Interesting links that help you think about the future.

Thank You - My 2018 Review


Hey 👋 I hope all is well!

I wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to read this (and the many other) emails I have sent you. I sincerely appreciate all of your support - it means the world to me.

I just published my 2018 Year in Review - a recap of my past 365 days. Life has been a true adventure, and I am very excited for the future.

Click here to read it.

I am going to be putting a pause on this newsletter for the next three weeks, as I will be traveling to NYC, Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Budapest, across India, and Hong Kong. I will be on Twitter and will return with lots of stories and ideas.

In the meantime, please do send me an email if there is anything I can do whatsoever to be helpful. Even if we have never spoken before, no worries! Just hit reply or message me


Jordan Gonen

Surveillance, Recessions, and Reading

12/17 - What's Next

Hey 👋 I cannot believe 2018 is almost coming to an end. Hopefully you can make the final few weeks count.

Enjoy the newsletter!

Articles to Read.

A Week In Xinjiang’s Absolute Surveillance State

During a dinner with Chinese friends, I asked the table, “Do you guys have friends in Xinjiang? I’m planning a trip there.” The lively vibe we had enjoyed turned into silence.

On arriving at our hotel, we stumbled upon another Xinjiang Characteristic. Shop checkpoints. The hotel had a small checkpoint with a metal detector, shields, and wooden bats in the floor. Two old men with police jackets were standing watch. They asked for our passports, took a clueless look, and waved us through. Check-in at the hotel was uneventful, the same procedure as everywhere in China.

We then got a Didi (China’s Uber) to Xinjiang’s impressive provincial museum. Most impressive were the massive pictures of Xi Jinping in the entrance, alongside a red banner, saying “Under the Guidance of Xi Jinping Theory of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, Let Us Work Hard and Write the Xinjiang Chapter of the China Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.” It’s all so tiresome.

Police stations every 200 meters or so, police cars patrolling all the time, and metal scanners at every shop, manned by security guards armed with wooden bats and plastic shields. Cameras everywhere. Markets and other large venues had separate entries and exits with ID controls, etc. Same thing. All large compounds also had barbed wire above the walls to stop people from jumping in or out. No funny business in Xinjiang.

The Great Recession Never Ended for College Humanities

Humanities education in the U.S. is in free fall. And the decline probably shows that the nature of what American students want out of college education is changing — more young people are in it for the money.

Northeastern University history professor Benjamin Schmidt recently wrote a long blog post in which he showed, very convincingly, that the number of American undergraduates majoring in the humanities has dropped in the last decade.

Future reading

Digital books stagnate in closed, dull systems, while printed books are shareable, lovely and enduring. What comes next?

But in the past two years, something unexpected happened: I lost the faith. Gradually at first and then undeniably, I stopped buying digital books. I realised this only a few months ago, when taking stock of my library, both digital and physical. Physical books – most of all, works of literary fiction – I continue to acquire voraciously.

The great irony, of course, is that I’ve never read more digitally in my life. Each day, I spend hours reading on my iPhone – news articles, blog posts and essays. Short to mid-length content feels indigenous to the size, resolution and use cases of smartphones, and many online publications (such as this very site) display their content with beautiful typography and layouts that render consistently on any computer, tablet or smartphone. Phones also allow us to share articles with minimal effort.

But what of digital books? What accounts for my unconscious migration back to print?

My beautiful death

I spent 15 years sanding and grinding mussel shells to create my sculptures. Then I was diagnosed with heavy-metal poisoning.

When you’re an artist, the work often becomes more important than you. Sadly, that’s always been the case for me. I started sculpting in 1991, working only with natural materials. At first, I sold small sculptures made of eggshells at the One of a Kind Show. Later, I created larger pieces modelled after the human anatomy using bones, coral and dried plants. My studio housed a collection of dead things.

7.3 Billion People, One Building


The human race, which seems overwhelmingly large in one dimension when it’s wrapping 55 times around the Earth or forming a circle that dwarfs the moon’s orbit, seems much more manageable when it can fit inside Bahrain or New York City with room to spare and almost quaint when organized neatly into a cube that would take you only 20 minutes to jog around.

