Patagonia’s brilliantly executed brand positioning

This company has moved beyond selling physical products and lifestyles into the business of selling an identity.

The persona

I am youthful and vibrant, I am passionate about the great outdoors and I will fight to preserve the environment which I so much love.

My thoughts

Nowhere within this 100 page magazine was there ever a mention that Patagonia sells outdoor gears but if you identify with the persona just described above then Patagonia is your go to brand.

The company has positioned its brand at the self actualization level of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Book summary: Barbarians at the gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

This book documents the series of events leading up to the successful leverage buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco.

Mechanism of an LBO exercise

  • Figure out the cheapest possible price to acquire the asset and its future cashflows while keeping transaction costs low
  • The acquisition team access the business to decipher potential cashflow, areas for cost savings and parts that could be sold off
  • The acquisition team raises private money to do the acquisition
  • During this period of time bandwidth of law firms and banks are fully engaged
  • Competing offers should be expected once a public announcement of an LBO buyout is made
  • Law firms and investment banks will charge fees even if the hiring party does not win the bid

Methods for financing an LBO exercise

  • issue of junk bonds
  • raising from private investors
  • issue of shares to directors to drive down level of cash required for the purchase
  • payment through cash
  • utilization of legal loop holes to reduce taxation on the LBO transaction

Motivations for an LBO exercise

  • The management team:
    • a option to exercise when the market is persistently undervaluing the shares of the business
    • free up value to reward themselves and their share holders
    • the CEO being the typical Type A personality got bored and restless from running his day to day business
  • The investment banks:
    • when the market is down but they still need to figure out ways to make money through business transactions
    • some needed an opportunity to enhance their prestige so as to attract future opportunities. Securing a prominent position in the transaction has that effect

Lessons from the LBO exercise

  • The inability to sit in a room and doing nothing is the source of most trouble.
    • The CEO ended off worst off than he did before the LBO event
  • Having inside support matters
    • Having support of the management team provides knowledge of where cost savings could be had in the operations
  • Just when you think shit will not happen, it usually does.
    • The management team was expecting an uneventful transaction. Unfortunately, the operation quickly escalated out of control when competing bids surfaced.
  • When money is cheap, Wall street gets creative
    • the Federal reserve provides cheap money which cannot be put to real economic use, LBO is just another method Wall Street utilizes to make a profit from this cheap money
  • When egos start getting involved, its no longer about making a profit
    • the successful acquirer ended up defaulting on a lot of the junk bonds issue
    • what started as an initial USD76/share bid quickly escalated to USD106/share
  • When an opportunity as large as this becomes available, the services of lawyer firms and bank credit becomes scarce and it is hard to gain access to such facilities as a new comer to the table
  • Companies actively manage Wall Street expectation
    • RJR Nabisco actively engaged in wasteful activities to project a steadily advancing year over year profitability and thus share price. It could have operated efficiently and have the share price reflect the actual value on day one
  • The core business will falter overtime when the operators get distracted by other activities and are no longer engaged and connoisseur of their own products
    • early employees of Reynolds cigarettes are themselves enthusiast smokers. They released a new product only when it passes their own taste test
    • later management were focused on milking the cash cow and started changing the culture as such
  • Negotiation dynamics
    • the senior financiers will generally play the diplomat (good cop)
    • the junior and middle level financiers will be in charge of hashing out the details (bad cop)

 

Insights from evening with Wine and Jam session with Adriene and Dennis, Birthday party with Konstantine

From Tommaso on Machine Learning – Economics

  • Study was done on Italy
  • Voting patterns can be leading indicators for credit spread
  • When a political party is stable, Eigen distance between votes of party members will cluster together, even for bills that are not critical for parties
  • When a political party becomes unstable, the Eigen distance between vote on non-critical bills by party members will increase
  • Alignment will increase before a wild swing to misalignment
    • periods of high alignment leads to very tight credit spread
    • tight credit spread indicates a very high price for bond
  • Misalignment will decrease before consolidation towards alignment
    • periods of low alignment leads to very wide credit spread
    • wide credit spread indicates a very low price for bond
  • proposed strategy:
    • when alignments increase, short bonds in anticipation for forthcoming misalignment
    • when misalignments increase, long bonds in anticipation for forthcoming alignment

