Growth Is Hard

The post Growth Is Hard appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

The business story of the decade is one of insurgency: Every sector of our economy has spawned a cohort of software-driven companies “moving fast and breaking things,” “asking for forgiveness, not permission,” and “blitzscaling” their way to “eating the world.” For years we’ve collectively marveled as new kinds of companies have stormed traditional markets, garnering […]

The post Growth Is Hard appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

The post Growth Is Hard appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

Zuckerberg1The business story of the decade is one of insurgency: Every sector of our economy has spawned a cohort of software-driven companies “moving fast and breaking things,” “asking for forgiveness, not permission,” and “blitzscaling” their way to “eating the world.” For years we’ve collectively marveled as new kinds of companies have stormed traditional markets, garnering winner-take-all valuations and delivering extraordinary growth in customers, top line revenue, and private valuations.

But what happens when the insurgents hit headwinds? In the past year or so, we’ve begun to find out. The unicorn class has had its collective mane shorn. A quick spin through the “unicorn leaderboard” finds a cohort strewn with cautionary tales: Uber’s under continual attack by regulators and increasingly well funded competitors. Square and Box, both of which managed tepid public debuts, have consistently traded below their private valuations. Airbnb, SnapChat, DropBox, and many others have been marked down by their largest investors. And of course, there’s the cautionary tale of Zenefits.

While this news has evinced a self-congratulatory whiff of schadenfreude throughout the tech press, I think the reckoning is more fundamental in nature. The hardest part of running a company, it turns out, is actually running a company. Put another way: Growth can be bought, but growing up has to be earned.

Take Uber, for example. Once a poster child for a culture of “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” Uber is now taking a more traditional approach to new markets, meeting (and working with) local regulators, hiring seasoned pros, and learning how to play politics just like any other big company. It even gave itself a new grown-up “haircut.”

Young companies built on venture-fueled cultures of grow-at-all costs are facing a shift: The essential truth of business is that you must create value for all constituents — your employees, your customers, and your community. That last part may sound squishy, but it’s the soft stuff that can kill you. Learning to become a respected corporate citizen isn’t on the minds of founders and executives chasing top line revenue and lofty private valuations. But at some point, it will be. I think that moment is nigh.

Facebook is a good example. In 2014 it changed its internal motto from “Move Fast and Break Things” to “Move Fast With Stable Infrastructure.” Among companies I like to call “established insurgents,” Facebook stands out for mindfully transitioning from a culture of youthful arrogance to one of continual learning and partnership. I spend a fair amount of time talking to senior folks at large, established “BigCos,” the kinds of companies that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on platforms like Facebook and Google. Nearly all of them have commented on Facebook’s maturing culture, noting in particular that the company genuinely wants to learn from its big company partners.

What could Facebook possibly learn from a Nestle, P&G, or a Ford, you might ask? We sometimes forget that the current crop of unicorns aren’t the first group of companies to transition from roaring startup culture to Blue Chip incumbency, or from regulatory outlaw to lobbying insider.

Yes, the insurgents threaten the incumbents’ very existence. But they face their own existential questions as well: “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture now that I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?”

Turns out, BigCos have decades of experience with exactly those kinds of questions. Over the next few years, I predict the two sides will increasingly engage in a dialog about how each might learn from the other. In many cases, the dialog has already spawned partnerships: Whole Foods and Instacart, GM and Lyft, Earnest and New York Life. In the end, the established insurgents and the BigCo incumbents have more to gain from working with each other than they do by tearing each other down. In the process, we might just re-invent the very nature of business itself — taking the best of both sides, and abandoning the worst. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The post Growth Is Hard appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

66 Fail Safe

Devin and Amy ponder what the end of the world is like as they discuss the 1964 Sidney Lumet film Fail Safe. Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, It portrays a fictional account of a Cold War nuclear crisis. Listen to Devin & Amy talk about this masterly made movie — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

Devin and Amy ponder what the end of the world is like as they discuss the 1964 Sidney Lumet film Fail Safe. Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, It portrays a fictional account of a Cold War nuclear crisis. Listen to Devin & Amy talk about this masterly made movie — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

Jonaki Bhattacharyya: Losing Control

Jonaki Bhattacharyya ventures out into rugged Canadian wilderness to research wild horses — but does she have what it takes to survive?

Jonaki Bhattacharyya ventures out into rugged Canadian wilderness to research wild horses — but does she have what it takes to survive?

