Marc Benioff and the New Era of Corporate Social Activism Is Salesforce’s chief executive an inspired activist or a “bully” for pushing companies to speak out against laws he believes to be discriminatory? Regardless what you think (The Wall Street Journal’s coverage gives voice to both opinions), you must acknowledge that Benioff is having an impact. It’s astounding to read the CEO of Bank of America say, on the record, to the Journal: “Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right. It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.” That was unimaginable not too long ago.
Going Clear on the Cult of Failure Most of what we read about failure is cheerleading stuff filtered through a subsequent success. Lately there’s been a backlash stating the obvious — success is better than failure, it turns out — but we rarely see a piece that disarms the failure-is-success narrative so conclusively as this Gideon Lichfield take in Quartz. In blessedly few words, it reminds us how failure is an important and inevitable part of life, not a sign of greatness, and we should treat it as an opportunity to learn, not to celebrate. In other words, it replaces magical thinking with the evidence-based kind, like the work of many cult deprogrammers.
I Am Spartacus, Bitcoin Edition As Wired predicted, today Australian Craig Wright said he’s the real Satoshi Nakamoto (BBC), inventor of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. The Bitcoin origin story may now have closure (or maybe not, writes The Economist; there’s still some fishiness in Wright’s story), but even more unclear is what role Bitcoin itself will have in everyday financial life. Maybe Wright’s announcement will make this guy’s life easier.
Uber Takes London The Guardianoffers a fascinating long read that captures many of the complexities associated with Uber’s speedy dominance of transportation in many cities. The secret to understanding the Uber takeover? It’s not about cars.
When Raising Profit Destroys Value It only took a $77 billion decrease in pharmaceutical Valeant’s value for its soon-to-be-ex CEO and its primary booster to acknowledge they might have gotten a few things wrong (Bloomberg). At a Senate Committee on Aging hearing, deposed chief Mike Pearson said, “We have made mistakes. Valeant was too aggressive.” Board member Bill Ackman, one of the company’s top investors, chimed in, “While raising the prices of these drugs increased the profits of Valeant, it destroyed enormous shareholder value.” They performed the ritual mea culpas expected from people in their positions, but, as Ackman said, “Actions speak louder than words.” None of the coverage of the hearing (there wasn’t much, and the hearing room appears to have been half-empty) suggests that the mea culprits talked at all about why they made their original “aggressive” pricing decision: They were confident they could get away with it.
You Know Off The Grid For Its Food Happenings … … but did you know that the company books 2,000 local bands each year? Learn more in NewCo’s latest Video Spotlight.
Theranos Fails the Test Theranos’ precipitous fall offers lessons for NewCos and their investors. A Conversation piece by Norman A. Paradis, professor of medicine at Dartmouth, includes all the usual we-should-have-seen-it-coming roundup of the facts. But near the end of Paradis’s article is one crucial warning sign that even those not steeped in the world of medical devices should have caught. Theranos insisted it had to operate in extended stealth mode to keep a competitive advantage, which meant it didn’t publish peer-reviewed studies. In other words, you had to trust. You couldn’t verify. This fact was further compounded by a lack of anyone with deep knowledge of medical testing on Theranos’ board. That will likely turn out to be a disaster for the investors. We’ll never know what the company could have learned and corrected for had it followed a more open approach.
A Country of Two Cities Well, two kinds of cities, anyway. American cities grow in one of two ways: up or out (Fast Company), according to an analysis by contractor broker Buildzoom. Cities that stop expanding get too expensive for most people (hello, San Francisco!); cities that sprawl keep housing prices under control as the notion of a city center turns more diffuse.
Copenhagen Finds The True Cost of Cars It’s difficult–but important–to consider all the costs involved when you’re making a business or policy decision, which makes this report on how Copenhagen is using data to move from cars to bikes (Fast Company) so heartening. When the city makes basic decisions about transportation, it doesn’t just compare the cost of a bikeway to a road for cars, it also includes “the cost of road accidents to society, the impact of car pollution on health, and the cost of carbon emitted to the atmosphere.” As researcher Stefan Gössling from Lund University notes, “If we want people to cycle, then we have to change our approach towards urban infrastructure. Cyclists will only cycle in large numbers when they feel physically safe and when it’s fast.”
The Tech-Government Revolving Door There are plenty of high-profile examples of companies challenging governments (most recently Apple and Microsoft), but how can tech truly challenge government when the two are connected by a revolving door? In The Guardian, Danny Yadron traces the Valley’s long and close relationship with the U.S. government and how some are thinking differently about it now that Twitter has hired Kathy Chen, once an engineer for the People’s Liberation Army, to run ad sales and bizdev in China. It’s complicated, of course — you do recall that Twitter is currently banned in China if you don’t have a VPN? But it’s a reminder of how inextricable tech and government, in particular the military part of government, have become.
