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Christopher Marks

Making equity equitable

6 min read

Wealth inequality is an existential threat to modern society. A driving force of that inequality are the default structures of ownership - a landlord class, and a working class. A managerial class, and an execution class. Those in the landlord & managerial class will argue that there is simple mobility from the working & execution classes - it just takes time. You'll own a home one day, you just have to save up and stop spending your money frivolously. It's early in your career; you're young; one day you'll inevitably have lots of money, you should focus on learning and enhancing your skills (a narrative typically used to underpay junior staff, and often at the expense of taking jobs with higher salaries & better stock options somewhere else). And this narrative rings true for a select few. If you are a white man who's had tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on you and your general education, it is an attainable goal. It's the default path, if you stick with it and don't become disillusioned. One day you too can start a company and keep 50% of the equity for yourself. One day you can own 10 homes and rent them out; maybe taking advantage of a 1031 exchange to defer capital gains tax on the properties you buy.

But what about everyone else? If you start a company, what about your employees? If you build a real estate empire, what about your tenants? "At least I'm creating jobs and housing opportunities for people," you often hear "I did all the hard work and took the risk, surely I should be able to reap the benefits." But what if you thought outside of yourself? What if your goal was to create wealth for others as well as yourself? Because no company is the fruit of one man's labour. The man who owns the rental property is not usually the one who fits the electrics, renovates the kitchen, lays new tile in the bathroom. The founder may start off by sending marketing emails and responding to customer service queries himself, but as the company evolves those necessary functions become filled by others. Soliciting help from others to enrich yourself, and not to enrich the whole group, is the systemic problem.

The determinants for salary and wages are complicated. We conceive that it's primarily driven by a mix of age, experience, education; but it's often moreso driven by expectations of the scarcity of a skillset (proxied by how difficult it seems to acquire the skills) or the expected value that the labour could bring (which can be overblown by hype e.g. AI, Data Science). It is also driven by wage bargaining - and in most instances, a company will try to pay you the least it possibly can, while still meeting some minimum competitive threshold of what seems fair (this 'fair' benchmark is usually whatever the person making the offer's salary was when they were your age). It is of course also driven by 'general market conditions' & the cost of living, although as we all know, wages have stagnated relative to the cost of living for the past 40 years.

But equity is different. When you create a company, you get to create the cap table. It's often extremely secretive, and as a result there's less visible social norms that dictate it. The VCs know; other founders know. But employees rarely do. Most people don't get equity, and if you do, you're told to keep quiet about it so as not to perturb the other employees (or you get such a nominal amount it's like getting equity in name only). The reason for this, of course, is that equity is where the actual upshot is. Where the real money gets made. The VCs don't take salaries; the founder usually takes a lower salary than they've had for the rest of their career. A real estate investor isn't going to give a carpenter 1% of the equity in a property he's buying; he's already paying him $15/hour to do the job, what more could he ask for? If the company is a success, or the investment property sells, the upside is felt by the ownership & managerial class, and the working & execution class will get to write down what they did on a piece of paper in the hopes of finding another gig. How could you create a structure where everyone gets to share in the rewards of their joint labour?

It's a complicated problem because it is antithetical to the structure of a capitalist society. You'll inevitably have to give away a chunk of the equity to investors; even if you crowdfund some seed money. But I wonder how a company would function where everyone employed has an equity share equivalent to the number of days they've worked. Age, experience, education, bargaining ability aside - leave those determinants to the broken salary & wage market that no one individual can exercise control over. Exercise control over the cap table. The founder would still end up with the biggest share as they've been there the longest. Early employees would still have greater shares than other employees. It would be true that as new people come in, each existing employee would have a lower share in the total stock of equity - but the value of that equity would rise as the output capacity of the company increases.

"Fairness" and logistics aside - what would that working environment be like? Would you still get founder worship? Would people still play games to rise to middle management for hopes of a greater salary & equity package? Would people feel more enfranchised and care more about the work they do? Would there be a greater sense of unity & commitment? Would decisions be made more democratically? I don't know. But in the event of a company's success, would the financial rewards be shared more broadly? Yes. Would this reduce inequality? To an extent. But if equity was extended not just to white collar employees, but to all labourers in the supply chain (following Hamdi Ulukaya's example) we could maybe make some progress towards greater equity.

Christopher Marks

Every Noise at Once

1 min read

Basically a clickable encyclopedia for music with links to artists and spotify playlists


http://everynoise.com/

Christopher Marks

Christopher Marks

Pathogen Resistance - XKCD

1 min read

 

https://xkcd.com/2287/

 

"Will they give up?"

"I don't know. They seem pretty determined to protect each other."

