Book review: Indistractable

Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life: Eyal,  Nir: 9781948836531: Books
Indistractable book

I read the book by Nir Eyal to focus on building good discipline and focus. I would give this book a 2/5. It is a good book if you are unable to focus and get distracted all the time because of social media, news feeds, email and other activities.

Here is the summary and notes.

If you are not equipped to manage distraction, your brain will be manipulated by time-wasting diversions. According to the book, in the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves “indistractable.”

The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. Planning ensures you will follow through.

Living the life, you want, requires not only doing the right things; it also requires we stop doing the wrong things that take us off track. Distractions impede us from making progress toward the life we envision.

Nir Eyal on becoming indistractable in the age of tech | productboard

All behaviors, whether they tend toward traction or distraction, are prompted by triggers, internal or external.

Internal triggers cue us from within.

External triggers, on the other hand, are cues in our environment that tell us what to do next, like the pings, dings, and rings that prompt us to check our emails, open a news alert, or answer a phone call.

Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.

Master Internal Triggers

Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.

Understand the root cause of distraction. Distraction is about more than your devices. Separate proximate causes from the root cause.

• All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. If a behavior was previously effective at providing relief, we’re likely to continue using it as a tool to escape discomfort.

• Anything that stops discomfort is potentially addictive, but that doesn’t make it irresistible. If you know the drivers of your behavior, you can take steps to manage them.

As is the case with all human behavior, distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort.

Four psychological factors make satisfaction temporary.

Let’s begin with the first factor: boredom.

The second psychological factor driving us to distraction is negativity bias, “a phenomenon in which negative events are more salient and demand attention more powerfully than neutral or positive events.” Studies have found people are more likely to recall unhappy moments in their childhood.

The third factor is rumination, our tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences.

But a fourth factor may be the cruelest of all. Hedonic adaptation, the tendency to quickly return to a baseline level of satisfaction, no matter what happens to us in life, is Mother Nature’s bait and switch.

“Every desirable experience—passionate love, a spiritual high, the pleasure of a new possession, the exhilaration of success—is transitory.”

Dissatisfaction and discomfort dominate our brain’s default state, but we can use them to motivate us instead of defeating us. Dissatisfaction is responsible for our species’ advancements and its faults. It’s good to know that feeling bad isn’t bad; it’s exactly what survival of the fittest intended.

Time management is pain management

Distractions cost us time, and like all actions, they are spurred by the desire to escape discomfort.

• Evolution favored dissatisfaction over contentment. Our tendencies toward boredom, negativity bias, rumination, and hedonic adaptation conspire to make sure we’re never satisfied for long.

• Dissatisfaction is responsible for our species’ advancements as much as its faults. It is an innate power that can be channeled to help us make things better.

If we want to master distraction, we must learn to deal with discomfort. At the heart of the therapy is learning to notice and accept one’s cravings and to handle them healthfully. It turns out mental abstinence can backfire. Well-established techniques are effective at stopping physical dependencies to nicotine and other substances, then they can certainly help us control cravings for distraction.

Without techniques for disarming temptation, mental abstinence can backfire. Resisting an urge can trigger rumination and make the desire grow stronger. • We can manage distractions that originate from within by changing how we think about them. We can reimagine the trigger, the task, and our temperament.





Liminal moments are transitions from one thing to another throughout our days.

A technique I’ve found particularly helpful for dealing with this distraction trap is the “ten-minute rule.” Every time you have a craving, you need to wait just ten minutes.

“Surfing the urge.” When an urge takes hold, noticing the sensations and riding them like a wave—neither pushing them away nor acting on them—helps us cope until the feelings subside.

They recondition our minds to seek relief from internal triggers in a reflective rather than a reactive way.

By reimagining an uncomfortable internal trigger, we can disarm it.

• Step 1. Look for the emotion preceding distraction.

• Step 2. Write down the internal trigger.

• Step 3. Explore the negative sensation with curiosity instead of contempt.

• Step 4. Be extra cautious during liminal moments.

“We fail to have fun because we don’t take things seriously enough, not because we take them so seriously that we’d have to cut their bitter taste with sugar. Fun is not a feeling so much as an exhaust produced when an operator can treat something with dignity.”

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Today, I write for the fun of it. Of course, it’s also my profession, but by finding the fun I’m able to do my work without getting as distracted as I once did.

Fun is looking for the variability in something other people don’t notice. It’s breaking through the boredom and monotony to discover its hidden beauty.

The last step in managing the internal triggers that can lead to distraction is to reimagine our capabilities.

We can master internal triggers by reimagining an otherwise dreary task. Fun and play can be used as tools to keep us focused.

• Play doesn’t have to be pleasurable. It just must hold our attention.

• Deliberateness and novelty can be added to any task to make it fun.

The way we perceive our temperament, which is defined as “a person’s or animal’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior,” has a profound impact on how we behave.

The study claimed that participants who had sipped sugar-sweetened lemonade demonstrated increased self-control and stamina on difficult tasks.

People who did not see willpower as a finite resource did not show signs of ego depletion. Ego depletion is essentially caused by self-defeating thoughts and not by any biological limitation. Willpower is not a finite resource but instead acts like an emotion. Just as we don’t “run out” of joy or anger, willpower ebbs and flows in response to what’s happening to us and how we feel. individuals who believed they were powerless to fight their cravings were much more likely to drink again.

Self-compassion makes people more resilient to letdowns by breaking the vicious cycle of stress that often accompanies failure.

