Below are some of the items that I found most interesting in the last few days.
In comparison to prior editions of Tidbits, there isn’t any major cohesive theme that demands our attention. But companies of interest continue to push their agendas forward that will likely lead to industry shifts down the line.
Luckily, that gave me the opportunity to digest a number of long-form essays that may also be of interest.
Facebook had a huge week with a number of e-commerce related announcements.
#1 – Instagram Checkout Effectively Moving Out of Beta
People come to Instagram to be inspired. To turn this inspiration into action, we began testing checkout on Instagram with a small number of partners, allowing people to buy products they discovered without leaving the app. We are excited to announce that in the coming weeks checkout on Instagram will be available to all eligible U.S. business and creator accounts with a Shop.Source: Instagram
Instagram Checkout has been in the works for a few years now, but is finally being rolled out broadly for US merchants operating on the platform.
Capital Flywheels expects this to be a huge deal. Instagram has one of the largest user bases globally and involves a user experience that can lend itself fairly easily for commercial purposes. Not all products with large user bases can do this…for example, as much as Google has tried, Gmail is not easily monetizable.
On Instagram, many people already either follow brands they are interested in or people that they trust for content curation (e.g. travel, experiences, cosmetics, etc). Not all of it can be commercialized, but a lot of it can. And Instagram’s value proposition is quite good. Merchants can now tag posts with buyable items and allow users to directly checkout within the app using Facebook’s built-in checkout features. In addition to the effective targeted advertising tools that Facebook offers, merchants can also now try their hand at new engagement tools like live-streaming. And to cap it off, merchants can now set up dedicated “shops” that are effectively Instagram- / Facebook-native e-commerce websites.
Nothing like a number of brewing political headaches to get Zuckerberg to see the light and realize that it’s better to be commercial than to be powerful…Zuckerberg’s pivot away from politics and into e-commerce will likely be one of the highest return-on-investment decisions of all time.
How do I know this is a true pivot and not an experiment? Not only is Zuckerberg personally talking about e-commerce non-stop on earnings calls, every asset he commands is moving in that direction…
#2 Facebook Launches Dedicated Shopping Section on core Facebook
Today we’re introducing Facebook Shop, a new place to discover businesses and shop for products in the Facebook app, and we’re expanding checkout on Instagram to all US businesses and creators.Source: Facebook
This would honestly be quite exciting if not for the fact that core Facebook’s user engagement is now quite weak amongst a large swath of the US population. This could still be quite meaningful in the long run internationally.
Facebook is also starting to recognize that some commercially consumable products require more handholding than others. Features like live-streaming and messaging help assist users through the buying journey, but there needs to be more ways to educate potential customers that do not involve direct and immediate action. Hence, guides:
#3 Instagram Allows Creators to Recommend Products, Places, etc through Guides
Instagram is working to expand its recently launched “Guides” feature which initially debuted with a specific focus on wellness content. The feature, which launched in May, has allowed select organizations and experts to share resources related to managing your mental health — including things like handling anxiety or grief amid the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. A handful of creators first gained access to the feature, and have since posted their wellness tips on their Instagram profiles in a separate tab, called “Guides.” Now, Instagram is developing tools that will allow creators to build out Guides for other types of tips and recommendations, too — like recommended places or even recommended products.
The larger goal with Guides is to give Instagram users a way to post longer-form content that’s not just a photo or video. Currently, Guides can include photos, galleries and videos sourced from either the creator’s own profile, which is more common, or from other creators. In addition, the Guides include commentary or tips alongside the media.
Capital Flywheels is quite bullish on Pinterest’s long-term potential, but Facebook’s efforts with Guides could push them a little closer towards Pinterest’s own value-proposition for users.
Meanwhile…do young people even want to buy physical goods anymore?
#4 Bitmojis Can Be Customized With Ralph Lauren Gear
Snapchat and the fashion label Ralph Lauren have entered into a new deal that will let users dress their Bitmoji in the brand’s signature polo-inspired duds. It’s a new kind of collaboration for Snapchat that shows how it’s working on creative ways to bring luxury brands into the playful app’s fold beyond traditional advertising.
Snap is planning to expand branded clothing for Bitmoji to include more partnerships, but doesn’t have plans to charge brands for this right now. The company is positioning this as more about exposure to a young audience in a fun way.Source: Mashable
A few months ago as the US headed into the depths of COVID-19 crisis, Capital Flywheels argued that the US would likely enter a period of realignment. One of the areas that seem particularly overdue for a realignment was healthcare. Capital Flywheels argued that the current system’s incentives are not aligned with patient outcomes and that increasingly more and more healthcare will come to be managed or influenced by the tech giants where incentives are aligned. Amazon and Apple and Google make more money (through product sales) when their users live longer. The incentives are such that the tech giants have more of an interest in keeping everyone healthy through preventative care rather than acute care (e.g. doctor and hospital work) that the existing system tends to depend on.
This is more of just a hunch, but it’s clear that the tech giants increasingly show interest in this area.
#5 Apple Watch 6 to Include Blood Oxygen Sensor
A report from Digitimes today suggests that Apple has made a manufacturing deal with supplier ASE Technology, as it prepares up the production lines for Apple Watch Series 6.
Most healthy adults will have blood oxygen level above 95%. Blood oxygen levels below a certain threshold are leading indicators of respiratory problems, and can impair heart and brain function. Similar to the Apple Watch’s existing low heart rate notifications or electrocardiogram features, the Apple Watch Series 6 could tell the wearer if it detects abnormal blood oxygen and suggest seeking medical help.Source: 9-to-5 Mac
And, of course, this would be particularly timely because blood oxygen declines is a key problem / symptom with COVID-19. Capital Flywheels bought a hospital-grade blood oxygen finger sensor for $350 from Masimo…if the Apple Watch can achieve similar accuracy, then it would be a steal at $400.