This story was produced as part of the Springer Storytellers series. Hear and read more at www.beforetheabstract.com/

 

Jonaki Bhattacharyya, PhD, does applied research in ethnoecology (focusing on Indigenous and traditional ecological knowledge), conservation planning, and wildlife management. Integrating cultural values and knowledge systems with ecological issues, her research endeavors have ranged from remote villages in India to backcountry meadows in British Columbia (BC), Canada. As Senior Researcher with The Firelight Group Research Cooperative, Jonaki works with First Nations and communities in Western Canada. Focusing on relationships between people, animals and places, she seeks to make applied contributions to conservation and human management practices around wildlife, protected areas, natural resources, and ecological systems.

65 Election (w/ Paul Rust)

Paul Rust of LOVE on Netflix joins Devin & Amy this week to nominate the Alexander Payne 1999 film Election into The Canon! The movie stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, around the time of the school’s student body election. When Tracy qualifies to run for class president, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title and tries his best to stop her from winning. Tune in to hear why Pau l believes this film should be in the canon — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

Paul Rust of LOVE on Netflix joins Devin & Amy this week to nominate the Alexander Payne 1999 film Election into The Canon! The movie stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a popular high school social studies teacher in suburban Omaha, Nebraska, and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, around the time of the school’s student body election. When Tracy qualifies to run for class president, McAllister believes she does not deserve the title and tries his best to stop her from winning. Tune in to hear why Pau l believes this film should be in the canon — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

David Putrino: Medical Records

While working at a hospital, David Putrino finds a surprise in his own medical records.

While working at a hospital, David Putrino finds a surprise in his own medical records.

 

Check out David’s new project: Harnessing telemedicine for suicide prevention: a clinical trial.

David is a Physical Therapist with a PhD in Neuroscience. He has worked as a clinician in the US, UK and Australia, studied computational neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and designed prostheses for Brain Machine Interface devices at New York University. He is an Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College, and the Director of Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation at Burke Medical Research Institute. He works to develop low-cost patient monitoring and treatment systems, designed to decrease healthcare costs whilst improving the standard of patient care. David is a co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of GesTherapy, a telerehabilitation software company that works to improve the standard of care patients who require rehabilitation. He is also a volunteer for Not Impossible Labs, a company that develops technological solutions for large-scale humanitarian problems globally.

The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever

The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

(cross posted from NewCo) 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 […]

The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

VIP Dollar Shave Club

Addressing the crowd at Dollar Shave before interviewing CEO Michael Dubin during NewCo LA last November.

(cross posted from NewCo)

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.

2. Big companies are on the precipice of the most wrenching transformation in history — and tech is only part of the reason why. BigCos change very slowly. They are cautious by nature and extremely suspicious of “the new.” BigCos study new developments and wait for proof before they change. As digital technology spread through society over the past three decades, big companies were slow to get a web page, slow to conduct business over the web, slow to lean into mobile and social, and slow to respond to new types of startup competition. Of course, now that the web is mature and consumer platforms like Facebook and Google are massive, BigCos have shifted resources to digital. But that last point — responding to startup and business model competition — is far more problematic, because responding to new kinds of competition isn’t something you can outsource. It requires a fundamental shift in corporate social structure — and culture is hard to change.

3. The next generation’s leaders don’t want to work at BigCos (if they don’t have to). In the past year I’ve met with senior executives at massive companies like Nestle, Publicis, P&G, Walmart, Visa, and McDonald’s. When I ask what keeps them up at night, all of them answer “hiring the next generation of leaders.” The best and brightest now see “launching a company,” “working at a startup,” or “working at a digital leader like Google or Facebook,” as a preferable career choice, starving BigCos of their most valuable asset: talent. While one might dismiss young professionals’ penchant for startups as a fad or a phase, there’s something far deeper at work, namely …

4. A job is table stakes. To win talent, companies must compete on purpose, authenticity, and organizational structure. Millennials are now the largest force in the global economy, and they have a markedly different view of work: Purpose and “making a difference in the world” are central in their work-related decisions. They’d rather work at The Honest Company than Unilever, if given a choice — and the best and brightest always have a choice. Members of the next generation want to be at a company where work means more than a paycheck. They believe work can be a calling (Reich) or an expression of our creativity (Florida). BigCos aren’t currently organized to enable their workforces in this way (human resources, anyone?), but NewCos — even the very largest ones like Google — most definitely are.

5. Today’s consumers are newly empowered and are making decisions on more than price. If millennials are choosing employers based on purpose and authenticity, it follows that they decide how they spend their money in similar fashion. Convenience, selection, and price are important, but new kinds of competitors are exposing weaknesses in big companies’ essential truths, and that’s an existential threat. Dollar Shave Club questions Gillette’s core premise, MetroMile questions Geico’s core premise, Earnest does the same to large financial institutions, HolaLuz to energy companies, and the list goes on. Companies profiting from practices or products that demonstrably create more harm than good in the world are threatened in an age of transparency and accountability. Regardless of good intent or excellent marketing, if your business makes people unhealthy, or depends on exploitation of vulnerable workers, or can be laddered to climate change, it’s at risk of mass consumer migration to businesses with better narratives.

