Hello, hello! 👋🏻👋🏻
Welcome back to another edition of Tidbits covering all the recent things worth talking about in business, media, and technology.
In Search of Power
The world has changed a lot in the last few decades.
The world has changed a lot in the last few centuries.
The world has changed a lot in the last few millennia.
But regardless of how the world changes – how people live, what they want – the thing that never changes is the quest for status and power.
Status used to be tied pretty strongly to either hard power (e.g. weapons), money, or religious authority granted by a higher power.
But all of these things are now changing.
Weapons are mostly only used externally or by small-time criminals.
Money commanded the most power in the late 20th Century, but this seems to be giving way. Having money alone no longer grants authority because money cannot buy loyalty and fanaticism.
And religious power has been waning for well over half a millennium.
The new ascendant driver of status and power is this very ephemeral thing called culture. For several decades, culture (particularly Western) has become a sort of cult around youth. But now in a highly oversaturated world with algorithms influencing what people (particularly young people) like or do, culture and status is quickly shifting towards anything that is unique and novel in a world that lacks these things.
Tech largely conquered the world of money (with more money and influence than Wall Street), but it has not conquered culture.
It’s interesting to see how tech center of gravity is now moving away from San Francisco and towards Los Angeles, the traditional center of western culture. Netflix, Snapchat, TikTok, and now Apple and CryptoPunks and others are trying to conquer the new center and source of power as the world remakes itself anew.
Hollywood and culture has always had influence and glamour, but usually in a second-status way. Culture catered to the masses, but the real power was held by money. And to the extent that movie stars had power, it’s likely an extension of having either a lot of money or access to people with a lot of money.
This is changing.
There’s a lot of money, everywhere. There are retail investors that have millions, tens of millions now through leveraged bets on companies like Tesla.
Money is not a thing anymore.
What is scarce is culture.
The next era is likely an era where culture reigns supreme.
#1 Biden tells top CEOs at White House summit to step up on cybersecurity
President Biden called on the leaders of companies including Apple, Google and JPMorgan Chase to do more to respond to cybersecurity threats during a summit Wednesday at the White House.
“The reality is most of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone,” Biden said in his remarks before the summit. “You have the power, capacity and responsibility, I believe, to raise the bar on cybersecurity. Ultimately we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
These challenges are compounded, Biden added, by the shortage of cybersecurity professionals. The White House estimates that roughly half a million cybersecurity jobs remain open, amid an onslaught of cyberattacks.
While an unusually public and ambitious gathering, the meeting was part of a broader Biden administration effort to prioritize cyberattacks as a national security and economic threat. The administration announced that it would work with industry to develop new guidelines to help companies and government agencies build secure technology and assess the security of existing technology. Microsoft and Google, as well as insurance providers Travelers and Coalition, committed to participate in this initiative, according to a White House news release.
“We are in a cyberwar,” Partovi said. “Nobody’s declared war, but attacks are happening everyday. I felt optimistic that the set of folks who came together have a commitment to work together, whether it’s with government or their competitors.”Source: Washington Post
The language is quite eye-opening. Interesting to see the President of the US admit that all the critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private companies, while the world is basically already engaged in cyberwar.
The “end game” for all of this is interesting to consider. Throughout all of history, the most critical role of any central government has always been defense and security. Many people have tolerated oppressive and tyrannical monarchs in exchange for external peace and stability. Of course, governments also provide many other important services such as judicial systems, utilities, coinage, etc…but what happens in the long run when the most important service shifts away from the government?
🤑 Economics + Markets
#2 Inside Huarong Bailout That Rocked China’s Financial Elite
The numbers circulating through official Beijing were even worse than feared.
This was looking like one of the biggest single money-losers in modern Chinese history. But who, if anyone, would be willing to clean up the mess at China Huarong Asset Management Co., the nation’s teetering “bad bank?”
Its long-delayed financial results — at the time, still unknown to the wider world — reached Chinese officialdom in mid-July. The figures were so dire that regulators were hesitant to sign off on them. They feared any association with Huarong might hurt their careers.
The Ministry of Finance, which has controlled Huarong since its creation, was eager to hand over the keys — fast. Part of China’s sovereign wealth fund considered making a play but then, after going through the books, wanted money from the mighty People’s Bank of China first. The idea was shot down.
