This year’s Brainstorm Tech conference is, obviously, being held virtually. While that removes some of the fun elements (wait til next year, bike ride to Maroon Bells), it puts the focus on the content.
The speaker lineup on Tuesday included New York Stock Exchange president Stacey Cunningham, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust Makan Delrahim. I kept my head in the clouds, interviewing IBM CEO Arvind Krishna and Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian. As is often the case at Brainstorm Tech, a few themes started to emerge:
- The IPO wave shows no signs of cresting. “2021 has a pretty high bar to beat, but it’s looking busy so far,” NYSE president Cunningham said. There may be too much money floating around in special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, though. “It’s a heartbreak looking for a place to happen,” warned Lise Buyer, the founder of Glass V Group, a consultancy that provides advice about public listing.
- Cloud computing is getting to the hard part. For a few years, companies that had no need of running their own data centers were the prime customers of cloud providers. But a lot of the remaining corporate computing workloads are running on private networks due to regulations governing data in finance, healthcare, and other industries. So the catchphrase of the day is “hybrid cloud,” both Krishna and Kurian agreed. Krishna also discussed IBM’s push to develop quantum computers, while Kurian explained a new pandemic management tool, the on-site offsite.
- We also heard from some newsmakers trying hard not to make too much news. Are ads finally coming to Facebook’s third platform, WhatsApp? “At some point we’ll be excited to have that in WhatsApp,” Will Cathcart told Robert Hackett. Assistant attorney general Delrahim generally defended suing big tech companies but didn’t get too specific. He did mention that upgrading his phone this week sent him to customer service hell for hours trying to get it activated. He felt “practically paralyzed” and even more cognizant of how much we depend on those companies to run our lives now.
Day two brings more big players on stage, including Jennfier Tejada, PagerDuty’s CEO, Apple SVP Deirdre O’Brien, and Hans Tung, managing partner at GGV Capital.
I think it's gonna be a long long time. It's official. Salesforce is buying Slack for $27.7 billion. It is Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff largest acquisition ever and should give him even more fuel to fight Microsoft in coming years. Whether the combo can beat Teams and Zoom and other wannabe workplace messaging platforms competing to be the virtual workplace of the future, we shall see.
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone. In other "it's official" news, Fortune named Elon Musk as its businessperson of the year. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has led two of the most successful businesses of the year, while also stepping into more than his share of controversies, as my colleagues Michal Lev-Ram and Andrew Nusca report. Winning on another front, Musk and Tesla are settling a case with a former employee who leaked info about delays at the company's Gigafactory. Martin Tripp will admit to violating trade secret laws and pay $400,000.
Not the man they think I am at home. Lame duck president Donald Trump is not going quietly, as you may have noticed. Last night, he tweeted that he would veto the almost $1 trillion defense authorization bill unless Congress repealed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (the bit that protects online platforms from liability for their users' posts).
All this science I don't understand. While we were busy holding Brainstorm Tech, some small cloud company held its own conference. Amazon made a bevy of announcements, such as adding Apple's Mac mini servers in its cloud and offering its own custom chip for machine learning. Monitron and Panorama are a slightly scary-sounding sensor for monitoring factory machines and a computer vision service to track workers, respectively. What could go wrong with that? Amazon is also getting deeper in quantum computing. New York Times chip ace Don Clark explores the implications of Amazon and Apple increasingly moving away from Intel's processors.
It's just my job five days a week. After running into a wall of regulatory resistance, the digital currency effort started by Facebook is doing what every good brand strategist might recommend: re-branding. The Libra Association is changing its name to the Diem Association, as in the Latin phrase "carpe diem."
Touch down brings me round again. Sure, a few whiny VCs may have announced their intentions to abandon Silicon Valley and move to other states, but now one of the OG SV players is pulling up stakes. Hewlett Packard Enterprise, one half of the original HP, says it's moving its headquarters to Houston.
(Headline reference explainer video in honor of Mr. Musk and for those not familiar with one of Elton John's best.)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
More people than ever are listening to podcasts, and now Amazon is getting into the market. Omdia analyst Georgina Howes assesses the entry.
Amazon is the latest major player to add podcasts to its Amazon Music service with original and third-party podcast content. Amazon is looking for a slice of an advertising market set to be worth nearly $3.5 billion globally by 2025...The number of monthly podcast listeners has also accelerated worldwide, with growth in 2020 higher than previously forecast.
Amazon’s cross-sector presence will help drive this rollout, as it can offer a fluid listening experience to its customers, with people tuning in via its Amazon Music app on the go and then transitioning to listening through Amazon smart speakers when arriving home. Kintan Brahmbhatt, Director of Podcasts for Amazon Music said in a statement that “never before has listening to podcasts on the move, in the car, or at home, been so simple.” Amazon could be placed to control the entire podcast listener experience for users of its ecosystem, as consumers stream original content produced by Amazon through the Amazon Music platform via Amazon smart speakers.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Cruise CEO: Self-driving car market is ‘literally trillions of dollars’ By Robert Hackett
One side effect of the crisis? Employees of color risk losing their networks, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet warns By Emma Hinchliffe
To address health disparities, we need better data By Erika Fry
All Raise lands $11 million to fuel its fight for equality in tech By Emma Hinchliffe and Kristen Bellstrom
Crystal Ball 2021: Predictions for the economy, politics, technology, and more By Fortune Staff
Shares of China smartphone maker Xiaomi were up 143% this year. They plunged on Wednesday By Eamon Barrett
Big Chocolate’s trip to the Supreme Court could have big implications for corporations By Vivienne Walt
(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)
BEFORE YOU GO
As we near the end of the year, expect to see a proliferation of lists. Writer/designer Tom Whitwell published his collection of 52 things he learned in 2020 and it's chockfull of fascinating factoids (hat tip to Jason Kottke). About 10% of the economy of the Polynesian island of Tuvalu comes from fees for the .tv domain, he notes. Warsaw is using sensor-laden clams to protect its water supply. And so on. It's midweek—stay curious.