Bob Iger has spent much of his near decade at Disney wearing an additional corporate hat: CTO. The result? He has brought the coolest innovations from Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel, and ESPN into a single galaxy. ... “blue sky” experimentation has always been part of Disney’s ethos, going back to the days of multiplane cameras (to add visual depth to the background in the 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and early use of lifelike robots (Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, which features electromechanical singing birds, pioneered the concept in 1963). But more than six decades ago, when founder Walt Disney first created Imagineering as the company’s innovative arm, virtual reality chambers were almost as far-fetched as talking animals. ... while there are many lessons to learn from the way he has run Disney over the past decade, this one is right up there: Not only do today’s media companies need to start thinking like technology companies—their CEOs also need to start thinking like CTOs. ... a former upstate New York weatherman who began his career at ABC in 1974 ... Every few months the CTOs of Disney’s respective businesses meet—at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., or at the company’s development center in Seattle, or at another locale—to discuss challenges and share information. Over the past couple of years the CTO council has launched “hackathons” and convened a “Best of Disney” annual symposium in which 50 new innovations are on display for the whole company to view. They’ve also partnered on technology initiatives like creating a single user ID that customers can use with various digital products. More recently they’ve started strategizing ways to incorporate drones into Disney’s businesses, such as flying them over football games with high-resolution cameras. Last summer the company filed a series of drone-related patent applications. (Eighty-four percent of Disney’s active patents were filed during Iger’s tenure as CEO.)
Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals? ... Rhinehart, who is twenty-five, studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and he began to consider food as an engineering problem. “You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive. “It just seemed like a system that’s too complex and too expensive and too fragile,” he told me. ... What if he went straight to the raw chemical components? He took a break from experimenting with software and studied textbooks on nutritional biochemistry and the Web sites of the F.D.A., the U.S.D.A., and the Institute of Medicine. Eventually, Rhinehart compiled a list of thirty-five nutrients required for survival. Then, instead of heading to the grocery store, he ordered them off the Internet—mostly in powder or pill form—and poured everything into a blender, with some water. The result, a slurry of chemicals, looked like gooey lemonade. Then, he told me, “I started living on it.” ... One of Silicon Valley’s cultural exports in the past ten years has been the concept of “lifehacking”: devising tricks to streamline the obligations of daily life, thereby freeing yourself up for whatever you’d rather be doing. Rhinehart’s “future food” seemed a clever work-around. Lifehackers everywhere began to test it out, and then to make their own versions. Soon commenters on Reddit were sparring about the appropriate dose of calcium-magnesium powder. After three months, Rhinehart said, he realized that his mixture had the makings of a company: “It provided more value to my life than any app.” He and his roommates put aside their software ideas, and got into the synthetic-food business.
Fake Activity, Often Bought for Publicity Purposes, Influences Trending Topics ... One day earlier this month, Jim Vidmar bought 1,000 fake Twitter accounts for $58 from an online vendor in Pakistan. ... He then programmed the accounts to "follow" the Twitter account of rapper Dave Murrell, who calls himself Fyrare and pays Mr. Vidmar to boost his standing on the social network. Mr. Vidmar's fake accounts also rebroadcast Mr. Murrell's tweets, amplifying his Twitter voice. ... Mr. Murrell says he sometimes buys Twitter ads to raise his profile, "but you'll get more with Jim." He says many Twitter users try to make their followings look bigger than they are. "If you're not padding your numbers, you're not doing it right," he says. "It's part of the game."
Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? What our list reveals about imagination, optimism, and the nature of progress. ... The Atlantic recently assembled a panel of 12 scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, historians of technology, and others to assess the innovations that have done the most to shape the nature of modern life. The main rule for this exercise was that the innovations should have come after widespread use of the wheel began, perhaps 6,000 years ago. That ruled out fire, which our forebears began to employ several hundred thousand years earlier. We asked each panelist to make 25 selections and to rank them, despite the impossibility of fairly comparing, say, the atomic bomb and the plow. (As it happens, both of these made it to our final list: the discovery and application of nuclear fission, which led to both the atomic bomb and nuclear-power plants, was No. 21 of the top 50, ahead of the moldboard plow, which greatly expanded the range of land that farmers could till, at No. 30.) ... Less evident from the final list is what I was fascinated to learn from my talks with many of the panelists. That is the diversity of views about the types of historical breakthroughs that matter, with a striking consensus on whether the long trail of innovation recorded here is now nearing its end.