#5 Amazon Launches Halo
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) today introduced Amazon Halo, a new service dedicated to helping customers improve their individual health and wellness. Amazon Halo combines a suite of AI-powered health features that provide actionable insights into overall wellness via the new Amazon Halo app with the Amazon Halo Band, which uses multiple advanced sensors to provide the highly accurate information necessary to power Halo insights. Customers in the U.S. can request early access to Amazon Halo starting today, with the Amazon Halo Band and 6 months of Halo membership available for a special price of $64.99.Source: Amazon
This is potentially a very exciting development. Amazon’s scale combined with such an affordable price point could revolutionize preventative care and jumpstart an industry not unlike how Amazon jumpstarted the smart speaker space with an attractive but very affordable option.
Long-term, Apple still likely has the upper hand through better industrial product design and integration with the most important product we have with us (smartphones generally, but more than 50% of US smartphone users now use iPhones), but Amazon has physical scale in a way that Apple does not, especially with Amazon’s ownership of related assets like PillPack for drug / pharmacy needs. Amazon is also experimenting with their own clinics out of necessity (which might be a prelude to a story that looks a lot like what Walmart did with clinics in their stores).
#6 Amazon Plans Clinics for Warehouse Workers
Amazon plans to establish healthcare facilities for its warehouse workers and their families across the country. The company unveiled the plan Tuesday, starting with a clinic in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
Earlier this year, Amazon launched a program that offers employees a blend of virtual medicine and in-house/office visits. Amazon Care is one of several projects by the company aimed at transforming the healthcare system. The two most prominent plans are Pillpack, the drug-delivery startup that Amazon reportedly paid $1 billion for last year and Haven, the tech giant’s joint healthcare venture with JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway that aims to improve healthcare for employees.Source: Geekwire
What’s interesting is how receptive the general public already seems to be about the potential for tech to play a larger role in healthcare. The Guardian published a fairly interesting piece highlighting what different tech players are already doing and why they may be singularly positioned to create outcomes that would not be possible otherwise.
#7 Guardian – Will Silicon Valley Be Your Healthcare Provider One Day?
While stuck at home, we came to rely on private technology companies as the infrastructure for so many of our daily needs – everything from delivering essentials to communicating with colleagues – and now for public health coordination too. But Big Tech’s involvement with healthcare is not new and it won’t end with contact tracing.
Longterm, the Silicon Valley vision for healthcare has to do with leveraging machine learning to provide data-led health services that rely more on proactive monitoring than on treatment. The idea is that hyper-responsive medication and preventative lifestyle measures will minimise costly, complex medical procedures. Artificial intelligence that continually learns from every patient, everywhere will eventually achieve more accurate diagnoses than expensive humans that have to go to medical school.
When full healthcare is included with Alibaba’s 88VIP, Amazon Prime or Apple Health, these companies will play a central role in providing for the basic wellbeing of their constituents – a responsibility which has typically been the purview of governments. So, if the best healthcare outcomes will be achieved by the organisations that can aggregate the most data, will there even be a viable alternative to the benevolent dictatorship of Apple?Source: Guardian
Outside of tech, there’s actually a lot of really interesting things going on in the medical / health space. As close friends have known, CRISPR is one area that has been hugely fascinating to Capital Flywheels since 2012.
Capital Flywheels would love to have higher exposure to the space in the Paper Portfolio, but unfortunately there are few investment options that Capital Flywheels can find that would likely be an improvement over the tech and payment companies currently composing the portfolio.
But…how exciting is it that the FDA has approved the first blood-based cancer test?
#8 – FDA Approves Guardant’s Liquid Biopsy Cancer Test
Guardant Health received a milestone approval from the FDA for its cancer test, as the first liquid biopsy able to genetically profile solid tumors anywhere in the body through a single blood draw.Source: Fierce Biotech
While society has made huge strides in cancer survivability (depending on the type), cancer still remains one of the largest health issues of our times. Humans are living longer and are therefore more susceptible to cancer (and chronic diseases). Cancer survivability improves dramatically when detected early, but detection is quite hard until tumors are large enough to be visible.
Now there is a way to detect cancers with decent sensitivity all through a blood-draw, which we can all do every year as part of our annual check-ups. This is incredible.
One of my hunches is that the 21st Century is likely not the century of computer science, but the century of Biology. The benefits of computer science and AI are quickly diffusing into industries that are far away from “tech”. The largest revolutions of the next 100 years is likely to come about through the mastery of our own genetic code rather than computer code.
💎 Thought-Provoking Long Form Essays
The rise of TikTok updated my thinking. It turns out that in some categories, a machine learning algorithm significantly responsive and accurate can pierce the veil of cultural ignorance. Today, sometimes culture can be abstracted.
One of the most insightful pieces I’ve ever read. And the conclusions are worth thinking deeply about since algorithms will increasingly govern how we perceive and interact with the world.
But Silicon Valley still has this unbeatable advantage, available in abundance like nowhere else, that helps startups get off the ground: social capital. (I mean the general term “social capital” here, not the specific company Social Capital where I used to work.)
I’m continually surprised at how status and social capital in tech are simultaneously something we love to talk about, but also never want to talk about. We love to talk about individual examples of people acquiring influence creatively, or trendy virtue signalling that’s in fashion. But we don’t talk as much about the deep, systemic ways in which social capital makes the current tech industry possible in its current form at all.
This is a fascinating examination into social capital in Silicon Valley and how social capital could be THE thing that makes it all work.
#11 – healthOS – While this is specifically about what Apple may be doing, it’s a thought-provoking dive into what any of the tech giants may be building.