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No Mercy No Malice

Jumping the SPAC

September 17, 2021

Note: I was not under influence of Zacapa or edibles writing this one … so it’s wonky.  Oh well, my blog.

A perfect storm may be brewing: tech, software as a service (SaaS), and climate change. My podcast co-host, Kara Swisher, believes the first trillionaire will be an entrepreneur who addresses climate change. It’s not unthinkable, as Elon Musk is already 15% of the way there — to a trillion in wealth, not solving climate change. I’m more skeptical and believe the only entities that can begin to reverse climate change are the EU and the governments of China and the U.S. Capital is pouring into the space, and funds that claim to invest based on an “Environment, Social, Governance” (ESG) basis are hot. These capital flows will produce a bevy of firms that tap into the consensual hallucination that society’s biggest problems can be fixed as our stock portfolios explode in value. Yeah … wouldn’t that be nice. No, just as turning back Hitler and smallpox took leadership, treasure, and blood, so will this.

The most recent ayahuasca trip is Aspiration, a finance firm that claims its products “can change climate change.” In August the company announced it was going public (via SPAC) at a $2.3 billion valuation. (Investor presentation available here.) Change climate change. That would be awesome. Except there’s a catch. This is a fucking debit card.

Aspiration’s Aspirations

Aspiration was launched in 2015 by a former Clinton White House aide and Elizabeth Warren protegee. Its initial (and still primary) consumer product was a debit card with some green features. The company claims money deposited in its debit accounts “won’t fund fossil fuel exploration or production”; it plants a tree every time a customer chooses to round up a purchase; and it offers 3% to 5% cash back on purchases from “mission-focused merchants.” More recently, the firm launched another debit card that, in exchange for a monthly fee, offers an interest-bearing account and larger cash-back awards. Both cards are made of recycled plastic.

The company also offers an ESG-focused investment fund, Redwood (REDWX), and has plans to launch a credit card. The sleek-looking black slab of biodegradable plant matter, called Zero, was announced in March, but remains vaporware. Half of Aspiration’s revenue comes from the fees that flow to debit card issuers (interchange fees, interest, subscriptions for the higher-tier product), and half from the corporate “sustainability-as-a-service,” discussed below.

None of this is particularly innovative or market-leading. Aspiration doesn’t even pretend its direct economic benefits are anything special. It’s not PayPal, Affirm, Square, Ualá, or Public, true innovators that are disrupting existing payment and finance models.

Aspiration’s Redwood investment fund does offer two apparent points of differentiation from other ESG funds: Its performance is worse, and its fees are higher.

The company’s marketing focuses on a “pay what is fair” model, which permits investors to choose an annual fee between 0% and 2%, depending on what they believe is “fair.” (Hint: the answer is zero.) But keep reading the fine print and you find a base fee of 0.5%. That compares unfavorably with fees of higher-performing passive ESG funds (SUSL: 0.10%; VFTNX: 0.12%; ESGV: 0.14%).

The bottom line? Investors pay more for REDWX than they would for a better-performing passive fund, but they can pay significantly more if they want.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

If you use Aspiration you will, according to the firm’s materials, “save the planet.” Again … awesome. Except you won’t. The company guides debit card purchases toward companies with a high “AIM” score (“Aspiration Impact Measurement”), a metric Aspiration appears to have invented and defines nowhere. But a look at the 10 most highly AIM-rated companies (i.e. the “AIM Nice List”) suggests the scoring system leans towards the qualitative. The top 10 in 2018 include Sephora for “promoting fearless beauty,” Target for “normalizing diversity,” Marriott for “adding love to travel,” and my favorite, Delta for “flying cleaner than ever.”

Aspiration claims the Redwood Fund is “100% fossil fuel-free.” But almost 3% of its holdings are in Southwest Airlines, a company that burns 2 billion gallons of fuel per annum and was labeled a “high ESG risk” company by Sustainalytics. Another portfolio company is Linde, an industrial gas company that touts its “experienced team of oil and gas specialists,” and brags that it’s “been supporting the industry for decades,” with particular expertise in … wait for it … fracking.

Sustainable energy is Redwood’s smallest investment sector, accounting for only 2.3% of total assets. The fund’s investment in Southwest alone surpasses that. The bulk of the portfolio consists of stocks that are prevalent in every portfolio, such as Microsoft and Starbucks.

How does Aspiration justify including companies like this in Redwood’s portfolio? That’s where the magic of ESG comes in. Redwood (allegedly) evaluates investments across all three considerations. If “social” and “governance” sound amorphous, trust your instincts. This allows Aspiration to tout Redwood’s climate bona fides, while actually investing in the same companies as everyone else, just so long as the companies have “anti-bribery ethics” and low employee turnover.

Finally, between its debit card and its corporate business, Aspiration claims it will plant 5 billion trees over the next 20 years (“at attractive profit margins for the company”). This is the primary mechanism its products use to “save the planet.” Reforesting the globe is a legitimate environmental goal with a broad array of benefits. But in terms of turning back climate change (Aspiration’s frequently stated aspiration), 5 billion trees in 20 years is … a start, sort of. According to a recent study in Science, it will take 500 billion trees to capture just the additional carbon we are slated to spew out over that period.

These sojourns in Wokeistan illustrate a larger trend: ESG projects promoting the fiction that we can shop our way out of climate change. American consumer culture results in a carbon footprint per person that’s four times greater than the global average. Flying Delta instead of United is not going to change that. Pretending otherwise is much like the way tech leaders dress in woke colors to distract us from the damage their firms levy on society. Sheryl Sandberg speaks eloquently re the need for safe places for our children to distract us from the need to find places safe from Sandberg and the Zuck. But I digress.

