Ah, remember WeWork? Last year I busted a gut while reading their pre-IPO paperwork and I commented that their stock offering appeared to be based on pure bullshit, that combination of paradigm shifts and unicorn farts. Before long, market sensibility prevailed, and WeWork did not go public. Investors rejected their nonsensical offer, and I felt a small measure of relief at the rationality of it all. WeWork is welcome to return to the IPO table when they can prove they have a real business worth actual money, and I wish them luck with their new path and their new leadership.
Well, WeWork’s major investor cough enabler cough was a venture capital company called Softbank. And Softbank just had an earnings call in which they attempted to explain their 17.7 Billion dollar loss. In true WeWorkian style, the earnings call came complete with confusing PowerPoint charts, incomprehensible (to me) financial formulas, and a few slides that had that had literal unicorns falling into a ditch and then sprouting wings to escape the coronavirus.
This is an actual screenshot from their slide deck. You can’t make this stuff up. We’re experiencing full-on, coked-out, three stooges style capitalism here! I mean, I don’t do drugs, but reading a Softbank slide deck is what I imagine it’s like to be high on shrooms. Bloomberg has a worthwhile opinion piece on the earnings call, and you can peruse the full whacked out earnings report here. My favorite slides are at the end, where “new” technologies like food delivery apps save humanity from our impending economic doom.
Whew! I’m feeling better already. Aren’t you? /s
Today, according to the Financial Times, Softbank’s founder is saying this:
Jesus Christ was also misunderstood, Masayoshi Son tells investors https://t.co/bB58TgyoVE
— Financial Times (@FT) May 18, 2020
Ah, those quirky billionaires and their Jesus comparisons. Bless their hearts!
I’m not a Softbank investor, so my interest in this situation is limited to the harm that venture-financed stupidity can do to our actual economy. Right now, we seem to have a surfeit of app-based industries being propped up by wealthy investors with more capital than sense, and in some cases the ethics on display are less than admirable. The food delivery industry is one such area, and there’s been some interesting reporting lately:
I laugh, but honestly these business practices are pretty bad. Business can and should be a force for good in the world, which is why crappy businesses are doubly painful. They suck because they suck, and they also suck because they lower the standards for everyone else. Big businesses can be awesome! Small businesses too! There’s a kicker though. A business needs to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders or it will inevitably fail over the long term. At a basic level that means:
- Value to the customer.
Compliance with the law.
Quality of life (pay & equity) to the worker.
Profit left over for the investor or owner. (Unless a non-profit or co-op)
Call me old fashioned, I guess? Multi-stakeholder satisfaction is not an easy thing to achieve! That’s true. And in an environment of artificially depressed interest rates (thank the Fed for that one), we have surplus billions being funneled into money-losing ventures. Literal Monopoly money. Burning billions for the vague hope of outlasting everyone else and creating a monopolistic market is a pretty dumb business strategy, but that seems to be the game being played.
My take? I’d love to see a non-shitty business create a solution for the food delivery problem. That’s a real market, and it deserves a solution that isn’t built on lies and exploitation. But consumers have little incentive to pay for the true cost of a delivery service so long as billionaires are deficit financing their own crummy apps.
Like most perverse incentives, we may need to wait for this dynamic to burn itself out. But thanks for the LOLs, Softbank, your slide deck almost made me pee my pants.
And in times like this, laughter is a perk we can all appreciate.
You might not have heard: Twitter recently underwent a soft-takeover by a hedge fund. Twitter’s CEO isn’t fired, yet, but the writing is on the wall. Beneath the quippy corporate language used to describe the “partnership” with Elliot Management, the message seems clear. Dorsey (that principled corporate hippie) is being slowly wheeled out the door while this new board of directors prepares to grip Twitter like a ripe orange and squeeze it for all the juice they can. Hedge funds typically aren’t gentle. Hedge funds are often like parasites – they drain organizations of value before moving on to the next. I’d love to be wrong here, but my business sense is tingling. This isn’t good news for Twitter fans, and it isn’t good news for the company either. But hey, some rich assholes will get richer, right?
Yikes, I say. Yikes.
Here are some links you might enjoy:
It’s heartening to hear about the cooperation and speed happening in manufacturing right now.
A sweet little “Good News” show from a beloved actor.
A mesmerizing animation of a large medical testing machine set to inspiring music. Because what else do you have to do today, right?
A fun bit of creative nonfiction about the residents of our most colorful city.
It’s great! And they’ve generously made it free through May 1st.
Twenty five years after his retirement, Gary Larson has put his beloved comics online.
Shelter in Place Diary #2 Seattle Downtown 3/19/20
Hello Thursday! The day after hump day. The post-hump no-hump pre-weekend workfest.
