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Panono makes decision to hold its camera customers hostage behind a paywall • DIY Photography
John Aldred:
<p>Panono launched on Indiegogo way back in 2013. It’s a “Panoramic Ball Camera” offering 360° views with a whopping 108 megapixels. Even today, that’s mighty impressive. You need to utilise their cloud service for processing the images, which was included in the purchase price of the camera. Now, they’ve decided to start charging for it.

The campaign raised over $1.25m with a goal of $900,000, and even had the support of former Leica CEO, Ralf Coenen…

Bringing things to the current day, an email was sent out to Panono users stating that the previously free service was, from September 1st, 2019, going to cost €0.79 per image to process and stitch using their cloud platform…

With less than a month’s notice, the service on which this camera relies is going behind a paywall. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, except for the fact that you can only stitch images from this camera on their cloud-based system. There is no offline software to do it yourself under your own processing power, and the files created by the Panono camera are not compatible with other stitching software on the market.

Many other users on Twitter say that they have attempted to reach out to Panono on the platform as well as via email. Panono has not posted to their own Twitter account since last November.

One might argue that these people have gotten a good few years of use out of their cameras and it’s time to upgrade, however, today, even the mighty Insta360 Titan sits at only 55-megapixels at maximum resolution, which is half that of the Panono. And the Titan costs $15K. While the Titan is an excellent camera, it’s a very different kind of camera. So, there isn’t really anything else on the market today to upgrade to.</p>

Looks like some people have a 108-megapixel doorstop.
panomo  business  cloud 
18 days ago by charlesarthur
After outcry, DoorDash promises workers will get 100% of tips • Ars Technica
Timothy Lee:
<p>A recent New York Times story explained how the DoorDash's current system works:
<p>For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85. If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.</p>

Now Xu says DoorDash is going to revamp its pay system to ensure that every dollar of tip goes to drivers. "We’ll have specific details in the coming days," he tweeted.

There's no guarantee that the new formula will be better for workers. After Instacart changed its formula earlier this year, some shoppers complained that their average compensation per job fell as a result. Ultimately, the specific compensation formula probably matters less than how much DoorDash chooses to pay its workers, on average.

DoorDash isn't the only company to face a backlash over this issue. Instacart was featured alongside DoorDash in a February piece by NBC's Olivia Solon. Instacart changed its policy days later, while it took months of additional criticism from The New York Times and others before DoorDash changed its approach.</p>

The idea that these companies and particularly their bosses are Really Nice People is a myth. They're rapacious and they'll screw anyone, including their own workers, in the pursuit of getting rich. And they won't listen to anyone, or their ideas about fairness or equality. They're utterly amoral.
doordash  business  morality 
4 weeks ago by charlesarthur
The video game industry can't go on like this • Kotaku
Joshua Rivera:
<p>Ubisoft is an exception, regularly releasing entries in single-player game franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. But it buttresses them with aggressive microtransactions and extensive season pass plans. (And the occasional diversion like Trials Rising and South Park: The Fractured But Whole.) The big-budget single-player experience is now almost entirely the domain of first-party studios making marquee games for console manufacturers, which bankroll games like Spider-Man and God of War. The economics of first-party exclusives are totally different—they’re less about making money by themselves and more about drawing players into the console’s ecosystem.

This is worth considering, because as big publishers prioritize live, service-oriented games, the number of games on their schedules has dropped. If you look at the Wikipedia listings for EA, Ubisoft, and Activision games released by year, you’ll get a stark—if unscientific—picture of how each big publisher’s release slate has thinned out in the last five years, relying on recurring cash cows like sports games and annualized franchises and little else. In 2008, those three publishers released 98 games; in 2018 they released just 28, not including expansions.

In short, the single-player game was not sustainable. So why should we think the current model is?</p>

Also: <a href="">how super-expensive it is to make a big video game</a>. The top end is getting eaten from below by simpler games which do all that people want; a classic "disruptive innovation" change, where the cheap games don't have all the bells and whistles, but people don't want bells and whistles.
business  publishing  videogames 
4 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Superhuman’s superficial privacy fixes do not prevent it from spying on you • Mike Industries
Mike Davidson:
<p>[Rahul Vohra's response to last week's criticisms] also establishes that Superhuman is keeping the feature working almost exactly as-is, with the exception of not collecting or displaying actual locations. I’ve spoken with several people about how they interpreted Rahul’s post on this particular detail. Some believed the whole log of timestamped read events was going away and were happy about that. Others read it the way Walt, Josh, and I did: you can still see exactly when and how many times someone has opened your email, complete with multiple timestamps — you just can’t see the location anymore. That, to me, is not sufficient. “A little less creepy” is still creepy.

Also worth noting, “turning receipts off by default” does nothing to educate customers about the undisclosed surveillance they are enabling if they flip that switch. If they’ve used read receipts at all in the past, they will probably assume it works just like Outlook. At the very least, Superhuman should display a message when you flip that switch saying something like “by turning on Read Receipts, you are monitoring your recipients’ actions without their knowledge or permission. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Rahul’s fifth and final fix [building an option to disable remote image loading <em>in Superhuman users' emails</em>] is also good in that they now realize pixel spying is a threat that they need to protect their own users from. This introduces a moral paradox, however: if the technology you are using on others is something you need to protect your own users from, then why are you using it on others in the first place? These are all questions I’ve asked Rahul publicly in this series of tweets, which I’m still waiting for a response on, four days later:</p>
security  business  superhuman  email  pixel 
6 weeks ago by charlesarthur
The coming Boeing bailout? • Matt Stoller
Matt Stoller writes about monopolies and industrial concentration:
<p>Bad procurement is one reason (aside from military officials going into defense contracting work) why military products are often poor quality or deficient. For instance, the incredibly expensive joint strike fighter F-35 is a mess, and the Navy’s most expensive aircraft carrier, costing $13bn, was recently delivered without critical elevators to lift bombs into fighter jets. Much of this dynamic exists because of a lack of competition in contracting for major systems, a result of the consolidation [DoD official Bill] Perry pushed [on military contractors] in the early 1990s. Monopolies don’t have to produce good quality products, and often don’t.

At any rate, when McDonnell Douglas took over Boeing, the military procurement guys took over aerospace production and design. The company began a radical outsourcing campaign, done for political purposes. In defense production, plants went to influence Senators and Congressmen; in civilian production, Boeing started moving production to different countries in return for airline purchases from the national airlines.

Engineers immediately recognized this offshoring as a disaster in the making. In 2001, a Boeing employee named L. Hart Smith published a paper criticizing the business strategy behind offshoring production, noting that vital engineering tasks were being done in ways that seemed less costly but would end up destroying the company. He was quickly proved right.</p>

A good view on what's been going on at Boeing to make the 737 Max calamity inevitable.
boeing  business  software 
7 weeks ago by charlesarthur
A unicorn lost in the Valley, Evernote blows up the ‘fail fast’ gospel • The New York Times
Erin Griffith:
<p>In Silicon Valley, the idea that most start-ups won’t make it to a splashy public offering or acquisition is not just understood, but embraced. “Fail fast, fail often” is one of the region’s earliest and best-recognized catchphrases. The implication is that people and companies that don’t find success can transition, efficiently and without stigma, to more promising ventures. But Evernote’s struggles illustrate a harsher truth: For many start-ups of a certain size, failure rarely happens abruptly.

More often, after early momentum wanes, the missteps and bad press accumulate until a company enters a slow, difficult rehabilitation that stretches on for years. But in and around San Francisco, no one likes to talk about getting stuck in start-up purgatory. Once venture capital investors have sunk in considerable sums, they’re willing to let struggling companies flounder for years on the off chance they hit on something big. “They’re not in it for a break-even or a slight loss or a slight gain,” said Jeffrey Cohen, a bankruptcy lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler. “They’re willing to let it ride a little longer to see whether it explodes.”

It’s a common trap for the most recent generation of start-ups, which has been marked by the proliferation of “unicorns” worth $1bn or more. For fledgling companies, taking enough investor money to become one of these magical ungulates was supposed to show customers, employees and the world that they were sure bets — that they were too special and big and valuable to fail. But many companies that chased three-comma valuations are now stuck trying to live up to almost impossible expectations.</p>

Marvellous depiction of the slow slide into obscurity. Everything dies, even startups.
evernote  business 
7 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Inside Apple's long goodbye to design chief Jony Ive • Bloomberg
Mark Gurman:
<p>He was in charge of a roughly two-dozen person design team that included artists whose passions extended to the development of surfboards, cars, and even DJing on weekends. Many of their spouses worked as designers, too…

…some people familiar with Apple are already worried about the new design leadership. Now that Ive is officially leaving, longtime studio manager Evans Hankey will run the hardware design group, Apple said. Hankey is a great team leader, but Apple now lacks a true design brain on its executive team, which is a concern, a person familiar with the design team said.

Hankey and Dye will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. While Williams is a talented executive, some people familiar with matter believe the shift is another sign of Apple becoming more of an operations company. Apple declined to comment.

“The design team is made up of the most creative people, but now there is an operations barrier that wasn’t there before,” one former Apple executive said. “People are scared to be innovative.”

…The design team is taking on this challenge without veteran members. Christopher Stringer and Daniele De Iuliis, a pair of key Ive lieutenants, kicked off the departures a few years ago, with Daniel Coster leaving to lead design at GoPro in 2016. The team lost three members in the past six months: Julian Hoenig, Rico Zorkendorfer and Miklu Silvanto.

While each Apple designer specializes in specific product lines, they all contribute to each other’s products and plans. That means losing an individual designer is still a big deal, a former Apple executive said. “The design studio has no secrets,” this person said. “They all know what each other is working on.”</p>

It's definitely worth re-reading <a href="">the New Yorker article from 2015</a> about Ive in the light of this announcement. It makes it feel a lot different. I didn't think that Steve Jobs leaving Apple was the catastrophe some did. But Apple without Jobs and Ive isn't the same beast.
design  business  apple 
8 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Why China is winning the electric bus race • CityLab
Linda Poon:
<p>The biggest takeaway [from the <a href="">World Enterprise Institute report</a>] is the cities that want to hop aboard the e-bus revolution need to completely rewire their thinking about electricity and vehicles. “Understanding that electric vehicles are about more than just vehicles is one of the hardest barriers for people to cross over, in both the energy and transportation sectors,” says Camron Gorguinpour, one of the lead authors of the twin reports. “It’s hard on people who have gone through their whole careers thinking that vehicles and electrical systems are [separate] to now internalize that these things are one in the same.”

That means when cities consider adopting electric buses, they need to understand the power grid upgrades and charging infrastructure required, and challenges associated with that. Failure to do so is the most common mistake, according to Gorguinpour. Many cities just set up their charging stations thinking that things would “work themselves out.”

That’s why he says one of the most overlooked stories from Shenzhen’s experience is the city’s long process in setting up the charging infrastructure to support more than 16,000 electric buses. Each bus has a range of about 124 miles on a single charge of 252 kilowatt hours (KWh). In total, the fleet can eat more than 4,000 megawatt-hours (MWh). For comparison’s sake, 1 MWh is enough to power about 300 homes for an hour. “That’s an insane amount of power required, not to mention real estate,” he says.</p>

99% of the world's 425,000 electric buses are in China.
china  electric  business 
8 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Millions of business listings on Google Maps are fake—and Google profits • WSJ
Rob Copeland and Katherine Bindley:
<p>Once considered a sleepy, low-margin business by the company and known mostly for giving travel directions, Google Maps in recent months has packed more ads onto its search queries. It is central to Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s hope to recharge a cresting digital-advertising operation.

Often, Google Maps yields mirages, visible in local business searches of U.S. cities, including Mountain View, Calif., Google’s hometown. Of a dozen addresses for personal-injury attorneys on Google Maps during a recent search, only one office was real. A Viennese patisserie was among the businesses at addresses purported to house lawyers. The fakes vanished after inquiries to Google from The Wall Street Journal.

The false listings benefit businesses seeking more customer calls by sprinkling made-up branches in various corners of a city. In other cases, as Ms. Carter discovered, calls to listed phone numbers connect to unscrupulous competitors, a misdirection forbidden by Google rules but sporadically policed by the company.

Hundreds of thousands of false listings sprout on Google Maps each month, according to experts. Google says it catches many others before they appear.

The Justice Department is laying the groundwork for a broad antitrust probe of Google, which will include a look at the company’s dominant advertising platform, the Journal has reported. </p>

How do you solve a problem like the internet?
google  map  business  internet  socialwarming 
9 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Uber’s path of destruction • American Affairs Journal
Hubert Horan:
<p>Most public criticisms of Uber have focused on narrow behavioral and cultural issues, including deceptive advertising and pricing, algorithmic manipulation, driver exploitation, deep-seated misogyny among executives, and disregard of laws and business norms. Such criticisms are valid, but these problems are not fixable aberrations. They were the inevitable result of pursuing “growth at all costs” without having any ability to fund that growth out of positive cash flow. And while Uber has taken steps to reduce negative publicity, it has not done—and cannot do—anything that could suddenly pro­duce a sustainable, profitable business model.

Uber’s longer-term goal was to eliminate all meaningful competition and then profit from this quasi-monopoly power. While it has already begun using some of this artificial power to suppress driver wages, it has not achieved the Facebook- or Amazon-type “plat­form” power it hoped to exploit. Given that both sustainable profits and true industry dominance seemed unachievable, Uber’s investors de­cided to take the company public, based on the hope that enough gullible investors still believe that the compa­ny’s rapid growth and popularity are the result of powerfully effi­cient inno­vations and do not care about its inability to generate profits.

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14bn in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest­ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).

