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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Energy

This is one planet and so many things on this planet are shared by all of us. Our environment, the internet and so much more. Should nations take charge of these things individually or should some of them get regulated through a single authority?

Splinternet

After the Second World War, the American government was worried that an attack on the communications infrastructure might render their soldiers on the battlefield unable to communicate. DARPA wanted a decentralised communication network and the mandate was given to a bunch of researchers. They created the internet by connecting three universities by cable. 

Since its origins, the internet has been free and open. Everything was accessible to everyone so long as there was a cable that went there. Then China joined the internet bandwagon. They created a Chinese version of the internet which is highly censored. And companies that were willing to bow to the government for having unhindered access to the Chinese market – almost all Chinese – made it big there.

Now as these companies develop global ambitions and begin to venture beyond China in the current environment (refer to the China edition of Learning by Proxy) the entire world wants to push back. Also, it is perhaps the safest thing to push back on. China cannot retaliate in any way since they never let the other platforms in.

It began when Indian banned 59 Chinese apps to retaliate against border disputes. Now the US is joining the bandwagon.

The US state department announced today that it will expand its “Clean Network” initiative, first rolled out in April, to root out major Chinese tech products from the US system. The department said the move is aimed at guarding US citizens’ privacy and US companies’ sensitive information from “aggressive intrusions by malign actors.”

Source: Quartz

In the name of data security, almost all countries are moving in the direction of restricting or ruling what would be allowed and not allowed. The greater problem is that even when not acting out of nationalistic fervour, the priorities of different nations can be quite different when it comes to privacy and so on. Ben Evans had argued about the same issue in his blog.

These regulatory spheres are probably going to start bumping into each other. GDPR made it clear that rules would increasingly apply no matter where your servers are: if your users are in the EU, you have to obey EU rules, and for practical reasons that probably means you have to obey them for all of your users. CCPA effectively does the same in the USA, where California has increasingly become the national privacy regulator by default. An intriguing further step came from this case, in which an EU court held that Facebook must take down libellous content not just in Austria, where the case began, but globally. Meanwhile, the new Hong Kong security law appears to apply to behaviour by non-HK residents outside HK, which is truly extra-territorial. The obvious next question is what happens when an extraterritorial rule collides with a trade-off. What happens when the UK says you must do something and Germany says you must not?  

Source: Ben Evans

All this is creating a situation where the internet can no longer be the same for everyone in every country. Are there businesses where we need to arrive at a global standard and agree on the same thing? Four years back as the sharing economy was on the rise I had written a blog which is more relevant now than ever before.

The trouble with the law is that it is defined with a set of assumptions in mind. Every once in a while there is a change, a disruption, a paradigm shift, that uproots those set of assumptions completely.

[…]

The time has come when governments across the world begin to think about lawmaking as a service. Imbuing the process with greater speed and efficiency, taking the process online and making the process more participative. The steps should be taken now rather than waiting for a day when the government is disrupted.

Source

I was told at the time by a lawyer that the stability of policy is critical for businesses to thrive and the goalpost cannot keep shifting. Well by the looks of it, whether it is TikTok or numerous other services, the goalposts continue to shift either way. There are certain things that we share as a platform across the globe and we need to address them as a civilisation rather than individual nations. We have done that for space exploration, why not for things within the planet as well?

Energy Momentum

In 1880, it was prize money of 50,000 Francs from the French Government that formed the foundation of the Volta Laboratory. The Volta Bureau setup in 1893 still stands in Washington D.C. It was later renamed after the founder, Alexander Graham Bell, as the Bell Labs. In 1947, two scientists at the Bell Labs created the transistor. Their supervisor, William Shockley not only took credit for it but also was as awarded the Nobel Prize as one of the inventors. He left Bell and took some land and money from Stanford to set up Shockley Semiconductors. Some deceit and a couple of plot twists later in the summer of 1968, the world got Integrated Electronics. We call this company Intel.

In the last issue, I had mentioned Intel is fighting hard to die. The initial rise of Intel was supported by government contracts before they became the preferred supplier to computer manufacturers. It took 30 years for the invention to turn into a well-defined business.

In 2009, the Obama Government created a new body called the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). ARPA-E had the explicit agenda of supporting new energy technologies, renewable energies, new battery technologies, advanced vehicles, power electronics, etc. One of the not so well-known beneficiaries of the ARPA-E support is Tesla, which got a loan of over half a billion dollars and successfully returned it as well. But often, thanks to the republicans, the company that is brought up is Solyndra, which lost half a billion.

Unlike Intel, where the science had been proved before the investors showed up with the cheques. With initiatives that ARPA-E supported, investors went and poured in the money as soon as these companies had received support. This disallowed them the slow incubation which would have allowed the science to become more robust before scale was forced.

Either way, you cannot hide good work.

The initiative forced a lot of thought about renewable energy and many countries, not just America started investing and competing in the area. Manufacturing scales rose, bringing costs down as a result of economies of scale. As competition rose, the costs moved down just as fast.

As a result…

During the first half of 2020, the world’s coal-generated power capacity shrank for the first time since at least the 1950s, according to the non-profit Global Energy Monitor. New plants haven’t entirely stopped coming online: The world added 18.3 GW of new coal-fired generation. But it retired plants capable of generating 21.2 GW, mostly in the US and Europe, cutting about 1% of total global capacity.

Source: Quartz

Currently, the US solar industry employs about 242,000 people and generates tens of billions of dollars of economic value. By the end of September 2019, the US had deployed over 2 million solar PV systems, totalling about 71,300 MW of solar capacity, and generating over 100 TWh of electricity (2019 total, est.). In 2018, solar generated about 1.5% of US electricity. Of all renewable energy generation, solar PV is expected to grow the fastest from now to 2050. Some solar-heavy grids, such as the California Independent System Operator have experienced times where over half of the demand was met by solar PV.

Source: Forbes

But not every country is headed in the same direction.

But we are seeing two energy worlds emerge. In China and India, coal plants still generate lots of jobs and electricity (as well as attract government subsidies). In industrialized countries, coal plants are closing down as the price of electricity from natural gas and renewables undercuts them, and climate regulations take hold. Net coal capacity would have been declining since 2018 without China, estimates Global Energy Monitor.

Source: Quartz

With the larger western countries moving in the direction of renewables, it is highly likely that the economics will soon tip over in favour of renewable energy. This will force India and China move in that direction if not for any other reason, just to save money and attract investments.

With commercial real estate completely out of action due to the shutdowns forced by the pandemic. The electricity consumption patterns are also changing.

The country’s coal imports registered a drop of 29.7 per cent to 48.84 million tonnes (MT) in the April-June period of the ongoing financial year, according to industry data.

[…]

“The weak trend in imports is in line with market expectation, given the continued high stockpile of coal in the system. The plunge in thermal power sector’s PLF (plant load factor) in the past couple of months and the sharp decline in cement output do not augur well for import demand in the coming month,” mjunction MD and CEO Vinaya Varma said.

Source: Business Standard

Solar is also finding new spaces in countries like India.

But one of the main challenges in building solar farms is finding the right place to do it. The land is relatively expensive in India and often has multiple owners, so the purchase of land involves many formalities. India’s high population density also puts pressure on the land, with an average of 464 people per square kilometre. Rooftop solar panels are one solution, but sunny space atop buildings is limited too.

In Gujarat, the answer has been to cover its canals with solar panels, as a solution that saves land, water and carbon emissions in one.

Source: BBC

While this is the state of electricity production, oil has taken a beating in the past few months. Some of the largest oil companies are looking toward renewables.

BP reported a $16.8 billion quarterly loss on Tuesday and cut its dividend in half — the first reduction since the Deepwater Horizon disaster a decade ago.

[…]

Mr Looney, though, was more specific in his investment goals, saying that he intended for BP in a decade to be investing around $5 billion a year in renewable energy like wind, solar and hydrogen, a clean-burning gas, about 10 times the current amount. BP’s capital spending is likely to be about $12 billion this year.

Source: New York Times

Even Shell is applying for tenders across Europe for renewable energy plants. Oil companies are some of the wealthiest and largest organisations on the planet. If they start moving towards renewable energy what hope does the coal syndicate have? Further, imagine the degree to which the cost of setting up renewables will fall if the scale increases.

2020 has been a year of enlightenment for oil companies. They have seen how swiftly things can change for them. With the rising demand for EV and the coalition against climate change, the writing is on the wall. They are reacting before they have no time left to.

World oil demand will tumble by 9.06 million barrels per day (bpd) this year, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said in a monthly report, more than the 8.95 million bpd decline expected a month ago.

Source: Reuters

Having said that

Despite the steep fall in earnings, to $6.6 billion from $24.7 billion, the company said it would continue paying a quarterly dividend of $18.75 billion, almost three times its cash flow. Aramco is locked into paying such a large amount — $75 billion a year — because of commitments made in the run-up to its initial public offering on the Saudi Tadawul stock exchange.

Source: New York Times

With the decline of traditional energy businesses, all the new age carbon sequestration businesses are taking a hit. Almost all of these businesses had a model that involved making pollution generators pay for their sins. With the sin on decline…

The $1 billion systems, known as Petra Nova, was built in 2017 to catch CO2 from one unit of a coal plant near Houston. That plant is one of the dirtiest in Texas, both in terms of climate and air quality impacts, according to a Rice University study. Petra Nova was meant to cut the unit’s carbon footprint by about a third—roughly the equivalent of taking 300,000 cars off the road each year.

