The daily download on the business of technology.
I write this morning with a book recommendation, and not the book you might think I’d be recommending.
In March I wrote a profile of Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma that focused on his leadership qualities. For that piece I interviewed Duncan Clark, a China hand who has known Ma for years and in 2016 published a biography of the Chinese entrepreneur, Alibaba: The House That Jack Built. It is this book, which doubles as an account of Ma’s life and a corporate history of his important company, that I strongly encourage you to read. (I’m often a slow reader, and I just finished it; that’s why I’m talking about it now.)
Ma’s story is fascinating. Unlike much of the Chinese political leadership, he comes from neither a well-connected family nor from a top university. Instead, through his wily ways and attention to the changing world around him, he cobbled together an e-commerce monolith that is unlike anything in the West. Clark tells this story clearly and objectively, though he clearly admires Ma and the people around him.
As I wrote in my feature article, for all its fame and the success of its 2014 initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, Alibaba remains poorly understood outside China. Compared with its home market, its businesses are nascent everywhere else, but they won’t stay that way. Clark’s book is a one-stop shop for beginning to understand one of the most important companies in one of the world’s most important markets. Because Alibaba’s story involves one-time U.S. Internet giant Yahoo as well as SoftBank, the still-relevant Japanese telecommunications and investment firm, Clark also does a good of job reviewing some dot-com history that had become gauzy in my mind.
Clark’s admiration for Ma has its limits. He recounts, for instance, the 2011 spat between Alibaba and its investors, Yahoo and SoftBank, over Alipay. In that largely forgotten episode, Ma transferred ownership of Alibaba’s critical payments arm, now known as Ant Financial, into a new entity he controlled, effectively taking it away from Yahoo and SoftBank. Clark describes Ma’s defense, that the Chinese government wouldn’t grant a license to a payments firm with such high foreign ownership. What he doesn’t explain is why Ma didn’t bother telling Yahoo and SoftBank, whose principals were furious.
Alibaba is on a trajectory to be an important global company for years to come. Understanding its story—and that of its charismatic and quirky co-founder—is important for anyone who needs to know about the future of business.
Hacker lockdown. The global cyberattack known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt is continuing to spread after infecting computers in hospitals, businesses, and government bodies in 150 countries. Carmaker Renault shut down factories over the weekend after being hit by the ransomeware app that encrypts files and demands a ransom paid in bitcoin.
The attack is based on a vulnerability in Windows software leaked from the National Security Agency, a fact that Microsoft says highlights the need for governments to help in the fight against hackers, not stockpile weaknesses for use by spies. Still, the attack has been a boon for one group: shares of cybersecurity firms are soaring.
Throwing in together. Ride service Lyft and Waymo, the self-driving project at Google’s parent Alphabet, have decided to work together on developing autonomous cars. Details of the agreement are scant, but the two companies hope to pose a more formidable challenge to king of the ride services hill Uber.
Throwing in together, the Sequel. Samsung and Intel filed briefs with the Federal Trade Commission on Friday attacking Qualcomm’s royalty licensing fees for chipsets used in mobile phones. The briefs support the agency’s January lawsuit against Qualcomm charging that the chipmaker collected excessive fees and squashed competition.
Tablet twist. Apple may introduce an iPad with 10.5-inch, edge-to-edge display at its upcoming World Wide Developers Conference, which starts on June 5, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the often-reliable Apple rumor reporter and analyst at KGI Securities.
Double trouble. On the 20th anniversary of its initial public offering, e-commerce giant Amazon has a stock market value of almost $460 billion, more than double rival Walmart’s $228 billion stock market capitalization.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Exposing students to particular software has been a solid strategy to future riches for tech companies, and a path traveled by both Apple and Microsoft. Now it appears to be Google’s turn.
In a deep dive into the search giant’s education efforts, the New York Times tries to explain how Google won the latest battle for the classroom.
“Google went from an interesting possibility to the dominant way that schools around the country” teach students to find information, create documents and turn them in, Hal Friedlander, former chief information officer for the New York City schools, told the paper. “Google established itself as a fact in schools.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The FTC Is Cracking Down on Scam ‘Tech Support’ Pop-Ups by David Z. Morris
Google’s Messaging App Allo Turns Selfies into Emoji by Leena Rao
This Cloud Technology Lives on But Its Promise Has Changed by Barb Darrow
How to Be a Better iPhone Photographer—According to Apple by Don Reisinger