When It’s Smart to Fail—Data Sheet

October 17, 2019, 12:56 PM UTC

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There’s a fine line between failure and prudence, and Fortune’s Jeremy Kahn illustrates the divide well in his new feature about British inventor James Dyson’s decision to kill his long-sought electric car.

This is a really important story for entrepreneurs, especially in Silicon Valley, to read. At 72, Dyson is something of a living legend for a reason. His home appliances broke the mold in a tired category. (Bagless vacuum cleaners? Bladeless fans? Who does that?) As a business leader, he has done it all: great design, effective marketing, ample profits. Moreover, he has kept total control of his company, making him the U.K.’s richest person—and largest landowner.

So when James Dyson, acting on a longstanding dislike of smoke-belching engines, decided he could make an electric car, many were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt despite the audacity and massive costs involved. He had ideas around a more efficient design and better batteries. And he claims he made his car. The problem is that he didn’t feel he could compete with a global auto industry that was underpricing its vehicles. As a real owner of a real company that made real products, you see, Dyson felt the need to make a profit, or at least be able to show when he’d make one.

It’s a radical idea in many parts of Silicon Valley.

So don’t cry for James Dyson. He committed to spending $2.5 billion on his car and, although he won’t say how much he spent, his company does plan to incorporate the ideas it dreamt up into other products. Dyson demonstrates that to fail prudently is far nobler than never having risked in the first place and smarter than throwing financial caution to the wind.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


Gladiators don’t run, they fight. It was a bit of a slow summer at Netflix as it prepares to battle Apple, Disney, and other new rivals. The streaming giant reported adding 6.8 million subscribers in the third quarter, less than the 7 million Wall Street anticipated. But Netflix shares, up just 7% this year, jumped 8% in pre-market trading on Thursday on relief the miss wasn't worse. At IBM, the news was somewhat worse. Sales declined for the fifth consecutive quarter, despite the acquisition of Red Hat. Its stock, which had gained 25% this year, lost 5% in premarket trading.

You can dance with me or you can get off my dance floor. Hollywood gladiator Shonda Rhimes struck a three-year deal with radio giant iHeartMedia to produce podcasts via Shondaland Audio. The show runner of TV hits like Scandal, who has a $150 million video deal with Netflix, didn't disclose the value of the podcast tie-up.

It hurts until it doesn’t. Almost six months after saying it would approve the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, the Federal Communications Commission officially made it so. The vote split on partisan lines, with the commission's three Republicans voting in favor and two Democrats dissenting. The deal is still being held up by a lawsuit from multiple state attorneys general.

We can hide in the shadows, or we can stand in the light. There was some back and forth about tech at Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate. Andrew Yang and Beto O’Rourke attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan to break up the biggest tech companies. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said the answer was beefing up antitrust enforcement.

In here, I’ll be spiteful and petty. A week after robotic vacuum maker SharkNinja sued rival iRobot, iRobot countered with a lawsuit of its own. At issue is whether SharkNinja's new Shark IQ Robot cleaner copied patented technologies from iRobot's Roomba line up.

I don’t want normal and easy and simple. A British couple made an unhappy discovery about the security of the Samsung Galaxy S10's fingerprint reader. Adding a cheap screen protector made it possible to unlock the phone with absolutely anyone's fingerprint. Whoopsie. Samsung says it's working on a fix.

(Headline reference explainer in honor of Olivia Pope and all her fictional colleagues at OPA.)


In a real-life experiment trying to reduce smartphone usage, San Francisco startup CEO Mathilde Collin challenged her then-130 employees: delete all non-essential apps from their phones, including everything from Twitter to news apps to even work apps, for one month and the boss would buy them dinner at trendy Victory Hall. As part of our new Fortune ranking of the 150 Best Small and Medium-Sized Companies to Work For, senior editor Christopher Tkaczyk profiled Collin and her email app company Front, which topped the small category. Guess how many employees made it for the full month.

“I want to be present. I also think that it makes me a happier human being and a better leader,” Collin said. “We all shared what was the biggest takeaway from the experiment, and the No. 1 thing that was shared by everyone was that it's super scary at first. But it's not as scary once you've done it.”

Surprisingly, many of Collin’s loyal team took the challenge, but by the end of the first month, only 10 of them had succeeded in keeping a minimalist tech existence. She celebrated their efforts by taking them to dinner at Victory Hall in San Francisco.


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How good are you at drawing circles? This web site lets you have at it, with mouse or digital pen (or your finger on a touch screen–sorry Mac users), and then grades how well you did. With a mouse, I'm terrible. With a finger, not bad. Give it a go.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter:@ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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