But on July 28, E&E News broke the story that the facility has been shuttered since May. And while the plant’s owners have said they plan to get it running again once the economy improves, Petra Nova’s shutdown exposes the weird market dynamics that could threaten the sustainability of carbon capture facilities in progress around the world.

Source: Quartz

Panic Buying

When the pandemic started in March, there were stories about how retailers were running out of stuff in their stores. There was a toilet paper emergency! The lockdowns came into place so suddenly, people did not know how to react. Amazon recorded greater sales last quarter than they did during last Christmas!

That means Amazon outdid the $87.4 billion in sales it recorded during the holidays last year when demand typically peaks before levelling out again. On the company’s earnings call yesterday, CFO Brian Olsavsky said it was “unheard of” to surpass those sales at this time of year—and then added that next quarter is also on track to surpass that level.

Source: Quartz

I think two things are happening. Jeff Bezos’ defence of Amazon being a small player because they don’t own 100% of retail is coming apart. With the pandemic, people are preferring to buy online rather than go to stores. Amazon has used every trick in the book to kill every other e-commerce competitor. There is no other legitimate competitor left!

The not so well to do in America have been receiving a $600 cheque. In many cases, I think this amount supersedes their normal income. More money in hand has meant more spending power, which in turn has implied greater sales for Amazon. Those cheques stopped on 1st August.

Now that retail is dying…

The e-commerce juggernaut has been in talks with Simon Property Group, the largest mall owner in the US, about turning some of the spaces occupied by its anchor department stores into distribution centres, according to the Wall Street Journal. The talks have focused on spaces held by JC Penney, which filed for bankruptcy in May, and Sears, which has struggled since its 2018 bankruptcy filing.

Source: Quartz

In this case, Amazon seems to be panic buying warehousing!

Shoot yourself in the foot and saw your hand off

The year that the USA decided to shove itself down the path of reducing their influence globally by electing Trump and turning itself into a joke, the UK decided to leave the European Union. 3 Prime Ministers and a lot of dilly-dallying later the Brexit will be complete on the 31st December 2020. The fact that the pandemic struck the same year is a little more than inconvenient. Britain was supposed to be in economic shambles without a deal with the EU as it is. Now they are in a recession.

The economy shrank 20.4% compared with the first three months of the year.

Household spending plunged as shops were ordered to close, while factory and construction output also fell.

Source: BBC

I am sure they are not looking forward to the new year!

Moving Away

A couple of weeks ago when I had written about China, I had mentioned about the China Vs Rest of the World dynamic that is developing. The one lessons most countries have learnt is that they never want to create an economic situation where they have all their eggs in one basket. In no other arena can be it be more obviously seen as in the case of manufacturing. Under pressure is Foxconn, a Taiwanese company which is responsible for a massive amount of electronics manufacturing. The chairman of the companies said China’s days are over.

“No matter if it’s India, Southeast Asia or the Americas, there will be a manufacturing ecosystem in each,” Liu said, adding that while China will still play a key role in Foxconn’s manufacturing empire, the country’s “days as the world’s factory are done.”

Source: Bloomberg

Launchers

I have harboured a deep fascination for space since I was a child. With the rise of private space startups, I was fascinated at the opportunities that it opens up. At the same time, I was quite dismayed to find the Indian space ecosystem to be filled with pocket satellite makers. I heard about Skyroot a couple of years ago and upon reading about them made it a point to meet Pavan, the Founder & CEO, when I visited Hyderabad. A group of scientists who had quit their jobs at ISRO and decided to create India’s first private space launch startup.

Pavan was very agreeable and I spent a good hour speaking to him. They had found initial support from Mukesh Bansal of Myntra and Cult fame. I was thrilled to read that they completed their first test firing.

Indian aerospace startup Skyroot Aerospace successfully test-fired an upper-stage rocket engine, which is the third and fourth stage of a traditional multi-stage rocket, fired at high altitude and designed to operate with little or no atmospheric pressure. Skyroot has thus become the first Indian private company to demonstrate the capability of building an indigenous rocket engine. 

Source: Inc42

I suppose their cause was helped in a major way with the support that was announced for Private Space Companies as a part of the “Stimulus” package. They moved out of a legal grey area and this would have helped them a great deal.

I am thrilled, this will be the first space launch startup from India and I can’t wait to hear Elon Musk begin to weep and whine about it. Why? They will be way cheaper than SpaceX.

Nine Lives

They say a cat has nine lives. Looks like Kodak is a cat. Kodak is a company that is immediately associated with photography. The one thing that traditional photography involves a lot of is chemicals. Do you know another thing that has a lot of chemicals in it – Drugs. So Kodak is pivoting to become a pharmaceutical company. Also, because they got money for nothin’.

Last week, the US federal government announced a first-of-its-kind loan to Eastman Kodak, a US-based company once known for its leadership in the film photography industry. Kodak will be using the $765 million to begin producing components for generic drugs—specifically, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), the chemicals that make a drug work.

Source: Quartz

Their share price jumped 15X before cooling off! And somehow the company got into trouble even before the loan came in – for?

Kodak’s manufacturing may be on hold, however, until the US Securities and Exchange Commission completes an investigation regarding the disclosure of the federal loan. Kodak offered its chief executive 2 million stock options on July 27—the same day it leaked details of the loan to reporters. The subsequent news reports and the official announcement, which Kodak made public on July 28, caused share prices to skyrocket.

Source: Quartz

Human greed!

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

Reimagine

In the year 1940, Alcoa came with the portmanteau by blending the terms Imagination and Engineering to create the term Imagineering. Disney took up the term in 1962 and called its Research and Development wing – Walt Disney Imagineering. The idea was to imagine something that did not exist and then to turn it into reality.

We are having the greatest Imagineering opportunity of the century with the difficulties that the current situation has unleashed.

In 2008, we last saw a recession that wiped out many businesses. It was an opportunity to Imagineer. Companies like Airbnb were founded at the time re-imagining the way travel and vacations were organised. For many, it was another way to look at the business and it was also a way for many to get involved. The tailwinds of those changes brought about Blockchain. Slowly but surely blockchain is in the process of changing the way many industries function. In certain cases, it is even transforming governance. 

In 2020, we have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine. The number of industries that seem to have one foot in the grave is not small. Real Estate, Fashion, Travel, Tourism, Aviation, Restaurants, Weddings, Education (Infrastructure), Gyms and others are facing existential challenges. I have probably left out several others that are suffering to no ends due to the pandemic. 

In each of these industries, there is an opportunity to reimagine a new future. Not necessarily one where one uses the internet to create a virtual paradigm but one where we could dream of new ways to do things that are completely unlike the old. As Airbnb did, instead of hotels, they got people to stay at other people’s homes. It is far more environmentally friendly, affordable and has the potential to offer a better experience than a standard hotel.

It is time again to think what the future would need and how that future must be enabled. How to make things possible for the people and industry in a way that enhances possibilities and while creating opportunities for many. At the end is that not what startups do and excel at? 

What kind of world do we imagine for ourselves? What possibilities have we ignored simply because it sounded strange in the world that we lived in? Now is the time to roll out all of those business models and test them out in the market. You never know, you may just find a gem or the next major revolution.

Never in the history of this world has the world been so willing to change and at the same time had the wherewithal to affect it in a very short time. What change are you going to bring to the market?

As I had mentioned in my previous blog, whatever you plan to do, do it soon. The change will come like a tsunami and before you realise the opportunity would have vanished.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Antitrust – Travel – Economy

Whenever the stock markets have reached historic peaks only one thing has followed – a humongous collapse. Most markets across the world are either past or flirting with historic highs. When will the bottom fall out? 

It is a little more complicated. Apple posted a record quarter, that too in the middle of the pandemic. Amazon is posting sales numbers that would be considered “too good” for Christmas.

I think it is panic buying and the demand caused by work from home. Christmas this year won’t be like Christmas.

When will the bottom fall out? My bet is January 2021, when do you think it will be?

There is a lot of ground to cover this week, let us dive in.

Antitrust

Two years ago, Scott Galloway wrote a book called ‘The Four’; which breaks down the extent to which Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple had taken over our lives. If you are not into reading watch this video – 90 slides in 15 mins – from the DLD Conference. 

The four companies together are today worth about 4.25 Trillion or about 1.5 times the GDP of India. Being in that position of power is bound to result in some abuse. Acquisitions are their favourite weapon and Shares are their preferred ammunition; issue as many as it takes to absorb the nearest innovator. 

The CEOs were called in to appear before the congress. It did not go too well. Some of the evidence presented was damaging.

“If someone came to me with an idea for a website or a web service today, I would tell them to run. Run as far away from the web as possible,” said Celebrity Net Worth founder Brian Warner about Google, which he accused of scraping his information and presenting it as its own. “Launch a lawn care business or a dog-grooming business—something Google can’t take away as soon as he or she is thriving.”

[…]

Mark Zuckerberg had expressed an interest in buying the photo-sharing app. “Will he go into destroy mode if I say no?” Systrom asked. Cohler replied: “Probably.” This chat is one of several exchanges that shed light on the lead-up to Facebook’s $1 billion purchase of Instagram in April 2012.

