Yishan Profile picture
Nov 18, 2022 50 tweets 8 min read Read on X
If I had to bet on whether Elon will pull through and Twitter ultimately succeeds, I’d probably still bet on the success case. Social networks are surprisingly durable.

Still, there is a KNOWN playbook for how to take over a dysfunctional company and quickly turn it around.

🧵
Plenty of hedge funds know how to do this, but it was probably most famously put into practice when Carlos Ghosn took over Nissan in 1999, executing the “Nissan Revival Plan” and returning the company to profitability within a year and reducing its debt by 50% within 3 years.
(Ghosn was so incredibly successful at this that his influence grew to encompass MULTIPLE car companies, which freaked out the Japanese, who then conspired in 2018 to have him arrested and accused of accounting irregularities...
… culminating in a dramatic escape from Japanese house arrest assisted by an ex-special-forces soldier, but that’s a story for another time)
I spent the early part of my career reading biographies and corporate turnaround stories for fun, so I’m familiar with the process. That’s what I’ll describe in this thread.
Beware, it is pretty cold-blooded, but you are taking a company that’s dying a slow death and performing a radical intervention, so extreme measures are necessary no matter what.
First, there IS a degree of immediate decapitation required.

There are two sets of people you replace right away on Day 1:
1) All of the senior execs reporting to the CEO who are known to have had a long working relationship with him, e.g. more than 1-2 years.

2) The HR department

I’ll explain both.
The first one is pretty obvious: You need to ensure loyalty. No matter how much one thinks that people can be swayed by the logic of a better plan or new future, you need deep loyalty to execute a complex and difficult plan.
Having your company taken over and your boss fired is an emotional event for even the best people, and senior staff who are (at best) conflicted or (at worst) subversive will slow you down. So you remove them immediately.
Don’t worry, people like that land on their feet. They are highly-paid execs. It’s not like closing down the factory and putting line workers who need to feed their families out on the street (which you may do later, and THAT sucks).
A couple senior-level execs might be ok to keep around if they are new, or known to be actively sympathetic to the new direction. Typically they will backchannel to you before the first day and let you know this.
Next, you need to replace almost everyone in the HR department.

Why? Because the HR department is the mechanism you employ to hire and fire, which you will need control over without having to doubt if they’re going to drag their feet or subvert you.
You need to have your new senior HR execs ready to go on the first day to take over the department, because they are the ones who process the terminations for the execs you are firing!
And, since you will be recruiting new execs to fill critical positions, you need an HR staff aligned with your recruiting priorities and culture. It’s unlikely the old one will fit that (because that’s how the company became what it was in the first place).
What you don’t do is immediately terminate swaths of other personnel, especially ones involved in key production or even support roles.

Here is why: in almost EVERY company, there is often a lot that’s known internally that’s not known externally.
In some companies, the public perception of how the company works may be totally at odds with how the company actually works. Sometimes this is even deliberate, or a fundamental consequence of the space the company operates in.
For example, during my time at Facebook, external perception was that FB cared not a whit for privacy and didn’t understand privacy concerns.
The reality was that inside the company, people understood privacy issues VERY deeply, and wrestled continuously with nearly-intractable privacy issues, trying to formulate product and policy solutions that would satisfy a very complex and contradictory universe of user needs.
In this case, it was a consequence of the space the company existed in, i.e. most people don’t really understand privacy. For more on this subtopic:

quora.com/Will-managemen…
I encountered this situation again when I first took over at Reddit: upon going in, I had no clue whatsoever of the actual, real issues facing the company. I was stunned when I received my first “reading in” briefing from then-General Manager @hueypriest
External “data” about a company is often a mix of politically- and commercially-motivated opinions, deliberate PR (by the company and competitors), and pure hearsay and fabrications by stock traders. You can’t rely on it to form an accurate view of how a company works.
All you know going in are the financial results (e.g. the company isn’t making money), but you don’t know exactly why. So you don’t know who to keep and who to dump on Day 1.
The above groups MUST be immediately replaced only because they are necessary for you to act quickly and comprehensively.

