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My Favorites of December: Google’s Moonshots, Uber’s Invincibility & Quirky’s Downfall

31 December 2016

moonshots

Image via VentureBeat (source: NASA)

Let’s call 2016 a day, and start 2017, with a set of articles that I have found particularly interesting this month of decembre. There’s a recurring theme around hot companies and the reality behing the halos that surround them. Google has no such problem, as its online advertising is so incredibly profitable, allowing Alphabet to finance the most ambitious projects without any need for external funding. But other companies don’t have that luxury, and have failed (Quirky) or are on a path towards failure (Uber), reminding us that there is nothing most important than a healthy business. The very last article of this post, “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley,” comes as a great conclusion to this. I hope you’ll find some inspiration in all these articles I took great pleasure to read myself.

This article is not just about Google, it’s more about the few VCs which are focusing on moonshot projects – “technology that can genuinely solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.” It’s a strategy that few in the world can afford, and the most prominently known of these is Google. That being said, Google’s parent company now has a CFO, and she is challenging many of these projects because of their cost. Shareholders are delighted.

This article is not just about Google, it’s more about the few VCs which are focusing on moonshot projects

 

A propos financial performance. If you have the courage, read Can Uber Deliver? (Part One) and the following parts if you like. “Uber has greatly oversold its case. There are no grounds for believing that Uber will ever be profitable, let alone justify its lofty valuation, absent perhaps the widespread implementation of driverless cars.” If you don’t want to read it all, and I could understand you, just skimm through and look at the titles, it tells a story too.

If you don’t want to read it all, just skimm through the titles, it tells a story too

 

An interesting article about 3D-printing’s wunderkind Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, which never found its market. “The second Industrial Revolution led by the Everyman Tycoon armed with a well of ideas and a trusty MakerBot never came to pass,” Backchannel writes. “Backchannel pieced together the account from industry observers, current MakerBot leadership, and a dozen former MakerBot employees” to write this piece about the revolution that wasn’t.

Backchannel pieced together a piece about the revolution that wasn’t

 

 

Meritocracy is a popular theme in elections like the ones you had (in the U.S.) and we’ll have (in France). It is because it reflects hope, breaking glass ceilings and breaking new, unknown ground. This is good. But looking up should hinder us from looking down and around us. There is some truth to the idea that praising the way upward can go par with denigrating stability and destitution, even if it’s not meant like it (“I confess [that] I have greatly sinned [in] what I have done and in what I have failed to do” says a popular Christian prayer). This article explains why “the modern economy privileges the well-educated [while] giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom.” Let’s be aware of that for 2017.

Praising the way upward can go par with denigrating stability, even if it’s not meant like it

 

Our World in Data is a great site, I probably heard about it already, but I hadn’t grasped its full value (neither its optimistic editorial direction). The Oford-backed site gathers data about the important trends in society and looks at its evolution over the long term. “The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.” Of utmost importance in a world where anecdotal and negative news trump long term positive trends.

This is of utmost importance in a world where anecdotal negative news trumps positive trends

 

The Lucky Strike & Shell logos as well as streamlined design were created by Raymond Loewy, a French-born designer who was successful after emigrating to the U.S. after World War I. The portrait of him and his MAYA design principle is a good read: “Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. […] Loewy called his grand theory “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”“.

The portrait of Loewy and his MAYA design principle is a good read

Metromile (pay-per-mile insurance), Cadre (real estate crowdfunding), Stash (online investment), Tilt (P2P payments) and cross River (infrastructure provider) are featured in this Fast Company article about fintechs to follow in 2017. Beside discovering these actors, this is no high-value-added article, but it allows you to discover “five U.S.-based fintech startups with growing traction that exemplify broader industry trends.

This is no high-value-added article, but it allows you to discover five fintechs with growing traction

I’ve blogged a lot about Quirky (here, here or here). Or in this post titled “Money-making co-creation platforms are rare.” Akin to some of the other links in this month’s digest, it’s another piece about hype, success and failure, where the common denominator is always cash – or lack thereoff. This HBR blog post outlines some findings from the work that has “examined Quirky’s initial failure in great detail [revealing] four major lessons from Quirky’s downfall.” Conclusion : “Open innovation is a highly democratic process, and democracies can be boisterous. Companies should carefully set expectations and managerial control when engaging with open innovation platforms.

Another piece about hype, success and failure, where the common denominator is cash – or lack thereoff

By definition, entrepreneurship requires promoting the heck out of things that don’t exist yet. Even a founder with a strong moral compass and a heart full of good intentions has to persuade investors, engineers, and customers to believe in a future,Fortune writes in this article about this great article about entrepreneurs crossing fine lines between lying and promising. A sobering but useful – even necessary – piece that needs to be written. “Squishy terms like “traction” and “momentum” are more valuable than functional business models, revenue, and profits,” it says. “The rich people buying into Uber’s latest round of funding [got] no financial information beyond a set of risk factors.” Have it in mind every time you read about a start-up’s successes, growth or ambitions.

A sobering but useful article to have in mind every time you read about a start-up’s successes, growth or ambitions

And hey: HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017 !

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