Source: The story of the invention that could revolutionize batteries—and maybe American manufacturing as well – Quartz

Interesting article regarding innovation in an area that has stifled many a people for many a year.


Rindge Leaphart

On a recent excursion for groceries with my 12 year old, I was reminded that: 1. Kids observe the most interesting things and 2. Employee hiring, management, and engagement practices do positively impact the bottom line.

In need of groceries for la familia, the 12 year old and I jumped into the car for what is inevitably a long trip because for one reason or another, I can never find everything I am looking for in one grocery store.  On this particular weekend day, we find ourselves visiting three different stores.  The first store was a disaster because many of the shelves were barren. Additionally, as a fruit fanatic I was disgusted (once again) by the fruit flies hovering in the fruit section. (Side note, I have previously spoken to the store manager about the fruit fly issue and pointed out to him that his competitor – literally across the street no less – does not have this issue.  Said manager didn’t seem all that concerned with my feedback).  This particular store (whose name rhymes with toga) is a national chain, not a small mom and pop place.  After not finding many of the national items I was in search of, I decided it was time for us to leave (without purchasing anything at all).

We then headed to the competitor across the street.  This particular grocer (also national  – actually global – in scale), that takes pride in offering low prices was better in terms of stocked shelves.  I believe (but I could be wrong) that because of this company’s focus on keeping costs low, they are always low on staff.  They must have 8-10 registers that are meant to be staffed by humans and no more than 2-3 are ever staffed.  Also, you don’t see many employees walking around the store that you can ask for assistance.  The lack of employees on registers does not seem to be a big issue because it rarely takes long to check out as not many other customers ever seem to shop at this store.  I’m not quite sure how this particular location stays open.

We then proceeded onto the third store  – Trader Joe’s – for what always turns out to be somewhat specialty items you tend not to find anywhere else.  As usual, Trader Joe’s has lots of traffic and yes the shelves are always stocked.  Even though the store was busy we were able to check out quickly.  We probably spent no more than 30 minutes in the store.  Upon exiting the store, my 12 year old informs me that Trader Joe’s (I believe this is the first time I have taken her to Trader Joe’s) is her favorite grocery store.  I asked her why and she made what I found to be a very interesting observation (so interesting I decided to write a post about, want to read it?) Her comments were along the lines that everyone in Trader Joe’s seemed happy and were nice.  They seemed to enjoy their jobs and everyone had a smile on their face and greeted you with a smile.  I have previously written a post on  said subject:  I am not sure of what Trader Joe’s does differently (employee selection, pay, training, or some combination thereof) but it works.  Upon further discussion with my daughter she was spot on; the employees at Trader Joe’s did seem much happier, they did smile, and that was radically different from the other stores we visited that day.  When my daughter starts shopping on her own, I suspect she will make a beeline for Trader Joe’s.  The lesson?  Probably many based on your perspective, but for me a great reminder that customers appreciate doing business with others who are pleasant to deal with and who seem to genuinely enjoy their job.  Customers can tell, especially 12 year old kids.

Rindge Leaphart

What Happened When Linkin Park Asked Harvard for Help with Its Business Model – HBR.

Interesting article on how Linkin Park is diversifying their revenue stream while staying true to their music.  Very forward looking they are.  How many other bands are doing what they do?  How many other bands have a loyal following that would allow them to mimic LP?  If they are successful, their strategy may be a blueprint for others to follow.  I do wonder if bands that are not quite as successful as LP would be able to successfully employ a similar strategy.

Enjoy and as usual feel free to comment.

Rindge Leapart

At Kodak, Clinging to a Future Beyond Film –

Interesting read about the ups and downs (more downs lately) of Kodak.  I wish them success in the mining of their IP for technology that might one day become mainstream.

Enjoy the article.

Rindge Leaphart


While not a huge fan of soy sauce, the post below highlights the history of the ubiquitous little package of sodium laden sauce that many of you may have stashed somewhere in your kitchen.  While I found the history interesting, what really caught my attention was the blurb at the end of the article about innovation (packaging in this case) being applied to this ho-hum product.  Product innovation to non-glamorous products continue to both fascinate and surprise.  My favorite non-glamorous innovations include: 1. Bottled water and 2. Pre-packaged lettuce.  Who would have thought we needed bottled water?  Bottled water is a very large industry ($100B by some estimates), but in the grand scheme of things it is relatively new – some estimate that the bottled water craze started in the 1990’s.  The same holds true with pre-packaged lettuce  / salads.  I was content with buying a head of lettuce and doing the shredding myself.  Clearly someone understood this to be a pain point and innovated.  Hats off to all innovators who are able to recognize that a staid product may ripe for growth via innovation.  Hopefully, Little Soya will find success with their innovation.