Uber is the breakthrough case where the public perception of a large new company was entirely created using the types of manufactured narratives typically employed in partisan political campaigns. Narrative construction is perhaps Uber’s greatest competitive strength.</p>

He then rips apart its economics; you'll be happy to take an Uber (well, perhaps; it's putting taxi drivers who make a profit out of business) but certainly avoid the shares.
uber  business  economics 
11 weeks ago by charlesarthur
How Amazon created the Prime membership program • Vox
Jason Del Rey spoke to lots of former Amazon people, and this is the start of it:
<p><strong>Andrea Leigh (former Amazon business leader for Prime in Canada)</strong><br />It’s hard to put ourselves back in that year, but at that time we did not know what form of e-commerce was going to take off. Was it going to be auction sites? Was it going to be subscription services? Or was it going to be sites with free shipping thresholds?

<strong>Vijay Ravindran (former Amazon director of ordering)</strong><br />Back then there wasn’t a blind faith that every Jeff idea was going to be a home run. And so there was a lot of pushback. Very prominent people who are at Amazon today and in high positions told me, “You shouldn’t be allowing Jeff to do this,” and, ”This is setting a bad example for the company.”

The “this” in question was a secret Amazon project that went by the code name Futurama — what would eventually become Amazon Prime. And it started, in part, with a software engineer’s frustration that Amazon’s free-shipping offer — then called Super Saver Shipping — was annoyingly complex, both on the backend and to shoppers, who were required to hit a $25 minimum with each order to qualify for the perk, and then wait eight to 10 business days for their delivery.</p>

Lots more, of course. The idea that nobody knew how it would all shake out is unfamiliar now; but that was the uncertainty then.
amazon  business  prime 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
Anki, Jibo, and Kuri: what we can learn from social robots that didn't make it • IEEE Spectrum
Guy Hoffman heads the Human-Robot Collaboration + Companionship Lab at Cornell University:
<p>I believe that Cozmo, Kuri, and Jibo (disclosure: Jibo was founded by my Ph.D. advisor Cynthia Breazeal) will play a similar role on the path towards successful social home robotics. If that is true, what exactly can we learn from their experience? Here are four lessons I have personally drawn from closely following these first attempts to put the promise of social robotics research into commercial practice:

Lesson 1: Long-term engagement is the holy grail, and the Gordian knot<br />All of the social robotics companies were struggling to sustain a long-term use-case for their products. Critics of the products would often say that this kind of product may be fun to use for a while, but that its tricks get old quickly. This made it especially difficult to succeed, given the upscale price point of some of the devices.

One big part of the longevity problem is the inability of the robots to escape the single turn structure of an interaction. There is only so far you can go with a single round of conversation, even when you stack a thousand single rounds back-to-back. At some point you want to follow-up and back-refer (“Remember when I asked you about Florida yesterday? I think I’m ready to commit.”); you want your conversant to make connections across conversations (“That is so similar to the story you told me about how your boss talks to you!”); and you want to be able to speak over each other while still understanding what’s going on.</p>

The other three are interesting too. Hoffman reckons that the three (failed) social robots leave us at about the point where the Newton left us in 1998 - a while before a really good implementation.
business  robots  robotics  anki 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
Gartner Survey: 90% of blockchain-based supply chain projects are in trouble • Modern Consensus
Leo Jakobson:
<p>Ninety percent of blockchain-based supply chain projects are faltering because they cannot figure out important uses for the technology, research firm Gartner said on May 7.

As a result of this inability to identify strong use cases, “blockchain fatigue” will begin setting in over the next five years, according to “Predicts 2019: Future of Supply Chain Operations,” a survey of the wants and needs of more than 300 executives involved in blockchain projects worldwide. In large part, this is due to blockchain suppliers’ inability to live up to the technology’s hype, said Alex Pradhan, a senior principal research analyst at Gartner.

Despite the great amount of time and effort invested in pilot projects aiming to use distributed ledgers to verify authenticity, improve traceability, and build more trust into supply chain transactions, only 19% of respondents ranked blockchain as a very important technology for their business, the company said in a release. Only 9% have invested in it.</p>

Even 9% sounds like a lot.
blockchain  business 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
From Macintosh to Granny Smith: the rise and fall of Apple • VentureBeat
Christina Wallace and David Kidder:
<p>n the last five years. Microsoft has improved the way it identifies which research to use in which products and how to get even the most distant employees to collaborate. For example, every six months or so, they host a two-to-three day workshop between research and product teams to share their findings and participate in a hackathon.

Now the company is renowned for its AI efforts in vision, speech, language, and real-time calculation, from healthcare solutions to CPG inventory management.

Even an old signature like Office now subtly employs AI in just about every capability in the suite. In Powerpoint, for example, it’s training AI to be an intelligent assistant that can all but finish presentations for you. It’s a far cry from the days of the laughable “Clippy” assistant in Microsoft Word.

Microsoft is able to innovate at a previously unimaginable pace because in large part, they’ve given their terms permission to work together on customer problems. A simple yet surprisingly radical notion in many of the largest companies.

In asking Apple to innovate once more, the directive isn’t to rip up their product roadmap and halt all production of phones. For a large enterprise like Apple, steering the whole company in a new direction is neither feasible nor desirable.

Instead, Apple needs the framework other large companies are discovering to install a permanent, always-on growth capability.</p>

The authors of this piece are from a "growth advisory firm". Perhaps they haven't noticed that in the past five years Microsoft did a reorg so that it would have the same horizontal structure as, ah, Apple. And the piece doesn't mention Apple's AirPods (that would spoil the story of "nothing new"). What's Apple working on? We don't know. That doesn't mean it isn't. People have been calling it over for ages, but I really don't think Microsoft is the one to compare it to.
apple  business  strategy  microsoft 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
Amazon shoppers misled by 'bundled' star-ratings and reviews •| The Guardian
Hilary Osborne:
<p>The research found:

• Badly translated or updated Kindle versions of Emma by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which include references to “moms”, “guys” and “buddies”, but appear to have 4.5-star ratings from hundreds of reviewers.

• A 2017 TV version of Dirty Dancing that shares the 4.5-star reviews of the original film, despite being described by Hollywood Reporter as a “bloated” remake “that nobody asked for and nobody is likely to truly enjoy”.

• Reviews for Wuthering Heights appearing under listings for Jane Eyre, and vice versa.

• Complaints from consumers who said they had been misled when buying books from a variety of authors – from JK Rowling to Shakespeare.

• Star ratings being combined for different products in other departments, from electronics to gardening equipment.

The problems with some reviews seem to go back years, with complaints from readers pointing out they were appearing under the wrong works and editions since at least 2014.</p>
amazon  business  review 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
This is why we can’t have nice things • DIGITS to DOLLARS
Jay Goldberg:
<p>A decade ago, we spoke with a small handset maker in Shenzhen who sold into China’s domestic market and a half dozen random emerging markets (Ukraine, El Salvador, Uruguay, etc.). His business was always cutthroat, shipping largely $25 feature phones and $100 smartphones. Unfortunately, he did not have enough resources to be able to build his own brand. (He tried; over the years we brought him a dozen marketing text books.) At one point, he tried offering his own software service – messaging, contacts, etc. But he knew that the only path to revenue for these was through selling customer data to ad brokers and others. He told us that his customers would not mind because many of them lived in markets where the government already intruded on users’ privacy in many ways. To his credit, he was very uncomfortable with this business model and did not pursue it. He went out of business five years ago.

Some companies have managed to thrive despite this. For instance, Xiaomi makes decent margins on their phones and is overall profitable (and to their credit still breaks out their unit shipments). Xiamoi had the funds to build their own brand, and to branch out into an ecosystem of related products (home networking, fitness bands, etc.). We do not know if Xiaomi sells its users’ data, but they do install a lot of their own software on phones, trying to build an Apple-like software ecosystem lock-in.

Another way to profit in this business is to bundle phone sales with other products. For example, they can sell base stations and networking products with phones thrown in as an adder, as in “would you like fries phones with that?”. That being said, we do not know if Huawei’s handset business is actually profitable. We are not convinced that Huawei itself knows the answer to this question. Our point is just that there are someways to stay in the business.

However, for the majority of the industry, the hard, cold reality is that handset profits are non-existent. And the only way for these companies to remain viable is to sell out their users. </p>

The only exception, he notes, is Apple, which of course collects all the profits.
apple  smartphone  business  surveillance 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
Whitewood under siege • Cabinet Magazine
Jacob Hodes:
<p>Blue pallets are an inch or so taller, often cleaner, and always more uniform than the pallets [made] of whitewood. Crucially, blues do not have any stringer boards along their sides; instead, their height is obtained by way of nine wooden blocks sandwiched between the top and bottom deck boards. This block design allows forklifts and other tools to enter the pallet with equal ease from four directions. (Most stringer pallets, by contrast, offer either “two-way entry” or “partial four-way entry.”) There are approximately 240m blue pallets in the world, circulating in over fifty countries. On the sides of each are the words, “Property of CHEP.”

CHEP, a subsidiary of Brambles Limited, an Australia-based multinational corporation, is the largest pallet business in the world. The company earned $3.5bn in pallet-related revenues during fiscal year 2013, and in many markets has achieved pallet monopoly… CHEP doesn’t sell pallets; it rents them. This means that, in contrast to the world of whitewood, where a pallet may change ownership many times, CHEP maintains control of its pallets throughout their lives.

…By 2002, there were ten million blue pallets floating around the US, unaccounted for, and a report by Credit Suisse warned investors that CHEP usa was experiencing “a loss of control of [its] pallet pool.”

Despite these lost pallets, CHEP continued to grow. In 2010, in a shock to the industry, Costco announced that it would only accept shipments on CHEP-style block pallets: they break less, they have tighter quality controls, and full four-way entry promises tiny but measurable efficiencies when loading and unloading trucks. Panic ensued in the world of whitewood.</p>

You never knew you could be interested in wood pallets.. until this. Now you're going to notice white and blue pallets everywhere you go for the next week.
design  economics  business  pallets 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Peak California • Medium
Byrne Hobart:
<p> When Airbnb was just starting out, the founders spent years being nearly broke. It’s hard to imagine someone living in the Bay Area spending a long time “nearly broke” today; they’d spend too much on rent and have to move back home or get a BigCo job. Y Combinator has implicitly acknowledged this. When the program started in 2005, they’d offer founders a maximum of $20,000 to spend the summer running a startup. Now it’s $120,000. That’s a 14% compounded growth rate in the minimum amount of cash on hand needed to start a company. YC has also grown, but it’s hard to count on one organization to hold back the tide here. As long as higher rents raise the cost of starting a pre-revenue company, fewer people will join them, so more people will join established companies, where they’ll earn market salaries and continue to push up rents.

And one of the things they’ll do there is optimize ad loads, which places another tax on startups. More dangerously, this is an incremental tax on growth rather than a fixed tax on headcount, so it puts pressure on out-year valuations, not just upfront cash flow.

According to Social Capital’s 2018 letter, almost 40% of VC money goes to advertising on the largest search, social, and e-commerce channels. Those channels have adapted to a world where they’re the best place to scale because they have the biggest audience, which means there’s more money for them in optimizing their revenue capture. Thus, ads get better-targeted, ad loads rise over time, more content moves into the walled garden, and it becomes progressively harder not to pay an economically efficient (read: very high) ad price.</p>

Hobart reckons that California (particularly San Francisco) has reached the point where you just can't start up there any more. But haven't people felt that way for years?
economics  business  california 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Accepting bitcoin as a small business, four years in • Seymour Locksmiths
Jeff Seymour, founder of the locksmith chain which has seven outlets in the south-east of England:
<p>As self-confessed Bitcoin enthusiasts here at Seymour Locksmiths we value the importance of decentralised ledger technologies. They have the power to change a lot of things, from financial transactions to unlocking your front door (yep, Bitcoin-powered smart locks are a thing).

In 2014 a large school of thought suggested that the main breakthrough use case for Bitcoin would be peer to peer transactions. That being customers and businesses paying for goods and services directly between one another without having to rely on payment networks such as Visa.

We decided to put this theory to the test. In September 2014 we officially started accepting Bitcoin for all of our locksmithing services, shortly afterwards we also starting accepting Dash. Since that day over four years ago and the time of writing, we have not had one customer ask to pay in Bitcoin, Dash or any other cryptocurrency.

Why does no one want to pay their local locksmith with Bitcoin?

I could list 50 different reasons why but for us it boils down to two main facts. A very small percentage of our customers posses Bitcoin in a hot wallet ready to transfer and secondly, Bitcoin can be slow and expensive for small payments.</p>

Bitcoin-powered smart locks may be a thing, but not a thing that sees use. Rather like bitcoin for small real-world transactions, in fact.
blockchain  bitcoin  transaction  business  locksmith 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
The fundamental problem with Silicon Valley’s favorite growth strategy • Quartz
Tim O'Reilly:
<p>Hoffman recalls his own success with the "blitzscaling" philosophy during the early days of Paypal. Back in 2000, the company was growing 5% per day, letting people settle their charges using credit cards while using the service for free. This left the company to absorb, ruinously, the 3% credit card charge on each transaction. He writes:

“I remember telling my old college friend and Paypal co-founder/CEO Peter Thiel, ‘Peter, if you and I were standing on the roof of our office and throwing stacks of hundred-dollar bills off the edge as fast as our arms could go, we still wouldn’t be losing money as quickly as we are right now.’”

But it worked out. Paypal built an enormous user base quickly, giving the company enough market power to charge businesses to accept Paypal payments. They also persuaded most customers to make those payments via direct bank transfers, which have much lower fees than credit cards. If they’d waited to figure out the business model, someone else might have beat them to the customer that made them a success: eBay, which went on to buy Paypal for $1.5 billion (which everyone thought was a lot of money in those days), launching Thiel and Hoffman on their storied careers as serial entrepreneurs and investors.

