Per My Last E-mail #29

Maurèle, Carried Away, Unlearning, Future of Work, DTC Metrics, Mastermind, and the Rollercoaster

Hi Friends 👋,

Happy Monday! 🎶 It’s the cra-craziest tiiime of the yeaar 🎶 - holiday parties, end-of-year sales pushes, mad dashes to knock out your 2019 (or 2010’s) goals, 2020 planning, present shopping. You have enough on your plate, let’s get to the content.


My name is Packy and I am a notebookaholic. This year, I bought my annual January 1st fresh Moleskine, got a haul from Baron Fig, bought five notebooks in Japan, hoarded free conference notebooks, and even bought one in Mexico City with The Little Prince wood burnt onto the cover.

But the notebook I’m most excited about is the one from Maurèle, the stationery company that my friends Nick and Christine launched last week.

Even if Christine and Nick weren’t two of my favorite people out there, Maurèle would still be the P.O.T.W. The paper is high-quality and sustainably produced, the stationery designs pop, and I resonate with the ethos of the brand:

If you’re a last-minute holiday shopper like I am (see you at the mall on the 24th!), Maurèle is a godsend. It’s convenient enough that you can cross names off your list with little effort, and personalizable enough to make you look très thoughtful.

Links & Listens

🧳 Getting Carried Away by @vcstarterkit

Another week, another insightful post from a VC parody account that could likely only be written behind the veil of anonymity.

Last week, this Verge piece on Away lit the internet on fire, with people rushing to take sides (read: one side, anti-Away). While the story highlighted some things that Away CEO, Steph Korey, admitted that she regrets and is working on fixing, the pile-on was more nauseating to me than anything written in the article. Leaving aside the specifics of the case, a few things jumped out at me:

  1. The virtue signaling from people who took the opportunity to prove that they are Good People by very publicly dunking on somebody.

  2. The irony of a journalist sending out a story about how terrible it was for someone to call people out publicly in an internal Slack channel with ~10 people to her publication’s 2.6 million twitter followers.

  3. The one-sidedness of a story that only cited ex-employees discussing incidents that occurred over a year ago.

  4. The lack of balance and nuance in the responses to the article.

By allowing his followers to send their true thoughts to him privately, VC Starter Kit was able to collect more honest, less performative opinions on the piece, such as:

“I think there’s room to empathize with a first time founder in her 20’s running a business that grew 10x YoY and facing their first real holiday season. There’s also room to say that she fucked up. Her words and actions were regrettable but the whole company rallied against stacked odds. We should be able to commend aspects of [her] leadership while also condemning.”

The difference between the thoughtfulness that people show in private and the outrage that they display in public is fascinating and a little bit sickening. I suspect that the delta between what people would be willing to say to someone’s face and their public outrage is even wider. I wrote about the virality of negativity on social media in Per My Last E-mail #26, and the Away story was a perfect case study on what happens when a group of people sees that there is something to be gained from ganging up on someone.

And FYI to future employers, I am always down for the “work 6 hours on a holiday, get the next 30 days off” trade. @ me.

Pairs with: Internet Crowds and Personal Space and Status Update

🍎 The Lesson to Unlearn by Paul Graham

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has been on a tear over the past couple of weeks, dropping The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius, Novelty and Heresy, and now The Lesson to Unlearn.

His latest piece argues that our education system encourages grade hacking instead of learning, and that that attitude carries over into real life. Instead of going deep on the things that fascinate us, we focus on the things that we think will be on the test. Instead of taking the hardest, most interesting classes, we take the ones in which we’re most likely to get an A. In the real world, this translates to building businesses with the goal of raising money instead of focusing on building great products.

This idea hit home with me. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the idea that education is wasted on the young. Now that I’m out of school, a place where my only jobs were to read, write, and learn, I find so much more enjoyment in reading, writing, and learning. I thought that that was because I’m more mature now. I’ve lived in the Real World and understand how important understanding things is. But I think Graham’s point is even more accurate - I enjoy learning so much more now because I’m free to learn about things that interest me, without worrying about whether those things will be on the test.

Pairs with: Making the Grade on Happiness Lab (tl;dl: grades are counterproductive to learning)

💼 My Hope for the Future of Work by Jomayra Herrera of Cowboy Ventures

So much of the talk about Future of Work revolves around the tools being built to make it easy for somebody to work from home without losing productivity. Check out the graphic above for a small sampling of the tools that have been built in the past few years to let people chat, manage projects, video conference, and allow distributed teams to feel like they’re in the same room.

