One of the Good Guys
Remembering Tony Hsieh; blockchain chicken farms; a new social network; and how Charli D'Amelio earned 100 million subscribers in 18 months on TikTok
Welcome to Silicon Valley Outsider, a newsletter for aspiring startup founders and investors who live outside of the SF Bay Area. If you’re not yet a subscriber, that’s easy to fix:
🕑 If you only have time to click one link, try this one: Why founding a social network is like building a new country, an interview with TikTok founder Alex Zhu.
💯 Our little community of Outsiders will add its 100th member this week! Can you share this newsletter with one friend today? A celebration will be in order when we hit the century mark.
👨🏽🦲 Someone to know: Tony Hsieh
Tony Hsieh will be remembered for two things: leading Zappos, and being an incredibly thoughtful person. And not necessarily in that order.
Tony passed away this weekend, and the subsequent outpouring of love on Twitter showed how much he helped and cared for those around him — from his best friends…
…to his biggest competitors.
I will admit that I didn’t know much about Tony before this weekend, and I wish I had been paying closer attention.
In today’s world, we’re barraged with stories of pathological founders and startups under fire, so it’s really nice to have an example of a successful startup founder who was just plain kind. Tony appears to have been a goofy, fun-loving person who deeply cared about those around him. And that he may be remembered more for his kindness than for his incredible business success is a tally in the “good guys win” column.
I spent my Sunday morning watching old interviews that Tony gave, blogs he wrote, and more, all in the hopes of downloading a little bit of his brain into my own. My favorite talk was this one from Stanford. It’s full of mind-bending and brilliant business thinking — like why Zappos offers to pay its new hires to leave the company, and why it cares more about employee inspiration than employee motivation — and Tony’s intelligence and kindness shine through. (Stick around until the end, when he explains the three kinds of happiness.)
🌏 The Outside: Blockchain Chicken Farms
A new generation of China’s young people are moving from cities back to the countryside where they grew up, bringing with them new technologies, and a drive to unsettle the old ways. Travelling to remote parts of China, Wang documents the way that communities that are usually left out of Silicon Valley narratives are challenging what it means to live in a tech-dominated world.
Amid an escalating trade war between the US and China that’s increasingly focused on tech companies like TikTok, WeChat, and Huawei, Blockchain Chicken Farm is full of the strange, often conflicted characters who’ve come to define the Chinese countryside.
✨ What’s (not-so) new in the Valley
Making Queens and Kings: Less than 18 months after starting her TikTok, Charli D’Amelio hit 100 million subscribers this week. That’s a truly mind-boggling ascension, and even more crazy when you consider that it was predictable and planned by the TikTok creators. Check out this interview, where Alex Zhu likens creating a new social network to building a new country (**highly recommended**.
TikTok founder Alex Zhu:
The problem with Europe (YouTube & Instagram) is that the social class is already well-established. The average citizen of Europe has almost zero opportunity to move upward in the social class. We saw an opportunity to leverage this. We will build for the average citizen in Europe.
Social Experimentation: Courtesy of @gaby_goldberg, I found a new social network this week. It’s easiest to explain by example — click my big huge face to check it out. 😂
A Bumbling Bundling Mess: An incredibly common pattern for startup experimentation is “bundling” some set of goods and services together that were previously separate, or “unbundling” a conglomerate into one or many specialty services. Take fitness: we have gone from the YMCA (bundle) to Crossfit (unbundle) to Classpass (bundle) to Peloton (unbundle) all in the last ten years. One blogger this week argued this week that Substack is bad because it unbundles journalism. But there are already folks experimenting with Substack bundles; to overreact to one unbundling is to misunderstand how these cycles work.
Catch you on the outside,