Of course, for every company like Paypal that pulled off that feat of hypergrowth without knowing where the money would come from, there is a dotcom graveyard of hundreds or thousands of companies that never figured it out. That’s the “risks potentially disastrous defeat” part of the strategy that Hoffman and Yeh talk about. A strong case can be made that blitzscaling isn’t really a recipe for success but rather survivorship bias masquerading as a strategy.</p>
startup  business  siliconvalley 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
Spotify is spending up to $500m on podcast startups including Gimlet, Anchor • Recode
Peter Kafka:
<p>Not only has Spotify acquired Gimlet Media, a podcast producer and network, for around $230m — a deal Recode told you about last week — but it has also bought Anchor, a startup that makes it easier for people to record and distribute their own podcasts.

The company says it isn’t done — it says it has other podcast acquisitions in mind and that it expects to spend up to $500m on deals this year. Reminder: with these deals, Spotify is now fully in the content creation business, a move it has yet to make with music.

In a <a href="">blog post</a> up this morning, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek says he didn’t plan on getting into podcasting when he founded the company 11 years ago, but he’s in it now. He says Spotify is now the world’s second-biggest podcast platform (behind Apple), and that podcast listening will eventually make up 20% of Spotify’s usage.</p>

Here's why. Spotify struggles to be profitable because when playing licensed music, it has to pay a fixed amount per track. Two hours of music listening costs it twice as much, and the subscriber has only paid once. For ad-funded listening, Spotify can play twice as many ads, but they don't monetise as well as a subscription.

However: if someone listens to one hour, two hours of podcast - there's no payout. The more time people spend listening to podcasts instead of music, the better Spotify's margins get. Ideally, people would spend 100% of their time listening to lovely non-royalty-bearing podcasts. So buying podcast companies is an initially expensive method of aligning yourself with "listening" while improving your profitability, long-term.
spotify  podcast  business 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
Ultraviolet shuts down: cloud locker closes this summer • Variety
Janko Roettgers:
<p>The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the industry consortium that has been tasked with running Ultraviolet, will shut down the service on July 31.

DECE will start to inform its users of the wind-down this Thursday, and is advising users to not delete their Ultraviolet movie libraries. Users should instead make sure that their libraries are connected to the service of at least one retailer, which they can then use to access their movies and TV shows going forward, according to an FAQ document that is slated to be published on Ultraviolet’s website on Thursday morning.

DECE president Wendy Aylsworth told Variety in an exclusive interview this week that the decision to discontinue Ultraviolet was a response to the evolution of the market for online entertainment. “The marketplace for collecting entertainment content was very small when Ultraviolet started,” she said. “It was siloed into walled gardens at the time.”

Since then, services had become more comprehensive, giving fans of movies and TV shows more options to access and collect their titles. Aylsworth acknowledged that there has also been a move toward subscription services, but said ownership of movie and TV show collections would continue to play a significant role for the industry going forward. “It’s very clear to us that it is on very sound footing,” she said.

Ultraviolet launched in 2011 with support from all of the major Hollywood studios except Disney. The service also had buy-in from Lionsgate and other independent studios, and struck partnerships with online retailers, including Walmart’s Vudu service, FandangoNow, and some of the online services run by studios like Sony Pictures.</p>

Inevitable. Never saw why one would go with that when services like iTunes and Netflix were available.
business  movie  ultraviolet 
january 2019 by charlesarthur
Huawei faces catastrophe in the technology cold war • The Guardian
I wrote about the arrest of Huawei's CFO - specifically, why it happened:
<p>The US has long suspected that Huawei has also been involved in breaking sanctions. <a href="">Internal documents seized from ZTE</a> when it was found to be breaking sanctions showed that it knew of another Chinese company, codenamed F7, was doing the same by setting up “cut out” companies to which it would sell equipment. This would then be sold on to the sanctioned country. In one crucial passage, ZTE’s document says that “F7’s proposal to acquire US 3leaf company was opposed by the US government.” In 2010, Huawei sought to acquire 3leaf – but backed away after US government opposition.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk
Asked if it was the company referred to as F7 in the ZTE document, Huawei said: “Huawei complies with all applicable laws and regulations where it operates, including applicable export control and sanction laws and regulations of the UN, US and EU.”

If the US can prove that Huawei broke Obama-era sanctions against Iran, it could precipitate a rush of bans against the company. If, like ZTE, it were banned from receiving American parts, its smartphone business, the world’s second largest behind Samsung, would grind to a halt.</p>

The document is really worth reading. I did <a href="">a Twitter thread</a> about it with some extracts. Circumstantial, but quite a thing.
huawei  china  business 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
How to Game the App Store • David Barnard
He's a third-party app developer:
<p>As I’ve said many times before, the App Store is not a free market. Apple can and does dramatically shape the App Store economy. Similar to how governments shape economies through tax law and other policies, Apple shapes the App Store economy through App Review policies, App Store implementation details, editorial decisions, the App Store search algorithm, and in so many other subtle (and not so subtle) ways. I’d love to see Apple wield that power to shape the App Store in ways that will sustain and encourage meaningful development instead of continuing to allow the deck to be stacked against it.

I know what you’re thinking… these are just the ramblings of a failed app developer who blames Apple for their own shortcomings. Quite the opposite. While not an “App Store millionaire”, for the past 10 years I’ve provided for my (growing) family solely on revenue from my apps. And three of my apps have grossed over $1m. While my net income (I spend a lot on design, share revenue with partners, pay Apple 30% on some of that, pay self employment tax, pay way too much for health insurance, etc) hasn’t made me a millionaire (or anywhere close), I’m still blown away that my apps have been downloaded by millions of people, been featured countless times by Apple, mentioned everywhere from indie blogs to the NY Times, and grossed millions of dollars.

My critique of Apple’s management of the App Store (which began in 2008) has never been about embarassing Apple or denigrating its employees or motives, I want to see this amazing platform Apple created be the best it can possibly be. The App Store is an incredible marketplace that has generated tens of billions in revenue while empowering billions of people around the world to do amazing things with these magical little computers we carry around in our pockets. But I do think the overall success of the App Store has blinded Apple to the need for various course corrections over the years. And as the financial incentive to build and maintain great niche apps dries up, the beautiful and diverse forest of apps that is the App Store will slowly start to look more like the unkempt Play Store.</p>

What follows is a hell of a dissection of the failings of the App Store as it stands. Apple does need to consider what it's doing, and not doing.
apple  fraud  apps  business 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Will Uber survive the next decade? • NY Mag
Yves Smith:
<p>Uber has never presented a case as to why it will ever be profitable, let alone earn an adequate return on capital. Investors are pinning their hopes on a successful IPO, which means finding greater fools in sufficient numbers.

Uber is a taxi company with an app attached. It bears almost no resemblance to internet superstars it claims to emulate. The app is not technically daunting and and does not create a competitive barrier, as witnessed by the fact that many other players have copied it. Apps have been introduced for airlines, pizza delivery, and hundreds of other consumer services but have never generated market-share gains, much less tens of billions in corporate value. They do not create network effects. Unlike Facebook or eBay, having more Uber users does not improve the service.

Nor, after a certain point, does adding more drivers. Uber does regularly claim that its app creates economies of scale for drivers — but for that to be the case, adding more drivers would have to benefit drivers. It doesn’t. More drivers means more competition for available jobs, which means less utilization per driver. There is a trade-off between capacity and utilization in a transportation system, which you do not see in digital networks. The classic use of “network effects” referred to the design of an integrated transport network — an airline hub and spoke network which create utility for passengers (or packages) by having more opportunities to connect to more destinations versus linear point-to-point routes. Uber is obviously not a fixed network with integrated routes — taxi passengers do not connect between different vehicles.</p>

The context: Uber just announced a $1bn loss for the quarter. Never mind, they'll make it up in volume.
uber  finance  business 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Blockchain study finds 0.00% success rate and vendors don't call back when asked for evidence • The Register
Andrew Orlowski:
<p>Though Blockchain has been touted as the answer to everything, a study of 43 solutions advanced in the international development sector has found exactly no evidence of success.

Three practitioners including erstwhile blockchain enthusiast John Burg, a Fellow at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), looked at instances of the distributed crypto ledger being used in a wide range of situations by NGOs, contractors and agencies. But they drew a complete blank.

"We found a proliferation of press releases, white papers, and persuasively written articles," <a href="">Burg et al wrote</a> on Thursday. "However, we found no documentation or evidence of the results blockchain was purported to have achieved in these claims. We also did not find lessons learned or practical insights, as are available for other technologies in development."

Blockchain vendors were keen to puff the merits of the technology, but when the three asked for proof of success in the field, it all went very quiet.</p>
business  blockchain 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Mic has laid off the majority of its staff • Recode
Peter Kafka:
<p>Mic is laying off the majority off its staff, while the digital publisher works on a deal to sell the remainder of its assets to Bustle Digital Group.

Mic CEO Chris Altchek announced the layoffs at a staff meeting this morning. Until today the company had employed more than 100 people. I’ve asked Mic to provide details on the layoffs, including the total number of people who will lose their jobs.

Cory Haik, Mic’s publisher, has already left the company. I’m told that the under the proposed terms of the Bustle deal, Altchek and co-founder Jake Horowitz would stay on after the acquisition.

Mic raised more than $60m to build a millennial-focused news company, but couldn’t find a business model to support its costs, which include a two-floor office in Manhattan’s World Trade Center.

Facebook recently cancelled a deal with Mic to publish a news video series.</p>

Great ways to burn through $60m in seven years: rent two floors of prime real estate in New York, plus others in other cities; and be a web property whose domain name isn't a Googlewhack. (By comparison I offer you "daring fireball" and "asymco", both Googlewhacks in their beginnings.)

Once you've done that, failure is pretty much assured. Sympathies to those laid off, but the warning signs were there long ago. Suggestions are that Bustle (which is skilled at buying distressed media properties) might buy it for less than $10m. At its last funding round, Mic <a href="">raised $21m at a valuation of hundreds of millions</a> - don't ask me how.
Media  redundancy  layoff  mic  business 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Not so big in Japan: Apple cuts price of iPhone XR to boost sales • WSJ
Takashi Mochizuki:
<p>Apple has used marketing dollars before to discount certain iPhone models and drive sales, viewing it as a lever to manage inventory, according to people familiar with its sales and production tactics. During the iPhone 6s cycle, Apple cut production on one model then offered carrier and retailer discounts to help reduce excess inventory, one of these people said.

When extending discounts, Apple has typically chosen to do so on phones made for specific markets because the cost is less than having to reconfigure the device for resale in another market, this person said.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Apple has slowed production plans for all the three models released in recent months, with some drastic chops made on least-expensive XR models.

Though it has been done in the past, officials at Japanese carriers say it is rare for Apple to cut the price in their market on a recently launched handset.

“A price cut within a month of the release is rare not just for Apple but for smartphone makers in general,” said a senior official at a wireless operator, who monitors sales.

Analysts say weaker-than-expected demand for the iPhone XR may mirror what happened with the iPhone 5c in 2013, where sales picked up the following year. Apple’s higher-priced XS and XS Max models, released in September, appeal more to tech’s early adopters who typically fuel initial sales of new iPhones.</p>

Price cuts might be rare in Japan, but they're not rare among smartphone companies - look at Samsung, which has been doing exactly that for years. The fact that Apple has so few smartphone models and clearly set prices makes any cross-subsidisation or change in pricing easier to sniff out.
apple  business  japan  iphonexr 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Killed by Google • The Google Graveyard
One programmer's effort (though it's open source; anyone can contribute to this). There's a <em>lot</em> of things here. (I <a href="">had a go back in 2013</a>. Average lifespan then was about four years.)
google  business  innovation  failure 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Meitu leaves the dancefloor – and the brutal smartphone OEM crunch begins • Medium
I wrote a piece over at Medium:
<p>“They shoot horses, don’t they?” asks the beautiful woman near the end of the film of the same name, as she and her partner consider their hopeless struggle to stay awake in a dance marathon – one of the US Depression’s little entertainments, where you could win a prize, and more importantly get food, if you could only stay on your feet.

The modern form of the dance marathon is the smartphone business. The latest to take one to the head is Meitu. It’s a Chinese smartphone company which previously attracted some attention for its “beauty shot” selfie system (and some more attention for its data-grabbing ways). The reason you probably haven’t heard of it is because it’s pretty small on a global scale: since launching in 2013, it has sold a total of just 3.5m smartphones. That’s about 0.7m per year. Apple sells about that many per day in a slow quarter.

Now, though, Meitu is interesting for a different reason: it’s an early casualty of the coming smartphone crunch. The whole business is in a recession, and small players are going to get squeezed out.</p>

Meitu said that its full-year loss will be about $144m, up from half-year losses of $18.4m. It's all going south. The Android OEM business is murderous.
smartphone  meitu  china  business 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Apple’s tools sneak into business • WSJ CIO Journal
Sara Castellanos:
<p>This year, individual sellers have sold more than $10m worth of sneakers through GOAT’s app and the Flight Club consignment store, up from $2m a year ago. The companies have an inventory of 35,000 unique sneaker styles and hold over 200,000 pairs of sneakers at four warehouses around the country including one at the Flight Club store in the SoHo neighborhood of New York. A rare pair of sneakers such as the DJ Khaled Jordan 3 can sell for as much as $40,000.

The two companies combined have nearly 800 Apple devices deployed throughout their workforce including iPads and MacBooks. Apple’s Device Enrollment Program allows the companies to purchase laptops, iPads and other Apple products with company-specific security preferences and apps already installed.

When the device ships to an employee, it’s already configured with the appropriate business settings as soon as it’s turned on. The program has been a crucial component in the effort to accommodate growth, Mr. Arndt said, because it doesn’t require the device to be configured by an IT person before it gets to an employee, saving days worth of time.

