The Profile: The CEO moonlighting as a DJ & the athletes seduced by brain stimulation

Good morning, friends!

Instead of writing a column this week, I’ll leave you with these two photos. Life is pretty cool. Thank you for reading each week and being my Internet friends!

On to this week’s stories:

The CEO moonlighting as a DJ [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The nicest man in Hollywood
— The athletes seduced by brain stimulation
— The cryptocurrency rebels
— The guide dog school dropouts
— The company hiding its secrets in the Arctic


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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The CEO moonlighting as a DJ: You know David Solomon as the CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs. But I’m more fond of his alter ego: “DJ D-Sol.” People have wondered whether it’s appropriate for the chief of Wall Street’s most storied institution to be sipping tequila at a South Beach club until 3 a.m. “You know what, it’s who I am, and nobody would tell me not to play golf,” Solomon says. “And why shouldn’t I—because I’m a CEO?” He donates the proceeds from his gigs to drug-addiction-related philanthropies. This is a story that will keep you captivated until the end. (Fortune)

“I think we can do some work to be more admired and respected, and a little less envied and feared.”

The nicest man in Hollywood: Tom Hanks is playing Mister Rogers in a new film, and he’s just as nice as you expected him to be. In this wildly personal profile, both Hanks and the writer (the brilliant Taffy Brodesser-Akner) open up. It has it all: kindness, vulnerability, parenting advice, and why he never plays bad guys. It’s a refreshing piece that is guaranteed to lift your spirits. (The New York Times)

“I recognized in myself a long time ago that I don’t instill fear in anybody. Now, that’s different than being nice, you know? I think I have a cache of mystery. But it’s not one of malevolence.”

The athletes seduced by brain stimulation: The newest development in sports performance? Brain stimulation technology. It can have effects ranging from changing your mood to making you a better sniper. All it takes is a nine-volt battery and a couple of electrodes. The writer tried it on himself, and he notes that the key question whether you’re talking about drugs or technology, isn’t: Does it make you better? It’s: Does it change the things athletes have to do, and the qualities they have to possess, to win? (Outside Magazine)

The cryptocurrency rebels: Binance is the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange with an even bigger idea. It believes in “freedom of money” — that anyone, anywhere, should be able to easily send money to each other around the world.It’s a pretty ambitious goal, and if it succeeds, it could even become a financial layer embedded into the Internet itself. But before any of that happens, Binance needs to figure out the challenges within its own company first. (Decrypt)

“This world is crazier than you think, and I am part of this crazy world.”

The guide dog school dropouts: This is a story that takes you deep into the competitive world of service dogs. There’s something called guide school where dogs learn how to lead people from point A to point B; to stop at curbs, stairs and obstacles; and to detect any change in elevation. But at any point, they can be booted for health problems, lack of confidence, distractibility, barking at bearded men, or being too high-maintenance. Here’s what these “career change” dogs do instead. (Mel Magazine)

“If they don’t make it as a guide dog, maybe they can do another type of service they’re better suited for because of their high aptitude and willingness to work.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

The company hiding its secrets in the Arctic: GitHub, the software development platform, stores its secrets in an unusual place: an ice cave in the Arctic. GitHub’s CEO believes that open source software is one of the great achievements of our species, up there with the masterpieces of literature and fine art. So in case of a famine-inducing pandemic or nuclear apocalypse, you can rest easy knowing that the Internet’s open source code is safe. Talk about long-term (cold) storage. (Bloomberg)

“I think the world is fundamentally weirder than it was 20 years ago.”


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The Profile: The master of failing up & the Bitcoin bandits

Whenever a revered entrepreneur falls from grace, we collectively gasp and ask ourselves: “How could this possibly happen?” 

Logically, the answer is typically pretty straightforward: they were bleeding cash, the company’s financials didn’t make sense, or you know, they were running a complete fraud. But to get to that point, the founders had to convince a whole bunch of people to fund their vision and pay thousands of dollars to attend a music festival that never took place. 

And that part has absolutely nothing to do with logic. It has to do with charisma. And charisma is the ultimate double-edged sword. Just look at how society describes the following: Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes was “a striking female entrepreneur with a heartfelt personal story.” Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland was “a charming, seemingly trustworthy salesman.” WeWork’s Adam Neumann had “an inexplicably persuasive charisma and a taste for risk.”

