Weekend Reading: Timeful Texts, Sumo Startups, and Canva Backlinks

August 1, 2020 • #

🕰 Timeful Texts

A new piece from Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen (beautifully illustrated by Maggie Appleton). Can we make reading a more engaging and interactive learning experience? This builds on previous ideas from the authors on spaced repetition.

🤼‍♂️ Software, Full-Stack, and Sumo Startups

Interesting take from one of Byrne Hobart’s recent newsletters. Contrasting a typical “full-stack” model of company-building and VC funding to a “sumo” model:

The amount of VC funding has been rising steadily, and returns are skewed by a few positive outliers, so any fund that doesn’t have a specific size mandate is actively looking for companies that can absorb a lot of capital as they grow. The best way to get more capital is to move from a capital-efficient business to a capital-inefficient one, so there’s a strong incentive to pivot in this direction.

The incentive is sometimes too strong. Some companies go beyond the “full-stack” model to what I think of as the “sumo” model: raising an intimidating amount of money just to scare off everyone else. The sumo model does prevent one failure mode for startups: the situation where every time Company A raises a round, it validates the model and lets Company B raise more, which forces Company A to burn through their marketing budget faster and raise an even bigger round, and so on until the entire space is over-capitalized and everyone’s assumptions about long-term unit economics are implausibly optimistic. It’s an easier strategy to try when capital is abundant, but it’s a harder strategy to pull off; the bar for “an absurd amount to invest in a company that just does X” keeps going up.

In the arena of geeky digital marketing, this is a great deconstruction of organic optimization tactics in play at Canva, one of the best out there at enabling discovery through search and backlink traffic. I love how thoughtful and intentional their page architecture is; it enables so much adaptive targeting to sweep up long-tail keyword spaces.