Sunday Snapshots (13th October, 2019)

Billionaires, Stillness is the Key, Uber Rewards, Markov Chains, and Soothing Videos

Hey everyone,

First of all, congrats to Eliud Kipchoge for breaking the 2-hour marathon mark. It’s a testament to Eliud’s grit and determination. It’s also a fascinating story of how to set a goal that pushes against the limits of human ability and achieve it. In Zero to One, Peter Thiel talks about how progress and a better future is not inevitable, it takes very smart people working very hard to get us there. In this case, Eliud is just one character of the story.

Jim Ratcliffe is another.

The billionaire has a sports arm of his petrochemical company INEOS that has been financing and backing Eliud throughout this attempt to break the 2-hour mark.

Billionaires’ passions are accelerating human progress. Jim Ratcliffe is helping us break the 2-hour marathon. Bill Gates is helping us cure polio. Jeff Bezos is helping us go into space. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I’m glad they are deploying capital towards productive uses instead of buying another multi-million dollar yacht. On the other, I’m curious why we haven’t seen more bottoms-up solutions to big problems.

It’s an interesting question to think about, especially as the winds in Evanston become chillier but the sun still shines bright, making for a perfect afternoon to visit my favorite place to walk to – the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette.

In this week’s Snapshots, I want to talk about:

  • Talking a walk,

  • Uber crowdsourcing its rewards program

  • What are Markov chains

  • Soothing videos

  • And more!

Book of the week

As I said last week, I want to continue to use chapters from Ryan Holiday’s latest book Stillness is the Key as a prompt for personal reflections. Let’s dive into them:

  1. Take a walk: There might not be a better cure for any problem than to walk it off. While Chicago winters mean that this is not a year round solution for me, I definitely take long walks during the weekends when weather permits. You can catch up with friends, think about things that are troubling you, or just take the space to do nothing.

  2. Beware Escapism: I’m pretty skeptical of people who “take a break” to travel around. Ultimately, you can’t escape your own thoughts – they travel with you!

  3. Let Go: It’s been a week of good and bad news. When you hear bad news, it’s tough to shrug it off and keep doing what you need to be doing. What helps me is a diversification of my identity. By not tying my whole identity to one effort, I am still able to see the positives in other portions of my life. You’ve got to see yourself as a whole person. Honestly, it’s difficult to let go of disappointments even then – but it certainly makes it easier.

I really enjoyed the book and I highly recommend you pick up a copy.

Business move of the week

Yesterday morning, I opened the Uber app and something caught my eye. I had a “reward” from them, but instead of giving me $5 in UberCash (which is what they usually do), they had a menu of options for me.

Since Uber has a variety of use cases, not only does the customer gets what they want the most, but Uber has two benefits:

  • They get an insight into which rewards customers prefer the most, allowing them to further refine their offerings and increase retention (and ultimately the lifetime value of the customer).

  • They might be able to spend less money on rewards payouts. For example, the total dollar amount for two deliveries might be as low as $0.98 ($0.49/each) if the user orders from restaurants close by.

The first is a lot more valuable in the long-term. You’re getting unadulterated insight into the revealed preferences of your users which you can segment any number of ways to identify the highest growth opportunities. They’ve substituted market research that would be down in focus groups and online surveys with something that much more accurate and potentially cheaper.

This reminds me of the good parts of the old Uber – nimble and innovative.

Concept of the week

Markov Chains

In my 3 years of university, the concept that challenged my thinking the most is Markov chains. Fundamentally, they are about a system existing in a particular state. The key concept of Markov chains is something called the Markov property – the future state of a system (what will happen next) is independent of the past states (what happened before), given the present state.

You can move from state 0 to state 1 with some probability, and you can move from state 1 to state with some probability, and so on and so forth.

If you liked this corner and would like more of it, just reply to this email to let me know.

Product of the week

I recently read an amazing article by Taimur Abdaal about how to think about purchases. His framework consists of two dimensions – measure (how frequently we use the product) and magnitude (how expensive the product is). We rely a lot more on the latter when making purchasing decisions. He argues that if we use a product with a high enough frequency, we should be willing to pay a premium for a marginally better experience.

I had been considering getting a new pair of sneakers. With the measure-magnitude framework in mind, I went with the Royale Blanco from Greats. They’ve done a great job differentiating themselves as a brand, even though they have a product that’s remarkably simple. They were one of the first to ride the DTC wave for shoes, and have since partnered with retailers like Nordstrom to fuel growth. I’ve really enjoyed the shoes so far.

Random corner of the week

YouTube is mostly a time sink, but there is something intrinsically satisfying in seeing a well-crafted film. Ryoya Takashima’s Peaceful Cuisine is a channel that has nailed down the meaning of the word “aesthetic.”

Especially in weeks with little or no downtime, watching a couple of these videos before going to bed has been a great way to put the day behind me and get ready for sleep.

Meal of the week

I’ve visited the Celtic Knot for some late night chats the last couple of days. It’s been a great way to blow off some steam and catch up with friends. The hot wings here are very good. Worth a visit if you’re in Evanston.


That wraps up this week’s Sunday Snapshots. If you want to discuss any of the ideas mentioned above or have any books/papers/links you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of Sunday Snapshots, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending me a direct message on Twitter at @sidharthajha.

Until next Sunday,

Sid