B2B(S)

In 2020, five years after debuting its debit card, Aspiration managed to expand revenue to just $15 million. Yet the company claims that in 2021 its consumer business will triple, to $43 million, and its recently launched corporate consulting business will generate $55 million. And then that corporate business will nearly double in 2022.

From what we can discern, the “sustainability-as-a-service” business is quasi-consulting that helps firms assess their carbon footprint, then brokers the carbon offsets necessary to account for it, marking up the offsets. Similar to the classic advertising agency model: Do the work for free and make money on the media buy.

How this works in practice is unclear: is this a scalable methodology that Aspiration can deliver to dozens of companies via an army of crisply trained college grads … or is it sophisticated consulting that requires experienced people and bespoke work? The former might be scalable at the rate Aspiration projects, but it’s also a low-value-added business with no moats or switching costs.

Building a true consulting business would be more, well, sustainable, but building consulting firms is a long, hard road (I have some experience with this). And the only member of Aspiration’s management team listed with any experience working at a consulting firm is the CTO, who worked at Accenture for 16 months and left in 2008. Nor does the company have any job postings on LinkedIn for consultants.

When the Ducks Quack

The hype around Aspiration is relentless. The company’s site and investor deck tap into a trifecta: ESG, celebrities, and the very-hot-right-now “as-a-service” moniker.

In 2019 the company announced Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor and “advisory board” member. Included in the list of Aspiration’s Hollywood backers are: Orlando Bloom, Robert Downey Jr., Cindy Crawford, Doc Rivers, and Drake. Word is Leo’s testicles have swollen, and he’s been invited to the White House — couldn’t resist.

To further fuel the hype machine, Aspiration boasts that it has a “community” of 5 million “passionate” and “purpose-driven members” (see pages 5, 7, 15, 16 of the investor deck). But the company had only 361,000 actual customers at the end of 2020, and its projections suggest it has less than 1 million currently. How does it get to 5 million? A footnote in the deck clarifies that to qualify as a member, one need only have signed the company’s terms and conditions at some point (which requires only clicking a box when you sign up for the company’s email list). That means less than a fifth of Aspiration’s “members” actually use its product.

The media loves the hype, and the firm’s ability to generate press is a tangible competence that should reduce marketing spend. Fast Company called it a “world-changing app.” It was named in Certified B Corporation’s “Best for the World” list four years in a row. It made Inc.’s “25 Most Disruptive Companies.”

Yogababble: ESG Edition

When presented with companies promising the world, we apply our Yogababble analysis to their investor documents. In our experience, there’s an inverse correlation between the level of BS in a company’s materials and its stock return post-IPO. Aspiration’s mission statement: “Aspiration is in the Business of Sustainability — Our Mission is to Empower People and Businesses to Do Well and to Do Good.”

We don’t have a prospectus for Aspiration yet, but a Yogababble assessment of its investor presentation reveals the following: “Sustainability/sustainable” appears 30 times, while “profit” appears 11. Excluding mentions in footnotes, “climate” appears 10 times, while “debit” (the company’s actual product) appears only four times. The company promotes its AIM score but never explains how it works. It does, however, describe it as “a Fitbit for sustainability.”

EBITDAM

Smearing more vaseline on the lens of the actual business fundamentals, Aspiration turns to creative accounting. Specifically, it leans heavily on a profitability measure called EBITDAM. EBITDA is the familiar “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.” It’s a measure of how profitable a company’s core operations are before the vagaries of capital structure, tax strategy, and accounting charges. EBITDAM excludes all those things … and then also excludes marketing spend.

In very small doses, this is not crazy. Debit card customers tend to be loyal — Aspiration claims more than 90% customer retention. So the idea is that marketing is mainly for acquiring new customers, and if you want to see how the business performs on its existing customer base, you should exclude those costs.

But Aspiration attempts to elevate EBITDAM far beyond its station. In an introductory “Aspiration at a Glance” slide, it claims to be “Cash Flow Positive,” and then in smaller type “Before Marketing Expense,” and then, in an even smaller footnote to that smaller type, identifies this as EBITDAM. Which is nothing like a measure of cash flow. Over in reality, the company’s operations burned $34 million in 2020, and they’re projected to burn $133 million in 2021. In the rest of the deck, Aspiration refers to its “EBITDAM profitability this quarter” and then uses EBITDAM throughout its financial analysis. Which is rich for a company whose entire (projected) profit model is dependent on explosive customer acquisition, which (to date) has been really, really expensive.

How expensive? The company spent $22 million on marketing in 2020, roughly 50% more than the revenue it generated that year. This year it plans on spending $149 million on marketing, 52% more than expected revenue. Compared to comparable firms, Aspiration’s marketing spend as a share of total revenue is stunning:

SPACtacular

What could greenwashing garner its backers? Potentially a $2.3 billion public market capitalization, should the anticipated SPAC go through.

This is a firm that registered less than $15 million in revenue last year. PayPal makes $15 million in revenue every five hours. It’s less than most NFL starting quarterbacks made in 2020 — Leo’s former girlfriend’s husband made over twice that.

Aspiration is a difficult firm to value, considering its blended corporate/consumer revenue mix and ambitious projections. But the core of the company is its debit card business, and for that we have a close comparison: Dave. Dave is also going public via SPAC, and it also has an investor deck with similar information. Dave was EBITDA positive in 2020 on $122 million in revenue and finished the year with 3.7 million active accounts. Dave’s post-SPAC projected enterprise value is $3.6 billion. That’s 29 times its 2020 revenue.