“It’s fully configured without any interaction required, which is an easy transition in on-boarding (employees) and relieves some of that stress of first-day training,” Mr. Arndt said.

Flight Club uses Apple iPads in its brick-and-mortar SoHo store, where employees can look up and purchase inventory for customers using a sales floor application that was built in-house. Employees don’t need much training in the store because they’re familiar with the intuitive, easy-to-use Apple products they use in their consumer lives, Mr. Arndt said. “Everybody already knows what it’s like to use one of these devices,” he said.</p>

Isn't marked as sponsored content, so I guess it's just a CIO Journal thing. Will look out for the article on businesses using Android tablets for similar jobs - must be coming next week.
ipad  business 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
Snap’s Spiegel flies high above Wall Street worries • The Information
Tom Dotan:
<p>Although Android has been a longstanding issue—even an ongoing joke at the company—staffers are optimistic that the rebuilt app will help jumpstart user growth in markets like Western Europe and the Middle East where some Snapchat users dropped off, according to people familiar with the matter. There’s also a large cohort of potential users who don’t have Snapchat, but have friends who do, that Snap employees also see as low-hanging fruit. Insiders are less confident about some markets that Instagram has targeted, like Brazil.

Meanwhile, another facet of of Mr. Spiegel’s growth strategy—attracting older users— remains up in the air. Snapchat has always been most popular for people in their mid- 20s and younger; Mr. Spiegel has suggested a combination of product fixes and better outreach on the value of communicating through pictures will help bring along older users.

The optimist case that people see for Snap in the near term is to follow the same trajectory Twitter did after its stock crashed to a low of $14 in 2016 from $50 in early 2015: stabilize the leadership, slowly build the business and start turning a profit. While Twitter’s user base has been stagnant for the past few years, it is solidly profitable, thanks to steadily growing ad revenues. Twitter stock is up 73% in the last year to $33.

“No one says [Snap] need to be ubiquitous. They can still be a real business even if they’re not taking over the world,” said Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser. He says Snap can succeed, even at its current size, if it keeps being an essential advertising outlet for a small number of large industries, like entertainment.

To follow in Twitter’s footsteps, Snap has to survive—which means it needs to stop the losses before it runs out of cash. At the end of September, the company had $1.4bn in cash. But it is burning through cash, with spending overwhelming revenue, by $661m in the first nine months of this year.

Snap has reduced its cash burn in the past year and has a little over two years of cash left. In a recent memo to staff reported by Cheddar, Mr. Spiegel set becoming profitable in 2019 as a “stretch” goal.</p>

Might be tight not running out of cash.
Snapchat  finance  business 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
AI is not “magic dust” for your company, says Google’s cloud AI boss • Technology Review
Will Knight interviews Andrew Knight, ex-Carnegie-Mellon University:
<p><strong>Q: Like you, lots of AI researchers are being sucked into big companies. Isn’t that bad for AI?</strong>

AK: It’s healthy for the world to have people who are thinking about 25 years into the future—and people who are saying “What can we do right now?”

There’s one project at Carnegie Mellon that involves a 70-foot-tall robot designed to pick up huge slabs of concrete and rapidly create levees against major flooding. It’s really important for the world that there are places that are doing that—but it’s kind of pointless if that’s all that’s going on in artificial intelligence.

While I’ve been at Carnegie Mellon, I’ve had hundreds of meetings with principals in large organizations and companies who are saying, “I am worried my business will be completely replaced by some Silicon Valley startup. How can I build something to counter that?”

I can’t think of anything more exciting than being at a place that is not just doing AI for its own sake anymore, but is determined to bring it out to all these other stakeholders who need it.

<strong>Q: How big of a technology shift is this for businesses?</strong>

AK: It’s like electrification. And it took about two or three decades for electrification to pretty much change the way the world was. Sometimes I meet very senior people with big responsibilities who have been led to believe that artificial intelligence is some kind of “magic dust” that you sprinkle on an organization and it just gets smarter. In fact, implementing artificial intelligence successfully is a slog.

When people come in and say “How do I actually implement this artificial-intelligence project?” we immediately start breaking the problems down in our brains into the traditional components of AI—perception, decision making, action (and this decision-making component is a critical part of it now; you can use machine learning to make decisions much more effectively)—and we map those onto different parts of the business. One of the things Google Cloud has in place is these building blocks that you can slot together.

Solving artificial-intelligence problems involves a lot of tough engineering and math and linear algebra and all that stuff. It very much isn’t the magic-dust type of solution.</p>

But tell me more about the 70-foot robot that moves paving slabs.
Ai  robotics  business 
november 2018 by charlesarthur
The ‘post-PC era’ never really happened…and likely won’t • Tech.pinions
Mark Lowenstein:
<p>the growing number of portable PCs that feature touch screens and other tablet-like capabilities are eating a bit into tablet sales, particularly among the student set. The other personification of some aspect of the ‘post-PC’ area, I suppose, is the successful Chromebook line, which is more a reflection of the Cloud and near-pervasiveness of broadband connectivity.

It even appears that Apple doesn’t believe in the ‘post-PC’ mantra in the same way, given the steadily narrowing delta between the largest iPhone and the smallest iPad. Mainly, this is an effort to convince more users to have both an iPhone and an iPad, since I doubt that most users who have both would have a big phone and a small tablet.

So, the question is, what will change in 3 to 5 years? There will be tons of innovation of course, but I’m not expecting the average consumer or business professional to be carrying with them a dramatically different mix of device types or # of devices in the medium term. Even with pens that recognize and convert handwriting better and continual improvements in voice input, there’s still nothing that really beats the good ‘ol keyboard for productivity. And we’re still very locked into the Big Three of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. The main difference has been the move to the cloud, improved collaboration, and competitive products from Google.</p>

This is slightly disingenuous. Since 2013, iPads have outsold Macs by an average of nearly 3x every quarter. Sure, the replacement rate for Macs is probably lower than for iPads. However, we are in the post-PC world. Ask yourself when the last world-roiling program was launched first on a PC. The answer: 2010. (Dropbox and Spotify.) Since then, every important innovation has been on mobile.

We're in the post-music hall age, but not quite the post-radio age, or the post-TV age. But they've all being superseded in turn by more modern methods.
tablet  business  ipad  postpc 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
The rise of giant consumer startups that said no to investor money • Recode
Jason Del Rey:
<p>When Moiz Ali launched his startup Native, the maker of a natural deodorant brand, he couldn’t help but be self-conscious when mingling with other Bay Area entrepreneurs.

“In Silicon Valley, it’s often embarrassing when you haven’t raised money,” Ali told Recode recently. “When I’d go to parties or dinners, entrepreneurs would talk about how many employees they had. But for me, it was just me.”

Native eventually secured $550,000 from professional and individual investors, a relative pittance in the startup world where $100 million funding rounds and billion dollar valuations are discussed in a way that could sound like the norm.

For Ali, the limited funds meant cautious spending on marketing, a staff size that never rose above 10 and, even rarer, the need to turn a profit on each sale. In the earliest days, Ali and his small team also followed up with every disappointed customer — an education that eventually led to what’s called “product-market fit,” or the creation of a good that a large number of people in a certain market want.

So when Native sold to Procter & Gamble last year for $100 million in cash — just two-and-a-half years after launching — Ali could laugh last; he still owned more than 90 percent of his business and was worth a fortune. As important to him, he kept a strong grip on the brand’s destiny by remaining its CEO.</p>

In a way, this story is unintentionally hilarious: as though a new tribe had been discovered, which Doesn't! Take! Venture! Capital! Funding! When in reality, working your way up from "small and profitable" to "big and profitable" has been a favoured business approach since forever. All that's slightly tweaked is that "direct-to-consumer" can use the web to expand their sales base, and follow up with happy (or sad) customers.
venturecapital  consumer  business 
august 2018 by charlesarthur
A four-day workweek? A test run shows a surprising result • The New York Times
Charlotte Graham-McLay:
<p>A New Zealand firm that let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five says the experiment was so successful that it hoped to make the change permanent.

The firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, found the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees, who said they spent more time with their families, exercising, cooking, and working in their gardens.

The firm ran the experiment — which reduced the workweek to 32 hours from 40 — in March and April this year, and asked two researchers to study the effects on staff.

Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, said employees reported a 24% improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Mr. Haar said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

Similar experiments in other countries have tested the concept of reducing work hours as a way of improving individual productivity. In Sweden, a trial in the city of Gothenburg mandated a six-hour day, and officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more. But when France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000, businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.</p>
business  work 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
How one company defied the odds and is grossing almost $1 billion in revenue… in Nigeria • Medium
Efosa Ojomo:
<p>In 1988 Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23bn; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic; it was also under military rule in 1988 so technically and literally, anything could happen. In fact, in 1993 Nigerians unhappily welcomed General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, to rule the country. In short, if you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.

But the executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. In 1988, Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and has grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700m a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents. They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.</p>

Astonishing story - part of a series.
nigeria  business 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
How Smart TVs in millions of US homes track more than what’s on tonight • The New York Times
Sapna Maheshwari:
<p>Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5m smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40m in venture funding from investors including Time Warner , the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban.

Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands — including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips — to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers “by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.” But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.

Samba TV declined to provide recent statistics, but one of its executives said at the end of 2016 that more than 90% of people opted in.

Once enabled, Samba TV can track nearly everything that appears on the TV on a second-by-second basis, essentially reading pixels to identify network shows and ads, as well as programs on Netflix and HBO and even video games played on the TV. Samba TV has even offered advertisers the ability to base their targeting on whether people watch conservative or liberal media outlets and which party’s presidential debate they watched.

The big draw for advertisers — which have included Citi and JetBlue in the past, and now Expedia — is that Samba TV can also identify other devices in the home that share the TV’s internet connection.

Samba TV, which says it has adhered to privacy guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission, does not directly sell its data. Instead, advertisers can pay the company to direct ads to other gadgets in a home after their TV commercials play, or one from a rival airs. Advertisers can also add to their websites a tag from Samba TV that allows them to determine if people visit after watching one of their commercials.</p>

"More than 90% of people opted in". Yeah, sure. They clicked "I agree" to make it go away.
smarttv  surveillance  business 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Intel and the danger of integration • Stratechery
Ben Thompson:
<p>TSMC [founded in 1987! on the promise that it wouldn't compete with its customers to design chips, only make them] got better, in large part because it had no choice: soon its manufacturing capabilities were only one step behind industry standards, and within a decade had caught-up (although Intel remained ahead of everyone). Meanwhile, the fact that TSMC existed created the conditions for an explosion in “fabless” chip companies that focused on nothing but design. For example, in the late 1990s there was an explosion in companies focused on dedicated graphics chips: nearly all of them were manufactured by TSMC. And, all along, the increased business let TSMC invest even more in its manufacturing capabilities.

<img src="" width="100%" />

This represented into a three-pronged assault on Intel’s dominance:

• Many of those new fabless design companies were creating products that were direct alternatives to Intel chips for general purpose computing. The vast majority of these were based on the ARM architecture, but also AMD in 2008 spun off its fab operations (christened GlobalFoundries) and became a fabless designer of x86 chips.<br /> • Specialized chips, designed by fabless design companies, were increasingly used for operations that had previously been the domain of general purpose processors. Graphics chips in particular were well-suited to machine learning, cryptocurrency mining, and other highly “embarrassingly parallel” operations; many of those applications have spawned specialized chips of their own. There are dedicated bitcoin chips, for example, or Google’s Tensor Processing Units: all are manufactured by TSMC.<br /> • Meanwhile TMSC, joined by competitors like GlobalFoundries and Samsung, were investing ever more in new manufacturing processes, fueled by the revenue from the previous two factors in a virtuous cycle.</p>

When you consider the victory that modularisation has wrought in the right-hand part of that image, you have to marvel at how Apple has managed to navigate the rapids to get to where it is. Every company has to integrate to a degree; the question is how much, and when to stop/start. At Intel, it seems to have continued just that bit too long because the money was so good.
intel  economics  business 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Invisible asymptotes • Remains of the Day
Eugene Wei joined Amazon in its early years, and was given the task of figuring out what might limit its growth - that is, what would determine its asymptotic point:
<p>Fortunately for Amazon, and perhaps critical to much of its growth over the years, perhaps the single most important asymptote was one we identified very early on. Where our growth would flatten if we did not change our path was, in large part, due to this single factor.

We had two ways we were able to flush out this enemy. For people who did shop with us, we had, for some time, a pop-up survey that would appear right after you'd placed your order, at the end of the shopping cart process. It was a single question, asking why you didn't purchase more often from Amazon. For people who'd never shopped with Amazon, we had a third party firm conduct a market research survey where we'd ask those people why they did not shop from Amazon.

Both converged, without any ambiguity, on one factor. You don't even need to rewind to that time to remember what that factor is because I suspect it's the same asymptote governing e-commerce and many other related businesses today.

Shipping fees.

People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I'm convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years.

People don't just hate paying for shipping, they hate it to literally an irrational degree. We know this because our first attempt to address this was to show, in the shopping cart and checkout process, that even after paying shipping, customers were saving money over driving to their local bookstore to buy a book because, at the time, most Amazon customers did not have to pay sales tax. That wasn't even factoring in the cost of getting to the store, the depreciation costs on the car, and the value of their time.