Source: Wired

And

Google’s promotion of its own content on its search results, or how the price of a box of diapers changed after Amazon acquired the parent company of Diapers.com—but the true target was lack of accountability as an operating principle of these companies. And that has a particular bite during a period of global crisis, during which their digital tools have helped us endure trying circumstances while simultaneously promoting the kind of isolation and misunderstanding that can make emerging from them even harder.

Source: Wired

Not like Apple was faultless. While Apple is not in the data business, they do make app developers bend to their will on the app store and charge them 30% commission to sell on the app store. If you do not agree, you have to get the user to go to your website get an account and pay before coming back to use the app. The trouble is not even that; it is that Apple will not allow you to explain why it is such a pain to use the app as mentioned beautifully by John Gruber.

This was just round one and it is not over. I think the four of them would be mighty relieved that Elizabeth Warren is not the Democratic candidate or even being considered for VP. If this could happen with Republicans in power imagine if a Democrat is elected! 

Wednesday’s hearing was a major milestone for the House’s investigation, but far from the finale. Given the chaotic nature of the four-way hearing, it would be great to see separate one-on-one hearings with each CEO. But that’s unlikely. The next step is most likely the subcommittee’s final report, due out sometime in August or September. Wednesday’s hearing made clear that the report will have some real substance to it. Whether it will fire up the American public—or spur real governmental action—remains to be seen.

Source: Wired

Also, in case you are interested, you can go through all of the evidence that was submitted as part of the hearing at this link.

In the meantime, Facebook would like you to think that they are small fish.

Sure, Facebook is a big deal in social media, this thinking goes, but what about videoconferencing, telephones, birthday cards, backyard barbecues, kickball leagues, and friends who insist on playing matchmaker? They all connect people, too, and if you add up all that activity, surely Facebook makes up a more reasonable share of the market.

Source: Quartz

Also, Facebook has so many large competitors in oil and gas, banking, e-commerce, space travel and even tax collection – those fools call themselves the government. 

Travel no more

Travel is one of the largest industries that creates a lot of employment throughout the world. When you travel to a new city, you create jobs in transportation (airline, railways, bus, cabs), transportation infrastructure (airports, stations), hotels, restaurants (you may not Swiggy or Doordash in a new city), Museums, Guides, Tours, Souvenir shops. 

Tourism alone employs 100s of Millions globally, but if you were to include retail which is a certain beneficiary, probably a Billion jobs are at stake. And they are hurting…

India’s international borders have remained closed since March 22, while domestic travel has been limited since March 25 when the country went into a nationwide lockdown. 

[…]

“The sharp drop in the number of tourists and foreign visitors have already impacted millions of jobs in the hospitality and travel industry as many businesses are going through a severe cash crunch,” said Sudeep Kumar Sen, a spokesperson at HR firm TeamLease Services. “More than 50,000 tour operators have shut shop as there is no hope of revival anytime soon.”

Source: Quartz

When you think of large tourism markets, Africa is not the Continent that first comes to mind. But tourism is a massive employer in Africa and the industry has collapsed.

When the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world earlier this year many African countries were quick to react. Borders were closed and protocols from past or existing epidemics (TB, HIV, Ebola) were rolled out. Of the many industries hit by lockdowns, tourism—an industry that indirectly employs 24.6 million people across the continent (6.8% of total employment)—was hit particularly hard.

Source: Quartz

and nobody is being spared

Aside from obviously tourist-dependent businesses such as hotels, a number of retailers are feeling the effects. Among them are high-street fashion chains, luxury boutiques, watch and jewellery shops, and department stores such as France’s Printemps and Selfridges in the UK, says Vinod Paul, Planet’s head of business and market intelligence.

Source: Quartz

Also, there is no end in sight.

Keep Trying

If you keep trying to do something, you will eventually be successful.

Indian businesses were so resilient that a shock and awe demonetisation did not kill them. The introduction of GST was a source of pain for a lot of small businesses that were previously not on the tax regime. Even worse, making businesses operate with improper data. Last year, the government was still claiming that the GDP was growing at 6.7% only to revise it closer to 3% once the pandemic started. COVID did what all of these could not – went for the jugular. 

Hit by a stringent lockdown, 57% of micro-enterprises have zero cash reserves and 65% will have to turn to their personal savings for operational cost, the report further stated. Also, around two-thirds of them have reported a fall in orders, the report said. 

[…]

It’s clear that merely supporting MSMEs through an indirect route like the infusion of credit and equity isn’t enough. The Indian government needs to realise this if it wants to pull small and medium-sized businesses out of a deep and prolonged mess.

Source: Quartz

When the GST bill was signed into law, to push it through, the centre agreed to provide a 14% tax growth year over year for the first 5 years. It must have been a tightrope act already given that the GDP growth was not in line with what was being told. Given the current circumstances, the government is also broke! The centre has been falling behind on compensating the states and now the centre is throwing them under the bus. 

The impact of the virus and lockdown on the economy can be clearly seen in the GST collections, with the first-quarter revenues down 41 per cent over last year, despite signs of an improvement in June, when the lockdown was eased. This has impacted the Centre’s revenues as well as GST transfers to the States, which have fallen below the mandated 14 per cent annual growth rate as promised under the GST law for five years

Source: Business Line

The centre transferred the GST owed in March ’20 to the states in July. The states are already 4 months behind and are struggling to make payrolls. The attorney general has opined that there is no obligation under the law. The states have been asked to try and borrow from the markets.

Twitter 

I had argued a couple of weeks ago that no company should have the power to start a world war. Twitter does. 

Trump spews all kinds of nonsense on all platforms but it is from twitter that it is reported. Turns out that the hack that was run on twitter was the handiwork of teenagers who registered the Bitcoin wallet to their own name! This was not sophisticated sovereign hackers.

A 17-year-old, Graham Ivan Clark, was charged separately with 30 felonies in Hillsborough County, Florida, including 17 counts of communications fraud. Together, the criminal complaints filed in the cases offer a detailed portrait of the day everything went haywire—and how poorly the alleged attackers covered their tracks. All three are currently in custody.

Source: Wired

Guess what might have been possible if it was the Russians or the Chinese who were running the hack. Or perhaps a White Supremacist? Oh! 

On that note

Duke’s account “has been permanently suspended for Twitter Rules on hateful conduct,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. Twitter’s policy, revised in March, prohibits posts that promote violence or threats of violence against people based on their religion, race or ethnic origin.

Source: CNET

Also, when the advertisers had started withdrawing ads from Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg had scoffed. Many outlets had reported that those brand spent only $10 Million a month. I had argued that 8 brands spending 10 Million a month would mean a Billion dollar hole in the topline.

Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday took extraordinary action against President Trump for spreading coronavirus misinformation after his official and campaign accounts broke their rules, respectively.

Facebook removed from Trump’s official account the post of a video clip from a Fox News interview in which he said children are “almost immune” from Covid-19. Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim.

Source: Washington Post

Facebook is, after all, a company and capable of growing a conscience when kicked where it hurts.

Cross-Industry

Do you know a position that almost every company has?

Think.

Accountant.

There may be a lot of fancy names that they are called, but the position exists in every company. It looks like AI is something that almost all companies will end up having. I do not suppose this should come as a great deal of surprise. 

If AI had to have a tagline, it should be – Use this to reduce your salary bill. And what kind of capitalist would say – “Nah! I don’t want to do that.”

The list also includes 11 graduates who went to brick-and mortar-retailers Walmart and Target, nine who went to defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, and five who went to office supplier 3M, a conglomerate perhaps best known for making Post-it notes (and, more visibly during the pandemic, masks and respirators).

Source: Quartz

The Elephant turns into an Ant

A couple of weeks ago I had written about the Arm IPO that Softbank wants closed. Also, how the US government has been handing Billions to TSMC to get them to move their fabrication to the US and reduce the dependence on China. Exploiting Arm and TSMC has enabled Apple to leapfrog the industry and delivery products that its competitors can’t keep up with. Intel, on the other hand, has been struggling to ramp up newer processes. This has further moved Apple towards adopting Arm architecture for their laptops and computers as well. Given this, Intel’s announcement does not augur well for the company.

“The company’s 7nm-based CPU product timing is shifting approximately six months relative to prior expectations. The primary driver is the yield of Intel’s 7nm process, which based on recent data, is now trending approximately twelve months behind the company’s internal target.”

Source: Tom’s Hardware

Intel can’t afford this.

New Oil Order

In the 1970s there was the Oil Crisis. The Saudi’s refused to supply oil to the US and petrol pumps ran dry in the US. Henry Kissinger went to the Kingdom with an offer to put an air force base in exchange for energy security. America brought the only thing Americans continue to make in America – Weapons – to the middle east and the place has never been peaceful thereafter. They helped flame the Shia Vs Sunni fight and half a century later the region still burns.

Lately, Americans have sought to take energy security into their own hands and pushed shale oil extraction. This has resulted in the USA becoming a major oil producer and a thorn in the sides of Saudi Arabia and Russia. COVID was sort of a godsend. Oil prices crashed. Shale extraction requires prices to be north of USD 60 per barrel for it to be profitable.

The major oil producers have been tactfully adjusting supply to keep prices in a narrow range around USD 40 per barrel locking out American oil companies. This is causing much soul-searching.

One of the world’s largest oil companies just announced it would cut 40% of its oil production. During an investor presentation on Aug. 4, BP announced it would roll out the dramatic cuts over the next decade, while limiting future exploration for new sources of petroleum.