Payless Opened a Fake Luxury Store With $600 Shoes

The retailer recently took over a former Armani store, stocked it with Payless merchandise, and then invited fashion influencers to attend a party celebrating the store’s opening. But there was a twist: they thought they were attending the store opening for a new high-end designer, Palessi, not looking at shoes from Payless.

Influencers who attended the party paid between $200 and $600 for Payless shoes that are traditionally priced between $20-40, and many of the guests commented on how their purchases were “sophisticated” or “made with high-quality materials.”

Madoff’s Victims Are Close to Getting Their $19 Billion Back

A decade after Bernard Madoff was arrested for running the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme, the bitter fight to recoup investors’ lost billions has astounded experts and victims alike.

While no one will ever collect the phantom profits Madoff pretended he was earning, the cash deposits by his clients have been the primary objective for Irving Picard, a New York lawyer overseeing liquidation of Madoff’s firm in bankruptcy court. So far he’s recovered $13.3 billion—about 70 percent of approved claims—by suing those who profited from the scheme, knowingly or not. And Picard has billions more in his sights.

“That kind of recovery is extraordinary and atypical,” said Kathy Bazoian Phelps, a bankruptcy lawyer at Diamond McCarthy LLP in Los Angeles who isn’t involved in the case. Recoveries in Ponzi schemes range from 5 percent to 30 percent, and many victims don’t get anything, Phelps said.

More to Check Out: 
- These Americans fled the country to escape their giant student debt
- The Colossal, Monumental Screw Up That Is Marriott Security
- The Decision Matrix
- Should Parents Eat Lunch With Their Children at School?
Uncontacted Peoples

Kudos (to people in the community).

  • Anyone (or know anyone) raising money for their company? Let me know!

  • My friend Valentin is working on Symbol - if you are looking for a job check it out.

  • Francis Pedraza and Invisible announced a fundraise.

My Update.

  • Getting through Finals now (2 out of 3 left).

  • Going home to Arizona on Tuesday, and then leaving for my trip on Christmas Eve. First stops will be NYC, Amsterdam, Belgium, and Budapest! Let me know if you have recommendations.

Thanks so much for reading! Find me on twitter : )

Free, Cities, and Selfish

12/10 - What's Next

Hey there! Hope you have a great week 😇

Let me know if I can be particularly helpful with anything, enjoy the content!

Articles to Read.

Who is J.D. Power, and what do his associates do?

How James David Power III created the only car ranking company you’ve ever heard of.

So J.D. Power and Associates began with Power and his wife mailing out surveys and tabulating the results at their kitchen table. It wasn’t until 1973 that they gained national attention for their work. When looking at the surveys, Julie found that one-fifth of the rotary engines on a Mazda R100 were failing somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 miles. The survey concluded that the engine’s failure was due to bad O-ring gaskets. Even if you’re not sure what all of this means, it’s easy to see how this information — sputtering engines, faulty parts — was sensational enough to make the Wall Street Journal front page, which it did.

The Irresistible Urge to Build Cities From Scratch

Master-planned cities are all the rage in the developing world. Reality may get in the way of their ambitions.

Here’s a taste of what’s going on, and it’s by no means comprehensive. In Lagos, Nigeria—the most populous city in Africa—developers have dredged the Atlantic Ocean to create an island called Eko Atlantic, which they envision as a Manhattan-style financial hub for the continent. Forest City, a $100 billion luxury development with room for 700,000 people, has sprouted in Malaysia. Ghana has Hope City (future home of the tallest building in Africa), and Rwanda is promoting Vision City (free Wi-Fi and solar-powered streetlights are sketched into the plans).

Perhaps the boldest of these utopias is taking shape on an expansive, khaki-colored field of dust between the Nile and the Red Sea in Egypt. In the past couple of years, Cairo has become the world’s fastest-growing megacity, which is bad news for Cairenes, because their metropolis was already mortally overcrowded. Among urban planners, an aspirational rule of thumb says you should allow about 16 square meters (53 square feet) of green space for every person. In Cairo, each person gets about 0.3 meters.

