Work until your Idols become your rivals
Elon's Twitter, Christmas trees, crazy Harvard Numbers, and Hellabytes
In America, Christmas trees are a $2B+ business. At any given time, there are about 350m Christmas trees in various stages of growth on farms around the country. About 25m of those are harvested for sale. It takes about 8 years for most varieties to reach acceptable heights for the living room of American homes. That’s quite a gap between planting and actually seeing any financial reward for it.
I’m a Christmas tree purist. Throughout my life I’ve always had and insisted on having real Christmas trees in my home. Even as a kid, my mom would threaten to go and buy a fake tree because of the hassle a real tree always meant, and I’d beg and plot to keep a real tree in the place of honor for the season.
Real trees are unique and have parts of them that we put in the corner so no one can see them. They drop needles and degrade over time. They need a little TLC from time to time. They take a lot of work to get the right one, get it dressed properly, and placed in the right place for it to work its magic.
Just like me. All those things are true of me, too.
Christmas is so saccharine, so manufactured nowadays. Every year some new commercial layer of veneer gets slathered on a beautiful and pure holiday so that its recognizable but not identifiable any more. Beautiful hymns of love and praise are repurposed by the soulless as jingles to sell sneakers or whatever other thing has been overproduced this year. Iconic figures are made to tell ribald jokes just to pry our attentions away from a holiday centered on the birth of love into he world. And Mariah Carey … omg Mariah Carey.
The last real thing at Christmas for me has always been the tree … and we bought a fake one this year. We were late to the lot and all they had left was brown Christmas trees. Last year I spent $120 on a beautiful and huge tree. This year that same tree was $170 and it looked terrible. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t bring myself to part with that many inflated dollars on something no one cared about but me. It felt like a stupid indulgence, a waste of money.
Maybe this is how things go as we get older, I don’t know. But I don’t like it and I can’t wait til next year when we have a real tree again.
“You must create slack. No one will give it to you.”
— Josh Waitzkin
Harvard University employs 7,024 total full-time administrators. They have 8,527 undergraduates giving every student almost his own administrator. If you include graduate programs there are ~30,000 students at Harvard so that each administrator has to stretch to service almost 5 students.
This is called the mortmain problem. Mortmain, Latin for “dead hand”, is a peculiar behavioral phenomenon that comes about a result of the lack of taxation on exempt organizations. In Medieval Europe, capital, chattel and property left to the Church remained untaxed in perpetuity and so the Church grew wealthy and influential beyond any planning. It did not, as institutions rarely do, optimize its operations for the best return on those resources. Rather, it devolved into an organization more focused on protecting its property than serving its constituency.
Harvard and other massive Universities are the same way now. The quality of education coming out of bloated bureaucracies are the stuff of cliches now. No one is served by their size, and the intellectual heft they once carried has been surrendered without a whimper to other non-traditional modes of learning.
And they simply can’t be trusted to fix it on their own. In Trump’s tax cut plan, he specifically singled out large endowments and required that the money be spent in ways that advanced student experience and learning or be taxed. Harvard’s response? Hire 500 more administrators to study public art, inclusion, and innumerable soft science subjects that advance the institution and no student.
“For life to those who have the ears to hear is a symphony, but very, very rare indeed is the human being who hears the music.”
— Anthony de Mello
By the year 2030, the world will produce around a yottabyte of new data per year — that’s 10 to the 24th power of bytes, or the amount that would fit on DVDs stacked all the way to Mars.
You may never have heard of a yottabyte but it was a term coined when the 1991 when the General Conference on Weights and Measures met to produce terms that they couldn’t fathom we would ever need. Now we’ve run through those terms and need new ones. To give you some perspective, in 1975 the GCWM added the now-familiar peta- and exa- prefixes.
This year we are getting some new prefixes: ronna- and quetta- represent 10x27 and 10x30, and ronto- and quecto-signify 10x−27 and 10x−30. The Earth weighs around one ronnagram, and an electron’s mass is about one quectogram.
Up next for consideration is hella- for 10x31, and bronto- for 10x32.
“Version ‘done’ is better than version ‘none.”
I love how every smart person I know gets it wrong when it comes to Elon and Twitter. I had a conversation this weekend with two really smart guys who think he’s going to lose all his money propping up Twitter. I shook my head in disbelief so much my neck hurt.
Elon had 110 million followers on Twitter. Followers have monetary value if you have something for them to buy. Elon has lots for them to buy like a new Tesla, a satellite internet plan, or even general public support for infrastructure companies like Boring and SpaceX. Companies spend a ton of money to message consumers directly and Twitter is what it is because smart people figured out that that’s what it does best.
Elon paid $400 per follower to own his user base and not have it be subject to someone else’s rules. He also happened to get control over 400 million other user accounts that generate directly $4b in annual ad spend revenue, as a side benefit.
Twitter had huge business problems that Elon can work through in a simple manner. Most importantly, the day he took over there were 7,500 employees running the company, and he’s currently producing the same level of output with only about 55-100 employees. The combined payroll that left Twitter with severance included was just shy of $1b all-in, and tons of them quit in a way that they aren’t owed severance or benefits of any kind.
Secondly, only about 10% of accounts post with regularity, and the strength of that user base generates the revenue mentioned above. If Twitter brings more engaged users to the platform, it causes eyeballs to linger and users to spend more time in conversation, then the ad value of the platform increases, as well. Advertisers will spend more because they have to be a part of the conversation. That’s already happening too.
Twitter was trading at roughly 11x revenue, and it was losing money. Bringing the company to profitability and top line revenue growth are not far-fetched things to be achieved. When they are done, Elon can easily relist the company for a higher multiple and take it public again, which is what he will do.