The daily download on the business of technology.
Flipping through the pages of the Fortune 500, which we release online Wednesday and in its hefty print glory soon, I came across a startling statistic. The company with the best total return to shareholders over the previous decade is Priceline. The former punchline of an Internet company, the Web 1.0 flameout best known for hiring William Shatner as its spokesman, racked up a whopping 42.1% average annual return in the 10 years since 2016.
I knew Priceline had been rejuvenated, largely on the strength of its ownership of European giant Booking.com and despite the decline of its novel name-your-price offering. But I hadn’t realized just how astoundingly well Priceline had performed. It is the 53rd largest company on the 500 by market capitalization (at $87.5 billion at the end of March) and No. 268 by sales, our traditional metric for ranking on the list.
How did Priceline do it? For an answer I asked Mark Mahaney, the RBC Capital Markets analyst who has followed it-and recommended it-for more than 10 years. Priceline turned in “very, very consistent revenue growth-20%-plus year-over year for 40 straight quarters,” he told me, “driven by a trillion-dollar-plus market opportunity, excellent execution in terms of building out a 1-million-plus lodging unit supply base and in terms of mastering marketing channels like Google.” What’s most impressive about Priceline, Mahaney enthused, is what the company didn’t have.
“Without Google’s technology advantage or Facebook’s network effects, Priceline created market cap growth the old-fashioned way: operational excellence.”
Want to know more about Priceline’s progress? Watch for coverage of the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, July 17-19. I’ll be interviewing the company’s CEO, Glenn Fogel, there.
When I finish a book that makes an impression, I feel like mentioning it here. Though he needs no help with book sales from me, I highly recommend J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which I breezed through over the last couple weeks of travel. On the one hand, this is merely a memoir by an average American who’s made an above-average success of himself, traveling from a broken home in the heartland to being a Marine in Iraq, a Yale Law School student, and a venture capitalist in Peter Thiel’s orbit. But Vance’s early-life autobiography is more than that. It’s an account of an America few in Silicon Valley and other tracts of precious real estate know or understand.
Attacking the backlog. An outside law firm review of 215 pending harassment claims at Uber has led to 20 employees being fired, with another 57 cases still under investigation, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Uber announced it had hired two prominent women for top posts: Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei as senior vice president for leadership and strategy and Apple Music executive Bozoma Saint John as chief brand officer.
At least it didn’t crash. Social bookmarking site Pinterest raised $150 million to help put off an initial public offering. The private company’s share price was unchanged from its last fundraising round more than two years ago. But with more shares outstanding now, the company’s total value rose 12% to $12.3 billion.
Who needs the mall? Walmart and Amazon continuing to battle for the future of retailing. Amazon said it would offer discounted subscriptions to its Prime program for people on food stamps, a constituency that shops heavily at Walmart. Meanwhile, Walmart is testing automated kiosks, where online customers can pick up grocery orders, much like Amazon’s AmazonFresh program.
Planes, trains, and automobiles. Tesla CEO Elon Musk answered a wide range of questions at the company’s annual meeting on Tuesday, including what it would take to make electric-powered airplanes. Short answer? Lighter batteries. “We’re maybe four or five years away from having 500 watt-hours per kilogram,” Musk said.
Maybe not the future of TV. Apple posted the first episode of its original TV show, Planet of the Apps. And the reviews? The reviews were not good. “A bland, tepid, barely competent knock-off of Shark Tank,” according to Variety’s Maureen Ryan.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
President Trump is an experienced Twitter user and his account frequently blocks other users. But the Knight First Amendment Institute said on Tuesday that the president’s Twitter account fits the legal definition of a “designated public forum,” and as such it can’t be closed to public access under the First Amendment. Fortune’s Mathew Ingram explored the question further:
“There a number of problems with determining whether Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum or not, and one of them stems from the fact that the law is far from settled on the question of what exactly constitutes a truly public forum,” Ingram writes.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
J.P. Morgan Pours $125 Million Into Security Startup Illumio by Robert Hackett
This Software Helps Bots Do Their Work by Barb Darrow
This Female-Founded Company Just Raised $50 Million in VC Funding by Valentina Zarya
Amazon Just Changed the Net Neutrality Debate by Jeff John Roberts
Here’s What Analysts Said About Apple’s WWDC by Aaron Pressman
Tim Cook Says Apple Helped U.K. Terrorism Investigators by Don Reisinger
BEFORE YOU GO
High tech stats are transforming baseball, yet again. This time it’s not nerdy general managers wielding copies of Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, but major league hitters and their coaches studying launch angles. The two-year old Statcast video tracking system is providing all kinds of new data, including the widely reported speed of hit balls. In a Washington Post article with some amazing graphics, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson summarizes the data: