The WeWork Arc

The Diff:

WeWork is an ideal company for a business book. Per my general theory of business books, the ideal recipe for a satisfying narrative about business is:

  1. A classic Greek tragedy, where the hero is undone by his own hubris, and

  2. Lots of people with free time to talk to an author, who have a vested interest in telling their side of the story.

WeWork has both. The company’s financial history sounds like an extended roulette session: every year, the company doubled in size, until 2019, when it shrank to almost zero. And the story is tied to the ambition of a single founder, Adam Neumann, whose sales ability and indifference to risk propelled the company to a $47bn valuation and then led to its near-collapse.

WeWork got a lot of media coverage, slowly on the way up and then much more frequently on the way down, and now the story has been told in the just-published Billion Dollar Loser.

One thing the book’s narrative makes clear is that WeWork was not just a creation of the venture capital market of the late 2010s. It was also a creation of the labor and real estate markets of the early 2010s. WeWork’s founders, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, started a predecessor company called Green Desk in early 2008, leasing office space in a building in Brooklyn and subleasing smaller units. (In a memorable exchange, Neumann pitched this idea as a way for his landlord to get some use out of vacant space. The landlord said “You know nothing about real estate,” and Neumann replied “Your building is empty. What do you know about real estate.”)

How to hide from a drone – the subtle art of ‘ghosting’ in the age of surveillance

Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick:

The first thing you can do to hide from a drone is to take advantage of the natural and built environment. It’s possible to wait for bad weather, since smaller devices like those used by local police have a hard time flying in high winds, dense fogs and heavy rains.

Trees, walls, alcoves and tunnels are more reliable than the weather, and they offer shelter from the high-flying drones used by the Department of Homeland Security.

The World Henry Ford Made

Justin Vassallo:

Forging Global Fordism: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and the Contest over the Industrial Order

Stefan J. Link

Princeton University Press, $39.95 (cloth)

The utopian ideal of globalization has imploded over the past decade. Rising demand in Western countries for greater state control over the economy reflects a range of grievances, from a chronic shortage of well-compensated work to a sense of national decline. In the United States, the dearth of domestic supply chains exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened alarm over the acute infrastructural weaknesses decades of outsourced production have created. Post-industrial society, rather than an advanced stage of shared affluence, is not only more unequal but fundamentally insecure. Rich but increasingly oligarchic countries are experiencing what we might call, following scholars of democratization, a dramatic “de-consolidation” of development.

86% of U.S. teens own an iPhone, 89% want one

PED30:

Both the 86% iPhone ownership and 89% intention to purchase an iPhone metrics are record highs for our Teen Survey, up from 85% and 88%, respectively, in Spring-20. We believe the increased penetration and intention are incredibly important for a maturing premium smartphone market. In addition, these trends are encouraging ahead of Apple’s 5G iPhone launch, which could provide a significant product cycle refresh.

Also, the Apple Watch continues to be the top smartwatch among teens. The Apple Watch ownership was 25%, flat from the Spring-20 survey. We view the market share consistency as a great example of the company’s ability to drive hardware sales in the wearables/accessories market. Finally, we think these positive hardware trends can be a catalyst for further services growth, as the hardware installed based for Apple continues to grow.

Author Ivan Margolius on a chilling personal connection to classic Tatra cars

Radio Prague International, via Roman Meliška:

Tatra’s futuristic-looking, aerodynamic cars, which first appeared on the roads in the 1930s, represent some of the most distinctive designs ever produced in Czechoslovakia. These now classic cars were not the only thing Tatra made; as well as their well-known trucks, the company based in Kop?ivnice, Moravia also turned out planes, military vehicles and even the stunning Slovak Arrow train.

However, cars are the main focus of the book Tatra: The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka by Ivan Margolius and John G. Henry, which has just come out in Czech for the first time. Margolius’s father Rudolf Margolius was executed in the notorious Slánsky show trial when Ivan was a small boy and in the 1960s he moved to London, where he became an architect.

He shared a startling family connection to Tatra, and lots of fascinating information on the company’s history, in this interview from his home in the UK.

The title of the book is Tatra: The Legacy of Hans Ledwinka. Who was Hans Ledwinka?

Takeaway Tuesday – On Old Age

Cicero:

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, and writer who tried to uphold republican principles in the final civil wars that destroyed the Roman Republic. His writings include books on rhetoric, orations, philosophical and political treatises, and letters. He is remembered in modern times as the greatest Roman orator.

1. Old age is not unique in being burdensome…

I think, my friends, that you marvel at a thing really far from difficult. For to those who have not the means within themselves of a virtuous and happy life every age is burdensome; and, on the other hand, to those who seek all good from themselves nothing can seem evil that the laws of nature inevitably impose. To this class old age especially belongs, which all men wish to attain and yet reproach when attained; such is the inconsistency and perversity of Folly!

They say that it stole upon them faster than they had expected. In the first place, who has forced them to form a mistaken judgement? For how much more rapidly does old age steal upon youth than youth upon childhood? And again, how much less burdensome would old age be to them if they were in their eight hundredth rather than in their eightieth year? In fact, no lapse of time, however long, once it had slipped away, could solace or soothe a foolish old age.

Writing a book: is it worth it?

Martin Kleppmann:

My Book, Designing Data-Intensive Applications, recently passed the milestone of 100,000 copies sold. Last year, it was the second-best-selling book in O’Reilly’s entire catalogue, second only to Aurélien Géron’s machine learning book. Machine learning is obviously a hot topic, so I am quite content with coming second to it! ?

To me, the success of this book was totally unexpected: while I was writing it, I thought that it was going to be a bit niche, and I set myself the goal of selling 10,000 copies over the lifetime of the book. Having passed that goal tenfold, this seems like a good opportunity to look back and reflect on the process. I don’t want to make this post too self-congratulatory, but rather I will try to share some insights into the business of book-writing.

Is it financially worth it?

Most books make very little money for both authors and publishers, but then occasionally something like Harry Potter comes along. If you are considering writing a book, I strongly recommend that you estimate the value of your future royalties to be close to zero. Like starting a band with friends and hoping to become rock stars, it’s difficult to predict in advance what will be a hit and what will flop. Maybe this applies less to technical books than to fiction and music, but I suspect that even with technical books, there are a small number of hits, and most books sell quite modest numbers.

That said, in my case, I am happy to report that writing this book has in retrospect turned out to be a financially sound decision. These graphs show the royalties I have been paid since the book first went on sale: