The Information


Apple’s Former Siri Boss Joins Microsoft AI Group

Bill Stasior, the longtime former Apple executive overseeing its Siri digital assistant, has joined Microsoft, continuing a reshuffling of artificial intelligence leadership at big tech companies. 

Starting this month, Stasior, whose move to Microsoft hasn’t been previously reported, will become a corporate vice president of technology, reporting to Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott. Stasior referred questions about his new job to a Microsoft spokesperson, who confirmed Stasior’s hiring, adding that “he will work to help align technology strategies across the company.” At Microsoft, Stasior will lead an artificial intelligence group, a person familiar with the matter said.

The shift underscores the intense demand for AI leadership inside the largest tech companies, all of which are jockeying for position against each other. Last year, Apple recruited a prominent Google executive, John Giannandrea, to lead AI strategy. Stasior reported to Giannandrea.


Big Customers Pressure AWS to Step Up Open Source Support

In some parts of the open source community—the loosely affiliated bands of developers who work on free software projects—Amazon Web Services is viewed as a mooch, a company that makes money from those projects without contributing enough to their advancement. It turns out executives at AWS, as the cloud computing unit of the internet retailer is known, worry about its open source reputation too. 

In April, a document circulated inside AWS that quoted Francessca Vasquez, head of Americas Solutions Architecture at AWS, who wrote that several of its biggest customers—Netflix, Capital One and Intuit—viewed AWS’s backing of open source software as tepid. In the document, which was seen by The Information, she said the customers were demanding better integration between an open source tool, known as Spinnaker, and AWS’s offerings. She proposed steps AWS could take to become involved in those and similar projects. 

“They have a perception that AWS is lacking in OSS contributions to support them,” said Vasquez, referring to the abbreviation for open source software. 


Employee Unrest and Political Neutrality at Google and the New York Times

Employee unrest inside big tech companies remains an important story. Wired reminded us of it this week, with this excellent piece about Google. The company is facing unprecedented pressure from employees on both the left and right who are unhappy about its business positions and the way various groups are treated inside the company. The result: an unhappy place where skirmishes are increasingly boiling over into management crises.

A similar—although not as extreme—situation exists over at the New York Times. About a week ago, Editor Dean Baquet held an employee town hall to quell issues related to covering President Trump’s racist comments. In a subsequent interview he was pretty candid, saying younger Times employees wanted the company to be tougher on the administration while he felt the Times shouldn’t be “the resistance.”

Both buckets of unrest can be traced back to our political climate, generational attitudes and even technology, which is helping workers organize. Of great interest to me is how both challenges are shaped by the business models of their organizations. 


The Information’s 411 — Equity at a Later Date

Ross and Amir talk about the case of Toptal, a startup that dangled equity to investors and employees but never delivered. Cory dives into the WeWork IPO filing and pulls out his favorite bits.


Developers Call Apple Privacy Changes Anti-Competitive

Apple has said upcoming changes to its iPhone operating system will better protect the privacy of users. But a group of app developers recently told Apple some of those changes will hurt their businesses, while accusing the company of anti-competitive behavior in the way it subjects its own software to the new rules.

In an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook last Friday, the leaders of seven app developers outlined their concerns about the company’s new restrictions on location-tracking apps in a forthcoming version of the iOS operating system, according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Information. They accuse Apple of having a “double standard” for how apps can use location data in its new operating system.

Apple’s growing efforts to create new internet services of its own create a duty to treat outside developers fairly, they wrote. “As Apple expands into additional services, some of which compete with developers like us, the need for a level playing field becomes ever more critical to allow the ecosystem to flourish,” they wrote in the email.


JD.com Joint Venture in Talks to Raise $500 Million in U.S. IPO

Chinese online retailer JD.com is in talks with bankers to list shares of its online supermarket joint venture in the U.S. next May, looking to capitalize on the growth of China’s e-commerce sector, which is a bright spot in the country’s otherwise weakening economy.

Dada-JD Daojia, a joint venture controlled by JD.com and 10% owned by Walmart, which earlier sold its own China-based online store to JD.com, is seeking to raise around $500 million in an IPO, according to two people familiar with the matter.