Aspiration, meanwhile, lost $63 million in EBITDA last year on $15 million in revenue and finished the year with 360,000 consumer accounts (and two corporate accounts). Aspiration’s post-SPAC projected enterprise value is $1.9 billion. That’s 129 times its 2020 revenue.

A growth-driven valuation can be justified, but for companies with real strategic advantages. I’m not seeing any moats here — just the captain of Aspiration Air Flight 2.1 asking us to look out the left side of the plane and gaze at the bright lights of Wokeistan.

There’s one more number that jumps off the page in Aspiration’s investor deck. In 2020, when the company did less than $15 million in revenue, its general and administrative expenses were a whopping $47 million. G&A is typically salaries, daily expenses, rent, legal fees, that sort of thing. It should not be three times your revenue, five years after launch. By comparison, in 2018, when Dave was at $17 million in revenue, its G&A line was $4 million. Without more detail it’s hard to know what’s going on here, but a $47 million G&A line for a $15 million business is a red flag.

WeSG

To be clear, Aspiration is not WeWork. The story of We is insanity; Aspiration is mere intoxication. Specifically, a market drunk on true disruptors that have delivered unprecedented returns. Aspiration is only crashing a Bombardier Global Express into a mountain every six months, vs. every three days. Yet, the comparison between the two companies is striking. It’s beginning to smell like teen spirit … if teen spirit is bullshit.

The emissions from our idolatry of innovators and a 13-year bull market have resulted in an investment ecosystem that’s warmed to a boil. However, unlike in the actual environment … this warming will be self-correcting. A debit card and mediocre fund management masquerading as a SaaS firm will likely add fuel to the SPAC unwinding that has commenced. Regardless of how green a firm says it is, a shitty business wrapped in the flag of Wokeistan cannot change the weather. Winter is coming.

Life is so rich,

P.S. My colleague Adam Alter is not only better looking than me, he’s also probably smarter. Anyway, he’s teaching the next Fundamentals of Product Strategy Sprint with Section4. Check it out.

40 comments

  1. Mandy says:

    Getting an Aspiration account was the worse decision i made this year. I reported the debit card stolen from the mail box before it was activated almost 2 weeks before someone activated the card and stole 2,000 from me. Then they locked me out of my account for over a month blocked my phone number and would leave me on hold indefinitely when id call customer service. They only returned1290 of the money. I think they steal from my account in each transaction because receipts and transaction history do not match.

  2. Mert Mere says:

    Dear Scott GALLOWAY,

    I would like to share some texts written about 80-90 years ago, that can explane some basics of HAPINESS and the PEACE in the Family and in The COUNTRY :

    Best wishes…
    – – 0 – –

    – MATERIALISTIC PHILOSOPHY accepts;

    ‘Force’ as its point of support in the life of society.

    It considers its aim to be ‘benefits’.

    The principle of its life it recognizes to be ‘conflict’.

    It holds the bond between communities to be ‘racialism and negative nationalism’.

    Its fruits are ‘gratifying the appetites of the soul and increasing human needs’.

    However;

    The mark of force is ‘aggression’.

    The mark of benefit – since they are insufficient for every desire – is ‘jostling and tussling’.

    While the mark of conflict is ‘strife’.

    And the mark of racialism –since it is nourished by devouring others– is ‘aggression’.

    It is for these reasons that it has negated the happiness of mankind.

    – As for the WISDOM of the FAITH;

    Its point of support is ‘truth’ instead of force.

    It takes ‘virtue and God’s pleasure’ as its aims in place of benefits.

    It takes the principle of ‘mutual assistance’ as the principle of life in place of the principle of conflict.

    And it takes ‘the ties of religion, class, and country’ to be the ties bonding communities, instead of the race.

    Its aim is to form a barrier against the lusts of the soul, urge the spirit to sublime matters, satisfy the high emotions, and urging man to the human perfections, make him a true human being.

    And the mark of ‘the truth’ is accord.

    The mark of virtue is ‘solidarity’.

    The mark of mutual assistance is ‘hastening to assist one another’.

    The mark of religion is ‘brotherhood’ and ‘attraction’.

    And the mark of reining in and tethering the soul and leaving the spirit free and urging it towards perfections is ‘happiness in this world and the next’.
    ….

    – – – 0 – – –

    According to the principles of materialistic philosophy, power is approved. “Might is right” is the norm, even. It says, “All power to the strongest.” “The winner takes all,” and, “In power there is right”(*). It has given moral support to tyranny, encouraged despots, and urged oppressors to claim divinity.

    (*)The principle of prophethood says: “Power is in right; right is not in power.” It thus halts tyranny and ensures justice.
    ….
    – – 0 – –

    Indeed, youth heeds the emotions rather than reason, and emotions and desires are blind; they do not consider the consequences. They prefer one ounce of immediate pleasure to tons of future pleasure.

    – – 0 – –

    Destruction Is Easy; The Weak Person Is Destructive:

    The condition of the existence of the whole is the existence of all the parts; while its non-
    existence may be through the non-existence of one of its parts; so destruction is easy. It is because of this that the impotent man never approaches anything positively and constructively; he always acts negatively, and is always destructive.

