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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 6

The pass-away of “Notorious RBG”

  1. The “Notorious RBG” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman who served in the Supreme Court and a pioneering advocate of women rights, has passed away this week. Her pass-away is a very big loss for both her families and the whole country.
  2. Although the Supreme Court is supposed to be insulated from politics, the replacement of her position likely will stir another round of political drama in the country. This great article from the Guardian explains what does Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death means for the supreme court. The US supreme justice nomination is critical for both parties because supreme court justices have life-terms thus could influence policies over a long period. Trump has already made two nominations in his first term.
  3. Given there is only one-and-half month to the upcoming election, Republicans have no intention to wait. In his mourning statement to RBG, the majority leader McConnell has stated that President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote in the Senate. Ironically, during the case of Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination in Obama’s last year in the office, the republican refused to consider Obama’s nomination citing it was an election year despite that there were still eight months to the election. However, the gamble move will likely provocate more liberal voters and may swing some conservative voters in the upcoming election.

TikTok and WeChat Ban

  1. The drama of TikTok continued this week. TikTok rejected Microsoft’s bid and partnered with Oracle. The details of the TikTok-Oracle “deal” change by the day, the latest update is that Oracle would only be a partner to provide technical support. At the same time, Bytedance will keep the majority stake but will appoint an all-American board and seek a public listing in the US. At the same time, the department of commerce issued the WeChat, TikTok US shutdown order. Users won’t be able to download both apps from Sep. 20. Wechat won’t get “any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization” immediately from Sep 20. TikTok, however, will be treated differently and its deadline for service shutdown was thoughtfully delayed to be after the election, indicating the current administration has put the problem under the re-election calculus.
  2. Contrary to what most people think, the owner of Instagram–the largest competitor of TikTok–ardently opposed the ban. His point is valid. The US companies have thrived because of the borderless nature of the Internet that past US administrations have supported. In contrast, the Chinese government ardently supports the “Internet sovereignty” concept and wishes to control information flow in-and-out of its borders. The ban has put the US and China in the same camp, and more and more countries may follow the lead and two countries. When that happens, it will be the US rather than Chinese companies to take a toll.

Technology

  1.  Bessemer Venture Partners has released its investment memos for its top investments, including big names like Shopify, Pinterest, etc. The well-written memos contain a lot of useful information about the BVP’s investments and the early history of the invested companies. I highly recommend every further entrepreneur or investor to read those memos.

Interesting facts

  1. How to Chart Your Success Through Life, Week By Week. It is shocking to see that our life could be viewed as filling boxes in a table and how much my life has passed even if I am still in the early stage of my career.
  2. Zanclean flood – Wikipedia. The Mediterranean Sea has been the cradle of civilization. It was the remains of an ancient sea but dried up after being cut from Atlantic Sear due to the high evaporation in the area. Scientists believed that at about 5.33 million years ago, the strait of Gibraltar was open and created a river whose volume is about a thousand times larger than the discharge of the Amazon River. The river filled the sea in a few months to 2 years of period. It is fascinating to see that an area of 1 million square miles could be filled in such a short amount of time.

Fun tweets

  1. Erik Rasmussen 👨🏻‍💻🇺🇸🇪🇸 on Twitter: “When the Senior Developer arrives to fix the bug…… “.

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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 5

TikTok


Trump’s deadline (09/15) for TikTok to sell its US business is approaching. What is TikTok Worth to Whom and Why is a great essay by Kevin Xu about the potential buyers of TikTok and their motivations. Chinese Government recently put new AI trade rules that prevent TikTok to sell its recommendation algorithm. Unfortunately without the algorithm, the deal would be much less attractive to the US buyers. With only three days left, it is very unlikely that a deal could be made before the deadline.

Other than the recent drama, TikTok is very fascinating because of its fast growth. In fact, it is the fastest social app to reach 1bn users worldwide. Here is a youtube video that visualizes the growth of social network platforms from 2004 and 2020. TikTok appeared only at the end of the video, but its explosive growth was jaw-dropping.

Another interesting thing about TikTok is that it’s the first social network platform to reach popularity both in Chinese and International Markets. This is very unique because previous generations of successful Chinese Internet companies copied their business models from the US, and their successes were mostly limited to China.

TikTok is also much more than a social app. For this topic, I recommend you to read The Video-First Future of eCommerce, a great essay by Connie Chan and Avery Segal on the video eCommerce popularized by TikTok.

Amazon and the impact of technology on gig workers


Let us switch the topic to the largest eCommerce player in the US. Amazon’s Profits, AWS, and advertising is a great essay by Benedict Evans about Amazon’s business models. One interesting fact is that Amazon is much more than just an eCommerce platform now (a pattern for big companies!). In fact, in addition to eCommerce, it becomes the largest 3rd party eCommerce platform and the largest cloud provider, and it also has a thriving “search Ads” business that threatens Google.