What I love about Herrera’s piece is that she’s less focused on the tools and more focused on the education that will enable people to keep up with rapidly-shifting job requirements, the ways people will be able to monetize their individual passions, and the importance of community as we move towards working in isolation.

Pairs with: The Community We All Deserve

📊DTC Metrics, Explained by Zachariah Reitano and Aron Susman of Ro

In nearly every industry, understanding what’s going on isn’t rocket science; it’s a matter of learning a new language, the acronyms and terms dropped casually by insiders in conversations and presentations. When you don’t understand a language, everything sounds incredibly complex. “Deberíamos cenar pollo y arroz esta noche” could mean “we need you to solve this astrophysics equation or we all die tonight!” Once you’ve learned the language, you realize that what’s being discussed is actually pretty straightforward, like “we should have chicken and rice for dinner tonight.”

Reitano and Susman’s post is the best DTC-English translator I’ve come across. They start with the basics, and use those as building blocks to explain more complex concepts. If you’ve heard the terms “CAC,” “Contribution Margin",” “LTV",” or “Net Revenue Retention,” and kind of know what they mean but not exactly, this post is your Muzzy.

Pairs with: Startup Economic Lessons from Shen Yun’s Empire (‘tis the season, I just saw my first Shen Yun billboard of the year on the side of the BQE)

A few more for those who want to get deeper into the nuts and bolts of pyschographics, engagement, and marketplaces:

👟Regarding HENRY by Web Smith in 2PM

🗼 Hierarchy of Engagement by Sarah Tavel of Benchmark

🎧 Investing in Marketplaces w/ Sarah Tavel and Nabeel Hyatt on Venture Stories

What I’m Reading

Image result for the mastermind paul le roux

Last year, I read four books about good people and organizations gone bad, back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Bad Blood (Theranos), The Smartest Guys in the Room (Enron), Red Card (FIFA), and American Kingpin (Silk Road). The thing that struck me was how big of a role the slippery slope played in each one of those cases.

The people involved in Theranos, Enron, FIFA, and the Silk Road each did moderately bad things, on purpose or accidentally, in order to get money, fame, or power. Gray area things. But then, in order to cover them up, and cover up the cover ups, and on and on, they did increasingly worse things up until they became the poster children for bad behavior.

That's normally how the story goes. "Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we venture to deceive." Our antagonists each started off with something that maybe ~50% of people in their position would have done but then got stuck in a vortex of bad decision making that led them to become universally recognized Bad People.

The craziest part about The Mastermind is that the villain at the center of the story, Paul Calder Le Roux, made every choice that he made - choices that put financial engineering and bribing soccer officials to shame - intentionally. He set out to be a Bad Person, and he executed on his vision almost flawlessly. It's rare to get a glimpse into the working of a genius psychopath; The Mastermind is one of those rare occasions.

What’s Next?

Everyone says that starting a company is a roller coaster, but they say it so often that it had become a cliché that I didn’t think actually applied to me. I’m pretty even-keeled, I don’t get discouraged easily, I never get depressed.

Last week, though, I felt really depressed for a couple of days. I thought that there was no idea that my idea would work, that there wasn’t a real business there. I couldn’t find the right words to describe what I wanted to build, and couldn’t find the right hook that would attract members. And worst of all, I had put it out in the world, through this newsletter, and through a request for people to sign up for the focus groups that we’re doing over the next couple of weeks. I couldn’t turn back.

But I’ve found a few times over the past couple of months that the hardest times precede the biggest breakthroughs. On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting on the floor of the shower in the middle of the day thinking that there was no way to make it work, and by Thursday afternoon, I had the most clarity I’ve had yet on what I’m building, for whom, and why they would want to use it.

A huge piece of the bounce back was the incredible response to the request for focus group participants. Over 50 people volunteered their time, and their responses showed that there is a real need for new ways to make new friends, build your community, and learn.

All that to say, I’m really excited to be diving into focus groups and conversations with potential customers this week. All three sessions are full as of now, but if you or anyone you know would be open to participating in future focus groups or having a conversation with me, you can still sign up here.

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Thanks for reading,