Six Questions for Greylock’s Sarah Guo

Sarah Guo joined Greylock Partners as an investor in 2013. Her investments have included companies in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and an app for working parents called Cleo. The Information interviewed Guo for our new newsletter for women in tech, media and finance. Her slightly edited answers below.


Axios Joins Media Push Into Software With Newsletter Product

Digital media publisher Axios is planning to enter a new business that includes selling software for helping companies create newsletters for their employees. The move comes at a moment when more media businesses are seeking to diversify their revenue through software sales.

Axios wants to sell the software, which it is beta testing, to communications and human resources departments at companies with large numbers of employees, according to several people familiar with the plan. Another potential use is newsletters for company investors and customers, said one of the people. It couldn’t be learned whether Axios plans to play any role in producing the newsletters beyond selling companies the software on a subscription basis.


Housing Startup Eyes Valuation Over $100 Million With New Round

A host of startups have sought to build residential housing’s answer to office giant WeWork: a modern property manager that offers flexible leases and a friendly atmosphere for residents. One of the tech industry’s most prominent investment firms is backing a newer entrant to the field, even as the concept as a whole has struggled to catch fire. 

Bungalow Living, a San Francisco–based startup that leases single-family homes and rents out individual rooms to young professionals, is nearing a deal to raise between $30 million and $40 million of equity capital, people familiar with the matter said. The Series B financing, led by Founders Fund general partner Keith Rabois, would bring Bungalow’s valuation to more than $100 million, nearly twice what it was valued in a funding round last summer.


At Booming Toptal, No Stock for Employees or Investors

Toptal, a service that connects companies with freelance software engineers, is a Silicon Valley success story. Founded in 2010, it soon attracted funding from well-known investors including Andreessen Horowitz and hired scores of employees who were promised stock if things went well and the company raised more money.

And things did go well. So well, in fact, that Toptal has grown at least 30% annually for years—hitting almost $200 million in revenue last year—while breaking even or making a profit, depending on the year. But Toptal has not raised any more money since its seed round in 2012. It hasn’t needed to. As a result, even though it looks like a typical venture capital funded company, all of Toptal’s stock is in the hands of one person, co-founder and CEO Taso Du Val. Even Du Val’s co-founder and colleague for eight years, Breanden Beneschott, has no shares.


BuzzFeed Chief Marketing Officer to Step Down

BuzzFeed Chief Marketing Officer and commerce leader Ben Kaufman is stepping down from his position at the end of the year, a move that comes at a delicate time for the digital media company as it seeks to boost revenue and return to profit. 

Like many of its peers, BuzzFeed has been looking for new sources of revenue, after relying too heavily on Facebook for traffic and ad revenue. Thanks in part to its growing commerce business, the company expects to break even this year and return to profitability next year, according to people familiar with the situation. While Mr. Kaufman will stay on as an adviser to the company, his stepping down as CMO raises questions about the commerce division’s future success and, more broadly, about whether BuzzFeed can remain on its current, more stable track. 


Exchange Rules Spark Conflict

I was monitoring bitcoin’s price on Wednesday morning, as investors dumped stocks after government bond prices warned of a potential U.S. recession. The idea that bitcoin is untethered to any traditional assets, making it a good investment in times of market uncertainty, has gained traction in recent months. But the jury is still out on whether that’s true, or merely wishful thinking by some in crypto.

On Wednesday, bitcoin fell slightly in the first few hours of trading, while gold, which many in crypto view as a rival asset to bitcoin, gained about 1%. We do know that bitcoin trades at a premium in countries like Venezuela and Argentina, where political uncertainty has weighed on fiat currency values. But those are extreme cases.

Another factor that will eventually affect bitcoin’s price is an anticipated SEC decision this year on whether to approve the first bitcoin ETF. This week, regulators delayed a decision on three proposals, which we discuss below. Plus, we take a look at growing conflicts over who can use which crypto exchanges, after officials began scrutinizing the practices of companies based abroad that regulators believe have U.S. customers.


Six Questions Raised by the WeWork IPO Filing

WeWork is expanding, and losing money, at a breathtaking pace, paperwork filed in connection with the company’s upcoming public offering showed Wednesday. Financial information in the filing revealed that the real estate giant continues each year to double its customer base, which increasingly includes large companies signing up for longer deals.

