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A woolly story about how Allbirds makes its shoes

September 22, 2020, 1:25 PM UTC

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Tempting though it is to comment yet again on the glorious dealmaker-in-chief’s splendid, classy, and genius (in a stable sort of way) handling of the forced maybe/sorta/kinda sale of TikTok, I bring you instead today a story about sheep.

Merino sheep, to be precise, and the wool that is shorn from them in New Zealand that ends up in the comfy sneaker-slippers made by Allbirds. Fortune’s Sheila Marikar went to the end of Earth, back when Americans could do such things, to report on the keen interest the San Francisco company takes in the lives of these sheep.

Without giving away too much of the story, the way the farmers tend to this particular patch of land in New Zealand makes for a net positive in terms of climate-harming emissions. This is important to Allbirds because, as Marikar writes, “Kindness to the planet is one of Allbirds’ biggest selling points.” The company over-indexes on natural materials to make its shoes and then takes care to ensure its customers know about its environmental goodness.

Marikar’s is a good yarn about a company that is doing well by trying to do good. Allbirds is aiming now for the performance running shoe market, where natural fibers aren’t the norm.

Incidentally, an earlier feature in Fortune by the same author featured an unlaunched video service called Quibi. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Quibi is considering selling itself. Maybe Quibi’s founder, Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, could see if Donald Trump has some time to make a few calls.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


More power to you. Adam's going to start making jokes about KBerg and the Whit? That's okay because it's Tesla battery day. What will ringmaster Elon Musk have up his sleeve? Lions and tigers and million mile batteries? All will be revealed, online naturally, starting at 4:30 p.m. ET. Ahead of time, Musk is actually downplaying expectations. "What we announce will not reach serious high-volume production until 2022," he tweeted on Monday. Tesla's stock, up 437% previously this year, is down 5% in pre-market trading.

A coin in the hand. A top federal banking regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, ruled on Monday that financial institutions can invest their reserves in so-called stablecoins, digital currencies backed on a one-to-one basis by real-world money. That could include the cryptocurrency from Facebook's Libra project. Meanwhile in another part of the city, the Justice Department is inching ever closer to filing an antitrust lawsuit against Google, possibly as soon as next week, the Washington Post reports.

A ding in the universe. One of corporate America's greatest skeptics of working from home, Apple, is easing up after seeing how its employees handled the pandemic so far. Apple will not “return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually,” CEO Tim Cook said on Monday at The Atlantic Festival. Only 10% to 15% of Apple workers are back in the office now. Asked how long he'd stay running Apple, Cook answered: "We'll see."

Gummy bear Adele. Brit Nathan Francis Wyatt didn't actually do any hacking but he is the only member to be identified and arrested from the hacking group called The Dark Overlord that ran ransomware schemes in 2016. Finally extradited to the U.S., Wyatt was sentenced to five years in prison and must pay $1.5 million in restitution for helping orchestrate the scheme via accounts he set up on Twitter and PayPal.

Restoring balance to the force. After its bonkers IPO, shares of future database giant Snowflake have come back to Earth a bit. From the first day high of $319 last week, Snowflake stock closed at just under $229 on Monday, leaving the company with a market cap of around $60 billion. Shares of leading streaming platform maker Roku went the other way, gaining 18% on Monday thanks to its weekend deal to carry Comcast's NBCUniversal's Peacock service. Roku shares are now up 41% this year.


One reason for Snowflake's bonkers IPO is that companies are struggling with more data than ever before and it's not easy to glean insights. Fortune's own Jonathan Vanian has a deep dive into the world of neural networks and machine learning.

The problem is that researchers are just now beginning to teach neural networks how to consume structured data like the spreadsheets Genentech is building. “The majority of our data is structured data, whether it’s from clinical trials or electronic health records,” says Ryan Copping, global head of analytics for personalized health care data science at Genentech. If computer networks can analyze and make their own realizations about similarities among patient profiles, he says, “then you could start looking at outcomes and thinking about which patients we can target with which therapies. That’s the unmet need.”


Jim Meyer, SiriusXM’s CEO since 2012, is retiring at year end. President of sales, marketing, and operations Jennifer Witz takes over. And AMC Networks CFO Sean Sullivan comes on board as the new CFO, too. Prior CFO David Frear departed "effective immediately"...DISH hired Stephen Stokols, founder and CEO of FreedomPop, to run its newly acquired Boost Mobile unit...Former Spotify VP of growth and marketing Mayur Gupta joined Gannett as chief marketing and strategy officer...Slack hired Nadia Rawlinson, the former chief human resources officer for Live Nation Entertainment, as its new chief people officer...Chip startup SiFive named former Qualcomm SVP Patrick Little as its new CEO. Prior CEO Naveed Sherwani remains as chairman of the board...Amazon VP of product selection and catalog systems Sukumar Rathnam is the new chief technology officer at Uber. Former CTO Thuan Pham left in May.


Why GM may escape from Nikola’s wreckage unharmed By David Z. Morris

Want to know how to WFH better? There’s a class for that By Michal Lev-Ram

What Microsoft gets by buying game publisher Bethesda Softworks in a $7.5 billion deal By Jonathan Vanian

Cord cutting is breaking records during the pandemic By Aaron Pressman

Check out Airbus’s concepts for the world’s first ‘zero-emission commercial aircraft’ By David Meyer

Why online voting will have to wait By Jeff John Roberts

Already down 13%, Big Tech stocks have plenty more room to fall, analysts say By Bernhard Warner

What the best companies for blue- and white-collar work have in common By Brooke Henderson

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


You must watch the new Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher. It will blow your mind. And make you cry. That is all.

Aaron Pressman