Today, I’m working to Cozy Coffeehouse music and editing my mystery novel. Also, I found what appears to be a reputable way to donate unused N95 masks to hospitals in Seattle. (Click Here) I have some masks I bought ages ago for my emergency kit, and at this point the hospital workers need them far more than we do. So that’s handled.
Today I’m also thinking about the economy. All week my Twitter feed has been full of helpful suggestions on how I can support artists and writers and restaurants by buying X or prepaying for Y. And while I’m nodding along in spirit I’m also watching my investments melt down like a cheap paraffin candle. This, my friends, is why recessions suck so hard. In the very moment I want to throw discretionary income at all the small businesses and writers I know, I’m less able to do so.
Our household budget is kind of like a Volvo. It’s roomy enough by frugal-person standards, and when a recession hits we have crumple zones for safety. The economy is contracting, and I’m running around the condo yelling CRUMPLE ZONES ACTIVATE.
Well, I’m not literally yelling. My husband enjoys my antics but we’re confined in a small space together so I dole out the drama in small doses. Besides, P doesn’t need me to yell. He’s leading the charge.
My Brain: No yelling!
My Heart:. FINE RUIN ALL MY FUN.
It’s time to crumple those zones! That means no travel for the foreseeable future, obviously. (Thank goodness our recent road trip was cheap!) We canceled several nice-to-have subscriptions (Adios, News in Slow Spanish!), and we traded our standard cell phone plans for inexpensive prepaid plans with Mint Mobile. $800/yr saved. Woot! Our 15 year-old washing machine can probably last another year or three if we whisper sweet nothings into the loading hole* when we toss in our underwear. No more hookers and blow either. (I threw that one in in to make sure you’re paying attention. You know my drug of choice is coffee.)
The amateur futurist in me says that this economic shock comes at a very precarious time. Most households lack savings. (This changed in 2008 after the last crisis, but memories are short.) And student debt and a weak job market have left an entire generation struggling to pay the bills, and therefore poor savings aren’t always a personal responsibility issue. Meanwhile, many (but not all) corporations have squandered their financial gifts from the Republican leadership. Corporate debt is at an all time high. Netflix and other high-flying companies are the business equivalent of an outwardly wealthy person living off high-interest credit cards. And the Fed has been injecting meth into the veins of the banking system to keep the good times rolling, so now they have few economic levers available for a true emergency.
Yeeeeeeaaaaah. When you’re playing the poorly-regulated capitalism game, this is the moment when all the monsters burst in through the doors surrounding your party and the DM shouts: Roll Initiative.
I enjoy thinking about the economy – how all the systems interact to create the world we live in. But it’s the daily impact that concerns most of us. You think about your relative who bought a house recently. And the kid you know who is just starting out. Where’s his opportunity going to come from?
Recessions suck, but most of us aren’t helpless.
So here’s some unsolicited advice, blog buddies: If you’ve got stable employment, build up your own emergency savings and then reach out to help a local food bank or people you know who are in a tough spot. (Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others – you remember that drill, right?) Grocery store and Costco gift cards are useful when someone has lost their job. And if you’re an entrepreneur or artist without any crumple zones, start looking for a side-gig ASAP. That’s what I did in 2008 when I was a fresh-faced consultant without many clients and the economy went tits up. I worked an hourly temp job for a little while to support my day job. And we were lucky because P was able to hang onto his job at the time. I absolutely wish you all luck. But luck is even more powerful when you can combine it with having your shit together.
To close, here’s one more thing I’ve learned about recessions: They end. It takes years sometimes, but they do end.
And now that I’ve solved the problem of the economy (har har) I’m going to go write.
PS: If you’ve got extra masks laying around and you’re in Seattle, please consider donating them here.
PPS: I doubt the front of the washing machine is called the loading hole but I think it sounds hilarious. Let’s just call it that from now on.
PPPS: These posts are wordy because I’m not going to take the time to edit them right now. (I have other work to get done today) So apologies in advance for my rambly prose. You’re seeing first-drafts.
Today’s post is about what I hope to achieve in my writing career in 2020. If 2018 was my year of testing the indie publishing waters, and if 2019 was my year of struggle and experimentation, I’d like 2020 to be the year where I drop my boot on the gas pedal and put everything I’ve learned to good use.
I’ll put my big goal here on the blog so I don’t chicken out later: In 2020, I want to write six books and release six books.
Am I guaranteed to hit that number? Nope. And numbers aren’t everything. Most importantly, I want to continue having fun with my writing! And I want to keep having a life outside of work. So if I’m forced to choose between releasing six books and maintaining my sanity, sanity will win every time. But despite that caveat, I’m feeling pretty good about my ambitions. I’ve written two books quickly, and I’ve had fun with that, so releasing a book every other month doesn’t feel unreasonable given the processes I’ve put in place over the last few months.
Still, it’s scary to say it out loud. Write six books. Release six books. The idea makes me excited and a tiny bit nauseated. When it comes to setting goals, that’s the place I like to live: 60% excitement and 40% intimidation. Ha!
