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Or, Investing in the Age of Solipsism
I took a moment’s pause upon reflection that it sounded like writing up an investment thesis based on the trend “be hot, have experiences,” but in the pursuit of the inevitable, there’s no time to worry about presenting a potentially (depending on your worldview) bleak or vain hypothesis, there’s only a search for what is unavoidable in the future. On the surface, this may sound like a run-of-the-mill consumer thesis, and to some extent, it is. But the trend of “hyper individualization” sits at the precipice of a few converging trends.
Millennials/GenZ stand to inherit trillions in wealth
The line between content creator & consumer is increasingly blurred by the day, the phones in our pockets enabling this convergence
Ozempic may make it so anyone can be as thin as they want (don’t cancel me pls)
AI seems like it will enable increasingly personalized experiences
Perhaps until the point where our lives are so tailored to who we are, there’s less of a “shared reality” than at any point in recent memory
Beauty, Cosmetics, Luxury, Travel, Plastic Surgery, House Refurbishing & Upgrades, Tutors & Custom Education, Financial Services, etc. are all industries that should benefit from this trend in one way or another.
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The idea that our phones are not just a camera, but a mirror as well, is nothing new (ok you’ve imagined Sisyphus happy, now imagine Narcissus with an iPhone), and the recent surge in “influencers” has been around about as long as Instagram has been a popular app. as the veil of celebrity came down, the value of celebrity increased. We felt closer than ever to our favorite artists, athletes, and movie stars as we saw their lives presented by Instagram’s feed. Then came Snapchat stories. Soon enough, our feeds were a mix of the aspirational and the familiar. And at the same time, YouTubers and Twitch streamers were emerging with huge, dedicated followings. TikTok seems to have shown up at the crucial inflection point where the incentives in the game were permanently changing. The veil of celebrity coming down is an exciting turning point because it not only made viewing their lives (through the lens of their online feeds) more accessible, but it made many people yearn for a similar lifestyle. I mean, who wouldn’t want to look hot, post about your life and collect big checks from brands? I believe this to be the genesis of the mimetic desire that has spread like the Sumerian mind virus in Snow Crash.
TikTok seems to have taken the game to a new level, where building a large following from being creative and funny (ok, and maybe also being attractive) can lead to serious ad dollars and lucrative opportunities to grow your own “personal brand.” I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to concentrate on something like taking an integral when you know there are people with 20 million followers who earn more than most careers' lifetime earnings because they did a funny Tiktok dance to a sped-up Lana Del Rey song. The social media stuff is just one side of this multidimensional trend. But supporting these ideas is the increasing push that folks from all industries are making into creating “content”. Doing things to grow your “audience” and strengthen your “brand.” Venture capitalists have podcasts, hedge fund managers have newsletters. Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian is launching a private equity firm. Perhaps it’s not something you can calculate with the NPV formula in Excel. Still, the world seems to agree that engagement on the internet drives real-world value in the form of real dollars you can use to buy a house or pay taxes or whatever else your heart desires.
The ability to convert engagement to dollars drives some interesting trends and is at the core of what I mean when discussing the hyper individualization hypothesis. We don’t just have avatars and profiles online; we have a digital self. And managing this digital self can have life changing outcomes for those who do so successfully. One example of shifting incentives is found in college athletics. Previously, NCAA athletes were not allowed to sell their likenesses in exchange for brand sponsorships or other sorts of partnerships where they’d earn money in the same way professional athletes do. Now college athletes with large online followings earn more than some professionals will ever make. Another is how the democratization of creating and distributing content (film it on your smartphone, edit it on your laptop, post it on Youtube) has enabled anyone who wants to create media and share it online, build a following, and monetize it.
So what does this have to do with being hot, having a personalized life, and Ozempic making people skinny?
Well, in some respects, we’ve all merged with our online selves. And like any mega trend, those who have “cracked the code,” so to speak, on how to monetize their digital selves can not only enjoy the monetary fruits of their labor but are also empowered by the freedom they find from essentially working for themselves, assuming they can make enough to support their lifestyle. This plays into the same mimetic desire that created influencers who mimicked celebrities.
In a conversation with a friend over the Fourth of July weekend, she mentioned growing her TikTok to over 50k followers, all while working a job most would consider to be financially rewarding and prestigious. “Escaping the 9-5” is a trend seemingly on all corners of the internet, partly due to the lionization of entrepreneurship post social network era.
Partly because of the freedom and potential leisure afforded to those who can set their own daily schedules. And partly because we can now see so many folks doing it, and as humans, it’s our nature to mimic the objects of our desire. And who can blame anyone for choosing this route? Even if you earn a bit less, what’s your time worth? Especially in the prime of your life.
So how does this tie into AI, Ozempic and wealth transfer? And what should I be looking to own to play these trends?
Let’s start with Ozempic. In the Instagram era, being fit and looking good was a status symbol. It certainly still will be, but the difference is now you can (essentially) pay to be skinny. And at the risk of being vain, looking good feels good. You want to go out more. You want to try on new clothes. You may even be more inclined to use dating apps. Going to the gym and eating healthy may be more rewarding as Ozempic helps you see results faster. The part of the trend where everyone wants to look good is accelerated by a miracle drug that can aid in curing cravings and makes losing weight easier than ever.
So we have everyone wanting to be hot, and there being a pharmaceutical aid to assist in part of the process (getting fit), which may or may not make one more likely to more actively engage online and perhaps cross the threshold and become a creator themselves. That’s one part. For this aspect of the trend, i think it makes sense to watch -
Ferrari (not clothes, but truly a case where driving the vehicles are an experience)
Beauty & Cosmetics
Travel (does solipsism encourage wanderlust or vice versa)
Johnson & Johnson
Korean based plastic surgery stocks
Companies that enable people to start and manage their own businesses
Stripe (whenever they go public)
Squarespace (now that they own google domains)
Big Tech (as I mention later on, I think the only real risk in the near to mid term is antitrust. These companies, for the most part, have pristine balance sheets, healthy margins and are staffed with some of the most brilliant people on earth. In an era of hyper personalization, companies with all the data should thrive, assuming of course they can capitalize on the trend)
It’s kind of a solipsism basket lol. Wealthy folks will want the best of everything (as has always been the case) but can see this accelerating as life can increasingly be optimized & personalized down to the minutiae because every moment is a chance to post.
So what about personalization? Well, I believe this trend to be especially true in folks who will inherit wealth that affords them a lifestyle in which they do not have to work if they so choose. Their life, and wow does this sound bad but bear with me, will (from an investment thesis lens) be defined by consumption. And with AI enabling hyper personalization in various niches, why wouldn’t someone with the necessary means strive to live a life that’s, in some senses, hyper optimized and in a world where products and services are fighting to cater a unique experience to each individual, hyper personalized.
For instance, alongside tracking engagement and social status progress via social media apps, one can now constantly monitor a variety of health variables from their phone (and connected devices if they choose). Is it difficult to imagine an AI service integrated with a personal trainer that helps them reach their fitness goals? The feedback loop of data tracking and iteration based on results may create a plan that is hyper personalized to the individual. It might go so far as to plug in with their grocery apps, ordering a set nutrition plan at predefined intervals each week, further personalizing the clients life. (who may or may not have ambitions of getting fit with the help of ozempic and posting luxury fits from dream destinations on their social media, who knows. It may also become a status signal to be offline. Like yeah I've made it so I can afford to be totally off the grid. Completely analogue. Going for long walks in nature and attending ballets, symphonies and operas dressed head to toe in Victorian garb. Ok got carried away. If you like my book recs though, I highly recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” for sci-fi commentary on a futuristic society divided between “Equity Lords” who (as you might have guessed) own everything and can read, and everyone else (literacy is a luxury status thing in diamond age, as is full Victorian costumes)). anyway
A couple points the other way -
It doesn’t have to be like this. Maybe there’s instances where internet communities form irl ones that are just as strong.
There’s plenty of other ways to create content on the internet where you can make money where it doesn’t matter what you look like at all.
The endless interests and topics that one can explore on the internet offers content opportunities for each one. Whether math, history, music or more niche, obscure topics Pokémon nuzlockes, for instance) - passionate audiences will form around the creators who put out the best work in each one. This is cool and a good thing. For instance, Doug's Fabricated Knowledge and Dylan's SemiAnalysis are far superior to any sell side research on semiconductors.
The opportunity for capital to flow to creators of the best online content would seem to increase the amount of it created, even if it’s just something that some people do on the side.
