The Profile: The cryptoqueen who scammed the world & the involuntary witnesses of death

Good morning, friends!

One of life’s great ironies is that simplicity has become pretty complicated. Technology was supposed to make our lives easier — and it has, in many ways — except it hasn’t made them simpler

There’s always a notification here, an email that needs responding there. Things compete for your attention at all hours in the night. In turn, this “easy” world has made us reactive, defensive, worried, and distracted.

I always notice those qualities in myself when I visit my grandmother in Bulgaria. She recently bought a villa near the Rila mountains where it’s not uncommon to see sheep, chickens, and cows just casually wandering around. In stark contrast to my life in Manhattan, the only noise you hear at 6 a.m. is the neighbor’s annoying rooster, not the cab driver screaming obscenities in the street. There’s a reason Bill Gates takes a “Think Week” once a year in a secluded cabin in the woods.

It’s an understatement to say that we live in a world of over-indulgence. I’ve written about minimalism before, and noted that the worst form of excess is to achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of and realize that somehow you’re still not happy and that something is still missing. And that, my friends, sucks.

There’s this famous passage from Matt Haig’s memoir Reasons to Stay Alive:

The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? 

How do you sell an anti-aging moisturizer? You make someone worry about aging. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. 

To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.

So this leads me to my grandmother’s neighbor Ivan. He couldn’t care less about anti-aging moisturizer, plastic surgery, or smartphones. He may lead a simple life according to our standards, but it’s not in any way less busy or fulfilling.

He has animals, he does a ton of physical work every day, and he seems genuinely happy. His biggest worry the last time I saw him was how horrible airplanes are for the environment and how he sees them in the sky every day now.

It’s just a really great reminder that there’s no one one “right” way to live a fulfilled life, and I hope the variety of profiles each week prove that point. 

This week’s stories were awesome:

— Big Tech’s big defector [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The tragic loss of the voice of Auburn
— The CEO re-writing Mattel’s (toy) story
The involuntary witnesses of death
— The celebrity who shifted American culture
— The cryptoqueen who scammed the world
— The overgrown child actor who's growing up
— The pharma giant that sparked a panic
— The ‘nicoteen’ factory
— The companies chasing safety and profits


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PEOPLE TO KNOW.

Big Tech’s big defector: Roger McNamee began his career at T. Rowe Price, partnered with Kleiner Perkins, and later co-founded Silver Lake Partners. He also mentored many of the people who have transformed Silicon Valley. In 2006, when Facebook was a two-year-old company with less than $50M in annual revenue, McNamee advised Mark Zuckerberg to turn down Yahoo’s offer to buy it for a billion dollars. In a surprising turn of events, he’s now become the loudest critic of the very technology that made him a very wealthy man. 

“I have a hippie value system. I’m always going to speak truth to power.”

The tragic loss of the voice of Auburn: Rod Bramblett was a beloved radio play-by-play announcer for Auburn Tigers football. Earlier this year, he had a conversation with his wife Paula about who would be the guardians of their children should something happen to them. They asked their best friends Andy and Jan. A few days after the paperwork was done, that something happened. This a story about the tragedy and unfairness of life, but it’s also about true friendship and unconditional love. (ESPN)

“In real life, we don't live out only the epic parts of our good deeds. We live the get-by of it all. The little stuff. The marrow.”

The CEO re-writing Mattel’s (toy) story: Ynon Kreiz is 18 months into his tenure as the chief executive of Mattel, and he’s cautiously optimistic about the iconic toymaker’s future. After years of strategic missteps and bad luck, Kreitz hopes to pivot Mattel to become less of a toy company and more of “a higher-margined media enterprise built on a stable of valuable brands.” Take a look inside his master plan for a much-needed turnaround. (Fortune)

“The company was too successful for too long for its own good.”

The involuntary witnesses of death: Every time there’s a subway-related death in New York, my mind immediately goes to the train operator. Now, there’s a story on this very subject. Almost half of America’s engineers have operated a train that killed someone on the tracks. When it happens, they get just 3 days off. Nightmares, anxiety, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can follow. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“You remember every single one of them, in every single detail.”

The celebrity who shifted American culture: Kim Kardashian-West not only understood the changes that were beginning to disrupt much of American culture; she herself demonstrably shifted it, altering the way we understand fame and even the internet. In this wide-ranging Q&A, she discusses being a sex symbol to why she’s working on prison reform to how getting robbed at gunpoint changed the way she looks at life. (The New York Times)

“I’ve always believed in second chances and not canceling people. It’s really a weird time.”

The cryptoqueen who scammed the world: Ruja Ignatova called herself the Cryptoqueen. She told people she had invented a cryptocurrency to rival Bitcoin, and persuaded them to invest billions. Then, two years ago, she disappeared. Here’s the story of what happened when one reporter followed the trail of money to try and figure out where she was hiding. (BBC)

"When prophecy fails they believe more strongly. Particularly if you have invested something, not only money, but belief, reputation, intelligence. You think, 'Wait a bit longer.'"

The overgrown child actor who's growing up: From the very start of his career, Adam Sandler has carved out a niche playing overgrown children — men who find themselves behind the curve and set out to win the respect of their peers. But now, in a new thriller, he’s finally stepping out of his comfort zone of comedy. You’re about to see him in a whole new light. (The New York Times)

“They know my goofy movies — they grew up with that guy. They didn’t grow up with the guy who does some serious movies on occasion.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

The pharma giant that sparked a panic: French pharma giant Sanofi developed Dengvaxia, the first and only vaccine approved to protect against the dengue virus. But then the vaccine rolled out in the Philippines and caused a scare that could have dire consequences. This is a harrowing, nuanced account of what happens when an imperfect medical innovation makes its debut. (Fortune)

“People were willing to believe non-doctors and non-specialists over doctors and specialist scientists.”

The ‘nicoteen’ factory: In the face of mounting investigations, subpoenas and lawsuits, Juul Labs has insisted that it never marketed or knowingly sold its e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine pods to teenagers. Here’s how the company planted the seeds for a public health crisis in which a new generation is becoming hooked on nicotine. (The New York Times)

“We don’t think a lot about addiction here because we’re not trying to design a cessation product at all.”

The companies chasing safety and profits: There has never been more innovation in the area of football player safety, leading to advancements in helmets and related technologies. But there have also never been more unproved, misleading claims about effectiveness in the marketing and selling of these same helmets. The more passionate experts in that group compare the helmet industry to the sport of football itself, where safety has been and forever will be secondary to what matters most. Profit. (Sports Illustrated)

"The relationship between those managers and the big helmet companies is one of the most important and, at times, insidious features of this industry that no one really understands.”


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