[…]

BP says it will invest as much as $5 billion annually in low-carbon technologies by 2030, a ten-fold increase over current levels. If implemented, the cuts put BP on track to bring oil production down to zero by 2043, according to energy engineering researcher Arvind Ravikumar of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, well before the mid-century target established by the Paris climate accords. 

Source: Quartz

Exploring new lands

When explorers used to land on new land, they would set off with their machete to learn more about the land and find its riches. Would it not have been easier if they had choppers and could fly over the terrain and determine what was of interest and what was not? 

Our exploration of other planets has been akin to the former. We have sent rovers to the Moon and Mars. These can cover a limited surface area and are slow-moving. Would it not be easier to fly over the land and see it. We have done that through satellites traditionally. While satellites cover massive ground, they are not close enough and can only be so detailed. But what if we could fly a chopper and determine what was of interest? NASA is sending an experimental chopper to Mars!

Perseverance will boot up a mission to collect samples of Martian dirt that might have traces of ancient life so that they can be returned to Earth by another mission later this decade. It will also carry a payload, unlike anything that’s ever been boosted into space: a small autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity. Sometime next spring, probably in April, Ingenuity will spin up its rotor blades and become the first spacecraft to go airborne on Mars.

Source: WIRED

Also Read

Meat consumption in America has gone down for the first time in perhaps forever.

A misunderstanding between two brothers during the World War II bombing raid resulted in the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory turning into two competing brands – Adidas and Puma. A thread.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking Entrepreneurship

2016 : FoodTech :: 2020 : EduTech

In 2016, there was an explosion of food-tech startups. These were not really food-tech. Frankly, there has never been much food-tech in India. What was deemed food-tech was just food delivery startups. It also happened to be a time when more and more wealthy Indians were getting involved in investing. Having seen Flipkart come from nowhere and make Billions had fired up the imagination of many!

There were a few issues.

Most of the “food-tech” companies were cloud kitchens that delivered, with an app slapped-on. Even worse, they were providing an undifferentiated product. Still, further, they were often priced below cost because “customer acquisition”. Everyone has to eat and if the food delivered home is going to cost less than cooking people are bound to buy. Investors were also focused only on the user base. The trouble is when you lose money on every single transaction scaling fast means only one thing – losing more money.

Eventually, dozens of them went out of business and many of the wealthy who had just entered the “Angel Investor” pool swore never to invest again. 

The rise of the education

Now you hear EduTech all around. The reason – all of the educational institutions have been shut down due to the current pandemic and this has disrupted the rhythm of educational institutions which are a well-oiled machine. 

Institutions run an intake and graduation cycle. Students cannot join when they please. But with no clarity on when the pandemic might end this cycle is being tested.

Around the world, almost none of the parents finance their children’s education so their children learn. Here in India, children are sent to educational institutions with one express purpose – getting a job. Have you ever heard anyone discuss how good any professor at any college is before deciding to join? In the United States, they go to college so that they may have a lot of rich friends – Network.

The schooling system we have is a result of a compact between the industrialists and the politicians. To supply trained labour for the industries. In India, this same compact translates into engineering colleges that produce engineers who can’t engineer anything! They can join IT firms for paltry pay.

How is an app going to live up to this? Substandard engineers – sure. Jobs?

Investors are again making a misplaced bet. The question that they should be asking themselves is what ‘piece of paper’ will guarantee a job in the future? Can they bend policies to their will? 

Byjus although highly valued; is still a conduit to get into IIT or IIM. They started with CAT classes. Their popularity is because kids who study with their assistance have a better chance of getting into those hallowed institutions; implying job placement.

Byjus probably should purchase an HR company and commence placement. In the words of techies, they will then have a full-stack! 

Where is education moving to and where will it end in the next 5 years? Will the industry stop demanding degrees? This is not just about a few startups, but the industry as a whole? 

Will they be willing to hire those with certifications from private organisations? 

How will the politicians (college owners) who have hundreds of millions to be lost in revenue react to this? 

These are but, some of the questions that investors have to be asking themselves while going gung-ho on Edu-tech.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | China

This edition became insanely long. I going to have to take some of the stuff that happened this week and move it to the next edition. Something significant is afoot in China and its relationship with the rest of the world.

As a kid, I used to love cricket. Now and then there would be these matches where India would play a team that represented the Rest of the World. All without exception were exhibition matches, but there was a thrill associated with it. If we won, we got to beat the whole world in a single match. The best from every country.

China is increasingly taking a position where it looks like China (and some crook states) Vs the rest of the world (not that there are no crooks here). How it will end is anybody’s guess, but the tension is building.

The biggest participants of the first world war were France, Britain and Germany, but it started in Sarajevo with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The world is a tinderbox right now. A random spark can set it ablaze.

Shifting Sands

Japan was considered a manufacturer of cheap transistors in the 1960s. Their products were considered low quality. Fast forward to 1980s, getting a Sony was a mark of buying a high-quality product. China went through a similar cycle. Even a decade back Chinese products were considered cheap and low quality. The last decade has caused a huge pivot in perception. Along with that pivot, a lot of product manufacturing moved to China. 

Being at the epicentre of the manufacturing revolutions made Japan the economy it became. From the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki emerged a nation that was revitalised and more powerful economically. The same happened with China, from being a hopelessly poor agrarian economy, they became the second-largest economy in the world. With the newfound power and money, there are new problems that are emerging.

Where does China end? (Physically)

China has always had a different interpretation of where its borders end. China seems to think all of the South China Sea belongs to it. The reason the South China sea is important is because of its strategic value to trade. The countries involved in this dispute include – Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Borneo. By extension of the fact that the US is responsible for the safety of Japan as per the treaty to end World War II, they are also involved.

Hong Kong has been burning for the past 2 years. China is not used to defiance by its citizens. Further, they cannot afford for this spark to spread to the mainland. A lot of money and power will be at stake if that does happen. Hence the clampdown on Hong Kong.

China has had border disputes with India for the past 60 years. They continue to claim that land on the Indian side. This has led to a war-like situation at the northern border. For China, Aksai Chin which they occupied over 60 years ago is important to keep their control over Xinjiang. The road from Tibet to Xinjiang passes through Aksai Chin.

The northern army commander, Lt Gen. Y.K. Joshi, on Saturday said the army would “continue all efforts to restore status quo ante along the LAC”, the statement assuming significance against the backdrop of the no-intrusion claim by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This is the first time an army commander has officially spoken about “restoring status quo ante” along the Line of Actual Control, which entails that the Chinese have occupied Indian territory.

Source: The Telegraph

They have also been having disputes with Bhutan

China is stepping up pressure on Bhutan to settle their bilateral border dispute. In addition to laying claim to more territory in Bhutan, Beijing has revived an old land swap deal that will require Thimphu to cede control over the territory to settle its border dispute with China.

Source: The Diplomat

Pandemic

There are a lot of tall buildings in China, but there is no Trump Tower in China. Also unlike Moscow, Beijing never wanted one. So Trump has been quite pissed with China right from the outset. Despite berating them for years, he did not have anything that he could really hold against China given the American dependence on China for manufacturing.

COVID-19 provided the perfect segue to turn against China and also get all of the “allies” to turn against China as well.

China made things worse

China had been giving away loans across Africa because Africa was seen as the next big thing. The idea was not to help them develop, the idea was to trap them in debt. This became obvious when they squeezed Sri Lanka for the port China had financed. Sri Lanka could not repay the debt and ended up handing over the port. There is a Wikipedia article on this – Debt trap diplomacy. 

The total loans outstanding from China come up to USD 600 Billion.

There is a global (especially western) push to forgive African Debt. This is deeply motivated by other considerations and China has said – No.

Also, when the pandemic began, and a lot of countries rushed supplies to China.

A total of 21 countries and the United Nations Children’s Fund have donated epidemic prevention and control supplies to China, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Wednesday.

Those countries are the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Belarus, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, spokesperson Hua Chunying said at an online press briefing.

Source: Xinhuanet

A couple of months later when those same countries needed supplies…

Countries’ procurement agents are fighting each other in China for access to the protective equipment that must play a key role in stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

He was responding to a spate of reports of consignments of protective masks destined for European countries being bought up by United States officials, sometimes even as aeroplanes stood ready for departure on the tarmac.

Source: Reuters

Hanlon’s Razor – Do not ascribe to malice what can often be ascribed to incompetency. Even so, the mind looks for a more complex explanation.

In this context

Hong Kong is an important port through which a lot of capital moves. The Chinese take over of Hong Kong has hurt the financial interests of rich people in several countries. There is no better way to attract the ire of nations than hurt the rich. The policy, for now, seems to be to hurt China economically.

Huawei is a Chinese company which has played a crucial role in the development of telecom infrastructure across several countries. The next couple of years were supposed to be windfall years with the introduction of 5G. Hurting Huawei means hurting China. The UK which is going to embrace Brexit screaming and yelling at the end of this year fired the first shot!

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the House of Commons that UK mobile providers will be prevented from buying Huawei 5G equipment after December 31 under a revised telecommunications bill that the government will table for a vote in the fall. Dowden also announced that providers with Huawei kit in their networks must remove it by 2027.

