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No Mercy / No Malice: Back to the Past

31 March 2017

by

No Mercy No Malice

There are several shorthand measures to determine if an industry is about to get disrupted (consultant-speak for “bitch-slapped”). I was self-conscious that using that word was a hate crime, so I googled it:

bitch-slap
verb
US informal

  1. deliver a stinging blow to (someone), typically in order to humiliate them.

So I decided it was safe. Anyway, back to disruption. One indicator is the price of your product or service, over time, vs. inflation. If the firm or sector has raised prices faster than inflation, without an underlying increase in productivity, then you’re ripe to get your lunch eaten. It’s well underway in TV, and starting in education. I’m excited about it happening in education, as I’m so looking forward to my colleagues experiencing, I mean really getting a slow dance with, the market. But that’s another post.

Another metric, in retail, is a “back to the past” test. Go to the middle of a store, close your eyes, clear your mind. Then open your eyes, slowly rotate 360 degrees, and absorb everything around you. How far, if at all, through the rotation would you realize you’re not in 1985? I open my eyes in an Apple Store, and BOOM — before even starting to move, I know it’s not the year Pat Morita was nominated (and robbed) for Best Supporting Actor in Karate Kid. At Sephora, you might get 90 degrees through your turn, and no doubt about it, you’re not going to hear Tears for Fears playing. If you do the full rotation, and are not sure what decade you’re in… then you are in the midst of fading greatness, ripe for disruption.

Movie theaters are due for a shit-kicking — they’ve had the same food, chairs, screens, and sticky floors for decades. Just as LS&Co. gave up its mantle as largest apparel company in world, for ignoring awful distribution (e.g., Sears, JCP), the movie industry has been held hostage to a shitty retail channel — movie theaters. Now Netflix is eating its lunch. This past week, movie studios announced they were exiting the suicide pact and would offer first-run films near or on the release date for in-home viewing, at a price of course.

“It’s surprising how long things can take, and then shocking how fast they happen.”

— Larry Summers

In the film industry, we’re about to enter a shocking phase as studios realize they can likely get $100+ from a mess of households to see the latest Star Wars installment the day it opens in the comfort of their crib. The next 1985 channel to be disrupted? Grocery. Most grocery stores feel expensive, yet bad. And very 1985. Whole Foods saw the opportunity and brought grocery into the next millennium but charged too much for the journey. The most underrated retailer in America right now has seized this opportunity: German-owned Trader Joe’s. Still, at $775B the grocery sector will begin attracting a ton of sharks, including the great white from Seattle, and will begin the back-to-the-future disruption the world’s largest consumer market (US grocery) warrants.

Come Back to Me

We spend a lot of time and energy to get our kids to leave. We prepare them for life, instilling the skills and character to survive and prosper once they’re on their own. We can’t wrap our heads around it, but instinctively know we will not be around for much or most of their life, and our primary reason for being here is to ensure they do as well as or better than us. Donald Trump’s ascent (and I believe he’ll be impeached for treason — can’t wait for the mail on this one) is a function of millions of families feeling a profound sense of failure. For the first time in a century, 30-year-olds are worse off than their parents at 30. The failure is so widespread that people can understandably assign blame to our system / way of life.

We work with a lot of luxury brands, and I think a decent amount about the definition of “luxury.”

lux·u·ry
noun

  1. the state of great comfort and extravagant living.

Coco Chanel famously said, “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It’s not. It’s the opposite of vulgarity.” That’s a great quote, but I think luxury is the opposite of worry. Specifically, the real luxury for mammals is time spent with offspring not anxious about their survival or prospects. Most of the world’s populace spends their day working their asses off, for not enough money, to ensure their kid will have a better life than them. Two-thirds of the world’s population doesn’t earn enough to purchase anything other than basic food, shelter, and clothing for themselves and their children. How do we feel when our kids aren’t doing well? Your. World. Just. Stops. You have failed. Luxury is peering into your kids’ room at night and the peace you feel seeing them safe, warm, and growing.

My son was speech delayed. (He’s doing really well now.) Our world stopped when the seven Manhattan private schools we applied to declined to let us pay them $48K/year so he could play blocks with other four-year-olds, who were speaking. I’ve been an entrepreneur and single most of my life, so I’m used to rejection. But my son’s judgment was deeply unsettling. We felt as if we had been punched in the gut, and left New York. I’m pretty sure my exit has cost NYC several million in tax revenues.

Lately, I’ve been blessed with the luxury of boys who are beginning to show signs they will likely be more skilled than their parents on a number of dimensions. They are within striking distance of the opportunities America has provided their parents.

A colleague of mine has decided to buy a weekend home at the beach (good problem) and is involving his teen and preteen kids in the purchase experience. He’s made it clear to them that he and his spouse are buying the house so the kids will return (often) with their friends, spouses, and kids.

I don’t enjoy skiing, but continue to do it as it’s one of the few ways I’ll be able to sequester my boys for a day when they are teenagers. I discovered last week that my nine-year-old is now a better skier than me (low bar). This recognition was rewarding for a hot minute, and then the fear he won’t want to ski with me much longer set in. Trying to keep up with him, I took a spill. His instinct kicked in, and he stopped and screamed, “Are you alright, Daddy?!” which made me feel nice.

My luxury? Evidence my boys will leave, so I can begin to worry, and hope they will come back to me.

Life is so rich,
Scott

  • Dattatreya Gupta

    “Luxury is opposite of worry” – so a state of mind, not a measure of wealth – nice one.

  • Thor Eric

    Big fan of your YouTube work
    glad to know about these musings as well

    Would be interesting to hear you break down the disruption of brands during the Great Depression and how and which brands overcame that financial drought

  • Walter Leistiko

    Great job Scott ! Interesting thought, Amazon will be releasing 17 pictures for the ” big Screen ” . . .whats the incentive when they already steam ? Wait and see if it works at the expense big studios ?

  • Tom Jones III

    Fantastic post. You inspired me to Google translate this into Mandarin and Hindi, publish it under my own name and become famous in China and India respectively.