People didn't care about this rational math. People, in general, are terrible at valuing their time, perhaps because for most people monetary compensation for one's time is so detached from the event of spending one's time. Most time we spend isn't like deliberate practice, with immediate feedback.</p>

You may be able to think how they did this. But consider what you'd do if you didn't know how they solved it.
amazon  economics  business 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
A new look inside Theranos’ dysfunctional corporate culture • WIRED
John Carreyrou, with another extract from his book Bad Blood:
<p>The biggest problem of all was the dysfunctional corporate culture in which it was being developed. [CEO and founder Elizabeth] Holmes and [COO Sunny] Balwani regarded anyone who raised a concern or an objection as a cynic and a nay-sayer. Employees who persisted in doing so were usually marginalized or fired, while sycophants were promoted.

Employees were Balwani’s minions. He expected them to be at his disposal at all hours of the day or night and on weekends. He checked the security logs every morning to see when they badged in and out. Every evening, around 7:30, he made a flyby of the engineering department to make sure people were still at their desks working.

With time, some employees grew less afraid of him and devised ways to manage him, as it dawned on them that they were dealing with an erratic man-child of limited intellect and an even more limited attention span. Arnav Khannah, a young mechanical engineer who worked on the miniLab, figured out a surefire way to get Balwani off his back: answer his emails with a reply longer than 500 words. That usually bought him several weeks of peace because Balwani simply didn’t have the patience to read long emails. Another strategy was to convene a biweekly meeting of his team and invite Balwani to attend. He might come to the first few, but he would eventually lose interest or forget to show up.

While Holmes was fast to catch on to engineering concepts, Balwani was often out of his depth during engineering discussions. To hide it, he had a habit of repeating technical terms he heard others using. During a meeting with Khannah’s team, he latched onto the term “end effector,” which signifies the claws at the end of a robotic arm. Except Balwani didn’t hear “end effector,” he heard “endofactor.” For the rest of the meeting, he kept referring to the fictional endofactors. At their next meeting with Balwani two weeks later, Khannah’s team brought a PowerPoint presentation titled “Endofactors Update.” As Khannah flashed it on a screen with a projector, the five members of his team stole furtive glances at one another, nervous that Balwani might become wise to the prank. But he didn’t bat an eye and the meeting proceeded without incident. After he left the room, they burst out laughing.</p>

This is just the light relief, though; there's plenty of refusal to engage with basic reality too.
theranos  culture  business 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
Steve Jobs’ secret for eliciting questions, overheard at a San Francisco cafe • Medium
Andy Raskin overheard a "famous CEO" (from a famous-brand internet company) talking to a Young CEO who was puzzled by why people said he wasn't open to being questioned, when he insisted he was. Turns out that saying "Any questions?" is the wrong question:
<p>“In the early 2000s,” Famous CEO said, “Jobs was splitting his time between Apple and Pixar. He would spend most days at Apple, but then he would parachute into Pixar. He would have to figure out where his attention was needed really fast, so he would arrange sessions with all the different teams—the Cars team, the technology team, whatever—so there were a dozen or so people in each one. Then he would point to one person in each session and say:

<em>Tell me what’s not working at Pixar.</em>

Famous CEO continued: “That person might offer something like, ‘The design team isn’t open to new technology we’re building.’ Jobs would ask others if they agreed. He would then choose someone else and say:

<em>Tell me what’s working at Pixar.</em>

According to Famous CEO, Jobs would alternate between the two questions until he felt like he had a handle on what was going on.

Famous CEO said he ran sessions like these with his own teams every few months. He advised Young CEO to “never invite VPs” (i.e., team leaders) to the sessions, since subordinates might feel intimidated and share less freely. Instead, Famous CEO would commit, after collecting issues, to discussing them with the VP in charge, who would be responsible for following up.</p>

I've also heard that Bill Gates would insist that everyone who came to him should bring at least some bad news. He didn't want to hear just about what was going well; he wanted to know the trouble too.
business  jobs  apple  pixar  management 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
Xiaomi is more like Facebook than Apple • Bloomberg
Tim Culpan:
<p>“We pioneered an amazing, innovative business model underpinned by courage and trust,” founder Lei Jun said in an <a href="">open letter</a> accompanying its offer document Thursday in which he reiterated a pledge to cap hardware margins in favor of making money via services.

Reading through its 597-page prospectus, it’s apparent that in Xiaomi-speak, “services” means “serving ads.”

Xiaomi has done quite a job of monetizing device buyers beyond the initial transaction, tripling sales from the services segment over the past two years. Smartphones accounted for 70% of revenue last year and 46% of gross profit. Internet services, on the other hand, accounted for 8.6% of revenue but an outsized 39% of gross profit.

What surprised me most is how dependent this business is on advertising, which accounted for 57% of the category’s revenue last year. (Online games is the other major component.)

“We use our proprietary technologies and big data analytical capabilities to offer comprehensive and innovative services to our business partners and users.”

When you remember that “business partners” means advertisers, you start to understand that Xiaomi isn’t a rip-off of Apple Inc., as has been suggested, but is mimicking Facebook Inc.

Here’s how it works: Xiaomi sells a smartphone at near-cost, including its MIUI mobile interface. Through that, Xiaomi tracks your usage and learns what you might be interested in. It then starts suggesting apps, some of which will be Xiaomi-developed. Once installed, the company then has an ad-serving platform right in front of your eyes.</p>
xiaomi  business  smartphone 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
Customer satisfaction at the push of a button • The New Yorker
David Owen with a fascinating look at a super-simple system developed by a Finnish company for monitoring customer satisfaction:
<p>A single HappyOrNot terminal can register thousands of impressions in a day, from people who buy and people who don’t. The terminals are self-explanatory, and customers can use them without breaking stride. In the jargon of tech, giving feedback through HappyOrNot is “frictionless.” And, although the responses are anonymous, they are time-stamped. One client discovered that customer satisfaction in a particular store plummeted at ten o’clock every morning. Video from a closed-circuit security camera revealed that the drop was caused by an employee who began work at that hour and took a long time to get going. She was retrained, and the frowns went away.

Last year, a Swedish sofa retailer hired HappyOrNot to help it understand a sales problem in its stores. Revenues were high during the late afternoon and evening but low during the morning and early afternoon, and the retailer’s executives hadn’t been able to figure out what their daytime employees were doing wrong. The data from HappyOrNot’s terminals surprised them: customers felt the most satisfied during the hours when sales were low, and the least satisfied during the hours when sales were high. The executives realized that, for years, they’d looked at the problem the wrong way. Because late-day revenues had always been relatively high, the executives hadn’t considered the possibility that they should have been even higher. The company added more salespeople in the afternoon and evening, and earnings improved.

HappyOrNot was founded just eight years ago, but its terminals have already been installed in more than a hundred countries and have registered more than six hundred million responses—more than the number of online customer ratings ever posted on Amazon, Yelp, or TripAdvisor. HappyOrNot is profitable, and its revenues have doubled each year for the past several years; its clients have a habit of inquiring whether, by chance, the company is for sale—significant accomplishments for a still tiny enterprise whose leaders say that their ultimate goal is to change not just the way people think about customer satisfaction but also the way they think about happiness itself.</p>

They got their big break at Heathrow in 2012 ahead of the Olympics.
business  research  happyornot 
april 2018 by charlesarthur
Men Only: Inside the charity fundraiser where hostesses are put on show • FT
Madison Marriage:
<p>It is for men only. A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses.

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.

The event has been a mainstay of London’s social calendar for 33 years, yet the activities have remained largely unreported — unusual, perhaps, for a fundraiser of its scale.

The questions raised about the event have been thrown into sharp relief by the current business climate, when bastions of sexual harassment and the institutionalised objectification of women are being torn down.

The Financial Times last week sent two people undercover to work as hostesses on the night. Reporters also gained access to the dining hall and surrounding bars.

Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester…

…It was unclear why men, seated at their tables with hostesses standing close by, felt the need to hold the hands of the women, but numerous hostesses discussed instances of it through the night. For some, this was a prelude to pulling the women into their laps. Meanwhile champagne, whisky and vodka were served.

On stage, entertainers came and went. It was soon after a troupe of burlesque dancers — dressed like furry-hatted Coldstream Guards, but with star-shaped stickers hiding nipples — that one 19-year-old hostess, recounted a conversation with a guest nearing his seventies: who had asked her, directly, whether she was a prostitute. She was not. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m never doing it again,” she said later. “It’s f***ing scary.”</p>

Ms Marriage (such a wonderfully appropriate name) is usually the FT's accounting and tax correspondent, but she got onto this story after a tipoff. It has been going for 33 years. The counterargument - "but it's for charity!" - fails; notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile raised lots of money for charity too. And the President's Club dinner apparently brought in £694k - but cost £673k to organise. A number of charities said they would return funds raised by the dinner.

On Wednesday evening UK time, the President's Club said it would be closing after distributing its remaining funds.
business  sexism 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
The Amazon machine • Benedict Evans
Evans points out that a key to big companies is how well they're able to make the things that make the things they offer; in Amazon's case, it's teams to sell stuff:
<p>Amazon, then, is a machine to make a machine - it is a machine to make more Amazon. The opposite extreme might be Apple, which rather than radical decentralization looks more like an ASIC, with everything carefully structured and everyone in their box, which allows Apple to create certain kinds of new product with huge efficiency but makes it pretty hard to add new product lines indefinitely. Steve Jobs was fond of talking about saying ‘no’ to new projects - that’s not a very relevant virtue to Amazon.

For both Amazon and Apple (and indeed Google or Facebook), this means that there are certain kinds of project that they can deliver very well and very repeatably and predictably, but also, crucially, that there are certain kinds of project that they are much less well suited to deliver. Google doesn’t tend to be better at cloud platforms than Apple and worse at UIs because there are better or worse people in each team, but because each company is set up to deliver certain kinds of things, and the closer a project is to that machine’s direction the more reliable the result. If the machine is designed to do X, it will struggle at Y no matter how clever the people. A lot of the story of Amazon for the last 20 years is of how many Ys turned out to by Xs - how many categories that people thought could not be sold online and could not be sold as commodities turned out to be both.</p>
amazon  ecommerce  business 
december 2017 by charlesarthur
Broadcom offers $105bn for Qualcomm in landmark deal • Bloomberg
Ian King:
<p>Broadcom Ltd. offered about $105bn for Qualcomm Inc., kicking off an ambitious attempt at the largest technology takeover ever in a deal that would rock the electronics industry.

Broadcom made an offer of $70 a share in cash and stock for Qualcomm, the world’s largest maker of mobile phone chips. That’s a 28% premium over the stock’s closing price on Nov. 2, before Bloomberg first reported talks of a deal. The proposed transaction is valued at approximately $130bn on a pro forma basis, including $25bn of net debt.

Buying Qualcomm would make Broadcom the third-largest chipmaker, behind Intel Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. The combined business would instantly become the default provider of a set of components needed to build each of the more than a billion smartphones sold every year. The deal would dwarf Dell Inc.’s $67bn acquisition of EMC in 2015 - then the biggest in the technology industry.</p>

Broadcom is so keen to do this that it doesn't care whether or not Qualcomm's current $47bn takeover bid for NXP completes or not. It wants Qualcomm anyway. Hard to see this sort of consolidation as good for the industry. But Singapore-based Avago, which reverse-qacuired Broadcom in 2016. is also moving its official headquarters to the US - which would make regulatory approval for the takeover a lot easier.

Trump supporters thought getting Broadcom to relocate was a coup. In fact it's a way to erode the US's supremacy in this chip space; the control of the unified company will rest outside the US.

Qualcomm, unsurprisingly, isn't keen on this deal.
qualcomm  broadcom  business 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets • The Guardian
Judith Duportail:
<p>As I flicked through page after page of my data I felt guilty. I was amazed by how much information I was voluntarily disclosing: from locations, interests and jobs, to pictures, music tastes and what I liked to eat. But I quickly realised I wasn’t the only one. A <a href="">July 2017 study revealed Tinder users are excessively willing to disclose information</a> without realising it.

“You are lured into giving away all this information,” says Luke Stark, a digital technology sociologist at Dartmouth University. “Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data. This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality.”

Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.

“What you are describing is called secondary implicit disclosed information,” explains Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising"…

…The trouble is these 800 pages of my most intimate data are actually just the tip of the iceberg. “Your personal data affects who you see first on Tinder, yes,” says [privacy activist Paul-Olivier] Dehaye. “But also what job offers you have access to on LinkedIn, how much you will pay for insuring your car, which ad you will see in the tube and if you can subscribe to a loan."</p>
privacy  data  business  tinder  advertising 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
Understanding Uber: it's not about the app • London Reconnections
"John Bull":
<p>One of the primary responsibilities of the taxi regulator in most locations is the consideration of passenger safety. This is very much the case in London – both for individual drivers and for operators.

The expectation of drivers is relatively obvious – that they do not break the law, nor commit a crime of any kind. The expectation of operators is a bit more complex – it is not just about ensuring that drivers are adequately checked before they are hired (and that those checks are processed by a mutually approved company), but also that their activity is effectively monitored while they are working. Just as importantly, the operator is responsible for making sure that any customer complaints are taken seriously and acted upon appropriately.

The nature of that action can vary. The report of a minor offence may warrant only the intervention of the operator themselves or escalation of the incident to TfL via the regular (but slow) reporting channels. It is expected, however, that serious crimes will be dealt with promptly, and reported directly to the police as well.

On 12 April 2017, the <a href="">Metropolitan Police wrote to TfL</a> expressing a major concern. In the letter, Inspector Neil Bellany claimed that ULL were not reporting serious crimes to the police. They cited three specific incidents by way of example.</p>

This is very long, and very detailed, and explains very well that this is not about "disliking Uber" and wasn't "decided by Sadiq Khan". It was a decision by TfL, prompted by the police, and it's about regulation.