What Do Our Oldest Books Say About Us?

Our current relationship to the written word could not be more different. We remain in the age of mechanical reproduction, the name famously given by the theorist Walter Benjamin to the way that works are replicated via photography, the printing press, and film. In his 1936 essay on the subject, Benjamin wrote, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

Tomorrow’s Advance Man - Marc Andreessen’s plan to win the future. (long read)

In “Why Software Is Eating the World,” a widely invoked 2011 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Andreessen put the most optimistic spin on Silicon Valley’s tendencies. The article proclaimed that tech companies are consuming vast swaths of the economy, from books and movies to financial services to agriculture to national defense—which Andreessen saw as the healthful scavenging of a carrion way of life. On Twitter, he pursued the theme: “Posit a world in which all material needs are provided free, by robots and material synthesizers. . . . Imagine six, or 10, billion people doing nothing but arts and sciences, culture and exploring and learning. What a world that would be,” particularly as “technological progress is precisely what makes a strong, rigorous social safety net affordable.”

Selfish Writing

Writing is the ultimate test of whether your thoughts make sense or are merely gut feelings. Feelings about why something is the way it is don’t need to be questioned or analyzed in your head because they feel good and you don’t want to rock the boat. Putting thoughts onto paper forces them into an unforgiving reality where you have to look at the words as the same symbols another reader will see them as, unaided by the silent crutch of gut feelings. It’s hard to overstate how important this is in an industry where distinguishing what’s true from what you want to be true determines a big part of success.

Most investors I know are voracious readers. They want more than just new information. They want a different perspective, or a new way of thinking about a topic they’re already familiar with. That’s what the best writers provide.

America Probably Has Enough Parking Spaces for Multiple Black Fridays

Even the biggest shopping day of the year can’t fill up the enormous oversupply of parking lots that ring U.S. shopping centers.

Is post-Thanksgiving shopping mayhem a fading American holiday tradition? This year, even as overall spending increased between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores reportedly fell by as much as 9 percent compared to 2017.

The United States has as many as two billion parking spots for about 250 million cars, a ratio that many planners and economists describe as overbuilt. “The area of parking per car in the United States is thus larger than the area of housing per human,” writes Donald Shoup, the UCLA transportation scholar and founding father of parking economics, in the introduction to his most recent tome, Parking and the City. He estimates that 14 percent of incorporated land in Los Angeles County is devoted to parking, as is nearly 5 percent of urban area in the Upper Great Lakes region, the book states. The total area of paved lots in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin is roughly equivalent to half the area of Rhode Island.

Future Shock in the Countryside

Earth’s rural areas are being transformed by climate change and technology.

As temperatures rise in countries of temperature complacency, infrastructure will begin to deteriorate. Electricity demands will cause brownouts, extinguishing the lights and the sight of eclipsed cities from the air. But it will also bring fans to a halt. The very young, the infirm, and the very old will die first, as they did in the European heat waves. In a rural setting, the story told from above will be one of absences: herds of animals missing from traditional migration routes and villages lying eerily still and silent.

More to Check Out: 
- Visualizing US Poverty Rates
- Tide Detergent Will Now Come in a Box
How much is enough?
Can Judging Be Automated?
Bill Gates’ Perspective on the Silicon Valley TV Show

Kudos (to people in the community).

  • My friend Noah just launched Glimpse - a newsletter that helps you discover exploding trends before they take off. Really awesome.

  • My friend Johnathan launched a podcast…check it out!!

  • My other friend Noah has been live blogging from the ’18 UN Climate Change Conference, COP24 Katowice.

My Update.

  • 1.5 more weeks until the end of the semester. Time is flying, just have to get through finals.

  • In a few weeks, I’ll be headed to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Budapest, New Delhi, Tirupati, Vijayawada, Hyderabad, and Hong Kong. Let me know if you have recommendations!