Christopher Marks

Live music from this year

1 min read

2019 went by super quickly and I kinda feel like I slept through it. But it was for sure the year I saw the most live music -

  • Goldlink - O2 Academy Brixton
  • Anderson Paak - Alexandra Palace
  • EARTHGANG (with Innanet James as the opener) - Electric Brixton
  • Tierra Whack - Village Underground
  • Erykah Badu & Jhene Aiko - the O2
  • The Lumineers (not my taste but a super fun concert bc of the company) - the O2
  • OMD (with my dad) - Eventim Apollo Hammersmith
  • Orchestral Rendition of Kanye's College Dropout - XOYO
  • Orchestral Rendition of Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - XOYO
  • Noname - O2 Shepherd's Bush
  • Khruangbin - BST Hyde Park
  • Blue Lab Beats tribute to Guru's Jazzmatazz - Jazz Cafe
  • BBC Proms (Angélique Kidjo & organ concert) - Royal Albert Hall

There were also a couple concerts I missed and wish I went to:

  • Bas
  • Saba
  • Samm Henshaw
  • JID
  • KAYTRANADA (sold out in literally 15 seconds)

Christopher Marks

The right way to think about companies

1 min read

Hamdi's emphasis on kindness, community, inclusion, training, enfranchisement, and people-first principles are inspiring. It feels like the only right way to think about business:

The anti-CEO playbook by Hamdi Ulukaya

Christopher Marks

TV shows & Movies

1 min read

My list of TV shows to watch:

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
  • The Simpsons
  • Mr. Robot
  • The Sopranos
  • Twin Peaks
  • Larry Sanders show
  • Seasons 2-5 of The Wire
  • X Files
  • Search Party
  • Broad City
  • Portlandia
  • High Maintenance

And movies:

  • Kiki's Delivery Service
  • Jaws
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Trainspotting
  • Beetlejuice
  • Jurassic Park
  • Other People
  • Obvious Child
  • Landline
  • Good Times
  • OJ Made in America
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Broadcast News
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Boogie Nights
  • Magnolia
  • Punch Drunk Love
  • The Master
  • Phantom Thread

Christopher Marks

Christopher Marks

Influences

3 min read

I wanted to create a list of all the things I’ve read or seen that have made a long-lasting impression and influenced how I think. Here’s that list:

 

Stuff on the web:

The Tail End (Wait But Why)

Seven Years (XKCD)

The First Human (SMBC)

Maybe Protons Do Exist (SMBC)

People Are Weird (SMBC)

We Also Walk Dogs (Robert A. Heinlein)

The Pitch Meeting for Animaniacs (The Toast)

Holly Wood’s Twitter

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Twitter

“My first oil painting” (Anna Fusté)

“Marx predicted our current crisis and points the way out” (Yanis Varoufakis)

“The Science Behind the DEA’s Long War on Marijuana” (David Downs)

“Freedom in 704 Square Feet” (Sandy Keenan)

“The Curse of Credentialism” (James Kwak)

“If you’re so successful, why are you still working 70 hours a week?” (Laura Empson)

“Capitalism vs. Socialism” (The Onion)

“6 Broken Chips That Could Still Hold Salsa If You Just Gave Them A Chance” (Clickhole)

“Fuck It: Let’s Rank The Religions” (Clickhole)

Patrick Marleau returning to San Jose in a Toronto jersey

Hit it Back Monologue (Pete Holmes)

 

Songs: 

Time (Pink Floyd)

Family Business (Kanye West)

LITE SPOTS (KAYTRANADA)

I Really Don’t Care (Bilal)

3030 (Deltron 3030)

Vienna (Billy Joel)

Have Some Love (Childish Gambino)

Sunday Candy (Chance the Rapper)

Be [Intro] (Common)

Treat (Santana)

The Bird (Anderson Paak)

Beautiful Day (U2)

Wait for the Moment (Vulfpeck)

Other Side Of The Game (Erykah Badu)

Fat Old Sun (Pink Floyd)

Lovely Day (Bill Withers)

In My Life (The Beatles)

May-December (Mos Def)

Examination of What (Digable Planets)

Jazz [We’ve Got] (A Tribe Called Quest)

93 ’til Infinity (Souls of Mischief)

C.R.E.A.M. (Wu-Tang Clan)

Passin’ Me By (The Pharcyde)

Classic (Hieroglyphics)

The World Is Yours (Nas) 

I’m going to stop before I list every song I listen to.

 

Books:

The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff)

Little Brother (Cory Doctorow)

Homeland (Cory Doctorow)

Liar’s Poker (Michael Lewis)

The Big Short (Michael Lewis)

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (Michael Lewis)

Delivering Happiness (Tony Hsieh)

Zero to One (Peter Thiel)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)

Freakonomics & SuperFreakonomics (Stpehen J. Dubner & Steven Levit)

The Mystery of Capital (Hernando De Soto)

Capitalism and Freedom (Milton Friedman)

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein)

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics (Richard Thaler)

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Making Comics (Scott McCloud)

 

If I remember to, I’ll update this as new things inspire me. What would you add to the list?

Christopher Marks

Time

1 min read

I pretty often think of the lines:

"And then one day you find

ten years have got behind you. 

No one told you when to run, 

you missed the starting gun."

from Pink Floyd's Time and imagine a 30-year old, nostalgic me unfulfilled with how things turned out. I use this to motivate myself to make a little bit of time everyday for doing small things like reading, playing the piano, or drawing. Things that require persistent effort. To use my time well, and to make sure I don't fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.

I've listened to this song probably over a hundred times. But I realised recently that even though I'm only in my 20s, it applies going back in time as well. Ten years have gotten behind me since being 11. What's more, it's not like time's up once you're 30. Or 40, or 50, or 80 (though after that the odds of time being up does dramatically increase). Health-willing, you can always push yourself to learn and do new things. 

Half a page of scribbed lines is how to start.