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When you’re in the daily commentary dodge some weeks are painfully slow. Others, like last week, are an embarrassment of riches. Deciding what to write about is like shooting fish in a clichéd barrel.
Never mind that the real world was consumed by the latest installment in what effectively is the Donald Trump reality TV show, otherwise known as the actual, profoundly serious business of our nation—but televised. The tech world, too, had plenty going on. Elon Musk defied then submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Washington investigated what anyone in Silicon Valley knows to be a truism, that the bulk of its senior managers lean left. And the founders of Instagram decided they had had enough of being a part of Facebook.
This news left me feeling nostalgic, in an embarrassed way, about a feature story I wrote about Mark Zuckerberg in mid-November, 2016, naming him Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year. There’s nothing overtly cringeworthy about this piece. It’s more what I didn’t see coming: Zuckerberg’s blind spot for how his company was being used to subvert democracy. I also could have given him a somewhat harder time for how Facebook shredded the business models of media companies stupid enough to think their future lay with turning over their content to Facebook.
Most telling though, is a graphic in that not-yet-two-year-old article that notes the importance of executives from acquired companies who have stuck around. At the time, the top dogs of Oculus VR, WhatsApp, and Instagram all were part of Zuckerberg’s brain trust. Each has since left their post.
Ben Thompson, though he not atypically takes a while to get to his point, has a smart take on this. Instagram’s leaders are product people, not true business executives, he argues. Thus while they were important, they ceased to be in charge the moment Zuckerberg’s company bought theirs. That’s business, and that’s life.
Zuckerberg will need all his considerable business acumen to keep these properties on track.
Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit begins today in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Almost too many influential women from tech to mention will appear onstage, including Microsoft CFO Amy Hood, Match Group CEO Mindy Ginsberg, and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat. Check out the agenda here and the live feed on Fortune.com. The conference concludes with a delightful and unexpected twist: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi appears Wednesday morning with his mother, Lili, in their first interview together.
Calm down. After after the hype and hoopla around the Securities and Exchange Commission’s perhaps forcing Tesla CEO Elon Musk to step down, the two sides came to a settlement that stopped short of that drastic measure. Musk will lose his chairmanship at the company for three years but keep his CEO job and pay a $20 million fine, with the company kicking in another $20 million. Tesla’s stock price jumped 15% in premarket trading on Monday.
Freak out. European privacy regulators could fine Facebook up to $1.6 billion over the social network’s latest data breach, which exposed at least 50 million user accounts, the Wall Street Journal reports. The hacking attack, revealed on Friday, did not steal user passwords but their access tokens, digital keys that let people remain logged in to the service and, sometimes, log into other services, as well. Facebook says it has fixed the flaw and reset the tokens.
Not waiting for voluntary change. California became the first state to require corporate boards to include women. Companies incorporated in the state will have to have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019 and two or three (depending on board size) by 2021. Gov. Jerry Brown also signed into law the state’s strong net neutrality law, patterned on the 2015 federal rules repealed by the Trump administration last year. Trump’s Justice Department immediately filed for an injunction to block the rules.
Lotta dough. It’s just one analyst’s eye-opening estimate, but it is from veteran tech follower Rod Hall, now at Goldman Sachs. Hall’s estimate is that Google will pay Apple $9 billion this year and $12 billion next year to remain the default search engine on Safari, both on the desktop and on mobile devices. Apple also got some good news in two legal cases. A federal appeals court threw out a patent ruling over microprocessors that could have the cost the company over $500 million. And the International Trade Commission ruled that iPhones should not be banned from the country even though they may infringe on a Qualcomm patent.
Lotta dough, part two. Chinese Internet news and social startup Bytedance is raising $1.5 billion of private funding in a deal valuing the company at $75 billion, more than any other startup ever, including Uber, Bloomberg reports. The company is also the rare successful Chinese Internet player that has not been backed by either of the twin giants, Tencent and Alibaba.
Chocolate chipwich. After seeing rival Advanced Micro Devices advance, Intel said on Friday it would spend an extra $1 billion to expand its chip making capacity. Intel’s stock price gained 3% and AMD fell 5%.
Pie in the sky. Satellite communications service Iridium is partnering with Amazon‘s cloud unit to offer connectivity for smart devices in places beyond the reach of cellular networks. Dubbed CloudConnect, the new service will come online next year to spread the growing Internet of Things worldwide.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The always-just-over-the-horizon vision of flying cars remains the focus of a bevy of startups and corporate spinoffs. Many members of this incipient industry met last month in Arkansas for a secretive conference to discuss one early use case: air taxis. Reporter Eric Adams, writing for for Wired magazine, got access to the two-day affair and reveals that attendees included execs from Airbus, Google, Joby Aviation, TerraFugia, Uber, Virgin Galactic, Walmart, NASA, and the Air Force. One challenge is finding the huge amounts of capital needed to develop aircraft, Adams writes:
Still, the industry will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to develop this new system—too much money for the traditional VC funding model. “The finance panel spoke to the fact that over the next few years this industry is going to be driven more by strategic aerospace investment and non-VC investors with long time horizons,” says Verdego co-founder Eric Bartsch. “While urban air mobility is a huge financial opportunity, it doesn’t fit the classic mold for startup investment, which has traditionally been focused on less capital-intensive markets.”
Jeff Schumacher, CEO of BCG Digital Ventures, an innovation, incubation, and investment arm of the Boston Consulting Group, thinks investors can handle long-term plays. “We will see the startups that have the most viable designs in the market first,” he says. “Those that have designs that include a pilot first will get up in the air faster than the ones that don’t. We will also see the two-seater options enter the market sooner than the four-seater, as they weigh significantly less.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
I Tried Facebook’s New Oculus Quest VR Headset. Here’s What It Was Like By Jonathan Vanian
MirMir Is Star-Studded Photo Software for the Social Set By Sheila Marikar
The MBA’s Decline Is Now Even Affecting Elite Business Schools By Grace Dobush
Looks Like an Unannounced New Chromecast Accidentally Got Stocked at Best Buy By Lisa Marie Segarra
How Wineries and Distilleries Are Addressing Climate Change By Rachel King
BEFORE YOU GO
There’s free coffee for Brown University students at the new Shiru Cafe in Providence, R.I. Only one catch at this outlet of the Japanese chain: students must disclose personal information including names, phone numbers, email addresses, and birthdates to get the free cup of jo. “Through a free drink we try to give students some information [about] which sponsor company would like to inform exclusively for university students to diverse the choices of their future career,” Shiru explains on its web site. Hmm.