The fifth Rice Mountain trade

I’m trying to use the internet to trade a grain of rice all the way up to a mountain. Get caught up here.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our next trade. And it’s… big, measured by both cash value and mass.

But first, a quick recap on the trades to date.

Trades so far

So far, I’ve made four trades:

The fifth trade

Last week, a trade for a set of presidential signatures fell through. The owner ghosted me and the road to Rice Mountain seemed uncertain.

But little did I know that Diana Hawk was working behind the scenes to line up a bigger trade.

Diana’s friend Salim Najjar runs a beverage company called Sound. He’s spent the past five years perfecting a line of tea-infused sparkling water drinks.

His company has been growing like mad, especially around the LA area, which is what prompted him to recently set up a new apartment there. And his new apartment happened to be missing, you guessed it… a coffee table.

Upon learning this, Diana told Salim about Rice Mountain and Ryan Thomas‘ custom coffee table offer. Salim jumped on it and emailed me this:

[I’d] like to offer 1 pallet of my companies beverage products, Sound. It’s a line of unsweetened, certified organic/non-GMO sparkling teas & waters 😊

A single pallet hold 60 24pks (1,440 units) of our sparkling tea (glass bottle) line and 104 24pks (2,496 unites) of our sparkling water (BPA-NI cans) line 😄 I’d be open and willing to mix and match the pallet with the different flavors if desired!

I was intrigued, but I had no idea how to value 2,500 cans of a high-end sparkling drink. Salim did the math for me:

Our sparkling tea line is sold at an SRP of $2.49 (pallet value of $3,585.60) and our sparkling water line is sold at an SRP of $1.99 (pallet value of $4,967.04).

Mamma mia. Yes. That’s a step in the right direction, even if we’re both using the most generous valuation (the end retail value). I called Salim — we worked out some details and locked in the trade.

Feast your eyes:

A pallet of Sound sparkling water
A few weeks ago, I had a grain of rice. Now I have this big-ass pallet of premium sparkling water (retail: $4,967)

This is a bit of a gamble, of course.

The drinks are unlikely to have asymmetric value. They’ll eventually expire. And the two groups of people I imagine wanting an item like this — people hosting live events or managing offices — are still largely furloughed.

But, by God, we now have enough delicious sparkling beverages to refresh a small village. We will find that village and we will trade with them.

At the high end, this trade represents a 2.8x return on the last item and a 171.28 million times return on the grain of rice.

Let’s make a trade

So… who needs 2,496 cans of delicious sparkling water?

If you need 2,496 cans of delicious sparkling water, hit me up.

Email me at if you want to swap something for a huge-ass pallet of delicious, tea-infused sparkling water.

As a reminder, anybody who offers to help make a trade in any way will be invited to a huge opening party on Rice Mountain. Diana and Salim — you two have been added to the list.

Hope to see the rest of you there too.


The ultimate competitive advantage is caring more

Airbnb's first office

A few months after Airbnb found product-market fit, they got some terrible news.

The Samwer brothers (think: the Winklevoss twins, but competent) planned to launch a clone of Airbnb — and they had already raised $90 million and hired hundreds of people to do it.

At the time, Airbnb had just 40 full-time employees all working out of the same tiny office.

Naturally, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky freaked out.

He asked a bunch of different entrepreneurs what he should do. Most of them said the same thing: over the long-term, the better product will win. Paul Graham reminded Chesky, “they’re mercenaries. You all are missionaries.”

Airbnb took the advice. In Chesky’s words:

“My biggest punishment, my biggest revenge on you is, I’m gonna make you run this company long term. You had the baby, now you gotta raise the child. And you’re stuck with it for 18 years.

I knew he wanted to sell the company.. I’m like, “No, no. You’re running this company.” And I knew he maybe could move faster than me for a year, but he wasn’t gonna keep doing it.

And so that was our strategy. We built the company for the long term.”

The rest is history:

Airbnb's competitor Wimdu died with a whimper
Airbnb's IPO went spectacularly well

P.S. Chesky shares the story here (1:02:00 marker)


Experience is overrated

Before AOC was a congresswoman, she ra

Before AOC became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, she was a local organizer who knocked on doors for the Sanders campaign.

Before Steve Jobs founded one of the world’s most iconic companies, he was an intern at Atari.

And just two years before his first TV show, Jon Stewart was waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant.

In certain lines of work, experience is overrated. Great things get accomplished by people without much pedigree or experience.

One reason this happens is because markets, technology, and culture are constantly in flux — which means our knowledge is often grounded in a world that has already changed. The chemists of today become the alchemists of tomorrow.

When that’s the case, it’s more important that we develop tools for discovery instead.

Open-mindedness, curiosity, and passion — when it comes to doing great things, those will often be better predictors of success than experience.


