In a year that saw the last gasp of Blockbuster video-rental stores, the 2011 restructuring by CEO Reed Hastings (No. 5 on our Businessperson of the Year list) was affirmed. By separating his DVD and streaming businesses and forcing many subscribers into a web-distribution model, he pushed the company and its customers into a fast-approaching, all-but-inevitable future. Netflix (NFLX) was well positioned and started 2013 with a bang: Its stock jumped to $160 at the end of January, up threefold from the lows of 2012, and it claimed this would be the year it would double down on original content. Again, an expensive risk, but boy, did it ever pay off. First there was Kevin Spacey in the political series House of Cards (which cost an estimated $100 million) — a hit that brought in 2 million new subscribers, bringing Netflix’s total to 29.2 million, edging out HBO’s subscriber number. Then there were Arrested Development, a cult hit resurrected, and the runaway smash Orange Is the New Black. Now Disney (DIS), the biggest media company of all, is creating four shows based on Marvel superheroes exclusively for Netflix.
Nothing — not $40 billion in defense cuts, not a 16-day government shutdown, and certainly not Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster against its use — could stop the rise of the drone into our collective consciousness in 2013. Drones are how we wage war. Drones delivered sushi this year. Over Kenya, drones scanned the ground for elephant poachers. Drones helped predict the weather, police the streets, and control mosquito breeding. College students now major in drone studies; venture capitalists invested $40.9 million in drone startups, more than double the amount they spent in 2012. Forty states introduced drone-related legislation, and Deer Trail, Colo., was overwhelmed by applicants after it considered issuing licenses to shoot drones down. In fact, their further rise is already foretold: In 2015 the Federal Aviation Administration will allow small autonomous craft (drones) to operate throughout American skies (currently it is illegal to fly them above 400 feet).
Last year Twitter (TWTR) paid close attention to Facebook’s (FB) troubled IPO and decided to pull a George Costanza: It did everything differently. NYSE over Nasdaq; Goldman Sachs (GS) instead of Morgan Stanley (MS); the company didn’t try to squeeze out every last dollar or let insiders sell; its execs even showed up in Manhattan to ring the opening bell. The result was $1.8 billion in proceeds and a 73% pop on the first day of trading, which went off without a hitch. After years of hearing “Yeah, but how will it make money?” Wall Street emphatically signaled its belief in future revenue growth (plus maybe profitability) for the first large consumer Internet company that can legitimately claim to have been “mobile first.”
“This has been one of the most shameful chapters I’ve seen here.” –John McCain on the shutdown and debt debate in Washington, D.C.
“The roll out of this law made a trip to the DMV look like a day in the park.” –Sen. Mitch McConnell, on the beleaguered, and much-maligned, debut of Healthcare.gov
“We believe the U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom to share more information with the public, yet the government is stopping us.” –-Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, on how the company would prefer to discuss national security requests for customer data
“I wouldn’t invest with you if you were the last man on earth.” –Carl Icahn to Bill Ackman during a heated tête-à-tête between the billionaire activist investors on CNBC
“We want you to Down Dog and Crow with confidence and we felt these pants didn’t measure up.” –Lululemon recall notice to customers, owing to “increased sheerness” of certain products
Best new currency
No longer just for geeks, hackers, and black market buyers, Bitcoin went mainstream this year: You can use the digital, non-government backed monies to purchase online dating services from OKCupid or to order delivery from Dutch restaurants, while both the Winklevoss twins and early Facebook investor Jim Breyer are sinking cold cash into Bitcoin-related businesses.
Best plan to shake up downtown
ZAPPOS: LAS VEGAS
Visionary: Tony Hsieh
Name & size: Downtown Project, 60 acres
Goal: “To turn Vegas into the most community-focused large city in the world in five years”
Investment: $350 million
Jobs: 1,500 Zappos employees
Quirks: Shipping containers; a fire-spouting praying mantis
QUICKEN LOANS: DETROIT
Visionary: Dan Gilbert
Name & size: Opportunity Detroit, 8 million square feet
Goal: “To create a downtown core that rivals any North American or European city”
Investment: $1.3 billion
Jobs: 7,600 Quicken employees
Quirks: Kid Rock is in the ads.
Visionary: Jeff Bezos
Name & size: Rufus 2.0, 3.3 million square feet (three blocks)
Goal: Enviable and accessible urban headquarters
Investment: $207.5 million (so far)
Jobs: 12,000 Amazon employees
Quirks: Five-floor biodome with “botanical zones modeled on montane ecologies.”
Best hiring spree
In the first three quarters of 2013 it added 21,400 employees , bringing the total headcount to 109,800, an increase in staff of more than 400% over the past five years.
Hiring spree runner-up
A look at some of Marissa Mayer’s new minions
Editor-in-chief of Yahoo News
Was: Deputy news editor, New York Times
Head of tech coverage for a new Yahoo website
Was: Tech columnist, NYT
A whole lot of smart people, all working for Yahoo’s research unit
In charge of Flickr
Was: In charge of Zagat, at Google
Head of ad sales in North and South America
Was: Head of AOL Networks
18 years old
Was: 17 when Yahoo bought his company for about $30 million
SVP of Europe, Middle East, Africa
Was: Chief executive at Channel 5
SVP of communications products (Mail, Messenger, etc.)
Was: CEO of Xobni
Biggest Kickstarter projects
Best economic brinkmanship
Best new owner
Best corporate sponsorship
Andrew Mason, Groupon (GRPN)
After penning a resignation letter for the ages — “I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention … I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp)” — he emerged from his self-imposed cone of silence with a full-length rock album titled Hardly Workin. On the track “It’s Up to Us,” Mason croons, “No one said it would be easy, but it reminds me of another boy that had to fight to be free, after he cut down that cherry tree.” Yes, the ousted CEO compares himself to George Washington.