Finally, eyes turned to another rich and powerful state enterprise, Citic Group – and the people there began to sweat. They worried they’d be the ones who got blamed if things kept going south.Source: Bloomberg
A real nail-biter. Lots of interesting things to think about when it comes to incentives and dynamics in China, especially when things are not working.
👻 Cryptocurrencies + NFTs
#3 UTA Signs NFT Art Projects CryptoPunks, Meebits and Autoglyphs
The CryptoPunks are going Hollywood.
The red-hot NFT crypto-art project from Larva Labs has signed with United Talent Agency for representation across film, TV, video games, publishing, and licensing. UTA will also represent Meebits and Autoglyphs, two other crypto-art projects created by Larva Labs.
“I would say that it is one of the first opportunities for an IP that fully originated in crypto-world to enter a broader entertainment space, and they earned it,” Lesley Silverman, head of UTA Digital Assets, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They really have hit the zeitgeist in a tremendous way.”Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Another interesting development! Instead of just leaning on scarcity, CryptoPunks is going the tried-and-true route of media IP monetization.
So you now have CryptoPunks turning their NFTs into media IP…while companies like Disney / Marvel are trying to turn their media IP into NFTs.
I still don’t think the end game is for people to think about NFTs as a technology or concept as much as crypto people would like. The tech is useful in protecting IP (since it can help prevent – but won’t stop – piracy). But real work needs to be done to ensure the IP is worth protecting.
When someone buys a Marvel collector’s item, it can be in the form of a toy, a digital good, an autographed something, or an NFT. It doesn’t matter what form the item is in…what matters is the IP.
A lot of the most successful NFT collections right now (CryptoPunks, Bored Apes, etc) all seem to have the seeds of valuable IP. And it is the IP that makes them unique. The NFT aspects add some cachet and coolness to it all, but long-term whether it retains any value or not will ultimately depend on the strength of the IP.
#4 NFTs Supplant Rolexes and Lambos as the New Digital Savvy ‘Flex’
Bitcoin’s bouncing around $50,000. DeFi is seeking to go mainstream. But all anyone in the digital-asset world wants to talk about are NFTs.
Non-fungible tokens, which allow holders of art and collectibles to track ownership, are staging a resurgence after fading from the headlines during Bitcoin’s springtime swoon. Whether it’s crypto entrepreneur Justin Sun paying $500,000 for a picture of a rock, or cartoonish depictions of penguins and apes, NFTs — born of the blockchain technology that powers cryptocurrencies — are again at the center of the speculative buzz that drives digital markets.
“In the past, people probably flexed using a Rolex or expensive car,” said Tan, who lives in Singapore. “The new ‘it’ way to flex now is a very exclusive profile picture.”
See, in the old world, you spend a lot of money to tell people “I have taste” or “I am sophisticated”. And you spend it on rare things like Lambos that are somewhat correlated with taste and sophistication (though, probably more correlated with God Complexes). Regardless of what the purpose is, the items are generally beautiful.
In the modern world, you can still spend a lot of money, but you get more OMGs for spending it on the most outrageous thing you can think of. It just needs to be very rare and exclusive. Sometimes it’s a Bored Ape NFT. Sometimes it could just be a live-streamed cash bonfire on the beach (but make sure you mint that bonfire picture / video into an NFT so you don’t completely lose all your cash…it will be almost as good as the pile of cash, which you can store in your NFT wallet instead of your cash wallet or you can sell it – likely – for some money).
These are very well established human behaviors that have been around for thousands of years and will continue to be around for thousands of years!
BUT, like everything where (a lot of) money is involved, there are reasons to be careful:
Carlos Domingo, chief executive officer of digital-asset securities firm Securitize in Miami, said the technology is valuable, the market is interesting and it has huge potential. But, as is the case with every unregulated market, scams can happen.
He recalls seeing a tweet of someone boasting that they had created an NFT and sold it back and forth to themselves until the price had run up by four. “In any market, that would be totally illegal,” Domingo said.
Fake NFTs — whereby someone copies an artist’s digital work, places it on the blockchain and sells it in the artist’s name as an NFT — have become “a significant” problem on OpenSea, Finzer said. Artist Derek Laufman said he woke one morning in March to find emails and tweets asking him if his NFTs for sale on a couple of sites were legit — they were not.
