Whither Middlemen?

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Is a world without middlemen really a good thing?

A recent piece in the Harvard Business Review entitled The Promise of Blockchain Is a World Without Middlemen lays out the case for decentralized networks in evangelical language. As the author writes, “Decentralization offers the promise of nearly friction-free cooperation between members of complex networks that can add value to each other by enabling collaboration without central authorities and middle men.”

But is it a given that such a world is what customers really want?

“Novgorod Marketplace”, a painting by Appolinary Vasnetsov (1856–1933)

The Job of the Middleman

Middlemen make for an easy target for disgruntled customers and observers of the economy. At times it can be unclear how they are adding value to a transaction. Sometimes it looks like middlemen are simply inserting themselves into a transaction to increase costs and take a cut.

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Why We Need More Etsys

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The cautionary tale of Etsy reveals an existential question looming over StartupLand

Inside the Revolution at Etsy

When you decide to take your company public, you buy into a system that is far, far bigger than you. And as much as you may want to change the system, as a public company, you have to focus on your business and your shareholders first. That’s the law, enshrined in all corporate governance documents.

Now, governance can be rewritten, and Etsy, subject of a major Times profile this past weekend, had done just that. Before it went public, Etsy was a B Corporation, but as it prepared for the public markets, it decided to forgo the most stringent part of B Corp. certification — enshrining itself as a “PBC” — a public benefit corporation. Publicly traded PBCs are rarer than unicorns — there’s only one, Laureate Education, and, well, its stock isn’t exactly encouraging others to join the fray.

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This Is How Walmart Will Defend Itself Against Amazon

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And: Ethics in business follow ethics in government, Valerian follow up…

Amazon v. Walmart market cap over time. Source: Wolfram Alpha.

For a short item in a daily newsletter, my post on Google and Amazon’s feed-driven ambitions brought some outsized email responses my way. Suffice to say, people in the industry are paying close attention to the topic, and that got me thinking a bit more about where this all might lead. Given it’s Monday, and the news is a bit slow, indulge me in a bit of speculation.

Here’s the headline: I predict Walmart will attempt to either partner with Instagram, or to invest in (and partner with) Pinterest. Or both.

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In Online Retail’s Fight for Amazon’s Buy Box, the Weapon is Data

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The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories


Many companies enter the fray for possession of the coveted default seller position on Amazon pages — the seller you end up choosing when you click the big orange “buy” button — but only one can win. Since an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the sales for a given product page go to the winner, it’s a consequential choice. In Buzzfeed, Leticia Miranda lays out how this struggle has evolved, and what criteria Amazon uses to resolve it.

The answers are to some extent opaque: Amazon won’t detail its formula for fear it will get gamed, but says companies can win by “keeping prices low, updating their inventory, and offering multiple shipping methods and fast, reliable service.” Also, it helps if they are Amazon Marketplace veterans and if they ship from Amazon warehouses.

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Can You Build a Great Brand on Amazon?

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Amazon is the first destination for most US consumers searching for products online. For venture-backed startups building direct-to-consumer brands, Amazon is often an afterthought. They fear ceding any level of control over the brand narrative and customer relationship, the core drivers of brand value. However, it’s becoming increasingly perilous to ignore Amazon.

Consumer Influence

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Move over, KPIs — the Key Value Indicator takes data a step further

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Sponsored Post

Kelsey McGillis Interviews Matt Mayes, Director of Data Intelligence, Welcome


Why use KPIs when you can use KVIs? Welcome’s Head of Data Intelligence Matt Mayes spoke with us about value-based design, a new approach to data analysis that gives businesses a better look into why you are seeing specific results, and how to improve. It focuses on Key Value Indicators (KVI), which go a step further than Key Performance Indicators, giving businesses a clear path to act on the data mined.

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