So how you figure it out?
Well, it turns out that typically in a dysfunctional company, there are plenty of people who know what the company is doing wrong.
Sometimes a company isn’t performing because there’s a small cabal of powerful managers who are upholding certain decisions or policies, and they just need to be removed. You have to figure out if this is the case, or if it’s something else.
So you embark on a listening tour. You see new CEOs do this all the time. Schedule meetings with EVERY front-line team all over the company, and you just talk to them, and you ask them how the company can improve.
Front-line people are not politically-motivated actors. They’re just regular people doing their jobs, and collectively they have a pretty good view of things that’s untainted by ambition or politics.
You can meet with them as a team, with their line managers, but without any other senior/middle management present. You just listen. Bring along a couple of your own staff to help remember things, and then debrief and write down notes afterwards.
(Do NOT record the meeting. That sends the wrong message and will make people afraid)
This might take a few weeks. Your days are full of meetings. For a global multinational, it’s often a “100 day global listening tour.” You’ve seen this happen when a new CEO comes in. That’s what this is. Tell the teams that if they think of anything else to email you later too.
After you do this, you will have a very good “vector field” of where the problematic areas of the company are, which people or teams are jamming things up, and what the real challenges are that need to be surmounted.
While every team may be self-serving, there will be plenty of peer teams who make it clear whether another team is truly useless or counterproductive, or merely under-appreciated. In any case, now you have REAL intel from insiders.
If at this point there is some clearly problematic person, people, or org that needs to go, you can cut them. You are much more likely to have success in surgically targeting the cancer at this point.
Next, if there are people (like senior managers) you can’t get rid of but need to be upgraded or routed around, you do the following trick to subvert them:
You create new cross-functional teams comprised of line managers or teams underneath them, and charge them with identifying and implementing key improvements, and have them report their progress directly to you.
The “vector field” you’ve formed from your listening tour should help you shape exactly who and what departments you want to ask to contribute people to these new cross-functional teams.
Carlos Ghosn did this to great effect at Nissan, especially as Nissan had many senior executives and in Japan, seniority rules and strong traditions prevent you from just dumping useless senior executives.
The senior executives who can’t be removed aren’t very dynamic people (or they’d have led a turnaround already), so you can just stall them by doing business-as-usual process meetings and keeping them out of the way of the junior turnaround teams with rock-fetches and busywork.
Those teams, eager to prove themselves and seeing opportunities, will be motivated to work hard, so you give them the urgent timelines and hard deadlines.

Ghosn talks about how he did that here: hbr.org/2002/01/saving…
Give these teams a deadline for executing a set of key improvements, then repeat. A lot can be done in a few months, and you can run this cycle multiple times a year and yield major improvements within a year’s time.
As they work, new leaders will emerge, and weak leaders will fall apart from the dynamism (some people get comfortable and when things get shaken up, they self-destruct). Now you have your new crop of internal leaders to promote.
One of the advantages of this process is that you don’t need to do things like explicitly “rewrite company culture.”

A lot of times when new management comes in, they have a culture clash with the existing company culture. This causes a lot of “organ rejection.”
By empowering the employees and line managers, you are saying to them, “Live up to the true values of this company, and make it great again!”
Most employees believe in the values of the company (or they wouldn’t be there), and the most motivated employees who take up the challenge usually do.
Of course, the truth is that it’s all about how the values are really interpreted and practiced, but that doesn’t really matter:
Motivated by the desire to do better, employees will re-interpret the values to serve the new better ways of doing things, and feel like they are upholding them, even strengthening them. They will feel like new management is MORE aligned with the “old” values.
Finally, once things are running really well and you’ve promoted a new set of internal leaders who are driving this ongoing transformation and the success is tangible, you can remove the remaining deadweight.
Now you know. Go forth, corporate raider.

And please only use this new knowledge I’ve given you for GOOD.
If you liked this thread, follow me for more spicy takes on the tech industry and REAL TALK about solving climate change like this article in TIME by Tom Crowther (@TWCrowther) about restoring forests and biodiversity!

time.com/6234466/health…

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More from @yishan

May 23
Big Tech has announced an Advance Market Commitment to buy 20M tons of nature-based removal credits.

This is good news, but it will only work if they also fix key broken elements of the buying market:



(1/n)
1: Pay more - as much as $46/ton.

Forward carbon sale prices for nature-based removals need to be higher, or the economics just don’t work for organizations doing the work.

Right now the forward carbon price is around $6-8/ton, with spot market prices around $12-18/ton.
Terraformation now has extensive experience analyzing the cost structure of high-quality ARR projects and the organizations who can do it.

The long-term value of this carbon removal is not adequately reflected in today’s price.