“It sort of seemed silly to me that this thing that’s supposed to be secure is being represented with my name on it,” Laufman said. “And a couple of people did buy it.” OpenSea is implementing new tools to catch fake NFTs, the company said.Source: Bloomberg
#5 Crypto platforms need regulation to survive, says SEC boss
The chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission is warning that cryptocurrency trading platforms are putting their own survival at risk unless they heed his call to work within the nation’s regulatory framework.
Gary Gensler told the Financial Times that while he remained “technology neutral”, crypto assets were no different than any others when it came to such public policy imperatives as investor protection, guarding against illicit activity and maintaining financial stability.
“At about $2tn of value worldwide, it’s at the level and the nature that if it’s going to have any relevance five and 10 years from now, it’s going to be within a public policy framework,” he said. “History just tells you, it doesn’t last long outside. Finance is about trust, ultimately.”
Gensler said he had been focusing on cryptocurrency trading platforms because 95 per cent or more of the activity in this “highly speculative asset” takes place in such venues — with investor protections he described as “really sparse”.
He said cryptocurrencies and decentralised finance (DeFi) platforms pose a challenge for regulators because they exist without traditional brokers, to whom laws can be easily applied. Instead, they offer opportunities for investors to deal more directly with each other.
But he said regulators would be able to exercise authority over even supposedly decentralised platforms. He argued that DeFi was “not really a new concept” but a variation on the peer-to-peer lending businesses that sprouted earlier in the century.
Just as there was “a company in the middle” of peer-to-peer lending, he said, the DeFi platforms have “a fair amount of centralisation”, including governance mechanisms, fee models and incentive systems.Source: FT
Despite what cryptomaximalists are saying to get people to buy it, Gary Gensler hits the bullseye with his points about decentralization. Crypto may have started out as fully decentralized, but it’s only gained broader acceptance by becoming more centralized (like through intermediaries such as Coinbase, Robinhood, Cash App, Binance, etc). Unless people are willing to interact with crypto infrastructure directly, they will always be at the mercy of regulators that can tell intermediaries what is permissible and what is not.
The good thing is regulators increasingly don’t want to get rid of crypto. They just want crypto to respect existing financial laws around anti-money laundering, investor protections, and leverage limits.
#6 The Rise of Elad Gil, Silicon Valley’s Biggest Solo Venture Capitalist
Over the last several years, solo venture capitalists like Gil have emerged as a growing force in startup investing. As university endowments and pension funds chase the venture industry’s above-average returns, they’re betting that some founders will prefer to take money from well-connected individuals rather than the traditional VC firms that once dominated fundraising. Like other nontraditional investors that have recently raised mountains of cash, including hedge funds such as Tiger Global Management, solo venture capitalists often give founders a better investment deal, taking a smaller equity stake than traditional venture firms. They can also move faster on deals.
Gil is now raising an exceptional amount of money for a solo venture capitalist: $620 million from at least 26 limited partners, according to a securities filing. It’s the largest amount ever raised by a solo fund manager for a single fund, based on The Information’s analysis of PitchBook data, and it follows Gil’s first fund of $300 million, which he launched just last year. The newest fund dwarfs the capital raised by some established VC firms, including Benchmark’s last fund of $425 million, as well as Spark Capital’s 2020 early-stage fund, which totaled $450 million. Gil’s latest fund hasn’t been previously reported.
His funds don’t come with the limitations some investors face at VC firms, such as restrictions on making personal investments in startups and founding their own companies while continuing to manage the funds. Gil does both. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s working on his own startup—Pluto, a Zoom alternative—according to his blog. And with just a part-time assistant who helps with scheduling and other administrative tasks, he continues to write personal checks to startups.Source: The Information
I put this in the society section because it’s interesting how capital is transforming in parallel with the creator economy.
The creator economy is now well-recognized as a viable pathway that is gaining momentum as creatives (writers through Substack, artists perhaps through NFTs, attractive people through OnlyFans, etc) reassert economic ownership over their work.
The same transformation seems to be happening in capital, especially venture capital. The world of capital has always had two elements to it – Ideas and money. Both of these elements used to be pretty tied up in powerful established networks (e.g. Sand Hill Road, Wall Street). People needed access to networks for ideas and money.
But with changes to technology, this seems to be changing. Now solo capitalists can find ideas AND money on their own. Increasingly the power seems to be shifting back towards individuals and away from established networks.
