The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of ‘20

Jackie DiMonte
7 min readAug 8, 2020

In March, Americans frantically prepared for COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place. Many believed our supply chain would falter and leave many products unavailable. Toilet paper became an obsession. How would we survive quarantine without it?

As a result, toilet paper disappeared from the shelves! The sight of empty shelves caused us all to load up any time we saw a few spare rolls. And there kicked off a cycle… no TP? I need TP! Found TP? I’ll take it all. You need TP? Too bad, no TP. Find TP? Buy all the TP! It all ended one Saturday morning with a sprint through Costco, Supermarket Sweep style.

When sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the term “ self-fulfilling prophecy,” I don’t think he had a run on T.P. in mind. But the definition holds, “The prophecy of collapse led to its own fulfillment.”

Self-fulfilling cycles

Like everyone else, VCs are not immune to the effects of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Note: to avoid confusion with the work of the great Robert K. Merton, I’ve defined my framework as self-fulfilling cycles

A self-fulfilling cycle can start anywhere but has four phases:

  • Situation — We’re stuck at home for the next few weeks. What do we need? Toilet paper, of course! I’ll go out and get some.
  • Observation — I can’t find it anywhere. Every time I visit Costco, the employees are walking around with out-of-stock products. TP is on the top of every list!
  • Interpretation — It’s going to be hard to find TP. I better stock up when I can.
  • Action — I buy as much as I can whenever I can! Leave no roll behind!

Single-loop

This is an example of a single-loop cycle. A single-loop cycle occurs when there is only one set of observations, interpretations, and actions that all participants in the system experience.

We see this in venture investing often.

At a micro-scale, for example, it occurs when VCs are exposed to new markets. The first investment…

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Jackie DiMonte

Early stage venture investor at @chicagoventures. Formerly @hydeparkvp, #IoT at @silverspringnet, and #tech at @Accenture