Skip to Content

Data Sheet—Postmates Delivery Service Revives Dot Com Bust Business Niche

This is the web version of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

I’m feeling nostalgic these days. Maybe it’s because the beginning of baseball season swells my heart with all those clichéd feelings of hope springing eternal. Perhaps like skeptical journalists everywhere I can’t help but experience just a wee bit of schadenfreude over haughty technology companies at least temporarily getting their comeuppance. (Strunk and White counseled against the use of foreign languages where English suffices; I think I’m on firm ground here.) Or it could just be that I’m looking forward to spring break next week.

Three items that have fed my nostalgia.

This week I met for the first time Bastian Lehmann, the confident German-born CEO of Postmates, an on-demand delivery company. He told me the category his company has helped re-create ceased to exist when Kosmo went out of business during the first dot-com bubble. Ah, Kozmo. I remember you well. And your category mate Webvan too. Those were good times. Among the ways Postmates and its competitors are different is that their Uber-like driver/contractors don’t cost them much money. What hasn’t changed: Lehmann reports that pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are a popular delivery item.

I also noted the demise of Lytro, an extravagantly funded startup that tried commercializing something called a light-field camera. In Lytro’s salad days, 2011, founder and CEO Ren Ng demonstrated the company’s product at Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colo. It was the runaway hit of the conference—and also, if memory serves, where Ng met Andreessen Horowitz’s Jeff Jordan, who would invest in the company. Ng told me a charming story in Aspen about how Steve Jobs had recently rung him up to ask for a demo, something Jobs was wont to do. Now the Apple founder and this once-promising startup are both gone.

Lastly, a non-technology story that nevertheless hinges on science—or at least pseudoscience. McDonald’s announced this week that its U.K. stores will phase out plastic straws, the bete noire (there I go again) of environmentalists. The very first big story I worked on, for a trade publication called Plastics News, was about McDonald’s doing away with the polystyrene “clamshell” burger container. It replaced it with a coated paper wrapper that wasn’t recyclable and didn’t keep the food as warm. I couldn’t find any of my old stories, but check out the name of the Washington Post staff writer who contributed to this article. This reference is going to make her feel nostalgic too.

* * *

In yesterday’s Data Sheet, I mistakenly included Google Ventures in the list of firms that had backed Shyp. They had not. My apologies for the error.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

Broken record. The latest victim of data hackers is Under Armour. The sneaker maker said crooks stole information from about 150 million accounts in its MyFitnessPal service. The pilfered data included users names, email addresses, and encrypted passwords, but not government-issued numbers, like social security or drivers license numbers, Under Armour said.

Visionary design. With PC sales stagnating but cloud services booming, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled a major corporate reorganization that de-emphasized Windows and sought to mesh the company’s AI projects and business apps more closely with its Azure cloud platform. “Computing experiences are evolving to include multiple senses and are no longer bound to one device at a time but increasingly spanning many as we move from home to work and on the go,” Nadella explained. Longtime Microsoft veteran Terry Myerson, who oversaw Windows, is leaving the company and penned a lengthy reminiscence of his 21 years with the company.

Bumps in the road. Some of the high-profile projects announced by financial institutions to develop blockchain-related services have stalled, Reuters reported. For example, an effort by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation to track repo agreements via blockchain turned out to be more expensive than current methods.

Dot canceled. There’s some unexpected online fallout from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. More than 300,000 .eu domains registered in the U.K. will be canceled when Brexit occurs, the European Commission announced on Thursday. The industry has usually grandfathered domain registrations when countries change.

Does Elon Musk dream of electric sheep? The Federal Communications Commission formally approved SpaceX’s plan to loft thousands of low Earth orbiting satellites to offer global broadband Internet service. Elon Musk’s SpaceX now has until 2024 to get at least half of its planned network of 4,425 satellites into orbit.

Deja vu all over again. After hearing from reporters about Apple’s latest revised education market strategy this week, 9to5Mac published an informed take by Bradley Chambers, who does this stuff for a living. His verdict? “As I rewatched the 2012 keynote and pondered the 2018 keynote, I realized that Apple is yet again trying to craft a future for education that I am not sure fits with reality.”

FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.

