I write again this morning to point you to a piece of outstanding tech-industry journalism in the new issue of Fortune magazine. This time it’s an insightful interview Michal Lev-Ram conducted recently with Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal.
PayPal is one of the great corporate tech stories of the Internet era given that unlike Google, Facebook, Twitter and the like, it has had multiple lives. It started as the merger of two hottish startups. Then, recognizing that its customers were using PayPal to process transactions on the platform, eBay bought it. After eBay concluded that PayPal was a far better business than eBay itself, it spun out PayPal as the independent company it once was.
Now, as Schulman’s illuminating comments make clear, PayPal is undergoing another transformation as the owner of Venmo, a cash-transfer service aimed at millennials. If you haven’t used Venmo, it’s tough to understand what millennials might have to do with cash transfers. The reason is that Venmo makes it easy to tell one’s friends about transactions, like: “Just split a meal with Britney.” I use Venmo, which fundamentally works a lot like PayPal and Square Cash, in that it links to a checking account and makes it easy to send cash to personal contacts. I typically use it to pay the millennials in my life, though I always uncheck the default “public” box and instead check the “participant only” box. Why? Because I’m not a millennial, and the last thing I want is to tell anyone I just paid my daughter’s guitar teacher for her lesson.
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But I digress. The point is that Venmo is on fire, and Schulman knows it. Venmo makes next to no money on its 10 million users. But it has just enabled 2 million merchants to accept payments from Venmo. “That’s exactly how we monetized PayPal, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do with Venmo,” says Schulman, meaning that while there’s no money in person-to-person payments, merchants will pay a vig to get paid by customers the way customers (read: young people) want to pay.
The best way to understand the unique power of PayPal’s special little business is to try Venmo yourself. The second best way is to read the interview with Dan Schulman.
Have a good weekend.
One more thing. Elon Musk unveiled his much-hyped electric semi-trailer truck on Thursday, but also surprised Tesla fans with an all-new version of the company’s Roadster sports car. The revived Roadster can go zero to 60 mph in under two seconds and has a top speed of over 250 mph. Sounds like a speed ticket attracting machine.
Winter is here. It was a mostly tough day in the world of online journalism. Mashable sold to Ziff Davis for $50 million, about 20% of its last private fundraising valuation, and Verizon’s Oath unit that owns Yahoo laid off another 4% of its workforce. Meanwhile, both Buzzfeed and Vice Media reportedly will badly miss their 2017 revenue targets. On the flip side, Axios, the not-yet-year-old outlet started by Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, raised $20 million for a major newsroom expansion.
Change. Denise Young Smith, appointed in May as Apple’s first-ever vice president of diversity and inclusion, is stepping down and will be replaced by Christie Smith, a longtime Deloitte human resources executive. Smith had come under criticism for remarks she made about “12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men in a room” being diverse. Smith apologized.
Shackles off. The Federal Communication Commission continued gutting media ownership limits. On Thursday, the agency voted to allow common ownership of TV stations and newspapers in a single city and eased limits on the number of TV and radio stations that one entity could own in each market. The moves help clear the way for Sinclair Broadcasting’s expansion. The FCC also agreed to scale back the Lifeline program that provides phone and Internet subsidies to low income households.
One ring to rule them all. Had enough consolidation in media yet? Comcast and Verizon are talking to Twenty-First Century Fox about buying Fox assets that Disney was recently kicking the tires on, Reuters reported on Thursday. The Disney inquiry covered Fox’s movie and TV units, cable networks FX and National Geographic, and some international businesses such as the Sky satellite TV service.
Accessibility. Airbnb said on Thursday it acquired London startup Accomable to expand home-renting opportunities for people with disabilities, adding about 1,100 house and apartment listings that can accommodate guests with physical disabilities. For the longer term, Airbnb also hired Accomable’s founders and most of its seven-person staff to build out Airbnb’s wheelchair-accessible housing inventory and provide more complete and accurate information to disabled travelers.
A very nice couch. With augmented and virtual reality capability starting to spread among consumers, forward-looking companies are getting ready for some virtual commerce. Williams-Sonoma, which also owns Pottery Barn and West Elm, acquired startup Outward on Thursday for $112 million. Outward creates 3-D images of real world objects that are currently used on retailers’ web sites but will be a perfect fit in the age of AR and VR, too.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
SpaceX May Launch the U.S. Government’s Secret ‘Zuma’ Satellite Friday Evening By David Meyer
Facebook Debuts New App for Video Makers, Similar to YouTube By Tom Huddleston Jr.
