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Crudely Drawn Love Letter

Adorable “LaaS” (Love as a Service):

1) A message for your sweetheart that’s drawn on 4×6 inch water and fade resistant paper with non-toxic markers.

2) Each drawing is unique and hand-drawn by a small group of artists that can barely draw better than you.

3) Drawings are shipped in a fancy, high quality red envelope to the address of your choosing.

Order by 3PM on February 9th to have them arrive before Valentine’s day. Cards are also available year-round.

International orders are unfortunately unavailable. :-)

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The Best Business Book I’ve Ever Read

Bill Gates:

A skeptic might wonder how this out-of-print collection of New Yorker articles from the 1960s could have anything to say about business today. After all, in 1966, when Brooks profiled Xerox, the company’s top-of-the-line copier weighed 650 pounds, cost $27,500, required a full-time operator, and came with a fire extinguisher because of its tendency to overheat. A lot has changed since then.

It’s certainly true that many of the particulars of business have changed. But the fundamentals have not. Brooks’s deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then. In terms of its longevity, Business Adventures stands alongside Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, the 1949 book that Warren says is the best book on investing that he has ever read.

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Fixing Europe’s Debt: On Syriza and the French Indemnity of 1871-73

Michael Pettis (previously), concluding an in-depth post that discusses the ongoing European debt crisis, and the traps, pitfalls, and fallacies to be aware of:

In summary, I think there are several points that those of us who want “Europe” to survive should be making.

1. The euro crisis is a crisis of Europe, not of European countries. […] There was plenty of irresponsible behavior in every country, and it is absurd to think […] that there was any chance that these countries would not respond in the way every country in history, including Germany in the 1870s and in the 1920s, had responded under similar conditions.

2. The “losers” in this system have been German and Spanish workers, until now, and German and Spanish middle class savers and taxpayers in the future as European banks are directly or indirectly bailed out. The winners have been banks, owners of assets, and business owners, mainly in Germany, whose profits were much higher during the last decade than they could possibly have been otherwise

3. In fact, the current European crisis is boringly similar to nearly every currency and sovereign debt crisis in modern history, in that it pits the interests of workers and small producers against the interests of bankers. […]

4. Historical precedents suggest two very obvious things. First, as long as Spain suffers from its current debt burden, it does not matter how intelligently and forcefully it implements economic reforms. It will not be able to grow out of its debt burden and must choose between two paths. One path involves many, many more years of economic hell […]. The other path is a swift resolution of the debt as it is restructured and partially forgiven in a disruptive but short process […].

5. Second, it is the responsibility of the leading centrist parties to recognize the options explicitly. If they do not, extremist parties either of the right or the left will take control of the debate, and convert what is a conflict between different economic sectors into a nationalist conflict or a class conflict. If the former win, it will spell the end of the grand European experiment.

Indeed. And it is rather soul-breaking to be observing these events unfold since 2008 without being able to do much or anything about it.

My only quibble with Michael Pettis’ post is that he fails to insist on the fact that this is not merely about public debt. Private debt counts too — in fact massively so. He occasionally writes posts that spell this out, but the little detail tends to get lost in translation when talking heads go back and forth on Europe and its public debt-related problems.

As an aside, the works and insights of Steve Keen on the role that private debt plays in the economy are very interesting, and most assuredly worth an hour of your time reading and watching if you’ve never run into them:

He runs the Debtwatch blog, and offers in-depth Behavioral Finance lectures on YouTube. As an advocate of a modern debt jubilee, he probably watched the recent debt forgiveness in Croatia with some interest.

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Confessions of a Congressman: 9 Secrets From the Inside

It’s a frustrating, even disillusioning job. The public pretty much hates us. Congress polls lower than Richard Nixon during Watergate, traffic jams, or the Canadian alt-rock band Nickelback. So the public knows something is wrong. But they often don’t know exactly what is wrong. And sometimes, the things they think will fix Congress — like making us come home every weekend — actually break it further.

So here are some things I wish the voters knew about the people elected to represent them.

Candid.

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How We Got 60,000 Signups in 30 Minutes and Regretted It Instantly

Olivier Pailhès, writing on Aircall’s blog:

Free trial is a common practice in the SaaS industry. Our free trial allows you to get a number of your choice, in any country in the world and offers you a 20-minute credit to make calls.

One detail still: numbers and call minutes cost us something. And not just a few cents.

Apart from that, our free trial was really going smoothly and helping us convert customers.

But on November 10th, there’s been a small hitch.

