Looking back, some memes haven't aged well. To children with the privilege or curse to grow up online, one's tree rings get into view when someone can understand an ancient (in internet terms) reference. A current trend is the recent wave of nostalgia around the pop-punk subcultures manifesting in the early years of Tumblr, where simultaneously MySpace was taking its last dying gasps as a music publishing platform.
The dynamic between incumbents and the internet media upstarts was a hostile one. As someone who's been proximally close to a cease and desist, there lie a graveyard of humorists who flew too close to the burning sun of the danger that is known as the United States Intellectual Property laws. They found their accounts and fair use efforts to be deleted with no recourse under the watchful eye of platforms that didn't want to be held legally responsible. One of those innocuous accounts banned multiple times was the indomitable @BILL_NYE_THO.
For a younger Angelo, the idea of Bill Nye wearing a snapback and delivering the equivalent to the modern scientific shower thought was nothing short of hilarious. Although I cannot find the post, one artifact from the account's multiyear posting reign was a play on what the actual Bill Nye mentioned about the water cycle. Bill Nye's then enduring appeal from the original show was his ability to show the scientific method's approachability and offer children that insight is accessible to everyone. From one of those episodes, he mentions that you could be drinking the same water as the dinosaurs in a humorous attempt to explain the enduring nature of the water cycle. For a comedic account to combine that humor with the delivery of someone who has smoked cheap weed pretending to have a better high than they actually do. All the account had to do to split my sides was to post: "DOESN'T IT GET YOU BUCC AS FUCC THAT YOU COULD BE DRINKING THE SAME WATER AS DINOSAURS????"
To continue my streak of killing anything remotely funny, the purposeful misspelling of Buck (which means to get excited, to get wild) as BUCC manifested the charm and enthusiasm that this account brought to my younger life. BILL_NYE_THO taught me that you can indeed be "buck" at the mere thought that we still enjoy the refreshment that our ancestors have partaken in, and the responsibility to sustain that cycle does indeed excite me.
In the spirit of staying existential, Aristotle believed that competition was a means to physiological fulfillment. Or instead: what is Tom without its Jerry. For all that is decried about today's generation as it always is, there is a sense of dadaism that unfortunately has been unshakable for various reasons. I mean, why not… the last 20 years of western government was primarily focused on geopolitical excursions while the quality of life stagnated for most of its residents. This last year much has wrongfully remained the same despite clear evidence to drive change. For many people, the rat race of society doesn't seem worth it; I think we are seeing levels of NEET that shouldn't be reached, which is dangerous for a variety of reasons. From my discussions among friends, acquaintances, and young people surveyed to figure out the political predicament (concerning government) on their apathy nowadays. The common refrain is that people don't see things heading in the right direction, nor do they feel empowered to enact change. For many who dropped out of school unceremoniously to not enter into an entrepreneurial venture: they see a world with increasingly dim prospects. A world that doesn't offer a chase worth chasing.
Some believe that the rise of financial engineering led to the unfair accelerated death of many industries. Those believe a world where a Private Equity firm would lever a perfectly fine asset with crushing debt and sell the assets piecemeal for pure returns to be a pretty bleak one. People on the other side of this argument mention that such firms are necessary, like a fungus to a decomposing body. Although I am not blind to competition and the unstoppable force of progress, the unique market nature that we find ourselves in is a rather unique one to study from a macro perspective.
With the Biden administration willing to negotiate with Senate Republicans on their proposed $2 Trillion infrastructure bill, it’s a signal that fiscal policy is away from thinking about the economy standing at a precipice. Still, there is rubble, and with it I see so much opportunity. At the surface: I know a population due to the rise of the internet, no longer defining their taste via genre. Location no longer is the limiting factor to talent. I see a country attempting to wrestle with its past, trying to create a better collective myth where people can see themselves in. Out of the institutional neglect, people are building anew.
This isn't without challenges; existential threats persist. We still don't have a good answer to a media empire that uses its power to create a machine once trained on "foreigners" to generate perpetual fear. We don't have an exemplary implementation of delivering fair and equitable health treatments in the US at a reasonable cost. I can write a nauseatingly more extended rant on what is wrong. But maybe for once, I see a future where the rising tide doesn't only lift people who know how to code, but maybe for everyone willing to be involved.