Masters of one of the world’s most revered forms of analog craftsmanship take on the smartwatch. ... Swiss watchmaking emerged from a radically different background, one rooted in meticulous manual labor. The industry got its start in the 16th century after John Calvin persuaded the City Council in Geneva to impose sumptuary laws banning jewelry, and the city’s skilled jewelers joined forces with the makers of pocket watches instead. Later, French Catholics chased Protestant Huguenots out of their country; many of these French exiles happened to be watchmakers, and they settled in Switzerland. In the mountains of the Jura region, they encountered local farmers who spent half the year indoors and idle and who turned out to be extremely patient and detail-oriented. The émigrés hired them to spend their winters hand-polishing tiny metal components for the “movements,” the watch’s spring-driven inner workings. ... By the 20th century, Swiss watches had become famous for their reliability and complexity. They are also marvels of energy efficiency, because dozens or even hundreds of components depend on tiny wound springs for power. Each new “complication” — say, a calendar that advances the date with a satisfying snap at midnight — demanded a new set of gears and more energy, thus requiring ever more clever compensations. A mechanical watch is both a dance with and a fight against physics.
So what is Jay Z thinking? He turned 45 in December. The onetime street hustler is now a husband and a father and hobnobs with world leaders such as President Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France. Some say he has grander ambitions in middle age. “He’d like to be a billionaire,” says Rob Stone, co-founder of the Fader, a magazine that extensively covers the rap world. “He’s talked openly about that. But I think in his mind, it’s no longer just about how much money he’s making. It’s about his legacy and what the name Shawn Carter will mean after he’s gone.” He wants to save the music industry from the brutal economics of streaming—and make himself a fortune in the process. So far he’s doing neither. ... For Jay Z the entrepreneur, the challenge was plain: Find a way to capitalize on the technology industry’s takeover of the music business beyond being a high-priced shill. ... The losses didn’t frighten Jay Z. He offered a 60 percent premium over Aspiro’s market value, according to a filing, and repositioned it as an artist-friendly alternative to Spotify that would pay higher royalties to record labels and artists. ... You can still listen to the catalogs of virtually every Tidal owner on Spotify. ... It’s too early to write off Tidal. But if the company does fail, it may be because Jay Z didn’t anticipate the skeptical response to his claim that he was working for some greater good of all musicians.
Someone on the fringes might regard what Markus did as intellectual-property theft. Without beating around the bush, he revealed where he found his inspiration and even went as far as to call Minecraft a clone of an existing game. But game developers, more than other kinds of artists, often find their starting point in an existing idea that they then work on, change, and polish. … For most people, the colorful numbers and letters that filled the computer screen would be completely baffling, but Markus felt right at home. The game was called Dwarf Fortress and it had become a cult favorite in indie circles. Markus had downloaded it to try it out himself and watched, entranced by the simple text world drawn up in front of him. … A couple of weeks had passed since Markus started working at Jalbum and his thoughts were circling full speed around the game he’d promised himself he’d work on. Like when he was a child and would run home from school to his LEGOs, he now spent almost all his free time in front of his home computer. He combed the Internet in search of inspiration for his project; the heavy labor—the coding—could begin only after he figured out what kind of game he wanted to create. The idea for Minecraft began to take shape in his encounter with Dwarf Fortress.
Less than four years after Line’s launch, the company says that more than 560 million people worldwide have registered as members, the majority of them in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. One hundred eighty one million users log in to the Line app each month. While that’s a smaller user base than WhatsApp (700 million monthly active users according to research firm Canalys), Facebook Messenger (500 million), and Tencent’s WeChat (480 million), Line has done a remarkable job of turning its popularity into a growing, diversified business. ... Its reported revenue of $656 million in 2014 comes from a range of sources that few rivals can match: It sells games that can be played solo or with other Line users; those digital stickers, which can be purchased to express a dizzying array of emotions; marketing deals with brands and celebrities that want to reach its user base; and merchandise such as the products at the Harajuku shop. ... Spy on other passengers in the Tokyo subway, and there’s a more-than-decent chance that you’ll spot a salaryman or schoolgirl interacting on their smartphone with Brown, Cony, or one of the app’s other hyperlovable mascots. Visit a restaurant and a small placard at the cashier invites you to follow the business on Line in return for discounts. On billboards, the characters endorse chewing gum. Visit an electronics store and you’ll find them in plush form, as prizes in a coin-operated crane game. ... "The turning point," Idezawa says, "was when we released stickers." ... The Japanese call cuteness kawaii, and find it surprisingly meaningful. "The word ‘kawaii’ in Japanese literally means ‘acceptable of affection’ or even ‘possible to love,’" explains Kotaku’s Ashcraft, who says that it’s used to refer to everything from babies to dogs to clothing. Kawaii imagery is "used to soften things, making them more palatable and even more friendly. That's a reason why it's not uncommon to see cute characters in everything from public safety posters to home-loan brochures."
Google has always been an artificial intelligence company, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading scientists in the field, joined the search giant late last year. Nonetheless, the hiring raised some eyebrows, since Kurzweil is perhaps the most prominent proselytizer of “hard AI,” which argues that it is possible to create consciousness in an artificial being. Add to this Google’s revelation that it is using techniques of deep learning to produce an artificial brain, and a subsequent hiring of the godfather of computer neural nets Geoffrey Hinton, and it would seem that Google is becoming the most daring developer of AI, a fact that some may consider thrilling and others deeply unsettling. Or both.
Space elevators, teleportation, hoverboards, and driverless cars: The top-secret Google X innovation lab opens up about what it does--and how it thinks. … X does not employ your typical Silicon Valley types. Google already has a large lab division, Google Research, that is devoted mainly to computer science and Internet technologies. The distinction is sometimes framed this way: Google Research is mostly bits; Google X is mostly atoms. In other words, X is tasked with making actual objects that interact with the physical world, which to a certain extent gives logical coherence to the four main projects that have so far emerged from X: driverless cars, Google Glass, high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons, and glucose-monitoring contact lenses. Mostly, X seeks out people who want to build stuff, and who won't get easily daunted. Inside the lab, now more than 250 employees strong, I met an idiosyncratic troupe of former park rangers, sculptors, philosophers, and machinists; one X scientist has won two Academy Awards for special effects. Teller himself has written a novel, worked in finance, and earned a PhD in artificial intelligence. One recent hire spent five years of his evenings and weekends building a helicopter in his garage. It actually works, and he flew it regularly, which seems insane to me. But his technology skills alone did not get him the job. The helicopter did. "The classic definition of an expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing," says DeVaul. "And people like that can be extremely useful in a very focused way. But these are really not X people. What we want, in a sense, are people who know less and less about more and more." … If there's a master plan behind X, it's that a frictional arrangement of ragtag intellects is the best hope for creating products that can solve the world's most intractable issues. Yet Google X, as Teller describes it, is an experiment in itself--an effort to reconfigure the process by which a corporate lab functions, in this case by taking incredible risks across a wide variety of technological domains, and by not hesitating to stray far from its parent company's business. We don't yet know if this will prove to be genius or folly. There's actually no historical model, no precedent, for what these people are doing.
Clinkle has been the talk of Silicon Valley for the past year, although few of the consumers who will make up its hoped-for user base have even heard of it. That is in part by design. A payment app co-created by Duplan, it has been in “stealth” mode for more than three years, its unique selling proposition a closely-held secret. … A few details have leaked, however. Those who have used Clinkle say it’s an exceptionally well-designed, simple-to-use mobile wallet app that utilizes a high-frequency sound to transmit money between users in close proximity — no phone-bumping, QR code-scanning, texting or dongle-swiping required. … Last June, Clinkle announced a $25 million round of seed financing from a dozen top venture capital firms and angel investors — the largest early investment raised in Silicon Valley history. A few months later, the company raised $5 million more from Stanford’s StartX fund as well as Virgin CEO Richard Branson. Duplan, a first-time founder who was barely of legal drinking age, seemed full of promise. … But nine months later — during which time several rounds of layoffs have been announced and rumors swirled of turmoil inside the company — the app still has yet to launch publicly.
