Greetings from Aspen, Colo., where my Fortune colleagues and I experienced an exhilarating first day of our annual technology conference, Brainstorm Tech.
I’ll share a few quick thoughts today and continue to report during the week and then wrap up when we’re through. First, a word on the environment. Aspen is a magical place to gather oodles of smart people for serious conversations about an important industry. My day began with a brutal 12.5-mile climb on a bike to Maroon Bells. The weather was splendid, but the ride was painful. Note to self: This is the last year I can attempt such a ride without training first.
Egon Durban, the Silver Lake investor, appeared with Michael Dell, whose company the two took private and then combined with EMC. Durban, who met Dell at Brainstorm Tech five years ago and hinted at the EMC transaction two years ago, says Silver Lake is particularly interested in “topticking” undervalued private companies whose hype cycles have waned. He says Silver Lake sees “deep value” in a few. That bears watching.
Glenn Fogel talked about the fascinating ascent of Priceline Group, the $95-billion market capitalization company he heads. Priceline has moved well beyond its “name your price” days of William Shatner hucksterism. Its $135-milion acquisition of Europe’s Booking.com will go down as one of the greatest investments ever as it is the foundation of Priceline’s valuation today. I asked him, given that “Priceline” itself doesn’t count for much anymore, if the company would change its name. Fogel all but acknowledged that a name change is under active consideration.
Mark Mahaney, an analyst with RBC, made compelling cases for why Google will face continued monopoly scrutiny and Twitter will struggle with raising its stock price. Brent Thill, a longtime enterprise software analyst now following Internet stocks, made an equally compelling case for why Amazon, through its Amazon Web Services unit, effectively is a software company now.
A highlight of the day for me was my evening interview with Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan. McChyrstal works with corporations now on their leadership challenges. He was diplomatic if unsparing in his assessment of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and the president’s leadership qualities.
Want to watch Brainstorm Tech as it happens today? Follow along on the livestream on fortune.com and consult the agenda here.
Today I’m interviewing Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s retail business, which is about to expand with the purchase of Whole Foods. Wednesday, we have an exciting day planned. Marissa Mayer, the recently departed CEO of Yahoo, will join a breakfast roundtable called “A Life of Learning.” That morning I’ll host a panel on fake news featuring Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, David Sanger of The New York Times, and Isaac Lee of Univision and Televisa. I’ll also talk technology and recovering from scandal with Tim Sloan, CEO of Wells Fargo.
Harder than it looks. Google’s effort to lap the entire home Internet industry with its Fiber service has been in some form of disarray for almost a year. Now the CEO of Access, the Alphabet unit that runs Fiber, is out after just four months. Google didn’t say why Gregory McCray stepped down, although Bloomberg reports on an incident that led some employees to complain to HR about the boss.
Smarter smartphones. Speaking of Google, sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference. The company just added a super-useful new feature to its Maps apps. Now when you seek driving directions, the apps will display a graph showing how travel times to your destination typically vary throughout the day. Meanwhile, Apple took the wraps off some new emojis it will be adding to its next big iOS update. Get ready for a zombie, a vomiting face, a woman in a head scarf, and a sandwich—it looks like ham and cheese.
Didn’t see it coming. Are we still talking about Google? Longtime tech reporter Steven Levy has the inside scoop on the search giant’s surprise revival of its smart glasses announced on Tuesday. Google Glass 2.0, officially called Glass Enterprise Edition, will be focused on businesses, not regular folk, and have a red light that goes on when video is being recorded.
A lot of watching. All the spending on original programming at Netflix continues to pay off for investors. The top Internet video service added 5.2 million subscribers last quarter, while Wall Street analysts were expecting just 3.2 million. Revenue jumped 32% to $2.8 billion. Netflix shares shot up 10% in after hours trading on Monday to a new all-time high.
Crafting the future. The latest apparent unicorn startup is 3D printer company Desktop Metal, which raised $115 million giving it an estimated valuation of $1.02 billion, according to investment-tracking firm PitchBook. Unsurprisingly given its name, the company makes industrial manufacturing 3D printers that craft small metal objects.
Let the wind blow. The addition of wind, solar, and other renewable power sources has not harmed the reliability of the electricity grid, according to a draft Department of Energy study, Reuters reported. “Significantly higher levels of renewable energy can be integrated without any compromise of system reliability,” the draft says. Some feared the report would come out differently and be used to justify cutting support for renewables.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Since news emerged that Amazon might be getting into the prepared meal business, the e-commerce giant’s direction and desire have become clearer. Fortune’s Beth Kowitt takes a long look at where all this might be headed, and why Blue Apron is probably in big trouble. (Its shares are down 34% since its IPO a few weeks ago.)
Amazon’s opportunity is huge, as only 5% of consumers have gotten a meal kit in the past year but 60% of millennials having purchased something from Amazon, Kowitt notes. She also quotes Cooper Smith, director of Amazon research at digital branding intelligence firm L2, who explains the high stakes.
“Amazon has won many battles in retail,” Smith says. But since food is the largest category by far in retail, “the war of retail will be won in grocery.”
Curious about the new offering? Geekwire has the lowdown on the first products showing up on Amazon’s web site for some customers this week.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Cruise CEO: Joining GM Hasn’t Been Smooth Sailing by Kirsten Korosec
How Lucasfilm Is Using Virtual Reality to Bring ‘Star Wars’ to Life by Tom Huddleston, Jr.
This Chinese Startup Solved the Biggest Problem in Bike-Sharing by Robert Hackett
Qualcomm CEO Expects Out of Court Settlement With Apple by Aaron Pressman
Nest Labs Tech Chief on What Robots Can Do Better Than Humans by Jonathan Vanian
Wipeout: Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies in Price Collapse by Jeff John Roberts
BEFORE YOU GO
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man,” so went the opening credits of the brilliant TV show The Twilight Zone. Now the genre blending sci-fi/horror/thriller show is making a comeback, but on stage. Playwright Anne Washburn is writing the script for a London production scheduled to start in December. Hopefully Washburn will recapture “the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”