Laziness is a supreme virtue

“Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties.”
– Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

A friend of mine pulled in $300K last year doing virtually nothing.

He figured out a way to automate 80% of his sales job and typically stopped working around lunchtime everyday.

Instead of being happy for him, I was pissed.

I’m busting my ass over here and this guy’s living like a stoned lifeguard.

But I realize now that maybe I have it all backwards. 

I pride myself on working hard, but that has one very unfortunate consequence: I’m rarely looking for opportunities to eliminate the need for hard work.

My lazy friend, on the other hand, is hyper-aware of where effort lurks. He invents genius ways to avoid it, and in doing so frees up an almost comical amount of time and mental bandwidth.

For that reason, laziness may be one of our higher virtues — but we’ll never know for sure. After all, the lazy aren’t going to waste their time debating about something like this.


The Quest To Become Internet Famous (October 2020 Update)

“I remember very well not being famous. It wasn’t that great.”

– Jerry Seinfeld

Earlier this year, I decided to start building an audience online. I was inspired after learning two things about Tim Ferriss:

  1. His podcast generates enough revenue that it could trade on the NASDAQ as a standalone company.
  2. His personal email list is larger than the record-shattering crowd that turned out to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

That got me so fired up that I wrote an in-depth piece on everything I learned about him and a laundry list of other people who have figured out how to win on the internet.

Up until the beginning of this year, I had been sending this newsletter out pretty much exclusively to friends and family and I barely ever posted on Twitter. This was my online footprint in January 2020:

  • 226 Stew’s Letter subscribers
  • 550 Twitter followers
  • 53k impressions on Twitter

So I started to promote this newsletter a bit, tweet more often, and generally figure out how the internet works.

These are my stats today (October 2020):

  • 1,464 Stew’s Letter subscribers
  • 4,648 Twitter followers
  • 3.21 million impressions on Twitter

I haven’t invested nearly as much time in this as I’d like, but it’s a start.

Most of the growth has been relatively steady and a function of doing the work consistently, but I’ve had a few tweets go viral like this one that flew past a million impressions and brought in ~1k new followers.

Twitter impressions are a good way to track if you're internet famous yet

I also helped launch the Compound newsletter and Twitter account this year. In a few weeks, they’ve both gone from zero to:

  • 1,072 Compound Digest subscribers
  • 1,305 Twitter followers

And while both of these audiences are tiny, relatively speaking, they’ve already been an invaluable resource for building the business behind Compound.

Twitter (and Stew’s Letter early on) has been our most effective channel for discovering amazing writers who join Compound as paid members.

We’ve gone from $0 to tens of thousands of dollars in ARR in a few months, and we reject the vast majority of people who apply to join — if we said yes to all of the demand from our audience we’d likely be at 5-10x our current revenue (but our member experience would implode so we won’t do it).

I have no idea if this is interesting to people, but I’ll keep posting updates like this every once in a while.

Any questions?

Hit reply and let’s chat!


The fourth Rice Mountain trade

I’m trying to use the internet to trade a grain of rice all the way up to a mountain. Get caught up here.

Hoo boy, do I have a trade to share today.

But first, a quick recap on the trades to date.

Trades so far

So far, I’ve made three trades:

This week’s trade

Ryan Thomas, a Stew’s Letter reader and master woodworker, made an irresistible offer for the dinosaur bone from the last trade.

He has offered design and build a custom coffee table for a Stew’s Letter reader.

He can build you something like this (sold for $1,500):

Or this (sold for $1,750):

If you don’t need a coffee table, he can build a custom side table instead. His side tables typically sell for anywhere from $300 to $600 (examples: here and here).

At the high end, this trade represents a 7.0x return on the last item and a 60.43 million times return on the grain of rice.

Let’s make a trade

So… who’s next?

Email me at if you want to swap something for a hand-built, custom coffee or side table.

You’ll get to work directly with a master woodworker to build the table of your dreams (assuming you dream about tables).

As a reminder, anybody who offers to help make a trade in any way will be invited to a huge opening party on Rice Mountain.

See ya there.


Jim Sinegal: Absolute Legend of Business

Jim Sinegal, Costco's co-founder and former CEO

Jim Sinegal, the co-founder and former CEO of Costco, once threatened to kill his predecessor if he raised the price of the hot dog combo.

Most modern leadership advice encourages leaders to listen when their employees bring up problems and to definitely not threaten to kill them.

But to become a legend, sometimes you have to ignore conventional wisdom.

Case in point: when Costco’s new CEO suggested raising the price of their famous $1.50 hot dog and soda combo, all it took was a demand and a casual death threat from Costco’s co-founder and former CEO to kickstart innovation.

Here’s the hilarious, true story as told by Costco’s CEO Craig Jelinek:

“I came to (Jim Sinegal) once and I said, ‘Jim, we can’t sell this hot dog for a buck fifty. We are losing our rear ends.’ 