From Tommaso on Machine Learning – Micro-biology

  • Started studying how presence specific bacteria affects health at an aggregate level
  • Studying ancestral tree of bacterias help estimate the distribution of bacteria in the gut of different individuals

On sales

  • Mormons are one of the best sales people due to their coming to age ritual.
  • They typically will get rejected many many times during their passing through rite

On human cyborgs

  • Neil Harbisson is an artist who is color blind, he implanted a device into his brain which allows him to see colors

On hardware and biotech with Andrew

  • To design printed circuit board install IDE which allows easy assembly, simulation and coding – DesignSpark
  • Firmware for micro-processors are written in C. Firmware controls where signals are past to when incoming signals are received
  • Micro-processors are installed on circuit board
  • Can be printed in China and shipped over in 5 days – PCBWay
  • BioCurious and another biotech hacker space up in Berkeley have managed to train yeast to product cocaine and THC

Related readings

Insights from lunch with Andrew and Paul

On trading

  • learn to read technical charts
  • price and volume reflects all necessary sentiment and information
  • Read the charts in different time frames with gives a sense of various impacts have on pricing trends
  • news happen after the fact which drives emotions like fear. When the brain is overcame by fear irrational behavior results.
  • charts remove the emotional component

On news and propaganda

  • All news are forms of propaganda best avoided or taken with a pinch of salt.
  • It is hard to trace much major change in life to any specific news occurrence
  • news is less about facts but more a reflection of the reader’s attitudes and belief toward the subject receiving coverage
  • how is it that US news sites are able to report on a country like North Korea where no information is available externally? Are the gaps mainly filled in by US propaganda

On education

  • its hard to be an educator in the US.
  • There is too much regulation
  • Students are not as motivated compared to students in other countries

On the environment

  • Three hundred chemical components are found in donated blood that are not supposed to be there
  • climate change is a major concern
  • capitalism driven consumerism is not sustainable

Related readings

  • Slow death by the rubber duck

Macro economic extension to loss aversion reversion to mean trading methodology – Government versus Government scenario

Trading Heuristics

Chain of events and decision making

The decision making processes from June 2019 after the federal reserve signal likelihood of cutting interest rate leading up to the 2019 August downward mean reversion of the SnP.

19th June 2019, Federal Reserve signals for first time likely decrease of interest rates

Federal Chairman expresses concerns about potential cross winds caused by US trade policies and its impact on their dual mandate.

10th July 2019, news paper reports SnP reaches all time high

SnP on the cusp of crossing 3000 threshold for the first time to an all time high. Market is euphoric. Trade issue between US/China yet resolved but discussions are underway.

Short positions SQQQ and SRTY were utilized as hedges against downward macro environment reversion risk when the SnP extended beyond 3000 to reach an all time high

1st August 2019, US announcement of 10% tariffs on US300 billion imports from China starting September 2019

on 1st August, 24 hours after actual interest rates cut, Trump signaled 10% tariffs on USD300 billion Chinese import. SnP dropped.

Exited SQQQ and SRTY for 10% capital gain after reaching 30SMA and 50SMA range. Net combined loss to portfolio was 0.5%.  Left remaining long positions open.

4th August 2019, Chinese response

On 4th Aug 2019, China’s exchange rate dropped for the first time below 7RMB/1USD.

5th Aug 2019 trading day

On 5th Aug 2019, China announced they will halt all imports of agricultural goods from US.

Portfolio continued declining an additional 2% on the trading day of 5th August 2019.

Closed all long positions with the exception of REITs

Decline overview

  • SnP
  • REITs
  • Value shares
  • Growth shares

6th Aug 2019 trading day

On the evening of 6th Aug 2019, China announced decision to control fluctuation of RMB exchange rates to USD

Bought into TQQQ and URTY at below 30SMA and 50SMA

7th Aug 2019 trading day

TQQQ and URTY automatically exited at the mid point between the two following highs and lows:

  • highest point  before Trump’s tariff announcement came into effect
  • lowest point after China’s halt on US agricultural imports and RMB/USD breaking 7 came into effect

Related readings

Thoughts on avoiding the greater fool theory

Once a project’s mission statement is defined, it becomes easy to determine when to stop further iterations. 

Below are the listed of statements I periodically revisit when pursuing GetData.IO’s mission to help people make good decisions by making data gathering simple and affordable. 

Hypothesis 1: People no longer need make good decisions.

Hypothesis 2: People no longer need data to make good decisions.

Hypothesis 3: People no longer find it hard to get data.

Hypothesis 4: We have exhausted all known approaches to lower the cost of data gathering to an affordable range. 

Hypothesis 5: We have exhausted all viable approaches to reach people who need to make good decisions.

Hypothesis 1 and 2 are existential questions, while hypothesis 3 focuses on substitute availability. These are out of our control. The only thing we could do is monitor for changes.

Hypothesis 4 and 5 focuses on economic feasibility. These we will fully focus our efforts on. Once we eliminate all none viable options, whatever remains will be the limitations we must accept and live with. 

It is useful to note the lack of any mention on funding. The underlying assumption is that every successful iteration necessarily unlocks resources from the environment which is then fed back to further the compounding process. The discipline is to minimize wastage. 

Relying on external funding is like utilizing margins during day trading. While earnings get amplified, failures tend to be really spectacular. One additional drawback is that they tend to mask critical flaws in the short run leading to the commonly observed greater fool phenomena in the financial markets.

https://GetData.io/about-us 

Differences between decision making and execution

The decision maker and the executor operates with different cognitive models.

The decision maker

The decision maker operates within an environment of incomplete information. He takes in conflicting signals from the environment to figure out the underlying Markov Chain that holds his environment altogether.

A successful decision marker minimizes the price paid for knowledge of each section of the Markov Chain.

Each success unlocks more resources that could be redeployed to this activity.

Inner fortitude is the primary trait required to navigate the high failure rate inherent to the nature of this activity.

Perpetuate accumulation of mental models from different domains reduces taken to form judgement while  increasing overall batting average.

The executor

The executor operates within an environment that has been made predictable by the activities of the decision maker.

He is predisposed towards systems, structures and processes. A successful executor measures and optimizes with the goal of increasing yield from a well defined process while minimizing costs.

Disciplined consistency is the primary trait required to ensure continued excellence in this repetitive activity.

Concerns

A strong decision maker profile with a weak executor profile will feel repressed/bored when forced to operate as an executor in a structured environment.

An strong executor profile with a weak decision maker profile will feel overwhelmed when required to operate within an unstructured environment.

Related references

Mark Zuckerberg chats with Yuval Noah Harrai on the Future of AI

Key take aways

  • Spread of inequality where some countries have the ability to harness AI while others don’t
  • AI based recommendation systems moving from being just an oracle to becoming a sovereign
  • AI as a tool is an amplifier
    • concerns that it will benefit totalitarianism more than democracy leading to totalitarianism becoming a more favorable governance model worldwide
    • surveillance
    • psychological manipulation – the inability to know your true self through your thoughts
    • what happens if morality and expediency diverge when it comes to governance
  • Effectiveness of curbing the negative effects of AI by encoding values within policy frameworks governing these AI based systems
    • Companies based in Democratic countries will encode democratic values within their systems vice versa for Totalitarian countries
  • Personalization versus Fragmentation
    • when everyone in a country chooses his own community that is mainly online there is no longer a glue holding the local community together
  • Long term versus short term
    • The long term benefits might come sooner than expected when taking a short term trade off

 

The mushroom at the end of the world

  • staying alive for every species requires livable collaboration
  • scalability is not an ordinary feature of nature and requires a lot of work
  • expect interactions between scalable and non-scalable projects
  • The bulk of the work is threading through the non-scalable to reach the scalable

On the middle man

  • a necessary consummate translator within the supply chain
  • he maintains a mental map of who needs what
  • helps efficiently route the inventory to the most suitable individual

On Freedom

  • it is the concept of not having to be a cog in the machine.
  • it does not necessarily lead to great economic outcome for the pursuing individual
  • it allows the individual the ability to freely allocate the use of his time

The matsutake mushroom

  • along most parts of supply chain it symbolizes a social exchange which strengthens social ties
  • it is only during the sorting when the mushroom is looked at purely as a commodity

Man and nature

  • The satoyama revitalization
    • man is part of nature
    • man’s disturbance to nature is part of nature
  • unintentional design is the interplay of man and nature
    • animal/human activities/disturbance
    • pine tree growth
    • matsutake mushroom colonization and growth