We spend a lot of time talking these days about businesses having “purpose” and being about more than making money. It’s a laudable conversation and a worthy goal, especially for employees who want to spend their days contributing to something bigger than themselves.
In the end, though, it really is about money—or at least who’s got the best strategy (and tactics) for making it in support of their possibly higher goals.
The New York Times spilled what used to be called a ton of ink Sunday on Etsy, whose new CEO, Josh Silverman, has the unenviable task of stabilizing a beloved if wobbly company. Etsy thrived for a time not so much because it deployed innovative technology but because it filled a niche ignored by eBay and Amazon. The latter, unsurprisingly, has come on strong in the crafts market, leaving Etsy a warm and cuddly but financially unstable company. Silverman, backed by his board—which he’d been on before becoming CEO—has had to make Etsy a little more businesslike without losing too much of its soul. One sacrifice: Its coveted B Corp. designation for companies that make a positive social impact.
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China, given to innovation fads of late, has witnessed the meteoric rise of dockless bikesharing companies, particularly Ofo and Mobike. The Economist, in surveying the improbable landscape, made an insightful observation about the two. Alibaba-backed Ofo and Tencent-backed Mobike look a lot like the two companies that became Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing leader. Whether the bike companies ever make anything of themselves, they’re collecting oodles of data that could be quite valuable for their mega-cap investors. After all, it’s just business.
Finally, there’s the demise of Time Inc., owner of Fortune, which yesterday sold itself to Meredith, the magazine publisher and TV broadcaster. Founded in 1922, Time Inc. was one of America’s great companies. Its last owner, Time Warner, milked it for its cash flow for years, then loaded it up with debt and spun it off as a public company in June 2014 at just over $23 per share. Meredith will pay $18.50, and a company that defined American journalism in the 20th century will be no more.
I can tell from the volume of supportive and not-so supportive emails and tweets I received Friday that my essay on net neutrality struck a chord. (To those who wrote with substantive feedback, positive and negative: Thank you. To those who view email and Twitter as an opportunity for uncivil and vulgar commentary: I don’t appreciate it, and I won’t engage with you in any format.)
A through line in the pro-net neutrality argument is that diminishing the “free and open” Internet will kill startups. Given how Amazon Web Services, for one, caters profitably to startups, I’m scratching my head at why Comcast, Verizon, and the like wouldn’t want to also. If they don’t, perhaps Alphabet will re-energize its stalled Fiber efforts—or float Loon balloons over Sunnyvale.
In any event, I promise to study the issue and come back with fuller arguments for and against in coming weeks.
One click at a time. Black Friday online e-commerce increased 24% from last year, Salesforce’s retail intelligence unit reports. Salesforce says 42% of orders were placed on a smartphone and 49% on a desktop or laptop computer, the first time that less than half of all online orders came via PC.
Not so black Friday. Plenty of those sales no doubt happened on Amazon.com, helping send the net worth of CEO and founder Jeff Bezos over $100 billion on Friday for the first time. Bloomberg says Bezos is the also the first to hit the 12-figure value since Bill Gates reached it in 1999.
Dropping the ball. Out of about 80 people the FBI knew Russia had targeted for hacking, the Associated Press found only two were warned by the bureau. “It’s utterly confounding,” said Philip Reiner, a former senior director at the National Security Council, who was one of the two warned. “You’ve got to tell your people.”
Going up. The price of bitcoin soared to almost $10,000 on Monday morning. The current rally started after the Chicago Mercantile Exchange posted on its web site last week that it would start trading bitcoin futures contracts in December.
Give the people what they want. Data scientist Jeff Kao says that more than one million public comments in support of the FCC’s planned rollback of net neutrality rules are likely fake. Once the fake comments are removed, more than 99% of the unique, human-authored comments on the system favored maintaining current net neutrality rules, Kao found.
Probable cause. The Supreme Court this week will hear arguments over whether the Fourth Amendment‘s search warrant requirement applies to cellphone location records. In the case of Carpenter v. United States, police obtained 127 days of records placing the cellphone of the defendant at almost 13,000 locations without a warrant.
Past is future. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims has dug up some interesting generalizations about the industry coined by the late historian Melvin Kranzberg, which Mims dubs: “The Six Laws of Technology Everyone Should Know.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Facebook is growing faster in Asia than in the United States, but navigating the varied political and human rights situations there has been tough, reporter Christina Larson writes in Foreign Policy this month. Whether it’s in Myanmar, Thailand, or Cambodia, Facebook has been used both to benefit and to hinder the struggle for improving rights, Larson says. She urges the giant social network to diversify it policies and “localize” more.
In theory, the fourth-most valuable internet company in the United States—worth more than half a trillion dollars—knows this. In a statement emailed to FP, a Facebook spokesperson wrote, “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that works everywhere, and we are committed to working closely with local organizations to develop education programs, policies and products that meet people’s needs in different parts of the world.”
But so far, the social network hasn’t lived up to its ideals, says Human Rights Watch’s Robertson. “They are going to need to build up their capacity to get further into the game, talking with all the stakeholders from civil society, business and government to ensure they know the political and social context and are prepared to respond in a substantive, rights respecting way.” He adds: “People entrust their private and public lives to this platform — so decisions need to have customer buy-in, and communications need to reflect two-way dialogue.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Walmart’s Online Prices Are Pretty Close to Amazon’s Now By David Meyer
Major Advertisers Flee YouTube Over Videos Exploiting Children By David Z. Morris
Uber’s Merger With Yandex, Russia’s Largest Tech Company, Has Been Approved By John Patrick Pullen
Exclusive: Nearly 4 Million Bitcoins Lost Forever, New Study Says By Jeff John Roberts and Nicolas Rapp
Elon Musk’s New Battery Just Won Him a $50 Million Bet By Emily Price
BEFORE YOU GO
Maybe the iPhone X is the greatest phone ever, maybe it’s not, but it’s certainly forcing all the phone makers to up their TV advertising game. Apple has a cute commercial focused on music, while Samsung is riffing on being the first to add features. And Motorola has its own answer for the perfect smartphone.