Read 24 tweets
May 18
Sites like Quora, Reddit, etc that are built on user-generated content will need to adopt radically different content moderation policies in the age of AI, but not in the way that most people think!

(1/n)
Most people think the main challenge will be bots. With AI, bad actors using bots will be more difficult to detect.

This is true, but that’s thinking like “horseless carriage” - it misses the real shift.
Along with fighting bots, these sites should (can now) enact incredibly strict moderation policies focused entirely on incentivizing quality human content, and eliminate low-quality or low-effort content without worrying about sacrificing usage volume.

Huh what? I will explain:
Read 34 tweets
Apr 16
A week ago, I posted a thread about trying Lumina, the probiotic dental caries treatment from Lantern Bioworks. It got way, way more visibility than I expected (good), but given the popularity of the thread, I felt it would be responsible to address a number of concerns, objections, and skepticisms it uncovered.

Instead of doing this in the marketing-friendly bite-sized tweet storm format, I will do this in a more long-form format, which is more conducive to nuance and detail:

1. Disclosure: I am an investor in Lantern Bioworks!

(I am sorry it didn't occur to me to bring this up right at the beginning but the thread started out as a "look at this crazy thing I am doing" and then ended up later sounding promotional, if you can call it that)

Anyhow, yes I am an investor!

However, it doesn’t work exactly the way you think. The cached-thought reflex most people have is “investor = wants to get rich, shills for company; don’t believe what he says!”

First, my investment is something like 0.05% of the company [details elided here about SAFEs, caps, etc]. Similarly, the equity I hold in Lantern is also a tiny portion of my net worth.

Second, I invested in LB because I knew about this dental caries cure 10-15 years ago. If you’ve been paying attention, the basic research had been done in the 80s and 90s, and in the early 2000s, the inventor was attempting to get it approved by the FDA as a medically-approved treatment, and it was under patent.

At the time I found out about it (mid-2000s), that was the status quo: a cure (technically: preventative vaccine) for caries existed, but it was under patent. So all we [normal people] could do was wait, and hope it came to market.

It never came to market. For various reasons (more on this later), it wasn’t able to even start to get FDA approval, and the company is basically defunct.

My overriding priority, therefore, is to help get this out to humanity. If you’ve read Cremieux’s piece [] on the history of dental caries, it is global problem that has plagued us since the dawn of history, and if we could eliminate (or even greatly reduce it), it would result in a profound improvement in the human condition.

Hence, when I found that a company was working on it, I was intrigued. It turns out that yes, many other people were willing to experiment with this, but the company needed a bit of capital to ramp up production. The amount of money needed was an amount that I felt I - in addition to more investors within my network that I thought I could bring to the table - could provide.

In fact, I invested ONLY because the company decided to pursue what I consider the LESS profitable route of distribution:

When I first learned about Lantern (Sep 2023), they were mulling over their go-to-market plans. At the time, they had concluded that:

- Just making and distributing the cure would not be particularly profitable, as it was a one-time treatment and if successful, that’d be the end of things. And, being as it was out of patent, other companies could clone/pirate the same treatment and just copy them.

- The more profitable thing would be to slightly tweak the bacteria in a trivial way so that it would be patentable, get a patent, then sell it to Pfizer, have Pfizer drag it through the FDA approval process. It was anticipated that this process could take 2-10 years to before it would get the bacteria into peoples’ mouths. At the time, Lantern seemed to slightly prefer this plan.

I did not like this plan. My feeling about this cure is that it is game-chantingly important for mankind, and not something to be subject to our monstrously dysfunctional public-private FDA-Big-Pharma late-stage-capitalist regulatory-capture system. So I didn’t invest.

(There was another third plan, which was to pursue approval in other, faster countries, with the caveat that the FDA holds a grudge against you if do that, so it was sort of a worst-of-both-worlds plan)

Months later in ~Feb 2024, Cremieux posted about having gotten the treatment himself at Prospera, and answered a message from me with an offer to introduce me to Lantern’s founder, Aaron.

By then, Lantern had apparently decided not to deal with creating a tweaked strain, patenting, and dealing with Pfizer, and were intending to just make and distribute it as a cosmetic (probiotic supplement), which doesn’t require FDA approval, and presumably make a healthy return selling a one-time treatment to all of mankind, which is still 8 billion people.

