January 13, 2016

Wired - How a Nation of Tech Copycats Transformed into a Hub for Innovation 5-15min

Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profi­table high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zucker­berg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confi­dence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.

The New Yorker - The Mogul of the Middle: As the movie business founders, Adam Fogelson tries to reinvent the system. > 15min

Fogelson suspects that filmmakers will agree with any opinion he offers in order to get a green light, so he lets them describe the film they really intend to make, then trusts his gut about whether it sounds commercial. Choosing which movies to make is the crux of his job, the hundred-million-dollar decision. When he was eight, his father, the head of marketing at Columbia Pictures, told him, “You need a clear good guy and a clear bad guy, and the audience needs to know what it’s rooting for.” ... “Only make a film you already know how to sell.” ... Fogelson believes that seventy-five per cent of a movie’s success is due to its marketing and its marketability. ... The six major studios, besieged by entertainment options that don’t require people to get off the couch, have bet that the future lies in films that are too huge to ignore. Although they make low-budget films for targeted audiences (teen girls, say, or horror fans), they focus most of their energies on movies that cost more than three hundred million dollars to make and market. Such films are predicated not on the chancy appeal of individual actors but on “I.P.”—intellectual property, in the form of characters and stories that the audience already knows from books or comics or video games. ... STX’s internal data showed that such star-showcase films, within that budget range, were profitable thirty per cent more often than the average Hollywood film. So the studio planned to make a lot of them. By 2017, STX expects to release between twelve and fifteen movies a year, as many as some of the major studios. ... Fogelson looks at comps, too, but then he applies a three-part test. First, can the film be great? (By “great,” he means “distinguished within its genre.” ... Then, Do we know how to sell it? And, Can we make much more in success than we lose in failure? ... We go to the movies now for the same reasons that Romans went to the Colosseum: to laugh, to scream, and to cheer. Comedy, horror, and triumphs of the human spirit still play better in theatres than at home. What plays best of all, of course, is a spaceship going kablooey all over the screen. ... What is novel is the studios’ heavy reliance on the string of sequels known as a franchise.

Inc. - The Most Important Billion-Dollar Company You've Never Heard Of 5-15min

Meet Jasper, Jahangir Mohammed's fast-growing yet near-invisible company helping to power the internet of things. ... Jasper likes to call itself "the 'on switch' for the internet of things," the increasingly vast body of devices that now speak to one another over the internet. And that's a pretty apt description. With the cost of computing power and internet connectivity falling fast, networked intelligence is turning up just about everywhere these days: the moisture sensor on an apple tree, an assembly line full of industrial robots, the watch on your wrist, or the Ford you drive home every night. And Jasper, valued at $1.4 billion and widely expected to go public soon, is the reptilian brain for much of that network, ensuring that the nodes are on and aware and functioning as they should be. ... Since co-founding Jasper in 2004, he has been building out a global footprint that now comprises a partner network of more than 100 wireless carriers on the one hand, and more than 2,700 of their customers on the other: Amazon, GE, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and nearly every automaker--they all rely on Jasper's software platform ... The dashboard allows each company to monitor its entire universe of devices remotely ... Jasper gets paid by the carriers but works closely with their customers, managing not only the internet connections of their "things," wherever they may be, but also performing core services such as making sure the things are working properly, turning them on or off, updating software, and tracking data use. ... put the company at the center of the next big technological phase change: In the same way Dell and Microsoft profited from the move from mainframes to desktops and laptops, and Apple from the rise of cell phones, Jasper stands to ride the next wave of miniaturization--the penetration of computing power and connectivity into the tiniest artifacts of daily life.

Bloomberg - Can Cool Clothes Get Any Cheaper Than This? 5-15min

Price tags are a consideration of titanic importance. They’re more important even than the ideal number of window displays (five, with two for women’s wear and one each for men, kids, and home), or whether jeans should be hanging or folded (hanging for more fashion-forward styles so you can see the detailing, folded for basics). ... Price is by far the biggest reason Primark is the undisputed victor in Britain’s cheap-fashion war. Secondary are its up-to-the-minute designs, jazzy stores, and tireless promotion on social media. Primark doesn’t sell online and barely advertises. Instead, customers advertise it for free, posting thousands of selfies with their latest outfits, using the #Primania hashtag to be rated and critiqued. The best images get cycled onto giant in-store LED screens to spur impulse buying. ... It’s a relentless curator and promoter of clothes so ridiculously cheap that buying them on a whim because you like someone’s outfit on Instagram is an entirely reasonable idea. ... The idea is to offer prices Americans are used to seeing on less-than-hip clothes from Kohl’s or Walmart on trendy pieces that change from day to day. ... If Primark has a father, it’s a man named Arthur Ryan, but he’s not easy to get to know. Having hardly ever given an interview or a speech, he’s the Keyser Söze of retail. ... Weston is emphatic that Primark’s prices don’t come from cutting corners on labor. “We buy clothes from the same factories that everyone else buys from,” he says. “Everyone.” Instead, he says, undercutting competitors is basically a matter of volume—selling low-margin items many, many more times. ... In an industry where retailers cancel orders that are already on freighters and force suppliers to take financial hits when product doesn’t sell, that edge gives suppliers the confidence to cut better deals for Primark

VoxEU - The profitability of early coinage < 5min

Minting small change was a big, expensive problem in the ancient world. This column argues that the ancient Lydian government and Greek city-states absorbed the cost of producing an extremely wide array of denominations of coins as a political strategy. Governments had much to gain from the spread of coinage in managing budgetary affairs. If it subsidised the mint, an ancient government would make savings in terms of transaction costs.