Instead of accepting what the voice says or arguing with it, remind yourself that obstacles are part of the process of growth. We don’t get better without practice, which can be difficult at times. A good rule of thumb is to talk to yourself the way you might talk to a friend.

We can cope with uncomfortable internal triggers by reflecting on, rather than reacting to, our discomfort. We can reimagine the task we’re trying to accomplish by reimagining our temperament to help us manage our internal triggers.

• We don’t run out of willpower. Believing we do makes us less likely to accomplish our goals by providing a rationale to quit when we could otherwise persist. What we say to ourselves matters. Labeling yourself as having poor self-control is self-defeating.

• Practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend. People who are more self-compassionate are more resilient.

Traction draws you toward what you want in life, while distraction pulls you away.

The trouble is, we don’t make time for our values.

You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.

The most effective way to make time for traction is through “timeboxing.”

Nir Eyal on becoming indistractable in the age of tech | productboard

Is your schedule filled with carefully timeboxed plans, or is it mostly empty? Does it reflect who you are? Are you letting others steal your time or do you guard it as the limited and precious resource it is?

You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from.

Planning is the only way to know the difference between traction and distraction.

• Does your calendar reflect your values? To be the person you want to be, you must make time to live your values.

• Timebox your day. The three life domains of you, relationships, and work provide a framework for planning how to spend your time.

• Reflect and refine. Revise your schedule regularly, but you must commit to it once it’s set.

The one thing we control is the time we put into a task.

Best Free Schedule Maker Tool + Productivity Guide by Expert

Schedule time for yourself first.

You are at the center of the three life domains. Without allocating time for yourself, the other two domains suffer.

• Show up when you say you will. You can’t always control what you get out of time you spend, but you can control how much time you put into a task.

• Input is much more certain than outcome. When it comes to living the life you want, making sure you allocate time to living your values is the only thing you should focus on.

Family and friends help us live our values of connection, loyalty, and responsibility.

The people we love most should not be content getting whatever time is left over. Everyone benefits when we hold time on our schedule to live up to our values and do our share. This is how friendships die—they starve to death.

The people you love deserve more than getting whatever time is left over. If someone is important to you, make regular time for them on your calendar.

• Go beyond scheduling date days with your significant other. Put domestic chores on your calendar to ensure an equitable split.

• A lack of close friendships may be hazardous to your health. Ensure you maintain important relationships by scheduling time for regular get-togethers.

Using a detailed, timeboxed schedule helps clarify the Keep a central trust pact between employers and employees.

Syncing your schedule with stakeholders at work is critical for making time for traction in your day. Without visibility into how you spend your time, colleagues and managers are more likely to distract you with superfluous tasks. • Sync as frequently as your schedule changes. If your schedule template changes from day to day, have a daily check-in. However, most people find a weekly alignment is sufficient.

It’s time for us to hack back. In tech speak, “to hack” means “to gain unauthorized access to data in a system or computer.” Similarly, our tech devices can gain unauthorized access to our brains by prompting us to distraction.

External triggers often lead to distraction. Cues in our environment like the pings, dings, and rings from devices, as well as interruptions from other people, frequently take us off track.

• External triggers aren’t always harmful. If an external trigger leads us to traction, it serves us. • We must ask ourselves: Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it? Then we can hack back the external triggers that don’t serve us.

Interruptions lead to mistakes. You can’t do your best work if you’re frequently distracted.

• Open-office floor plans increase distraction. • Defend your focus. Signal when you do not want to be interrupted. Use a screen sign or some other clear cue to let people know you are indistractable.

Book outline and summary of each chapter


Chapter 1: Living the life you want requires not only doing the right things but also avoiding doing the wrong things.

Chapter 2: Traction moves you toward what you really want while distraction moves you further away. Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do.

PART 1: Master Internal Triggers

Chapter 3: Motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. Find the root causes of distraction rather than proximate ones.

Chapter 4: Learn to deal with discomfort rather than attempting to escape it with distraction.

Chapter 5: Stop trying to actively suppress urges—this only makes them stronger. Instead, observe and allow them to dissolve.

Chapter 6: Reimagine the internal trigger. Look for the negative emotion preceding the distraction, write it down, and pay attention to the negative sensation with curiosity rather than contempt.

Chapter 7: Reimagine the task. Turn it into play by paying “foolish, even absurd” attention to it. Deliberately look for novelty.

Chapter 8: Reimagine your temperament. Self-talk matters. Your willpower runs out only if you believe it does. Avoid labeling yourself as “easily distracted” or having an “addictive personality.”

PART 2: Make time for traction

Chapter 9: Turn your values into time. Timebox your day by creating a schedule template.

Chapter 10: Schedule time for yourself. Plan the inputs and the outcome will follow.

Chapter 11: Schedule time for important relationships. Include household responsibilities as well as time for people you love. Put regular time on your schedule for friends.

Chapter 12: Sync your schedule with stakeholders.

PART 3: Hack back external triggers

Chapter 13: Of each external trigger, ask: “Is this trigger serving me, or am I serving it?” Does it lead to traction or distraction?

Chapter 14: Defend your focus. Signal when you do not want to be interrupted.

Chapter 15: To get fewer emails, send fewer emails. When you check email, tag each message with when it needs a reply and respond at a scheduled time.

Chapter 16: When it comes to group chat, get in and out at scheduled times. Only involve who is necessary and don’t use it to think out loud.

Chapter 17: Make it harder to call meetings. No agenda, no meeting. Meetings are for consensus building rather than problem solving. Leave devices outside the conference room except for one laptop.

