Per My Last E-mail #39

Building in Public, Math Map, Galloway, Streaming, Homes, Bookshelves and Libraries

Hi Friends 👋,

Happy President’s Day! If you’re working, enjoy the relative calm in the office today. If you’re off, the “What We’re Reading” section in today’s e-mail is packed with great curl-up-on-the-couch reads.

Despite my genuine desire to make these shorter, there’s just too much good stuff out there. So to at least help you navigate, here’s a quick guide:

  • Building in Public - Elliot’s chronicling loop and why I’m building Not Boring in public

  • Links & Listens - an interactive math map, why Scott Galloway frustrates me, Bill Simmons interviews Ben Thompson, the challenges with small homes, and how to get around paywalls

  • What We’re Reading - the Not Boring Bookshelf, six great bookshelves + build your own bookshelf, hidden and beautiful libraries

Now let’s get to it.

Building in Public

Sometimes, you see a company doing something and you know that other companies are going to try to copy it. Hotmail’s signup link at the bottom of every e-mail. Gmail’s invite-only waitlist. Superhuman’s high-touch onboarding. (Why is it always the e-mail companies? 🤔) One company comes up with a new way to stand out from the crowd, and the crowd follows suit.

I have a feeling the same thing is going to happen to Elliot, the “headless commerce” startup that has hired a videographer to chronicle the company’s early days.

By letting people behind the curtain, Elliot educates, demystifies, and creates FOMO. When they take pics from a potential customer’s office, they create FOMO among other potential customers. Ditto for investors. I can’t imagine how much inbound they’re getting from potential employees who want to be a part of the fun they’re clearly having together.

It’s a really smart move, and it works for them because of the personalities involved and because of the product they’re building. What better way to show customers that they’re ahead of the e-commerce curve than to be visibly ahead of the curve in their twitter feeds every day. And as a customer, the chance to get pushed out to their growing following is a big draw. They’re building their own unique loop.

The idea of building in public has fascinated me for a while. I’m not going to copy Elliot - I have a face for writing and I’m not sure how engaging a video of me working solo from home would be - but when I started thinking about starting a company, I knew I wanted to chronicle and share the journey for a few reasons:

  1. Win or lose, it will be valuable to look back on the way I was thinking about the process at the time. I’ll have a public record to keep myself honest and learn.

  2. I strongly believe that we learn better together than we do alone, and that groups are more fun than solo quests. By putting what I’m thinking out there, I can tap into your collective wisdom. Writing has led to conversations that have fundamentally changed the way I think about building Not Boring - the biggest of which was the shift from building a space first and then finding the community to building the community first and then finding the space. If you read something and think, “Why is he doing that that way, it seems like a mistake?” let me know!

  3. Starting a company is a weird process - it’s hard but not in the way you think it might be, it’s full of ups and downs, there are so many little things to take care of that you wouldn’t expect, and it evolves as you have conversations with potential customers, investors, and people who have done it before. I hope that sharing some of what I’m doing and going through will demystify it a little bit and show other people that they can do it, too.

  4. Sharing what I’m doing and why is a great way to attract likeminded people - Not Boring members for now, employees and investors in the future. It’s still always a little embarrassing sending the newsletter or tweeting, but it’s been worth it for the incredible group of members that we’re bringing together.

I’ve been trying to share throughout the process - from my analysis of IRL Member Communities, to the mental roller coaster, to how writing can benefit early stage companies, to the Not Boring launch and website building.

Now, I want to be more intentional and consistent with what I’m sharing - maybe a Not Boring section of the e-mail with something I learned or experienced that week, how I think about strategy, and soon, fundraising, team building, product roadmap, location launching, and growth.

If there’s anything you’d be interested in reading about, tell me! I’m learning as I go, we might as well learn together.

Links & Listens

🗺 The Map of Mathematics | Kevin Hartnett | Quanta Magazine

I was really good at math in middle school - captain of the Math Counts team, straight As, did extra math homework for fun, nerd, etc… Then I got to high school, had a teacher I didn’t get along with, messed around in class, mailed in the AP class entrance exam assuming it was a foregone conclusion, didn’t get into AP, and lost that thread. I’ve always regretted it.

Since then, I’ve wanted to at least understand the basics and concepts behind more advanced math, but I had no idea where to start. This Map is going to be my starting point. Being able to take subject matter this broad and dense and turn it into something comprehensible is a superpower.

🎥 LAnd of the Undead | Scott Galloway

Scott Galloway frustrates me like almost no other writer online.

On the one hand, he got WeWork spectacularly right before anyone else (here and here). He’s probably right that Quibi will be an even bigger flop than WeWork. And he draws informative graphics, like these:

On the other hand, look more closely at the graphics.

He shows that Amazon is now much bigger than a group of retailers including Macy’s, without mentioning that in 2015, he wrote an article titled, “The Future of Retail Looks Like Macy’s, Not Amazon.”

He does things like give Disney a thumbs-down for distribution (look closely at the table above), when Disney’s distribution strategy is probably superior to both Apple’s and Amazon’s when it comes to streaming. Prime Video shows up in my account for free, and it would be easy to hit “Sign up for AppleTV+” from my iPhone, but neither is as effective as Disney. Disney gets to kids, who are the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to which content a household consumes.