In the Neumann profile featured below, there’s one part that stuck with me. Harrison Weber, a former WeWork editorial director, remembers how Neumann would talk about creating the first “physical social network,” referring to a place where members could talk about jobs, family, love. “It was like, wait, you mean life. What you’re talking about is just regular life,” Weber said. 

It reminded me of the time a founder sent me the following pitch: “It’s like a jacket, but for your legs.” And I thought, “Oh my god, he’s talking about pants.” They may speak in clichés, but if they’re charismatic, the clichés sound revolutionary. 

In this fascinating 1996 Fortune feature, Pattie Sellers delves into the mysterious, elusive “X factor” all leaders chase but only some possess. “Charisma is a tricky thing. Jack Kennedy oozed it—but so did Hitler and Charles Manson,” she writes. “Con artists, charlatans, and megalomaniacs can make it their instrument as effectively as the best CEOs, entertainers, and presidents. Used wisely, it’s a blessing. Indulged, it can be a curse.”

She goes on to outline five key qualities of truly charismatic leaders: they simplify and exaggerate, romanticize risk, fight convention, empathize, and goad & challenge. The people featured in the profiles below have charisma in spades, but the question is: Who’s using it wisely and who’s bound to get cursed?

THE PROFILE MEETUP: Wow, a whole lot of you signed up for The Profile’s global hangout. The fact that this newsletter has reached people from the U.S. all the way to Nairobi, Kenya blows my mind. THANK YOU. This is the last chance to fill out the survey. I’ll be emailing you about our local meetups this week, so sign up now if you want to participate. Cheers to making new friends!

Lots of excellent profiles this week:

The master of failing up [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The Bitcoin bandits
— The leader of the #YangGang
— The secret lives of NHL dentists
The CEO battling Google
— The Texas secessionists
— The four-time New York City Marathon champion
— The college party kingpin
— The exclusive women’s club sparking controversy
— The robots exploring the depths of the ocean


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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The master of failing up: WeWork’s implosion was one of epic proportions. The company’s valuation plummeted, it withdrew its initial public offering, and also underwent an executive exodus. Yet somehow, its downfall came with an astonishing exit package for its ousted founder Adam Neumann. He could receive more than $1 billion after selling his shares while simultaneously collecting a $185 million consulting fee. This story explains how Neumann managed to fail up as his company was spiraling out of control. (The New York Times)

“He’s an incredible evangelist. He’s an incredible visionary. He’s hired a lot of amazing people. He’s built an amazing brand, right?”

The Bitcoin bandits: With its cheap geothermal energy, Iceland has become one of the leading miners of digital currency. The Advania data center houses computers that are part of the largest concentration of Bitcoin mining power in the world. Advania pulls in what’s estimated to be millions of dollars a year. But wherever there is money, crime is sure to follow. Thieves broke in and stole 550 Bitcoin computers, totaling $2 million in tech gear. These days criminals aren’t robbing banks — they are stealing the presses used to print digital money. (Vanity Fair)

“Why go to all of the expense and effort to start your own Bitcoin mine when you can get a head start into the business by stealing computers from the competition?”

The leader of the #YangGang: If Andrew Yang is the presidential candidate of Silicon Valley, then why is he railing against it? His whole message is premised on the dangers of automation taking away jobs and the risks of artificial intelligence. He criticizes tech companies and makes a villain out of Amazon. But Yang’s message is catching on, and he might end up the star of one of the most compelling political stories of 2019. (Wired)

“In places where jobs disappear, society falls apart.” 

The secret lives of NHL dentists: There’s one popular spot many hockey players go the day after a game: the dentist’s office. Being a dentist in the National Hockey League means you see some really gory stuff — bloody teeth, dangling nerves, swollen gums. In a sport where losing teeth is a badge of honor, take a look at how hockey has transformed NHL dentists into the unsung heroes of the athletic world. (ESPN)

“Lesson No. 1 in hockey: Sooner or later, everyone answers to the dentist.”