How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country. ... Hwin is twenty-eight, but could be younger. He has a blissed-out grin and an impish dusting of freckles. His hair is buzzed on the sides but topped with choppy bangs, a rocker coif that makes it look as if a wad of hair just landed on his head from a great height. He often wears a miniature harmonica around his neck, over a black T-shirt, to underscore his musical affinities. For several years now, he has been working as a musician, a tech entrepreneur, and an investor in other people’s startups. His two-person band, Cathedrals, just released a début single and is producing an album in the coming months. At the moment, he and a friend are managing investments of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in private companies. ... The Sub has no doorbell or real street address, and its space had been an auto-repair facility until some plywood walls made it a place where people—certain people, anyway—might spend their days. Hwin, who moved in four years and two business ventures ago, now has space in a structure that he calls “the doll house.”
Computers seem to be replacing humans across many industries, and we're all getting very nervous. ... But if you want some reason for optimism, visit your local supermarket. ... In a recent research paper called "Dancing With Robots," the economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane point out that computers replace human workers only when machines meet two key conditions. First, the information necessary to carry out the task must be put in a form that computers can understand, and second, the job must be routine enough that it can be expressed in a series of rules. ... Supermarket checkout machines meet the second of these conditions, but they fail on the first. They lack proper information to do the job a human would do. To put it another way: They can't tell shiitakes from Shinola. Instead of identifying your produce, the machine asks you, the customer, to type in a code for every leafy green in your cart. Many times you'll have to look up the code in an on-screen directory. If a human checker asked you to remind him what that bunch of the oblong yellow fruit in your basket was, you'd ask to see his boss. ... This deficiency extends far beyond the checkout lane.
Elizabeth Holmes founded her revolutionary blood diagnostics company, Theranos, when she was 19. It’s now worth more than $9 billion, and poised to change health care. ... In the fall of 2003, Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford, plopped herself down in the office of her chemical engineering professor, Channing Robertson, and said, “Let’s start a company.” ... Robertson, who had seen thousands of undergraduates over his 33-year teaching career, had known Holmes just more than a year. “I knew she was different,” Robertson told me in an interview. “The novelty of how she would view a complex technical problem–it was unique in my experience.” ... Holmes had then just spent the summer working in a lab at the Genome Institute in Singapore, a post she had been able to fill thanks to having learned Mandarin in her spare hours as a Houston teenager. Upon returning to Palo Alto, she showed Robertson a patent application she had just written. As a freshman, Holmes had taken Robertson’s seminar on advanced drug-delivery devices–things like patches, pills, and even a contact-lens-like film that secreted glaucoma medication–but now she had invented one the likes of which Robertson had never conceived. It was a wearable patch that, in addition to administering a drug, would monitor variables in the patient’s blood to see if the therapy was having the desired effect, and adjust the dosage accordingly. ... “I remember her saying, ‘And we could put a cellphone chip on it, and it could telemeter out to the doctor or the patient what was going on,’ ” Robertson recounts. “And I kind of kicked myself. I’d consulted in this area for 30 years, but I’d never said, here we make all these gizmos that measure, and all these systems that deliver, but I never brought the two together.” ... Still, he balked at seeing her start a company before finishing her degree. “I said, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And she said, ‘Because systems like this could completely revolutionize how effective health care is delivered. And this is what I want to do. I don’t want to make an incremental change in some technology in my life. I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender.’ ” ... “Consumerizing this health care experience is a huge element of our mission,” Holmes says at our first meeting in April, “which is access to actionable information at the time it matters.” In our conversations over the next two months, she comes back to that phrase frequently. It is the theme that unifies what had seemed to me, at first, a succession of diverse, disparate aspects of her vision. ... Though she has now raised more than $400 million, she says she has retained control over more than 50% of the stock.
It’s interesting how people cannot see beyond what they’re used to. ... If you use technology correctly, you can change opinions overnight. ... We focused on the story and hiding the technology. ... It’s not the technology that entertains people, it’s what you do with the technology. ... your work will not be about the technology. It will be about connecting and entertaining people. ... If you create characters people connect with and tell stories that deeply entertain and move them, the audience will come.