Uber Says It’s Growing Up Uber wants the world to know it’s willing to change and that it’s learned something from class action lawsuits in both Massachusetts and California. In a blog post announcing a $100 million settlement, CEO Travis Kalanick admits the company wasn’t responding to many of its drivers’ concerns, and announced new policies intended to address Uber’s shortcomings. Wired was quick to publish an op-ed pointing out that the deal leaves the largest question — whether on-demand workers have the rights of full time employees — unresolved.
Mexico City Dips Its Toe Into Digital Self-Rule What if they wrote a constitution and let the constituents write it? We could be heading in that direction. NewCo host Mexico City is deploying crowdsourcing to create a new constitution (Quartz). Using NewCo Change.org as its platform, the city is soliciting ideas and setting up procedures for potentially integrating them. Before you start singing hosannas to the new nirvana of digital democracy, note that this exercise only goes so far: the constitutional assembly, which has the final word on the new city’s basic law, isn’t legally obligated to include any of the citizen input. Nonetheless, using digital tools to include the public in writing their laws is an experiment worth following and learning from.
Growing Up With Whole Foods Many food startups earn much of their cachet from doing things handmade and small-batch. What happens when those business get the call from Whole Foods and have to scale up quickly? This New York Times piece chronicles big loans and mold infestations, and it captures the combination of fear and excitement that comes when a company switches from selling store-to-store to suddenly having a large audience to serve. Whole Foods has tools — human, logistical, monetary — to ease the transition. This piece is all about the food biz, but it outlines approaches big companies in many industries can consider to help new suppliers grow safely and sustainably.
Your Millennial Assumptions Are Wrong First we hit peak millennial. Now we may be hitting peak everything-you-assumed-about-millennials-is-wrong. In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson goes deep on what we know about the typical 29-year-old in the US, based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Putting to the side the fact that there is no such thing as an average person of any age, the report reveals that millennials are less likely to have gone to college, less likely to live in a city, and more likely to be married than conventional wisdom dictates. Too much reporting on millennials is really reporting on cultural-elite millennials; it’s useful to see these hints of the bigger picture.
Stop Asking Tech to Fight Your Battles Microsoft is suing the Department of Justice, a bold move you might not suspect from a company that is still smarting from a crushing defeat back in 2001. In his weekly column, NewCo founder and editor in chief John Battelle shows why Microsoft’s action is important to all companies, not just its comrades (and likely allies) in tech. His message to industry: Get involved and stop outsourcing the future of your business to the tech industry.
The Two Stories of NewCo Detroit There are two stories in conflict in the Motor City: the optimistic story and the realistic story. Both of them are true, yet at NewCo Detroit last week we saw one of them hold sway over the other. We left the festival with a sense of a city with a rich history in all kinds of making that’s zeroing in on the future. Here’s what we saw.
Steve Case’s Third Wave (via Eric Ries) When you read a Q&A, chances are you’re a lot more interested in the A than the Q. So this interview with AOL founder Steve Case regarding his new book The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, conducted by lean startup stalwart Eric Ries, is rare for both what it offers (intelligence and agility on both sides) and what it eschews (there’s no silly “Internet 3.0” stuff in here). Prodded by Ries, Case rattles off insight after insight: policy will be more important, disruption will increase the need to partner with incumbents, a heyday of regional entrepreneurship is coming. All very NewCo themes; now we’ll read Case’s book in full and report back here once we do.
Companies Can Be Good People Writing in The New Yorker, James Surowiecki surveys the robust and negative corporate response to discriminatory legislation in North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, and other states. But he touches only briefly on the real cause of that response: In an era of work-life integration, big companies can no longer ignore the values of their employees and customers when faced with bias. The era of corporations acting like people — people with a point of view about social justice — is now upon us.
The Future of Bitcoin It’s hard for non-economists (and, frankly, some economists) to get their heads around Bitcoin. The non-economic aspects are so fascinating (who is Satoshi Nakamoto? how are these things mined?) it’s easy to forget how fundamental a challenge it is to traditional currencies — and how neatly it fits in with the history of money. When Bitcoin Grows Up (London Review of Books), an extended (more than 10,000 words) essay by John Lancaster, rewards the patient with a hard-headed look at what’s new about Bitcoin and what looks quite similar to the current system. Perhaps best of all, Lancaster refrains from the “blockchains will solve all our problems” conclusion that infects so much writing about where Bitcoin might be going.
Amazon Steps Up As part of its downtown Seattle expansion, Amazon now owns a building that used to be a Travelodge. Along with the nonprofit Mary’s Place, it has a test plan to housing 200 homeless people there for a year. “It’s an example of collaboration,” Mayor Ed Murray told The Seattle Times. “This problem cannot be solved by government by itself. It cannot be solved by nonprofits like Mary’s Place by themselves. The fact that Amazon has chosen to be a partner in probably the most difficult crisis the city is facing right now says a lot about their willingness to help us build community and be incredibly caring business partners.”