time.

At the same time, Substack was free, so there wasn't much I could complain about.

But then something magical happened - premium subscriber count grew immensely. It grew fifty percent. Against all expectations, we traversed the plateau of a couple and crossed into the realm of a few premium subscribers. That's right - we have three whole premium subscribers.  

If you want to join that party, you can upgrade to being a 🧡  premium subscriber here. 🧡 

What this means is that I can now choose to pay for a service that is not free. The service I went with is Beehiiv, which is being built by the same team that built and scaled Morning Brew to millions of subscribers. The CEO has been great and helpful, taking the time to talk me through the migration, and they keep rolling out new features. Right now, Substack is a more holistic platform - for example, you cannot comment on the website currently like you could on Substack (I have been told that feature is imminent, however) - but I am betting that Beehiiv is the right long-term choice.

So - hopefully you like the new format and this got to your inbox... and on that point, actually... 

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Refind - Cross Promotion

I came across a website called Refind a while ago, and I still use it daily.

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Have a great weekend,

— EJ

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