6. The platform economy means traditional competitive moats are falling away. Today’s largest consumer companies earned their power by consolidating and optimizing their access to commodities (what their products were made of), manufacturing (how their products were made), and distribution (where their products were sold and how people became aware of them). They were built on humanity’s first global platforms: television and mass transportation networks. We all know that the Internet undermined this hegemony; physical distribution is no longer a surefire competitive advantage (just ask Walmart). But what’s not well understood is how quickly other parts of the product stack have become platform-ized. Just as startups can now access technology as a service, they can also access sourcing and manufacturing as a service (Dollar Shave doesn’t make its blades, for example). This of course bolsters point #5 above: If any company can access the same economies of scale, brands must compete on more than price or distribution, they must compete on voice, innovative (and information-first) approaches to markets, and purpose.

7. Cities are resurgent. I just returned from Mexico City, which earlier this month hosted its first NewCo festival. While there, I heard a refrain consistent with my visits around the world: The city is changing for the better and new kinds of companies are at the heart of that change. When people gather at NewCo meetups or inside NewCo sessions, I keep hearing “There’s just no way these kinds of companies could have made it in this city ten years ago.” Coupled with the horizontal force of technology and the rise of a purpose-driven zeitgeist, cities have become both the epicenter of humanity’s greatest challenges, as well as the birthplace of our greatest innovation. One generation ago, one-third of humanity lived in urban centers. Today, it’s more than 50 percent. One generation from now, more than two-thirds of us will reside in the tangled banks of a city center, and that number will surpass 80 percent by the end of this century. Cities offer access to capital, education, regulatory frameworks, and a collaborative density of human curiosity and connections. It’s where great companies are born and grow.

8. BigCos are deeply aware of all this — and a massive shift is about to reveal itself. For as long as I’ve been in the media and technology business, I’ve heard big company executives proclaim they were committed to change. But it always rang hollow: Large companies expended far more resources preventing change than they ever did committing to it. Over the past year, however, I’ve sensed a deep shift in the tone of my conversations with BigCos. These are some of the smartest people in the world, and they understand the technological, generational, and social tectonics at play. In their board rooms and C-suites, conversations are already underway about changes so significant, they’ll be viewed as “calendar reset” moment: Before Shift and After Shift. We’re already seeing leading indicators — Walmart’s commitment to sustainability, GE’s move to Boston, Publicis’s rewritten purpose statement and organizational structure — but in the next year or two, the pace will quicken. New CEOs at category-leading companies like McDonald’s, Ford, and P&G will most likely announce stunning new initiatives that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.

9. The best NewCos realize there’s a lot to learn from the BigCos. After years of feasting on BigCo markets, “established upstarts” like Google, Facebook, Uber, Zenefits, and Square are transitioning from cultures based on “move fast and break things” and “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Their leaders are now turning to questions like “How do I build a company that will last for generations? How can I maintain a strong corporate culture when I have thousands of employees? How do I work productively with regulatory and policy frameworks, now that I’m an established player?” Turns out, BigCos have decades, if not centuries, of experience in answering these kinds of questions. In my conversations with leaders of both NewCos and BigCos, I sense a new kind of detente as each side realizes how much it has to learn from the other. In the coming months and years, I expect we’ll see a lot more cooperation between the two.

In the coming months, NewCo will be focused on exploring these business trends, with new media and event products. If you’d like to join the conversation, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter, share this post, and/or sign up for our daily newsletter. We believe this the most important story in business, and we’re committed to covering it for you.

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* A note on climate change: Our society’s response to climate change is one of the most remarkable issues ever to face humankind. More than 70% of Americans now believe that climate change is real, and more than half of the world views the issue as the most serious global threat to humanity. And climate change is to Millennials what mutually-assured destruction was for Boomers: An existential threat. Whether or not you believe in this threat, climate change is now a social and business fact, a force affecting billions of decisions large and small around the world. Consumers are voting with their conscience, forcing unsustainable businesses to adopt provable, net positive products and processes. When Unilever, Walmart, Pepsi and scores of others align with the Pope on sustainability, a movement is most certainly afoot.