Source: Quartz

Australia in the meantime is heavily dependant on the Chinese import of ore. Mining is a huge contributor to the Australian economy and China is the biggest trading partner. Even so, in a world that is rapidly changing, it is important to pick sides.

Australia has declared “there is no legal basis” to China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea, marking an escalation of recent tensions with Beijing and bringing Canberra further in line with Washington.

Source: The Guardian

India which is even more hopelessly dependent on China banned TikTok and 58 other apps. This is by far the most inconsequential push back. But you know how they say – an enemy of an enemy is a friend. Not only that, but there are also three Trump Towers in India.

The two countries have been working quietly to step up information sharing amid the tense military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops — it has been on for 11 weeks now — along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

After US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in the third week of June, at least two high-level phone conversations, the key to this cooperation, have taken place.

Source: Indian Express

and

India and the US are close to inking a “quick” trade deal, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said Tuesday, adding that the pact aims to get issues that have been pending over the past couple of years “out of the way”.

Source: Indian Express

The USA also has banned Huawei. In addition to that, there has been heavy rhetoric. That rhetoric translated into action finally. The US government forced the Chinese Consulate at Huston to shut down. Why? The claim was that espionage operations were being run from the consulate. The Chinese diplomats were burning files outside the consulate causing local emergency service to respond to the smoke. And then…

US officials prised open a small back door having previously tried to gain access via three other entrances. The consulate was ordered to close on Wednesday by the Trump administration which said it was seeking to protect American intellectual property.

Source: Express

And then

Beijing ordered the US embassy to close on Friday in a tit-for-tat move, after Washington instructed China’s consulate in Houston, Texas, to cease operations, claiming it had been involved in a US-wide Chinese espionage effort.

Source: CNN

From the perspective of manufacturing –

Entire nations and their governments are questioning their excessive dependence on Chinese manufacturing. Scores of companies have been instructed and have already started moving production to other countries. Production of strategic importance like pharmaceutical and electronics are being moved to home countries. TSMC, the largest contract chip manufacturer, was given Billions by the US government to set up production in Arizona.

A Gartner, Inc. survey of 260 global supply chain leaders in February and March 2020 found that 33% had moved sourcing and manufacturing activities out of China or plan to do so in the next two to three years. Survey results show that the COVID-19 pandemic is only one of several disruptions that have put global supply chains under pressure.

Source: Gartner

Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani, announcing the partnership at his company’s annual meeting last week, said Google would build an Android operating system (OS) to power a low-cost “4G or even 5G” smartphone that Reliance would design.

Source: Mint

Most importantly pharmaceuticals

But this grant was different. It went to a Richmond, Virginia-based public benefit company that was just seven months old. Before the pandemic, it hadn’t manufactured any drugs, although its founders were pharmaceutical veterans.

The company, named Phlow, isn’t tasked with making new drugs against Covid-19. Instead, its goal is to shore up the US supply of generic drugs.

Source: Quartz

Adding salt to injury

China’s economy had its first contraction in decades thanks to COVID. After a decline of 6.8% in the first quarter, the economy seems to be back to growth posting a 3.2% growth in the second quarter of the year.

China’s economy grew 3.2% in the second quarter following a record slump.

The world’s second-biggest economy saw a sharp decline in the first three months of the year during coronavirus lockdowns.

But figures released on Wednesday show China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) returned to growth between April to June.

Source: BBC

But here is the thing, Retail consumption is lower than it was pre-COVID. So internal consumption is low. Externally, every large economy, esp. the USA has been struggling with the effects of COVID. So the consumption is not coming from outside either; then how? It is a result of government spending. This was the original recipe that worked for China. But given that they are a much larger economy, with a highly developed infrastructure and a global economy which is stagnant at best; how long can they keep bankrolling it? Also, if the spending is on infrastructure what do they plan to build?

And the final nail in the coffin. China seems to be poised to have its own Lehman Brothers moment.

Losses at global banks are projected to soar by $926 billion to $2.1 trillion through 2021, according to Standard & Poors. Almost $400 billion of that increase is forecast to come from Chinese institutions, compared with a $360 billion increase for those in North America and Western Europe combined. While an impending wave of soured loans isn’t expected to cause a credit crisis, the forecast demonstrates the economic pain that’s anticipated from heightened unemployment and bankruptcies.

Source: Quartz

Fallout

The excessive nationalistic push at a time of great global economic instability is not helping China. If at all anything, it has helped galvanise opposition to the country. Even countries like Australia who are tied up in a lot of trade are pushing back.

The sands are shifting and we do not know where and how this will end. The one thing that is for certain is that many of the squabbling global powers – US, India, EU, Britain and Australia (mostly thanks to Trump) are seemingly uniting due to their hatred of China. In 6 months there might be a new president in America.

The sands are definitely shifting!

Indian Monsoon

Monsoon is very important for India because agriculture depends on it. This year the north-western branch of the monsoon has arrived with great fury. The winds carry moisture from the Bay of Bengal and move towards the north-east till they meet the Himalayas. From there they follow the Himalayas as the wind turns to move the clouds westwards delivering rains along the way. What started as heavy rains in Assam, turned into flooding and now has turned into a catastrophe.

“Since the first week of June, we are having no respite with wave after wave of flood that has wreaked havoc inside the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve,” said Kaziranga’s park director, P. Sivakumar. He said an animal that had drowned in a swollen river near the park on Saturday brought the death toll of the endangered rhinoceroses up to 10.

Source: New York Times

Now as the monsoon clouds move westwards, it’s claiming more victims. 

Floodwater entered one more district of Samastipur in Bihar and spread to more inundated areas, hitting half a million more population on Tuesday, even though no fresh casualty was reported and the count remained at 10, an official bulletin said.

According to the bulletin by the state Disaster Management Department, more than 5 lakh people were affected by floods on Tuesday alone, taking the tally of marooned people to 29.62 lakh in 12 districts of the state.

Source: NDTV

It remains to be seen how far this monsoon rage continues. UP, Haryana and Punjab are very important to the food production in the country and if flooded especially at this time, it could turn into an unmitigated disaster especially since the economy is already reeling.

When you see it

Donald Trump had expected to head into the elections with a great economy, unemployment at historic lows and a great platform. Instead, his Attorney General is being questioned on the hill, unemployment are at historic highs (only the great depression saw worse unemployment) and a GDP decline of 10%. The US economy has contracted by 1.8 Trillion dollars! Yes – perspective – add a Trillion to that – India’s GDP.

Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of goods and services produced — fell 9.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. On an annualized basis, the standard way of reporting quarterly economic data, G.D.P. fell at a rate of 32.9 per cent.

Source: New York Times

Another way to looking at it. The US economy lost a shade more than the Market Capitalisation of Apple (which posted blockbuster results last quarter). (~1.75 Trillion)

One of the stories last week was titled – Spending is back to normal for poor Americans—but not for rich ones

Research shows that when low-earning families lose income, they do substantially decrease how much they buy. So it’s not that poor Americans are going into credit card debt to keep up their spending. Rather, economists have found that the US government’s stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment insurance have kept many low-income families afloat.

Source: Quartz

To me, this fact only indicates how little the poor have for discretionary spending. They are surely not going to be buying anything that is not absolutely necessary when they are living on doles. Turns out their lives were the same as living on a 600 dollar cheque even before COVID!

Simply put, rich people spent 1.8 Trillion less.

No sooner was this data released, Trump tweeted that the elections needed to be postponed! To which Mitch McConnell said, “Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time, and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3,”

The illusion of democracy is the only thing America has going for itself. If that illusion falls apart, there would not be much that is different between America and Russia.

Raising Capital

Now that Mukesh Ambani and Reliance have tasted blood, they can’t stop coming up with fundraising ideas. A while ago, Amazon had bought up stakes in Kishore Biyani’s Future Retail, which had been saddled with debt. In the aftermath of Facebook, Microsoft, Google investments in Jio, Amazon felt left out. 

Jeff Bezos called Mukesh Ambani and said ‘aisa kyun bewafa?’ (why this unfaithfulness?). 

Mr Ambani promptly asked – you got money? 

Jeff said lots – I have so much money that the only way I can blow it up is building spacecraft and destroying Flipkart.

Mr Ambani – I might have something else you can blow it upon…

Rumours are that Amazon is going to buy 9.99% of Reliance Retail. Now some corporate juggling is taking place to bring Future group under the same umbrella.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd will pay between Rs 24,000 crore and Rs 27,000 crore ($3.2-$3.6 Billion) to buy the Indian retail chains owned by Future Group 

Source: ToI

The Antitrust people are looking on the wrong side of the Atlantic. This is just wrong. The Confederation of All India Traders has been going to court and making a ruckus about Flipkart and Amazon, where are they when they have to fight?

Rise and fall of the OTT

Since we are talking about the Atlantic. Recently Apple acquired the Tom Hanks movie ‘Greyhound’; a World War II story from the middle of the Atlantic. The movie is said to have cost USD 50 Million. Given that the year is a bust and going to the theatre does not make any sense, Mr Hanks sold it to Apple. But what about movies that are made with budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars? No OTT player would buy it! What then?

Paramount Pictures announced yesterday it is delaying the releases of two highly anticipated blockbuster films again—this time until 2021. A Quiet Place: Part II will move from Sept. 4, 2020, to April 23, 2021, while Top Gun: Maverick will eject out of its Dec. 23 date and now land on July 2, 2021. Both films had already been postponed from their original release dates this summer.

