The daily download on the business of technology.
Before you read further please know I wrote this column under the influence. I was intoxicated by the niceness of Canadians, having spent an exceedingly pleasant day in Toronto discussing my recently released book about Uber.
Yes, nice Canadians are an international cliché. But it’s true. There’s something hardwired in the national culture that makes Canadians preternaturally reasonable and accommodating. Even when they disagree with you, they do it in a kind way. I learned this fielding questions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management Thursday evening. Even those who hate Uber or seriously doubt its future voiced their disdain or skepticism gently. A Toronto-based Uber employee told me after my talk that the difference between the external and internal perceptions of the company are “interesting.”
Canada’s leading journalists are nice, too. TV host Ben Mulroney of CTV’s Your Morning program told me, after a stimulating interview, that “it doesn’t seem like Uber is loved anymore.” He’s got that right. (He’s also the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and is his dad’s spitting image.) Anna Marie Tremonti, host of CBC’s The Current, whom a friend described to me as “all the best NPR interviewers rolled into one,” threw me a curve ball to start our interview. She asked if I’d taken an Uber to her studio. I arrived in a limousine provided by my publisher.
As a natural-born Midwesterner, I’m pro-niceness. I dwell on the Canadian demeanor because it was a welcome antidote to what has become a toxic climate in the U.S. Also, having spent the day repeatedly addressing whether or not Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick can survive, I thought I’d say something nice about both.
Next week Uber will release results of an investigation into its culture by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Specifically, Holder will pass judgement on allegations of gender discrimination at the company. I’m guessing the report will be accompanied by a handful of management changes and practices at Uber. There’s no question this is a company that has pushed the envelope in all sorts of ways. There’s also no question it has built a global business with tremendous potential—if it can focus sooner rather than later on making money and if it can clean up its behavior.
I think Uber and Kalanick have a shot if only they accept criticism and act accordingly. Too nice of an assessment? Blame it on Canada.
Tasty treats. Meal kit delivery startup Blue Apron filed to go public. Revenue hit almost $800 million for the company last year, 10 times 2014 sales. Blue Apron also disclosed that it spends $94 to acquire each customer for its $9.99 per person meals.
Virtual venture capital. There are others ways to raise capital nowadays beyond an IPO. On Wednesday, a startup called Brave launched a crypto-currency token offering to fund a new web browser and raised the equivalent of $35 million in about 30 seconds.
Should I stay or should I go now. Tech CEOs around the country, from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Apple’s Tim Cook, criticized President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement. Musk dropped out of Trump’s advisory council, saying on Twitter: “Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”
You had one job. Cloud password manager OneLogin admitted that its servers had been breached by hackers and customer data was stolen.
By one measure. The total value of advanced, venture-backed private companies in the United States and Europe has exploded to almost 500 firms worth $490 billion from a few dozen startups worth $40 billion in 2010, according to Scenic Advisement, a San Francisco-based investment bank.
One browser to rule them all. Google said it would add a feature to its Chrome browser to filter out some of the most annoying types of web advertising, such as popups and flashing color displays.
Sequel beats the prequel. Lenovo’s Motorola introduced the first follow up to last year’s line of Moto Z phones that can accept modular accessories. The the Moto Z2 Play costs $500 and is lighter, thinner, and has an improved camera. New accessories include a quick charging add-on battery and D-pad gaming control.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Sony and Samsung Lead the Nascent Virtual Reality Market by Jonathan Vanian
Centurylink Stock Appeals to Wall Street After CEO Plan by Aaron Pressman
HPE Might Be More Dependent on Microsoft Than We Thought by Barb Darrow
New Social Media Screening for U.S. Visitors Goes Into Effect by Jeff John Roberts
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Speaking of the boom in startup valuations, Stanford Business School Professor Ilya Strebulaev has uncovered a major flaw in the way such calculations are discussed. The result of his research? Almost all so-called unicorns, startups valued at $1 billion or more, are significantly overvalued.
In each round of funding, startups often issue different classes of stock, with different conditions and preferences attached. But companies’ values are often calculated simply by applying the price of the most recent round to all outstanding shares.
Reviewing corporate legal filings and data from commercial venture capital data sets, Strebulaev and another professor, Will Gornall of the University of British Columbia, looked at 116 unicorns. Under more careful analysis taking into account promises made to each round of shareholders, every single company was overvalued, 53 of the companies were no longer unicorns and 13 were overvalued by more than 100%.
“Some unicorns have made such generous promises to their preferred shareholders that their common shares are nearly worthless,” the two professors wrote.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across this week, suitable for perusing over the weekend:
Inside the quietest place on Earth
Microsoft’s engineers built the room–known as an anechoic chamber–to help them test new equipment they were developing and in 2015 it set the official world record for silence when the background noise level inside was measured at an ear-straining -20.6 decibels.
Pied Piper’s new Internet isn’t just possible-it’s almost here
On HBO’s Silicon Valley, startups promise to “change the world” by tackling silly, often non-existent problems. But this season, the show’s characters are tackling a project that really could.
Apple Park’s Tree Whisperer
“It was all junk trees and parking lots here. So it was a long process. Over the next year or so. I surveyed the trees and picked out about a hundred of them that I felt were worth moving. And we had to stretch to get a hundred out of the [roughly 4,000] existing trees.”
Even before the train killings, Portland was embroiled in conflicts over hate and racism
Portland, America’s whitest big city, was debating race long before a white supremacist killed two men and injured a third in stabbings on a city train last week. Long simmering tensions over skin color and policing have reached the point of an unusual feud between police leadership and the mayor over where and when it’s OK to talk about racism.