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Data Sheet—Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I have a confession to make: I’m not an early adopter. I haven’t tasted Soylent yet, and I still use an iPhone 5s. I’m habitual and practical with technology. While I love covering the industry, I rarely come across new products and services that make me rush to open up my wallet—yes, I still have a real one.

But maybe I’m not the problem. Too many startups are too focused on products they think people want. To reach scale, though, you still need to solve an actual problem. Yes, there are outliers—Snapchat, for example—but most startups that are not only valued in the mega-billions but also raking in mega-revenue are providing a significant improvement to a flawed status quo.

If we look at it through that lens, entrepreneurs are still just scratching the surface, but at least some are trying.

I recently met with Lauren Schulte, founder of a company that is rethinking feminine products. This might surprise half of the population, but tampons and pads are as uncomfortable as they look. Schulte’s startup, the Flex Company, is about to start shipping a “menstrual disc.” (And yes, she had a tough time fundraising—it turns out some VCs don’t like hearing about Aunt Flow.)

Another entrepreneur I recently spoke with, Diane Loviglio, started Boon+Gable, a company that sends a personal stylist to your home. (Another confession: I hate shopping.) Yet another entrepreneur I recently met, Ayah Bdeir, developed modular, programmable toys that snap together with magnets. Called littleBits, the startup is currently part of the Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) accelerator program. What problem is Bdeir solving? If you’re a parent, you know it’s still slim pickings when it comes to smart but fun toys, especially for girls.

I don’t know if these entrepreneurs will succeed. At least they have a shot at turning this Luddite into an early adopter.

Michal Lev-Ram is a senior writer at Fortune. Reach her via email.

BITS & BYTES

U.S. trade judge clears Fitbit, blocks Arista. In separate rulings issued Tuesday, the International Trade Commission dashed Jawbone’s hope of securing an import ban against Fitbit fitness trackers. But it upheld a ban on gear from Arista Networks, based on patent infringement claims from rival Cisco. Neither of these disputes is close to being over though. (Reuters, Reuters

It’s hard to profit making smartphones, unless you’re Apple or Samsung. During the second quarter, the iPhone maker generated a 38% operating margin on its sales, more than any other rival. Samsung’s margin for the same period is around 17%, which was lower than the past. That could change next quarter: Preorders for its latest model, the Galaxy Note 7, are exceeding expectations. (Fortune, Reuters)

Watch for Netflix’s international push to pay off in two years. The number of subscribers using the video service from outside the United States should overtake U.S. ones by 2018, according to a new report. (Fortune)

IBM takes on Intel with new server chip. IBM has long used its own microprocessor architecture for its mainframes, supercomputers, and other data center systems. About three years ago it opened up that technology, and it’s slowly finding supporters—including secretive Google, which is reportedly running some of its servers on IBM chips. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)

Ford, Boeing test new 3D printing technology. The two companies are evaluating new systems from Stratasys that could redefine how they manufacture large, lightweight thermoplastic parts. (Stratasys)

Pinterest buys popular “save it for later” app. The online pinboarding startup last valued around $11 billion, is paying an undisclosed sum for Instapaper, a service for bookmarking articles. That’s its fifth acquisition this year. (Fortune)

Informatica wants to be a $10 billion company. The big data software company, which was taken private last year in a $5.3 billion deal, is planning to go public again in early 2019. By then, it thinks it can double its valuation with investments in cloud services. (Reuters)

PEOPLE & CULTURE

Explicitly seeking working moms. Starting in mid-October an organization called Path Forward will offer “returnships” for mid-career professionals who want to get back to work after taking time off to care for a child, parent, or other loved one. Six tech companies ready to hire its graduates: GoDaddy, online education platform Coursera, grocery delivery startup Instacart, customer service software company Zendesk, marketing technology firm Demandbase, and CloudFlare, a content-distribution network. (Fortune)

Quora’s co-founder is back. Early Facebook engineer Charlie Cheever, who went on to create the Internet question-and-answer service, is back in the Y Combinator accelerator program with a new startup. His new venture, Exponent, is working on mobile app development technology. (Fortune)

Marketo switches up two senior executives. The marketing software company, which officially became part of Vista Equity on Aug. 16, named a new chief marketing officer, Chandar Pattabhiram. It also disclosed the resignation of Fred Ball, Marketo’s chief administrative officer, who led the company through its initial public offering in 2013. Both transitions were underway before the buyout. (Marketo)

THE DOWNLOAD

The case for open sourcing Windows. Here’s a burning question for the tech universe: Could Microsoft, which built its Windows cash cow on proprietary or closed-source software, reverse course and open source Windows itself?

That would be roughly akin to Coca-Cola posting its top-secret formula online. Crazy, right? But Microsoft’s embrace of the open source community, including a move last week to open up its PowerShell development software, make the idea less heretical. Why it seems like a “perfectly possible” thing.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Business Planners Are Turning to the Cloud, by Heather Clancy

Tech Industry Slams Homeland Security’s Social Media Plan, by Jeff John Roberts

A Curved iPhone? It Just May Happen, by Don Reisinger

T-Mobile, Sprint Close In on Verizon, AT&T for Best Mobile Network,
by Aaron Pressman

How Intel and Others Are Fighting the Ransomware Epidemic, by David Meyer

ONE MORE THING

Are you liberal, moderate, or conservative? Here’s what your posts are telling Facebook’s algorithms about your political leanings. (New York Times)

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy.

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