But it's notable how right-wing reflexive reaction has been that it's about "stifling innovation" and that it's a "political decision". It's dangerous when companies which are breaking regulations try to get the public to back them in doing so. (Via Alex Hern.)
uber  apps  business  london 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
EU buried its own $400,000 study showing unauthorized downloads have almost no effect on sales • Techdirt
Glyn Moody:
<p>The <a href="">304-page document</a> (pdf), made available on the site, contains all the details of the questions that were put to a total of 30,000 people from Germany, France, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK, their answers, and exhaustive analysis. The summary reveals the key results:
<p>In 2014, on average 51% of the adults and 72% of the minors in the EU have illegally downloaded or streamed any form of creative content, with higher piracy rates in Poland and Spain than in the other four countries of this study. In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect. An exception is the displacement of recent top films. The results show a displacement rate of 40% which means that for every ten recent top films watched illegally, four fewer films are consumed legally.</p>

That is, there is zero evidence that unauthorized downloads harmed sales of music, books and games. Indeed, for games, there was evidence that such downloads boosted sales…</p>

So it clearly shows that there <em>is</em> an effect on films, and there might be one for all the others (though not games). High prices were essentially to blame: where prices aren't high, piracy recedes.
europe  piracy  copyright  business 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
Trump Inc: inside the president’s not-so-blind trust •
Michael Tanglis:
<p>Our current president has two jobs: leader of the free world and the owner of hundreds of business entities worldwide. The combination is toxic for democracy.

More than 70% of Trump’s businesses are incorporated in Delaware — a state known for anonymity and secrecy. There is often very little information on the Delaware business filings. And the ambiguity and imprecision of the federal financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics makes it difficult to discern the detailed financial health of the president or his businesses.

For example, Trump is not required to disclose net income from his businesses (as opposed to gross revenue). This raises the prospect that Trump’s businesses may be hemorrhaging money in years that he reported hundreds of millions of dollars of income. Further, the disclosure guidelines allow Trump to report liabilities totaling just hundreds of millions when the real number may be in the billions.

Trump’s tax returns — which he has refused to release — would provide the detail needed to determine the extent of his conflicts of interest.

Throughout his business career, Trump has been a boom-and-bust businessman — filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection 11 times. If his business approaches another bust moment while he is president, it is hard to imagine Trump — who has exhibited so little restraint both as a businessman and now as president — not succumbing to the temptation to use the powers of his office to benefit his private interests.

In many ways, the Trump presidency is the natural culmination of the decades-long stranglehold of wealthy individuals and corporations over public policy. But Trump has taken the standard model a step further: He has cut out the middleman — the lowly elected official — who by Trump’s own admission typically needed to be greased to make the whole process work. As president, Trump now has immense power to dictate policy and direct funds to his businesses, or to others who in turn can repay him through his businesses.</p>

Delaware's position as a way to hide business dealings is very peculiar. Trump's dealings, though, really call into question how robust the US is.
trump  business  ethics 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
16 startup metrics • Andreessen Horowitz
Jeff Jordan, Anu Hariharan, Frank Chen, and Preethi Kasireddy from the venture capital fund:
<p>We have the privilege of meeting with thousands of entrepreneurs every year, and in the course of those discussions are presented with all kinds of numbers, measures, and metrics that illustrate the promise and health of a particular company. Sometimes, however, the metrics may not be the best gauge of what’s actually happening in the business, or people may use different definitions of the same metric in a way that makes it hard to understand the health of the business.

So, while some of this may be obvious to many of you who live and breathe these metrics all day long, we compiled a list of the most common or confusing ones. Where appropriate, we tried to add some notes on why investors focus on those metrics. Ultimately, though, good metrics aren’t about raising money from VCs — they’re about running the business in a way where founders know how and why certain things are working (or not) … and can address or adjust accordingly.</p>

This is a fascinating list: would you know the difference between "Total Contract Value" and "Annual Contract Value", and "Gross Merchandise Value v Revenue"?
startup  business  metrics 
july 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber can’t be fixed — it’s time for regulators to shut it down • Harvard Business Review
Ben Edelman (who you'll recall from his "Uber scandals" page earlier this week), following the resignation of Travis Kalanick as CEO:
<p>Uber’s most distinctive capabilities focused on defending its illegality. Uber built up staff, procedures, and software systems whose purpose was to enable and mobilize passengers and drivers to lobby regulators and legislators — creating political disaster for anyone who questioned Uber’s approach. The company’s phalanx of attorneys brought arguments perfected from prior disputes, whereas each jurisdiction approached Uber independently and from a blank slate, usually with a modest litigation team. Uber publicists presented the company as the epitome of innovation, styling critics as incumbent puppets stuck in the past.

Through these tactics, Uber muddied the waters. Despite flouting straightforward, widely applicable law in most jurisdictions, Uber usually managed to slow or stop enforcement, in due course changing the law to allow its approach. As the company’s vision became the new normal, it was easy to forget that the strategy was, at the outset, plainly illegal.

Uber faced an important challenge in implementing this strategy: It isn’t easy to get people to commit crimes. Indeed, employees at every turn faced personal and professional risks in defying the law; two European executives were indicted and arrested for operating without required permits. But Uber succeeded in making lawbreaking normal and routine by celebrating its subversion of the laws relating to taxi services. Look at the company’s stated values — “super-pumped,” “always be hustlin’,” and “bold.” Respect for the law barely merits a footnote.</p>
uber  business 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Leaked recording: inside Apple’s global war on leakers • The Outline
William Turton:
<p>[ex-NSA staffer David] Rice says that Apple’s focus on secrecy has not translated to a culture of fear. “I think what is unique at Apple is that we don’t have a Big Brother culture,” Rice says. “There’s nobody on my team reading emails, sitting behind you on the bus, we don’t do that.”

But the presentation makes working for Apple sound like working for the CIA. (At one point, Rice even refers to “blowing cover.”) There are repeated references to employees drawing boundaries in their personal lives, for example. “I go through a lot of trouble not to talk about what I work on with my wife, with my teenage kids… with my friends, my family,” an employee in one of the videos says. “I’m not telling you that you give up all relationships,” Rice says, “but that you have a built-in relationship monitor that you’re constantly using.”…

…Other tech companies have begun to follow Apple’s lead on instilling a culture of secrecy. According to a 2016 report from Business Insider, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has a portrait of Steve Jobs hanging in his office, and the company has cultivated an obsession with leaks similar to Apple’s. Facebook is currently hiring a “Global Threat Investigations Manager,” and Google is facing a lawsuit in San Francisco alleging that the company operates an internal “spying program.”

Some of the hypothetical and real leaks discussed in the briefing seem inconsequential: the release of watch bands, or the fact that a new iPad will be “bigger,” for example. But Cook believes leaks directly hurt Apple’s bottom line. During the company’s most recent earnings call, Cook blamed flagging iPhone sales on “earlier and much more frequent reports about future iPhones.” Indeed, there have been a slew of leaks about the iPhone 8, scheduled to be announced in the fall. “Apple has a major iPhone redesign planned for 2017, with a glass body and edge-to-edge OLED display that includes an integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor and front-facing camera,” according to MacRumors.

Such leaks may be why Apple is now hosting these internal secrecy briefings. </p>

As has been observed, it's a hell of a thing to get a recording of an internal briefing about not revealing internal briefings to outside people. Someone's so going to get fired.

And just on the Big Brother thing, when took over Apple again in 1997, Steve Jobs certainly introduced a monitoring system on emails. Perhaps it was abandoned at some point?
apple  security  business 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
The founder of Pinboard on why understanding fandom is good for business • The Verge
Kaitlyn Tiffany with the interview:
<p><strong>Q: Pinboard for a while had this competition with Delicious as a main part of its brand — on Twitter, you wrote a lot of jokes about Delicious, lots of taunts aimed at Yahoo or AVOS — now that that’s over, who’s next?</strong>

Maciej Ceglowski: Yeah, it’s really weird for me, because especially at the outset I felt like I was a flea on the elephant. I was trying to suck a few dozen customers away from this enormous Yahoo-funded giant and the idea that I could not just compete with this site, but actually buy it, never entered my mind. So I’m in a bit of a Twilight Zone feeling.

I feel like I won the war so thoroughly that I don’t really know what to do next. I would love to take down Pocket and I would love to take down Diigo. Pocket is losing a lot of money, and Diigo is kind of a strange, weird longterm competitor. Actually, I think there’s room for a lot of different bookmarking sites and I like that there’s competitors, I hope that they stick around.

There’s all these little niche areas in bookmarking that I want to see be occupied by people like me, who are just kind of living from it. There are a lot of ways you can earn a living but there’s not a lot of ways you can make millions. Unfortunately what ends up happening is that people start with a niche, but then they decide they want to grow the business to be like Pinterest and that never seems to work, maybe once in a decade.</p>

And the thing that gave him leverage? AVOS, which bought Delicious from Yahoo, didn't realise how important the "/" symbol was in bookmarking fan fiction.

Pocket ought to be worried, though.
internet  pinboard  business 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
2011: Anatomy of a crushing • Pinboard blog
Maciej Ceglowski in March 2011 recalls what happened the previous time Delicious got closed - or as good as closed:
<p>A number of people asked about the technical aspects of the great Delicious exodus of 2010, and I've finally had some time to write it up. Note that times on all the graphs are UTC.

On December 16th Yahoo held an all-hands meeting to rally the troops after a big round of layoffs. Around 11 AM someone at this meeting showed a slide with a couple of Yahoo properties grouped into three categories, one of which was ominously called "sunset". The most prominent logo in the group belonged to Delicious, our main competitor. Milliseconds later, the slide was on the web, and there was an ominous thundering sound as every Delicious user in North America raced for the exit. [*]

I got the message just as I was starting work for the day. My Twitter client, normally a place where I might see ten or twenty daily mentions of Pinboard, had turned into a nonstop blur of updates. My inbox was making a kind of sustained pealing sound I had never heard before. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Before this moment, our relationship to Delicious had been that of a tick to an elephant. We were a niche site and in the course of eighteen months had siphoned off about six thousand users from our massive competitor, a pace I was was very happy with and hoped to sustain through 2011. But now the Senior Vice President for Bad Decisions at Yahoo had decided to give us a little help.

<img src="" width="100%" />

I've previously posted this graph of Pinboard web traffic on the days immediately before and after the Delicious announcement. That small blue bar at bottom shows normal traffic levels from the week before. The two teal mountain peaks correspond to midday traffic on December 16 and 17th.</p>

There's lot of great detail for anyone who designs web databases for a living, or even amusement. And I think that Yahoo at that time had multiple Senior Vice Presidents for Bad Decisions.
business  database  pinboard 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Twitter has a serious problem—and it's actually a bigger deal than people realise • Mother Jones
AJ Vicens:
<p>Bots make it easy to spread a given message, but that also creates a problem: Twitter followers often don't know they're retweeting or forwarding deliberately false information from unknown sources, which can then potentially further polarize the populace and overstate a message or a candidate's actual support. In his opening statement to the committee, Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, explained the influence campaign was part of a yearslong Russian effort to undermine US institutions. "Tailored news feeds from social media platforms have created information bubbles where voters see only stories and opinions suiting their preferences and biases," he said, "ripe conditions for Russian disinformation campaigns."

Whatever the source of the bots, it seems unlikely that the state-sponsored disinformation variety will be stopped anytime soon. Twitter didn't respond to multiple requests for comment. But Nu Wexler, a former public policy spokesperson for Twitter, tells Mother Jones that as long as users aren't violating Twitter's content rules, they're not going to be censored.

"Twitter's agnostic when it comes to political content and nationality," Wexler said. "Accounts in compliance with the Twitter Rules are allowed to stay up, whether they're in France, Mexico, or Russia. Suspending pro-Trump bots and allowing anti-Trump bots would just invite charges of political bias."</p>

Perverse incentive in the business model: showing adverts to bots generates money just like showing them to humans. Therefore no business reason to remove bots.
twitter  bots  business 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
‘It’s all over now but the screaming’: inside the unraveling of LeEco in America • Gizmodo
Christina Warren:
<p>Former employees say that one of the central reasons for the immediate drain of top-tier talent from LeEco happened because the senior executives hired to run the North American business weren’t actually given the opportunity to run the company. Instead, the company was “shadow run” by Chinese executives who former employees say do not understand the US market or business strategies that work here.

For instance, the Chinese leadership was keen on selling smartphones and TVs online via “flash sales”—whereby products are sold at discounts for specific periods of time. Jan Dawson, the founder and chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, says that the problems with an online sales strategy were two-fold. First of all, no one had heard of LeEco and had no reason to be checking out the company’s website. But more importantly, “no one buys smartphones that way here in the US,” he said “so this seemed to be borrowing a strategy that’s worked well for smartphone vendors in China instead of doing something more suited to the US market.”

“The strategy seemed to be, if it worked in China, it will work here,” a former employee said. This sentiment was shared by multiple former employees, and is something many see as being partially responsible for LeEco’s current problems.

“It was ego,” a former employee said, that led the company to think it could accomplish so much in the US so quickly. “They wanted to say, ‘hey we’re not just a Chinese brand’ but didn’t realize it takes time to build a brand presence.”

Of the Chinese leadership imported to oversee LeEco’s entrance to the United States, one employee put it bluntly: “They were not the smartest people in the room.”

Ultimately, the company’s strategy failed and LeEco reportedly missed its 2016 sales projections by a huge margin. One former employee described the online sales for the first few months of availability as “dismal.”</p>

Watching this zoom and plummet (Warren's piece has plenty more detail) has been a fascinating lesson in how different countries' business cultures can't necessarily be transplanted. The same has surely happened many times, but with the head office being in the US.
leeco  business  culture 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
The pulse of the planet, flatlined: why Twitter's is failing to grow • Exponents
Dan Kaplan:
<p>More than any other single factor, Dick Costolo’s conclusion [in 2010] that Twitter was a media company in the advertising business is responsible for all of the struggles with revenue growth and profitability Twitter is experiencing today.