The post The NewCo-BigCo Shift or, These Nine Things Will Change Business Forever appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

64 Broadcast News

Devin and Amy are going back to the 80’s for another workplace romantic comedy. This week Devin nominates the 1987 James L. Brooks film Broadcast News to be entered into The Canon. The film stars Holly Hunter as Jane, an assertive television news producer, Albert Brooks as Aaron, a brilliant yet prickly reporter, and William Hurt as Tom, the charismatic but far less seasoned rival of Aaron. Listen to find out if Amy can find anything to like about the movie — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

Devin and Amy are going back to the 80’s for another workplace romantic comedy. This week Devin nominates the 1987 James L. Brooks film Broadcast News to be entered into The Canon. The film stars Holly Hunter as Jane, an assertive television news producer, Albert Brooks as Aaron, a brilliant yet prickly reporter, and William Hurt as Tom, the charismatic but far less seasoned rival of Aaron. Listen to find out if Amy can find anything to like about the movie — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

Should a Company Have a Soul?

The post Should a Company Have a Soul? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

Much of the Republican debates have been expendable theatrics, but I watched this weekend’s follies from South Carolina anyway. And one thing has struck me: The ads are starting to get better. This season’s debates have had the highest ratings of any recent Presidential race, and they’re attracting some serious corporate sponsorship. One spot in […]

The post Should a Company Have a Soul? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

The post Should a Company Have a Soul? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

Much of the Republican debates have been expendable theatrics, but I watched this weekend’s follies from South Carolina anyway. And one thing has struck me: The ads are starting to get better.

This season’s debates have had the highest ratings of any recent Presidential race, and they’re attracting some serious corporate sponsorship. One spot in particular caught my eye:

This ad looks like a lot of others I’ve noticed coming out of large companies these days — dramatic, driving music, compelling fast frame visuals, an overarching sense that something important and world changing is going on.

The spot has one purpose: To make us wonder if a business can be alive. Here’s the ad copy:

Can a business have a mind?
A subconscious.
A power to store every experience, and call upon it through something called intuition.
Can a company have reflexes.
A nervous system.
The ability to react, precisely and correctly, faster than the speed of thought.
Can an enterprise have a sixth sense. A knack for predicting the future.
Can a business have a spirit?
Can a business have a soul?
Can a business be…alive?
THE ANSWER IS SIMPLE. THE ANSWER IS SAP HANA

Given our cultural fascination with evil, AI-driven corporations, I have to wonder how stuff like this gets through any big company’s Fear of Looking Scary filters, right? I mean, does the agency not watch Mr. Robot?

But somehow the spot resonates — if you work in a large company, don’t you want that company to be … alive? Don’t you want it to be fast, and smart, and nimble, and … soulful? Don’t you want to be part of something powerful and vibrant?

Clearly, the ad is working for SAP, they’ve been running it for well over a year, and they (or their agency) felt it was appropriate for the 13+ million folks watching the Republican debates on Saturday night. The ad leaves a pretty clear premise for the viewer: If you want your company to be alive, install our software!

But it begs a larger question: what is the role of corporations in our society going forward, if we’ve begun to accept that they are in fact alive? (And have the rights of people, to boot!)

I’d be curious if folks out there are buying this whole narrative. What do you think?

The post Should a Company Have a Soul? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

Saad Sarwana: The Math Test

Saad Sarwana is finally about to win a high school award, but in his way is a math problem even the teacher got wrong.

Saad Sarwana is finally about to win a high school award, but in his way is a math problem even the teacher got wrong.

Saad Sarwana grew up in Pakistan, and moved first to Canada and then eventually to the US to attend graduate school in Physics. He’s a professional physicist by day and an amateur standup comedian by night! As a Physicist, Saad has over 30 peer reviewed publications and two US patents. As a comedian Saad has performed over 1000 shows over 20 years. He co-hosts the Science Channel show “Outrageous Acts of Science”, Season four starts to air in Feb 2016.

63 O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In celebration of the release of the latest Coen brothers film Hail, Ceaser!, Devin & Amy discuss their 2000 adventure film O Brother, Where Art Though?. The movie is based on the epic poem Odyssey. It stars George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson as 3 chain gang fugitives who escape from prison to find a treasure in the American South and have many adventures along the way. Listen as Devin & Amy get deep into one of the Coen brothers most playful and comedic films — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!

In celebration of the release of the latest Coen brothers film Hail, Ceaser!, Devin & Amy discuss their 2000 adventure film O Brother, Where Art Though?. The movie is based on the epic poem Odyssey. It stars George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson as 3 chain gang fugitives who escape from prison to find a treasure in the American South and have many adventures along the way. Listen as Devin & Amy get deep into one of the Coen brothers most playful and comedic films — and head to the forums on Wolfpop to cast the deciding vote!