What If God Were An App?

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A playful way to look at what apps/startups need to do to thrive in the next business cycle. Based on a talk I gave this April at Industry: The Product Conference in Dublin. (Note: this is not religious, but meant to be a fun, perhaps useful, thought exercise.)


Last fall I was remembering my college days as a Badger at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In particular, I was remembering my Philosophy 101 class. In this class we were studying enlightenment philosophers such a David Hume, George Berkeley, and John Locke. They were attempting to solve a big problem of the day: proving or disproving the existence of the Judeo-Christian God through logic. As I recall (and it’s a bit hazy, it was college after all), they converged on four distinct qualities of God.

At the time I was enjoying this memory, I was going through a product roadmap process and helping put together Varo’s Series B fundraising pitch. The college memory and the work situation intertwined in my mind. This led to a little epiphany, namely–those same qualities that God must have (according to those philosophers) are the same qualities that a startup must possess in this coming business cycle. Behold, a new product management framework!

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Sure, The Internet Is Broken. So Let’s Go Fix It, Shall We?

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With the launch of 1.1.1.1, Cloudflare thumbs its nose at ISPs and the big platforms (AKA Google), and once again declares itself a business willing to start, and lead, tech’s toughest conversations

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince (Image)

Over the past year Cloudflare became best known not for the impressive services it has built in the Internet networking space, but for an action taken by its CEO Matthew Prince during the swirl following Trump’s Charlottesville comments. After initially defending the free speech rights of its neo-Nazi customer The Daily Stormer, Prince finally had enough. When the site claimed Cloudflare secretly supported its hateful philosophy, Prince kicked the site off the company’s network.

But it was Prince’s post on the subject that really caught everyone’s attention. From it:

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The Third Place and the Need State of Convenience

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Newco Shift Forum 2018

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, in a wide ranging conversation on the role of an iconic retail brand in the age of Amazon

Kevin Johnson, CEO Starbucks, during NewCo Shift Forum 2018

The Starbucks brand is ubiquitous — especially for anyone who’s visited a major city around the world. But what’s less well known about the iconic company is its long term commitment to, in its CEO’s words, “redefine what it means to be a public company.” To kick off the second annual Shift Forum, we invited Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, to join us in conversation about the challenges and opportunities driving a company that, even in an age of Amazon, opens one new store somewhere in the world every four hours. Below is the video interview, in full, and a transcript, edited for clarity.

John Battelle: Please join me in welcoming Kevin Johnson. He’s got his Starbucks cup. You are on brand, brother. [laughter]

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Good Companies Can Change the World. Here’s Proof.

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Smart, young, talented, and very much not bro-tastic.

Image Helena Ronis Twitter.

Business news these days is overwhelmingly depressing. But yesterday I had a chance to speak with five leaders of extraordinary NewCos, the kinds of companies that restore your faith in the role business can play in the world. For today’s column, I thought I’d introduce them to you as well.

Sean Duffy runs Omada Health, a late stage digital therapeutics company focused on addressing our nation’s obesity and diabetes crisis. The company has raised more than $135 million and is a standout in a complex and crowded digital healthcare space. I interviewed Duffy, along with four other entrepreneurs, at Comcast’s Millennial Tech and Change Summit in San Francisco yesterday. Omada is Duffy’s first startup, and as with every new company, it’s had its challenges. But Omada is now charting its own course, and helping hundreds of thousands of people change their lifestyle and beat chronic disease. The concept behind the platform scales to the size of the problem — which is massive.

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Your Share of the US GDP Awaits

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Money Quote Tuesday Nov. 28 2017

Forget Bitcoin. Sam Altman asks: Why not share the entire US economy equally with all citizens?

image

There is So. Much. To. Read! So here are some of the more noteworthy stories I’ve been reading these past two days:

American Equity

Sam Altman explores an idea with historical roots but radical implications. Money quote: “Countries that concentrate wealth in a small number of families do worse over the long term — if we don’t take a radical step toward a fair, inclusive system, we will not be the leading country in the world for much longer. This would harm all Americans more than most realize.”

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It All Starts With The Board.

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Boards are the most lasting and important avenue to the real change we need in capitalism. So let’s make them better.

Sorry to pick on you, Audi, but …

The Information is a subscriber only publication, so I don’t often link to it here. However, its package today (this link is open if you share your email) on private company boards is fundamentally important, and offers key insights into the state of our most vaunted business fantasy: That of the tech-driven startup on the verge of a world-beating IPO.

Regular readers (well, OK, yesterday’s readers) will recall that I recently wrote about Etsy, which was pilloried over the weekend by a Times profile that laid out a too-neat narrative about a fanciful “do-gooder” company forced to heel by the unforgiving demands of short-term Wall Street investors. My point in yesterday’s column was that it was far better to see Etsy chart its own course through those perilous waters than to capitulate fully and become a forgotten footnote of the tech oligarchy. The fact that the company managed to remain independent — even if it had to reform some of its more celebrated attributes — is a testament to its board. And if you look at that board, you will see a lot of diversity — plenty of independents, a strong governance philosophy, and a healthy percentage of women.

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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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The FCC and Net Neutrality: Once Again, We Must Raise Our Voices.

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Money Quote Tuesday Nov. 21 2017

We’re all tired of this endless battle. But if you make your living in any way through the Internet, you have to strap it on once more.

I’m tired. Worn down. In need of a Thanksgiving break. For more than a year the news has been relentless, and relentlessly bad. Are you worn down as well? Are you numb? Inured?

I bet you are.

But we must rouse ourselves, all over again, to have yet another fight we thought we already won. For this Thanksgiving, as most of us take a long-deserved rest to count our diminishing blessings, the FCC plans to gut net neutrality. And we simply can’t take this one lying down.

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Silicon Valley Is Under Attack. Here’s Why We Deserve It.

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Silicon Valley has forgotten to solve problems for everyday people and the backlash is coming

A $700 juicer. A delivery app that lets you pay $10 to get your $8 burrito faster. An app to valet your car.

These are the kinds of innovation that Silicon Valley has recently poured billions into building. Our industry that once was lauded for bright, young talent taking on the world’s biggest problems now seems to be forgetting about the people that need solutions most. Over $160bn in venture capital are going into startups each year — and yet most of the new innovation is driven by the latest hype cycle, not the real problems we face.

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#MeToo Reminds Us Why We Actually Like Social Media

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Money Quote Weds. Oct. 18

Walmart plays “second mover,” Google does Toronto, Trump wrecks Nafta.


A short but important note in time from The Atlantic: The #MeToo movement is very real, and very powerful. As Dave Pell put it in his always excellent NextDraft, “The sharing was eye-opening and awesome, and a reminder that we can use social media for some good once in a while.” Of course, as with anything related to social media, there’s already a robust backlash.

I am cheering Walmart on here. Wait, did I just type that? Yes, I did just type that. I am cheering Walmart on, because Amazon scares the shit out of me in ways that are primal. I have some ideas (here) about how this might play out. Meanwhile, the money quote: “Wal-Mart trails rival Amazon in online market share, but Mr. Lore said Wal-Mart’s built-in network of thousands of stores can serve as hubs for online orders and distribution. Mr. Lore said Wal-Mart has a “second-mover advantage.”

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