Can a Mattress Startup Be a Tech Company, Too?—Data Sheet
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I’ve been working on my sleep lately. I am happy to report that I’m not taking pharmaceuticals—or even melatonin. I’m not reading any sleep literature or consulting with sleep experts, including Ariana Huffington. Instead my self-treatment is to avoid screens at night, get in bed earlier, and to monitor my progress in the FitBit app. (Now you know why I haven’t responded yet to your email from last night.)
I bring this up after having read the wonderful feature on Casper, the mattress maker, by Fortune contributor Sheila Marikar in The New York Times this weekend. It’s easy to see how this article will be the high-water mark for Casper, a money-losing if innovative marketer of bedding products whose valuation likely has peaked.
Casper fits squarely into the debate that’s raging about what constitutes a technology company. As Marikar relates, the startup wants to be known as the “Nike for sleep.” And this resonates, because after years of distributing through other retailers as well as its own marquee shops, Nike has surged as a “direct-to-consumer” merchant. This is a fancy expression for selling over the Internet, which Amazon pioneered for everything. Casper carved out a niche in online sales of mattresses but well after the retailing world figured out it didn’t have to accept being Amazoned.
Casper remains a mite in mattresses. That’s why, presumably with a straight face, company executives believe they can diversify by hiring sleep consultants, offering ancillary bedding products, and by saying, as CEO Phillip Krim tells Marikar, that they will succeed “as more and more people realize that Casper is not just a mattress destination but, really, a destination for all things sleep.” Casper’s new mission statement is: “Awakening the potential of a well-rested world.” Marikar hilariously calls this “as lofty and vaporous as a cumulous cloud.”
What’s going on here is that Casper literally has no edge. Its competitors, which make money, have adopted the direct-to-consumer format where consumers want it. Venture capitalists and other pampered types may need sleep consultants. The rest of us need a firm mattress and some common sense.
One last related thought about the moment we’re in. Rob Walker, a former Fortune journalist himself, contributed this helpful essay to The New York Times suggesting that there is no tech backlash. (Rob, about those tech journalists who organize “conferences that trot out tech lords for the rest of us to worship”: ouch!) Walker’s point is valid that there’s little evidence of consumers rejecting the tech behemoths. That doesn’t make the coming battle with global regulators and legislators any less real.
On Twitter: @adamlashinsky
Battle of the network stars. Bringing back the ghosts of directors quitting past, Disney CEO Bob Iger resigned from Apple's board on Friday, as the two companies head deeper into the streaming video wars. It was just 10 years ago that Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple's board as the companies sailed into the mobile wars (and Steve Jobs went ballistic on Android). Also on Friday, Apple rebutted a piece from Goldman Sachs analyst Rod Hall, who said free trials of the company's Apple+ service would have a negative impact on earnings. Or not: “We do not expect the introduction of Apple TV+, including the accounting treatment for the service, to have a material impact on our financial results,” Apple said. And coming up this week, the EU General Court in Luxembourg will hear arguments over whether Apple really has to pay that $14 billion tax levy (the one Tim Cook called “total political crap") imposed by EU regulators in 2016.
Miami vice. Too-good-to-be-true cinema subscription service MoviePass finally closed down on Saturday. But the money-losing offering could be back in some other guise. Owner Helios and Matheson Analytics said it was exploring strategic alternatives, such as selling rights to the MoviePass brand to others.
Who's the boss. In case there was too much goodwill floating around for Amazon, the company decided to trim it back, disclosing on Friday plans to cut healthcare benefits for Whole Foods employees who work less than 20 hours per week. Just last month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos signed the Business Roundtable's pledge to invest in employees by providing fair wages and important benefits.
The A-Team. Some of the good folk supporting Facebook's Libra digital currency project will meet with officials from 26 central banks, including the Federal Reserve, in Basel, Switzerland, on Monday, the Financial Times reports. The meeting will be chaired by European Central Bank board member Benoît Coeuré, a noted Libra critic.
Moonlighting. Chinese Internet giant Tencent is teaming with private equity firm Hammer Capital to buy car listing website Bitauto Holdings for $1.2 billion.
Cheers. On Wall Street, the IPO market is going gangbusters. Online mouthgear seller SmileDirectClub went public Thursday at $23, plunged below $17, and then rebounded to $18.68 on Friday. Cloudflare, priced at $15 on Thursday night, jumped 20% to $18 on Friday.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
As we get deeper into the streaming wars, it's interesting to recall that the current king, Netflix, began as a crazy idea dreamed up by a couple of guys stuck in traffic on their daily commute. Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings were sick of paying late fees for video tapes rented from Blockbuster. Sam Levin at The Guardian chatted with Randolph, who has a new book about his time at Netflix called That Will Never Work. The co-founder and his buddies had a few run-ins with Blockbuster along the way:
He and his colleagues sat down with Blockbuster in Dallas and proposed the video chain accelerate its entry into DVDs, by purchasing Netflix–for $50m. “In one fell swoop, we might get out of this,” he recalls. After they stated the dollar amount, Randolph noticed something strange happening with the Blockbuster CEO John Antioco’s face. He was struggling not to burst into laughter.
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BEFORE YOU GO
Some of the coolest architectural innovations come not on giant projects but on small structures. In Fast Company's annual "Innovation by Design Awards in the Spaces, Places, and Cities category," a bit of a mouthful, there are amazing winners of all sizes. Of course, I was captivated by the new Calgary library, but also by a tiny, new park in Queens and, most surprising of all, the new flagship McDonald's outpost in downtown Chicago. Check them out.