Chapter 18: Use distracting apps on your desktop rather than your phone. Organize apps and manage notifications. Turn on “Do Not Disturb.”

Chapter 19: Turn off desktop notifications. Remove potential distractions from your workspace.

Chapter 20: Save online articles in Pocket to read or listen to at a scheduled time. Use “multichannel multitasking.”

Chapter 21: Use browser extensions that give you the benefits of social media without all the distractions. Links to other tools are at: Indistractable.

PART 4: Prevent distraction with pacts

Chapter 22: The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. Plan for when you’re likely to get distracted.

Chapter 23: Use effort pacts to make unwanted behaviors more difficult.

Chapter 24: Use a price pact to make getting distracted expensive.

Chapter 25: Use identity pacts as a precommitment to a self-image. Call yourself “indistractable.”

PART 5: How to make your workplace indistractable

Chapter 26: An “always on” culture drives people crazy.

Chapter 27: Tech overuse at work is a symptom of dysfunctional company culture. The root cause is a culture lacking “psychological safety.”

Chapter 28: To create a culture that values doing focused work, start small and find ways to facilitate an open dialogue among colleagues about the problem.

PART 6: How to raise indistractable children (and why we all need psychological nutrients)

Chapter 29: Find the root causes of why children get distracted. Teach them the four-part indistractable model.

Chapter 30: Make sure children’s psychological needs are met. All people need to feel a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. If kids don’t get their needs met in the real world, they look to fulfill them online.

Chapter 31: Teach children to timebox their schedule. Let them make time for activities they enjoy, including time online.

Chapter 32: Work with your children to remove unhelpful external triggers. Make sure they know how to turn off distracting triggers, and don’t become a distracting external trigger yourself.

Chapter 33: Help your kids make pacts and make sure they know managing distraction is their responsibility. Teach them that distraction is a solvable problem and that becoming indistractable is a lifelong skill.

PART 7: How to have indistractable relationships

Chapter 34: When someone uses a device in a social setting, ask, “I see you’re on your phone. Is everything OK?”

Chapter 35: Remove devices from your bedroom and have the internet automatically turn off at a specific time.

The #Fintech Landscape

Fintech Landscape CB Insights

There are over 18,000 companies(2) worldwide in the fintech category. FinTech (or Finance Technology) comprises of startups and companies innovating the business of money. In the last decade, there has been over $250 Billion in investments made in this space. (1)

The subsectors within FinTech

The investments from the big organizations reflect the size o these markets – payments and capital markets are the largest (includes investments, loans, etc.).

We discussed the upcoming IPO for Ant financial and their business model. The other top companies in this space are:

  1. Adyen (payments)
  2. Qudian (China)
  3. Xero (SMB)
  4. Stripe (Payments)
  5. Lufax (going public soon)
  6. Affirm (going public soon)
  7. Klarna (Banking)
  8. Robinhood (Investments, Capital markets)
  9. Coinbase (Crypto currency)
  10. Ripple (Crypto currency)




Book Review: Drive – Daniel Pink #I with extended Notes

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: Pink, Daniel H.:  8601420442870: Books
Daniel Pink – Drive – what motivates us besides rewards and basic desires

I had a chance to re-read this book. It is about motivation – intrinsic motivation which is the desire to learn, grown and thrive. I would give this book a 3/5. It is pretty good in the theory and outline, but short on specifics.

Scientists then knew that two main drives powered behavior.

The first was the biological drive. Humans and other animals ate to satiate their hunger, drank to quench.

If biological motivations came from within, this second drive came from without— the rewards and punishments the environment delivered for behaving in certain ways.

The performance of the task, provided intrinsic reward. Perhaps this newly discovered drive or “intrinsic motivation”—was real.

When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity.

Rewards can deliver a short-term boost—just as a jolt of caffeine can keep you cranking for a few more hours. But the effect wears off—and, worse, can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

person climbing concrete stairs
Intrinsic Motivation

Human beings, have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.”

One who is interested in developing and enhancing intrinsic motivation in children, employees, students, etc., should not concentrate on external- control systems such as monetary rewards.

Daniel Pink

The book has 3 parts.

Part One will look at the flaws in our reward-and-punishment system and propose a new way to think about motivation.

Part Two will examine the three elements of Type I behavior and show how individuals and organizations are using them to improve performance and deepen satisfaction.

Part Three, the Type I Toolkit, is a comprehensive set of resources to help you create settings in which Type I behavior can flourish. Here you’ll find everything from dozens of exercises to awaken motivation in yourself and others.

Part One – A New Operating System

Enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver. Economics was the study of human economic behavior. We leave lucrative jobs to take low-paying ones that provide a clearer sense of purpose.

Work consists mainly of simple, not particularly interesting, tasks. The only way to get people to do them is to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully.

External rewards and punishments—both carrots and sticks—can work nicely for algorithmic tasks. The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. In other words, rewards can perform a weird sort of behavioral alchemy: They can transform an interesting task into a drudge. They can turn play into work.

People use rewards expecting to gain the benefit of increasing another person’s motivation and behavior, but in so doing, they often incur the unintentional and hidden cost of undermining that person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity.

Algorithmic (following a set path) but heuristic. Study of artists over a longer period shows that a concern for outside rewards might hinder eventual success.

Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others—sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores, and so on—can sometimes have dangerous side effects.

Like all extrinsic motivators, goals narrow our focus.

The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road.

Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.

The Seven Deadly Flaws

1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.