The CEO battling Google: Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman thinks about tech behemoth Google more than the rest of us. “In Yelp’s case, it's been the thing that I probably have been most focused on for the last decade,” said Stoppelman, “finding a way to survive knowing that one of the most powerful companies in the world didn't want us to succeed.” This profile delves deep into Stoppelman’s 15-year battle with Google, and why his persistence is finally paying off. (BuzzFeed)

“The first seven years or eight years, there was a lot of eye-rolling in Silicon Valley about Yelp being a complainer … I think the reality is now the world has caught up.”

The Texas secessionists: Daniel Miller is the president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, which is devoted to ending Texas’s 175-year membership in the United States of America. He demands a referendum on secession and calls his plan “Texit” (yes, like Brexit). Miller argues that Texas sends the U.S. government more in taxes than it receives in federal funds. Texas itself is, in some ways, its own civilization — should it be its own country, too? (The Atlantic)

“The difference is that our decisions will be made here, and we will accept the consequences of those decisions.”

The four-time New York City Marathon champion: As a young girl, Mary Keitany’s nickname was “The Lightning.” Growing up in Kenya, she ran at least 10 kilometers every day. In the last decade, Keitany has become a fierce marathon champion. In 2018, she ran the second-fastest time (2:22:48) ever by a woman at the New York City Marathon. Take a look inside the mind of a marathon runner whose record-breaking career isn’t what helps her find meaning in life. (ESPN)

“You have to teach yourself that you're not running for yourself.”

The college party kingpin: While university tours and campus promo videos give students an idea of the academic environment at a college, a digital media company called I’m Schmacked gives them a look at the parties. The CEO recruited undergraduates as content creators, promising thousands of dollars in compensation and online fame. But none of that ever came. (The New York Times)

“They see a guy with one million followers and is verified. You just never would think someone with that much power would do that.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH. 

The exclusive women’s club sparking controversy: Ever since it first launched three years ago, The Wing has struggled to define its ideal customer. It’s inclusive (welcomes all women) yet its exclusive (they have to have $2,000 of annual disposable income). No one gets rejected yet there are 35,000 people on a waitlist. The women-only members space claims to be an accelerator for the feminist revolution. But how progressive is it really? (The Guardian)

“I really wonder what the plan is to grow while staying true to their values.”

The robots exploring the depths of the ocean: We care more about understanding the emptiness of outer space (hello, Elon) than the living seas that make up 70% of our planet. The deep ocean is the final frontier of exploration. Sooo that means it’s time to bring in the robots. Backed by billionaires and venture capitalists, a wave of entrepreneurs are developing high-tech, low-cost robots to enter the deep waters that we barely understand. Here’s how affordable tech can unlock strange, new worlds. (Outside Magazine)

“Things that used to take months, now you can do in a day.”


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The Profile: The world’s greatest investor & Hong Kong’s democracy fighters

If you’ve been reading The Profile for a while, you’ll remember the following gut-wrenching features: Japan’s invisible generation. The loneliest man in Hollywood. The rent-a-friend company. Whether you’re in Japan, Hollywood, or middle America, loneliness is a universal human experience.

To combat loneliness, people are turning to astrology, leading clinical trials for a loneliness pill, and even looking for the community and stability of … jail. It’s crazy to think about how many social networks we’re a part of yet we’re still in desperate need of human connection. But a lot of that isolation is self-inflicted.

We long for company yet we rejoice for alone time. As comedian John Mulaney put it:

“Sometimes I’ll be talking to someone, and I’ll be like ‘Yeah, I’ve been really lonely lately’ and they’ll be like ‘Well we should hang out!’ and I’m like ‘No, that’s not what I meant. That’s not what I meant at all.”

It’s good to be alone, society tells us, it’s self-care. When a friend is going through a trying time, we prescribe loneliness masquerading as empowerment. Tough breakup? Grab a copy of Eat, Pray, Love, and go on a month-long silent meditation retreat. Hard week at work? Pour yourself a glass of wine, cancel your plans, and binge on Netflix until you numb your mind.

Our culture sends contradictory messages because it doesn’t know the difference between solitude and loneliness. Solitude helps us regulate emotions, while loneliness dulls them. John Cacioppo, a professor who studied the effects of loneliness, said, “There is a big difference between objective isolation and perceived isolation, and perceived isolation is loneliness.”

