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I direct your attention this morning to two fine pieces of business journalism. Both capture the critical tension of operating a successful technology business today. Both show that winning is a brutal, perilous, and risky affair.
The first is a Wall Street Journal “write-around”—meaning its subject didn’t publicly cooperate—of Robert Smith and his Vista Equity Partners. Vista buys and sells software companies, believing that by rigorously applying its time-tested best practices it can boost margins from 20% to 50%. When it has worked its ways, including cost-cutting, it sells.
Vista’s billionaire co-founder comes off as the epitome of the heartless Wall Street investor, despite reports of a hug-happy, egalitarian work environment. As portrayed by The Journal, Smith is less impressed with the beauty and power of software as he is by the similarities among the companies that make it. “Software companies taste like chicken,” the paper quotes him having said at a conference. “They’re selling different products, but 80% of what they do is pretty much the same.” It’s a quote that couldn’t endear Smith to the employees at the companies Vista buys.
As it happens, though Smith didn’t comment for The Journal’s article, he’ll be onstage a week from today at Fortune Brainstorm Tech. I will be interviewing him just before lunch. Perhaps we’ll serve chicken. Our chat will be livestreamed here.
The second article is this riveting account of a recent town hall meeting at iconic TV producer HBO, hosted by longtime chief Richard Plepler and his new overlord, John Stankey of AT&T. Someone at HBO leaked the account to The New York Times, a sign of discontent among the troops.
To boil down a long and worthwhile read, Stankey wants HBO to be more like Netflix. On the upside he’s willing to invest so HBO can dramatically amp up its production, the better to capture more lucrative data. On the downside, HBO has gotten to where it is—a highly praised and highly profitable shop—by focusing on quality, not quantity.
Stankey better be careful. AT&T has been an aggressive and successful acquirer. But unlike Vista with software, it has no formula for plumping up storied entertainment concerns, which resemble neither software outfits nor phone companies.
Entering the mix. Electric scooter scourge Lime raised $335 million in venture capital from backers including Fidelity, Uber, and Google parent Alphabet’s VC arm. The deal valued Lime at $1 billion.
Here today. Fewer than half of the companies that raised money in an initial coin offering still appeared to be in business after four months, according to a new study from Boston College. Of 2,390 startups that completed ICOs, only 44% were still active, as inferred from company Twitter feeds, the researcher said.
Pay as you go. The EU is likely to conclude its investigation of Google’s Android mobile software later this month and fine the company billions of dollars, the Washington Post reported. Regulators may also prohibit Google from forcing phonemakers to set Google Search as a default in return for including the Android app store.
Cheerios on demand. New York City shoppers are getting a new option for grocery home delivery. Walmart’s Jet.com says it is opening a warehouse in the Bronx to expand into same and next-day grocery delivery, the Wall Street Journal reports. Amazon and FreshDirect are already serving city residents.
Squarely in view. Expanding its hardware offerings, Microsoft introduced a smaller, cheaper version of its Surface Pro tablet. The new Surface Go, available for preorder starting today, has a 10-inch screen, a USB-C port, and costs $400. Keyboard covers and the Surface Pen cost extra.
This one goes to 11. The number of smart speakers in use will about double to 100 million this year from less than 50 million last year, research firm Canalys projects. In one of those dicey four-year market share forecasts, Canalys says Amazon’s Alexa devices will slip from 50% of the market this year to 34% in 2022, with Google also garnering 34% that year and Apple’s HomePod line up hitting just 10%.
Cyber insecurity. Social media service Timehop said hackers stole personal data of 21 million users including names, addresses and, for some accounts, phone numbers. The crooks also grabbed tokens that would allow them to view users’ posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare. Timehop says it deactivated the tokens.
Asking for input. Fortune is preparing our fourth annual Change The World list, telling the stories of companies and business leaders that do well by doing good—that address social problems as part of their profit-making activity. To learn more about the list, and to nominate your company or a company you admire, visit our Change The World information page.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A number of studies have found benefits to a more diverse workplace. Now Harvard Business School professor Paul Gompers and research associate Silpa Kovvali have looked at the impact of diversity on the financial returns of venture capital. Only 8% of VC investors are female, 2% hispanic, and less than 1% black. But deal returns were hurt by homogeneous teams and enhanced by better diversity, they found.
Along all dimensions measured, the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance. For example, the success rate of acquisitions and IPOs was 11.5% lower, on average, for investments by partners with shared school backgrounds than for those by partners from different schools. The effect of shared ethnicity was even stronger, reducing an investment’s comparative success rate by 26.4% to 32.2%…
Venture capital firms that increased their proportion of female partner hires by 10% saw, on average, a 1.5% spike in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7% more profitable exits (an impressive figure given that only 28.8% of all VC investments have a profitable exit).
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Amazon Prime Day vs. Black Friday: Which Has Better Deals? By Chris Morris
Lawmakers Push Apple and Google to Reveal Data Collection Practices By Jonathan Vanian
Snap and Amazon Are Working on a Visual Search Feature for Snapchat By Kevin Kelleher
Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Is No Friend to Net Neutrality By Brittany Shoot and Kevin Kelleher
BEFORE YOU GO
Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones series still have to wait until next year to watch the final season. But as the various actors involved complete their filming, they’re offering some little teasers for the fans. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, posted a picture of her (fake?) blood covered sneakers on Instagram on Sunday. Click over and see if you think the hashtags have any spoilers.