💬 Media + Games
#7 Roblox’s Music Play: ‘Hundreds’ of Daily Concerts, Building a Digital Vegas & NMPA Lawsuit
It was just the latest music event within the free gaming platform, where a community of 42 million daily active users create and play their own games (there are now over 40 million) and spend real money on virtual currency called “Robux” to buy accessories for their avatars. Over the last nine months, Roblox has partnered with Zara Larsson, Royal Blood, Ava Max, Why Don’t We and Lil Nas X on music experiences such as virtual concerts (where artists perform as avatars) and new-release launch parties (where, like KSI’s performance, the artist beams in on a video screen), all spearheaded by Roblox global head of music Jon Vlassopulos.
A DJ in his college years, Vlassopulos got his start helping the music business adapt to the digital era: He led business development at BMG in the late 1990s, then managed entertainment partnerships at AT&T Wireless when ringtones were the rage. He joined Roblox in August 2019 with a plan to socialize the music-listening experience through games. “We had gotten stuck in a bit of a box with [digital service providers], and it felt like there was more opportunity to have a [listening] experience that was hyper-social,” he says.
How do your music events build on the traditional live experience?
Virtual fans can be piped in to watch a physical event, and physical fans are piped into the virtual world. It’s extending both what’s happening with [streaming] — which is a very antisocial, individualistic consumption experience — and the live experience. And there are no limits. Artists don’t have to spend 18 months reaching 2 million people on a world tour. They can do it on a Friday night.
Dance label Monstercat independently launched a Roblox game in July, drawing over 1.2 million visits in its first 24 hours. Why are you encouraging artists and labels to leverage Roblox on their own?
The more we turn the keys over to our partners, we train them to understand the platform, so the community can have one [concert] a week and then 10 a week and then 100 a week, and we can have much more of a variety of music choices. You’ll see more and more labels having launch parties as part of their general marketing schedule.Source: Billboard
Interesting interview with the guy spearheading Roblox’s music efforts.
Will online concerts ever fully replace offline concerts? Probably not. The comparison isn’t between online and offline. The comparison is around around online and people that never get to go to the offline experience to begin with. And over time, the online experience can also help extend and enrich the offline experience as well.
#8 Vans Launches “Vans World” Skatepark Experience in the Roblox Metaverse
Roblox (NYSE: RBLX), a global platform bringing millions of people together through shared experiences, and Vans®, the original action sports brand and global icon for creative expression, today announced the launch of “Vans World,” an interactive experience created by Vans on Roblox. With the launch of this exclusive new experience, Vans is the first brand to bring skateboarding, fashion, and community together in one experience, providing fans with the Vans shoe customizer to create their own unique style, and full skate shop to build their perfect board. Four Vans silhouettes will be available for fans to customize, purchase, and wear in the experience.
Vans World will serve as a persistent 3D space where fans can practice their ollies and kickflips with friends, and try-on and acquire exclusive Vans gear directly in the experience. This is the brand’s first venture into the metaverse.Source: Businesswire
Roblox fascinates me because it fits in so well with the theme of how games can help people learn and why I think everything will become a game. For living organisms, natural selection and evolution pushes people to change based on what pressures are applied. For learning, games can do the same thing by selectively applying pressure through goals / bosses / game design.
In the past, games were mostly about stories and places to get lost in. But increasingly, a lot of games are just simulations of something. And simulations can be very useful for learning, especially in situations where learning directly in the real world is expensive to do (either for real-money reasons or for cultural / societal reasons…like learning about consequences associated with life choices, which some games do an admirable job exploring).
When I was younger, I fantasized about being a rebel and skateboarding (though the parental units did not permit). It is not something I was able to do or learn, but through something like Roblox, I can at least learn it metaphysically, even if it doesn’t translate directly back into motor-physical skills.
I also can’t swim. There are a whole host of water-related experiences that I will never be able to have…but I could one day have them through a game simulation.
Here’s another good example to consider – All commercial pilots learn how to fly planes first through games and simulations (because learning it through a real plane is potentially dangerous and expensive):
#9 HiDef collaborates with Unity on social impact metaverse games
The San Diego, California-based company isn’t saying what it’s working on yet, beyond saying the company is working on games-as-a-service that transcend traditional gaming boundaries and demographics. The aim is to make games that connect and entertain people through creative expression, competition, shared experiences, and cultural discovery. The company raised $9 million recently.
“They know we see ourselves as not just a gaming company, but one that makes games that will work as a ‘culture delivery platform’ and I believe that resonated a ton with them,” Washington said. “Both organizations at our core believe the world is a better place with more creators, imagination, and inspiration in it. So we jumped at the chance to combine our super powers; our culture expertise and diversity with their breath of reach, their technology, their commitment to making gaming and tech available to everyone.”
“We’re onto something that’s pretty unique,” he said. “When you see it, that’s pretty obvious. We’re trying to, you know, protect that idea. And we’ll announce it when the time is right.”Source: Venturebeat
Speaking of Roblox (and the metaverse), Unity announced a collaboration with HiDef to build a metaverse-like game on Unity’s platform. This helped bump the stock up nicely a few days ago.
It all sounds very vague, though. Will have to see what they actually launch.
#10 Snapchat to ‘double down’ on expansion in India as it witnesses over 150% growth in daily active users
Earlier this year, Snapchat revealed it has crossed 60 million users in India. “We’re experiencing more than 150% growth in daily active users over the last year and consistently we are in triple-digit growth rate five quarters in a row,” Nana Murugesan, managing director of International markets at Snap Inc. told Business Insider India in an interview.
“What you’re going to see is a significant doubling down of our commitment to India, whether it’s on the teams, on the community, on the partnership, we’re very pleased with our overall India story,” Murugesan said.
Snapchat’s key focus in India is to create hyperlocal and culturally relevant experiences for users, according to Murugesan. It launched the third landmarker lens in India, which can be experienced at India Gate in New Delhi. Snapchat users who are nearby India Gate will be notified to point their camera at it, and the monument will be embellished with the tricolour.
Another area Snapchat has focused on is content partnerships. It has so far partnered with 60 local channels from 32 different publishing partners. Content of different genres ranging from news to Bollywood, beauty, comedy, and art are displayed in the app’s Discover section. It also partnered with comedian Vir Das for a new comedy series ‘VirDas -The Most Epic Max Show’. Another creator show it launched was with Indian television actress Ansuhka Sen for a cooking show called “What’s On My Plate”.
Snapchat also launched its first non-English Snap Original show ‘Phone Swap India’ which turned out to be a huge hit in India, according to Muregesan who credits the show’s unique concept as the reason behind it. Phone Swap is a reality dating show where the participants have to go through each other’s phones and decide whether they want to go on another date. This show was especially popular with India’s Gen-Z, which is also Snapchat’s core user group.Source: Business Insider
Snapchat is growing really fast in India, especially after TikTok got booted. This is the most in-depth article I’ve seen about their progress and strategy there.
#11 PayPal is exploring a stock-trading platform for U.S. customers
After rolling out the ability to trade cryptocurrencies last year, the payments giant has been exploring ways to let users trade individual stocks, according to two sources familiar with the plans.
A PayPal stock-trading launch would come at competitive time for the fintech industry. Square, PayPal, Robinhood and SoFi offer a list of overlapping products and describe the same mission of being a one-stop-shop for finance. Cryptocurrency and stock trading are seen as ways to keep consumers engaged on these payment platforms.Source: CNBC
#12 ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ Consumer Financing Takes On Credit Cards
These days, most people shop on the web using credit cards, while digital wallets and other payment methods are taking share. But buy now, pay later is gaining steam. BNPL, as it’s also known, is a way to spread out interest-free payments for consumers, who can also avoid late fees if they pay on time. They also can sidestep credit card balances that accrue with interest until the cardholder pays them off.
While most consumers tap buy now, pay later installment plans at online checkout, there’s also an opportunity for proactive marketing. BNPL companies help drive new, younger customers to merchants, analysts say.
Some BNPL companies have invested heavily in building brands. Klarna, for example, features advertisements with celebrities. With clients such as Etsy.com (ETSY), Klarna targets younger shoppers.
Klarna operates an online marketplace with hundreds of retailers. Consumers shopping from its app can buy Apple products, for example. That’s even though the company itself is not a checkout option at Apple’s website.
Meanwhile, Affirm says 30% of its transactions now originate at its mobile app.
A Bank of America survey in May found that 42% of consumers chose their BNPL provider because of deals or discounts available on their apps.
At PayPal, Lisiewski has a similar view. “I think we’re seeing the card industry reacting because of the consumer demand they’re seeing. There are plans out there from American Express and Chase where you can convert a transaction into installments. What they’re now trying to figure out is how do they move earlier in the shopping funnel to have a bigger impact.”Source: Investor’s Business Daily
That’s a really eye-opening chart. Will be interesting to see if penetration does taper off in 2022 and beyond as the forecast suggests.
