To Be And To Last #18

This week we explore Airbnb’s old investor emails, Bhutan’s household energy generators, and the life of one of our greatest contemporary war correspondents.

Biogas in Bhutan: saving money and reducing emissions

Farmers in Bhutan previously relied on imported fuel (expensive) or harvested timber (time intensive) for cooking and heating. More recently, household biogas generators have proven a low-cost alternative by processing plentiful cattle manure into biofuel and fertilizer. All while decreasing carbon footprint.

What is bravery, what is bravado?

We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, what is bravado? - Marie Colvin

From interviewing Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi hours after US bombing in 1986 to losing an eye reporting on the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2001, Marie Colvin shed light on the human impact of most major global conflicts for nearly 30 years. I found her biography, In Extremis, to be a haunting look at a person who sought to help those caught up in conflicts while struggling to find peace in her own life.

In 2012, Marie Colvin died during a targeted bombardment as Syrian government forces sought to silence a group of journalists who had snuck into a besieged city to report on human rights violations. Marie had returned after leaving once already because she hoped her presence and live reporting could spur enough international outrage to save lives.

How to tell a story with data

Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary as the ability to read and write. - H. G. Wells

That world might have arrived, but our education has definitely not kept up. Rather than a more logical, efficient population, we’ve become increasingly good at lying with statistics. Even more(?) concerningly, we often aren’t lie intentionally: we simply don’t know how to accurately communicate and interpret data.

Thankfully, the Financial Times has stepped up with a delightful visual vocabulary. Not sure what chart will appropriately communicate your insight? Give this guide a read.

One word of caution: despite what the FT may think, circle charts are never appropriate (the human eye is unable to accurately interpret the size of a donut slice). And really, bar charts are best 90% of the time.

Airbnb: from $735 to $18 billion

History changes in the retelling, so I’m always fascinated by original documents. This 2009 exchange between Paul Graham (investor) and Brian Chesky (Airbnb cofounder) shows a relentless focus on achieving sustainable growth, but doing so in a way that helped them understand their customers (closing in on product-market fit).

Months earlier, Airbnb had landed a quick $30k profit by selling election-themed breakfast cereal. Unclear exactly what research brief the cereal was answering…


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

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