Sunday Snapshots (23rd June, 2019)

Kicking off summer, spies, annotations, and Shopify

Hey everyone,

I just wrapped up the first week of my summer internship at SpotHero. I'm working with the Analytics team on some exciting problems (more on this below). While it took me a couple of days to get used to the long commute, an hour and a half per day allows me to read a lot! In fact, I read everything in today's Snapshots during my commute. This week, I want to talk about:

  • Recruiting spies on LinkedIn

  • My summer internship at SpotHero

  • Annotations as teaching

  • Amazon, Shopify, and outsourcing desire

  • And more!

Book of the week

Bradley Tusk’s The Fixer is a memoir of political and business campaigns at the highest levels. It’s rare to get this kind of behind the scenes look into some of the most important political battles in the last two decades – including Michael Bloomberg’s reelection as NYC mayor, Uber’s battle against Bill de Blasio, and Tesla’s aversion to aggressively expand using political tactics. It’s the best book I’ve read so far in 2019 and you should read the book.

Here’s one thing that stuck out to me. In the middle of extremely busy campaigns, Tusk’s team would send his client an email at 5 a.m. This started during Bloomberg’s reelection campaign:

During the mayoral race, I’d send Mike an email at 5 a.m. every day saying who that day’s endorsement was from and everything going on in the campaign that day: field, ads, polling, events, etc. Since Mike didn’t really like the politics, he was happy to get my email, find out what he needed to know, and then go with his day being mayor. Getting something that organized, that early in the morning also didn’t hurt his opinion of me: I came off as hardworking, organized, persistent, and thoughtful.

I’m going to steal this idea for my internship and tweak it a bit. I’ll send my supervisor an email every week with a list of what I have accomplished that week, what I will accomplish the next week, and what I need from them in order to successfully complete these goals.

Long read of the week

Geostrategically motivated Co-option of Social Media

Social media has increased the ability of governments to spy on their citizens – it’s easy to track someone’s interests, radicalization journey, and locations. But these abilities have mostly been geared towards counter-terrorism efforts. This paper by Mika Aaltola at the The Finnish Institute of International Affairs looks at how these tools can be used to gain a geopolitical edge, focusing on how Chinese state-sponsored actors use LinkedIn to recruit spies. The key bottleneck in spy recruitment has been finding points of leverage on vulnerable individuals. The paper argues that:

It is possible to find – by careful analysis of posted information – individuals whose careers have floundered and who are possibly experiencing financial troubles. If a person’s list of prior experience includes sensitive and confidential positions, such as former member of parliament or military or intelligence posts, there is a clear incentive to try to lure them into a trap.

The paper is fascinating, and details the use of fake profiles to lure potential recruits, “upselling” after initial positive results, and potential counter-measures that targets can take.

Personal update of the week

This week, I started my summer internship at SpotHero in Chicago. SpotHero is a parking reservation service which partners with garages throughout the country to provide users with a guaranteed parking spot at a discounted price (often 30-50% lower than the listed garage price). I’m working on the Analytics team and my focus is to find out ways to deploy SpotHero’s resources towards the most effective growth strategies. I’ll be using Looker and SQL throughout my internship. I’m really excited to work with everyone on my team and contribute to SpotHero’s journey. If you’re interested in learning more about SpotHero or my role, please send me a DM on Twitter (@sidharthajha) or just reply to this email.

Gesture of the week

The highest value work you can do it is explain to others something that is easy for you to understand. Here, Muneeb Ali (@muneeb) goes through the official white paper for the new cryptocurrency from Facebook called Libra and annotates it to turn technical specifications into simple language and highlights their implications. I wish more people did this. I put together this thread of experts leading you through complex topics using annotations.

Business move of the week

Online Retail Provider Shopify Adds Fulfillment Service

Amazon is doing really well. The positive feedback of superior product and customer analytics, a willingness to survive short-term losses using profits from AWS, and a logistical moat that competitors are struggling to catch up to makes the company seem invincible. Even though some companies have been able to outrun Amazon in particular categories (groceries is the big case study here), Bezos has largely been immune to any competitors. In my view, they do have one Achilles heel – they are not good at evoking the desire to purchase. Few people discover things on Amazon, they usually come to the site with the intent to purchase something specific.

This is all fine. But they have a competitor that has outsourced this ability to elicit desire to others – Shopify. Most Direct to Consumer (DTC) brands started on Shopify, and the successful ones have done an excellent job of building the muscle of attracting customer’s attention. Now, it’s providing small ecommerce businesses with the logistical backbone to compete with Amazon’s operational might.

For me, this is the most interesting overarching attack on Amazon because it comes from a company that hits a weak spot (underdeveloped ability to elicit desire) and softens the blow of its biggest weapon (massive network of fulfillment centers). This remains an exciting space and I think customers will benefit from it.

Related: If you’re interested in retail, DTC, and ecommerce, take a look at Web Smith’s 2PML. Web’s Member Briefs are easily the most insightful content in this space.

Random Corner of the week

A new Twitter account is outing shoddy reporting in science stories

Usually drugs go through testing on mice before human trials and a public rollout. However, journalists often conflate mice trial results to a drug’s effects on humans. A new Twitter account @justsaysinmice highlights these mistakes. The article is good and outlines the main problem:

For reporters, of course, there’s not just pressure to understand the story, get the facts right, and work on tight deadlines. Writers and editors also have to make scientific stories seem relevant to readers. That need leads to the kind of hyped-up claims that Heathers is outing on Just Says in Mice.

Here’s a similar account on the difference between relative and absolute risks.

Meal of the week

I was really hungry last week after afternoon showers cancelled my lunch plans. So I had to go all in for dinner! @California Pizza Kitchen at Old Orchard.


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 send me a direct message on Twitter at @sidharthajha.

Until next Sunday,

Sid