Bitcoin Gets a Boost as Coinbase Lures Hedge Funds, $10 Million Minimum Deposit By Jeff John Roberts
Here’s Why Cisco Shares Are Soaring By Jonathan Vanian
This Is How You Can Get a ‘Home’ Button on Apple’s iPhone X By Tom Huddleston Jr.
Why PayPal Doesn’t Want to Lend You Money Anymore By Aaron Pressman
Why Bitcoin Splits Are Both a Cash Windfall and a Tax Nightmare By Jeff John Roberts
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
We got kind of a surprise at our house at dinner time recently when a regular looking guy in regular clothes drove up in a regular looking car and knocked on our door. What’s he selling, I wondered. But, turns out, it was one of Amazon’s newest crop of deliverymen, a workforce of independent contractors moving packages from warehouses to customers. Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo digs into the roots of the effort, dubbed Amazon Flex, and the implications for the labor force of the 21st century.
There’s no easy way for this disposable workforce to have their problems addressed. While drivers are given a support number, Flexers claim its only purpose is to assist during the course of a block—to get the door code to an apartment building, for instance. “There’s no liaison, just hot-headed warehouse managers that will terminate a driver for anything they want,” a driver reported. And from other testimony, terminations occur frequently and with little explanation. Boilerplate emails reprimanding drivers for supposedly missed packages contain little information: only the date of the infraction, but not the package or address. Whether the package was stolen or an unscrupulous customer merely took advantage of Amazon’s willingness to offer refunds, it’s the courier who takes the fall. “It’s frustrating because Amazon will always believe the customer,” a driver claimed, echoing the sentiments of many others. “Even with photo or bodycam evidence. We have no support. And one customer too many and we’ll get that termination email.”
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
A few interesting longer reads I came across that are suitable for your weekend reading pleasure.
Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence – Wired
Anthony Levandowski makes an unlikely prophet. Dressed Silicon Valley-casual in jeans and flanked by a PR rep rather than cloaked acolytes, the engineer known for self-driving cars—and triggering a notorious lawsuit—could be unveiling his latest startup instead of laying the foundations for a new religion. But he is doing just that. Artificial intelligence has already inspired billion-dollar companies, far-reaching research programs, and scenarios of both transcendence and doom. Now Levandowski is creating its first church.
A Day in the Life of Silicon Valley Power Player Kirsten Green – Wall Street Journal
The bustling commercial stretch of Hayes Street between Franklin and Gough in San Francisco is a testament to Kirsten Green’s instincts. First, there’s the Warby Parker store—the 45-year-old venture capitalist was an early investor in the now ubiquitous eyewear company in 2010. Then there are the offices of another of her investments, the prescription acne treatment start-up Curology, which sit just above what’s soon to be an Away store (Green’s partner, Eurie Kim, led the seed deal for the purveyor of suitcases in 2015).
The Motherboard Guide to Not Getting Hacked – Motherboard
There are lots of things you can do to make it much more difficult for hackers or would-be surveillers to access your devices and accounts, and the aim of this guide is to give you clear, easy-to-follow steps to improve your digital security. There are, broadly speaking, two types of hacks: Those that are unpreventable by users, and those you can generally prevent. We want to help you mitigate the damage of the first and prevent the second from happening.
Security Breach and Spilled Secrets Have Shaken the N.S.A. to Its Core – New York Times
Mr. Williams had written on his company blog about the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that had somehow obtained many of the hacking tools the United States used to spy on other countries. Now the group had replied in an angry screed on Twitter. It identified him — correctly — as a former member of the National Security Agency’s hacking group, Tailored Access Operations, or T.A.O., a job he had not publicly disclosed. Then the Shadow Brokers astonished him by dropping technical details that made clear they knew about highly classified hacking operations that he had conducted.
BEFORE YOU GO
After reading an interview with Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, about his morning routine, I’ve been trying to follow a similar a.m. procedure, including a cold shower. There are many claimed benefits of chilly showering, including improved health, concentration, and creativity. It may be a bit overstated, according to a new large-scale study out of the Netherlands. Tracking the impact of cold showers on over 3,000 adults for several months, the scientists found a significant decrease in the number of sick days taken from work but no other statistically significant improvements in quality of life. Oh well. It’s still a bracing welcome to the day.