2. They can diminish performance.

3. They can crush creativity.

4. They can crowd out good behavior.

5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.

6. They can become addictive.

7. They can foster short-term thinking.

Carrots and sticks aren’t all bad. If they were, Motivation 2.0 would never have flourished so long or accomplished so much.

The assignment neither inspires deep passion nor requires deep thinking. Offer a rationale for why the task is necessary. Acknowledge that the task is boring.  Allow people to complete the task their own way.

Autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.

Part 2 – The Three Elements

Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose: What Motivates a Tester – jasmin tests code
3 elements that drive us – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose


“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”

TOM KELLEY General Manager, IDEO

Type I behavior emerges when people have autonomy over the four T’s: their task, their time, their technique, and their team.


“Try to pick a profession in which you enjoy even the most mundane, tedious parts. Then you will always be happy.”

WILL SHORTZ Puzzle guru


Nine Strategies for Awakening Your Motivation

  1. Remember that deliberate practice has one objective: to improve performance.
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Repetition matters.
  3. Seek constant, critical feedback
  4. Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.
  5. Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting.
  6. Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence. As Dweck’s research has shown, children who
  7. Make praise specific.
  8. Praise in private.
  9. Offer praise only when there’s a good reason for


When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system— which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators—doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements:

(1) Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives

(2) Mastery—the urge to make progress and get better at something that matters; and

(3) Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

ANT Financial – a detailed view into the IPO and the company

Ant Financial is a financial services company that was previously a part of Alibaba. Ant recorded about $17B in revenue last year and about $1.7B in profit. In March 2020 alone they profited over $1.3B, a 560% increase over last year. Alibaba owns about 33% of Ant.

Ant Financial

The company is planning to go public in Hong Kong sometime in November 2020. It is expected to raise more than $30B. With a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 40, in line with big global payments companies, Ant could fetch a market capitalization in excess of $300B, more than any bank in the world. There are 4 business lines that Ant makes money from – payments, loans, insurance and asset management (mostly mutual fund investment services).

The company’s latest annual total consisted of RMB 51.9 billion ($7.6B) in digital-payments revenue (Payments) and RMB 41.9 ($6.1B) billion in credit-technology (Loans) revenue. Ant added RMB 8.9 billion ($1.3B) in revenue from insurance technology (Insurance) and RMB 17 billion ($255M) from investment technology (Mutual Funds).

Alipay was rebranded as Ant Group Services on 23 October 2014, and the company changed its name to Ant Group Co., Ltd on 13 July 2020.


There are over 3.4 Billion bank accounts (3.1 B payment, 300 M credit cards) in China. Widespread use of Ant Financial started via QR Codes and on eCommerce marketplaces in China – Taobao, Tmall, and others.


Alipay (payments, similar to PayPal) was introduced by Alibaba group in 2004. This payment app competes with WeChat payments (owned by Tencent). That is now Ant payments.

Alipay and WeChat own about 84% of the entire third-party payment market in China. Alipay is the largest (51%), WeChat (33%) as of 2016.

The organization has expanded beyond mobile wallet Alipay to include an online lending platform, MyBank, and an investment fund, Yu’e Bao. In June 2018, Ant Financial introduced the world’s first cross-border remittance network based on blockchain. 

Yu’e Bao has become the largest money market fund in the world, with over 400M users and $211B assets under management today. Ant claims 116 — nearly all — of China’s mutual fund asset management companies sell products on Ant Fortune to its 180M users.

392M users annually use Ant’s insurance marketplace to find thousands of products sold by over 80 Chinese insurance companies. Like Ant Fortune, Ant’s insurance services also see strong margins, charging insurers tech and service fees to be featured in its marketplace.

Alipay, Ant Group's flagship superapp
Source – Financial Times

Consumers paying with Alipay also start borrowing from it. Alipay arranges small loans to consumers and small businesses and earns a service fee from the lender tied to the loan balance. Last year 500 M customers took a loan from Ant. This business is growing at 80% YoY.

Ant introduced its Yu’E Bao fund in 2013, allowing customers to invest the piles of cash growing in their Alipay accounts.

Source: The Economist


In lending, Ant offers three major financing services:
Ant Micro-Loan: The credit loan service arm of Ant’s private commercial bank, MyBank. The platform provides micro-credit loans to small businesses in China and issued loans to 3M applicants by mid-2016.
JieBei: A consumer credit loan service for Ant users with high Sesame Credit scores (600+). JieBei claims to hand out, on average, 3000 yuan (roughly $440 USD) to consumers each month, driving consumption on Alibaba’s shopping marketplaces.
Huabei: Ant Check Later, was launched in April 2015 to allow users to buy items with credit with no-interest installment repayment. HuaBei claimed 80M active users at the end of 2016.

Ant has put an emphasis on the impact artificial intelligence has in driving its loan success.

Credit Scoring

Launched in 2015, Sesame Credit (or Zhima Credit) provides a private credit scoring and loyalty program system using data from Alibaba’s services to compile its score. China lacks a reliable credit system like FICO in the US. Sesame provides its consumer and business users with a score from 350 to 950 and may be used in China’s forthcoming social credit system.

In January 2018, Ant was punished for automatically enrolling users into its credit rating system and, a month later, Sesame Credit stopped servicing unlicensed financial businesses, including certain banks, consumer finance companies, and online microlenders.

Today, Sesame is largely used for non-financial purposes, such as credit checks for bike rentals and visa approvals. Ant portfolio company Hellobike, for example, offers a deposit-free bikeshare service in 180+ cities for users with a 650+ Sesame Credit score.