Overall very good article discussing how BNPL is affecting different constituents (banks, consumers, merchants, networks, etc), and how they are reacting to the changes.
It’s becoming more and more clear that BNPL is a very attractive method of payment, but it’s just a feature. The BNPL players that survive are the ones that will be able to take their feature and build out broader commerce and payment ecosystems…before commerce and broader payment ecosystems figure out how to do BNPL.
#13 Buy Now, Pay Later Platform Afterpay Introduces In-App Ads to Let Brands Spotlight Deals
Afterpay will introduce ads to its app for the first time with a new option that lets retailers buy featured placements for promotions and products through a pay-per-click model.
The Australian buy now, pay later platform said the move comes after early tests showed that Afterpay Ads achieved a 20% lift in sales as compared to non-promoted listings within the app. The news also comes on the heels of Square’s acquisition of Afterpay earlier this month for $29 billion.Source: Adweek
Payments and advertising. Advertising revolves around data and traffic. Payments data is quickly becoming the most valuable source of data. Advertising companies like Google and Facebook have to gather a lot of really (sometimes creepy) info about you to infer what you might want to buy. But payments companies already know exactly what you buy. And it’s permissionless since you obviously expect your card to have info on what you bought. And as payments become more digital, payment wallets will increasingly take up more and more app usage time, creating valuable advertising inventory.
#14 Singapore’s Shopee changes the game in Brazil’s e-commerce sector
Sea Ltd’s (SE.N) Shopee took just two years to become Brazil’s most-downloaded shopping app, winning users to its low-cost marketplace with its game-changing approach to e-commerce: in-app mini-games offering coupons to winning users.
The Singapore-based company has combined online shopping with the gaming nous of its separate mobile game arm Garena – creator of “Free Fire”, Brazil’s most-downloaded title for eight consecutive quarters – to generate sales analysts estimated at almost a third of local champion Magazine Luiza SA (MGLU3.SA).
Shopee said in a comment to Reuters following the initial publication of this story that it now has more local domestic sellers in Brazil than cross-border sellers.
Small-business owner Luciana Carvalho began selling plastic packaging products on Shopee in February, attracted by the free shipping and 6% commission – compared with MercadoLibre’s 17%.
In a move toward profitability, Shopee has since raised commission to 18% – as much as twice marketplaces can charge in some Southeast Asian countries, indicating Latin America’s potential profit margins. Carvalho continues to use Shopee, though she prefers MercadoLibre for its “unbeatable” delivery.Source: Reuters
Very interesting bit about local Brazilian merchants. I believe this is the first time the company has disclosed that they now have more local merchants than cross-border merchants.
#15 Shopee Dips Toe in India E-Commerce Market
Singapore-headquartered Sea Ltd’s Shopee has launched a recruitment campaign for vendors to sell on what it called “Shopee India” and is ramping up hiring in the country, according to Youtube videos and job postings.
“Shopee is coming to India!” announces a video posted earlier in August that promises free shipping and no commission fees for sellers and buyers, which linked to a recruitment form for sellers. A company source said the company was cautiously preparing to expand operations in India, with no finalised launch date yet.Source: Business of Fashion
And potentially expanding into India, too!
For whatever reason, Brazilians and Indians have similar cultural preferences. Given Shopee’s success in Brazil, there’s a good chance Shopee will be successful in India as well.
#16 Tencent Joins China’s Luxury E-Commerce Platform Battlefield
China’s luxury e-commerce business, and indeed, the country’s e-commerce in general, has long been dominated by major platform players, such as Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com. Sure, luxury brands still operate their own official website e-commerce and many now also sell via WeChat mini-programmes, but platforms have proven key to product and brand research and discovery.
Now digital giant Tencent’s WeChat, with its 1.2 billion monthly active users, is getting into the platform business. The company launched its mini-programme aggregation platform Tencent Huiju in March this year, and recently announced the formation of a luxury channel called Famous Products within Tencent Huiju, which includes major players such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Valentino.
The platform has the potential to drive a massive amount of traffic to the mini-programme stores of luxury brands. Unlike on the broader Tencent Huiju platform, consumers cannot make purchases directly within the Famous Product channel, and will be redirected to the brand’s individual mini-programme to buy. This is likely to be a popular choice for brands who can better control their own image and positioning when purchases are funnelled through their own mini-programmes.Source: Business of Fashion
Will be interesting to see what this does to Alibaba’s Tmall luxury business.