And he said, ‘If you raise the [price of the] effing hot dog, I will kill you. Figure it out.’

That may disturb some people, but Sinegal’s demand coupled with a he’s-probably-just-joking-right threat motivated Costco’s leadership to figure it out.

“What we figured out we could do is build our own hot dog-manufacturing plant (in Los Angeles) and make our own Kirkland Signature hot dogs. Now we are doing so much hot dog business that we’ve opened up another plant in Chicago.

“By having the discipline to say, ‘You are not going to be able to raise your price. You have to figure it out,’ we took it over and started manufacturing our hot dogs. We keep it at $1.50 and make enough money to get a fair return.”

So, listen. I’m not saying you should routinely hurl out close-minded demands coupled with death threats, but I am saying you shouldn’t be so enlightened as to rule it out on face value.


The third Rice Mountain Trade

I’m trying to trade a grain of rice all the way up to a mountain. Get caught up here.

Trades so far

So far, I’ve made two trades:

I’m excited to announce trade three below.

This week’s trade

I have traded the books with Paul Sommer for an incredible grab bag of collectible items.

Here’s the full list:

  • Mint condition 40th-anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene, autographed by Richard Dawkins
  • Fully intact half-billion-year-old Ediacaran fossil
  • 150-million-year-old dinosaur toe bone
  • A 5,000-year-old planting spade of a North American native
  • Hardcover, mint-condition book: Darwin, Portrait of a Genius

Check it out:

But wait, there’s more…. There are two other surprises that will be included in the package, but I’ll wait until next week to share those (assuming a trade hasn’t been locked in yet).

All-in, this stuff is probably worth $300-$400. We’ll split the difference and call it $350.

This trade represents a 6.3x return on the last item and a 12.1 million times return on the grain of rice.

Let’s make a trade

So… who’s next?

Hit “reply” and let me know if you’d want to swap something for this museum-worthy lineup.

Maybe you have an old Mac, or a smartphone, or a P.O.S car you want to get rid of. I don’t know, just hit me up and let’s make something happen.

As a reminder, anybody who offers to help (even if your trade isn’t accepted) will be invited to a huge opening party on the mountain.

See you on Rice Mountain.


The second Rice Mountain trade

A couple of weeks ago, I announced a plan to trade a grain of rice all the way up to a mountain.

The idea is not completely new. In 2004, a blogger traded a red paperclip all the way up to a house and he did it in less than a year, making just 14 trades in total.

I’m convinced that because the internet has matured so much since then, the scale and scope of trades you can make today have gotten much bigger. It should be easier than ever to find people willing to exchange value.

Trades so far

So far, I’ve made one trade: the grain of rice for a paid Trends.VC report (retail: $20).

That represented a 689,655x return on the grain of rice.

This week’s trade

I’m thrilled to announce that this week I finalized a trade with Josh Thompson for a grab bag of classic books.

Feast your eyes:

A collection of classic books

Here’s the full list:

  • Liar’s Poker
  • Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb
  • Getting to Yes
  • M.D.: One Doctor’s Adventures Among the Famous and Infamous from the Jungles of Panama to a Park Avenue Practice
  • The Child In The Family
  • Kon-Tiki 

If you went on Amazon and ordered the cheapest used copies of each of these, it’d cost $56 all-in.

This trade represents a 2.8x return on the last item and a 1.93 million times return on the grain of rice.

Let’s make a trade

So… who wants to trade next?

If you’re not familiar with any of the books above, Josh put together a brilliant summary on how he chose each.

Email me at if you want to swap something for the books.

As a reminder, anybody who offers to help will be invited to a huge opening party on Rice Mountain.


The first Rice Mountain trade

I am using the internet to trade a grain of rice all the way up to a mountain.

I’m doing this because I think we vastly underestimate the power of the internet.

If opportunities flow from the networks that we are a part of, then using the internet in clever ways gives you access to a network of over 4 billion other human beings who you can exchange value with.

Last Sunday, I offered to trade this grain of rice, valued at about $.000029, with the tiny corner of the internet that reads this newsletter.

You all did not disappoint.

Within 24 hours, I locked in a trade for something worth $20.

That’s a 689,655x return.

And while those types of returns make the average hedge fund manager look a chimp hurling feces by comparison, the best part was that the trade was a win-win for both parties.

I traded the rice for an information product, which didn’t cost the creator anything to replicate.

He gets a piece of history (or a delicious, tiny meal) and I get a badass product that I know other people will want.

Drum roll, please…

I have traded the grain of rice with Dru Riley for a paid Trends.VC report.

I’ll share a bit more detail at the bottom of this email.

Every single one of you who replied has been added to a “Rice Mountain” spreadsheet and will be invited to the opening party.

Let’s get this mountain.