I often think back to Rolling Stone’s profile on Elon Musk. In it, Musk is discussing his marriage to writer Justine Musk, his marriage to actress Talulah Riley, and his breakup from actress Amber Heard. The billionaire shakes his head and grimaces: “If I’m not in love, if I’m not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy.”

The writer explains that needing someone so badly that you feel like nothing without them is considered codependence. Musk disagrees and says, “It’s not true. I will never be happy without having someone. Going to sleep alone kills me.”

There’s truth to what Musk is saying, the writer notes. It is lonely at the top — but not for everyone. It’s lonely at the top for those who were lonely at the bottom. So what can we do today to make sure we don’t end up as anxious and lonely billionaires? I think it’s about the strength and closeness of our community ties. 

Rather than withdraw, we can all turn to our existing communities and meet people with similar interests who are willing to connect and form quality relationships in real life. So that led me to think of this:

…. A GLOBAL MEETUP: I believe that the antidote to loneliness is community, and this newsletter is living proof of it. I have the most interesting and thoughtful conversations with you guys every week. It’s truly a shame we can’t all just meet in the same place for one day to share ideas face-to-face. So I want to do an experiment that could change that.

I was inspired by this, and here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s do a global Profile meetup the weekend of December 13-15. Here’s how it’ll work:

  • Fill out this short survey before next Sunday.

  • Make sure you’re available one day during the weekend of Dec. 13-15.

  • Over the next few weeks, I’ll look at the answers, match up small groups of Profile readers in their respective cities, and send further meetup instructions.

  • We’ll keep the activities simple (ie: meeting at a local coffee shop, grabbing a drink, taking a walk, or whatever fun thing there is to do in your area).

I really hope you choose to participate!

----

On to this week’s profiles:

— Hong Kong’s democracy fighters [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The world’s greatest investor
— The first daughter forming her own identity
— The ransomware superhero
— America’s trailblazing coaches
— The outspoken power couple
— The timeless performer
— New York’s private investigator


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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

Hong Kong’s democracy fighters: In October, Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The tweet caused a firestorm, pitting the NBA against a country estimated to account for at least 10% of the league’s revenue. In China, the league faced backlash for tolerating Morey’s comment. In the U.S, it faced criticism for taking a stronger stance in defending his right to say it. As one protestor put it: “This should be a wake-up call to the whole world.” (The Ringer)

“You guys fought so hard to get the First Amendment so that you could say what you want in your own country. And now a foreign country is dictating what you can and can’t say on your own soil.” 

The world’s greatest investor: Jim Simons is considered the most successful money maker in the history of modern finance. Since 1988, his flagship Medallion fund has generated average annual returns of 66% before charging hefty investor fees—39% after fees—racking up trading gains of more than $100 billion. No one in the investment world comes close. Warren Buffett, George Soros, Peter Lynch, Steve Cohen, and Ray Dalio all fall short. Yet when he first started, Simons had never taken a finance class, didn’t know much about trading, and had no clue how to estimate earnings or predict the economy. Here’s how Simons overcame his doubts to turn Wall Street on its head. (WSJ)

“If you make money, you feel like a genius If you lose, you’re a dope.”

The first daughter forming her own identity: Everywhere Chelsea Clinton goes these days, people stop her to say, “I’m sorry about your mother.” People stop her all the time to say things, and often, they are much less pleasant things. She’s never really had the chance to be herself, because many of her choices so far have been dictated by what would serve the family project best. Now, at 39, she's finally figuring out what she wants. (The Cut)

“You ask her what time it is and she will build you a wristwatch.”

The ransomware superhero: Each year, millions of ransomware attacks paralyze computer systems of individuals, businesses, hospitals, and medical offices. Thanks to Michael Gillespie, a 27-year-old obscure programmer at a Nerds on Call repair store, hundreds of thousands of ransomware victims have recovered their files for free. In every other aspect of his life, he’s considered an outcast, but in his spare time, he morphs into a crime-foiling cybercrime superhero. This is a story of self-sacrifice, resilience, and glory. (ProPublica)

“Asked what motivates him, he replied, ‘I guess it’s just the affinity for challenge and feeling like I am contributing to beating the bad guys.’”