I heard a story recently of a family that went to Disney World, and every week, a fresh letter arrived from a different princess, addressed to the daughter, telling her how lovely it was to meet her and asking her to come back and visit soon. It’s not hard to imagine a plug for Disney+ in that letter (or on the Disney Channel, ABC, ESPN, or the countless other channels owned by Disney.

Galloway frustrates me for two reasons:

  1. He cherry picks facts to fit his arguments, like he did in this article when he credited streaming video for Apple and Amazon’s adding more to their market cap than in the last 13 months than the total market caps of a bucket of competitors. Didn’t mention small business units like “AWS” or “the iPhone.”

  2. He’s the pessimist human version of the broken clock that’s right twice a day. His brand is negativity and he’s right sometimes. When he is, he doubles down and won’t let you forget it, and when he’s not, he ignores it and moves on.

Galloway lacks nuance or humility, and skews heavily pessimistic. Not my cup of tea.

🎧 The 2020 Streaming Wars | Ben Thompson | The Bill Simmons Podcast

Ben Thompson, on the other hand, is the most nuanced strategy writer online, and is never shy about calling himself out when he gets something wrong (although he sometimes does caveat by saying that he was actually kind of right).

This was an excellent conversation between Thompson, who’s written as thoughtfully about media and tech as anyone (Netflix and the Conservation of Attractive Profits is canon), and Simmons, who just sold his media company, The Ringer, to Spotify for $250 million.

They cover a wide range of topics across the current media landscape, and two stood out:

  1. Why, unlike Galloway, they’re bullish on Netflix.

  2. Why Spotify is so well-positioned to take advantage in the rise of audio.

Their Spotify argument was compelling enough that I think I’m going to write a bull case for Spotify’s stock in next week’s newsletter. The stock is down over the past year while almost anything technology-related, not to mention all of the major indices, are up significantly. If you have pro or con Spotify thoughts, let me know!

🏠 How Homes Work | Pamela Hobart

Pamela’s excellent essay addresses a question that New Yorkers, and city-dwellers more broadly, are all too familiar with: do I optimize for a bigger apartment or a shorter commute? Many of us choose the shorter commute/smaller apartment combo, as Pamela did, but she writes clearly, intelligently, and humorously about the pitfalls of that choice. She argues, from personal experience backed up by research, that too-small homes are problematic for three reasons:

  1. there’s no room for personal identity,

  2. they’re harder to organize in a way that regulates emotions, and

  3. they’re cluttered with behavioral residue.

Too-large homes can be problematic, too. The trick is to separate your home from your identity, and to “think of your home as one limited but valuable tool in the toolbox of life.”

🔓 How to Get Around Paywalls | Stefan Constantine

Most weeks, Per My Last E-mail contains one or two links to paywalled sites like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg. I’m not endorsing trying to get around those paywalls (I would never!). Unrelatedly, this video might be interesting to watch.

What We’re Reading

Bookshelves and Libraries

Before landing on the idea for Not Boring, I wanted to build a product that helped curate, synthesize, and package all of the content online, on podcasts, in videos, and in books into courses. There’s more information out there than any of us could get through in a thousand lifetimes; the trick is finding the good stuff.

I played around with the idea through The First Online Course on The Process (which 300 people have started and inexplicably 24 people have completed) and the Loonshots Learning Playlist (which a grand total of two people have completed). In the process, I realized that 1. the time ROI of doing it manually was terrible, and 2. I didn’t have the technical chops to automate it.

I’m more of a believer in the power of groups. One of the magical things about groups of smart, curious people is that they do curation much more quickly and effectively than any individual could alone. So on the Not Boring application, we asked people, “What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year?” and turned their answers into a crowdsourced bookshelf, ranked by number of votes, which we’ll continue to update as people continue to apply.

Go find your next book on the bookshelf.

Building the bookshelf sent me down a bookshelf rabbit hole in which I found not rabbits but other digital bookshelves. A few of my favorites are:

If you want to build your own bookshelf, Borges from Anton Podviaznikov is the simplest, cleanest Goodreads replacement I’ve found.

And if you’re more of an old-fashioned bookshelf kind of person, Friend of Per My Last E-mail Michael Dechert shared this WSJ article on New York City’s Under-The-Radar Libraries and Business Insider made a video of 15 beautiful libraries around the world.

Last and probably least, here’s what I’m reading:

Recently Read:Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener - ★★★☆☆

Currently Reading:Connectedby Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler and The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

What’s Next?

Not Boring applications keep coming in, and we’re accepting members on a rolling basis, making sure to get the balance of the initial group right. As the club grows, it will look like a bigger version of whatever the first cohort looks like, so we’re being intentional about starting with the right mix.

If you live in NYC and you haven’t applied yet, there’s no time like the present! Apply here.

If you have applied and haven’t heard back yet, we’ll be letting more people in this week before kicking off, and will continue to let people in on a rolling basis after that.

Thanks for reading,


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