Drinking from the Firehose #131: 👂 I'm all ears. 👂


Over the last few weeks, I've been collecting feedback from this community. Since many of you took the time to respond, I have decided it's only fair to share the aggregated results with you. I also had a few takeaways from your feedback that will guide how the newsletter evolves from here.

First, the quantitative results.

My subscriber base seems to have diversified a bit since last year. Finance is still the most common role of subscribers, but its percentage has fallen to 22% of respondents. That's followed by product (15%, flat), engineering (9%, up 3%), marketing (8%, down 1%), and a long tail of other role types.

Geography has also diversified quite a bit. NYC is still the most popular location at 21%, but that's down from 30% last year. SFO held constant at 19%. Gains came from LAX (10%, up 3%), BOS (5%, up 3%), DCA (4%, up 3%), and a whopping 7% from London, UK. In fact, 21% of all respondents came from outside the USA!

In addition, the mid-size segment of companies constitutes the fastest growing portion of the community. 51-100 person companies represented 29% of respondents, up from only 6% last year. Conversely, subscribers from 1,000+ person companies shrunk from 18% to 10% in this survey. Respondents from companies with <10 employees remained roughly constant at 24%.

80% of you seem to read my newsletter every week (thank you!), and that percentage has not changed since last year. Where you find me, however, has changed quite a bit. Twitter is now the source of the majority of my subscribers (55%). When I conducted my first subscriber survey in 2017, that number was only 17%. At the same time, Medium has become a far less important channel, representing only 5% of respondents vs. 34% in 2017. Based on this feedback, I may opt to build a site off Medium that's a bit more engaging as a blog. (Hat tip to Haystack's Semil Shah, who told me I should do this from day one!)

NPS has stayed between 60-70 over the last few survey periods. That feels like a good range for me, but of course I'd like to get it over 70. Some of my detractors seem to have joined only recently, so if you're on the fence, I'd encourage you to hang in there for future editions!

For qualitative feedback, here are some of my favorite responses to the survey prompts:

What is your favorite thing about my newsletter?

  • Newsletter has a real “voice” and takes opinions. Not marketing or just a venue for flattering portcos or other VCs.

  • I like your diverse interests, especially the physics/science/aerospace articles as well as observations on developing trends in ecomm

  • That you aren't just a "roundup" newsletter - you provide your own perspective on things and aren't afraid to take a position.

  • I love when you provide content on consumer habits with market data showing the various trends, spending habits, preferences, etc. Also, while not content related, I secretly love when you have weeks where you just say that you're too busy for that week's round - it is just so realistic and a true testament to the balance of life.

Takeaway: The world has too many industry rags, and too few places where individuals can express themselves authentically. I've taken a candid, polyglot approach, partially because that's who I am, but also because it seems to fill a void in the market. I'm also glad that so many of you understand when the newsletter just can't be written for one reason or another. That's why it's weekly(ish).

What one thing should I change about my newsletter?

  • Formatting is hard to read on mobile

  • I like the current format, the only minor change for me would be a one or two liner alongside the Title when you first start reading the one big thought section to guide/summarize what's about to be discussed. I am often reading this at a glance on the train and it might help me jump right in instead of saving for later.

  • Is beautiful, but IMHO too highly formatted. No need for funky info on side - blocks a lot of the content (or at least makes content go narrow and long, not wide)

  • The new layout (I think it rolled out a few months ago) is a bit narrow and makes it unnecessarily hard to read. Maybe some layout tweaks to fix that?

Takeaway: Summarizing the One Big Thought at the top is a really good idea. I've also heard from other folks that they have formatting issues on mobile. Removing stuff from the sides has come up in the past. I will revisit these issues to make the newsletter easier to consume. Expect to see some A/B tests in your inbox.

What would you like to see in my newsletter that is not there today?

  • Interviews with folks that you have access to

  • Podcast of the week

Takeaway: I love these suggestions. I will try to pepper in some interviews in One Big Thought over the coming months and see what the response is like. Podcasts deserve their own real estate in this newsletter, so I might create a section like the Tweet of the Week for Podcast of the Week. Stay tuned, literally.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in the survey. I am thrilled to continually make this newsletter better for all of you who seem to enjoy it so much.



How to build a breakout brand.

My Lightspeed partner Jeremy Liew wrote an insightful post framing common go-to-market traits of breakout brands. They are:

1. Content-to-commerce (Glossier, Goop*): If you have an audience that's already telling you want it wants, just make that thing.

2. Monetize organic fandom (Fenty, Haus Labs*, Honest Company*): Start with a person who is widely known and build a product that is authentic to her story and aligns with the needs of her fans.

3. Brand resonance loop (Away, Daily Harvest*, Warby Parker, Rothy's*): Build an iconic hero product that's highly visible and extols user virtue. New users will be attracted in an offline viral loop.

Up in the air.

Amazon has long been expected to open its delivery network to directly compete with FedEx and UPS. First, it will likely replace them for delivering packages in its own core business.

Goldman Sachs is a bit more skeptical. Its new analysis suggests Amazon will require an incremental $122 billion (!) investment in hard infrastructure to catch up to FedEx and UPS, each of which already has a dozen air hubs in the U.S. Amazon is currently building its first. FedEx and UPS each have 5x the number of operating facilities compared to Amazon.


Epic robot battle.

Fortnite* was extra special on July 20th.

"The event has been weeks in the making, with developer Epic Games performing its now-standard trickle of hints and subtle reveals that helped curious players piece together the puzzle. There was the monster eye hidden in the frozen ice of the game’s Polar Peak location, the owner of which broke free and began swimming around the island. By the time the robot was being constructed within the map’s once-active but now-dormant volcano, it became quite clear to players what Epic was planning: a world-shaking showdown between the two titanic beings."

Once again, Epic has created a live event that set the internet ablaze. These live events have real resonance outside of the game itself, and that resonance drives both new users and re-engages old ones.


Why everyone hates big tech (podcast).

Nilay Patel of the Verge went on Vox's The Weeds show to discuss how social media platforms are under pressure to be treated more like publishers, even though Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives them protection from such treatment.

Big tech is getting flak from both parties. Democratic Presidential candidates want to "break up" companies like Facebook and Amazon. "How" and "why" are two questions they have yet to answer sufficiently. On the other side of the aisle, Republican Senator Josh Hawley suggested that the law should be modified so that the FTC will be able to afford 230 protection to firms that are providing "unbiased content moderation," whatever that means.


Walking on the moon (video).

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, I wanted to share a video of Neil Armstrong narrating his lunar descent in real time.

I was on the edge of my seat watching this. I had no idea that Neil "took over manually and flew it like a helicopter to find a smoother landing spot." Nerves of steel!


All or nun?

Americans are getting less religious. Today 35% respond with "none" when asked about their religion. The number is closer to 45% for those aged 18-29.

In response to rising secularism, the number of Catholic nuns in America has declined from 180,000 in 1965 to just 50,000 by 2010. In 2009, there were more nuns over 90 years old than under 60.

Yet, a new cohort of young women is bucking the trend of declining religion. By seeking to become nuns at a younger age (24 vs. 40 on average in prior generation), these women are merging Gen Z values with more traditional religious conventions. On average, these new nuns are more traditional than their parent's generation. One survey mentions that in introductory conversations, 60% of applicants explicitly asked if they could wear a habit, a traditional garb that visually demonstrates a nun's devotion to God.