Ant as a fintech platform

One of the key tenets of Ant’s strategy is its focus on providing an open platform for existing financial institutions to leverage Ant’s technology and tap into new users. As it shifts its revenue focus away from primarily financial services, Ant is prioritizing the tech services it provides to banks, asset management companies, and insurers.

Ant doesn’t need to rely on payments for profitability if it can use payments as a gateway into its financial services ecosystem, where it charges financial institutions tech and service fees with high margins.

Ant has global ambitions

Looking to the longer term, Ant is focused on expanding its presence globally to drive growth. Ant’s globalization strategy to date has focused on striking partnerships and making minority investments with local partners.

Ant Group's digital wallet partnerships in Asia

Southeast Asia, in particular, has been a major focus as Ant hopes to link its technology into partners across markets including Thailand, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines and Latin America.

Ant Financial has global ambitions with investments and stakes in multiple regional fintech companies

Investing in Ant Financial

If you want to buy shares in Ant, and you are in the US, you have to open an account with Interactive Brokers or Schwab. All the other brokers do not offer Hong Kong market access.

New Fintech Ecosystems

Source: Goldman Sachs Report on Fintech Ecosystems

The world over, Fintech (Finance technology) has been a segment of growth – from Asia and US to Europe and Africa. New disruptive companies such as Plaid (acquired by VISA) and Robinhood are challenging incumbents such as traditional banks, insurance companies and lenders.

Ant is among the largest and earliest fintech compaines.


C B Insights




Research Gate


Why you should consider buying New York Times Stock (NYSE:NYT)

There is a terrific (long) presentation about the New York Times business (disclosure, I am planning to buy the stock, small position, < 5% of my portfolio).

Here is the bull case in 5 sentences and visuals (there are 167 slides in the presentation). I have summarized, them to the 5 that I think tell the story well.

  1. The New York Times market (# of subscribers) can be about 30 million globally (they are currently at 6.5 Million subscribers). Even if they get to 50% of that number, they will be a ~$3 B annual business.
NYT Deck Images.161.jpeg

2. NYT has a much lower cost structure than Netflix or Spotify, resulting in a more profitable business, since they own their content.

NYT Deck Images.144.jpeg

3. They have very few competitors that matter, compared to other online content businesses. In fact they have more subscribers than the next 100 competitors combined.

NYT Deck Images.107.jpeg

4. They have well diversified revenue streams, from digital, print and other sources, they are all growing and are profitable.

NYT Deck Images.123.jpeg

5. They have terrifically strong financials to survive the downturn, Covid and beyond.

NYT Deck Images.023.jpeg

Billion Dollar Whale: Book Review – the Story of 1MDB and Jho Low Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street,  Hollywood, and the World (9780316436502): Wright, Tom, Hope, Bradley: Books
Billion Dollar Whale – the story of 1MDB and Jho Low

I was not too keen to read this book until I saw it was recommended by Bill Gates. The book was launched on Sep 2018, and is about 405 pages.

If you like crime thrillers (similar to Wolf of Wall Street) and financial crime books in particular (there are very few books in this genre), then this book is a must read.

I would give it 4/5 for story, eye for detail and pace. I suspect you can skip this book and expect to see the movie in the next year or so (because of Covid, it might launch later).

The book is the story of a young Malaysian called Jho Low, who came to study in the US (Wharton) after finishing school at Harrow in London.

Harrow schoolboy Jho Low is a real Wolf of Wall Street | Daily Mail Online
Jho Low at Wharton

After he graduated from Wharton in 2009, where he met many heirs of billionaires and other people from “old” money, he devised a scheme to raise a sovereign wealth fund for Malaysia. He did this by having the government (Prime Minister of Malaysia – Najib Razak was involved) sell bonds (loans) underwritten by Goldman Sachs and backed by from the Middle East.

Over the next 7 years, he controlled over $5 Billion in money and spent it on bribes, payoffs, kickbacks, parties (there is extensive description of the parties), art, music labels, movies (Wolf of Wall Street was financed by Jho Low), and debuachery.

He paid all the people involved by means of multiple numbered accounts in Cayman islands, Switzerland, Mauritius and controlled over 20 entities which moved billions of dollars globally.

The book itself has over 50 different characters, so it might be hard to keep up with the story. The 5 central characters are Jho Low, Najib Razak (the PM of Malaysia), his wife (Rosmah) – who had a penchant for luxury good and jewelry, the financer at Goldman Sachs (Tim Leissner) and the ambassador of UAE to the United States (Yousel Otiba).

Celebrities from Paris Hilton, Miranda Kerr, Leonardo di Caprio, Jamie Foxx and a host of others were all involved in some way as well, partying hard with Jho who had a very lavish lifestyle.

I suspect that the movie will be much better than the book, given the nature of this story.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions.

How did he not get caught doing all this?

That puzzled me the most, but when you read the book, you realize he paid each and every person (bribes, kickbacks) he was involved with. Every one made money, so everyone partied. Even those in the Malaysian government connected to the Prime Minister benefitted. Goldman Sachs alone made over $500 Million dollars from raising money for 1MBD.

What happens to the loans?

Depending on which version of the story you read, there are over $11 Billion in loans outstanding. Most of that will have to be repaid by the Malaysian government, but others including UAE. Goldman Sachs paid the Malaysian government $2.5 Billion in exchange for the government dropping criminal charges against them. The assets purchased by Jho Low and Rosmah (wife of PM, Najib) have fetched over $1 Billion (including a yacht and over $300 Million of jewelry).

