This is a (roughly) weekly newsletter experiment containing links to things I’ve written and made, plus links to other interesting articles, reports and essays I’ve come across.
Thoughts, opinions and typos are solely my own.
My blog posts and articles
VCs Spark High Times for American Cannabis (mattermark.com)
In my latest post for Mattermark I interviewed a number of folks operating in the rapidly-growing legal cannabis space. Driven by continued legalization for medical and recreational use, both entrepreneurs and investors are looking to capitalize on what some analysts believe could be a $100 billion market within the next decade. Special thanks to Ben Larson, co-founder of Oakland’s Gateway Incubator, and Keith McCarty, founder and CEO of Eaze, for speaking with me.
Recent Observations From Other People
Chris Dixon on bundling and the internet economic loop
The most recent post from Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon asserts that market and technical conditions are such that big companies are re-bundling (or vertically integrating) services. He cites competition as a key driver of this bundling phenomenon and presents a range of events and trends that may serve as nucleation points for further bundling activity.
(For the record, this is a textbook example of what institutional theorists DiMaggio and Powell call “structural isomorphism” in response to competition. Their 1983 paper is deftly summarized here.)
Mandy Brown on bots
In her latest letter on ro/text/chat bots, designer and media observer Mandy Brown highlights some potentially unsettling trends in the current surge in AI-enabled digital assistants. First, Brown brings up the issue of opacity in some of these interfaces. Unlike more transactionally designed user experiences that offer both textual and visual interaction models, such as Apple’s Siri, it’s more difficult to know where a bot sourced the information it serves as an authoritative answer to a user’s query. This is especially troublesome in interaction models that use solely the spoken word (such as Amazon Echo) or “secondary orality” (text that works like spoken language) such as the messaging-inspired interface of a service like Magic.
Second, Brown cites the caretaker/servant role AI has taken in science fiction and our lives today. Since many AIs are branded with female voices or names – Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and X.ai’s scheduling assistant Amy, all come to mind – Brown argues that this positioning “reveals the expectation that a generation of woman-gendered bots are being created to serve the needs of men.” Regardless of your stance, the gender issue Brown has called attention to is one that designers, engineers and marketers will have to be mindful of going forward.
William Storage on multidisciplinary thinking
In his contribution to an anthology of blog posts, books and academic articles promoting the benefits of multidisciplinary teams and polymathic people, Bill Storage traces the role of multidisciplinary thinking in the process of invention and innovation. He spends a good part of his post rehashing some of the core ideas of this school of thinking. He explains the strength of specialization in fields like research through expanding human knowledge in a depth-first fashion, but he also states that innovation happens when expertise in multiple fields overlaps and collides with one another.
Although what Storage says is not groundbreaking from a theoretical or academic standpoint, it serves as a reference to some good case studies, quotes and anecdotes, as well as validation to those who’ve chosen the more interdisciplinary path.
Podcast episodes of the week
“The Importance of Research” and “Choose Your Own (Negotiation) Adventure” from Nick Disabato and Kai Davis’s self-styled “crappy business podcast”, Make Money Online are two of the most informative podcast episodes I listened to in the last week. Although the advice and subject matter discussed in Make Money Online is geared toward independent consultants, contractors and other itinerantly employed folks, each episode has some strategic nugget that anyone can use.
Other news and links
Mandy Brown’s other writing, specifically her Letters section, is incredibly thoughtful
Square’s Q1 miss may not bode well for IPO hopes of other services with low margins
Julie Zhuo’s “Design, Illustrated in Three Charts”
Anthony Bourdain’s post about his visit to Chicago
Buzzfeed takes a deep dive into some leaked internal documents from Palantir, Silicon Valley’s [most secretive company”
Old but good: A brief history of venture capital and the investors who invest in the VCs on Venture Hacks (2010)
Vanity Fair calls out the tech press for not doing their diligence on Theranos
Y Combinator publishes startup trend analysis from its massive longitudinal dataset of applying startups in their longform blog, The Macro
A scientific look at why whiskey cannot be made to seem older than it actually is