Patriotic cabbage, image classifiers, follow-up emails, and True Value's retooling
|Jul 28||Public post|
Greetings from New York City! I always appreciate the energy of this city and I’ve been able to catch up with some of my closest friends in the last couple of days. Coming from Chicago, I definitely appreciate stores that are open round-the-clock.
This week, I want to talk about:
A memoir about doing business in China
Why self-driving cars are still not here
How to send follow-up emails
The “hub-and-spoke” model of fulfillment
Book of the week
This week, I read the first half of Mr. China by Tim Clissold. The book is set in the early 1980s when China’s economy was decentralizing and opening up to foreign investment. Clissold was on the frontier of this opportunity and served as a guide for Wall Street bankers looking for large upsides. The thing that stuck out to me was how important it is to not get discouraged by the superficial optics of an emerging space. Many investors turned down investment opportunities in China due to things like office floors not being clean and polished. Safe to say that they regretted those decisions. There are other trivia gems scattered throughout the book. My favorite was this story about “patriotic cabbage.”
I wouldn’t read this book if you are trying to understand China, but it’s a good read if you like business memoirs.
Long read of the week
Natural Adversarial Examples (for image classification algorithms)
Self-driving cars are not coming any time soon. It’s just too easy to trick image recognition algorithms. Progress in this field has plateaued. On one hand, this suggests that most of the work in the field has been done. On another, it might be one of those areas of progress where the last 5-10% of the work will take a disproportionate amount of time. This paper is a case study in building an image dataset that is difficult to classify. These images are called adversarial examples.
I want to be bullish on self-driving cars. Implemented properly, they will save us hundreds of billions of human hours. However, it’s good to have a tinge of skepticism when lives are on stake! If nothing else, it’s a reminder that progress is not a given. It takes a lot of smart people working on difficult problems for a long time to create the vision of the future that they want.
Personal update of the week
We had All Team week at SpotHero last week. All employees from across the country flew in and we participated in activities that not only brought us closer as a company, but as teams and individuals. I can’t share more details but it was an amazing experience. If you’re looking to do something similar for your company, please reach out to me (reply to this email or direct message me on Twitter at @sidharthajha) and I can talk more about it.
Gesture of the week
As I wrote last week, there is tremendous value in sharing your tactics. Daniel Gross (@danielgross) – who is the first person to be mentioned twice in this section – shares how to send followup emails. It’s focused on investors, but I think the rules apply more broadly.
Business move of the week
True Value is in the home improvement space. With pressures from Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and Amazon, it has decided to switch from a “point-to-point” to a “hub-and-spoke” model of fulfilling orders to customers.
It makes sense to implement the “hub-and-spoke” model if most of your demand is coming from smaller items like wrenches and screws. These can be stored in-store or in a satellite warehouses close to the store. Larger items with slower demand rates will take up a lot of footprint. These should be stored in a hub and shipped to the particular store that needs it. True Value is using this hybrid model. The article suggests that this has already improvement “fill rates from 97% to 99%”. That’s a large improvement in fill rate – defined as the percent of demand that is met through available inventory.
Random corner of the week
It was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing last week. This was an incredible show put on at the Washington Monument and the video is equally incredible.
Meal of the week
Unfortunately, my favorite meal this week is not one you can buy. My friend from boarding school Kaz prepared a dinner for a few of our friends and we enjoyed it as the sun set on his rooftop. It was a perfect summer evening. Thanks Kaz!
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,