What are the consequences?

There are over 25 criminal and civil cases pending in the US, Singapore, Switzerland, Malaysia and UAE. They involve many Goldman Sachs employees, Jho Low and others. Najib and his wife are both in custody. Jho Low has not been apprehended yet and is purported to be hiding in China.

Here is a quick 10 minute video on 1MBD and the scandal.

What can we learn from Uber, Theranos, Zenefits, WeWork, Away, Thinx, Bouxtie, Luckin Coffee and Wirecard?

Silicon Valley: The home of 100’s of Unicorns

In the last 3 years there have been a raft of new startups that are privately held and valued at over $1 Billion. They are referred to as Unicorns. Many have gone public as well – some are expected to be Winged Unicorns.

First, some context. There are over 434 Unicorns, which has increased from 85 in 2015. Of these about 50 have gone public (or merged, acquired) already leaving about 380+ still privately held.

Of these, about 15 have been “bad eggs”, or about 3%.

These include: a) Uber, b) Theranos, c) Zenefits, d) Away, e) WeWork, f) Thinx, g) Bouxtie, h) Luckin Coffee, i) Wirecard and others in the bitcoin realm.

Even if you assume there are others (not publicized) and that number is twice the known ones, there are 30 “challenged” companies in a list of 450, or roughly 6%. I will let you make the judgement on if that is too few or too many.

I started to look at the key issues that came consistently among all the companies and their founders via books written about these companies – Bad Blood, Super Pumped, Hatching Twitter and Cult of We. There are no public stories about Luckin Coffee yet and the Wirecard issue is still new. The book on WeWork – Billion dollar loser is going to be released on Oct 20, 2020.

Five themes emerge:

  1. Founders motivated to make “a billion dollars” than “right a wrong” or “solve a problem”. Travis, Adam (founder of WeWork) and Elizabeth have been profiled from when they were young to be driven by money alone. In fact, when she was 5 years old, Elizabeth said “I want to have a billion dollars” when I grow up. She did not care how she got the billion dollars.
  2. Being young is an advantage, but lack of balance or wisdom is a huge detriment. Except in one case, the founders were young, between 20 and 30 years of age. While they were incredibly motivated, they also seem very one dimensional, i.e. focused only on what they cared about most at the cost of all else.
  3. Founder worship is a pendulum that has swung too far in one direction. The press and media (investors, entrepreneurs and the general public), have gone from being cheerleaders of successful entrepreneurs to devotees of the founders. Nothing that the founder can do seems to be wrong. These founders themselves were using Steve Jobs (for Elizabeth at Theraons) and Jeff Bezos (for Travis at Uber) as their role models. From the books it was clear that they took it too far, not understanding the person behind the person, instead only looking at other reported news or images and videos.
  4. Growth at all costs is a huge red herring. In all these cases, when growth (either in revenues, customer acquisitions, user adoption, etc.) stalled, growth hacking techniques were adopted, and some proverbial lines were crossed. When they could not show real growth, fake orders, revenues and customers (Luckin) were portrayed.
  5. Investors have a big part to play in this game as well. Unrealistic projections are “normal”. If you don’t have “hockey stick” growth or “eye popping numbers”, founders are pushed to get there. This is winner take all gone bad.
red and yellow heart sticker on black wooden door
Founders are expected to be Super human

The next question is what can we do about this in the near term?

First, being a good sounding board as a partner, member of advisors or mentor will help. Providing guidance to founders on ethical and moral issues to ensure they dont “flip the switch” will help. The guidance is to help balance the founder(s).

Second, most people working with startups understand there are many ups and downs. If there is an expectation that every quarter or month has to be “up and to the right”, then that creates unnecessary and artificial constraints that cause the most stress. Growth is important, but “at all costs” – is not.

Third, as an investor (or advisor, mentor) being a cheerleader on Twitter, LinkedIn is important, but it is also critical to be constructively critical about areas that need development – for the founder on a personal basis.

I am sure there are other many more actionable ideas on this topic, and a few “blots” on an otherwise clean and positive development (Growth of Unicorns) are bound to be around.

Book review: Bad Blood – The Theranos Story

Johnson Book Club - "Bad Blood" Pre-Book Discussion - Cornell

Bad Blood – the story of Theranos

I am a little late to this book. It was a best seller released in 2018 and is about 350 pages. Some (most, all) of you may have already read the story of Theranos in the press. I would give the book a 4/5.

The short version is that a young entrepreneur (Elizabeth Holmes) dropped out of Stanford University to start a company that would perform 100’s of blood tests (compared to tens) with drops of blood (compared to a syringe full) without costly and bulky equipment at a very low cost.

The book is about how she and her COO (Sunny Balwani) deceived investors, harassed employees, cheated partners (Safeway, Walgreens) and hoodwinked their board.

The book itself spans the 13 years (from its founding in 2003) to 2016 when WSJ exposed the company’s challenges.

The problem she was trying to solve is extremely hard. While she was a visionary, the number of challenges to overcome (mechanical, biological, chemical, mathematical, etc.) are at least 4-5 orders of magnitude more challenging than building an app for the IPhone or a SaaS product.

The big takeaways for me were a) fake it till you make is really bad advice, b) large companies like Walgreens and Safeway were worried about competitors, they had FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and so they were wishing for this to work, giving up on good due diligence and c) the obsession that Elizabeth had for Steve Jobs borders neuroticism.

