Welcome to the last NewCo Daily of 2015. We’ll be back January 4 to chronicle what NewCos are doing and start delivering a number of new editorial products (including one in January). It’s too early for us to run a comprehensive year-in-review piece (hey, we’ve only been publishing this newsletter since October) but today we’d like to look at the state of the basic unit of measurement for the NewCo: the company.
The NewCo Daily covers the organizations and the people in them trying to make meaningful change. Our founder John Battelle calls them companies on a mission, which is a subtle but important difference from being a company with a mission. Most companies have a mission. But companies on a mission are more likely to be open, driven by purposeful ideas, connected to their cities and communities, and connected to one another.
A report recently published by the JUST Capital Foundation investigates the role of the corporation in American society. It’s an impressive undertaking — more than 43,000 respondents — and we’ll address it in more detail in the coming year. But two data points jump out. One is that, across ideology and incomes, nearly 100% of respondents said measuring “corporate justness” is important. And no matter how JUST sliced the ideological pie, it never saw more than 50% of respondents say they trusted corporations. The desire to make businesses better is universal, and the belief that companies must earn our trust is strong.
Most important is what a company does, but what a company says has a great impact on its behavior. For example, if you’re on a mission, your mission statement has to be more than a series of rote bromides. NewCos like Patagonia (which we profiled recently) say what it believes upfront. Its mission statement: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” It captures both the idealistic and realistic reasons to build a business. Another NewCo, Warby Parker, says it was founded “with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear with a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially-conscious businesses.” A great mission statement says how a company will do well and how it will make good. It describes what it means to be on a mission.
There’s an argument raging among digerati right now whether Slack is a bona fide platform. One can’t argue, however, that Slack hasn’t become the central online workplace for more and more people, as its mission to make work more productive and more fun takes hold with more than two million people using it every day (roughly 25 percent of them on paid accounts).
The company’s announcement this week that it is launching a platform and funding it with both tools and money will make it that much easier for the company to lock in customers, since they will be able to interact with more and more apps from inside Slack, often via the rudimentary AI features of the service’s “bot.”
The ever present debate around whether Silicon Valley will retain its crown as the most important tech hub got fresh fuel this past week, first from a piece by Adam Lashinsky (yes, it will), and then from a Financial Times report (sub. required) seemingly refuting his conclusion (no, New York wins!).
The research behind the FT report claims the most entrepreneurial cities in the US are, in order, New York, Boston, Providence, and then San Francisco. The FT headline — “How New York stole Silicon Valley’s crown” — leads one to believe that somehow the research was comparing Apples to Big Apples. Of course, it was doing nothing of the sort. In truth, the FT’s uncharacteristic click bait was comparing Salesforces to Sandwich Shops.
Stewart Butterfield did well on his first major entrepreneurial venture. His company’s initial product, a multiplayer game, never shipped, but Ludicorp, which he helped found in 2002, sold its next project, the pioneering photo-sharing service Flickr, to Yahoo in 2005. Butterfield stuck around Yahoo until 2008 and then returned to entrepreneurship as a founder of Tiny Speck.
As with Ludicorp, Tiny Speck started as a game developer. And as with Ludicorp, Tiny Speck’s launch game, Glitch, never caught on. However, an internal communications tool Tiny Speck built and used while developing Glitch, called Slack, has become one of the most popular business tools of the moment, one of the few explicitly business tools that has also taken off among consumers. Capturing some of the most useful elements of both email and messaging, while eschewing the bloat and unfriendliness associated with each, Slack has enjoyed massive success.
Microsoft doesn’t have quite the money in the bank that Apple has (just under $100 billion as opposed to the more than $200 billion at Tim Cook’s disposal), but it has plenty to fund many, many years of experimentation as the Windows and Office cash cows slim down. The Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft was characterized by a protect-the-queen mentality that didn’t lose its grip until Satya Nadella succeeded him as CEO in early 2014.
It’s easy to denigrate some of the initiatives started or accelerated during Nadella’s tenure so far as the acts of a copycat, but the shift from “devices and services” has freed the Redmond giant to expand from its core while rethinking how it manages that core. When Microsoft has one of the best email clients running on Apple’s iOS, something profound has changed. Nadella is operating, in a no-longer-Microsoft-centric tech world, with interoperability on his mind.
How did Walmart build an internet startup inside the world’s largest retailer, undertaking one of the largest digital transformations in the history of business? It took talent, data and a huge commitment to Silicon Valley. Hosted at Walmart’s Global eCommerce office in Sunnyvale, California, this concise conversation between Walmart’s Brian Monahanand NewCo’s contributing editor Jonathan Weber reveals Walmart’s unique NewCo story.
Some of its bold practices include opening up company salaries and policy for all to see. It’s Clef’s attempt to signal its values, to be a positive part of the city where its employees work and live, and to spread what it has identified as best practices to other companies who are reconsidering how they operate.
(Warning, loads of unabashed cursing ahead. Cross posted from my site.)
Everyone’s definition of what makes a person or a company “douchey” varies, but the Supreme Court’s approach to pornography is a good start: You know it when you see it. The very fact that the HBO series Silicon Valley can confidently parody douchey behavior is proof we’ve at least found common ground when it comes to extreme douchebaggery.
Our industry loves a rashomon, and in the past year or two, our collective subject of debate has been Uber. Perhaps the fastest growing company in history (its numbers aren’t public, but we’ll get to some estimates shortly), Uber has become a vector for some of the most wide-ranging arguments I’ve ever had regarding the tech industry’s impact on society at large.
It’s not that Google, Facebook, Apple, or Microsoft didn’t evoke great debate, but all those companies came of age in an era where tech was still relegated to a sideshow in the broader cultural conversation. Microsoft was taking over the computer industry in the 1990s, Google the Internet in the early 2000s, Facebook and Apple the mobile and social world in the late 2000s. But Uber? Uber is about a very real and entirely new approach to our economy, a stand in for the wealth divide festering in the US and beyond, an existential rorschach testing your values around the role of government, the social contract, and the kind of society we want to become.
At NewCo, we spend a lot of time thinking about mission statements. We ask companies that apply to become NewCos for their mission statement, and we remind them that while most companies have mission statements, we look for companies that are in fact on one. There’s a difference — companies that are on a mission are filled with people who live and breathe their organization’s purpose. If you ask them about the “why” of their business, they’ll usually trace it back to the change their company is trying to make. That change is a verb — an active shift the company wants to see happen.
Put another way, great companies view their business as an argument. The company has a thesis about how the world ought to be in some way different — and every product, service, and customer touchpoint is part of proving that thesis true.