March 17, 2023

Today's Topics

Good morning and a happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone celebrating! Today we're exploring:

  • Darts at the board: Y Combinator's strategy, visualized.
  • Escapism: Fiction books are flying off the shelves.
  • Star power: Ryan Reynolds strikes gold... again.

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Y stay late?

Y Combinator is refocusing. The prolific startup accelerator announced plans this week to move away from investing in mature private companies, as CEO Garry Tan found investing in later-stage companies to be a distraction from the core mission — helping founders “make something people want”. The move, which includes layoffs of 17 staff members, was reportedly planned before the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

YC’s focus has always been backing early-stage founders, some of whom may only have an idea or rudimentary demo of a product, in its twice-yearly startup accelerator cohorts — an approach that’s created a remarkable list of alumni.

Darts at the board

Having now funded over 4,000 startups, with a combined valuation exceeding $600bn, it’s almost guaranteed that everyone in America has used at least one product from its portfolio of companies. If you’ve booked a holiday on Airbnb, ordered food through DoorDash or paid for something online with Stripe, you have YC to (partly) thank.

Although the specific investment terms have changed through the years, YC’s strategy has been consistent and it perfectly encapsulates investing in risky start-up companies: many will fail, most will be unspectacular, and a handful will (hopefully) be home runs that pay for everything.

While the earliest cohorts were just a handful of companies, the most recent batches have been in the hundreds — YC’s startup directory lists more than 2,400 investments from just the last 5 years. It’s safe to assume that there’s already a future success like Airbnb, Reddit, Twitch or Stripe in one of those batches.

A little too real

Bloomsbury, the book publisher behind the Harry Potter series, just raised its revenue expectations for its latest financial year to £260m, up from the previously expected £243m. That's some 40% higher than the company managed just 2 years ago.

Interestingly, it’s been fantasy fiction books that have helped drive much of the sales boost, with readers seeking to escape the everyday worries of the real world, as “people have had too much reality” according to Bloomsbury's CEO, Nigel Newton.

BookTok strikes again

TikTok, perhaps surprisingly, has also been an effective modern channel to attract bookworms. #BookTok is a hashtag that is self-described as “the biggest book club on the planet”. Enthusiastic readers share videos of book reviews, reactions and curated lists of recommendations, and the hashtag has even gained a staggering 112 billion views. It helped drive sales of series such as A Court of Thorns and Roses, which Hulu is adapting into a TV series, and took Colleen Hoover — who sold more than 14 million books last year — to the top of the 2022 bestseller list.

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Show business

Ryan Reynolds, chiefly known for starring roles in global megahit movies like Deadpool and Red Notice, has struck gold — again — as T-Mobile is set to spend $1.35 billion acquiring the actor’s budget cell service Mint Mobile.

Reynolds purchased a stake, said to be around 25%, in Mint back in 2019 and he’s been pretty instrumental in getting the brand’s name out there ever since, starring in a series of popular ads for the company — like this one written by ChatGPT.

The Reynolds effect

It’s surprising the Canadian star has had any time to devote to his acting in the last few years, as he's been kept busy with a portfolio of wide-ranging investments in everything from alcohol to software.

Using his star power and social media savvy, Reynolds has boosted the profile of a number of companies he has a stake in to great effect. Aviation Gin, which Reynolds promoted heavily, was acquired for $610m in 2020, freeing up Reynolds to get involved with Wrexham AFC, a soccer team in the fifth-tier of the English league. That journey has since been turned into a documentary, co-produced by Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

Ryan, if you read this newsletter, please let us know.

More Data

• With ~33m people of Irish descent in the USA, St. Patrick's Day is understandably a big deal. Interestingly, the population of Ireland is only 5m.

• The maternal mortality rate has jumped again in the US and is now up more than 60% since 2019, per new data from the CDC.

John (Wick), James (Bond), Jack (Ryan), investigating why the past 70 years of action movie heroes' names all seem to begin with the letter “J”.

• Cocaine production rose 35% between 2020 and 2021 to record levels, according to a new UN Office on Drugs and Crime report.


• Seeing more and more French Bulldogs? The Economist has charted their rise in the US.

• Charting the rise of DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) households.• Winners of the Annual Mobile Photography Awards are probably a bit better than your holiday snaps.

Off the charts: Google is finally giving up on what product, which we were charting about? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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