There's probably a whole other post on this about how internet culture has just become the Culture and things happen online like more than they happen in the real world. I don't know the most eloquent way to express that. Covid definitely showed this. We can run most of the world in our pajamas on Zoom. Kids look up to streamers & Youtubers. In the post zero to one era, tech Twitter has minted its own form of celebrity. VCs farm alpha from the best anon posters, who are quite often exceptionally talented individuals. Mr. Beast could probably start his own heaven's gate… ok never mind on that analogy. You get it. The internet is real. And now that the stakes are higher than ever and there’s serious money involved, It’s almost impossible to ignore the possibility of monetizing your digital presence. It's like a call option.
This may of course take other forms. Bryan Johnson, for instance, is using his wealth to pursue something like bio accelerationism. Spending $2m / year to personalize his life to an incredible degree in the pursuit of longevity (man so much of this shit sounds like greek mythology fr).
One interesting area that’s interesting to me will be around tutoring and the increasing personalization of education. This was prevalent in China before the government cracked down on tutoring businesses but I expect premium services to be available to wealthy folks in the coming years, as AI helps to personalize curriculums and learning materials for the individual student. Which they then review and go over with their tutor. Education in this context is not just limited to schoolwork. Music & sports both come to mind but truly the possibilities are endless. Maybe in an ideal world there will be products akin to the illustrated primer in The Diamond Age, which uses AI to democratize the personalization of education. I think that idea is cool. It's sort of like a holy grail of the information age.
In a sense, one could take the other side of the argument that actually there’s a greater sense of shared reality since we all regularly use the internet and social media. This is true to an extent. However, with companies racing to create even more precise recommendation engines (I think TikTok is doing some crazy work on this, I remember seeing a tweet that they are training a different model for every user or something but maybe I’m tripping, either way, the TikTok algorithm seems to be an example of a feed that’s already hyper personalized). I also think that this means the only legitimate mid term (5-10 years) threat to big tech is antitrust.
Maybe a relevant analogy for this overall trend is private banking services. At a certain level of wealth, it is worth the bank’s time to hyper personalize a wealth management strategy for their clients. In the future when nearly everyone is online, wealthy folks (or maybe more academically, folks whose propensity to consume is less cyclical) will have access to hyper personalized offerings from all sorts of companies. If in the past people wanted to wear the same outfit as their favorite actress or model, they now may want to wear a new outfit everyday like their favorite TikTOk influencer. taken further, they may want a wardrobe personalized just for them by DoverStreetMarketGPT. An interesting convergence of this trend (and one probably familiar to internet natives) is the AI Balenciaga Dune videos. Balenciaga has been exploring the connection between digital culture and the real world for years now in lots of interesting and provocative ways and this was a particularly interesting crossover episode. Luxury fashion sells fantasy. Part of what you’re buying is the exclusivity of owning pieces that few others have. Luxury brands sell their image as aspirational to folks who can’t afford it but try to market their true merits (expert couture craftsmanship in the instance of balenciaga) to their actual clientele.
Dune formerly being like a “nerd” (complimentary) thing but now being mainstream (and Balenciaga understanding this paradigm shift) is one example of how internet culture is becoming just Culture. This is one of the reasons I enjoy Twitter. As corny as it sounds to call something “the marketplace of ideas,” the fact that anons can build audiences that are evaluating them solely on their thoughts (in the form of their tweets and replies) is cool. It’s still a form of mimesis nonetheless.
