FASTer - Issue #129

Paying Attention Pays 🔎

For many moons, I had the privilege to travel a lot. And I mean from small commercial planes to private jets to big airliners. I always thought to my self, “how many people enable these things to fly”. I marveled at the small army of airport crew, pilots, cabin crews, field services staff, hangar crew, engineers and many many many more people that keep us safe and get us in the air.

But big planes are a monopolistic business, highly regulated, extremely difficult to break into. Whilst my focus was on the enablers, I recently started thinking about this differently, paying attention to the niche players in the space. Those who retrofit old jets for new owners, those who make after market carpeting, those who design the decals that are FAA certified and a bunch more. But what really caught my attention was a business and niche hiding in plain sight. Printers for Jets and the aviation industry.

I went down that rabbit hole and came across, a manufacturer of airplane cockpit printers plus a provider of label printers. Cockpit business is an actual monopoly protected from larger peers due to a small and niche enough market on top of the FAA's expensive regulatory framework.

You might be wondering why traditional paper printers are still in use in aviation when iPads and computers seem like more modern alternatives. I did too and I came across hedge fund research here. The concise answer is that while they could be replaced, it's unlikely to happen any time soon. Let me elaborate on why this is the case based on the research I read.

Many pilots prefer using these printers for various reasons, and some are staunch advocates for their continued use. These printers are essential for producing documents like weather reports, flight paths, air traffic control data, and other information obtained from ACARS (Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System). Some pilots find it more convenient to have a physical printout that they can write on and hand to their copilot, rather than navigating through complex digital menus to access the same information. Additionally, certain airlines utilize these printers for tasks like distributing flight attendant reassignments, making them a potentially indispensable part of the airline's daily operations.

Moreover, the aviation industry, including both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airlines, tends to move at a slow pace when it comes to adopting new technologies. To illustrate, consider the recent incident involving Southwest Airlines in December. Insiders revealed that part of the problem stemmed from the airline's outdated scheduling technology, which had seen limited updates since the 1990s.

Furthermore, these printers offer a valuable layer of redundancy in case of technical failures. They allow for the physical documentation of flight records, providing an extra layer of assurance and backup in critical situations.

In summary, while iPads and computers could theoretically replace these traditional paper printers in aviation, various factors, including pilot preferences, operational needs, industry inertia, and the importance of redundancy, make it unlikely to happen in the near future.

Meet, AstroNova, the business has two segments; the first is Test & Measurement (“T&M”), which designs and manufactures airplane cockpit printers; this segment also includes a smaller line of hardware systems used to acquire, record, process, and analyze data for a wide range of industries. The second is Product Identification (“PID”) which sells a wide assortment of label printers and the related consumables such as labels and ink.

The company was founded by Albert W. Ondis on January 9, 1969 and is headquartered in West Warwick, RI.

With airplane production picking up over the coming years from its current levels. Boeing in 2018 (before the 737-MAX groundings) delivered 806 commercial planes versus just 480 in 2022, and Airbus in 2019 delivered 863 commercial planes versus just 661 in 2022. Going off these numbers means we’re still 32% below pre-covid commercial airplane production. I want to make it clear that there is not a demand issue keeping these production numbers below pre-covid levels, but rather a well-publicized supply chain, labor, and manufacturing bottleneck.

Boeing is expected to deliver 800 commercial planes in 2025, Airbus is guiding to 1,000 by mid-decade, and Air India just placed orders for 470 aircraft – This order marks Boeing’s second-largest of all time by quantity. AstroNova’s cockpit printers come standard on all Airbus A320s, and for Boeing 737s the airlines purchase the printers directly from AstroNova. Their printers are also available on other Airbus and Boeing families of planes, but the 737 and A320 lines make up the majority of commercial airplane deliveries and, as a result, AstroNova’s cockpit printer sales. It’s important to note that there are no other cockpit printer manufacturers and after acquiring Honeywell’s printer business in 2018, AstroNova has been left with an actual monopoly. One which is further protected by a strict and expensive FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approval process just to make it on the planes. The market is also niche enough, and its TAM is small enough that large competitors such as HEICO that specialize in reverse engineering aerospace components are unlikely to target AstroNova and its printers.

So what are you paying attention to? What is your niche? Can you create monopolistic positions in what you do?


Better Outcomes Through Ramen Profitability

Elevating Your Startup's Potential: Harnessing Ramen Profitability for Success

In the dynamic realm of startups and entrepreneurship, there's a concept that has gained considerable traction among emerging founders, especially given the current economic downturn: Ramen Profitability. Coined by Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, Ramen Profitability isn't just a buzzword; it's a crucial notion packed with essential lessons for young entrepreneurs. It underscores the significance of three key attributes:

1. You Can Get At Least Someone to Pay You

At its core, Ramen Profitability implies that your startup can generate sufficient revenue to cover the fundamental cost of living, symbolized by a humble diet of instant ramen noodles. This seemingly modest achievement carries profound implications, particularly in today's economic climate.

2. You’re Serious About Building Things People Want

Ramen Profitability hinges on your ability to create a product or service that resonates with customers. It forces you to dig deep into understanding their needs, preferences, and pain points. This seriousness about building value ensures that your startup remains relevant and sought-after, even in challenging economic conditions.

3. You’re Disciplined Enough to Keep Expenses Low

In turbulent times, financial discipline is a lifeline. Ramen Profitability instills a culture of thriftiness, compelling you to keep expenses in check. This discipline doesn't just apply to financial aspects but permeates every facet of your business, promoting efficient resource allocation and smart decision-making.