Enjoy the article.

The Mysterious, Murky Story Behind Soy-Sauce Packets — Atlantic Mobile.

Rindge Leaphart

Maybe it is just me, but I am heartened to learn that LP sales (yes I said LP as in vinyl) have had another robust year in terms of sales.  It might just be time to go ahead and purchase another record player so I can listen to my vinyl (most of which has been digitized) once again.  With LP sales on the rise, I imagine that manufacturers of record players, record cleaning systems, needle manufacturers, etc are also doing well.  Enjoy the brief article and have a Great Thanksgiving…Gobble Gobble!

• Chart: Vinyl Comes Back From Near-Extinction | Statista.

Rindge Leaphart 

Great article. One of the best I have read on said subject. I’ll add a few points. I have found that tooling (whether China or here) usually runs 8-12 weeks. Also, while the title references manufacturing in China I have interviewed a couple of firms in Silicon Valley where they will build the circuit boards for you stateside and outsource tooling and plastics to partners in China. Product gets assembled in the US. Not necessarily the cheapest option but allows you to deal with a stateside partner who is well versed on the ins and outs of production in China. Also potentially good for initial production runs. I like the points about making sure one has feet on the ground in China. I would simply add that a small startup should always make sure source inspection is done once your people leave. Always, always source inspect. The day you don’t source inspect is the day you have a pallet of non functioning goods sitting on your dock. Always check references of the manufacturers. Avoid factories where they refuse to put you in contact with references. I would also note that finding factories typically takes longer than 1-2 weeks. Anyway, great article. Thanks for sharing.

Rindge Leaphart


Editor’s note: Rui Ma is a partner with 500Startups based in Beijing.

I have to admit, before I decided to fly to Southern China this past week and dig deeper into the hardware ecosystem, I knew very little about anything to do with manufacturing. Sure, I looked at hardware-related investments, as every investor does these days, and tried to apply concepts of unit economics to the products, but I could not assess very intelligently whether the companies’ projections made sense, or were just a ton of acronym-filled BS.

I also struggled to know what kinds of challenging questions to ask. Especially at the seed stage, where companies are often coming to me fresh off of the success of a Kickstarter campaign and there isn’t a ton (OK, hardly any) of user data (or data of any kind) to paw through, I found myself mostly nodding in agreement with what the founders would…

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The following char-ti-cle on Amazon is worth a read. Most folks are familiar with the fact that Amazon rarely shows a profit. This charticle, though, provides a concise overview of how Amazon continues to plow cash into expanding their business reach. Make note of the opinion that someone at Amazon has a job of making sure profits equal nil each quarter – reminds me of how Cisco used to always beat their estimates by 1 cent per share. Net-net, Amazon plows all cash into growth opportunities in lieu of net income. How long will that continue? Who knows. In recent months, the stock market has supposedly shown some displeasure. Recent history aside, the stock has been on quite a tear for quite a while. In summary, very well written piece that I’m sure you will find enlightening.
Rindge Leaphart

Andreessen Horowitz

Amazon has a tendency to polarize people. On one hand, there is the ruthless, relentless, ferociously efficient company that’s building the Sears Roebuck of the 21st Century. But on the other, there is the fact that almost 20 years after it was launched, it has yet to report a meaningful profit. This chart captures the contradiction pretty well – massive revenue growth, no profits, or so it would seem. But actually, neither of these lines gives you a good sense of what’s really going on.

1 Source: a16z

Amazon discloses revenue in three segments – Media, Electronics & General Merchandise (‘EGM’) and ‘Other’, which is mostly AWS. As this chart shows, these look very different (this and most of the following ones use ’TTM’ – trailing 12 months, which smooths out the seasonal fluctuations and makes it easier to see the underlying trends). The media business is still growing, but it’s…

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Why reviving the Arthur Andersen brand isn’t as crazy as it sounds – Quartz.

Enron issue aside, AA was a great firm.  As an alumnus of the firm, I wish the team responsible for re-branding the most success.




Walmart’s ‘Made in USA’ push exposes strains of manufacturing rebirth | Reuters.

Several months ago, I shared an article on Walmart’s push to re-ignite manufacturing in the US.  I’m glad to see the continued push in this area.  Per the article, it is interesting to note that one of the biggest issues facing manufacturers is the lack of local component suppliers.  It seems as if many component suppliers were driven out of business or moved overseas.  I’m looking forward to the results that come out of the latest Walmart confab on said subject.  Along those lines, I am in the midst of reading a book by the name of Factory Man – very good book that provides a decent overview of how (and why) U.S. furniture makers moved a majority of their manufacturing overseas.

 Rindge Leaphart


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