America’s trailblazing coaches: Football’s recent realization that good ideas can come from anywhere has had countless consequences: Stubborn coaches are getting dumped; schemes are rising up from all levels of football; and quarterbacks are performing at higher levels than at any time in NFL history. So many of the changes in the past decade can be explained by the rise of the high school coach in the NFL. Meet the coaches bringing innovation and creativity to the NFL. (The Ringer)

“High school coaches are forced to get more creative because it’s not like you’re holding a draft.”

The outspoken power couple: John Legend and Chrissy Teigen are an unabashedly successful couple who together have overcome some childhood pain. In this profile, Legend speaks openly about his mother’s drug problem and Teigen opens up about her mom’s depression that caused her to distance herself from the family. Here’s how the duo helped each other navigate some serious trauma but still manage not to take themselves too seriously. (Vanity Fair)

“I think I’m such an open person now because everyone in my family has always been so hush-hush. I love attention and affection. I want to be direct with everyone.”

The timeless performer: Willem Dafoe, who has played a Spider-Man villain, Vincent van Gogh and Jesus, has 120 film credits to his name — and the number grows every year. So much of what we do, Dafoe says, is predicated on an idea of ourselves that we’re trying to protect. It’s part of the reason he enjoys playing such a range of characters. He’s always chasing after what he doesn’t know. “Do things that don’t let you decide definitively who you are and the way things are,” Dafoe says. (TIME)

“The job is always different, and you’re always calibrating in relationship to the people, to how you’re feeling. It’s for that reason that I’ll never tire of performing.”

New York’s private investigator: Marie Schembri has been a private eye for more than 30 years, tracking down grifters, liars and cads from her Brooklyn base.In 1995, she was a queen of disguise, wearing wigs, glasses, and props. Twenty-four years later, she is still investigating. But these days, all Schembri really needs to do most of her sleuthing is a cell phone and an internet connection. We’ve become so much easier to track. (The New York Times)

“You don’t have to sit outside someone’s house to see when they’re coming and going. You can track them from anywhere.”


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The Profile: The millennial astrologers & the secretive billionaire buying up the Cayman Islands

Good morning, friends.

If a reporter was writing a profile on you, what do you think they would choose to focus on?

Here’s why it’s an interesting thought experiment: Most of us don’t find our lives interesting enough to merit a 5,000-word profile. But as a college professor once told me, no one’s inherently boring. They’re only boring because you haven’t asked them the right questions.

The one thing I love about profiles is that no matter who you’re reading about — whether it’s a celebrity or a regular person — the devil’s in the mundane details.

My all-time favorite example of the “it’s-the-boring-that-makes-you-interesting” phenomenon is the mother of all profiles. Gay Talese’s famous 1966 Esquire profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” became the gold standard of profile writing even though he never once spoke with Sinatra himself. The story became one of the most celebrated magazine stories ever published, and is often considered one of history’s greatest celebrity profiles. This iconic feature pioneered a form of “new journalism” that paired factual reporting with vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.

Talese went to L.A. hoping to score an interview with Sinatra, but the legendary singer was under the weather and unwilling to be interviewed. So Talese spoke with more than 100 people in Sinatra’s orbit—his friends, his associates, his family—and observed the man himself wherever he could. It makes for a ton of mundane moments that conjure up a fascinating, nuanced portrait of Sinatra in his prime.

For example, a simple Frank Sinatra has a cold” turns into: 

“Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.” 

It’s a brilliant story. You are captivated immediately, and you can’t stop reading. Yet here’s what I love about Talese: The Sinatra piece isn’t his favorite. Rather, Talese points to his first profile for Esquire called “Mr. Bad News,” a story on an obscure obituary writer no one had heard of before Talese dedicated 5,000 words to him. Talese isn’t inspired by celebrities, he says, he’s inspired by the mundane, everyday people like us. “When you’re an obscure person yourself and you identify with obscurity, or you go through life wondering about people, it strikes within me and resonates within me so richly,” he says.

From his Longform podcast episode:

"I want to know how people did what they did. And I want to know how that compares with how I did what I did. That's my whole life. It's not really a life. It's a life of inquiry. 

“It's a life of getting off your ass, knocking on a door, walking a few steps or a great distance to pursue a story. That's all it is: a life of boundless curiosity in which you indulge yourself and never miss an opportunity to talk to someone at length."