    – – 0 – –

    THE LETTERS
    The Twentieth Letter :

    ” The highest aim of creation and its most important result is belief in God. The most exalted rank in humanity and its highest degree is the knowledge of God contained within belief in God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty for jinn and human beings is the love of God contained within the knowledge of God. And the purest joy for the human spirit and the sheerest delight for man’s heart is the rapture of the spirit contained within the love of God. Yes, all true happiness, pure joy, sweet bounties, and untroubled pleasure lie in knowledge of God and love of God; they cannot exist without them.

    The person who knows and loves God Almighty may receive endless bounties, happiness, lights, and mysteries. While the one who does not truly know and love him is afflicted spiritually and materially by endless misery, pain, and fears. Even if such an impotent, miserable person owned the whole world, it would be worth nothing for him, for it would seem to him that he was living a fruitless life among the vagrant human race in a wretched world without owner or protector. Everyone may understand just how forlorn and baffled is man among the aimless human race in this bewildering fleeting world if he does not know his Owner, if he does not discover his Master. But if he does discover and know Him, he will seek refuge in His mercy and will rely on His power. The desolate world will turn into a place of recreation and pleasure, it will become a place of trade for the hereafter.

    First Station

    Each of the eleven phrases of the above-mentioned sentence affirming divine unity contains some good news. And in the good news lies a cure, while in each of those cures a spritual pleasure is to be found.

    THE FIRST PHRASE: “There is God”

    This phrase conveys the following good news to the human spirit, suffering as it does countless needs and the attacks of innumerable enemies. On the one hand the spirit finds a place of recourse, a source of help, through which is opened to it the door of a treasury of mercy that will guarantee all its needs. While on the other it finds a support and source of strength, for the phrase makes known its Creator and True Object of Worship, who possesses the absolute power to secure it from the evil of all its enemies; it shows its master, and who it is that owns it. Through pointing this out, the phrase saves the heart from utter desolation and the spirit from aching sorrow; it ensures an eternal joy, a perpetual happiness.

    THE SECOND PHRASE: “He is One”

    This phrase announces the following good news, which is both healing and a source of happiness:

    Man’s spirit and heart, which are connected to most of the creatures in the universe and are almost overwhelmed in misery and confusion on account of this connection, find in the phrase “He is One” a refuge and protector that will deliver them from all the confusion and bewilderment.

    That is to say, it is as if “He is One” is saying to man: God is One. Do not wear yourself out having recourse to other things; do not demean yourself and feel indebted to them; do not flatter them and fawn on them and humiliate yourself; do not fear them and tremble before them; for the Monarch of the universe is One, the key to all things is with Him, the reins of all things are in His hand, everything will be resolved by His command. If you find Him, you will be saved from endless indebtedness, countless fears.

    THE THIRD PHRASE: “He has no partner”

    Just as in His divinity and in His sovereignty God has no partner, He is One and cannot be many; so too He has no partner in His dominicality and in His actions and in His creating. It sometimes happens that a monarch is one, having no partner in his sovereignty, but in the execution of his affairs his officials act as his partners; they prevent everyone from entering his presence, saying: “Apply to us!”

    However, God Almighty, the Monarch of Pre-Eternity and Post-Eternity, has no partner in His sovereignty, just as He has no need for partners or helpers in the execution of His dominicality.

    If it were not for His command and will, His strength and power, not a single thing could interfere with another. Everyone can have recourse to Him directly. Since He has no partner or helper, no one seeking recourse can be told: “Stop! It is forbidden to enter His presence!”

    This phrase, therefore, delivers the following joyful announcement to the human spirit: the human spirit which has attained to faith may, without let or hindrance, opposition or interference, in any state, for any wish, at any time and in any place, enter the presence of the All-Beauteous and Glorious One, the One of power and perfection, who is the Pre-Eternal and Post-Eternal Owner of the treasuries of mercy, the treasuries of bliss, and may present its needs. Discovering His mercy and relying on His power, it will find perfect ease and happiness.

    THE FOURTH PHRASE: “His is the dominion”

    That is to say, ownership is altogether His. As for you, you are both His property, you are owned by Him, and you work in His property. This phrase announces the following joyful and healing news:

    O man! Do not suppose that you own yourself, for you have no control over any of the things that concern you; such a load would be heavy. Also, you are unable to protect yourself, to avoid disasters, or to do the things that you must. In which case, do not suffer pain and torment without reason, the ownership is another’s. The Owner is both All-Powerful and All-Merciful; rely on His power and do not cast aspersions on His mercy! Put grief behind you, be joyful! Discard your troubles and find serenity!

    It also says: You love and are connected to the universe, which is the property of the All-Powerful and Merciful One, yet although it grieves you by its wretchedness, you are unable to put it right. So hand over the property to its Owner, leave it to Him. Attract His pleasure, not His harshness. He is both All-Wise and All-Merciful. He has free disposal over His property and administers it as He wishes.

    THE FIFTH PHRASE: “His is the praise”

    Praise, laudation, and acclaim are proper to Him, are fitting for Him. That is to say, bounties are His; they come from His treasury. And as for the treasury, it is unending. This phrase, therefore, delivers the following good news:

    O man! Do not suffer and sorrow when bounties cease, for the treasury of mercy is inexhaustible. Do not dwell on the fleeting nature of pleasure and cry out with pain, because the fruit of the bounty is the fruit of a boundless mercy. Since its tree is undying, when the fruit finishes it is replaced by more. If you thankfully think of there being within the pleasure of the bounty a merciful favour a hundred times more pleasurable, you will be able to increase the pleasure a hundredfold.