This brings me back to the SBF tweet. I have been wanting to write something longform about this trend for a while now. It's something I think a lot of people noticed in the post social network era. When people saw Sorkin's portrayal of how dope it was to be Zuck, entrepreneurship became a status symbol all its own. You could go online and find lots of people who were just “into startups”. There was no shortage of resources for how to start your own startup and how to break into tech. Zero to One emerged as a holy bible for folks who wanted to follow the noble path of Zuck (even though Thiel emphatically tells readers “the next Zuck won’t build a social network” lol). It became funny or quirky to call yourself autistic. The lionization of the “wired in” tech founder led to billions (?) of dollars that went up in flames as VCs chased vaporware during the ZIRP era. The most prominent example imo was SBF. There was the fuck it idc attitude (showing up to Sequoia in your bath rode == playing league on VC pitches). The technical credentials of studying physics at MIT. the domain specific credentials of working at
autism capital Jane Street. One of the most powerful ideas/ forces in capital markets is information asymmetry. Sure there’s the illegal version but that’s not what i’m talking about. I'm talking about how, as Thiel described, “the best startups have secrets” idea. And as was shown in the FTX debacle, if you could convey an asymmetrical information advantage (I can arb US/Japan Bitcoin markets, for instance) you might be the next Zuck. And just like people mimic celebrities they love, the mimesis was strong amongst VCs who saw Thiel turn $500k to a billi by making an ambitious bet on a goated founder. (does anyone know if Mr. Thiel has any thoughts on this whole mimetic desires thing? lol lol)
Everyone wanted to hang out and get their photo taken with SBF. The line between real world economic activity and internet clout was increasingly blurred, especially because crypto was by default, an internet native thing. He did the billionaire press run stuff. The cringe interviews where he set effective altruism back hundreds of years. He hung out with Tom Brady and Gisele. Celebrities wanted to be tech founders. Tech founders wanted to be celebrities. This is still probably true to some degree but I digress.
So what will the world look like in this hyper individualized future where many seek internet clout and further, as many seek to convert their status online to real world currency? (which will still be mainly the us dollar, sorry doomers).
Well with health, fitness, education, financial services, and recreation (travel shopping etc.) able to be personalized (first for UHNW then prob for all wealthy folks) it could maybe get a little weird. Your life could become so tailored to just you it’s difficult to relate to the realities which others experience (solipsism fr?). As wealth gets transferred to a generation with new mimetic desires, I expect consumption habits and hyper personalization to converge. Companies will have increasing amounts of data for each of their users which they will feed into increasingly powerful AI models to tailor experiences which are increasingly personalized. Whether your desire is to escape the 9-5, become the world's best AI researcher or to get completely off the grid, spend time in nature and go to ballets and shit, those with means will be able to live a life catered to them at such a fine level of detail that conscious experiences of reality might be like snowflakes, with no two being the exact same. And of course, to tie it all together, no matter what people are doing, (most) want to look hot while doing it. Ozempic combined with health tracking enabled by smart devices will probably enable anyone to be as fit as they want (which is why I think long luxury brands, beauty/cosmetics, plastic surgery and travel - all things that can be used to reflect status/taste as a mechanism of differentiation). A large percent of the population will want to own their own business or work for themselves to some degree, and with how necessary it is for business owners to have an online presence, the convergence of internet media & real world dollars is all the more inevitable. And with anybody able to look good w Ozempic + personalized health, money may be even more of a status signifier. Perhaps unique interests & tastes and one’s original thoughts on their interests/tastes will also have significant value in a post Ozempic world. How well read you are and how well you’re able to articulate your thoughts, may be a point of differentiation, but that may be far off in the future. Perhaps there’s even a version of the future where biometric verification becomes prevalent (i.e. i can prove i got this fit without Ozempic) maybe that’s a bit too cyberpunk though.
What can you do? Well, you can undoubtedly choose to personalize your life in a way that exactly you want. In another plug for what I like about Twitter, it’s been (in my experience) a community organized around exploring ideas. I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but there’s always a chance that it can be replicated elsewhere. You can passionately lean into things that you love. If you want to learn math or music, it’s never been easier. If you want to find online communities about investing or startups, it’s never been easier. You can strive to write in prose that’s just (for now) out of the reach of the latest GPT model. You can strive to align your work with who you are as a person (it’s like that Ikigai chart or something) and lead a life that you truly find fulfilling. You can strive to be a great member of your irl community and take care of your family (whether blood or chosen). You can strive for optimal health for reasons beyond vanity (it’s not a crime to want to look good fr, it’s in fact, very human. But like overall health prob more important in the long run fr). To continue with the prior Stephenson references, I sometimes wonder if, similar to a tower of babel thing with like an innate language stored in our brain stems, there’s goals we all share as humans. Ok some people wanna watch the world burn, I get that. The one I come back to a lot is I think that (whether you personally want children or not) most people want a better world for the next generation. We’re all sort of working on raising the standard of living in our own way. Maybe there’s a way the picture of a hyper individualized future could be painted more optimistically. I’m trying to find a less cringe way to say some shit like “in a hyper personalized world, the next generation needs you to be the best possible version of yourself” because that, amongst all the bleakness and vanity, does sound like a worthy pursuit.
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