On to this week’s profiles:

— The millennial astrologers [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The burnout of the NBA’s shooting star
— The friendliest robot in town
— The economist who helped invent the proposed wealth tax
— The secretive billionaire buying up the Cayman Islands
— Scientology’s spiritual headquarters
— The zombie media site that just won’t die


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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The millennial astrologers: The other day I heard a guy on the subway ask a girl what her ‘sign’ was. It was an unfortunate pick up line, but somehow it appeared to work. That’s probably because more than 30% of Americans believe in astrology. They spend $2.2 billion annually on “mystical services.” Venture capitalists have poured $6 million into an astrology app. Why the surge in popularity? We live in a time of uncertainty. And in times of uncertainty, people search for something to believe in. As Theodor Adorno argued in 1953, astrology appeals to “persons who do not any longer feel that they are the self-determining subjects of their fate.” Welcome to 2019! (The New Yorker)

“New spirituality is the new norm.”

The burnout of the NBA’s shooting star:CarmeloAnthony's headlong dive into basketball exile is partly the story of the game's dramatic evolution that placed him on the wrong side of history. But it's also the story about greatness — and how stars often decline as steeply as they rise. "When you're one of the top 10 players in our league for 10 years, you think it's going to be there forever," says one of Anthony's former NBA coaches. "They're always the last ones to know." (ESPN)

“People would like to be able to say that they can go out on their own terms. That’s the whole issue. Not everybody gets the farewell tour.”

The friendliest robot in town: People 65 and older make up the fastest-growing age demographic in the U.S. But the growth of the eldercare workforce is not keeping pace. Enter Stevie, a socially assistive robot design to curb loneliness and depression in elderly care homes. Stevie responds to requests and questions with speech, gestures, and head movements. The robot can recognize voice commands such as “help me,” and could alert staff to a resident in distress. He (it?) even plays Bingo. Here’s what the future of AI means for caretaking our grandparents. (TIME)

“When we went into conversations with people, especially after they met the robot, [and] asked them what are the things you liked most about it, they’d say, ‘it made me laugh,’ or, ‘it made me smile.’”

The economist who helped invent the proposed wealth tax: Gabriel Zucman is a French economist who has studied the effects that accumulated wealth has had on global inequality. According to his calculations, $7.6 trillion of global household wealth was held in tax havens, and it was mostly being diverted to mutual funds incorporated in Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, and Ireland. Here’s why he’s advocating a progressive wealth tax as a solution to global inequality, one that rethinks both evasion and the goals of taxation. (The New Yorker)

“If you have banks that feel that they are too big to indict then they will continue to commit some form of financial crimes. They will budget costs for fines.”

The secretive billionaire buying up the Cayman Islands: The heir to the Red Solo cup empire is apparently a mysterious billionaire who is widely believed to be the biggest private landholder of the Cayman islands. Yet no one has ever actually seen him. Residents compared him to Batman, Howard Hughes, a Bond villain and both Warren and Jimmy Buffett. Meet the secretive man who has come to define the islands’ future. (The New York Times)

“We need to get one or two more like him, and we’ll be insulated from world shocks.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

Scientology’s spiritual headquarters: The Church of Scientology and companies run by its members spent $103 million over the past three years buying up vast sections of Clearwater, Florida. They now own 185 properties that cover 101 acres in the center of downtown, putting the secretive church firmly in control of the area’s future. Here’s how the church of Scientology planted spies in the state attorney’s office, framed the mayor, and spread false rumors — all in the quest to turn Clearwater into its spiritual headquarters. (Tampa Bay Times)

“They’ve got one intention, and one intention only. Buy up as much property as they can for the church — whether they let it sit there and rot — so no one else can be there.”

The zombie media site that just won’t die: Gawker once ran a story about Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg under the headline “Who Gave This Asshole $6.5 Million To Launch a Bro-Tastic Lady Site?” Little did it know he would buy it for seven figures just two years later. After he bought it and announced big plans, Goldberg abruptly shut it down before he even re-launched it. This story offers a close examination of what happened at the new almost-Gawker, while also revealing a great deal about a man who appears to know what he wants but isn’t exactly sure how to get it. (Esquire)

“The demise of Gawker has been one grotesque irony after another.”