    An apple an august monarch presents to you holds a pleasure superior to that of a hundred, indeed a thousand, apples, for it is he that has bestowed it on you and made you experience the pleasure of a royal favour. In the same way, through the phrase “His is the praise” will be opened to you the door of a spiritual pleasure a thousand times sweeter than the bounty itself.

    For the phrase means to offer praise and thanks; that is to say, to perceive the bestowal of bounty. This in turn means to recognize the Bestower, which is to reflect on the bestowal of bounty, and so finally to ponder over the favour of His compassion and His continuing to bestow bounties.

    THE SIXTH PHRASE: “He alone grants life”

    That is to say, He is the giver of life. And it is He who causes life to continue by means of sustenance. He also supplies the necessities of life. And it is to Him that the exalted aims of life pertain and its important results look, and His are ninety-nine out of a hundred of its fruits. Thus, this phrase calls out in this way to ephemeral, impotent man, it makes this joyful announcement:

    O man! Do not trouble yourself by shouldering the heavy burdens of life. Do not think of the transience of life and start grieving. Do not see only its worldly and unimportant fruits and regret that you came to this world. For the life-machine in the ship of your being belongs to the Ever-Living and Self-Subsistent One, and it is He who provides for all its expenses and requirements. Also, your life has a great many aims and results, and they pertain to Him, too.

    As for you, you are just a helmsman on the ship, so do your duty well and take the wage and pleasure that come with it. Think of just how precious is the life-ship and how valuable its benefits; then think of just how Generous and Merciful is the Owner of the ship. So rejoice and give thanks and know that when you perform your duty with integrity, all the results the ship produces will in one respect be transferred to the register of your actions, that they will secure an immortal life for you, will endow you with eternal life.

    THE EIGHTH PHRASE: “And He is living and dies not”

    That is to say, the Possessor of a beauty, perfection, and munificence that are infinitely superior to the beauty, perfection, and munificence to be seen in the creatures of the universe, and that arouse love; and an Eternal Object of Worship, an Everlasting Beloved, a single manifestation of whose beauty is sufficent to replace all other beloveds, has an enduring life through pre-eternity and post-eternity – a life free from any trace of cessation or ephemerality and exempt from any fault, defect, or imperfection. Thus, this phrase proclaims to jinn and man, to all conscious beings, and the people of love and ardour:

    Here is good news for you! There exists an Everlasting Beloved who will cure and bind the wounds caused you by countless separations from the ones you love. Since He exists and is undying, whatever happens do not fret over the others. Furthermore, the beauty and generosity, virtue and perfection to be seen in them, the cause of your love, are, passing through many veils, the shadows of the palest of shadows of the manifestation of the Ever-Enduring Beloved’s ever-enduring beauty. Do not grieve at their disappearance, for they are mirrors of a sort. The mirrors being changed renews and embellishes the manifestation of the Beauty’s radiance. Since He exists, everything exists.”

    The Tenth Word

    FIRST POINT
    We shall indicate, as a measure, only four out of hundreds of proofs that belief in the hereafter is fundamental to the life of society and to man’s personal life, and is the basis of his happiness, prosperity, and achievement.

    T h e F i r s t : It is only with the thought of Paradise that children, who form almost a half of mankind, can endure all the deaths around them, which appear to them to be grievous and frightening, and strengthen the morale of their weak and delicate beings. Through Paradise they find hope in their vulnerable spirits, prone to weeping, and may live happily. For example, with the thought of Paradise, one may say: “My little brother or friend has died and become a bird in Paradise. He is flying around Paradise and living more happily than us.” The frequent deaths before their unhappy eyes of other children like themselves or of grown-ups will otherwise destroy all their resistance and morale, making their subtle faculties like their spirits, hearts, and minds weep in addition to their eyes; they will either decline utterly or become crazy, wretched animals.

    S e c o n d P r o o f : It is only through the life of the hereafter that the elderly, who form half of mankind, can endure the proximity of the grave, and be consoled at the thought that their lives, to which they are firmly attached, will soon be extinguished and their fine worlds come to an end. It is only at the hope of eternal life that they can respond to the grievous despair they feel in their emotional child-like spirits at the thought of death. Those worthy, anxious fathers and mothers, so deserving of compassion and in need of tranquillity and peace of mind, will otherwise feel a terrible spiritual turmoil and distress in their hearts, and this world will become a dark prison for them, and life even, grievous torment.

    F o u r t h P r o o f : The most comprehensive centre of man’s worldly life, and its mainspring, and a paradise, refuge, and fortress of worldly happiness, is the life of the family. Everyone’s home is a small world for him. And the life and happiness of his home and family are possible through genuine, earnest, and loyal respect and true, tender, and self-sacrificing compassion. This true respect and genuine kindness may be achieved with the idea of the members of the family having an everlasting companionship and friendship and togetherness, and their parental, filial, brotherly, and friendly relations continuing for all eternity in a limitless life, and their believing this. One says, for example: “My wife will be my constant companion in an everlasting world and eternal life. It does not matter if she is now old and ugly, for she will have an immortal beauty.” He will tell himself that he will be as kind and devoted as he can for the sake of that permanent companionship, and treat his elderly wife lovingly and kindly. A companionship that was to end in eternal separation after an hour or two of brief, apparent friendship would otherwise afford only superficial, temporary, feigned, animal-like feelings, and false compassion and artificial respect. As with animals, self-interest and other overpowering emotions would prevail over the respect and compassion, transforming that worldly paradise into Hell.

    The sociologists, politicians, and moralists, who govern mankind and are concerned with its social and moral questions should be aware of this! How do they propose to fill this vacuum? With what can they cure these deep wounds?