The idea is that they were selling it for $20,000 per treatment at Prospera to rich guys like Cremieux, then it came down to $5k, and now they’re taking pre-orders for $250 each, putting it in the budget of well-off biohackers and other early adopters. They’ll drive the price down at each stage, and eventually the last billion doses will probably be sub-$1 production cost distributed by NGOs in developing countries.

But in order to make the jump from bespoke lab bench treatments at $5k each to producing 1000 units/month at $250 each, they needed to scale up a small production facility, and that’s why I invested - to help them make this next step.

I should mention that even if this investment does well, I won’t actually personally make money from this. I invested through a charitable donor-advised fund that I contributed to, and any returns on the investment will just go back into the charitable fund, to be deployed into other similar investments. I can’t actually claim any of the returns.

My role as an investor (and indirectly, apparently as a marketer) is to accelerate the production and deployment of this as a cure to as many people who want it as possible. I am not doing this for the money. I am doing it because I’m hoping to remove hurdles (financial or otherwise) for something that I think will be beneficial to mankind - after 20+ years of development hell - to finally see the light of day.

Next: FDA approval - no?cremieux.xyz/p/46ebd66b-8a6…
2. It's not approved by the FDA?

The short answer here is that FDA approval is extremely difficult to get for reasons unrelated to the efficacy and safety of the proposed intervention, and not because the intervention is necessarily unsafe or ineffective.

While there are many unapproved therapies that ARE unsafe or ineffective, this does not mean that when something is not FDA approved that it is necessarily unsafe or ineffective.

This is an important distinction to make in our day and age, when the FDA is in that awkward slow-collapse state of being not completely useless while largely failing to live up to its intended function. (Friends at the FDA: it’s not your fault - you’re trapped in a huge dysfunctional system you cannot really control)

Some history:

The company originally founded by Dr. Hillman (the researcher who discovered the cure) was called Oragenics. Back in 2003, after the treatment had passed animal trials, Pfizer actually tried to purchase SMaRT (as the treatment was called back then) from Oragenics for $64 million but Oragenics refused, choosing instead to try and carry it through the FDA themselves.

But the FDA required them to find a cohort of 300 healthy 18-30 year olds who lived alone, not near a school zone, and had fully removable teeth. Let me repeat that: they wanted Oragenics to find 300 young people with dentures.

That is basically IMPOSSIBLE, so Oragenics failed even before they started. The company floundered about for a bit, the patent expired, and then a couple years ago Lantern Bioworks bought all the IP.

Lantern itself seriously considered tweaking the formula slightly to qualify for patent protection and to sell it to Pfizer, and rely on Pfizer’s corporate muscle to drag it through the FDA testing and approval process, and hope that 2-10 years from now it might hit the market.

I WOULD NOT HAVE INVESTED IF THEY WERE DOING THAT.

In fact, as I chatted with other prospective investors, more than one of them asked whether the product was going through the FDA approval process and responded POSITIVELY when I answered that they were not. Apparently the FDA process these days is so onerous and cumbersome and sufficiently removed from the questions of safety and efficacy that they are considered something that makes a company uninvestable to many.

(This is not to say that the FDA approval and testing process has no value - it certainly yields some useful data on safety and efficacy - it is just that it also imposes disproportionate time and energy cost whose risk often does not match upside outcomes. The questionable results (on both sides) of potential treatments during the pandemic are a clear symptom of this)

Finally, the fact that a company capable of enduring the FDA process would never do it unless they owned a monopoly patent on the treatment was unacceptable to me. Because the bacteria is in the public domain, no drug company wants to try to carry it through the FDA - doing so would just mean that anyone could then sell the drug that they just spent half a billion dollars to get approved.

Remember, this is not some new fly-by-night GMO tech. The research was done, tested, and peer-reviewed over 20 years ago. In looking back at the supporting research that fed into it, I found that Dr. Hillman had published foundational papers as far back as 1978, before I was even born, characterizing effector strains that had the potential to create a therapy for dental caries.

Published in 1978:

So here’s where we stand:

- Pfizer (who are no fools) already offered to purchase this for $64 million in 2003 based on the positive results of animal trials. Adjusting for inflation, this is maybe ~$110m now
- No drug company CAN drag this through an FDA approval process, and the reasons for that have little to do with efficacy and safety.
- The only “maybe” way to do so is to patent a tweaked formula, but that still means of a delay of up to a decade and the same potential market danger of a generic competitor simply selling the original formula, with the FDA-approved formula now under the monopoly ownership of a Big Pharma company.