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The Profile: The billionaire who killed his electric car project & Gen Z’s big addiction

Everyone endures a particularly cringeworthy period of life. For me, that period was 4th grade.

We had just emigrated from Bulgaria, and figuring out the cultural norms of the United States was tough. I didn’t speak English. I used a fork and knife to cut my pizza slice at lunch. I couldn’t play kickball. And I gave up all hope when I was presented with a breaded, deep-fried, sausage on a stick you Americans call “a corn dog.” Every day was something new, and every day I hated that I was different. 

^^ Me before I was confronted with the realities of American cuisine

That meant a few things. It meant eating lunch alone, and always feeling like an outsider. As an adult, I’m able to reason my way through the situation and understand why it happened. But as a 9-year-old, those experiences re-wired my brain and warped my thinking for years to come. 

We moved, and I got to start 7th grade with kids who didn’t know me during the fork-and-knife pizza days. I still remember walking into my new school thinking, “You can be whoever you want to be here.” So, naturally, I over-corrected.

Suddenly, I worshipped at the altar of conformity and conventional wisdom. I hated advice like, “Always be yourself,” because being yourself, in my mind, rendered a vivid image of sitting alone at a cafeteria table. I was over-the-top nice, I never had an opinion, and I ate pizza with my bare hands like a savage. I was boring, and it was exhausting. 

By the time I graduated college, I had friends, I was generally well-liked, and I was never alone. But now, not only did I still feel like an outsider, I also felt like a fraud. This is referred to as “normative social influence,” a type of conformity in which a person publicly accepts the views of a group but privately rejects them. It’s a pretty lonely way to live. 

Five years ago, I moved to New York, which gave me a clean slate and license to be an asshole (lol just kidding). Starting The Profile was the most honest and original thing I’ve done. I decided to stop pretending, but you can’t quit this habit cold turkey. It haunts you in weird ways. First come the anxious questions: “Who could possibly care about my opinion?” “Which writer’s style should I imitate?” “Who will ever read this thing?” But then come the questions that matter: “What is my voice?” “Who am I writing this for?” and “What the hell do I actually believe?”

Last week, I got to meet two of my favorite writers: James Clear (author of Atomic Habits) and Tim Urban (author of Wait But Why). Tim explained just how hard it is to create original work in the face of conventional wisdom. “When you’re trying to create something truly original, you make a bunch of mistakes,” he said. “Originals are a mess.” 

In this life, we only have two options: create or imitate. Independent thought is hard and messy and often unpopular, but it’s also liberating. We trip up so many times because we care about the crowd’s opinion. There’s a “right time” to get married, have kids, quit your job, build a company, and eat pizza with a fork and a knife. Who decides that? Hopefully, it’s you. 

I recently read author Anna Quindlen's thought-provoking commencement speech (h/t to James Clear for featuring it). Save it, print it, frame it. Here’s what she had to say on originality:

“Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. 

“This is more difficult, because there is no zeitgeist to read, no template to follow, no mask to wear. Set aside what your friends expect, what your parents demand, what your acquaintances require. Set aside the messages this culture sends, through its advertising, its entertainment, its disdain and its disapproval, about how you should behave. 

“Set aside the old traditional notion of female as nurturer and male as leader; set aside, too, the new traditional notions of female as superwoman and male as oppressor. Begin with that most terrifying of all things, a clean slate. Then look, every day, at the choices you are making, and when you ask yourself why you are making them, find this answer: for me, for me. Because they are who and what I am, and mean to be.”

“This will always be your struggle whether you are twenty-one or fifty-one. I know this from experience. When I quit the New York Times to be a full-time mother, the voices of the world said that I was nuts. When I quit it again to be a full-time novelist, they said I was nuts again. But I am not nuts. I am happy. I am successful on my own terms. Because if your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all. Remember the words of Lily Tomlin: If you win the rat race, you're still a rat.”