  1. The Silicon valley advice for most entrepreneurs is to “fake it till you make it”. An easy way to understand is is to pitch customers on a “product” that is ready when it is actually being developed, or to tell potential investors there are “many” customers in the pipeline. I fell for this line as well and took it to the extreme. My advice – never fake it. For whatever reason. Be authentic to yourself. If investors and customers dont want to buy your authentic self, then wait to make progress until they do.
  2. FOMO is real. In the book there are several times executives at Safeway and Walgreens (besides the executive champions at those companies) questioned the progress and the value of Theranos. They were always greeted by the executive champions with – “Yeah, maybe but what if it is true and the competitor launches this in a few months”? Startups can use this to their advantage in most cases. Find the thing that drives the executive champion and position towards that.
  3. Just like Uber founder Travis Kalanick (read the Super Pumped book review) was obsessed with Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth (founder of Theranos) was obsessed with Steve Jobs. While Travis was emulating Bezos’ business acumen, Elizabeth is portrayed at a neurotic person, modeling her dressing, voice, pitch and meeting schedule to mimic Steve Jobs.
Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes: What to Read, Watch and Listen To - The New  York Times

Super Pumped Book review: The Story of Uber and Frequently Asked Questions about Uber founding

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber: Isaac, Mike: 9780393652246:  Books
Super Pumped. The battle for Uber

It took me 2 days of fast paced reading (skimming) to complete the book that is about of the founding of Uber. The book by Mike Isaac felt more like a fiction drama than a book about a technology startup. The book was released in Aug 2019 and is about 400 pages. I would give it a 3.5/5. Fast paced, many twists and is a good read.

That is if you have not read any of the previously published stories and followed Uber at all. Most (of the passages and stories I highlighted – nearly 80%) had made it to the press way before 2019.

The book itself starts with the story centered around the founder, Travis Kalanick. Uber itself started in 2009, but the story of Travis and his previous startups were a precursor to his behavior. He had moderate success as an entrepreneur, but Uber was a very different league obviously.

There are about 10 main stories that I recall, but the main theme I took away was how focused on growth over all else Uber was – which was an extension of Travis’s personality.

While reading Bad Blood (a story about Theranos) it was clear to see that Elizabeth Holmes idolized Steve Jobs. Travis had that kind of an obsession with Jeff Bezos.

The difference here is that Uber was a wildly successful and entirely real company. Like Holmes, Kalanick was slowly found out, leading to Uber’s disastrous 2017, but still a great outcome for him (he is now a billionaire several times over).

He carefully studied the 14 leadership principles of Amazon and mirrored them at Uber with a twist of words on the same.

The list read like Amazon’s corporate values run through a bro-speak translation engine”

Mike Isaac

There is misogynic behavior, reckless law breaking, drugs, alcohol, surveillance of government officials, lack of privacy policies, blatant disregard for laws, in this startup story.

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber

Travis was let go from Uber in 2017 after a coup by the board, but not after he had built a culture that was toxic at best.

Many of Uber’s employees seemed to share that value system. It was an environment where the risk prevention team might voluntarily figure out how to break Apple’s rules for the App Store or the fifth floor of Uber’s downtown headquarters may erupt in a round of cheers when someone who was sexually assaulted in an Uber “decided not to pursue litigation or if the evidence in a police report was not conclusive enough to prosecute”.

The question of potential consequences for any of the misdeeds detailed in the book is still up in the air. The trial of Anthony Levandowski (prison term) and review of other growth-at-all-costs tactics are still ongoing. 

There are many sub plots – #MeToo, #DeleteUber, the parties, rape trial in India, that I found it hard to see how Uber did not end up as a bigger disaster.

Travis viewed Uber as a crusader “battling the under-handed, street-fighting entrenched interests … who were colluding to keep taxi service bad and overpriced.” He would launch Uber into city after city without going through the usual regulatory channels, such as paying medallion fees required of cab drivers.

There is an entire section and set of pages devoted to how they tried to go around Apple’s privacy rules by “geo fencing” the app when used by the Apple store reviewers. On reading that I was shocked Apple allowed them to continue on the app store.

Super Pumped does a terrific job, however, of untangling the ethical and personality shortcomings of Uber’s early executives (which were many) with the broader meaning of Uber’s impact on transportation and employment.

Author: Mike Isaac

Was Uber Travis’s idea?

Garrett Camp, a successful entrepreneur, was annoyed that he couldn’t catch a cab quickly in San Francisco (SF). He sold StumbleUpon to eBay for $75 million. He tried several hacks to solve the “dial a cab” problem, but then finally settled on the app on the IPhone strategy.

Garrett became obsessed with the idea of Uber, a black car service that would be a market leader in private transportation. He shared it everywhere he went, even replacing the word “great” with “Uber” in his vocabulary. It took more than one conversation with Kalanick to convince him that Uber was a good idea.

Travis had a home in SF, he called the “Jam Pad”. It was there that he would jam on business ideas with friends. Camp happened to be one of those friends, and after some convincing, Camp persuaded Kalanick to join him as CEO of UberCab.

Were the investors complicit in this behavior?

First Round Capital, Lowercase Capital (Chris Sacca), Benchmark Capital (Bill Gurley), Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, Google, TPG capital were all the early (Series A, B, and C) investors in Uber. Only Bill Gurley and David Bonderman were on the board, besides Travis, Garret Camp and Ryan Graves (early CEO).

