Weekend Reads: August 28, 2021

Warby Parker, Social Media Induced Illness, Rogue Corporations, Wine, McKinsey & Afghanistan

Hello all,

This has been a good week to dig deep into a few specific areas — everything from private companies going public soon to the failure in Afghanistan to health & wellness and Chinese companies. Got any reads you think others on this newsletter list would enjoy? Feel free to send them my way or share them in the comments on the Substack site.


Byrne Hobart on Warby Parker @ The Diff

I’m a huge Warby Parker fan so it was nice to see that they’re planning on going public soon. Byrne has an interesting quick analysis of their S-1 that focuses on the differences between WP and their major competitor EssilorLuxottica (which you may know from the Adam Ruins Everything clip). I thought this observation on Warby Parker’s user base was a particularly interesting catch:

Warby Parker is a young brand but a bet on aging: as they note in the S-1, 84% of people over 65 need some form of eyewear, and that population is the fastest-growing in the US. There's a whole category of companies that owns its main demographic but is stuck on a treadmill of constantly replacing them; Snapchat, TikTok, Roblox, and Nickelodeon all have to convince the next crop of 18-, 15-, 10-, and 6-year-olds that they're worth paying attention to, and each one's target demographic churns out. For Warby Parker, the churn dynamics are reversed: the thirtysomething customers who like them will age into being the fiftysomething customers who need them, and who have a lot more disposable income besides.

I will be digging into the Warby Parker S-1, personally. I know few consumer businesses that have such devoted, repeat fans who need the product.

“Stop that! It’s not Tourette’s but a new type of mass sociogenic illness” @ Brain

These researchers posit that there’s a “mass sociogenic illness” stemming from teenagers imitating YouTubers who show Tourette’s-like symptoms. What other “mass social media-induced illnesses” are there out there in the wild today?

We report the first outbreak of a new type of mass sociogenic illness (MSI) that in contrast to all previously reported episodes is spread solely via social media. Accordingly, we suggest the more specific term “mass social media-induced illness” (MSMI).

In Germany, current outbreak of MSMI is initiated by a “virtual” index case, who is the second most successful YouTube creator in Germany and enjoys enormous popularity among young people. Affected teenagers present with similar or identical functional “Tourette-like” behaviours, which can be clearly differentiated from tics in Tourette syndrome.

Functional “Tourette-like” symptoms can be regarded as the “modern” form of the well-known motor variant of MSI. Moreover, they can be viewed as the 21th century expression of a culture-bound stress reaction of our post-modern society emphasizing the uniqueness of individuals and valuing their alleged exceptionality, thus promoting attention-seeking behaviours and aggravating the permanent identity crisis of modern man. We wish to raise awareness of the current global “Tourette-like” MSMI outbreak. A large number of young people across different countries are affected, with considerable impact on health care systems and society as a whole, since spread via social media is no longer restricted to specific locations such as local communities or school environments.spread via social media is no longer restricted to specific locations such as schools or towns.

@default_friend on Twitter correctly pointed out that Tumblr did this long before YouTube with self-harm, depression, and suicidal ideation:

“Intake of Wine, Beer, and Spirits and the Risk of Clinical Common Cold” @ The American Journal of Epidemiology

Old article that recently came across my desk again. TL;DR is that moderate drinkers of red wine were about 50% as likely to catch the common cold as non-drinkers. There are a few interesting potential takeaways here: first, red wine in particular has higher levels of polyphenols than other drinks and there’s good research on regular polyphenol intake and immune system response; second, moderate drinking is an important note here. Heavier, non-binge drinking is associated with worse sleep and restful sleep is more important than polyphenol intake for immune system support. Here’s a similar study of Japanese men that found lower prevalence of common cold in regular drinkers.

I’m more-or-less in the Lindy Effect camp when it comes to food or drink consumption — defer to those substances your ancestors likely consumed for extended periods of time and avoid those that would be entirely new to your ancestral tree. For example, my family is largely Franco-German and Slavic, so we are not as sensitive to dairy and alcohol as somebody from, say, Southeast Asia may be.

(h/t PD Mangan on twitter for the original article.)

“The War in Afghanistan is What Happens When McKinsey Types Run Everything” by Matt Stoller

Afghanistan has been covered ad nauseam at this point but this piece by Matt Stoller points out that the military, just like most parts of the American government, has become infested with over-produced elite credentialists who don’t really know how to do anything but advance their careers — and it can cost wars:

McKinsey itself had involvement in Afghanistan, with at least one $18.6 million contract to help the Defense Department define its “strategic focus,” though government watchdogs found that the "only output [they] could find" was a 50-page report about strategic economic development potential in Herat, a province in western Afghanistan.” It turns out that ‘strategic focus’ means an $18.6 million PowerPoint. (There was reporting on this contract because Pete Buttigieg worked on it as a junior analyst at McKinsey, and he has failed upward to run the Transportation Department.)

None of these tens of thousands of Ivy league encrusted PR savvy highly credentialed prestigious people actually know how to do anything useful. They can write books on leadership, or do powerpoints, or leak stories, but the hard logistics of actually using resources to achieve something important are foreign to them, masked by unlimited budgets and public relations. It is, as someone told me in 2019 about the consumer goods giant Proctor and Gamble, where “very few white-collar workers at P&G really did anything” except take credit for the work of others.

Anecdotally, quite a few of my once-peers went to work for large, prestigious management consulting firms. Over the years, a few have come to me to ask for referrals when jumping ship to something a little less soul crushing and a little more useful. Unfortunately, most faced serious problems from the startups I connected them to. “She’s a nice person,” one company told me, “and clearly very smart. But she just doesn’t have any skills.”

“The Semiconductor Heist Of The Century | Arm China Has Gone Completely Rogue, Operating As An Independent Company With Inhouse IP/R&D” @ SemiAnalysis

Arm is a British semiconductor manufacturer that is owned by SoftBank. Like a lot of businesses that decide to do business in China, it has (had) a Chinese subsidiary serving that market. China is a good market for this kind of business. The Chinese are Notoriously Online and are a very data driven culture — with data collected on everything from one’s spending habits to where one spends time to on closed circuit cameras all across the country. It’s good business — if you can keep it. SoftBank and Arm cannot keep it as the Arm China subsidiary has broken off and is operating as its own business. This is just one of several examples of China being bad for business that I’ve come across this week — and this one comes from the private sector itself, it’s not even a regulatory threat!


No new book recommendations this week, although I will be revisiting Jane Jacob’s under-appreciated Dark Age Ahead over the next week for my 1517 workshop. I will share new thoughts on it soon.

Product Recommendation

Sport Berkey

My last product recommendation was well-received, so I wanted to pass another one along. This is a water bottle with an intense water filter built in. It’s ideal for filtering water from hikes or disaster scenarios on-the-go. But for me, I actually use it a lot while traveling as it filters out most of the garbage from hotel tap water.

Know anybody looking for a job? The 1517 Fund portfolio is hiring — we have over 250 open positions across our companies right now.

Thanks for reading — that’s all for the review for this week.