Far from the nuclear negotiations, a new tech-savvy Iranian generation takes shape. ... I asked one woman how she best prepares for the rigor of building a company. “By doing!” she smirks at me. She pauses, and adds, “Oh, and I read all the top Silicon Valley blogs and take a few classes from Stanford, Wharton and other colleges around the world for free on Coursera.” Several at the lunch put down their forks and show me their smart phones, each open on Wifi to courses like “Introduction to Marketing, “International Leadership and Organizational Behavior” and “Better Leader, Richer Life.” ... Politics, power, mistrust: This is one version of how the media frames discussion of Iran. It’s very real, and it has much caution and evidence to support it. ... But there’s another tale, one I saw repeatedly in my trip there last month. It was my second visit within the year, traveling with a group of senior global business executives to explore this remarkable and controversial nation. ... This tale focuses on Iran’s next generation, an entirely new generation that came of age well after the Islamic Revolution, and on human capital, the greatest asset a country can have. It’s about technology as the driver for breaking down barriers even despite internal controls and external sanctions. People under age 35 represent nearly two-thirds of Iran’s population at this point: Many were engaged in the Green Movement protests against the Iranian presidential election in 2009. Most are utterly wired and see the world outside of Iran every day—often in the form of global news, TV shows, movies, music, blogs, and startups—on their mobile phones.
Our central finding is that the hype may actually understate the full potential—but that capturing it will require an understanding of where real value can be created and a successful effort to address a set of systems issues, including interoperability. ... To get a broader view of the IoT’s potential benefits and challenges across the global economy, we analyzed more than 150 use cases, ranging from people whose devices monitor health and wellness to manufacturers that utilize sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment and protect the safety of workers. Our bottom-up analysis for the applications we size estimates that the IoT has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025. At the top end, that level of value—including the consumer surplus—would be equivalent to about 11 percent of the world economy ... Achieving this kind of impact would require certain conditions to be in place, notably overcoming the technical, organizational, and regulatory hurdles. In particular, companies that use IoT technology will play a critical role in developing the right systems and processes to maximize its value. ... The digitization of machines, vehicles, and other elements of the physical world is a powerful idea. Even at this early stage, the IoT is starting to have a real impact by changing how goods are made and distributed, how products are serviced and refined, and how doctors and patients manage health and wellness. But capturing the full potential of IoT applications will require innovation in technologies and business models, as well as investment in new capabilities and talent. With policy actions to encourage interoperability, ensure security, and protect privacy and property rights, the Internet of Things can begin to reach its full potential—especially if leaders truly embrace data-driven decision making.
Was human evolution inevitable, or do we owe our existence to a once-in-a-universe stroke of luck? ... At first glance, everything that’s happened during the 3.8 billion-year history of life on our planet seems to have depended quite critically on all that came before. And Homo sapiens arrived on the scene only 200,000 years ago. The world got along just fine without us for billions of years. Gould didn’t mention chaos theory in his book, but he described it perfectly: ‘Little quirks at the outset, occurring for no particular reason, unleash cascades of consequences that make a particular future seem inevitable in retrospect,’ he wrote. ‘But the slightest early nudge contacts a different groove, and history veers into another plausible channel, diverging continually from its original pathway.’ ... One of the first lucky breaks in our story occurred at the dawn of biological complexity, when unicellular life evolved into multicellular. ... Throughout human prehistory, biological change and technological change ran in parallel. Brains were increasing in size – but this was not unique to our ancestors, and can be seen across multiple hominin species. Something very complicated was going on – a kind of arms race, Tattersall suggests, in which cognitive capacity and technology reinforced each other. At the same time, each branch of the human evolutionary tree was forced to adapt to an ever-changing climate.
How a rich entrepreneur persuaded the city to let him create his own high-tech police force. ... the French Quarter Task Force, which at all hours had three armed officers zigzagging the neighborhood in matte black Polaris Rangers that resemble militarized golf carts. When Torres, who is 39, had deployed the same vehicles in his garbage business, the decimated city became cleaner than ever. ‘‘Basically, I’m handling crime the same way I did trash,’’ said Torres ... In the United States, private police officers currently outnumber their publicly funded counterparts by a ratio of roughly three to one. Whereas in past decades the distinction was often clear — the rent-a-cop vs. the real cop — today the boundary between the two has become ‘‘messy and complex,’’ according to a study last year by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Torres’s task force is best understood in this context, one where the larger merging of private and public security has resulted in an extensive retooling of the nation’s policing as a whole. As municipal budgets have stagnated or plummeted, state and local governments have taken to outsourcing police work to the private sector, resulting in changes that have gone largely unnoticed by the public they’re tasked with protecting.
Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or BAM for short. BAM began as the in-house IT department for the league’s 30 teams, a small handful of employees originally tasked with building websites for teams and clubs. But over the last 15 years, BAM has emerged as the most talented and reliable name in streaming video, a skill set suddenly in very high demand. ... BAM cemented its status as one of the most important players at the intersection of sports, media, and technology, announcing that it will be powering the mobile, web, and television offerings from the National Hockey League. It’s the first time BAM has been fully embraced by another major league. ... For years, BAM was a name known only to industry insiders, a sharpshooter organization called in to make sure the big game or series premiere streamed without fail. Over time, it forged long-term deals with clients like WWE and Sony Playstation’s Vue network. Now it’s moving from powering the platform to co-owning the content as well. ... Watching sports online has always had one major complication: regional blackouts prevent you from streaming a game in the same territory as a television broadcaster who owns local rights. That meant BAM had to figure out where a customer was and whether or not they could legally watch the stream. In fact, BAM’s very first post-season package wasn’t even broadcast live in the United States or Japan. Fox owned the national broadcast rights to the pennant race, so BAM’s first big broadcast took place in Europe. From the beginning, BAM had to perfect live video streaming on a global scale.
I suppose, the latest expression of that now vintage and troublingly prophetic bumper sticker: In Google we trust. ... My campus tour has something of the quality of a west coast Tomorrow’s World. It involves meetings with the head of Google Translate, Barak Turovsky, who places a phone on a table and has it talk to me in English directly from his spoken Russian; the cartographer-in-chief of Google Maps, Manik Gupta, who is excited about current efforts to map the unmappable – Indian villages, the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef – using backpackers and local knowledge. I listen to one of the two or three key brains behind the Search algorithm itself, Ben Gomes, who speaks 10 to the dozen of “natural language generation” and “deep learning networks” (and, inevitably, of the “holy grail” of answering users’ questions before they have been asked). I walk and talk with the Brit Alex Gawley, who has just reimagined Gmail for mobile. I have my mind suitably boggled by some of the more maverick voices at Google X, the company’s in-house futurology lab, including Mike Cassidy, whose Project Loon aims to bring Wi-Fi to 4 billion currently disconnected people, with the stratospheric use of tens of thousands of hot-air balloons ... From the outside it can appear as if Google is trying to solve every problem, colonise every market, all at once. As a company, it seems dangerously – or thrillingly, depending on your point of view – addicted to ubiquity. ... Corporate cultures only become a source of wider interest when their attached businesses are wildly successful. ... The more you spend in that deliberately pervasive culture, though, the more people you speak to, the more you realise that Google employees are not only living the Google dream, they are also selling a version of that fantasy to the world.
Twenty years ago today, Netscape’s shares began trading. To many the initial public offering of Netscape marked the beginning of the Internet age. It was certainly the first event that signified to the world outside of Silicon Valley how big the Internet could be. Much has changed since then but much remains that same. Netscape has largely disappeared. But technology companies, after the boom and bust that followed Netscape’s deal, are hot once again. These days it’s more about apps and smart phones than the Internet that Netscape opened for so many users two decades ago. And, unlike then, many of the hottest companies of the current tech boom are opting to stay private, and put off an IPO for as long as possible, ironically following the advice of Marc Andreessen, one of Netscape’s founders. Ten years ago, Fortune compiled an oral history of Netscape and its IPO. Many of the people involved in the deal are once again key figures in the current tech boom.