The investors however were happy to see the growth of the company and although they complained when Travis let go of the CFO, they did not do much. The book talks more about the board’s issues with not having a CFO and reckless spending of their invested dollars on pursuing the China market than the issues around the culture or the legal frameworks Uber was circumventing.

It was not until much later (2016 / 2017) when they were worried that their investment might amount to nothing that they took action.

What were the things that were most egregious?

  1. Uber built a system to evade authorities called “Greyball”.
  2. Uber evaded Apple’s app store privacy policies by tracking users even after they left the app.
  3. Uber turned a blind eye to employees and managers who were accused of sexual misconduct.
  4. Uber had a security breach of nearly 50K driver’s information and they never reported it.
  5. More than 16 drivers were murdered in Brazil before they improved the identity verification process and security in the app.
  6. Uber booked over 5000 fake rides on Lyft to prevent them from growing. They would book Lyft rides and cancel them, resulting in non-availability of Lyft rides for customers.
  7. Uber “hell” was a secret program to track drivers who drove for Lyft and Uber to entice them to drive exclusively for Uber.
  8. Godview or “heaven” was another program that tracked users extensively without their approval or permission.

Overall, I’d recommend a quick skim if you are into reading non fiction that reads like fiction – in the genre of “The Social Network”, ‘Bad Blood”, and “Hatching Twitter”.

Detailed Notes: Maria Shriver on I’ve been thinking book review

I wrote a review of Maria Shriver’s book I’ve been thinking. Here are my detailed notes on the book. These are her final thoughts.

There is nothing about life that’s predictable, so stop trying to predict it. Find every excuse you can to celebrate it.

Stop wishing you were a different age. Love the age you are.

Stop worrying about what others think. It’s a huge waste of your time.

Stop wondering if God is listening. Just have faith he is.

Be grateful to anyone who has ever loved you or tried to love you.

Know that bad stuff happens in life. You think you won’t be able to withstand it, but you can, and you will. Just as you have before.

Be kind to your body because it will be with you for life.

Trust me when I tell you this: Diets are a waste of time. I’ve tried them all.

Don’t believe people who tell you they can eat anything and still be that skinny. They’re lying!

Moderation in everything but laughter.

Don’t be scared to be a parent.

Trust your heart.

Make friends with your children’s friends. They’ll make you laugh and give you valuable intel.

Keep a pair of clothes from high school. Not to check if you can still fit in them, but for the memories they hold.

Hold your children over and over again, and then let someone hold you.

Get smart about money as early as possible.

Save something from every paycheck.

Buy comfortable sheets because you’ll spend a lot of time on them.

Know that no matter how smart you are, you can’t change someone else.

Stay out of other people’s business. Dealing with your own is a full-time job.

Be kind because everyone else is struggling, too.

Don’t engage in gossip. It always comes back and bites you in the butt.

Don’t mistake gifts for love.

Stay connected with your childhood friends and introduce them to your grown-up friends.

Make yours a generous tribe that’s connected not only to you, but to one another.

Spend time alone when you’re young, so being alone won’t scare you when you’re older.

Write thank-you notes to people for their time and their wisdom.

Regard both of those as gifts they’ve given you.

Look people in the eye when you talk to them.

And at least once, look into someone’s eyes for five minutes straight. You’ll learn something.

Sit down to family dinner every night. If you can’t do it every night, pick a night and make that a can’t-miss-it Family Night.

Play games with your kids. (My favorites are Capture the Flag and Uno.)

Give your children a Get-Out-of-School Pass to use for a special day with you.

Keep an open table and an open mind.

Be of service.

Travel with your kids. It will broaden their horizons and strengthen your bonds.

Don’t assume anyone is better than you or you are better than anyone else.

Don’t ever sit out an election. Living in a country where every vote counts is a gift. Use yours.

Stay connected to your siblings, and don’t come between them and their partners.

My four brothers are my past, my present, and my future—and I love their wives.

It’s a privilege to take care of your parents when they’re aging and ailing.

Learn how to turn off the critical voice in your head as early and often as possible.

Every year write down your regrets, then burn them and leave the ashes where they belong: in the garbage.

Listen to your gut. It knows more than anyone you’re asking for advice.

Practice prayer and meditation.

It will keep you in contact with yourself.

Never think your work life is more important than your family.

Don’t think bad stuff won’t happen to you. Learn how to push through.

Head up, shoulders back, keep on trudging.

Don’t allow anyone to shame you. If you don’t let them, they can’t.

Get good at forgiveness. You’ll need to practice it throughout your life.

Know that forgiving doesn’t mean going back to what was. It means going forward with love.

You get to decide what that looks like.

If you want forgiveness, ask for it.

Get good at letting go.

Don’t expect people to be perfect. Just as you aren’t, neither are they.

Learn how to communicate in your own home. If you can’t find your voice, get help. And don’t think that reaching out for help (see number 50) is a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.

Therapy isn’t a waste of time. It can save a friendship, a marriage, your life.

If you marry and it comes to an end, don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve failed—and don’t tell that to yourself, either.

Be grateful for the love you had, the memories you made, the lessons you learned.

If you do have a self-pity party, make it short, and then move on.

Don’t see yourself as a victim. See yourself as brave.

Be brave enough to write your own story—and then rewrite it.

Be brave enough to try love after your heart has been broken.

Spend time in nature. It calms the mind.

Spend time with people who see you, celebrate you, and want the best for you.

Have faith that your best days are ahead of you, that your next frontier will be the most fulfilling time of your life, and that you deserve to be seen as good enough just the way you are—including by yourself.

The personal blog of Mukund Mohan