Looking Back and Forwards
The cool thing about growing up liking uncool things that you realize how cyclical things are. Suddenly, the seeds planted from a few Turner execs to air localized Anime on Cartoon Network gives rise to a market willing to pay millions for rights of those shows. As society introspects, it realizes mistakes, misjudgments, and new opportunities. The western redemption of Brittany Spears is the epitome of how something misjudged can be fully understood in context. Although this essay isn't a discussion on valuation cycles and inflation, from the collapse of the hype, the internet and its related financial instruments after Dotcom bust was necessary to give the technologies that were going to push things forward the chance to mature. I hope market historians realize that there had to be a Friendster and pets.com to happen for a Facebook and Chewy to eventually prosper. The same can be said for Crypto; the all-time highs that went into ICOs allowed legitimate efforts to invest and improve the products that anticipated the next wave. I am refraining from making a judgment call on the value of the current market, things do go down/up, I believe overall (responsible) financialization brings material societal improvement on a long enough time horizon.
Despite all this talk on "market froth," I bring this up because this moment is what we need, despite the eventual pullback.
Personally, I get "buck" when I realize that my ancestors couldn't jump on Discord with their homies, stream Tekken 7 at 1080P while having near-zero audio latency while writing an essay like this one. This is the type of stuff where if you have shown someone from the 1700s this type of tech, they will accuse you of witchcraft. Sure, maybe we weren't supposed to read the asynchronous thoughts of our friends and family in a never-ending buffet, but I am sure that the longing to stay in touch with our loved ones when away sure beats having to wait for a carrier Pidgeon.
As a happy Discord Nitro customer, I want the service, as mentioned earlier, to be around forever- and I don't think CEO Jason Citron disagrees. Thats why he didn’t sell to Microsoft. …But here's a cynical view from someone who benefitted from easy money policies in the form of unsustainable business models. *cough* MoviePass *cough* The illusionary nature of easy monetary policy makes startups seem more deflationary than they actually are. If I am a company giving you $1.30 for every $1 I get, I will eventually run out of money. Reality is more nuanced than that (that free money scheme is just subsidized acquisition cost, you respond). Still, at least at the edge of these markets, I see niches turning into the fertile ground where the following upstarts prosper. The failures then turn into compost, to be studied by ambitious MBA candidates for eternity.
Few remember the Obama-era policy that gave federal funding to green energy companies in which there were few missteps. Originally part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, it earmarked $80 Billion in tax credits and stimulus for various programs. Some wins were IRS rule 2009-54, the EV tax credit, which I believe was successful in encouraging the growth of the EV market in the US. One could then look at the failures of Ener1 and Solyndra, who were over-financialized and didn't follow through with their claims. I argue that these pioneers, although deserving of loss in their own right, needed to fail for the following companies to thrive. (Solyndra was a solar company that overpromised on improving the efficiency of panels rather than focusing on supply improvements) However, 10 years later, the market is nearing a healthy level of maturity. In a world where we are cursed with perpetual infrastructure week, arguments over the viability of energy sources are a vibrant discussion rather than a historical default to fossil fuels. Innovative companies in each space learned from those who failed and moved their efforts to the correct levels of market distinction.
I think in both mature and growing markets, there's a lot of fun to be had as we move beyond the monopsony phase of many industries. I will highlight a few examples that get me excited.
Deceptively Niche Community Marketplaces
One way to stay close to your culture for many immigrant communities is by consuming the food of what you grew up with. From the nearly 1.1 million international students in the United States, many eventually settle and provide a significant source of economic growth for the country. I have seen the rise of ChowBus, Fantuan, Zawper, YBB, Ricepo (and I am pretty sure I am leaving many others out) cater to the specific needs of immigrants where they can be formidable businesses in their own right.
Somewhat recently, ChowBus raised $33 Million for its Series A, and one can glean from the job openings the expected trajectory of the app. They wish to become a vertically integrated backend for many restaurants that serve the AAPI community in various cities and markets. One might ask that focusing down at the community level might limit one's market, but I believe by focusing on the aspects of what the community really needs, community focused marketplaces can genuinely solve the needs of those communities that might be more nuanced than the franchises that end up dominating delivery apps in specific markets. This isn't a new playbook; immigrant communities defined brands that serve particular tastes where Goya Foods is one of the largest private American food companies.
Suppose the last 10 years defined the creation of last-mile logistics enabled by mobile phones. In that case, the next 10 years represent what advantages hyper-focusing on a customer profile can mean for those communities' advancement and economic empowerment.