Thanks so much for reading! Find me on twitter : )

Games, Morality, and Houses

12/3 - What's Next

Hey there 👋 Lots of interesting content this week…hope you enjoy!

Articles to Read.

The Leaning Tower of Morality

There’s an image that’s taken root in my mind recently that I can’t seem to shake. I picture humanity living in a large, rickety tower, tilting at a precarious angle to the ground — like so:

The tower represents our capacity for moral behavior. Lower levels are more base; higher levels, more virtuous.

Most of what we’ve discussed today pertains to our innate sense of goodness, our moral instincts. To the extent that morality is a learned behavior, all bets are off.⁵ But there’s a good case to be made that at least some of our moral intuitions come prewired (in the form of tendencies, at any rate), so the question of how they arose remains extremely relevant. And as far as I can tell, the answer seems to be individual selection rather than group selection.

A “Post-Verbal” World

Screen Shot 2017-12-09 at 4.08.17 PM

I was walking with a friend recently, and we were discussing the limitations of language, especially in trying to explain complex concepts like philosophy, a deep experience, or a new idea.

In short, on the topic of language, what we were discussing was just how clumsy verbal or written communication is in spreading what exists in one head into another — that, instead of transmutation of a concept or idea, like how a cold might spread, communicating an idea or viewpoint through language is actually quite difficult and oftentimes impossible. The conversation took an even more interesting and philosophical turn when we zeroed in on just what a world would look like if information, wisdom, and concepts could be fully and instantly articulated from one person to another.

Said another way, this could be as transformational of a leap for our species comparable to what we saw as we went from non-verbal to verbal. What verbal communication did for the cavemen, the tribe, the community — post-verbal communication would do for the now connected human race.

How to Game the App Store

I’ve been pestering Apple for years publicly and privately about the manipulation and outright scams going on in the App Store.

So, here are some of the top ways to game the App Store…Find a keyword that drives a decent amount of organic search traffic. Obvious ones are keywords like “weather”, “calculator”, “solitaire”, etc, but those keywords are so competitive, and the rest of the tactics so powerful, you could get away with 2nd tier keyword targets. Now go to App Store Connect and name your app that exact keyword. “Weather” is already taken, and Apple doesn’t allow duplicate app names, so you’ll need to add a symbol. Let’s go with “Weather ◌”. Here’s the thing, the App Store search algorithm gives a massive boost for an exact match to what the user searched, and the algorithm ignores symbols, so “Weather ◌” will get a huge search advantage, which will help to drive organic instals of the app.

How Zapier Reached $35M ARR With This SaaS SEO Strategy

Like other middleware SaaS, Zapier faced the challenge of having an “invisible” product. Their app didn’t perform customer facing actions but instead formed connections behind the scenes to unlock new functionality and value from existing apps.

Rather than trying to pitch users on the value of integrating tools, Zapier realized early on that people were already looking for specific integrations. To capture this existing intent, Zapier decided to make the app partners in their integration ecosystem the stars of their marketing and piggyback on their success.

They did this by creating three tiers of landing pages for every app in their ecosystem.

Airbnb Will Start Designing Houses

Today, Samara is announcing a new initiative called Backyard, “an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes,” according to a press statement, with the first wave of test units going public in 2019.

“Backyard investigates how buildings could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and gains vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time,” Gebbia says. “Backyard isn’t a house, it’s an initiative to rethink the home. Homes are complex, and we’re taking a broad approach–not just designing one thing, but a system that can do many things.”

How Walmart is trying to reinvent in-store shopping to win Black Friday

Amazon pulls in only about 40 percent of Walmart’s more than $500 billion in annual sales. But CEO Jeff Bezos’ willingness and proficiency at moving into new markets has every retailer from Walmart to CVS to Kroger looking at solutions to better modernize their businesses in the likely event Amazon continues to grow and expand. Walmart, in particular, has partnered with a number of technology companies to improve its delivery network. It’s also started working closely with Microsoft in a substantial multi-year cloud computing deal with Microsoft’s Azure platform in order to improve its online backend, as well as the many custom software elements that help it run its stores, warehouses, and data centers.