As the big tech companies become more and more powerful, they become more and more impactful to human life — not only for their employees/customers but also equally important for their gig-workers. One interesting article I saw this week is that Amazon Drivers Are Hanging Smartphones in Trees to Get More Work. This may sound funny to us, but the people who are doing this are very serious because they depend on the platform for their main income.

When the rules of the platform are unfair to its gig workers, it also will significantly harm their life qualities and eventually backfire the platform. This week a viral article about the miserable life of the couriers who work for Meituan-Dianping — the uber eats in China — puts it under the fire. Please see this TechCrunch report for more details.

Interesting Facts

The New York City Evolution Animation. This great animation show how New York City grew from a small town to the big metropolitan as of today.


Maya Lin is the FIRST woman to design a memorial on the National Mall. In 1981, Lin, then still was an undergraduate, submitted a proposal for the Veterans Memorial, to be built on the National Mall in Washington D.C. H. The design was initially controversial for several reasons: its untraditional design,, Lin’s Asian ethnicity, and her lack of professional experience. Lin defended her design before the US Congress, and a compromise was reached: The Three Soldiers, a bronze depiction of a group of soldiers; and an American flag were placed to the side of Lin’s design.

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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 4

📚Articles:

  1. The Global AI Talent Tracker. This great analysis from macropolo.org shows how AI talents migrate among different countries. The United States has a large lead over all other countries in top-tier AI research, with nearly 60% of top-tier researchers working for American universities and companies. The result also clearly shows the US lead is built on attracting international talents as more than ⅔ of the top-tier AI researchers received undergraduates in other countries.
  2. Taming the Tail: Adventures in Improving AI Economics. This impressive essay by Martin Casado and Matt Bornstein, two analysts of Andreessen Horowitz, discusses the economics of AI.
    • AI development often feels “closer to molecule discovery in pharma” than software engineering. This is because AI development is a process of experimenting and the job of an AI developer is to fit a statistical model to a dataset, test how well the model performs on new data, and repeat.
    • One of the complexities in the real-world data is that a lot of them have long-tail distribution. Intuitively, what this means is that that there are a lot of edge cases that appear infrequently yet important. This essay presents a guideline to tackle the issue and other similar ones.
    • Another interesting thought that I have after reading this essay is that the common metaphor of “data is oil” is not quite accurate. The energy of one barrel of oil is always the same regardless of the amount of oil you have used. In contrast, the benefits of extra data diminish as the size of data increases. The reason is that although training with more data helps the handling of new edge cases, the chance of seeing new cases decreases as you move further down to the tail. As a result, it is an art to find a balance of the predictive power and the complexity when we decide how much data we need.
  3. AI job listings plummet as COVID-19 recession appears imminent. François Chollet, the creator of Keras and a researcher at Google Brain, posted a tweet that shows that AI jobs plummeted since the start of the COVID-19 recession. One of the reasons is for the correction of the hype in the past few years. However, this doesn’t mean that we should be bearish for the future of AI. Instead, COVID19 has been a catalyst for technology adoption for many industries (e.g., Zoom for video conferencing). I am optimistic that the pandemic would actually make more traditional companies start to embrace AI technologies.
    • 📌 We (Intellimize) are hiring for ML & AI scientists/engineers. Please shoot me an email if you are interested.
  4. A lot of teams have moved to be fully remote during the pandemic. This blog lists a lot of virtual games that may be helpful to increase the bonding of the team and. In addition to those listed in the blog, I also highly recommend the drawphone game, I have tried it many times and enjoy it a lot.

🍭 Interesting Facts:

  1. The Salton Sea is the largest lake within California and it is fascinating to see that it was created only in 1905 purely because of an engineering mistakeUnfortunately, it is dying because of the reduction of the input water recently. 
  2. This is possibly how the Moai statues on Easter Island were moved in ancient times.
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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 3

Dear readers,

I hope you’ve had a great week! Here are the recommendations for this week:

  1. Making sense of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) – and why I prefer Earliest Testable/Usable/Lovable. This great essay from Henrik Kniberg explains minimum viable product (MVP), an important concept in lean development. An MVP is a product that is released to collect customers’ feedback as early as possible for product iteration. Because the main purpose of an MVP is to learn customers’ feedback rather than to build the final product, it needs to be minimum yet COMPLETE. The figure above is a metaphor for the idea: if your goal is to build a sedan, your MVP should be a skateboard, which helps collect customer’s feedback on transportation tools, instead of a perfect tire. From the early adopters who try the skateboard, you may learn that customers want to enjoy fresh air while moving. As a result, you could build a convertible car that fits customers’ needs better than the original design.
  2. The e-commerce surge
    1. This essay from Benedict Evans gives concrete data about the surge of e-commerce during the pandemic in the UK and the US — The UK e-commerce penetration went from 20% to over 30% in two months, and the US from 17% to 22%. Prior to the pandemic, e-commerce penetration in the two counties has been increasing at a quite steady pace. However, the pandemic lockdown has pulled forward a huge amount of future adoption within a short period. It would be interesting to see how much of those adoptions would stick to.
    2. As the e-commerce boom continues,  Amazon itself has become one of the largest shipping carriers in the world and shipped 415 million packages in July alone. Besides, other US shipping carriers also saw a surge in the volume. UPS saw volume grow 26% in July compared with the average monthly growth of 23% in the April to June period. FedEx volume rose 22% compared with 19% average growth in the first three full months of the coronavirus pandemic.
  3. Many software companies are lining up for IPOs as the capital market is booming. One particular interesting thing is that the percentage of enterprise software companies is super high in this round of IPOs. In the past decades, the enterprise and consumer software industries in the US have diverged into two directions. Most of the consumer businesses like Facebook and Google build walled gardens, making it very difficult for new players to enter the market. In contrast, enterprise software companies are embracing specialization and eagerly integrating with other enterprise vendors. This makes it much easier for new enterprise startups to reach IPO stages. Besides, this review of high-growth SaaS IPOs in 2019 would give you an idea of the enterprise companies that went public in 2019. 

Funny tweets:

  1. Taylor Swift as B2B software…a thread. A hilarious tweet that shows how the Taylor Swift and Software Company CEOs have similar tastes of colors.

Other interesting facts:

  1. A flood in 1762 made the whole California central valley a lake. Another bad news is that this event happens every 100-200 years and the next event could come anytime.
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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 2

Recommendations for this week:

  1. Highly recommend this video created by Phil Libin, the co-founder of Evernote and recently the mmhmm app, to explain the motivation behind the new app’s name. The mmhmm app has been generating a lot of buzzes recently but its name sounds ridiculous to many people. In this video, Phil describes his philosophy of the naming: A ridiculous yet interesting name is way better than a boring one. It is better to create a product that is loved by someone and hated by some others than a product that nobody cares about. Besides, mmhmm is really fun to use. If you haven’t tried it out yet, you should!
  2. The Passion Economy and the Future of Work. We are in a world that the definition of jobs has changed significantly, and the process has been accelerating since the pandemic. In the new world, individuality is respected and encouraged, and people could and should earn their living from their individuality.
  3. Defining Interactive Ecommerce – Pinduoduo [53 slides] – Recommendation driven China e-commerce”. Pinduoduo is a miracle: Imagine the chance of someone in the US builds a second Amazon in only 3-4 years, which is what Pinduoduo has done in China. This detailed report gives great insights into why Pinduoduo could make a dent in a market with a strong incumbent.
  4. An article about Steve Blank’s Customer Development Manifesto. I love Steve Blank’s opinion that “A Startup Is a Temporary Organization Designed to Search for A Repeatable and Scalable Business Model”. Can’t agree more!

Funny tweets:

  1. Impressive commit history. Hope you won’t start to count tiles next time when you take showers!

Other interesting facts:

  1. In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt officially named the Executive Mansion the “White House” . This is much later than I thought.
  2. This is a 393-years old Greenland Shark that was located in the Arctic Ocean. It’s been wandering the ocean since 1627. It is the oldest living vertebrate known on the planet.
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Conan’s Newsletter: No. 1

Books

  1. Startup CEO: This is a great book about startup management and is very useful for people who are first-time CEOs or aspire to be CEO one day but don’t have any experience yet.

Startup

  1. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startups have been following a roller-coaster this year. The SaaS companies had rapid devaluation in the face of a global pandemic, but the valuation went up significantly after it became clear that SaaS may be benefited from the pandemic
  2. Roadmap to a SaaS IPO: how to unicorn your way to $100M revenue
    1. This is a useful article on the growth trajectory of SaaS companies. One useful information from the article is the T2D3 rule. From $2M, you need triple the revenue for two years and double the revenue for three years to reach the $100M revenue mark.

Artificial Intelligence

  1. TikTok and the Sorting Hat
    1. A great article by Eugene Wei on how TikTok became a phenomenon worldwide. One interesting idea of the article is one of the key things for the success of TikTok outside China is that it used algorithms to break the cultural barrier. More and more Chinese companies were trying to follow TikTok. At the end of the article, Eugene mentioned non of the engineers in the NewsDog App, a popular news app in India, could speak the local language. 
  2. Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong
    1.  This article demystifies Apple’s AI efforts, which is least well-known among the big five (a.k.a Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google or FAANG). John Giannandrea (JG), the head of AI at Apple, was the lead of Google AI before he took the job. We had a short overlap before he left and he was very popular among the AI team in Google.

Interesting Things

  1. Here is an interesting tweet from Jeff Dean about the metrics system in the US v.s rest of the world. There are only three countries in the world using the imperial metric system.
  2. A really fun tweet about another usage of excavating shovels .
  3. See Japanese Shibuya city from a first-person game view