Source: Quartz

Signing off…

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Building for Change

One of the themes that everyone is required to contend with today is change. Change is inevitable and necessary in these times. Radical changes are being forced upon us and the world is adapting rather quickly to these changes. 

Humans hate change!

Change in itself is not something that we take to, naturally. Humans tend to push back to change. It is our natural reaction to it. 

Having said that, we have been subjected to rapid changes. The second world war was the starting point.

Aviation, automobiles, television, food processing and several others. There have been consistent changed hurled at us and we have changed ourselves to adjust to those changes. Each of these has changed our lives in meaningful and irreversible ways. These are important and critical to our comfort and our productivity. Also, they have spawned several new businesses that would not have been possible before their introduction.

Think about it, 10 years ago you could not have imagined pulling out a slab of glass from your pocket and summoning a cab. Today you cannot imagine a world without it.

Over the years, there are several changes that the world has seen. Over the past 3 decades, the world has been in a paradigm of accelerated change. The only difference with the current situation is that this change is being thrust upon us rather than chosen by us. 

Startups are created and thrive at the cutting edge of change. If you look at the graph above, each jump was accompanied by pioneering companies that took advantage of that change. The last time such a change was brought upon us was when the smartphone was unleashed. Back in 2007, the world was a much different place. Since then, smartphones have not spared any business. From retail to transportation; from supply chain to finance; everyone had to bow to the power of the smartphone and the cloud.

The wave swept the world in a matter of 7 years and everything changed forever. So much so that the next world war will not be fought on a battlefield but the internet.

The current pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Also, it is taking place at a time when we have the ability and the technology to make changes at unforeseen speed. This is the time to get on the next curve.

Smartphones reached maturity (~80% market penetration) in a matter of 7 years. The revolution that this situation is going to unleash will reach maturity in a matter of 3 or 4 years. There will be winners who will emerge from this and their fortunes will turn in a very short period. 

To illustrate this – Temple Run was a company founded by a couple who operated out of their bedroom. The game was launched in 2011. In 2014, the company had over a Billion downloads and generating Millions in revenue. Not bad for 3 people. There was never a game, before 2011 or thereafter that has been this successful in such a short time and with so little resources.

The current situation can give birth to equivalent businesses in certain industries ripe for change. Any thoughts on what those changes are going to be? Most would say video-conferencing. But no.

The industries that are currently at the throes for radical change and whose future no-one knows are Real Estate, Travel and Tourism, Automobile, Education and Healthcare, amongst others. Each industry is broken in their unique way. The pandemic has broken them. They are going to be altered radically by the changes that this pandemic is unleashing. 

Instead of going ahead and building on business models which existed 5 years ago; the questions entrepreneurs should be asking is which business models would be thriving in 5 years? Where will this settle?

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Twitter – Innovation – Portland

Last week has been strange. Twitter was hacked – next level! There is a lot of other undercurrents, I plan to cover some of it next week.

There is a lot for this week to unpack. India is spiking with COVID, it will be long before we return to any semblance of normalcy. In the meantime, India seems to only have time to discuss Rajasthan politics!

Let us dive in.

Foxed! 

It would not be an understatement to say that Fox News created Donald Trump. Trump would have remained a nobody but for the support that Rupert Murdoch provided Trump. All of the rest of the conservative media put together does that exude the influence over Republicans that Fox does. It is also not a secret that the hand that makes you can break you!

The Republicans are fed up with Trump. I am sure some of them are even cursing themselves for not have voted to have him impeached in February. Mitch McConnell is the most hatable Republican I have known. The Kentucky senator is one of the biggest supporters of Trump. Even he said, his support for Dr Fauci was Absolute. Trump has been running a campaign against the one person in the White House who is an expert in epidemics. 

Trump is threatening to not sign the next stimulus bill if payroll tax cuts are not approved as a part of it. 

Last weekend, Chris Wallace of Fox News called out Trump on his lies and grilled him good. Could this be a change of stance on the part of Fox News? If Fox turns on Trump, Trump will get destroyed.

Wallace unveiled the results of a Fox News poll that showed Trump losing by eight points to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Trump was also behind Biden on the response to the pandemic, on race relations and the economy. He trails in other polls too.

Source: The Guardian

Twitter Hack

Twitter got hacked last week. The hacker(s) used social engineering to gain access to an internal tool that allowed the hackers to reset password to verified accounts. Amongst others, they hacked the accounts of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Apple and others. The hackers asked the followers to transfer bitcoins to a wallet and said they would double the sum. The world we live in – some thought this was for real – and made the transfer!

If you remember Elon Musk had to step down from the board of Tesla for having tweeted that he was going to get the Saudi’s to purchase Tesla and take it private. The punishment did not fit the crime, it should have been worse. Still, the privileged boy wept about it. 

Donald Trump is used to making one policy announcement after the next using Twitter. Also, given how one crazy thing after the other is uttered by Trump; who is anyone going to disbelieve if he proclaimed war?

New York Times spoke to those who perpetrated the hack. It is incredible.

The hacker who received the message, using the screen name “lol,” decided over the next 24 hours that Kirk did not actually work for Twitter because he was too willing to damage the company. But Kirk did have access to Twitter’s most sensitive tools, which allowed him to take control of almost any Twitter account, including those of former President Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr., Elon Musk and many other celebrities.

Source: New York Times

More to the point, this is about the power tech companies have amassed. A private company getting hacked should not result in a stock-market meltdown or trigger a war. No private organisation should have this kind of power. You need to be hacking the government to cause nations to go to war, not some micro-blogging site.

There is a rule almost globally which does not allow a person to lie on an ad. This Wikipedia article only covers the laws in English speaking countries, but most countries have them. Somehow, this has not been applied to online advertising at all! 

Similarly, there should be a law on what political leaders can use such platforms to state. Should probably apply to all people in positions of power.

Turns out – it was an inside job!

Destroying Innovation

Think back to any startup that has had a sensible product which is actually capable of profitability, founded over the past 10 years. (Not WeWork, Theranos types) WhatsApp, Instagram, Siri, Zappos, Github – Do you know what is common amongst all of them?

Acquired!

I had written a white-paper a couple of years ago about the lack of an acquisition eco-system in India. This had resulted in many VCs not being able to exit their investments and make money because it’s either IPO or death. Someone I respect, told me I was wrong.

Silicon Valley technology companies do not let any company flourish. Armed with their bags of cash, they go in entice the VCs to force a sell-out. The founders have no say often. WhatsApp is the perfect example of a founder who was so upset with the way the product was being pushed post-acquisition. Brian Acton left a Billion dollars worth of Facebook stock on the table and walked away. 

Big tech’s buying spree is already being scrutinized by the US Federal Trade Commission, the EU, and Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission. On Monday, the US Congress is up: Apple’s Tim Cook, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are all scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

These four companies’ US acquisitions alone have channelled $86 billion into the pockets of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, early employees, and other startup investors. Billion-dollar buyouts motivate more tech founders to get started, but they can deter entrepreneurship as well. Albert Wenger, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, has warned that the big tech companies have a “kill zone” around them, meaning startups that operate too closely to their businesses have no chance of success.

Source: Quartz

Facebook would not have been facebook if WhatsApp and Instagram had existed as competitors. Mark Zuckerberg would not be as arrogant.

Portland Street = Tiananmen Square

When the west wishes to deride China they always will bring up the picture of the one man that stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square.

Man in front of the tank

You tend to become what you hate the most, they say. America is having its Tiananmen moment. Not only that, but they are also having the worst of everything in recent history happen altogether! Federal Agents who have no business in local law enforcement have been sent out to Portland, Oregon to put down protests that have been ongoing for the past 60 days. This is also a leaf from Hitler’s playbook. Hitler had the Gestapo which was above the SS and had over-riding powers.

A woman sat naked with a mask and cap, defying the agents on Portland Street.

Woman of Portland

Tiananmen Square happened before the Internet and that image has endured. Imagine how long this one will.

A woman wearing nothing but a black face mask and a stocking cap strode toward a dozen heavily armed agents attired in camouflage fatigues, lined up across a downtown Portland street. The agents, dispatched by the Trump administration over vociferous objections of state and city officials, are part of a force that has fired projectiles at and detained activists protesting nightly since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25.

Source: Los Angeles Times

GPT 3

A few years ago, Elon Musk, the AI alarmist created an organisation that would work on the cutting edge of AI and create tools that would keep AI from being used for wrong. The organisation – OpenAI – has been publishing a whole host of algorithms and papers. The latest algorithm to be published is GPT 3 short for Generative Pre-training Transformer. It is a random sentence generator. It is fed with 175 Billion parameters OR everything written on the internet. That is a lot of data to be feeding on.

Ben Evans had once written a piece where he had compared a Machine Learning Algorithm to a dog. You know the dog did something but you do not know what it was thinking. 

Same with GPT 3. It is producing results that have left people mind-blown. If you can read the entire internet, you are bound to produce something useful. Not only that, but it is also programmable to interpret. Here are a few examples. 

Not only English it can also work on other languages – to the extent that there is data on the internet. 

Just when it starts to look like this is magic and AI can defeat humans it runs into something evolution has perfected. The brain.

