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Good morning from Aspen, Colo., where Fortune Brainstorm Tech opened Monday to splendid mountain weather, robust conversations, and the general good cheer of an industry hoping the good times will last.
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, said the job of fixing the ride-hailing company’s culture may never be done. Uber’s HR chief recently left and its chief operating officer, a Khosrowshahi confidante he picked for the job, is under fire for allegedly insensitive comments. The CEO refused to declare support for his deputy, citing the need for the process investigating the allegations to run its course. Khosrowshahi also offered tepid support for Uber’s self-driving car program, asserting it is important for Uber to pursue the technology in the near term—but not necessarily forever.
On a positive note, the CEO said it’s important for Uber to demonstrate a “path to profitability,” a departure from the “growth at any cost” mentality of his predecessor, Travis Kalanick.
Richard Liu, CEO of Chinese e-commerce mega-cap JD.com, said his company can survive a trade war—though it’d rather not. If customers don’t want to pay higher prices for U.S. goods, Liu said, JD will offer less expensive products from other countries. Despite being a $56-billion market cap company, JD is much smaller—and far less profitable—than its competitor Alibaba. JD’s investors—Tencent, Walmart, and Google—constitute something of anti-Alibaba alliance. (Also on Monday, Walmart announced closer cloud services ties with a fellow Amazon foe: Microsoft.)
Pat Gelsinger, the longtime Intel executive who is CEO of software maker VMware, twice declined to say he would turn down an invitation by Intel’s board to interview for its vacant CEO position. Gelsinger has publicly professed his love for software and VMware. At the same time he spoke eloquently about trends in semiconductors, and it’d be hard to imagine him passing up the opportunity to run a company vastly larger than his current employer.
More from me from Aspen tomorrow.
Rocky mountain high. By one measure, Jeff Bezos became the richest person in modern history on Monday. A ranking by Bloomberg, which mainly includes the publicly disclosed assets of the wealthy, pegged Bezos net worth at $150 billion, more than an inflation-adjusted $149 billion hit by Bill Gates in 1999. Back at Bezos day job, there were some technical glitches with Amazon’s web site as customers flooded in to take advantage of “Prime Day” bargains.
Leaving on a jet plane. The price of bitcoin has lost about two-thirds of its value since last December when it peaked at close to $20,000. One reason for the decline may be an utter lack of interest in crypto currency from the world’s largest investor and its many clients. “I don’t believe any client has sought out crypto exposure—I’ve not heard from one client who says, ‘I need to be in this,” Larry Fink, CEO of the worlds largest asset management firm, Blackrock, said on Bloomberg TV on Monday. The firm, which oversees $6.3 trillion-with a T-of assets, is looking at possible uses of the underlying blockchain technology, he added.
Sweet surrender. Well, that little dip Netflix stock took on Friday turned into a waterfall on Monday night after the company reported disappointing second quarter results. The video streaming gaint added 670,000 new subscribers in the U.S., about half the 1.2 million expected by analysts. International subscribers grew by 4.5 million, also below the 5.1 million consensus analyst estimate. Revenue increased 40% to $3.9 billion, but it wasn’t enough. Netflix shares were down 13% in premarket trading this morning.
My sweet lady. For the past few years, many Android phones have shifted to unlocking with a fingerprint reader on the back, the better to clear more screen space on the front. But the upcoming Samsung Galaxy 10, expected early next year, will include a front-mounted, under-glass print reader, usually reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo writes.
Back home again. Voters in San Francisco will decide in November whether to impose a new tax on large companies in the city. The proposed 0.5% tax increase from companies with at least $50 million of sales would provide $300 million to fight homelessness. Seattle, you may recall, tried and backed down from a similar plan after Amazon and other city businesses objected.
Thank god I’m a country boy. Remember in January at CES when a company that licensed the Kodak brand name showed off a special Kodak-branded computer for mining digital currencies that would be leased to customers? Seemed kind of bizarre. Now the BBC reports that the project has been abandoned after being blocked by securities regulators.
I’m sorry. New questions arose on Monday about the gene editing technology known as Crispr. A study in the journal Nature Biotechnology reported that the use of Crispr to edit DNA also caused unwanted gene changes at a high rate, which potentially could lead to cancer. Stocks of companies developing Crispr-based treatments fell. Shares of Crispr Therapeutics lost 9% and Intellia Therapeutics dropped 10%.
(Headline reference explainer, as we dedicate this issue of Data Sheet, written from Aspen, Colo., to the late, great 1970s singer/songwriter.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Feel like you have a firm grasp on the video gaming phenomenon known as Fortnite? Maybe you play, maybe it’s your kids, a spouse, or all of your co-workers? Fear not–reporter Brian Feldman has done a deep dive for New York magazine on the history and development of the record-setting game that looks like a badly drawn cartoon on first blush. One secret to the game’s popularity is its similarity to some rather addictive social networking apps:
This might seem a bit surprising if you understand Fortnite as just the latest in a long line of very popular video-game shooters, like Call of Duty or Halo—games whose semi-regular installments get plenty of initial attention from gamers and media outlets. But the cultural presence of those games usually peters out after a few weeks or months, as gamers and journalists move on to the next big thing.
Fortnite, by contrast, seems here to stay because it’s modeled not as a series with annual installments, but as a persistent online world that’s always under construction. It feels less like a thing you log in to every few days to waste some time and more like an app that you’re constantly pulling to refresh, always something new to see. In this way, social platforms with bright, sunny aesthetics that constantly add a rotating and growing set of features that keep users coming back, building up a platform-specific identity, provide better points of comparison than other video-game shooters.
Fortnite is a candy-colored video game populated by friends and celebrities, with quantified metrics for success tucked into every corner, constantly updated, highly social, usable anywhere, dopamine-releasing, and extremely competitive. In other words, the way to think about Fortnite isn’t Halo, but Instagram. Not Call of Duty, but Snapchat. What’s the difference between racking up kills and racking up likes?
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Yahoo Co-Founder Jerry Yang Says He’s the Luckiest Person Alive By Aaron Pressman
Amazon’s Echo Device Chief on the Risk of Alexa’s Many Rewards By Ellen McGirt
Google’s Design Guru: ‘People Think Fashion Is Frivolous. It’s Not.’ By Robert Hackett
Why Fintech May Be the Future of Ridehailing for Grab, Uber By Jen Wieczner
How WeWork and Slack Are Scaling Up By Beth Kowitt
BEFORE YOU GO
There are innumerable possible applications for machine learning and AI. Developer Abhishek Singh created an app that learned how to translate sign language into spoken words (via a laptop camera and speaker) that can trigger Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant and then transcribe Alexa’s spoken response into written words. Pretty cool.