Why Ramen Profitability Can Lead to Better Outcomes

In the current economic downturn, Ramen Profitability emerges as a beacon of hope for young founders, offering a pathway to achieving better outcomes:

1. A Singular Focus on Growth, Not Constant Fundraising

Ramen Profitability liberates you from the perpetual cycle of fundraising. Instead of constantly seeking external capital, you can channel your energy and resources into further growing your startup. This unwavering focus on organic growth allows you to build a solid foundation for long-term success, leading to better outcomes for your business.

2. Resilience and Adaptability: The Keys to Success

The ability to achieve Ramen Profitability in adverse economic conditions demonstrates your startup's resilience and adaptability. It showcases your capacity to pivot, innovate, and stay afloat when others falter. This resilience is a powerful asset in today's uncertain business landscape, ultimately leading to better outcomes in terms of survival and growth.

3. Attracting Investors with a Difference

Ironically, Ramen Profitability can make your startup even more attractive to investors. It signals that you're a steward of financial responsibility and growth sustainability. Investors recognize that you're not merely burning through their funds but are committed to building a self-sustaining venture. This can lead to better outcomes in terms of securing investment on favorable terms.

Ramen Profitability isn't just about subsisting on a budget; it's a strategic approach that empowers young founders to achieve better outcomes in their entrepreneurial journey. By cultivating customer-centricity, financial discipline, and growth-focused strategies, you can elevate your startup's potential for success. So, embrace the simplicity of a bowl of ramen noodles, and let it symbolize your pathway to better outcomes in the world of entrepreneurship.

One New Thing (That you should know)

You can task your subconscious mind, as if it was an employee, and it will process information and make a decision while you actively do something else. New research shows that our brains continue solving problems subconsciously when we turn our attention to something else.

The more we learn about our brains, the more we find that they work better without our input.

In fact, a great deal of human behavior stems from our subconscious mind. Research into the subconscious has found that it helps to initiate goal-orientated behavior, creativity, insight, memory consolidation, and decision making.

The funny thing about your brain, as researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) recently discovered, is that it’ll keep solving a problem for you while you do something else. In fact, giving your subconscious time to work makes for better decisions.

For most people, picking a new apartment or car is a complicated process fraught with countless unknowns: if you can afford it, if you’ll get your money’s worth, and if the timing is right.

To see how much influence your subconscious has on this type of decision-making, a research team at Carnegie Mellon enlisted 27 healthy adults to undergo brain-imaging scans during mental testing.

The subjects were given information about cars and other items while connected to a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine. Before they were allowed to make a decision, they had to memorize a sequence of numbers. Researchers did this to prevent the subjects from actively thinking about the cars.

The brain scans showed that while test subjects were learning about the cars and other items, the visual and prefrontal cortices—the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and learning—were working as usual.

The surprising part—which researchers say provides the first insight into the way the brain unconsciously processes information—is that these same areas remained active during the number memorization task.

For lack of a better analogy, it’s like when your phone downloads a song while you send a text message. Your phone is focusing on the new information (the text), while it processes something more complicated at the same time.

Even with the memorization distraction, researchers found that allowing the brain to unconsciously process information leads to more clear-headed decisions. Those whose brains showed the most continuing activity during the memory task were more likely to choose the “best” car in the set.

Boring Stuff That Scales

Your conviction. If you believe something holds true and you have a reasonable basis to prove to your self it does, do not take no for an answer. It may be boring to fight out your convictions, it may also seem futile some days. But sometimes knowing you are right is not just enough, following through on why it is, perhaps is key. It may be boring to follow through, but it may really be worth it in the end.

What You Should Be Watching

Sam Bankman-Fried was supposed to be a billionaire genius running the world's largest Crypto exchange: FTX. In only a few weeks, his $32B empire crumbled, leading to his arrest. This video, unravels one of the decade's most significant cases of financial fraud. It is a must watch to understand how to spot a shyster and not fall for the trap of genius. Especially in a downward economy when every one is a guru pitching, or selling some thing. Make sure you know the early signs to spot a fake.

Monetize your time - at any age

I typically don’t share threads that are generic or vague. This time I will make an exception not because its vague or generic but it hits difficult topics that do matter. Whilst not every thing applies to every one or in every market, it is a good list of things that do matter in the end. Choose wisely but more than that, evaluate often. The one lesson from this list that you need to over index on

“Learn from the millionaires. Befriend 'em, pick their brains. They're the real professors of wealth.”

One Last Thing

Spot the lies in your life, it is a super power. There are plenty, but some are common. Here is a fantastic guide to get ahead of them.

Bonus! Thought(s) of the week

The Market price of caterpillar fungus equates to a full tenth of Tibet’s gross domestic product—more than its mining and other industrial sectors combined.


Throughout Asian history, caterpillar fungus has been celebrated to have medical and aphrodisiacal powers. Today it’s known as “Himalayan Viagra.” Most modern scientific experimentation has failed to demonstrate any lasting medicinal potency in the fungus, but its roots in culture and tradition have proven nearly impossible to break. Demand for it is insatiable.

Collecting and selling caterpillar fungus—is fraught with competition and secrecy. Here is the full story.. Now think about what industries, services, products that are native to where you live can have a “global moment” long enough for you to be positioned to benefit from it?

With the right branding, awareness and product availability by establishing scarcity first, you can grow brands + products to global success.