Because once you’re in the media and advertising business, your entire strategy–across product development, hiring, marketing, and sales–revolves around harvesting your users’ attention, maximizing their engagement, and selling pieces of that attention and engagement to advertisers.

Once harvesting attention, maximizing engagement, and selling both to advertisers become your objectives, you have tremendous incentives to consolidate your users on properties you control.

It was THESE incentives above all else that led Twitter to clamp down on third-party access to its APIs: when your main source of revenue comes from monetizing attention on your own properties, any successful third party client becomes an instant threat

But of course, while consolidating your users on your own website and apps is necessary for an ad business, it kinda defeats the point if they’re not coming back again and again. So you also must keep them engaged…very, very engaged.</p>
advertising  twitter  business 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
April 2016: How the maker of TurboTax fought free, simple tax filing • ProPublica
by Liz Day, in April 2016:
<p>In 2013, we detailed how Intuit has lobbied against allowing the government to estimate your taxes for you. So this week, we called Intuit and asked if they still oppose free, government-prepared returns. The answer: Yes. “Our legislative, our policy position on that hasn’t changed,” said spokeswoman Julie Miller. She called Intuit “a staunch opponent to government prepared tax returns.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a bill yesterday to allow free government-prepped returns. Her office also released a report on the tax industry’s opposition to simpler filing solutions. It cited the article below as well as another story we did on how<a href=""> a rabbi, civil rights activist, and others were misled into supporting Intuit’s campaign</a>.

…Intuit has spent about $11.5 million on federal lobbying in the past five years — more than Apple or Amazon. Although the lobbying spans a range of issues, Intuit's disclosures pointedly note that the company "opposes IRS government tax preparation."

The disclosures show that Intuit as recently as 2011 lobbied on two bills, both of which died, that would have allowed many taxpayers to file pre-filled returns for free. The company also lobbied on bills in 2007 and 2011 that would have barred the Treasury Department, which includes the IRS, from initiating return-free filing.</p>

This is quite a tale of lobbying power within the US government. Now do you see the value in being able to see who has lobbied politicians?
business  tax  government  politics  intuit 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
The real scandal of that brutal United video • The Atlantic
Derek Thompson:
<p>although this incident was unusual in many respects, it was also representative of an airline industry that has considerable power over consumers—even if the use of force is more subtle than a group of security professionals wrestling a passenger to the floor.

For example, many people have pointed out that United might have avoided the entire fiasco by simply offering the passengers more money to leave the plane. By law, compensation for passengers is capped at $1,350, which means that United technically could have raised its offer by more than 50 percent before removing people against their will. But it’s absurd that airlines’ capacity to compensate passengers is bounded by the law in the first place. Indeed, there’s a good case to remove the cap entirely. If airlines are legally permitted to overbook—that is, to sell consumers a service that they will not fulfill—they ought to pay market price to compensate people for the unfulfilled promise.

Domestic airlines are now enjoying record profits, having flown more passengers each year since 2010. This is in part because the airline industry is sheltered from both antitrust regulation and litigation. Four carriers—United, Delta, American, and Southwest—earn more than $20 billion in profits annually and own 80 percent of seats on domestic flights. Along with cable companies, airlines are the top-of-mind paragon for industries that seem to get worse for consumers as they become more heavily concentrated. Indeed, when fuel prices fell last year, as The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker (who edited this story and who has a relative who works at United) has written, airlines spent the savings on stock buybacks rather than pass them to consumers.</p>

The US is so proud of its capitalistic economy, yet can't see how often it suffers either from regulatory capture or total lack of regulation - because its political class relies on donations to get elected. Who contributes? Companies. So whose interests do the political class serve? The people who got them elected - that is, the people in the companies.
law  business  airlines 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
LA Times and ads • Nelson's log
Nelson Minar:
<p>The LA Times is a good newspaper and is currently doing the best political coverage in California. They are also the most aggressive ad shoveling website I have ever seen. Their ad blocker blocker and paywall works, preventing me from reading articles. I even tried installing an ad blocker blocker blocker which doesn’t work.

So I open articles like this in incognito mode, and let it run its ads, and close the popups and mute the videos and try to ignore the visual distraction. But boy that page does not go quietly. Here’s how they reward their readers.

<img src="" width="100%" />

That’s a timeline of 30 seconds of page activity about 5 minutes after the article was opened. To be clear, this timeline should be empty. Nothing should be loading. Maybe one short ping, maybe loading one extra ad. Instead the page requested 2000 resources totalling 5 megabytes in 30 seconds. It will keep making those requests as long as I leave the page open. 14 gigabytes a day.</p>

Yes, ad services doing the work. This is part of how many sites monetise; Recode used to recycle its page even if you didn't have the tab frontmost.
advertising  business 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Brexit Britain is suddenly debating trade – but it's the wrong talking point • The Guardian
Larry Elliott is the Guardian's economics editor:
<p>Pascal Lamy spent some of the best years of his life struggling to polish off the Doha round of trade liberalisation and an overspill room was needed to hear what he had to say about Britain’s likely post-Brexit deal.

Battle-scarred as he is, Lamy has no illusions about the difficulties of the negotiations that will follow the triggering of article 50 by the government later this month. He had a nice metaphor for the likely complexity of the talks: separating an egg from an omelette. And a warning born of experience: it won’t be achieved within two years.

Lamy divided the issues facing the negotiators into three categories: things that will be simple; things that will be more complex; and things that will be really complex.

In what might come as a surprise to the UK’s new army of trade experts, Lamy said the creation of a free trade deal would be simple. It was a “no brainer” that there would be zero tariffs so that integrated supply chains did not suffer. It would also be easy enough for the UK to keep the trade with countries that have signed bilateral agreements with the EU. Fishing could also turn out to be less difficult than expected if the EU and the UK maintained mutual access for their fleets.

Lamy then outlined a few of the more complex issues.</p>

And boy, are they complex. The news about the integrated supply chains is good; but things indeed get very complex over VAT, state support, environmental standards, and particularly intellectual property rights. Those could take up to six years, he suggested.
business  brexit 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Monopoly as the Uber business model • ON LABOR
Benjamin Sachs:
<p>Uber’s business model consists of: predatory pricing, underwritten by venture capital, aimed at securing a monopoly position in the urban car service industry.

To unpack that a bit, the argument proceeds as follows:

• Uber is unprofitable. It has grown and succeeded to date by engaging in below-cost pricing and subsidizing that pricing scheme with $13 billion in venture capital investments.  As the post put it: “Uber is a fundamentally unprofitable enterprise, with negative 140% profit margins.”  And, “Uber’s ability to capture customers and drivers from incumbent operators is entirely due to predatory competition funded by massive investor subsidies – Uber passengers were only paying 41% of the costs of their trips, while competitors needed to charge passengers 100% of actual costs.”

• Far from the popular image of technology-enabled low-cost superstar, Uber is in fact “the industry’s high cost producer, with a significant cost disadvantage in every cost category except fuel and fees where no operator could achieve any advantage."…

…• Once Uber succeeds in securing monopoly power (or, “industry dominance”) it will exercise that power by: reducing driver pay to levels below those paid by traditional operators; requiring “anyone who might ever want a cab to carry Uber’s app;” and “imposing much higher prices for peak period[s] and low density neighborhood service” which would “effectively eliminate taxi service for a major segment of (mostly lower income) users.”</p>

All technology companies - all companies, really - aspire to monopoly power. A few get it, and their behaviour once they do is pretty consistent. No reason why Uber would be any different.
uber  business  monopoly 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
One reason staffers quit Google's car project? The company paid them so much • Bloomberg
Alistair Barr and Mark Bergen:
<p>The unorthodox system started in 2010, soon after Google unveiled its first self-driving vehicle. It was constructed to tie employees' fortunes to the performance of the project, rather than Google's advertising money machine. In addition to cash salaries, some staffers were given bonuses and equity in the business and these awards were set aside in a special entity. After several years, Google applied a multiplier to the value of the awards and paid some or all of it out. The multiplier was based on periodic valuations of the division, the people said. 

The precise metrics that the division was measured by - and caused the bonuses to balloon - are not known. But by 2015, the Google car project had come a long way: Google’s vehicles had logged more than one million autonomous miles; car companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Inc. announced their own plans to develop autonomous systems; and analysts predicted the technology would transform the auto industry.

A large multiplier was applied to the compensation packages in late 2015, resulting in multi-million dollar payments in some cases, according to the people familiar with the situation. One member of the team had a multiplier of 16 applied to bonuses and equity amassed over four years, one of the people said. They asked not to be identified talking about private matters. 

Part of the problem was that payouts snowballed after key milestones were reached, even though the ultimate goal of the project - fully autonomous vehicles provided to the public through commercial services - remained years away. </p>

Tricky to find the right financial package when real payoff could be years away, but you want to prevent them heading off to a startup.
google  waymo  business 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Inside the meltdown of Evan Williams' startup, Medium • Business Insider
Julie Bort:
<p>All the people Business Insider spoke to agreed: They admire and like [former Blogger founder, Twitter co-founder and Medium founder Ev] Williams . He's a hard worker — first one in the office, last one to leave.

Employees said they loved their jobs. It wasn't just the perks like free lunch and on-site meditation sessions; their CEO also treated them as a doting parent would.

"He's an amazing person to work with," an employee said. "He challenged me in ways I didn't think were possible."

Williams listens carefully to ideas, then helps an employee look at a situation from a new perspective. He encourages experimentation and doesn't penalize failure.

But Williams and his right-hand strategy man, Ed Lichty, were also both described as "nonconfrontational" to a fault. They didn't have the "hard conversations" or do ongoing course corrections to build a sustainable business, multiple people said.

Their messages to the staff were so consistently upbeat — and the startup was so well funded — that employees felt complacent, people told us. (Lichty, who has been with Medium for four of its five years, is also leaving, multiple people said. Medium declined to comment.)

Yet this was the second time they changed business models. Medium had previously toyed with being a publication itself, hiring writers and editors. Then it shuttered that effort. Employees were asked to voluntarily resign or relocate to other jobs.

Even if Williams finally gets the business model right, at this point he would have to rebuild trust and credibility in the media world.</p>

Might be able to imagine one happening, but not both. It's a shiny car, but it hasn't got an engine.
medium  business 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
GoPro stock crashes more than 10% after failing to meet Wall Street’s expectations • TechCrunch
Matt Burns:
<p>The company reported $540m in fourth-quarter revenue, with a net income loss of $.082 a share. That’s under what analysts expected. And the company didn’t fare much better in yearly reporting either, netting just $1,185m in 2016, down 26.8% from 2015.

The company notes the $0.82 per share loss includes charges of $102m for a full valuation allowance on U.S. deferred tax assets and nearly $37m for restructuring costs.

GoPro’s stock is currently trading down more than 10% on the day. The stock previously saw modest gains in the early days of 2017 and had climbed 23% in January alone.

There are some bright spots for GoPro. The company notes that the previous quarter generated the second-most revenue in the company’s history and the new Hero5 Black was the best-selling digital imaging device in units and dollars. And just yesterday, the company relaunched the Karma drone that was previously pulled from the market.</p>

First Fitbit, now GoPro. (It isn't much to say your revenue was "second-highest ever" when you're meant to still be on the way up.)
GoPro  business 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
A 24-year-old made $345,000 by beating Kickstarters to market •CNBC
Zack Guzman:
<p>For Jack, this all started with an inflatable chair.

After graduating from college in Canada, Jack found himself bored of working on behalf of yet another social app hoping to one day garner a billion-dollar valuation.

"I started realizing I wanted to run a company that actually sold something," he recalls.

Around the same time he noticed a start-up that appeared poised to do that faster than anyone. It was an Indiegogo campaign for KAISR, an inflatable lounge chair made of parachute material that had surpassed its goal by raising $18,500 in 12 hours last March (and eventually over $4 million).

<img src="" width="100%" />
<em>Indiegogo screenshot | KAISR.
KAISR shut down its operations and refunded most of the $4 million it raised after settling a lawsuit with Lamzac's parent company Fatboy.</em>

As the Indiegogo gained in popularity, Jack's research led him to realize that the idea was far from unique. In fact, the Lamzac inflatable lounge chair had already gone viral, five years after the idea was presented by its Dutch inventor on Holland's TV show "Best Idea of Holland."

The only thing that was new about this chair was the buzz from the crowdfunding campaign.

Jack wondered if he might be able to produce his own successful knockoff. A cursory search on Alibaba revealed manufacturers based in China that were offering product samples, and after minor sampling fees and a little back and forth with the winning factory, Jack had his product: The Cozy Bag.</p>

Some Kickstarters are astonishingly slow. When the idea's simple, as in these examples, you get the feeling they're losing in a Darwinian race with China's factories and those on the outside.
Kickstarter  business  ip 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Lousy ads are ruining the online experience - The Verge
Walt Mossberg didn't like the ad on a TV sports show; but he's beginning to realise that the model is increasingly broken online:
<p>Some combination of ads and subscriptions has long supported both news and entertainment, in print and on television. But, as a young journalist coming up at The Wall Street Journal, I was always led to understand that the price and volume of ads was based on a variety of factors — not just how big your audience was, but who it was (as best as could be measured back then) and how desirable your journalism was. I was also taught that our job as journalists was to just do great work and the readers, and advertisers would follow.

But the world has changed as journalism and entertainment have been disrupted by technology. Great power has shifted to the advertisers. I learned this almost immediately after I left the Journal in 2013 and co-founded Recode on January 2nd, 2014.

