Weekend Briefing No. 278

Welcome to the Weekend.

Prime Numbers

5bn – There are about 5.3bn people on earth aged over 15. Of these, around 5bn have a mobile phone and about 4bn have a smartphone.

1bn JAY-Z is officially a billionaire. It was just revealed in Forbes’ newest cover story that Hov’s fortune “conservatively totals $1 billion, making him one of only a handful of entertainers to become a billionaire—and the first hip-hop artist to do so.”

15 – The seltzer brand La Croix’s sales have dropped 15 percent in May after falling 7 percent in April, 5 percent in March, and 6 percent in February.

Growth is Good?

Historically, we have considered growth a positive thing, synonymous with job security and prosperity. But growth has led to other problems, such as the warming of the planet due to carbon emissions, the extreme weather, loss of biodiversity and agriculture that comes along with that. Consequently, some activists, researchers, and policy makers are questioning the dogma of growth as good. The degrowth movement wants to intentionally shrink the economy to address climate change, and create lives with less stuff, less work, and better well-being. But is it a utopian fantasy? Vice (11 minutes)

Platform Failure

Platforms have become one of the most important business models of the 21st century. Five of the six most valuable firms in the world are built around these types of platforms. However, a study of 252 platform companies showed that 209 of them failed. The most common mistakes into four categories: (1) mispricing on one side of the market, (2) failure to develop trust with users and partners, (3) prematurely dismissing the competition, and (4) entering too late. Researchers have extensively studied pricing decisions, yet managers still get them wrong. A platform often requires underwriting one side of the market to encourage the other side to participate.  But knowing which side should get charged and which side should get subsidized may be the single most important strategic decision for any platform. Harvard Business Review (14 minutes)

Em Drive

Typical rockets have hard limits on the speed and size of the spacecraft we sling into the cosmos. Even with today’s most powerful rocket engines, scientists estimate it would take 50,000 years to reach our closest interstellar neighbor. Of the advanced propulsion concepts that could theoretically pull that off, few have generated as much excitement—and controversy—as the EmDrive. The EmDrive works by converting electricity into microwaves and channeling this electromagnetic radiation through a conical chamber. At this point, however, the EmDrive exists only as a laboratory prototype, and it’s still unclear whether it’s able to produce thrust at all. If it does, the forces it generates aren’t strong enough to be registered by the naked eye, much less propel a spacecraft. Over the past few years, however, a handful of research teams, including one from NASA, claim to have successfully produced thrust with an EmDrive. If true, it would amount to one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of space exploration. WIRED (7 minutes)

Podcast Growth

I listened to my first podcast in 2004, and was hooked from the beginning. I couldn’t figure out why everyone wasn’t going nuts over this. Over the course of the last 10 years, podcasts have steadily grown from a niche community of audiobloggers distributing files over the internet, to one-third of Americans now listening monthly and a quarter listening weekly. People are already spending a lot of time on podcasts, and it’s growing: listeners are consuming 6+ hours per week and consuming more content every year. The demographic of podcast listeners is not your average American. Roughly half of podcast listeners make $75,000 or more in annual income; a majority have a post-secondary degree; and almost one-third have a graduate degree. There’s also a gender gap with podcast listeners skewing mostly male, mirroring the gap among podcast creators as well. However, the gender gap has narrowed from a 25% gap in 2008 to 9% today. What may surprise people living in heavy commuter markets is that listening primarily happens at home, which represents almost half of all podcast consumption. A16z (26 minutes)

Data is the New Plasma

Startups are now offering people “passive income” for their personal data. These companies claim to empower consumers to profit from personal data. But actually, they entrench an attention economy where cash-strapped consumers trade personal privacy for quick cash — much like the plasma-for-cash biz. Data exchanges broker the sale of personal data between the people who generate it and the large companies hungry for it. One, Streamr, connects real-time personal data with companies via subscription. Another, UBDI (Universal Basic Data Income), buys personal data and sells “insights” to companies. At first glance, it’s tempting… If my toaster and my watch are already collecting data, I might as well get paid for it, right? The Hustle (3 minutes)

Tech Activism

Top talent is increasingly discerning about prospective employers’ records, on topics from gender equity to how they handle defense contracts. Tech workers are increasingly unwilling to work for employers whose corporate behavior they view as unethical. This is translating into three major trends for industry: (1) Discourse over disruption. If tech is going to play a role in creating a more prosperous and just future, it is essential that technologists step outside of tech and engage communities likely to be affected or left behind, as well as domain experts in fields they are poised to transform. (2) Create responsibly. In contrast to the classic “move fast and break things” ethos, conversations about values, rights, and systemic consequences should accompany every product sprint in order to properly account for these risks. (3) Companies face real risk if they don’t act. There is a real business risk for companies that do not get ahead of these issues. Band-Aids won’t work: the very DNA of products and business models might need to change. Medium (5 minutes)

Rural Innovation

One of the most persistent myths in America today is that urban areas are innovative and rural areas are not. In fact, the urban-rural divide in innovation may be more a product of the relative size of firms than of geography. Rural areas actually have a slightly overall higher rate of substantive innovation for large firms (those with 100 employees or more), while urban areas win out in their rate of substantive innovation by small and medium-size firms. Rural areas also have a slight advantage over their metro counterparts in the rate of substantive innovation by the most innovative firms (those that are patent-intensive). That’s because innovation in rural areas tend to be a product of patent-intensive manufacturing in industries like chemicals, electronics, and automotive or medical equipment, while urban areas have higher rates of innovation in services. Citylab (6 minutes)

Bookshelf

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane. The New York Times bestselling memoir from the legendary Gucci Mane spares no detail in this cautionary tale that ends in triumph. For the first time, Gucci Mane tells his extraordinary story in his own words. It is as wild, unpredictable, and fascinating as the man himself. The platinum-selling recording artist began writing his remarkable autobiography in a federal maximum security prison. Released in 2016, he emerged radically transformed. He was sober, smiling, focused, and positive—a far cry from the Gucci Mane of years past. A critically acclaimed classic, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane provides incredible insight into one of the most influential rappers of the last decade, detailing a volatile and fascinating life…By the end, every reader will have a greater understanding of Gucci Mane, the man and the musician. Amazon

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose. Photo by meriç tuna.

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Weekend Wisdom

People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die. Plato