The filing also sparked a host of new questions about the sustainability of WeWork’s expansion, especially as the company relies more on non-U.S. markets and faces the rising risk of an economic slowdown. And potential investors might be especially sensitive to any vulnerabilities now that the company has confirmed it is keeping voting control with CEO Adam Neumann, giving potential new shareholders less power.

The IPO is expected to go forward within the next two months, led by JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. Here are some key questions about WeWork’s trajectory raised by the filing.


Postmates Ad Spending Surges Ahead of IPO

When Postmates raised $300 million last September—roughly five months before the company filed confidential paperwork with regulators to go public—the meal delivery startup’s CEO Bastian Lehmann pledged to use the money to grow faster. 

Sure enough, Postmates hit the gas pedal on advertising, one of its primary tools for juicing growth. Between its fundraising last year and this spring, the company spent between five and 10 times more on digital ads than it did in each of the eight months prior to the fundraising, according to two people familiar with the matter. That appears to be an even bigger increase than for other consumer internet companies in the months leading up to their initial public offerings.  


Apple, Spotify Discuss Siri Truce, as Antitrust Battle Looms

An issue that has long vexed many iPhone users—the inability to play music from Spotify using Siri, Apple’s voice assistant—may soon be a thing of the past.

Spotify, the world’s most popular streaming service, is currently discussing a plan with Apple to let iPhone users tell Siri to play songs, playlists and albums with voice commands, according to three people familiar with the discussions. 

The conversations come amid a growing regulatory battle between the two companies. In March, Spotify filed a complaint with European competition authorities about the iPhone maker’s business conduct, in which it said Apple blocked the streaming service from working with Siri. But it is unlikely peace will come between the companies anytime soon, even if they resolve their squabble over Siri. Spotify has argued that several other Apple policies—for instance, the 15% to 30% Apple commission from subscriptions sign-ups through iPhone apps—create an unfair advantage for its competing Apple Music service.  


Disney Stumbles in Ad Sales Shift

Two years ago, Walt Disney Co. decided to unify the ad sales operations of most of its TV networks and websites. The idea was to make it easier for advertisers to buy spots across all Disney properties.

But the transition didn’t go smoothly, as Disney struggled to integrate new technology. The episode, which hasn’t previously been reported, underscores the challenge Disney faces as it tries to become a more digitally oriented company. 


A Wish Shopping Rival Emerges in Europe

A little-known Chinese discount shopping app is gaining ground in Europe and the Middle East, posing a potential challenge to U.S. e-commerce startup Wish’s efforts to expand globally.

The app, called Vova, is going after the price-conscious consumers also being targeted by Wish. It is one of an emerging group of Chinese e-commerce companies that are focusing entirely on overseas markets, instead of competing in China’s domestic market dominated by Alibaba and others. But unlike most of its rivals, Vova has kept its origins and ownership under wraps, prompting speculation that it might be linked to a bigger e-commerce company such as Pinduoduo.


Netflix’s Hit Addiction Makes Stock Pricey

Subscription software stocks like Zoom Video and Atlassian have been one of the hottest tech sectors on Wall Street in the past couple of years, thanks in part to their reliably recurring revenue. Investors love the predictability of subscription businesses.

But that predictability disappears when subscriber growth is driven by hit products as ephemeral as a popular TV show. That’s an issue for Netflix right now, which last quarter reported its first drop in U.S. streaming subscribers since 2011. Netflix stock has since fallen 15%. Netflix’s explanation—that the quarter’s “content slate drove less growth” than expected—suggests its business has become more hit driven. Given the ease with which subscribers can cancel, that implies Netflix’s business going forward will be more volatile than investors may realize.


The Fuzzy Science of IPO Measurement

As the tech IPO bandwagon continues, journalists and investors are keeping score. The only problem is no one seems to have the same definition of success. 

Was Zoom a successful IPO because its share price shot up 72% on its opening day and now trades 161% above its IPO price? What about the fact that the company sold relatively little stock? Or take Slack, which tried the novel approach of a direct listing. Its opening days were smooth but the price has slipped. What should we make of that?


The Information’s 411 — Eventbrite Horizon

Matt talks about the problems inside Eventbrite and why it's struggled to integrate an acquisition. Jessica Toonkel explains why WarnerMedia executives debated whether they should call the streaming service HBO Max.


Page created: Mon, Aug 19, 2019 - 09:05 PM GMT