The Problem with Cashless Restaurants

Opening and maintaining small-business checking accounts can be a costly practice. A Chase business checking account, for instance, requires a $12 monthly fee in some circumstances — and that’s on top of a transaction fee of 40 cents for every transaction that exceeds 100 transactions in a given month. Cash’s restaurant has an ATM available, but he said he absorbs about half of those ATM fees on behalf of his customers. He added that dropping electronic payments has allowed him to lower prices so his menu is more affordable.

According to a 2017 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company, 6.5% of all U.S. households — comprising an astounding 14.1 million adults and 6.4 million children — are unbanked, meaning they do not have a savings or checking account. What’s more, a 2015 study by the Urban Institute found that 360,000 households in New York City alone are unbanked, and another 780,000 are underbanked, which means they do have a checking or savings accounts but still rely on alternative finance services like taking out a loan.

More to Check Out: 
- Ethiopia Taking Control of Water
China Rules
- Political Reality of Buying Ads
- Outrage Over Human Gene Editing Will Fade Fast
A Business with No End

Kudos (to people in the community).

  • Zach Latta and Hackclub are crushing it.

  • PlayVS is growing really fast!

  • Hit reply to this email and let me know what you are up to! Curious how things are going 😇

My Update.

  • Only a few more weeks this semester in St. Louis. Gearing up for a big trip over Winter Break.

  • Maas, Darshil, and I launched Founder Rewind - got #1 on Product Hunt for that day!

  • Updated the theme of my personal blog. Let me know what you think.

Thanks so much for reading! Find me on twitter : )

Money, Lying, and Youth Sports

11/26 - What's Next

Hey - Happy Monday! Hope you enjoyed your weekend 😇

As a reminder, drop your info here (by 12/1) and we’ll introduce you to 2/3 highly ambitious people.

Please do share with friends if you think they will be a good fit!

Articles to Read.

The internet's history has just begun

As the chart shows, this started to change in the 1990s, at least in some parts of the world: By the year 2000 almost half of the population in the US was accessing information through the internet. But across most of the world the internet had not yet had much influence – 93% in the East Asia and Pacific region and 99% in South Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa were still offline in 2000. At the time of the Dot-com-crash less than 7% of the world was online.

15 years later, in 2016, three-quarters (76%) of people in the US were online and during these years countries from many parts of the world caught up: in Malaysia 79% used the internet; in Spain and Singapore 81%; in France 86%; in South Korea and Japan 93%; in Denmark and Norway 97%; and Iceland tops the ranking with 98% of the population online.

‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America

“BREAKING,” he wrote, pecking out each letter with his index fingers as he considered the possibilities. Maybe he would announce that Hillary Clinton had died during a secret overseas mission to smuggle more refugees into America. Maybe he would award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize for his courage in denying climate change.

“Nothing on this page is real,” read one of the 14 disclaimers on Blair’s site, and yet in the America of 2018 his stories had become real, reinforcing people’s biases, spreading onto Macedonian and Russian fake news sites, amassing an audience of as many 6 million visitors each month who thought his posts were factual. What Blair had first conceived of as an elaborate joke was beginning to reveal something darker. “No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back,” Blair once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page.

American Meritocracy Is Killing Youth Sports

The winning team celebrates at the Little League World Series.

Expensive travel leagues siphon off talented young athletes from well-off families—and leave everyone else behind.

You could follow the money. Kids’ sports is a nearly $17 billion industry, which makes it larger than the business of professional baseball and approximately the same size as the National Football League. Or you could follow the kids. The share of children ages 6 to 12 who play a team sport on a regular basis declined from 41.5 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2017, according to a recent report from the Aspen Institute. Going back to 2008, participation is lower across categories, including baseball, basketball, flag football, and soccer, in some cases by a lot: Baseball is down about 20 percent.