This treatment, if it works, is worth about $45B a year in saved dental work in America alone, plus the lives of hundreds of people who die annually from tooth infections and dental anesthesia mishaps. It’s a civilizational embarrassment that this drug is held back by red tape.

What I think is the best way forward:

Because it’s relatively certain that the treatment is safe (and I’ll address a couple safety questions that came up later in this post too - but probably the best argument is that Pfizer offered $64m for it), the best thing to do seems to be:

1. Move forward with manufacturing and distributing this as a probiotic supplement
2. Once a critical mass of biohackers and early adopters take this treatment, other third-party research can get involved

Rather than being done under the auspices of a drug company (which would even have an economic motive to see certain results), independent labs can do research on cohorts of people who apply the treatment vs not, and we’ll get much better, larger datasets of results. Labs do this all the time - answering a question like “are people who eat muffins happier in the morning” doesn’t require muffins to be a patented new intervention - you can just do the research because you are curious: and many people will be.

If you’re not an early-adopting biohacker, you should favor this approach. You should want this product out there, and your risk-taking friends to be trying it (or if you are really afraid, then your risk-taking enemies), so that a critical mass of test subjects can be recruited for some nice large-population-set data. Then subsequent potential users with a different risk profile can make their decision after more data is available.

Next... genetically stable what?ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/P…
3. It’s genetically stable? Also, any possible kill-switch in case things go wrong?

In one of my posts in the prior thread (), I mentioned “4. It’s genetically stable.”

That was rightly treated with some skepticism, given that I didn’t provide any details.

I had elided the details because it was just complex enough that it would have made that part of the thread overly verbose and technical. I will provide those details now here:

First, S.mutans has a proclivity for horizontal gene transfer (exchange DNA) with other bacteria. This means it tends to mutate “faster” than average. This actually produces many other sub-strains (one of them is harmful - more on this later), and what we would ideally like to do is for OUR beneficial strain to do the the helpful thing it does (plus no harmful things) and NOT mutate.

Well, it turns out you can do this by introducing a small deletion in one of the genes (called “comE”), which causes the strain to lose this DNA-exchange ability. Subsequently, the bacteria with this change no longer mutates as quickly.

The paper outlining that change is here:


Incidentally, this paper also describes another tweak, where they installed a “kill-switch” for the bacteria: you can wipe it out by taking oral chlorhexidine (a specific anti-microbial mouthwash).

Both the kill-switch and genetic-stability tweaks were added for human trials, specifically to enable rapid elimination of the strain in case of adverse side effects, and to yield genetic stability (to make sure the kill-switch stayed intact, among other things).

Next: does it colonize the gut?
academic.oup.com/jambio/article…
Read 6 tweets
Apr 10
I’m about to do the Lumina treatment, a cure for dental cavities developed by Lantern Bioworks.

I figured I’d do an unboxing and let you come with me on this journey. Here’s the box: Image
It’s a one-time at-home treatment, which replaces the bacteria in your mouth with a slightly different bacteria - one that doesn’t secrete the acid that attacks tooth enamel and causes cavities.
Ingredients:

Hmm, it’s half sugar. I guess that’s to give the bacteria something to snack on once it’s reconstituted? Image
Read 54 tweets
Mar 12
What if the world’s forests had a system to detect wildfires almost instantly as soon as they started, even before the fire was visible?

Such a system is possible, and it’s low-cost and highly-scalable. Here’s more…
Carsten Brinkschulte is CEO of Dryad. They make simple IOT devices to detect smoke from wildfires while the fires are small, passing the info along inexpensive mesh networks to a monitoring station, so that firefighters can respond within minutes.

terraformation.com/blog/how-the-i…
Solutions to address climate change need to be implementable at scale, and this often means using components that are small, simple, and cheap.

Dryad’s solution is all of these, and it performs far faster than other, more complex solutions.
Read 8 tweets
Feb 23
Google’s Gemini issue is not really about woke/DEI, and everyone who is obsessing over it has failed to notice the much, MUCH bigger problem that it represents.

(1/n)
First, to recap: Google injected special instructions into Gemini so that when it was asked to draw pictures, it would draw people with “diverse” (non-white) racial backgrounds.
This resulted in lots of weird results where people would ask it to draw pictures of people who were historically white (e.g. Vikings, 1940s Germans) and it would output black people or Asians.
Read 30 tweets

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