I had a hectic week last week, but it ended calmly.
I visited the two founders of a 14-person San Francisco startup called Calm. Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew, Englishmen both, started the company to commercialize the benefits of meditation.
Here’s what’s likable about this business. The duo has raised a mere $1.5 million (they’ll likely seek more soon), and their $60-a-year subscription app has had 8 million downloads. (It’s a “freemium” model, so not all users pay.) Competitor Headspace, popular with Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley pooh-bahs, has raised $34 million, making Calm the plucky challenger.
Calm aims to be more than an app, which right now plays videos and lessons to help people meditate. The company already has published a coffee-table book, and it’s eyeing clothing, teas, candles and even hotels around its meditation theme. Says Acton Smith: “Our ambition is to build Calm into the Nike for the mind.” It has a long way to go, but already it claims to be cash-flow positive. It has done next to no marketing, other than a fair amount on Facebook for lead generation.
If I have a quibble with Calm it’s that the very enemy to mindfulness it has identified—the smartphone—is its primary tool for distribution. The founders get the irony. “Technology is a tool,” says Acton Smith, who says that because Calm’s content grabs the attention of its users they are less likely to flit around to other apps. “Most of us are slaves to technology. The key is to change the relationship.”
The commercials on the Oscars last night felt a lot like watching the Super Bowl. Among technology companies, I really liked the spots from Samsung and Google. I passionately enjoyed and appreciated this ad from The New York Times, whose tagline is “The truth is more important now than ever.” It makes me proud to be a journalist.
I goofed in my piece Friday about Joel Hyatt’s new firm, Globality, by misstating the name and disposition of his second startup, Hyatt Legal Plans, which MetLife acquired. I apologize for getting that wrong.
BITS AND BYTES
Amazon and Netflix just picked up their first Oscars. Amazon Studios was behind Manchester by the Sea, which scored trophies for best actor and best original screenplay. (The company was also the distributor for The Salesman, which won best foreign language film.) Netflix was behind The White Helmets, which won the short documentary category. (Reuters)
The SEC’s acting chairman wants more people to benefit from private stock offerings. Right now, only “accredited” investors have an early shot at buying shares in sexy, yet highly risky startups like Uber, Airbnb, or Lyft—a rule that is intended to protect them. In remarks last Friday, Michael Piwowar said there’s a need to get beyond this “artificial distinction” so that more can participate. (Wall Street Journal)
This could be the very model of a U.S. chip-making factory. The IM Flash plant in Utah, a joint venture of Intel and Micron, is one of the most sophisticated semiconductor facilities in the United States. As the Trump administration pushes for more domestic manufacturing, the partnership that made the plant possible is worth closer attention. (New York Times)
U.S. consumers won’t get the new Huawei smartphone. The Chinese company was the third-largest force in mobile phones last year, even though it still hasn’t introduced an offering for the United States. Its latest model launched over the weekend at the Mobile World Congress, the P10, signals a move upmarket to higher price points. Watch for it to become even more aggressive in Europe. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Al Gore unloads half of his Apple stock. The sale, which happened last Wednesday, netted the former Vice President and long-time board member approximately $29 million. (Fortune)
WATCH FOR IT
Samsung indictments expected Tuesday. The special prosecutors investigating the South Korean bribery scandal that led to the arrest of vice chairman Jay Y. Lee earlier this month have until tomorrow to bring formal charges. Four other executives could also be charged, reports Bloomberg. The prosecutors believe the Samsung managers made donations to causes supported by the country’s impeached president in order to win favor for a 2015 merger. (Bloomberg)
SURVEYS AND STUDIES
Here’s another how-to guide for digital transformation. Spending on initiatives such as cloud computing migrations and development of new applications is projected to reach $1.2 trillion this year, up 17.6% from 2016, according to new projections by researcher IDC. Don’t know exactly how to get started? Consulting firm McKinsey says these are the seven decisions that matter most, starting with this one—defining your ambition.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
AT&T Cuts Prices and Adds New Features to its Unlimited Data Plans, by Aaron Pressman
Google Kills Spaces Messaging App, by Jonathan Vanian
Stacks of Early Apple Memos Found in Seattle Thrift Store, by David Z. Morris
ONE MORE THING
For those nostalgic for smartphones with ‘real’ keyboards. Chinese manufacturer TCL is taking over from the iconic Canadian company BlackBerry with the new BlackBerry Key One, which combines a big-screen Android phone with the thumb-friendly keyboard BlackBerry addicts love. Meanwhile, a company with rights to the Nokia brand is launching several new models, including one that was popular in the year 2000.(Fortune, Fortune)