The component of entrepreneurship that really matters is domain expertise.

– Paul Graham’s essay ‘Before the Startup.’ Glad to see this recognition of domain expertise as critical to entrepreneurship. Too often it’s the reckless risk-taking that gets heralded and not often enough the thoughtful solving of real world business problems.

'Career' is only one letter away from 'careen.' Get moving.

– Something that came to me on my walk home today.

The Annual Report Project

I recently set out to educate myself more formally about business at a high level. I’m surrounded in my social life by people who work in what I’ll call ‘macro’ industries like consulting and investing or who have gone to business school. These industries and business school classes teach you frameworks for looking at companies and markets at a 10,000 foot level. I haven’t spent enough time doing that while being busy in an operational role at a company, so I’ve been looking for more ways to build that big picture way of thinking.

This (and a side investing habit) brought me to annual reports as a way to develop these frameworks for myself. Why? Well, annual reports are free and publicly available unlike, say, Harvard Business School cases. But also annual reports provide both broad information like strategy and industry landscape and detailed information on a company’s financials. While obviously contrived for investors and rather stale, annual reports are something of an open kimono for someone looking to study business operations, risks, and opportunities. And did I mention, they’re free?

So, I’ve put together for myself a plan called The Annual Report Project. Just about every weekend, I’ll read an annual report from a different company. After a year, I’ll have read annual reports from at least 50 companies.

I chose my 50 companies based on several criteria. First, I wanted to explore companies that interested me either from a business model or product perspective. Second, I wanted to be sure I was well-rounded and covering multiple industries. Third, I wanted exposure to both successful and troubled companies. So I selected my favorites (mostly tech and retail), added in a number of others from a wide swath of industries, and then sprinkled in a few failed or struggling companies. Here’s the list:


  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft
  • LinkedIn
  • Salesforce
  • eBay
  • Oracle
  • Netflix
  • Yahoo
  • Amazon
  • Priceline
  • Apple
  • (S-1, 2000)

Financial Services

  • Bank of America
  • American Express
  • Visa
  • Berkshire Hathaway
  • Bear Sterns (2007)
  • Paychex

Consumer Staples

  • Procter & Gamble
  • Phillip Morris
  • Coca-Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Costco
  • Wal-Mart
  • Lorillard
  • Post

Consumer Discretionary

  • Starbucks
  • GAP
  • Fast Retailing
  • Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey
  • Williams-Sonoma
  • Whole Foods
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Limited Brands
  • Inditex


  • Toyota
  • Ford

Delivery / Freight

  • FedEx
  • UPS


  • Pfizer
  • Regeneron

Media / Communications

  • Time Warner
  • AT&T
  • Disney
  • News Corp


  • Southwest
  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • United

For each of these, I’ll be reading the most recent annual report available unless otherwise indicated. For companies like Berkshire Hathaway, I’ll likely indulge in reports several years beyond the most recent.

I’m storing these 50 annual reports in my ereader app of choice on my iPhone for easy access. And I’m keeping track of my progress against the reports in a Google Spreadsheet. I’m also making notes alongside specific companies on additional reading they inspire (like a CEO’s biography or more recent news articles on the company’s moves).

The result of this project, I hope, will be a much broader awareness of management practices and marketplace challenges across industries. I mentioned recently the importance of creating for yourself a continuing education plan (whether grad school or something more informal), and this is part of mine.

Our retail stores serve as billboards for our brands…

This is from the Williams-Sonoma 2012 Annual Report. When it comes to multichannel retailing, brick and mortar is now something like an out of home brand advertisement for ecommerce.

Restoration Hardware reveals that when it opens a physical store in a new market, its catalogue and ecommerce sales in that market also grow between 30% and 75%. The existence of a brick and mortar store in a geographic area serves to increase the mindshare and consideration for that brand across all its channels.

This is not unlike the time tested tactic of positioning luxury boutiques on 5th Avenue or mass market stores in Times Square where those customer segments are known to visit. The oversized, touristy outlets serve as advertisements for those brands’ other sales channels.

It’s like putting showrooming to work for you instead of against you.

As we grow, I worry that incrementalism will slip into our thinking. Someone will have a great idea on design, and then before they even show it to someone, they’ll say, but we couldn’t do that because that won’t work on a phone, or that will [upset] a bunch of users. So I’m really focusing on making sure people know that they have permission to be courageous.

– Twitter CEO Dick Costolo on the burden of becoming big. via WSJ.

And my grandmother, she started off as a secretary in a bank…and she worked her way up to become a vice president…

But she hit the glass ceiling. She trained people who would end up becoming her bosses during the course of her career. She didn’t complain; that’s not what you did in that generation.

– Barack Obama told this story during the second presidential debate this year. It stung me. And it was a painful flash forward to what women might face if they don’t stand up for themselves. I’m tucking this bittersweet story away now, so I can always come back to and bolster myself with it.

Now all they have to worry about is whether the scrappy Internet search engine is really worth $27 billion.

– 2004: A skeptical NYT article (and most of the public) wonders if Google isn’t just… a big fat bubble. 2013: Google announces its annual revenue is greater than $50 billion. 

Jobs Our Future Commerce Analyst Has Right Now

As you may have heard, I’m building up a Commerce Team here at Gawker Media. This means we’re going to be seeking new types of talent that our organization has never seen before. But these folks need not come strictly from ecommerce…

Here are some gigs you might have had if you’re applying to be our Commerce Analyst —

  • eBay store owner
  • Sales operations analyst
  • Affiliate marketer
  • Forecasting / inventory analyst
  • Google analytics nerd
  • Media planner
  • Merchandiser
  • Ad trafficker
  • Email marketer
  • Spreadsheet monkey
  • Audience development analyst
  • Social media number cruncher
  • Disenchanted ibanker
  • AdWords marketer
  • Shopify store owner
  • Addicted shopper
  • Growth hacker

…all with a healthy addiction for ecommerce and retail on the side.

You might say, how do all these relate? They involve either quantitative skills and critical thinking (that are exactly what this position requires) or the early phases of ecommerce analysis (which, same).

That said, applicants in the above situations (or anything else we haven’t named) should absolutely have a strong interest in the coming intersection of content + commerce. That’s the necessary passion that gets you here beyond your past experience. 

And, tell us about that passion! If you’re a sales ops analyst or an ibanker applying for a commerce position, we’re going to need some insight into what motivates your new direction.

He named the site Etsy because he ‘wanted a nonsense word because I wanted to build the brand from scratch. I was watching Fellini’s 8 ½ and writing down what I was hearing. In Italian, you say ‘etsi’ a lot. It means ‘oh, yes.’ And in Latin, it means ‘and if.’

No one gives a shit about content from a commerce company.

– Phillipe von Borries, co-founder Refinery29 (via PandoDaily). I’m not entirely convinced we’ve heard the last word here, but for now it’s very much the truth.