The venerable catalog marketer learned that standing for something isn’t easy, especially if what you’re standing for doesn’t connect to your core mission and might not even be intentional. Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni interviewed Gloria Steinem as part of a series called “Legends” in its spring catalog. It was a friendly, deferential conversation, not particularly deep and with no revelations or provocations. Steinem is a feminist and publishing pioneer, but a number of groups and individuals with anti-abortion views called out Lands’ End on the interview (even though there was no talk about abortion in it). Some called for a boycott. Shortly thereafter, Lands’ End released a statement:
Thanks to NewCo, I’ve gotten out of the Bay Area bubble and visited more than a dozen major cities across several continents in the past year. I’ve met with founders inside hundreds of mission-driven companies, in cities as diverse as Istanbul, Boulder, Cincinnati, and Mexico City. I’ve learned about the change these companies are making in the world, and I’ve compared notes with the leaders of large, established companies, many of which are the targets of that change.
As I reflect on my travels, a few consistent themes emerge:
1. Technology has moved from a vertical industry to a horizontal layer across our society. Technology used to be a specialized field. Technology companies sold their wares to large companies in large, complicated IT packages and to consumers as discrete products (computers and software applications). In the past decade, technology has dissolved into the fabric of our society. We all can access powerful technology stacks. We don’t need to know how to program. We don’t need a big IT department either. Now, technology is infrastructure, like our physical systems of highways and roads. This levels the playing field so new kinds of companies can emerge, and it’s forcing big companies to respond to a new breed of competitor, as well as a newly empowered (and informed) consumer base.
Hacks/Hackers, a group of entrepreneurs, journalists, designers, and developers around the world, is partnering with Google News Lab to host Hacks/Hackers Connect events in a half dozen cities in the U.S. and abroad.
The first Connect in North America was held at Runway Incubator in San Francisco this past weekend. Connect comes to New York and London next month.
Several times in my career I’ve wanted to work with a team that seemed to know where things were going just a little bit ahead of everyone else. That’s why I was desperate to write for WIRED early on, why I was eager to write columns and edit newsletters for The Industry Standard, and why I wanted to test at Federated Media whether content marketing might be something I could be part of without taking a scalding shower afterward.
I’ve been lucky enough to do that with other employees and clients too, but the three places I mentioned up top had one thing in common: my contact there or my contact’s boss was John Battelle. So when I talked over the summer, after a much-too-long break, to my editor at The Standard, Jonathan Weber, to congratulate him on his new gig at Reuters, he told me about the project he was working on before he took the position at Reuters. It sounded like a smart, next-generation mix of an events business and a media business. And then he mentioned he was working on it with Battelle. Of course it was the next thing.
I’ve been helping NewCo in an advisory capacity since the summer, but I knew pretty quickly that I’d want to jump into the deep end with the people there. Their citywide festivals are a canny flip of the usual high-end conference model; the media business we’re building alongside the festivals covers the people, companies, and stories driving what may be the biggest shift in business and business culture since the industrial revolution. We’re getting started with a daily newsletter and a website and — I’m going to say this in public so we have no choice but to deliver — we’ll launch another editorial product before the month is out.
I just opened an email on my phone. It was from a fellow I don’t know, inviting me to an event I’d never heard of. Intrigued, I clicked on the fellow’s LinkedIn, which was part of his email signature.
That link opened the LinkedIn app on my phone. In the fellow’s LI feed was another link, this one to a tweet he had mentioned in his feed. The tweet happened to be from a person I know, so I clicked on it, and the Twitter app opened on my phone. I read the tweet, then pressed the back button and….
Twelve years of making predictions doesn’t make writing them any easier, regardless of my relatively good showing in 2015. In fact, I briefly considered taking the year off — who am I to make predictions anyway? And so much has changed in the past few years — for me personally, and certainly for the industries to which I pay the most attention. But the rigor of thinking about the year ahead is addictive — it provides a framework for my writing, and a snapshot of what I find fascinating and noteworthy. And given that more than 125,000 of you read my post summarizing how I did in 2015 (thanks Medium and LinkedIn!), it was really you who’ve encouraged me to have at it again for 2016. I hope you’ll find these thought provoking, at the very least, and worthy of comment or debate, should you be so inclined.
This post is a book review, but it starts with a story from my past.
Way, way back, before San Francisco begat hip startups with nonsensical names, I found myself on the second floor of a near-abandoned warehouse on South Park, now one of the priciest areas of SF, but then, one of the cheapest. I surveyed the place: well lit in the front, but a shithole in the back. Detritus from years of shifting usage littered the ground — abandoned construction materials lurked in the poorly lit rear recesses, toward the front, where a wall of dusty industrial windows overlooked Second Street, a couch faced outward, and it was in this space I first met Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired and for all I could surmise, Willy Wonka’s twin brother from another mother.
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.