About a week after our launch, I was seated at a dinner next to a major advertising executive. He complimented me on our new site’s quality and on that of a predecessor site we had created and run, I asked him if that meant he’d be placing ads on our fledgling site. He said yes, he’d do that for a little while. And then, after the cookies he placed on Recode helped him to track our desirable audience around the web, his agency would begin removing the ads and placing them on cheaper sites our readers also happened to visit. In other words, our quality journalism was, to him, nothing more than a lead generator for target-rich readers, and would ultimately benefit sites that might care less about quality.</p>

Subscriptions. Gotta be. Ads will always have the tragedy of the commons.
mobile  advertising  business 
january 2017 by charlesarthur
Apple’s 2016 in review • Chuqui
Former Apple employee Chuq von Rospach:
<p>Why make a product?

If you boil business down to essentials, there are only three reasons a product should exist:

Because it makes you money: Most products need to make you money and contribute to the financial success of the company. Some are going to be more profitable than others, but you shouldn’t be doing products that lose you money (buy hey, we’ll make it up in volume!). Unless…

Because it’s strategic: Sometimes you create a product for strategic reasons: it’s not going to make you money, but it’s necessary to compete, or it creates other opportunities where you can profit indirectly (iTunes is a great example of this, where most of the profit came from iPod sales and later music and media sales), or you’re investing in in something that in the long term you expect will make you money some day, but you need to start now and let the market grow (but you can’t really wait until it does, because someone else will take the market from you first) — the Apple TV, while labelled a hobby for years, was such a strategic investment. So were the early Airport devices, because Apple saw wireless as a big part of its future and a long-term competitive advantage, but existing WIFI devices were pretty terrible and had horrible user experiences.

Because it matters to you: And sometimes you do it because you feel it has to be done. Apple’s strong commitment to accessibility is one very visible place where they are clearly investing not because it’ll make them money, but because it’s an important thing to do.

I bring this up because it helps me frame my view of the reality of the Macintosh product line and why I think Apple’s gotten some things very wrong with it.</p>

This has been a very widely shared article (but linked here just in case). Von Rospach makes many good points: one gets a feeling that Apple is struggling to keep its arms around everything it's doing and keep it all timely. That has become a much bigger problem with its expanding product range, and there have been lacunae when it was smaller (iMovie and iPhoto languished for years, as did iWork). But that doesn't excuse the stunning lag on the Mac Pro, and the decisions around the MacBook Pro - for which von Rospach gives this analogy from experience:
<p>Back when I was running most of Apple’s e-mail systems for the marketing teams, I went to them and suggested that we should consider dumping the text-only part of the emails we were building, because only about 4% of users used them and it added a significant amount of work to the process of creation and testing each e-mail.

Their response? That it was a small group of people, but a strategic one, since it was highly biased towards developers and power users. So the two-part emails stayed — and they were right. It made no sense from a business standpoint to continue to develop these emails as both HTML at text, but it made significant strategic sense. It was an investment in keeping this key user base happy with Apple.</p>
apple  business  macbook  review  analysis 
january 2017 by charlesarthur
How Apple alienated Mac loyalists • Bloomberg
Mark Gurman:
<p>Take the company's attempt to create a longer-lasting battery for the MacBook Pro. Apple engineers wanted to use higher capacity battery packs shaped to the insides of the laptop versus the standard square cells found in most machines. The design would have boosted battery life. 

In the run-up to the MacBook Pro's planned debut this year, the new battery failed a key test, according to a person familiar with the situation. Rather than delay the launch and risk missing the crucial holiday shopping season, Apple decided to revert to an older design. The change required roping in engineers from other teams to finish the job, meaning work on other Macs languished, the person said. The new laptop didn't represent a game-changing leap in battery performance, and a software bug misrepresented hours of power remaining. Apple has since removed the meter from the top right-hand corner of the screen. 

In the Mac's heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive's team. Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive's studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad, and the change became even more obvious after the design team's leadership was shuffled last year, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there's no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power. </p>

Gurman also suggests that engineers are given competing specs - and this can lead to late shipping, for instance on the Macbook of 2015, which he says was meant to appear in 2014.

Notably, he doesn't know whether the Mac Pro is dead, or just being revamped.
apple  ios  mac  business 
december 2016 by charlesarthur
What writing - and selling - software was like in the 80's • The Codist
Andrew Wulf:
<p>We finally shipped [our software, Trapeze] at Macworld SF in January 1987.

Now what does that mean? Today shipping is nothing, push a few buttons and it's uploaded somewhere. In those days shipping meant floppy disk duplicators, printers for manuals, boxes, and actual shipping. Who did you ship to? Distributors and mail order houses. You rarely sold to end users. Distributors took cases of boxes, putting a short description into a paper catalog they gave to retailers. If they sold any they sent you a check 90-180 days later. Anything they didn't sell came back 6 months later. Mail order usually paid quicker. Distributors would pay you around 30% of the retail price; the mail order people were a little better. If you wanted a retailer to stock your app you were expected to advertise; no one did anything free for you other than put you in a catalog. This made making money a pain in the ass.

Of course potential customers had to figure out you existed, demand you from their retailer who hopefully ordered from the distributor. If they did buy a copy you only found out who they were if they filled out a registration card or called for support. When I think back at how crappy this all was I wonder why I ever got into it! Today it all sounds stupid.

We got a good review in Macworld, but the guy who wrote the MacUser review had a bad day and the review was horrible. Of course these were written in January and only came out three months later. The one bad review killed our sales. </p>
business  programming  history 
november 2016 by charlesarthur
Merkel: internet search engines are 'distorting perception' • The Guardian
Kate Connolly:
<p>Angela Merkel has called on major internet platforms to divulge the secrets of their algorithms, arguing that their lack of transparency endangers debating culture.

The German chancellor said internet users had a right to know how and on what basis the information they received via search engines was channelled to them.

Speaking to a media conference in Munich, Merkel said: “I’m of the opinion that algorithms must be made more transparent, so that one can inform oneself as an interested citizen about questions like ‘what influences my behaviour on the internet and that of others?’.

“Algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they can shrink our expanse of information.”</p>

The key point is that they're not interrogable: we can't trace back how they reach their conclusions. Humans, at least, can be asked.
google  facebook  business  algorithm  openness 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
Inside Apple’s new audio adapter • iFixit
Jeff Suovanen:
<p><img src="" width="100%" />

The takeaway seems to be that in some areas, the sound quality does measure a bit worse from the adapter than we might be accustomed to. For instance, when playing an uncompressed 16-bit audio file on the iPhone 6s, the dynamic range dropped from 99.1 dB at the headphone jack to 97.3 dB at the adapter. Though keep in mind, this slightly lower measurement is still higher than the theoretical maximum you get from a compact disc (which is 96 dB). So, is it a difference you are likely to notice? If you sit in a quiet room with a really, really good pair of headphones … and you’re a canine, the answer is: maybe.

But it appears Apple’s engineers did their job, and this tiny adapter performs better than most people expected or even thought possible.</p>

No. That is not the takeaway. You literally cannot hear the difference. You can barely measure it.
apple  business  audio  computers 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
Intellectual Ventures case: why software patents will take a big hit • Fortune
Jeff John Roberts:
<p>The <a href="">ruling</a>, issued on Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, found that three patents asserted against anti-virus companies Symantec SYMC 0.63% and Trend Micro were invalid because they did not describe a patentable invention. The patents were owned by Intellectual Ventures, which has a notorious reputation in the tech world as a so-called “patent troll,” a phrase that describes firms that buy up old patents and wage lawsuits in order to demand payments from productive companies.

The most important part of the decision, which has created a stir among the patent bar, is a concurrence by Circuit Judge Haldane Mayer. In striking down a key claim from U.S. Patent 5987610, which claims a monopoly on using anti-virus tools within a phone network, Mayer says it is time to acknowledge that a famous Supreme Court 2014 decision known as “Alice” basically ended software patents altogether.</p>
law  software  patents  business 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
You don’t have to be stupid to work here, but it helps • Aeon Essays
Andre Spicer on how new recruits to the workforce meet gigantic, dispiriting corporate inertia, and what that means for the future:
<p>Another significant source of stupidity in firms we came across was a deep faith in leadership. In most organisations today, senior executives are not content with just being managers. They want to be leaders. They see their role as not just running their business but also transforming their followers. They talk about ‘vision’, ‘belief’ and ‘authenticity’ with great verve. All this sounds like our office buildings are brimming with would-be Nelson Mandelas. However, when you take a closer look at what these self-declared leaders spend their days doing, the story is quite different.

No matter how hard you search there is little – if any – leadership to be found. What most executives actually spend their days doing is sitting in meetings, filling in forms and communicating information. In other words, they are bureaucrats. But being a bureaucrat is not particularly exciting. It also doesn’t look very good on your business card. To make their roles seem more important and exciting than they actually are, corporate executives become leadership addicts. They read leadership books. They give lengthy talks to yawning subordinates about leadership. But most importantly they attend many courses, seminars and meetings with ‘leadership’ somewhere in the title. The content of many of these leadership-development courses would not be out of place in a kindergarten or a New Age commune. There are leadership-development courses where participants are asked to lead a horse around a yard, use colouring-in books, or build Lego – all in the name of developing them as leaders.

At least $14bn gets spent every year on leadership development in the US alone yet, according to researchers such as Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford, it has virtually no impact on improving the quality of leaders. In our own research, we found that most employees in knowledge-intensive firms didn’t need much leadership. People working at the coalface were self-motivated and often knew their jobs much better than their bosses did. </p>
business  culture  management 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
AI-First, the overhype and the last mile problem • Vik's Blog
Vik Singh is chief executive of AI startup Infer:
<p>How do you get regular business users to depend on your predictions, even though they won’t understand all of the science that went into calculating them? You want them to trust the predictions, to understand how to best leverage them to drive value, and to change their workflows to depend on them.

This is the last mile problem. It is a very hard problem — and it’s a product problem, not a data scientist problem. Having an army of data scientists isn’t going to make this problem better. In fact, it may make it worse, as data scientists typically want to focus on modeling, which may lead to over-investing in that aspect versus thinking about the end-to-end user experience.

To solve last mile problems, vendors need to successfully tackle three critical components:</p>

Those are: getting "predictive everywhere" with integrations; building trust; and making predictive disappear with proven use cases. Might not sound comprehensible on its own, but it makes sense in context. Infer is an example of the sort of company that nobody will have heard of, but will over the next five years insinuate its work into all sorts of daily decisions. You'll wake up one day and its algorithms will have affected you directly.
infer  ai  business 
october 2016 by charlesarthur
Has the UK got Tech Talent? • BBC News
Rory Cellan-Jones:
<p>Across BBC News outlets this week, under the banner Tech Talent, we are asking whether the UK can compete in the global technology industry - and why we haven't produced a tech giant on the scale of Google or Apple. Here are my thoughts on those questions.

In the last ten days I've met the founder of a British games company which is still independent after a quarter of a century, and about to launch one of Sony's first virtual reality titles.

I've attended a celebration to mark the extraordinary success of the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer created in Cambridge to teach children to code, which has now achieved global sales of ten million.

And I've had a demo of the latest products from a fledgling company called Chirp, created by a University College London scientist to transmit data via an audio signal.

All of these are examples of a thriving British technology landscape. So why, over nearly 20 years of covering the tech scene, do I keep getting asked the same thing - where is the UK's Google?</p>

What isn't mentioned in the piece, but seems relevant, is that Google, Apple, Facebook and so on can count on scale: the US is largely homogenous and can be largely covered using a single language (add Spanish and you're pretty much at 100%). The UK is part of Europe (presently) but crucially you can't reach all its users with a single language, plus there are cross-border differences in business practice.

That said, the UK has produced lots of top-flight tech companies. We just tend to overlook them until they get bought.
uk  technology  business 
september 2016 by charlesarthur
When you change the world and no one notices • Collaborative Fund
Morgan Housel:
<p>Do you know what’s happening in this picture? Literally one of the most important events in human history.

<img src="" width="100%" />

But here’s the most amazing part of the story: Hardly anyone paid attention at the time.

Wilbur and Orville Wright conquered [powered] flight on December 17th, 1903. Few inventions were as transformational over the next century. It took four days to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 1900, by train. By the 1930s it could be done in 17 hours, by air. By 1950, six hours.

Unlike, say, mapping the genome, a lay person could instantly grasp the marvel of human flight. A guy sat in a box and turned into a bird.

But days, months, even years after the Wright’s first flight, hardly anyone noticed.</p>

As Housel points out with numerous examples in this fascinating piece (your must-read for today), world-changing inventions can take years to make the slightest impact, and they're usually dismissed at first as pointless or toys by "smart" people.

Which does make one wonder how many world-changing inventions have been missed for that reason. Or is all progress inevitable, and it's just a question of who puts their name to it?
business  innovation 
september 2016 by charlesarthur
Overcast trying ads, dark theme now free •
Marco Arment on his podcasting app's business model change:
<p>There’s still money in some software, especially if it helps people get their work done, but the market for most consumer apps is much more like music, video, news, opinion, and web services than traditional indie software: an overwhelming supply of free choices, many of which are great or good enough, making it hard for anyone with a paywall to succeed.

The content industries figured out the solution a long time ago. If 97% of my users can’t or would rather not pay, but they spend substantial time in the app every day, the solution is probably ads.

Ads are the great compromise: money needs to come from somewhere, and the vast majority of people choose free-with-ads over direct payment. Ads need not be a bad thing: when implemented respectfully, all parties can get what they want.

Most podcasts played in Overcast are funded by ads for this reason, and as a podcaster and (occasional) blogger myself, I already make most of my income from ads.</p>

Reminder: about a year ago Arment <a href="">offered one of the first iOS 9 adblockers, Peace</a> (a paid-for app), which he then withdrew on the basis it made him uncomfortable to make money off blocking ads.
appstore  business  ios 
september 2016 by charlesarthur
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