We were spotted by a blogger who boasts a modest 600,000 Youtube followers and 1,200,000 likes on Facebook.

Fun story. Good insights on trial period best practices, too.

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Steps To Build an Amazing Sales Narrative

Lots of good advice in this post on First Round’s blog:

The first step? Building a persuasive, bulletproof narrative that will grab people’s attention, get them to question existing solutions, and ultimately convince them that not using your product is costing them big.

A sales narrative is not to be confused with a sales pitch. Rather, it’s the core story that can be adapted for slide decks and presentations, demos and calls. And despite popular belief, it shouldn’t be a laundry list of why your company is awesome (in fact it should bake in some not-so-awesome facts too). In this exclusive preview of his forthcoming book on enterprise sales, Kazanjy speaks directly about how startups can build a powerful narrative to expedite traction and scale.

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Blogging’s Bright Future

Ben Thompson:

When I speak of the “blog” I am referring to a regularly-updated site that is owned-and-operated by an individual (there is, of course, the “group blog,” but it too has a clearly-defined set of authors). And there, in that definition, is the reason why, despite the great unbundling, the blog has not and will not die: it is the only communications tool, in contrast to every other social service, that is owned by the author; to say someone follows a blog is to say someone follows a person.

My thoughts exactly.

Two big trends are sweeping through the media business:

  1. Trying to capture high quantities of fickle readers, by using clickbait articles, infographics, and forms of news stories that one could reasonably describe as entertainment — think Business Insider or BuzzFeed.
  2. Trying to attract and retain a high quality audience, by combining curated content, analysis, and opinion pieces — think John Gruber’s Daring Fireball or Monday Note.

The blog format (coupled with a newsletter) is something of an ideal venue for the latter when you’re an individual or a small team of individuals.

So I’m in full agreement with Ben: the blog format is here to stay.

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The Psychological Difference Between $12.00 and $11.67

Bourree Lam for the Atlantic:

When something costs $100, consumers tend to rely on their feelings, whereas when something has an irregular price—such as $98.67—consumers have to use reason to compute whether it’s a good price.

Monica Wadhwa and Kuangjie Zhang, assistant professors of marketing at INSEAD and at Nanyang Business School respectively, conducted five experiments to test this. They found that the prices of different types are evaluated in different ways. For example, products that are recreational or luxurious benefit from rounded prices: Consumers were more inclined to buy a bottle of champagne when it was priced at $40.00 rather than at $39.72 or $40.28. However, for purchases that are utilitarian—a calculator, in this experiment—participants were more likely to buy at the higher non-rounded price. In another experiment, participants were told that a camera was purchased for leisure (a family vacation) or for a class project. They preferred rounded prices when it was for vacation, and non-rounded prices for class projects.

Interesting insight.

Here’s a thought, too: how much does this difference in behaviors affect publishers that are selling in the App store, considering that apps can only sell at predefined (in USD, but not in other currencies) .99 price points?

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Inside RadioShack’s Slow-Motion Collapse

Bloomberg:

On the way down, turning the stores into a chain of cell-phone kiosks staffed by hucksters alienated the DIYers. Dana Macri, a 32-year-old from Queens, N.Y., reminisces about poring over his local store’s array of radio-controlled cars as a kid, then graduating to the bins of transistors and capacitors as a teenager. He recalls a trip he made to the same store six months ago. “I needed a Y cable to turn an RF into a mini, and I thought they would at least know that,” says Macri, who now works at a video production and equipment rental company. “I went in and asked for the cable, and the woman looked at me like I spoke a different language. She basically walked me over to the rack with all these adapters and cables and stuff and said, ‘This is what we have.’”

Losing the allegiance of people like Macri led to a particularly cruel irony: RadioShack missed a trend it started. In the last several years, as tinkering became cool again with the rise of Maker Faires, 3D printing, personal drones, and tiny, dirt-cheap computers such as Raspberry Pi.

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The Selling of the Avocado

Interesting piece by Olga Khazan for The Atlantic:

The effort behind the avocado is an example of viral marketing before there was virality. (Goodman said at one point when her team was weighing creating a website for avocados, several people admitted they didn’t know what a website was.) […]

“If you can make people think it is the proper thing to have an Calavo cocktail or salad, it is a mightily important influence,” an early-1900s ad man named Don Francisco once told an anxious California Avocado Society. “For instance, it got around that broccoli was a smart thing to serve in all menus. It suddenly appeared on the menus of fashionable restaurants. Few people knew just what it was or where it came from, but thousands of people began wanting broccoli because it was the new and proper thing to serve.”

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