How Superhuman Built an Engine to Find Product/Market Fit (an incredible guide)

For founders, achieving product/market fit is an obsession from day one. It’s both the hefty hurdle we’re racing to clear and the festering fear keeping us up at night, worried that we’ll never make it. But when it comes to understanding what product/market fit really is and how to get there, most of us quickly realize that there isn’t a battle-tested approach.

The product/market fit definitions I had found were vivid and compelling, but they were lagging indicators — by the time investment bankers are staking out your house, you already have product/market fit. Instead, Ellis had found a leading indicator: just ask users “how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?” and measure the percent who answer “very disappointed.”

Next Stop, Uberland: The Onrushing Algorithmic Future of Work

It didn’t. A recent study by the ride-sharing trade publisher Ridester suggests half of all Uber drivers make less than $10 an hour, while BuzzFeed examined leaked Uber data and found that, after expenses, the average Uber driver in the U.S. takes home $10.87 an hour. It seems a full-time Uber driver can easily earn a poverty wage. And in Rosenblat’s telling, the rates only go down as Uber becomes more established and more drivers flood the streets, trapping drivers who take out subprime car loans at usurious rates to drive for Uber in a state of near-indentured servitude. One driver that stuck out to me in Uberland was Raul, a New York City Uber driver who had to boost his shifts from 8 to 9 hours to 12 to 14 in the face of falling rates. Rosenblat, who maintains a sometimes-unnerving cool while narrating tales of outrageous exploitation, writes: “The autonomy to choose which fourteen of the twenty-four hours in a day to work doesn’t create the sense of freedom implied by ‘flexibility’ rhetoric” of Uber.

Why is art so expensive?

The $63 billion, “winner-take-all” global art market, explained.

According to a joint report by UBS and Art Basel released in March, the global art market saw $63.7 billion in total sales last year. But that doesn’t mean that most artists see even a small fraction of that money, since the highest-value sales usually involve one wealthy collector putting a highly sought-after work up for auction.

To understand why a few artists are rich and famous, first you need to realize that most of them aren’t and will never be. To break into the art market, an artist first has to find a gallery to represent them, which is harder than it sounds. Some gallerists also look outside the art school crowd, presumably to diversify their representation, since MFAs don’t come cheap. (In 2014, tuitions at the 10 most influential MFA programs cost an average $38,000 per year, meaning a student would have to spend around $100,000 to complete their degree.) That said, the art world remains far from diverse. A 2014 study by the artists collective BFAMFAPhD found that 77.6 percent of artists who actually make a living by selling art are white, as are 80 percent of all art school graduates.

Stories From the Neopets Economy

Neopets is a website about, well, Neopets, which are cute animals you can own as pets. The main currency of Neopets is Neopoints, abbreviated NP. You earn NP from playing Flash games, getting lucky from random events, and playing the market.

Since new UC pets are impossible to create, there’s a fixed supply, and where there’s a fixed supply, there’s speculators. Owning a UC pet is a big deal. Some genuinely prefer the old art, whereas others simply treat them as a valuable bargaining chip in the pet trading market.

More to Check Out: 
The Art of Making You Feel Small
- FB and Snapchat are linked to depression
- Customers Buy Out Doughnut Shop So Owner Can Tend To Sick Wife
- Blockchain elections would be a disaster for society
- Idea Dump

Kudos (to people in the community).

  • Maas, Darshil, Gavin, and I launched 2 products this past week:

    Create A Signature and Final Grade Calculator

  • Thankful for all of the friends and mentors who read this newsletter every week. Really appreciate it!! Please do let me know what you are up to and how I can be helpful :)

My Update.

  • Looking to meet ambitious people? Trying to find projects to work on? As I mentioned, we’re pairing up the best people we know (from across the world) to spark conversations and new ideas. Drop your info here :) Share with any driven friends!

  • Spent the past week in Arizona and celebrated Thanksgiving with family and friends. Really enjoyed being home. Back to STL now!

  • Passed 1000 daily blog posts in a row.

  • Just Focus now has over 1200 installs. Check it out!

Thanks so much for reading! Find me on twitter : )

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