The thing to do, Kalanick argued, was to make the service a low-cost accessible luxury. "If Uber is lower-priced, then more people will want it," he explains. "And if more people want it and can afford it, then you have more cars on the road. And if you have more cars on the road, then your pickup times are lower, your reliability is better. The lower-cost product ends up being more luxurious than the high-end one." Kalanick had been resisting Camp’s overtures to become CEO, but it was this insight that got him excited: Uber could be huge. ... All that struggle and setback from his first two startups set up Kalanick almost perfectly for what was to come. "If you looked at everything he’s done, I don’t think there was another human who was more destined to build Uber," says Angelo Sotira. "You had peer-to-peer networks, aggressive dealings, large lawsuits." ... This new, subdued Travis Kalanick who claims he’d never heard of a libertarian seemed to me a significant overcorrection from the badass antigovernment crusader he has played for the past few years—and also just one sliver of his actual personality. That in itself is telling. Kalanick is not the kind of person who clings to beliefs, or even a fixed sense of himself. ... Some Silicon Valley founders pride themselves on being visionaries; Kalanick exults in an ability to read the data, revise, and adapt, likening running Uber to driving a car without a clear destination in sight. ... As of this summer, Uber has cars on the road in 15 Chinese cities with plans to be in 50 next year. The results so far have been astonishing: In just nine months, three Chinese cities (Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou) have each already accounted for more rides than New York.
"Our interest is in technology and engineering and design, and as a family business, we are able to keep the focus and philosophy there. We’re able to think very long-term, to develop technology that might be 20 to 25 years away. We can afford to do it. We can afford to make mistakes without anyone being sacked. We can take a long-term view of everything." ... Last year, the company broke ground on a more than $400 million technology campus adjacent to the Malmesbury headquarters. When it is completed next year, it will house 3,000 designers and engineers. Already, the company has brought in hundreds of software and computer hardware specialists and tripled the size of its engineering staff. The company currently funnels $2.5 million into R&D every week ... In coming months, the technology campus will serve as a launching pad for a range of new verticals, some of which Dyson has disclosed (robotics), some of which seem imminent (the Sakti3 investment appears to indicate a further interest in household electronics), and some of which are entirely classified. ... In the 15 years Dyson spent painstakingly perfecting the 360 Eye, a range of autonomous floor cleaners have entered the market, including iRobot’s Roomba and several models from Samsung. Dyson says that the 360 Eye will offer better suction, more advanced sensors, and longer-lasting battery life than its competitors. Still, in a sense, the device is illustrative of the challenges Dyson faces as it attempts to expand into categories already thick with deep-pocketed rivals: What happens when a company accustomed to being hailed for its innovations decides to play catch-up?
While the rest of the country has spent the past year debating gay marriage, policing tactics, Obamacare, and Deflate-gate, the inescapable topic of discussion in Silicon Valley is whether we are in a technology bubble. Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of his eponymous venture firm, is perhaps the leading advocate against the bubble chatter. On his Twitter feed, he has referenced the word “bubble” more than 300 times, repeatedly mocking or refuting anyone on his radar who even hints at such a possibility. One of his arguments, as the slides in the Rosewood ballroom suggested, is the exponential growth of mobile phones, which have fundamentally changed the way we buy and sell virtually everything, from groceries to taxi-like services, and created unprecedented disruption. Also, in contrast to the days of the dot-com boom, many tech companies are creating revenue—in some instances, lots of it. ... there may be no greater monument to what’s going on in the Valley than the 1,070-foot edifice under construction at 415 Mission Street. The new, glassy Salesforce Tower is slated to soon become the tallest building in San Francisco, rising more than 200 feet above the Transamerica Pyramid. ... Snapchat has offered Stanford undergrads as much as $500,000 a year to work for the company. Jana Rich, founder of Rich Talent Group, a well-regarded tech recruiting firm, told me that she hasn’t seen such bidding wars since the late 90s. “I’ve seen two of these life cycles, where things are going fabulously well,” she said. “Then we have the bust. We are now, in my opinion, at the height of the demand curve.” ... “You know there’s a bubble,” the saying goes, “when the pretty people show up.” ... All across the Valley, the majority of big start-ups are actually glorified distribution companies that are trying, in some sense, to copy what Domino’s Pizza mastered in the 1980s when it delivered a hot pie to your door in 30 minutes or less. ... Or maybe it’s simpler than that. As one technologist overheard and posted on Twitter, “SF tech culture is focused on solving one problem: What is my mother no longer doing for me?” ... Either you can go public, which is inadvisable without a lot of revenue, or you can sell, which is difficult given the paucity of companies that can afford to make such an offer. So, for many, the choice becomes fairly simple. You continue to raise more and more money, or you die. ... countless people from all over want this to be a bubble and they want it to burst.