    FOURTH TRUTH

    The Gate of Generosity and Beauty,
    the Manifestation of the Names of Generous and Beautiful

    Is it at all possible that infinite generosity and liberality, inexhaustible riches, unending treasures, peerless and eternal beauty, flawless and everlasting perfection, should not require the existence of grateful supplicants, yearning spectators and astounded onlookers, all destined to stay an eternity in an abode of bliss, a place of repose? Yes, adorning the face of the world with all these objects of beauty, creating the moon and the sun as its lamps, filling the surface of the earth with the finest varieties of sustenance and thus making it a banquet of bounty, making fruit-trees into so many dishes, and renewing them several times each season — all this shows the existence of infinite generosity and liberality. Such unending liberality and generosity, such inexhaustible treasures of mercy, require the existence of an abode of repose, a place of bliss, that shall be everlasting and contain all desirable objects within it. They also require that those who enjoy such bliss should remain in that abode of repose eternally, without suffering the pain of cessation and separation. For just as the cessation of pain is a form of pleasure, so too the cessation of pleasure is a form of pain, one that such infinite generosity is unwilling to countenance. It requires, then, the existence both of an eternal paradise and of supplicants to abide in it eternally.

    Infinite generosity and liberality desire to bestow infinite bounty and infinite kindness. The bestowal of infinite bounty and infinite kindness require in turn infinite gratitude. This necessitates the perpetual existence of those who receive all the kindness so that they can demonstrate their thanks and gratitude for that perpetual bestowal and constant bounty. A petty enjoyment, made bitter by cessation, and lasting for only a brief time, is not compatible with the requirements of generosity and liberality.

    Look too at the different regions of the world, each like an exhibition where God’s crafts are displayed. Pay attention to the dominical proclamations in the hands of all the plants and animals on the face of the earth and listen to the prophets and the saints, the heralds of the beauties of dominicality. They unanimously display the flawless perfections of the Glorious Maker by demonstrating His miraculous arts, and thus invite the gazes of men.

    The Maker of this world has, then, most important, astounding and secret perfections. It is these He wishes to display by means of His miraculous arts. For secret, flawless perfection wishes to be manifested to those who will appreciate, admire and wonderingly gaze at it. Eternal perfection requires eternal manifestation. Such eternal manifestation in turn requires the perpetual existence of those who are to appreciate and admire it. The value of perfection will always sink in the view of its admirer if he is devoid of perpetual existence. Again, the beauteous, artistic, brilliant and adorned creatures that cover the face of the globe, bear witness to the fairness of a peerless, transcendent beauty, and indicate the subtle charms of an unparalleled, hidden pulchritude, just as sunlight bears witness to the sun. Each manifestation of that sacred, transcendent beauty, indicates the existence of countless hidden treasures in each of God’s Names. Now so exalted, peerless and hidden a beauty, just as it desires to view its own fairness in a mirror and to behold the degrees and measures of its beauty in an animate reflection, desires also to become manifest, in order to look on its own beauty through the eyes of others. That is, it wishes to look at its own beauty in two ways; firstly, by beholding itself in mirrors of variegated colour; secondly, through the gaze of yearning witnesses to itself, of bewildered admirers of its beauty.

    In short, beauty and fairness desire to see and be seen. Both of these require the existence of yearning witnesses and bewildered admirers. And since beauty and fairness are eternal and everlasting, their witnesses and admirers must have perpetual life. An eternal beauty can never be satisfied with transient admirers. An admirer condemned to irreversible separation will find his love turning to enmity once he conceives of separation. His admiration will yield to ridicule, his respect to contempt. For just as obstinate man is an enemy to what is unknown to him, so too he is opposed to all that lies beyond his reach, and love that is not infinite will respond to a beauty that deserves unending admiration with implicit enmity, hatred and rejection. From this we understand the profound reason for the unbeliever’s enmity to God.

    So endless generosity and liberality, peerless fairness and beauty, flawless perfection — all these require the existence of eternally grateful and longing supplicants and admirers. But we see in this hospice of the world that everyone quickly leaves and vanishes, having had only a taste of that generosity, enough to whet his appetite but not to satiate him, and having seen only a dim light coming from the perfection, or rather a faint shadow of its light, without in any way being fully satisfied. It follows, then, that men are going toward a place of eternal joy where all will be bestowed on them in full measure.

    In short, just as this world, with all its creatures, decisively demonstrates the existence of the Glorious Maker, so too do His sacred attributes and Names indicate, show and logically require, the existence of the hereafter.

    The Twenty-Third Word

    FIRST REMARK
    Man stands in need of most of the varieties of beings in the universe and is connected to them. His needs spread through every part of the world, and his desires extend to eternity. As he wants a flower, so he wants the spring. As he desires a garden, so does he also desire everlasting Paradise. As he longs to see a friend, so does he long to see the All-Beauteous One of Glory. Just as in order to visit one he loves who lives somewhere else, he is in need for his beloved’s door to be opened to him, so too in order to visit the ninety-nine per cent of his friends who have travelled to the intermediate realm and so be saved from eternal separation, he needs to seek refuge at the court of an Absolutely Powerful One. For it is He Who will close the door of this huge world and open the door of the hereafter, which is an exhibition of wonders, remove this world and establish the hereafter in its place.

    Thus for man in this position the only True Object of Worship will be One in Whose hand are the reins of all things, with Whom are the treasuries of all things, Who sees all things, and is present everywhere, Who is beyond space, exempt from impotence, free of fault, and far above all defect; an All-Powerful One of Glory, an All-Compassionate One of Beauty, an All-Wise One of Perfection.