Finishing What I’ve Started
Another theme of mine is finishing what I’ve started. I’ve got a few partially-written series and I want to get them wrapped (or mostly wrapped) by the end of 2020. Those series are:
Emerald City Spies: Jessica’s story is bouncing around in my head like a drunk girl at a rave, and I want to finish it! That’s two more books, minimum.
Kat Voyzey Mysteries: I adore Kat, and this series has room for at least three more books in it. But it needs at least one more book to round out Kat’s story arc. So this year I’ll add a fourth book to the series. I’ve been sitting on a story idea for a long time, and I’ve been looking forward to writing it.
Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries: I’m planning on six books total, and I’ve got two written. (although the second one is currently being edited) So that’s four more books for Ellie.
If you’re doing the math, you’ll see that my list adds up to more than six books. 2 + 1 + 4 = 7 So it’s possible that I’ll have a remainder at the end of the 2020. Or maybe I’ll push it and get all seven done? Either way, I want to get in the habit of finishing what I’ve started. Not only is it easier to finish one series before starting another, but I want my readers to trust that when I start something I’ll finish it before years and years have passed.
Making the Business Profitable
Another goal of ours is to flip our publishing business over to profitable territory. Like most businesses, we’ve had startup costs. Things like ISBN numbers, professional cover design, Writers Police Academy (classes), and attending our first industry conference. We spent all that money at a time when I wasn’t releasing many books, and those expenses put us in the red for a while. That was fine, but now it’s time to tighten down some screws and turn Adventurous Ink into a going concern.
In a practical sense, this means a few things:
- No expensive conferences or expensive classes this year. (I am taking classes, but they’re inexpensive and either local or online.)
- Some of my cozies are getting homemade book covers until they’ve earned enough money to justify an upgrade.
- We’re experimenting with new approaches like trying out Kindle Unlimited, when it seems there’s a clear revenue benefit.
- Before writing a series, I’ll check to see if there’s an audience for it.
Trade-Offs, Worries, and Excitement
There are physical limits to what a two-person team can comfortably accomplish in a year. Every business has trade-offs. For example, I’m dying to record an audiobook, but the 50-60 hours that recording would take has to be weighed against my more important goal of writing more books. Nor do I have 2-3 grand to throw at a professional narrator. So I’m trying to plan my goals around doing the most important things first, and saving the nice-to-do’s as optional. This likely means that ebooks will be our highest priority, with paper and audio being “nice to haves” when we have time. At least for now, while the business budget is tight.
Also, marketing continues to be a worrisome subject for me. I’m a marketing-averse person by nature, and I’m trying to traverse the narrow path between doing zero marketing (not wise) and being a chirpy marketing shill (gross). Opportunities abound, but I’m struggling to figure out which options make sense and fit with my personal ethics. For example, I recently got my first invitation from another author to do a cross-promotion. (I tell my readers about his books, and he tells his readers about mine.) This is a very simple and common form of marketing, but here I am getting all twisted up about the ethics of such a move. Is it okay to do this? I think yes, but I should read his books first, right, to make sure they are something I could honestly recommend? That seems fair. Anyway, I’m navigating this brave new world of author marketing with a great deal of trepidation, and I welcome your feedback along the way, blog buddies.
In short, I’m trying my hardest not to be annoying, fake, or douchey. If I ever cross that line, feel free to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear.
Most of my excitement about work in 2020 comes from the fact that I’m genuinely happy about doing the work. All of the books I want to write are stories that matter to me, and thus the work itself will be fun, and that alone is likely to make for a rewarding year. And I also feel that more is possible now because I closed my other business down. No more splitting my attention or second guessing! Last but not least, I’m also thrilled to have Patrick as my business partner. I’ll admit, after 13 years as a soloprenuer, making every decision on my own, it’s still an adjustment to think about a business in terms of we rather than I. Partly that’s habit, but it’s also my personality. Yet it’s been so fun to work on these books together, to see “my books” become “our books” as we collaborate on ideas, book design, and more.
Big picture, beyond all the goals and planning, I’m happy to be doing work that I enjoy again, and to have a sense of teamwork again. On the day I started drafting this post, I was working on edits for one book, and Patrick was designing the paperback for the previous book. We took a break for Thai food and discussed twisty murder plots while we ate.
Me: I think I’m going to have to kill her.
P: Yeah, because (describes plot situation).
Me: Exactly. I have to kill her because it won’t work otherwise.
The couple at the next table was giving us a very strange look while we ate. In retrospect, I need to sprinkle the word BOOK more often into our lunch meetings. Otherwise someone’s going to call the cops and we’ll have some ‘splainin to do.
Happy New Year, everyone. 😀 And whatever your goals are for 2020, I wish you luck!