The Wolves of K Street (The Ringer)
I was captivated as senators huddled together in small groups around the Senate chambers trying to wheel and deal a compromise to break the filibuster. But while most of America was hoping for a deal to be reached and the crisis to be averted, I was biting my fingernails, hoping more senators would defect from the compromise, that there would be no agreement to save the “Dreamers” from mass deportation, and that the government would shut down on Friday night. I have always considered myself a politically engaged person, with fairly radical left-wing politics. On this night, however, my political values and hopes for the country had nothing to do with my interest. I was sweating a “no” vote because I had $500 riding on a shutdown on PredictIt.

At Uber, a New C.E.O. Shifts Gears (The New Yorker)

The Indian city of Gurugram, which in Hindi means “village of the guru,” is a technology-and-business hub twenty miles south of New Delhi, reached by highways filled with auto-rickshaws, exhaust-spewing buses, and the occasional immovable cow. The city’s glass high-rises contain dozens of multinational corporations, including Pepsi, Google, and Microsoft. On a recent morning, a white S.U.V. pulled up in front of the building housing the largest Indian office of the ride-hailing company Uber, and out climbed Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s new C.E.O.

The Billionaire Whisperer Who United Bezos, Buffett, and Dimon (Bloomberg)
Todd Combs spends most of his days reading in a quiet office in Omaha, where he’s an investment manager at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. But one day last year he found himself on a flight to Seattle with an unusual mission: Pitch Jeff Bezos on a bold idea for wringing costs out of the U.S. health-care system. Two of the biggest corporate chieftains in America—his boss, Warren Buffett, and Jamie Dimon, who runs the largest bank in the country—had already signed on. But they wanted the Amazon.com Inc. chief executive officer on board as well.

Getting FIREd: The tech workers who are engineering a mid-30s retirement (California Sunday Magazine)
Sara and Robert, now 23 and 27, are part of the Financial Independence, Retire Early movement, or FIRE. Born in the exuberance of the first dot-com boom, it gained momentum during the financial crisis. The central tenet is self-reliance: By maximizing earning and minimizing spending, nearly anyone, its enthusiasts believe, can retire decades early. Reddit threads and blogs serve as FIRE’s playbooks. One such site is Mr. Money Mustache, written by a software engineer who retired at 30. On its forums, 38,000 users discuss everything from the pragmatic (“Advice on maximizing house sale value”) to the personal (“How to convert your significant other in 50 awesome steps”).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mobile carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile have spent tens of billions of dollars buying spectrum, giving the companies the exclusive rights to use specified airwave bands in specific places. But the Federal Communications Commission is readying a different scheme to govern the newest band being made available for mobile communications. Large parts of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, will be unlicensed and available for sharing. Alistair Barr, Mark Bergen, and Scott Moritz have a deep dive into the implications of the CBRS plan:

Imagine you’re on a call with your smartphone in Los Angeles and it’s using CBRS to connect you. An aircraft carrier churns past. Systems run by Google, startup Federated Wireless or a few other companies, will spot that, give the Navy a prime bit of the spectrum to use, then move you onto a slightly different channel without dropping the call. When the ship leaves the area, the Navy’s spectrum is sent back into the mix. There’s enough spectrum to go round—150 MHz is the largest chunk of contiguous airwaves to be released in years. And the Navy is unlikely to sail past Denver, Kansas City or most other U.S. locations.

The key is that if a company buys a priority slice and doesn’t put it to work, the spectrum is free for others to use. This prevents hoarding and changes the supply and demand equation, making spectrum more plentiful.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Facebook Starts Fact Checking Photos and Videos in This Country By Jonathan Vanian

Whole Foods May Offer Amazon Prime Members a 10% Discount By Chris Morris

Uber Settles With Family of Victim Killed in Self-Driving Car Accident By Jonathan Vanian

Nintendo Switch Owners Report Third-Party Docks Killing Console By Don Reisinger

President Trump Claims Amazon Is Getting a Sweetheart Deal From the Post Office. It’s Not. By Lisa Marie Segarra

Commentary: Who Wins After U.S. Antitrust Regulators Attack? China. By Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind

BEFORE YOU GO

Award-winning French mathematician Cédric Villani looks more like a rock star than a calculus geek and has hence been dubbed the “Lady Gaga of Math.” Now he’s also a politician, having been elected to France’s National Assembly. The Verge has an interesting profile, with Villani explaining his view that “artificial intelligence will be everywhere, like electricity.”

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.