    The Thirtieth Word
    FIRST MATTER:

    In every facet of the motion of all particles the light of Divine unity shines like the sun. If every particle is not an official of God acting with His permission and under His authority, and if it is not undergoing change within His knowledge and power, then every particle must have infinite knowledge and limitless power; it must have eyes that see everything, a face that looks to all things, and authority over all things. For every particle of the elements acts, or can act, in an orderly fashion in all animate beings. But the order within things and laws according to which they are formed differ from one thing to the next. If their order was not known to the particles, the particles could not act, or even if they could act, they could not act without error. In which case, the particles which are performing their duties in beings are either acting with the permission and at the command, and within the knowledge and at the will, of the owner of an all-encompassing knowledge, or they themselves must have such an all-encompassing knowledge and power.

    Yes, all particles of air can enter the bodies of all animate beings, the fruits of all flowers, and the structures of all leaves. They can act within them, although the way the beings are formed is all different and their order and systems quite distinct. As though the factory of a fig were a loom for weaving cloth and the factory of a pomegranate, a machine for producing sugar, and so on; the programmes of their structures and bodies all differ from each other. A particle of air, then, enters or can enter all of them. It takes up its position and acts in a wise and masterly fashion without error. And on completion of its duty it departs. A mobile particle of mobile air, therefore, either must know the forms, shapes, measures, and formations with which plants and animals, and even fruits and flowers, are clothed, or else it must be an official acting under the command and will of one who does know.

    SECOND POINT

    In every particle there are two truthful evidences to the existence and unity of the Necessarily Existent One. Indeed, by carrying out its important duties consciously and by raising mighty loads despite being powerless and lifeless, a particle bear decisive witness to the existence of the Necessarily Existent One. And by conforming to the universal order peculiar to each place it enters, and by settling anywhere as though it was its homeland, it testifies to the unity of the Necessarily Existent One and to the oneness of that Being Who is the Owner of all things, with their apparent faces and their inner aspects which look to Him. That is to say, whoever owns the particles must also own all the places it enters.

    Thus, since its loads are extremely heavy and its duties endless, the particle demonstrates that it is mobile and acting at the command of One Possessing Absolute Power, and in His name. And, the fact that it conforms as though knowingly to the universal order of the cosmos and enters each place without obstacle shows that it acts through the power and wisdom of a single Being Possessing Absolute Knowledge.

    A private soldier has relations with his squad, his company, his battalion, his regiment, and his division, and so on, and has duties in connection with each. Since he knows all those relations and duties, he will act in conformity with them. For, having received training and instruction under military discipline, he complies with the rules and regulations of a single supreme commander who commands all those sections.
    In the same way, all particles are suitably placed within compounds, and with every facet of the compounds have different beneficial relations and different well-regulated duties that yield wise results that are all different. It is therefore surely only One in the grasp of whose power is the whole universe who can place the particles in such a way as to preserve all their relations with and duties in all the facets of the compounds, and not spoil the wise results.
    For example, a particle located in the eye is suitably placed with regard to the
    blood-vessels like the arteries and veins, and the motor and sensory nerves, and has a wise and purposeful relationship with the face, and then with the head, the trunk, and with the entire human body, and has beneficial duties in relation to each. This demonstrates that only one who creates all the members of the body will be able to place the particle in that position.
    Particles entering the body as sustenance in the caravan of food in particular make their journey with astonishing order and wisdom. On their way, they pass through modes and stages in an orderly manner, and progressing consciously without confusion carry on till they are strained through the four filters in the bodies of animate beings. They are then loaded onto the red blood-corpuscles in order to come to the assistance of the members and cells which are in need of sustenance, rendering this assistance according to a law of generosity. It may be clearly understood from this that the One Who drives these particles and causes them to pass through thousands of different states must of necessity be a Generous Sustainer, a Compassionate Creator, in relation to Whose power particles and stars are equal.

    Moreover, all particles act within embroideries of the greatest art and have relations with all the other particles therein. Since each is in a position of both dominance and subjection to all the rest, both to each individually and to all of them generally, it either knows and creates that wonderfully skilful embroidery and wisdom-displaying ornamented art, which is a thousand times impossible, or each of them is a point assigned to that motion, which proceeds from the law of Divine Determining and pen of power of the All-Wise Maker.

    For example, if the stones of the dome are not dependent on the command and skill of its architect, all the stones must have skill in the art of building like an architect, and must be either subject to, or dominant over, the rest of the stones. That is, they must have the power to say: “Come, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder in order not to fall and collapse.”
    In the same way, if the particles in creatures, which are thousands of times more skilfully fashioned, wonderful, and full of wisdom than the dome , are not dependent on the command of the master builder of the universe, to each of them must the ascribed as many attributes of perfection as those of the universe’s Maker.

