Late last week, on the eve of the Super Bowl, I interviewed Kevin Plank, CEO of apparel and footwear maker Under Armour. We met on the fourth floor of the flagship Macy’s store on Union Square in San Francisco in a space Fortune’s sister publication Sports Illustrated converted from the women’s dresses department into an ad hoc TV studio. It was a tiny slice of the Super Bowl extravaganza that upended the Bay Area.
I wrote a bit about Plank and his digital strategy last month, and hearing about it directly from Plank was fascinating. Here’s a genuine innovator who disliked sweaty cotton tee shirts when he played college football. Now he’s trying to innovate again by embracing fitness technology that has hobbled his competitors, including Nike.
Plank is a poster child for old-line companies aggressively trying to be digital. Three things stand out.
- I asked Plank if it was possible that he’s too early, especially with the $400 HealthBox product that combines a scale, a fitness tracker, and a heart-rate monitor. Unsurprisingly, the man who has spent nearly $700 million on technology acquisitions—and partnered with HTC on the HealthBox—believes Under Armour’s timing is perfect. Given the size of the investment and audacity of the strategy, it won’t take long to know if he’s right.
- Plank captured the spirit of not waiting to be disrupted with this line, “What are we gonna do if Apple decides they’re going to make a shirt?” That’s unlikely, but his mentality is spot on.
- Under Armour, at a fraction of Nike’s size, has the advantage of being a big small company or a small big company, depending on what suits it best. It is big enough to pay top dollar for top athlete endorsements but small enough to say its burgeoning business in China is unaffected by the slowdown there. That won’t last forever, but it’s a good place to be.
BITS AND BYTES
Microsoft licenses GoPro patents. The software giant will use some of the action camera maker’s “file storage and other systems technologies.” Few details were disclosed, but the arrangement points to Microsoft’s heightened interest in wearables. (Fortune)
Is Google prepping a virtual reality headset? Certainly, you didn’t think the flimsy Cardboard viewer was the Internet giant’s only foray into three-dimensional headsets. Google is planning a product akin to Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear, reports The Financial Times. (Registration required.) The idea is to offer a reference design that will help broaden the audience for virtual reality applications. (Financial Times, The Verge)
Alibaba pays employees an outrageous amount in stock. During the nine-month period that ended December 31, the Chinese e-commerce giant paid out $1.78 billion in stock compensation—awards given to employees for joining the company and as annual performance bonuses. That was an increase of 37%, which was more than Alibaba’s 30% revenue increase during the same period. (Fortune)
Twitter plans changes to timeline prioritization. The social media company is planning to organize data feeds using algorithms based on what it thinks people want to see, rather than chronological order, reports BuzzFeed. The rumor unleashed a tweetstorm of criticism, from users who believe it will penalize accounts with fewer followers. (BuzzFeed)
CEO quits at struggling Apple supplier. Hossein Yassaie, CEO of graphics and video processing components maker Imagination Technologies, is stepping down as the British company prepares to disclose an operating loss for its current fiscal year. Yassaie led the company for 18 years. His effort to diversify Imagination over the past four years, through a streaming music service, has fallen flat. (Reuters, BBC)
BlackBerry layoffs staff, underscore strategic shift. Highlighting its makeover as a software and security company, smartphone pioneer BlackBerry has cut its staff by about 200 people. That’s approximately 35% of its entire workforce. The Canadian company plans to recruit new employees, however, in “areas of our business that will drive growth.” (New York Times, Fortune)
Are we seeing another dotcom crash? This has been a terrible year so far for tech stocks. The Nasdaq is off 12.9% as of this post. LinkedIn shares have fallen more than 51%. Fitbit is off 47%. Twitter is down 32%. So is Workday. Even three of the four vaunted FANG stocks―Amazon, Netflix, and Google―are underwater. The fourth, Facebook is basically at break-even. Don’t go looking to Apple for salvation. It’s also in the red for 2016.
At the same time, we are seeing erosion in the valuations of privately held technology stocks. Not just in the carrying prices from their existing investors, but also in the form of so-called down rounds and lower valuations at even the early stages of venture capital. If 2015 was the year of unicorns, 2016 might be the year of magical glue. (Fortune, Re/code)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Under Armour CEO sees technology as company’s destiny
by Kia Kokalitcheva
Only six Nasdaq stocks escaped Friday’s tech bloodbath by Stephen Gandel
Facebooks’ Free Basics service just became illegal in India by David Meyer
Why big data isn’t paying off for companies (yet) by Anne Fisher
These big companies want a new 3D file format by Andrew Zaleski
The myth women in tech need to stop believing by Terri McCullough
Amazon, call me an Uber by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Samsung displays help you see through trucks. This technology should appeal to every driver who has ever wished he or she could see around the massive semi in front of them. Samsung is testing massive displays that can be mounted on truck rear-ends, displaying an image of the road ahead. (Computerworld)