While it seems this approach may lead directly to a general AI that can understand, reason and converse like a human, OpenAI warns that they may have run into fundamental scaling up problems, with GPT-3 requiring several thousand petaflop/s-days of compute, compared to tens of petaflop/s-days for the full GPT-2. It seems while we are closer, the breakthrough that will make all our jobs obsolete is still some distance away.

Source: Forbes

The human brain is the most power-efficient computer this world has seen. To run any algorithm with just as many processes simultaneously tremendous energy and compute power has to be available.

E-Commerce

Flipkart is seen as the company that brought e-commerce to India. They were constantly in pursuit of higher Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) because that was seen as the number connected to the valuation of the company. When Tiger Global came to India with the thesis – India is the next China, they did not take into account that China started with Alibaba, a B2B platform, not a B2C platform. 

Flipkart set all the wrong expectations – discounts and free home delivery. Even today the company is not profitable. Maybe not even relevant.

India’s Alibaba was IndiaMart and they went ahead with an IPO a year ago. They may not have a turnover comparable to Flipkart, but they do have one thing that Flipkart does not – profits. Even during a pandemic.

B2B e-commerce platform IndiaMART has posted over 64% increase in its net profit at INR 74.6 Cr in the first quarter of the financial year 2021, versus INR 44 Cr in the previous quarters. In terms of year-on-year growth, the listed company has registered a two-fold increase from INR 32 Cr. 

Source: Inc42

Hong Kong

For the longest time, Hong Kong has been the financial centre of Asia. Several International banks have been based out of Hong Kong and the easy movement of capital also encourages a lot of wealthy Chinese to park their money in the state. Singapore has been steadily eating away at the dominant position that Hong Kong holds. 

I saw an opinion suggesting Mumbai could replace Hong Kong as the financial capital of Asia.

“We are home to some of the large industrial houses (domestic and global) and top financial institutions. Our central bank is one of the most trusted regulators,” said Manjeet Kripalani, co-founder and executive director of Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House. “Also, the city has the oldest stock exchange in the world and a commodity market in place.” The city can also boast of a huge port, she added, and is perfectly placed in terms of time zone between the east and west.

Source: Quartz

Jokes! The city is underwater every monsoon. That notwithstanding, India would need to undertake unprecedented tax reforms and make it easy for capital to move across borders to be able to get Mumbai to even hold a chance at hoping for a position similar to Hong Kong. 

Media

Media has been undergoing a huge change over the years. With the advent of the internet, newspapers were the first to take a hit. It was always known the ad dollars would slowly move away from traditional media but TV has been resilient. 

I got rid of Cable about 4 years ago. Before that, I would pay Rs. 7500 each year to Tata Sky. I would not have discovered Hotstar for a few more years but for a mess-up by Tata Sky. During their systems upgrade, they knocked out TV for a full month. They refused a refund. I started watching live sports on Hotstar and that was the end of that. I had no reason to go back to Tata Sky.

I never understood the reason Americans stuck around with cable and kept cursing it. I was told it was live sports but there should be an online option, why is it not there? Either way – the pandemic put all sports to bed and with it, looks like cable is going to go.

AT&T reported it lost another 886,000 cable and satellite TV subscribers in the second quarter of 2020. The telecommunications giant—the second-largest TV provider in the US behind only Comcast—lost about the same number of TV subscribers in the previous quarter. Its total subscriber base has eroded 18% in the last year alone.

Source: Quartz

On that note – PVR, the largest Multiplex chain in India is planning to start delivering popcorn through Swiggy!

Glass

The story goes, Steve Jobs called the board line of Corning Glass and asked them to put him through to the CEO. The operator politely told him, if he did not have an appointment she could not. Steve was pissed and told a common friend that Corning was all East Coast bullshit! Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning heard about this and called the board line at Apple – asked to speak with Steve Jobs. Obviously, they refused. He wrote back to Steve saying what had happened. The rest, as they say, is history.

Corning Glass has done for Apple just much as Apple has done as Corning. Apple put this small glass company from New York on the map and Apple was able to deliver a product that blew everyone’s mind. They are bringing something new to the market.

It takes about two years for Corning to develop each new generation of Gorilla Glass, the resilient material that graces a critical mass of iPhone and Android devices. That process has for several update cycles focused on protecting screens against drops, fending off shatters and cracks by boosting what’s known as compressive strength. The newly announced Gorilla Glass Victus, though, gives equal weight to prevent scratches. That’s harder than it sounds and more useful than you’d think.

Source: Wired

So, no more scratches.

Worth a read

If you want to know what we are fighting about in the Galwan Valley with the Chinese – This is an insanely great analysis by the New York Times

The Center for Climate Change Communication has published a handbook on how to discern between conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy.


Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

Should Startups Worry or Should Reliance?

Reliance has raised more capital in the 2 months than all of the startup eco-system did in 2019. Indian startups raised a “record-breaking” USD 14.5 Billion in 2019!

Many investors and founders across many industries are worried about what might be possible with that kind of capital in their war chest. I think it is Reliance that should be worried now.

When working with startups we often say – once you raise money, the real pressure begins. You can’t be slow and deliberate anymore, investors want returns. Till such time that you raise capital, you are only answerable to yourself, not after. Also, with deep-pocketed investors, if you falter and your valuations fall, they can easily buy you out and throw you out of the company.

Building Products

I have worked with a fairly large number of startups and seen how tough it can be to get a product right and get users to adopt it. It takes several iterations before you can declare that a product has the right ingredients to grow. The best thought out business plans require a fair amount of revision. Growing a product is not just about getting the product right but also constant engagement with the users. 

Often several assumptions are made and they are subsequently tested in the field. This is part of the reason slavishly copying another product rarely results in success. You have concluded without understanding the reason for arriving at that conclusion. Name one company that has been a runaway success consequence of a slavish copy. (Without giving it away free)

Have you heard of this app called ‘Hike’ which is owned by a company that has 100’s of millions of high paying users? Instead, an app developed by an 18 member team called ‘WhatsApp’ rules the world.

Reliance and Products

Reliance is not a product company. Reliance is a ‘license’ company. Right from the outset, their success has hinged on being able to extract licenses and political favours which have put them in the front. License for oil, license for telecom and license for retail (in the form of FDI limitation). 

Which was the last Reliance product you loved? (Not because it was just cheap)

Winning on products is a whole different ball game. It is not just about getting access which others do not have. It is about excellence. You have to be able to compete in an open market and succeed at that. No license is going to make it impossible for the other company to do business. Reliance is doing its level best to irritate e-commerce competitors. The leverage is always the law. Not the ability to compete and win. While that may be, it is not possible to turn every industry into a policy nightmare.

Product and Customer

Deploying a product successfully is about making a lot of cheap mistakes to arrive at the right formula to be able to put all the wood behind that arrow. If you are armed with USD 20 Billion, you are probably going to make huge mistakes and mistakes from which you may not be able to recover. Companies that get funded heavily before they hit the market often flame out. Reason – expensive experiments.

The reason for the expensive experiments if something called the base effect. If I have 100 dollars in capital and I need to deliver 100% growth, I need to make a 100 more – easy. If I have 20 Billion and investors have come in assuming I will double it in 5 years. Well…

Somethings money can’t buy.

Google is the latest company to invest in Jio Platforms. Google was once seen as invincible at anything Internet and then Facebook came along. Google launched a competitor Google Plus. It was a monumental disaster. Nothing Google could throw at it, including listing it on the home page of “Google.com” could save it. The reason – Network Effect. People go to Facebook because their friends are on Facebook. Google Plus, by comparison, was a ghost town. It is the same reason Hike failed. The same reason Jio Meet is not Zoom. It does not enjoy a network effect. 

So when it comes to the Indian 5G network, Reliance will have an upper hand in the highly regulated license driven space. But that will certainly not translate into successes in the area of Education, Healthcare, VR etc. 

Also, you know what happens to all-star teams?

Customer and Products

I mentioned earlier that it is important to make a lot of cheap mistakes with products. When you develop a product you are often trying to find a product-market fit. In other words, the right customer for your product.

Jio Platforms is busy launching a bevvy of products which is completely divorced from its customer base. Jio has an ARPU of hundred something rupees. A very small number of its existing customers are going to be able to afford a Jio Glass or the numerous other products that have been debuting. 

Finally

Reliance needed the fundraise desperately because they had piled on a lot of debt building Jio. The dominoes began to fall once Facebook stepped in and made a huge purchase. Everyone who had a few Billion in cash sitting around invested.

Having rid themselves of the debt, Reliance now has to undertake a metamorphosis to become a Product company. This is easier said than done. I think it is Reliance that has more to be worried than the startups that its businesses are going to threaten. 

Categories
Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Visa – Jio – COVID after effects

Every Saturday, I publish this series called Learning by Proxy. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

Visa Ban

The USA has been busy disallowing Visa to several categories of people. Last week it hit students with a visa ban. Since the students would be required to attend classes online, why should they have to stay in the US? The universities sued the government from Boston to San Diego. The visa was the only thing that was going to get the students to pay tuition. Without it, the Universities would suffer revenue erosion!

The U-turn by the Trump administration comes following a nationwide outrage against its July 6 order and a series of lawsuits filed by a large number of educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), seeking a permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing the federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the country.

Source: Indian Express

After H1B and students, the next in line are members of the Communist Party of China. This is being considered as a retaliation to the change in the law in Hong Kong. 