  3. WorkUSA says:

    brilliant analysis as usual Prof G. It is amazing how many of these so called ” disruptive” tech companies are well marketed vaporware. You would think that the investor community will learn the lessons of the likes of Theranos – but guess people are so desperate to find the next big shit – that they have forgotten how to distinguish BS from actual stuffbrilliant analysis as usual Prof G. It is amazing how many of these so called ” disruptive” tech companies are well marketed vaporware. You would think that the investor community will learn the lessons of the likes of Theranos – but guess people are so desperate to find the next big shit – that they have forgotten how to distinguish BS from actual stuff……..www.works51.com

  4. KrystalGriffin says:

    brilliant analysis as usual Prof G. It is amazing how many of these so called ” disruptive” tech companies are well marketed vaporware. You would think that the investor community will learn the lessons of the likes of Theranos – but guess people are so desperate to find the next big shit – that they have forgotten how to distinguish BS from actual stuffbrilliant analysis as usual Prof G. It is amazing how many of these so called ” disruptive” tech companies are well marketed vaporware. You would think that the investor community will learn the lessons of the likes of Theranos – but guess people are so desperate to find the next big shit – that they have forgotten how to distinguish BS from actual stuff……..www.smartcas1.com

  5. Louis Day says:

    Scott you covered the BS in both ESG and SPACs in a single post, well done. Lou

  6. AMAN JHA says:

    The Analysis is really good now I’m just waiting for Prof. Damodaran to do a valuation video on this and show us the Quantitative part.
    Thanks, Prof. Galloway.

  7. JaniceBoone says:

    yh

  8. PIPE says:

    Very unique PIPE on this deal. PIPE investors are provided up to a whole additional share based on actual post deSPAC trading performance.

    Which means the PIPE investors are made whole down to 50% of their buy in price (ie $5). That protections not offered to trust investor

    Minimum cash balance sized to PIPE which means deal can close with 100% redemptions.

    Not exactly a screaming endorsement by PIPE of the valuation

  9. Tim Emmett says:

    Excellent analysis. Really hope it is picked up by the mainstream investor press. A real caveat emptor story.

  10. ShaileshD says:

    I love the parting line, “The winter is coming”. Thanks dogg!!!

  11. Nandini Nag says:

    brilliant analysis as usual Prof G. It is amazing how many of these so called ” disruptive” tech companies are well marketed vaporware. You would think that the investor community will learn the lessons of the likes of Theranos – but guess people are so desperate to find the next big shit – that they have forgotten how to distinguish BS from actual stuff

  12. Kent P Buckles says:

    Great analysis, company insiders should serve time!

  13. Alison says:

    This is a great analysis. This piece, and the recent essay in Medium by Tariq Fancy (former head of “sustainable investing” at BlackRock) should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand how much of ESG investing is basically a scam.

  14. Amy says:

    So if Aspiration is terrible, what is a good brokerage or bank?

  15. Adrian Barnard says:

    Worth reading, thank you.
    Keep up the good work.
    AB

  16. Dave says:

    As someone who worked at Aspiration, it’s a company of smoke and mirrors. This article is spot on: “Regardless of how green a firm says it is, a shitty business wrapped in the flag of Wokeistan cannot change the weather.”

  17. Internet Guy says:

    Yes, but why?

    Why waste all that space on Aspiration?
    Or – could it be a parable??

    Fascinating as always but a bit too obsessed this time around…

  18. Larry Fink says:

    So, you’re saying it’s a good investment?

  19. Jeff Bezos says:

    TL;DR, but my attention was caught by that new ESG buzzword. Not so new actually. To address the environment crisis in an honest way, the world needs strong commitment: in short, what we need is a new buzzword. Difficult, yes, but the sky is the limit. How about EDGGHT ?

    • Jeff Bezos again says:

      note to self: ask that new Buzzwords VP (what’s his name again ? darn..whatever) to figure out if we can make some money with my new idea.

  20. Guy says:

    Oh man I LOVE this article. You absolutely Rinsed them! 👏🏼👏🏼

  21. Maximilian says:

    Thanks for pointing out that ESG is BS.

  22. Chip says:

    ESG is just another form of virtue signaling

  23. Ed says:

    Another edible and we really would have known how you felt. Note: I’m four Hard Seltzers in… oh well, my comment.

  24. Harvey Cotton says:

    I respect Professor Galloway and I am an Aspiration account holder and REDWX investor for a few years now. I am not going to argue the facts, but just say one thing. The expert of marketing and branding knew he would get 40% of the population locked in once he used the Wokeistan claptrap. Using it three times was more effective than all the other words combined.

  25. Yamo says:

    I did not want to miss the non-GAAP metrics bandwagon, so I offer you EBITDAPETINKS: EBITDA Plus Everything To Include the Kitchen Sink.

    I help private companies merge into SPACs. This article is perfect!!!

  26. Jake says:

    Divesting from harmful industries is done on the debit cards through the depository accounts. This is their primary “ESG” impact. Was it left out of this article purposely?

  27. CCook says:

    ESG is the new Disco. In a decade, today’s young people will be asking each other, as older people do now ‘What were we thinking?’

  28. Eric Bianchi says:

    Great piece, thoroughly enjoyed it.
    I hope they do ultimately go public; what a short opportunity!
    Incidentally, isn’t this whole thing just a little too similar for comfort to Billy McFarland’s “Magnises” debacle a few years back? I wonder if part of Aspiration’s plan for “Saving the Planet” will include a festival on some Caribbean island – maybe an IPO / SPAC bash! I hear Ja Rule’s available…
    Eric

  29. James Hammond says:

    ESG is the latest refuge of scoundrels.

  30. zack porter says:

    “Sojourns in Wokeistan” – obvi the title of Scott’s next NYT Bestseller. 😉

  31. Gloria Loree says:

    Prof G: keep eating the edibles. Loved this. Favourite paragraph:
    “A growth-driven valuation can be justified, but for companies with real strategic advantages. I’m not seeing any moats here — just the captain of Aspiration Air Flight 2.1 asking us to look out the left side of the plane and gaze at the bright lights of Wokeistan.”
    Laughed (loudly) out loud. On. An. Airplane.
    Thanks for making my life more rich.
    Gloria