Hiding Success and Nasdaq’s Discrimination – Business Psychology and Strategy #24

Do you share all of your successes with everyone you know? For some reason, many people don’t, to avoid looking like they are bragging or for some other reason. But a recent study has show that hiding your successes actually has a negative effect on your relationships. Through a variety of studies the authors of the study showed that hiding success harms relationships, regardless of whether the individual finds out about the success. They also found that the reason that people are insulted when they find out about the hidden success is because they infer a paternalistic motive – that is the person hiding the success is doing so to protect the other person in some way or another.

Applying this insight to real life, a good way to remain close to people over time is to keep them up to date with your successes. It might feel weird telling people about your victories, but if you tell people of your successes, then most people will be delighted for you (those who aren’t probably aren’t good friends). Applying this to work, make sure to self-promote about successful projects and promotion, even if it feels awkward or immodest. The benefits to your relationships and to the perception of you outweigh any inference about bragging.

Untitled (6-L) – Donald Judd, the inventor of minimalism, both as an art movement and as a design principle.

Dear reader,

Did you have a good week last week? We entered December and began the end of the longest year ever. I had some very good news last week, finding out that in March I’m going to be starting at Bain & Company as an Associate Consultant. I’m very excited, Bain really is a dream company. Equally exciting, I’m going to be allowed to continue to work on Nom Nom in my free time.

What wins did you have last week? What kind of win would make this week a success? This week I talk about the growing giant that is Shopify, what new regulations might mean for Nasdaq, and what my writing practice looks like.

I hope that you find something interesting here. To get access to next week’s read before the rest of LinkedIn, as well as getting an e-book of the best strategy articles from the last six months, be sure to subscribe below.

All the best,
Callum Macdonald

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Topics of the Week


If you haven’t already heard of Shopify, you probably will hear about them in the next couple of months and years. Shopify is an ecommerce software that takes care of the whole basket/checkout/payment system for online stores, for a small $29 a month. Shopify makes it easy to start your own online company, process payments from customers, and is even partnered with third-party distributors to make shipping and storage even easier. Big brands such as All-Birds, Pepsi, and Kylie Jenner’s makeup line use Shopify. Why? Well, in short, because it isn’t Amazon,

In my opinion, the core of the difference between Amazon and Shopify is the focus – Amazon is the “everything store” and obsessively customer centric, whereas Shopify is focussed on the companies that use it. This difference is visible in the pricing, the features, and the customer experience of Shopify.

First, Shopify is cheaper for retailers to use than Amazon. Amazon can take up to 17% of the sales price. If you also advertise on Amazon and use Amazon to distribute your product (so that you can get that Prime checkmark) then the cost can reach 40% of the retail price. Shopify, on the other hand, charges a flat $29 plus 2.2% + 20 cents per transaction. For independent retailers who don’t have the margins to be able to sacrifice 40%, Shopify is a lifesaver.

Amazon, in a attempt to be customer-centric, has made it easy to compare products as feature lists with price tags, causing many products to become price races to the bottom, where the retailer that can afford to charge the lowest price wins most of the sales. Amazon’s shopping experience is designed to be completely Amazon, which makes brands invisible, and commodifies the products. One of the few things I’ve bought on Amazon recently was a set of measuring spoons and some bamboo toothbrushes. I have no idea what brand they are and I use them every day. Shopify’s experience is the opposite. When you shop on a Shopify powered website, you don’t know that it is a Shopify website until you get to the checkout. As a result you are much more likely to remember where you bought the product from. This is why D2C (direct to consumer) brands love Shopify – it allows them to control the whole shopping process, building a relationship with the consumer.

The growth of Shopify has allowed for the emergence of a trend called “drop-shipping”. If you frequent any “entrepreneur” forums or websites then you will probably have heard of it, but if you haven’t, drop-shipping basically means selling goods that you don’t own until they have been bought from you. Drop-shipping is promised to be the way to grow large revenues without large capital expenditure, relying paying someone else to take care of storage, shipping, and payments like Shopify does, turning running an online store into a pure marketing exercise.

It is clear that Shopify thinks of themselves as the good guys in the fight against Amazon – the founder, Lütke, has said “Amazon is trying to build an empire, and Shopify is trying to arm the rebels.” But some recent moves make us question what Shopify’s long term plan is. Recently they released Shop, a marketplace app for the brands that sell on their platform. By constructing a platform they bring themselves into more direct competition with Amazon, Etsy and Ebay. However according to Finkelstein, the COO, the intention isn’t to make a marketplace, but to create an assistant that keeps track of parcels and orders in one place, as well as recommending new brands. Sounds like a bit of a marketplace to me.

Nevertheless, suppose Shopify remains the good guys. What does their future hold? Finkelstein has said that just as Facebook owns social and Google owns search, they want Shopify to own entrepreneurship. It’s a big bet on the future of work, but as more companies turn to freelance, it becomes easier and easier to start a company online, and the idea of a lifetime job fades into obscurity, it seems like the obvious bet. Since going public in 2015, Shopify stock have given a 2,076% return. In my opinion, this is only going to grow, especially since the announcements that Shopify is partnering with Facebook and Google to make Shopify products available there. Ben Thompson, author of Stratechery, sees Facebook, Google, and Shopify as the Anti-Amazon Alliance.

Nasdaq’s New Rules

Last week Nasdaq filed a proposal that would allow them to force companies listed on their exchange to have at least one female director, and one underrepresented racial minority or member of LGBTQ+. This proposal really ups the stakes in a fight for diversity at the highest levels of corporation – the consequences of not complying would be delisting, meaning the company could not sell or buy their shares publicly on the Nasdaq.

The aim of this proposal is not to fight discrimination only at the top level of a company’s management, but throughout a company. The theory is that when you have more diversity on the board, you start to see more diversity throughout the rest of the company, through a combination of the board being role-models for the rest of the company and through less discrimination by the board because minorities are members. In theory this would lead to more equality throughout companies listed on the Nasdaq. But equality isn’t the only reason to make this push.

Many studies and articles have explored how and why diverse teams perform better. This article from HBR suggests that diverse teams perform better because members of that team are forced to be more explicit in explaining and communicating their ideas, because there is less accepted common cultural ground to bias the discussion (an idea corroborated by this study from 2016). There is even research that shows that companies with more female executives perform better, suggesting that it would be in companies’ best interests to agree with Nasdaq’s proposal.

But this proposal isn’t as simple as it sounds – proactive discrimination is still discrimination. If a white male on the board is forced off the board because he is a white male, that is still grounds for a racial and gender discrimination lawsuit. What is harder to argue against, however, is the election of new directors. Blackrock, the largest PE (Private Equity) company in the world, already uses its votes to make sure that there is enough diversity on the board, and openly calls for there to be at least two women on the board. Blackrock don’t do this solely because they are aiming for equality, but because they are looking for long term gains in the companies they hold stock in, the same reason they push ESG initiatives in the same companies.

This year Rep. Chris Welch introduced a proposal that Illinois based publicly owned companies need one female director and one African-American director, but this measure was cut out of the final mandate. I think that Nasdaq’s proposal will likewise be denied. However, there is already a push by large PE companies to make boards more diverse, which will hopefully open the doors for more diverse business at all levels.

My Writing Practice

This week I decided to talk about my writing practice. As a kid I never got top grades in English, and I didn’t think of myself as a writer in any sense of the word. But in the first half of this year I read two things that have sent me on this journey of becoming better at writing. The first was Learning in Public, the idea that you learn more and you learn better when you make what you learn available for everyone else to see. The second was Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by K. Anders Ericsson, which explained how almost any skill is built through intentional practice, and almost nothing relies only on natural talent. Even what we think we are naturally good at, like maths, languages, or music, is only practice and exposure, and can be learnt in later life.

When I combined these two ideas with wanting to become better at writing (because I wanted to be able to communicate better and think on paper) has lead me to start writing this blog. I think one of the reasons that I have been able to perform well in interviews despite limited industry experience is because of my writing and reading here.

Before I finish, I’d like to say some quick words about thinking on paper. There are blogs and academic articles that explore and explain why writing is such a useful tool for thinking, but I wanted to draw your attention to Bezos’ approach to writing. At meetings for senior executives at Amazon, Bezos makes the person holding the meeting write a six page memo, and the beginning of the meeting consists of everyone reading that memo. But, as Andy Grove, past CEO of Intel said, “the author is forced to be more precise than he [or she] might be verbally” and writing is “more of a medium of self-discipline than a way to communicate information”. Writing is organised thinking, and building space to organise your thoughts comes at a premium these days.


This is a quick look at the economics of gift giving, and how to give gifts that people will actually like. This is an interview with a past Uber Executive on the future of self-driving cars, among other things. And this is how to run a social media/tech ponzi scheme.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks topics. As always you can reach me at callum@callumacdonald.com if you have any hints, topics, or recommendations. If you want to reliably read this publication every week, sign up below to receive it in your inbox every Monday morning.

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