The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families, according to people familiar with the proposal, a move that would almost certainly prompt retaliation against Americans seeking to enter or remain in China and exacerbate tensions between the two nations.

Source: New York Times

The share of non-citizens in the US has already fallen to new lows.

Just 6.2% of the people in households surveyed for the US’s monthly employment survey responded they were not US citizens in June 2020. This is the lowest share of non-citizens since 2000, and down from 6.8% in February.

Source: Quartz

All this while their passport has fallen out of favour with all but a few. These are the only countries to which a person bearing an American passport can travel to Visa-Free. Also, most of Europe would not allow them even if they had a Visa.


Jio Again

Reliance has managed to raise over 20 Billion dollars in the past couple of months. This culminated in the AGM where the Google – USD 4 Billion investment – was also announced.

During the Google For India event for 2020, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will invest INR 75,000 Cr or approximately $10 Bn under the Google For India Digitization Fund for the Indian tech and startup ecosystem. The fund will be invested in businesses, social impact projects and towards supporting the Indian government’s digitisation efforts over the next 5-7 years.

Source: Inc42

This release by Google was an afterthought. They just wanted to put a spin that made it seem larger than just a Jio Investment. But that was all it was. The rest of the 6 Billion is probably expenses that will be undertaken either way over the next 5 – 7 years.

Have you seen a successful all-star team? Jio now counts Facebook, Google and Microsoft as shareholders. 

The company also announced a whole bevvy of products and services during their online AGM.

At Reliance’s Annual General Meet 2020 the company announced Google will invest Rs 33,737 cr for a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms. Jio also revealed that the company is developing Jio TV Plus, Jio Glass, and more. The company also announced details on JioMart and Jio 5G solution.

Source: Indian Express

While it is one thing to build a product, it is another thing to be able to sell it and build an eco-system around it. While all this investment is in the anticipation that funding means success, it will not be that easy.

Even with Tik Tok banned in India, the aspiring apps are struggling to dominate the space. It takes a lot more than just making something to succeed. Google itself is no stranger to the concept. They rushed out Google Plus to compete with Facebook and promoted it on the most visited page on the internet and still failed. 

This is not over.


ARMing Softbank

In the 1980s a British company called Acorn along with VLSI and Apple created a chip design company called ARM. ARM stood for Advanced RISC Machines. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This was conceived as a way of enabling low powered devices. Intel, by comparison, was offering CISC – Complex Instruction Set Computers which are more power-hungry. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he sold ARM and used the money to save the company. When he went back to Intel in 2005 asking them to build a low power chip for mobile devices they refused. Apple moved to the ARM design and the rest, as they say, is history. Intel missed the train and today every phone and tablet runs on ARM. Windows already has ARM PCs and Apple announced last month that they are going to move the Mac to ARM.

Unlike several of their disastrous investments, Softbank moved in and bought a majority stake in ARM in 2016. Now is the time for this investment to pay-off.

If it pursues a listing, the chip-design company could go public as soon as next year, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. That would accelerate a timeline SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son laid out in 2018, estimating an initial share sale for Arm sometime around 2023, a goal repeated in October by Arm Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars.

Source: Bloomberg

The push to list ARM is in no small means driven by all of the other failures that the company has seen in its portfolio. 


COVID and Consequences

Escape Artist

Quarantine is a word that has become quite well enmeshed in our lexicon since the pandemic started. When you travel, you quarantine. If you come across someone infected, you quarantine. And then there are those, who try to escape quarantine. An Australian celebrity tried to escape quarantine and was fined. Fines for escaping quarantine are becoming commonplace. One of the states in the US which has a fine for escaping quarantine – Florida. Would you have thought?

When Australians return to Sydney from trips abroad, the government requires them to stay in a hotel for two weeks. But recently, there have been several reports of citizens attempting to break out of their quarantine at many Sydney hotels. One woman, an influencer who had recently returned from Paris, was fined AU$1,000 (US$694) for busting out via the hotel’s fire escape just a few days in; she might also face legal action for tampering with the sprinklers in the hotel room in which she was confined.

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

I have written about how real estate will not be the same once this pandemic is over. With the increasing ‘Work from Home’ schedule and the absence of the need to hang around cities, real estate is bound to change. There is one sector of real estate that is seeing spiking demand in India. With many people working from home, they are moving back to their home towns and emptying their houses in the city. Unable to shift out completely during the pandemic, they are putting their belongings in long term storage. 

In an extended work from home scenario, a growing proportion of the working population, primarily techies, are leaving the city and moving back to their hometowns, pushing up demand for storage houses, where household and office belongings are stocked securely for low rentals. 

Firms like Safe Storage, Storagians, StowNest Storage, Orange Safe Storage and MyRaksha, which provide the service, are witnessing a spike in the number of clients. 

Source: Times of India

Education

The one thing that is becoming increasingly clear to many parents working from home is that they did not need schools to educate children. They needed schools to be able to buy freedom from their children. The current situation makes it very unsafe for children to go to school. This is fast turning into a crisis. What is the way out?

American parents stand to lose even more productivity—and their minds—as more school districts like Los Angeles limit how many students will return to the classroom for the upcoming school year. This situation could weaken recovery efforts over the long term.

Source: Quartz

Finally

Garbage to Energy

Most of the garbage finds its way to the landfills. This garbage is often a source of various greenhouse gases. One of the gases that can be extracted from garbage is Hydrogen gas. A company is set out to turn all garbage into energy that could power homes and transport.

Most of the landfill gas at Puente Hills is captured by a network of subterranean pipes and used to generate enough clean electricity to power 70,000 homes. But Jean-Louis Kindler, the CEO and founder of a startup called Ways2H, still considers this letting our waste go to waste. If he has his way, we’ll not need landfills like Puente Hills. Instead, he wants to use the world’s trash as the raw feedstock to produce hydrogen, the perennial Fuel of the Future that could power our homes, planes, cars, and plane-cars. “There is so much waste available—plastic, municipal solid waste, medical waste,” says Kindler. “All the things we are struggling with the processing are loaded with hydrogen.”

Source: Wired

In the early 2000s, the world was at the precipice of a new kind of automobile. Companies in Japan and Germany were working on cars driven with Hydrogen Fuel Cell which would use liquid hydrogen as fuel and release water as the by-product. They would re-fueled just like our Petrol cars are – at a gas station. Do not require any new infrastructure. Have similar running range and are much more cleaner. 

At the same time, an internet entrepreneur who had recently sold his company invested in a company called Tesla. Armed with the loan from the US government, he set out to discredit Hydrogen Fuel cell technology. Ironically, he played the role of Edison, to save his investment. (Edison tormented Tesla and tried to prove Alternating Current would not work – we all use alternating current today) Under the guise of saving the planet, Elon Musk has created a Li-Ion Cell Garbage problem across the world. In any case, we will run out of it in the next 10 years. He hopes to be on Mars by then.

I hope we move to Hydrogen Fuel Cell.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

Rich get richer

While the poor get poorer.

Some countries and regions are currently under lockdown. Others are perhaps open to business. In both cases, travel and visits outside have been limited severely due to fear. Many businesses, such as retail and restaurants have been hit and have no hope of recovering anytime soon. This has immediate implications for the real estate business as well.

Industries that employ a large number of workers such as Aviation, Travel, Hospitality, Automobile, Retail, Real Estate and several other service businesses are succumbing.

On the other hand, not too many knowledge workers have been hit by the pandemic. They can work from home and deliver the output. The major product launches that companies like Apple, Google and others have been able to make is a testament to that fact. To the contrary, a restaurant waiter has no hope of income.

Even in a country like India; take a developer who earns say 3 Lacs a month. Normally about a Lac would be spent on essentials, a Lac kept aside for savings and then the rest on discretionary spends. This discretionary spend would go towards pubs restaurants, retail, etc. In the current environment, it is also going into savings. There is no way for them to spend this money even if they wished to. Yes, you could buy good, but how many?

As another example, take the financial markets. Those were not affected even during the lockdown. Yeah, they fell briefly. But if you were to assess the state of affairs, with the financial markets as your only proxy, you would think nothing is wrong. Apple, for instance, is 50% more valuable than it was in January. The same is true for stocks and indexes around the globe. More have recovered to their January levels. So money is being made.

But not being spent.

The longer the pandemic lasts, the more this trend accelerates. The worse it would become for those employed in lower-paying jobs. At the same time, the wealth accumulation taking place at the top end keeps accelerating. Also, money compounds. 

The direct result of this trend is going to be increased disparity between the rich and the poor. Still worse, this disparity will keep growing as each day goes by. 

In all likelihood, the current situation is expected to prevail for several months if not another year! Besides, this is not just an India phenomenon; it is global.

So the real question is; what is all this accumulated wealth going to be doing? How will this money get spent?

Would people hoard it up and wait for one side to fall flat on their face, only to then go bargain hunting? Would try to buy out assets on the cheap? 

OR 

Would this result in more risk capital being available for entrepreneurs in the future? More enterprise creation to meet the needs of the new order? Would the people who are currently struggling to make ends meet find a place in those enterprises? 

I do not suppose that it will be the latter, but one can hope.

There is a precedent. In 1918, the Spanish Influenza caused a loss of life and brought about a similar trend. People of means accumulated more wealth. It unleashed a decade long trend which culminated in the Great Depression of 1929.

I hope we learn from our past.