Women-Focused, But Actually
A disappointing piece of American history was that it was only until 1988 that women couldn't get a loan without a male signature until the Women's Business Ownership Act. I always wanted to say this phrase in an essay, but: few understand this. The systemic prevention of entrepreneurial agency for almost half of a market shows much to still be served.
Outside of the stereotypical interpretations of what this means for a developing market. (Unfortunate that I have to use that descriptor) Many assumptions about the demographics of specific fields that excluded women as traditional consumers will be in for a rude awakening. We are only beginning to see the first wave of lower-hanging fruit financialize as the next wave of companies get their deserved valuations.
I foresee the NWSL exceeding the MLS in market capitalization off of the top of my head as the league better positions itself in the sports market. Women as sports consumers are criminally undervalued as many ad sales in certain verticals use Boomer era demographic metrics to value the sponsorship opportunities of these sports. Also, I see a trend where women's health needs are addressed at a rate where they overtake incumbents that previously had no interest. …and don't get me started about the gaming market's continued neglect.
To be clear, I am not describing businesses that throw a shade of pink on a product and release that to market to call it served. Instead, companies who make shallow overtures to 50% of their customer base will be overtaken by people who truly understand who their buyer is. Companies that I think are going to be genuine winners in this space are Tia, Modern Fertility, and a firm that I am unsure if I can talk about out of respect to the founder. Point being, shallow overtures are increasingly being rejected.
Re-Industrialization and Regulatory Awakening
In the last 20 years, despite the improvements to consumer technology, we haven't seen the effects spill over to the governments that we live under. To be fair, authoritarian regimes have traditionally been able to adopt technology faster than more decentralized states, and I am sympathetic to the challenges that the USDS faces. One can look back to the space race where the central orientation of the Soviet Union was a key advantage (other than German scientists) until the United States took the modernization of rocket technology seriously. I think the US government should make civic tech a priority to ensure the creation and sustainment of the next generation of companies. This can lead to the end of the TurboTax pseudo-monopoly, shorter DMV lines, and a government that better serves its people.
The United States and various corporates learned the hard way by giving up local access to industrial supply; it has effectively demobilized itself economically from a pure ‘atoms’ perspective. As a result, many multinationals now find that cutting-edge manufacturing and supply line optionality is needed to counter against fragile geopolitical realities. Previously, it was seen as economically inefficient to build within shores. However, as countries and economies mature, realizing the edge of economic growth lies within making science fiction into fact. This means smaller, more capable factories that help companies prototype, design, and develop in-house. While more giant factories enabled by more advanced machinery can respond to increasing demand by retooling more nimbly as demand shifts.
Despite the generational vertigo that people face when determining a city/suburb to live in: people will always want to live in cities, and the death of the city is overrated. With that said, the suburbs were a neglected notion in American life as jobs clustered in high cost of living areas forcing people to become super-commuters. With the increased economic inflows alleviating some pressure from cities and adding heat to governmental competition, we will see a rise of optionality presented to the average person like never before. Although hybrid work will be the dominant model for many companies, and some businesses will revert to in-office work primarily for specific industries (a little hard to perform hardware engineering at home). Town downtowns should expect a new surge in demand from people recovering from a pandemic-induced economic slowdown as families look to head to places with more square footage. One can see the price of Lumber over a one year period as a potential signal.
I think we have yet to see the benefits materialize until people are finally out of this Covid induced recession, and it will mean higher wages, more jobs and, a better standard of living.
I started my pandemic by having an offer rescinded due to Covid related downsizing. The opportunity with a company in the developer tooling space, a market that I desire to get closer to. After building something on the side for sports, the pandemic-induced shutdowns of all events added another pressure to the team that led to its disbanding. Although being online helped me get closer to my friends, living in Ft. Lauderdale became too isolating. Finally, I decided to move back in with my parents and travel the country in my car safely. For the record, this was before it became cool to move to South Florida. Later that year, I eventually witnessed my asthmatic brother overcome Covid through the window of a FaceTime call.
One early morning, I took an accidental wrong turn while in Kentucky to get back to the interstate after filling up my car's gas tank. The dew on the Kentucky Blue Grass was fresh from the cold evenings of the impending winter. As I made a sharp left onto the field that belonged to a Baptist church, the state's rolling hills gave way to the bright orange hue of the rising sun. Dear reader, that was the most beautiful sight I have ever laid my weary eyes on. I was at peace; I eventually know we will be too. I am grateful that I have a chance to witness another cycle unfold with you.