Data Sheet—So Many Self-Driving Car Startups, So Little Time
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Good morning. It’s a busy week, and I’d like to start your day with three stories told by the numbers that illustrate them.
50. That’s how many companies already are testing autonomous car technology in California, the largest car market in the U.S. and the state whose regulator granted permission Monday for truly driverless experimental cars. (Neither The New York Times nor the San Francisco Chronicle were able to put the brakes on the urge to use the “green light” metaphor in reporting the news.) Fifty individual companies going after the autonomous goal is an astounding number and is reminiscent of the early days of cars themselves, when oodles of long-forgotten manufacturers toiled away where only Ford, Chrysler, and a bunch of companies that united under General Motors grew to noteworthy scale. Common sense suggests nearly all of these startups will be gone in the relative blink of an eye.
37. That’s how many billions of dollars Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank invested in more than 40 companies last year, according to an informative Wall Street Journal review The just-the-facts article had an interesting grace note: Son’s SoftBank directors have often been at odds with him over his helter-skelter investment style. He likely reminds them that he, not they, invested early in Yahoo and Alibaba. Still, one can’t help but wonder if this all will end badly for SoftBank and its investing partners, which include Apple.
24,000. That’s the acreage of precious California coastal area The Nature Conservancy bought with a $165-million donation from Jack and Laura Dangermond, founders of the digital mapping company Esri in Southern California. I know this because a reader responded to my call yesterday for nominations for Fortune’s upcoming World’s Greatest Leaders list. In suggesting the Dangermonds, this reader correctly noted that privately held Esri has never appeared in Data Sheet, despite its multi-decade-long success. Duly noted—and minimally addressed. For now.
Ding dong. Amazon is buying smart doorbell maker Ring for a reported $1 billion, adding a device that could be integrated with its upcoming Key service that allows delivery people to leave packages inside customers' homes. The buyout comes five years after Ring, then called Doorbot, was a failure on the show Shark Tank.
Splat. San Francisco data analytics startup Splunk is buying Phantom Cyber for $350 million. Phantom’s products help automate the work of IT security staff, many of whom use Splunk’s software to triage incidents within their security operations centers.
Bzzt. The Supreme Court heard arguments in Microsoft's bid to ward off a valid search warrant for emails held on servers located outside of the United States. The SCOTUS blog has, as usual, a great summary of what went down. Sounds like no obvious consensus on how to rule emerged from the justices.
Boom. PayPal's Venmo unit settled with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that the company didn't accurately explain the security and privacy features of its app and how quickly customers could transfer money. FTC chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said the case "sends a strong message that financial institutions like Venmo need to focus on privacy and security from day one.” There definitely seems to be a message in the resolution, but given that it took three years for the FTC to act from initial reporting and no fine was imposed, or really any penalty at all, it might not be the one Ohlhausen claims. And recall, the FTC is a main cop on the net neutrality beat now.
Biff. PayPal competitor Square reported its fourth quarter adjusted revenue jumped 47% to $283 million as gross payment volume rose 31% to $17.9 billion. Wall Street wasn't impressed with Square's forecast however, and the company's stock, which has nearly tripled over the past year, lost 1% in premarket trading on Wednesday.
Bam. After hearing from AT&T and Verizon about their modest plans for 5G this year, Sprint and T-Mobile got a little more specific. Sprint said Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. would be first in its rollout, while T-Mobile said also Dallas and L.A. along with New York and Las Vegas would be among 30 cities getting its round one of 5G service. No current phones can use the super-fast 5G tech yet, however, and it will be a one- to two-year wait before many consumers get that capability.
Pfft. Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei didn't last long as Uber's senior vice president of leadership and strategy. Less than year after joining, she's leaving. "When I got here, my goal was to train and teach executives how to manage better, but it became super apparent that the training needed to go way beyond that,” she told Recode.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Fashion is a fickle business, even for a 165-year-old maker of blue jeans. So Levi Strauss & Co. has turned to technology to help keep up. Andrew Nusca reports for Fortune on one of the latest innovations to come out of the company's "Eureka Innovation Lab." It's a software-controlled laser that can create a variety of different looks on a pair of jeans, looks that used to require workers to create manually. The laser greatly speeds upon the process, a key benefit in fashion:
The staggering reduction in times to design and manufacture the product allows Levi to delay final style decisions and reduce inventory build-up.
“It allows us to shift to a make-what-you-sell model,” Sights says. “Instead of making a bunch of stuff months and years in advance and trying to sell it, we’re able to see what’s selling and make accordingly.”
In other words, if the company notices a shift in local consumer tastes, it can fire off a batch of new garb from a nearby factory and get product on shelves many months faster than the old way—a supply chain triumph given that Levi works two years in advance and uses more than 1,000 different finishes in a season, which lasts six months.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Hulu is continuing with its annoying "can you see our network roots showing" practice of releasing its original streaming shows one episode per week, but it may be worth hanging around to watch the service's new series The Looming Tower. The first three episodes of the show about the 9/11 attacks and based on Lawrence Wright's amazing non-fiction book, hit today.