Talk Python To Me is a podcast for developers who are passionate about Python. Learn about the language and related technologies.
In this episode, Preston and Stig talk to financial author Tren Griffin about his new book on billionaire Charlie Munger.
My guest this week is a bundle of curiosity, and that is one of the nicest things I could say about someone. For several years, Tren Griffin has been writing a weekly blog post that highlights things he has learned from various investors, businesspeople, musicians, comedians, and more. Lately, he has also been tackling individual businesses, and broad topics like scaling, competitive forces, and product market fit.
Tren’s full-time job is serving as a director at Microsoft. He’s also worked with or for several well known businesspeople and investors like Craig McCaw, and written several books including one on lessons for entrepreneurs, one on Charlie Munger, and another on negotiation.
We discuss value creation vs. value capture, alpha in investing, sales, hip-hop, and why he’d teach high school students about convexity through a drunk driving analogy. I could have talked to Tren for much longer than I did, but sadly, we both had flights to catch.
If you take anything away from this, I hope its just how much fun it is to just be curious about business, and how you can learn a tremendous amount if you just keep reading about the things that interest you and talking to others. Please enjoy my conversation with Tren Griffin.
2:26 – (First question) – key levers of the universal business model
4:26 – How do you know when you’ve achieved real value creation
6:24 – Importance of value capture and how they enhance value creation
6:31 – Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
9:08 – Price power
10:28 – Are discussions of moats more useful to businesses than to investors
13:12 – What Tren learned during his early years working with Craig McCaw
16:28 – The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success
16:36 – The skill of capital allocation
18:37 – How would Buffett and Munger bet on tech if they were starting out today and their philosophy of betting against change
21:57 – How Tren became so fascinated with Charlie and what he’s learned from him
22:32 – The Alchemy of Finance
23:17 – Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger
23:19 – Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger
25:21 – Most memorable moment or lesson from Charlie
28:19 – There are more pockets of Alpha
19:20 – How he thinks about factor investing
31:25 – What are the scalability features that make a business attractive
31:28 – A Dozen Attributes of a Scalable Business
35:37 – Exploring some of the other important levers of businesses, such as subscriptions, customer acquisition cost, and more.
36:20 – Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
37:11 – Wholesale transfer pricing
39:18 – Pros and cons of subscription business models
43:14 – Magic of getting products distributed
44:58 – Best sale Tren’s ever made
46:46 – Most important lesson for young people
49:01 – Any businesses that are piquing Tren’s interest right now
50:16 – Tren’s interest in hip-hop and how it helps him reach more people
53:49 – A look at some interesting quotes from Jim Barksdale
58:22 – Learning by doing
1:00:48 – Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed
1:01:06 – Period of his career that he felt most alive
1:03:03 – Advice for young people thinking about business and entrepreneurship
1:04:56 – Why are so few people passionate about what they do for a living
1:10:44 – Kindest thing anyone has done for Tren
Ryan Holiday on Conspiracy, Gawker, and the Hulk Hogan Trial | EconTalk | Library of Economics and Liberty
Russ Roberts: Ryan, the story begins in 2007 with the seemingly casual blog post in an online publication of Gawker. Talk about what the Gawker network was at the time, a little bit about what it came to be, and what that 2007 post was about and how it involved Peter Thiel and some of those consequences. Ryan Holiday: Gawker Media was sort of a rebel, independent media empire. They had a number of sites. They covered New York City gossip; they covered Silicon Valley gossip; they covered sports gossip. And they sort of relished their reputation as the outlet that would publish things that other publications wouldn’t touch. So, Gawker famously would pay for sources. They would, you know, publish, in some cases, stolen information. Or, they would post rumors. In fact, Gawker’s slogan for many years was, ‘Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.’ And, sort of informally, I think the attitude was: rumors are a way to get to the truth. So, they sort of saw themselves as the place that would publish things that other people wouldn’t publish, and then by doing so, create sort of larger conversations that the rest of the media would then pick up. And so, in 2007, at the prompting of this site’s founder, Nick Denton, Valleywag, which was Gawker’s Silicon Valley arm posted the article "Peter Thiel is totally gay, people." It’s an unsourced article, or at least no attributed sources. And it basically, it sort of pokes fun at and explores the sexual orientation of Peter Thiel, who, in 2007 was best known simply as the founder of PayPal, and then, you know, this early investor in Facebook. The magnitude of that bet hadn’t fully been made clear, obviously. And then, at the bottom of the article—and I think this is what Thiel reacts to the most—Denton would post a series of comments, sort of speculating as to why Thiel was so secretive about his sexuality. And so, as you said, it was not just that Peter Thiel was gay—which is a fact, although a not-particularly well-known fact—it was that Peter Thiel was gay and not willing to talk to people about it. Russ Roberts: And so, Thiel was not happy at this. And at some point, maybe right away, thought about a whole set of things, including that he was angry. That maybe this was good or bad—I’m sure he started thinking about whether this was good or bad for the world, that this kind of thing would become well known, something that a person wanted to keep private. And then, there’s a dinner—what year is that dinner in Berlin? Ryan Holiday: 2011. Russ Roberts: So, four years go by. What happens in those 4 years, and then what happens at that dinner? Ryan Holiday: Yeah. It’s actually interesting. In Denton’s comments, he even alludes to at that time that Thiel may have been threatening or that there may be some sort of reprisal for Gawker running this article: that Thiel was very upset. And yet, nothing really happens for the next 4 years. Thiel does hire an attorney in New York City named Eddie Hayes, who is a character in Bonfire of the Vanities—he’s sort of a famous mob attorney and worked for a number of other outlets. And, Thiel hires him just to sort of explore what his options are, not necessarily legally. Like, Thiel ends up meeting with a few Gawker writers, just to sort of see what they—it’s as if he’s just sort of exploring. He’s sort of rudely introduced to this media outlet, that would out him, and also finds out that this is a technically illegal, and, it might not be something that is particularly smiled upon in the media industry but it’s how Gawker works. And so Thiel sort of dances around this: he looks at, ‘Can I talk to them about this? Can I see why this is happening? Can I come to understand this?’ And quickly finds out that that’s not the case. But pretty much despairs for the next several years of really any recourse. He famously says in an interview around 2009 that he believes Gawker is the Al Qaeda of the Silicon Valley—if that gives you a sense of how strong his reaction was—but really didn’t believe he could do anything. And didn’t do anything about it, this entire time. And so, I believe there was both an outrage and a despair. And these twin emotions that are defining where Thiel is for this extended period. Russ Roberts: And before you talk about the dinner in 2011 that sets the events of the book in motion, without going into any, much, lurid detail: Peter Thiel is not the only person who is struggling with Gawker’s revelations. They are publishing—not just [?] about people’s, say, sexual activity, but videos online of people’s sexual activity; humiliating things. And they seem, at least in your book, to revel in it. And their staff is motivated and incentivized to—to smash celebrities, to humiliate people. That’s the way it comes across. I don’t know whether that’s a portrait of their ethos. Ryan Holiday: Well, I do think it’s a fair portion, and I try to explain where they were coming from. It’s a sort of—Gawker is this sort of disaffected generation of writers, sort of show up in New York City and realize that all the glamor is gone. That, there’s just hypocrisy and an awfulness. And they sort of see their job as the truth-tellers that say the things that other people won’t sell. And, the way that the company is set up, is: writers are paid first with how many posts that they do. And then, second, when that system is less than effective, they are paid partially based on how much traffic those posts do. So, they have a real incentive to go after these kind of salacious things. Russ Roberts: 8:35 And how was Nick Denton, the founder—how was he doing financially from this experience? Ryan Holiday: Gawker explodes in popularity. By 2007, it’s doing, you know, tens of millions of pages per month. By 2011, 2012, were probably in the billion category. And certainly annually. So, on the one hand there is that force: Like, realizing that if pay people by the Page View, you unlock a very powerful mechanism. But then, I think the other element that Denton had figured out—and this is, I think, key to his success—is that outlets were previously far too conservative. So, the legal department would say, ‘Oh, don’t publish this: you might get sued. We’ve got to be careful. We’ve got to make sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted.’ Denton realized that although people would often threaten to sue you, they very rarely actually would. There was, in 2005, for instance, Gawker runs a sex tape of a musician. And, the musician sues them for $80 million. And then when Gawker sort of writes out, ‘Look, you don’t want to do this. Let us explain to you why you don’t want to do this,’ not only does the musician drop the lawsuit, but he sends flowers to Nick Denton by way of apology. And so, Gawker is both extremely powerful in terms of their actual reach; they are also powerful because they called the bluff. Powerful people like to threaten to sue media outlets, but if you are ashamed of something or you have a secret, the last thing you are going to do is file a lawsuit, which then, you know, puts this in front of the public eye. And opens you up to discovery in a lawsuit. Russ Roberts: And, the other piece that’s going to be important is that one of their defenses, Gawker’s defenses, is the First Amendment. Ryan Holiday: Yes. They believe that, provided that something was true, it was 100% covered by the First Amendment. Which is not a necessarily inaccurate interpretation. Russ Roberts: Right. Ryan Holiday: But, you know, the standard for libel and defamation in this country is extremely high. You have to show actual malice. And so, I think Gawker realized, like, ‘Look, if there is a halfway decent journalistic explanation for this, we’re probably covered by the First Amendment. And if we’re not, we’re probably covered by the reluctance of the other side to actually force this issue.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb spent twenty-one years as a derivatives trader before changing careers to become a scholar, mathematical researcher and philosophical essayist. Mr. Taleb’s works focuses on mathematical, philosophical, and practical problems with risk and probability, as well as on the properties of systems that can handle disorder. He is the author of many essays and books about risk and uncertainty including the New York Times bestselling “The Black Swan” and his latest “Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life”.
“What you had historically is warmongers were warriors. And he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword… Now suddenly – and that’s only recent – we developed all these weapons and technologies and stuff like that, so you can have people cause wars and not be exposed. And not only that, but as was Bill Kristol… he’s a prime example. The people who caused the war in Iraq… absolutely no cost to them. Or a cost that’s very small, very tiny reputational cost… And then after they cause a war in Iraq – and of course we have a disaster – they will intervene again… in Libya and of course in Syria. What happens with these people is that given that there is no skin in the game, there’s no learning… In the real world, these people should be dead, because basically, if you cause a disaster… so many of them would be… pruned out that way instead of letting others die.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
Ed Latimore and Cam F Awesome discuss transitioning of careers.
From Netscape To The iPad
On the third and final part of the series Anupam continues his conversation with Vishal Khandelwal, founder of one safalniveshak.com, one of India’s best blogs on value investing.On this episode Anupam chats with Vishal about Personal Finance and how to lead a better life by making smart money decisions.This is an IVM Production; for more such awesome podcasts, come find us: Website: Indusvox.comFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/ivmpodcastsTwitter: https://twitter.com/IVMPodcastsInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/ivmpodcasts/
On the second part of the series Anupam continues his conversation with Vishal Khandelwal, founder of safalniveshak.com, one of India’s best blogs on value investing.On this episode Anupam chats with Vishal about value investing, simple tips on building your portfolio and when to buy and when to sell.This is an IVM Production; for more such awesome podcasts, come find us: Website: Indusvox.comFacebook: https://www.facebook.com/ivmpodcastsTwitter: https://twitter.com/IVMPodcastsInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/ivmpodcasts/
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