--

Now, on to the excellent profiles of the week:

— The billionaire who killed his electric car project [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The NFL’s unbreakable bond
— Eli Manning’s final days
— The world-class ticket scalper
— The machine that could write this newsletter
— The ugly side of GoFundMe
— Gen Z’s big addiction
— The startup selling second-hand luxury goods


👉 If you enjoy reading profiles of the most interesting people and companies, tweet to tell others about it:

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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The billionaire who killed his electric car project: James Dyson, the billionaire British inventor and entrepreneur, poured billions of dollars into a passion project: an electric car. To make it work, he had committed four years, hundreds of engineers, and 2 billion pounds ($2.5 billion). And then it failed. At a time when every company speaks about innovation and disruption, Dyson’s decision to kill his electric car is a case study in the delicate balancing act of embracing ingenuity while keeping an eye on profits. (Fortune)

“An electric vehicle is not just a big hair dryer.” 

The NFL’s unbreakable bond: Texans’ receiver DeAndre Hopkins says he owes his career to his mom. Millions of people watch when Hopkins dives for otherworldly catches, racking up more receptions through the first six seasons of a career than any other player in NFL history. Except his mom. She can't see her son, but she knows he's there. This is such a powerful story of resilience, devotion, perseverance, and a true unbreakable bond between mother and son. (ESPN)

“I'm telling you: There is light after darkness."

Eli Manning’s final days: Nobody knows for sure if this is the end of Eli Manning’s career. But if it is, this profile deconstructs what it would look like. Manning never adhered to any norms, never fit any preconceived notion of what a football player should be. He’s been studied his entire life, written about and dissected, and still no one has been able to define him. Those closest to him—teammates, friends, family—all claim the outside world has never understood the real Eli Manning. Here’s a rare look into the psyche of the two-time Super Bowl champion. (Sports Illustrated)

“He has an iron stomach. He eats it.”

The world-class ticket scalper: OK, so this is a crazy story that’s very hard to describe. It’s a lapsed Mormon's tale of sinners, scalpers and the search for God in his decades-long descent into the underworld of ticket scalping. The most important rule in the game? Don’t ever trust anyone. Take an intimate look inside an international Mormon ticket reselling ring. (SB Nation)

“My clean-cut Mormon looks usually closed the deal, but there were also critical soft skills — a smile, counting money slowly, a somber nod — that eliminated doubt if the straights were hesitant.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH. 

The machine that could write this newsletter: In February, OpenAI, an artificial-intelligence company, announced that the release of the full version of its A.I. writer, called GPT-2—a kind of supercharged version of Smart Compose—would be delayed, because the machine was too good at writing. This article attempts to answer the question: What happens when companies try to put words in your mouth? Here’s how predictive-text technology could transform the future of the written word. (The New Yorker)

"Humans would stop writing, or at least publishing, because all the readers would be captivated by the machines. What then?"

The ugly side of GoFundMe: GoFundMe has become the largest crowdfunding platform in the world— 50 million people gave more than $5 billion on the site through 2017. In an era when membership in churches, labor unions, and other civic organizations has flatlined, GoFundMe offers a way to help and be helped by your figurative neighbor. But there are limits to those well-intentioned campaigns, and sometimes, it can get ugly.  (The Atlantic)

“If it’s a way to perform need, how must it feel to put yourself out there and not receive anything in return?”

Gen Z’s big addiction: Juul’s USB-drive-looking vaporizers and sweetened flavors, with names like mango, cucumber, and creme, may well help longtime smokers give up their smoking habit. But they’ve also attracted millions of nonsmokers, including a lot of kids. Researchers warn that Juul’s high-nicotine pods and Instagram marketing could be undoing decades of antismoking gains. Now, interviews with former employees show Juul knew early on that its high-nicotine e-cigarettes appealed to kids. “Oh, God, look how young they all are,” Pax Labs’ former CMO remembers thinking when he saw the crowd at a Juul event. (Bloomberg)

“Unfortunately, sometimes the next response I get from those same teens is, ‘Wait, there’s nicotine in this?’ ”

The startup selling second-hand luxury goods: In 2011, Julie Wainwright founded TheRealReal, a platform for selling previously owned luxury goods. Selling used clothing wasn’t a new idea; vintage and used-clothing stores have been around forever. But resale businesses were little local shops that catered to aficionados, hipsters, and people on a budget. Wainwright, however, decided to go global and high-end. Here’s how she studied consumer behavior and turned TheRealReal into a billion-dollar company. (The New Yorker)

“We want to be able to provide a full closet clean-out.”


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