Tencent’s mini programs have lower cost than Alibaba’s platform. But since it’s not an aggregation platform (at least not when it comes to e-commerce), it’s harder to gather traffic. But with Huiju, maybe that changes.
#17 Instagram Launches ‘Live’ Hub Inside Shopping Tab With Some Help From Nikita Dragun, Peloton
The 10-day event also serves to inaugurate a brand new ‘Live’ destination inside Instagram’s ‘Shop’ tab, where users can check out ecommerce streams and opt to be notified before broadcasts begin.
While the ‘Live’ destination within Shop is new, Instagram formally launched live shopping in May 2020, enabling businesses or creators in the U.S. to tag up to 30 products — each of which can be pinned during the stream, and purchased there and then by viewers without missing a beat. Instagram does not take a cut of any sales, a spokesperson for parent company Facebook said.Source: Tubefilter
Live-streaming e-commerce becoming more prevalent in the West.
Ultimately, it will depend on how scalable it is on creator / influencer time. In China, the population is very, very large. Live-streaming is very scalable on the dimension of time because there are so many potential buyers that can transact within, for example, an hour. That kind of volume can justify spending an hour streaming. This might not necessarily be the case in the West with much smaller population (the largest single block would be the English-speaking countries of US, Canada, UK, Australia, but it’s split around 3 major time zones). With smaller audiences at any given time, it might eventually be more effective to leverage short video rather than live-streaming.
#18 Re-engineering the fashion retail experience
The grand reopening in June of La Samaritaine, the 151-year-old Paris department store that has been closed for 16 years, was precisely the kind of Instagram fodder that luxury customers — many confined to screens — craved. With its candy-coloured decor and wrought iron staircases, it stirred longing for a time when in-person shopping and international travel was easy.
It also reiterated how luxury conglomerate LVMH, which operates Samaritaine through its retail arm DFS, is positioning physical stores for the future. “Bricks and mortar is not dead in our mind,” says Eléonore de Boysson, DFS group president for Europe and the Middle East, “but we do have to offer something different than just product — we need to give the client a real experience, which goes far beyond shopping.” That means restaurants and bars, nail and hair salons — experiences that aren’t necessarily geared towards product sales — all within an architectural landmark.
There is a divide within the luxury fashion industry about what form that sensory, in-person experience should take — the old-world, champagne-and-caviar luxury akin to La Samaritaine, or the more futuristic, tech-driven spaces of an increasingly digitalised physical world.
Last year, Burberry opened its first social retail store in Shenzhen, where it is trialing innovations that can then be rolled out around the world. Mark Morris, senior vice-president of digital commerce, says, “Our social retail concept is based around the idea that our online and offline lives are inextricably linked and that there is real value to be gained from weaving the two even closer together.” This includes a mini program within WeChat, where each customer is given an animated character that evolves the more the customer engages with the brand — whether through sharing on social media or scanning QR codes in-store. This then earns “social currency” or rewards, which unlock exclusive café menu items or personalised experiences. There are also interactive window displays and an immersive room called the Trench Experience, which shows the history of Burberry’s signature product. “The more they engage, the richer and more personalised their experience becomes,” says Morris.Source: FT
It’s interesting to consider how the digital shift will (or will not) change physical retail. Physical retail might go away on the low-end, but perhaps the high-end can remain (and transform).
This article discusses the push and pull within the luxury realm at the moment, which probably stands the best chance of maintaining physical presence.
#19 Apple to Let Media Apps Avoid 30% Fee After Global Scrutiny
Apple Inc. will allow developers of some apps like Netflix to link from its App Store to external websites for payments by users, a modest concession to global scrutiny of the 30% cut it typically takes from services and purchases on the iPhone.
The Cupertino, California-based technology giant said the change, settling an investigation by Japan’s Fair Trade Commission, will go into effect globally early next year for so-called reader apps spanning content like magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music and video. To date, Apple has forced such applications to use its in-app purchase system, which gives Apple up to a 30% commission on downloads and in-app subscriptions. That rule will still apply to games, the most lucrative class of mobile apps, as well as in-app purchases.
Companies like Netflix Inc. and Spotify Technology SA have long complained that Apple doesn’t allow them to link to their web portals for users to sign up for their services. Apple has previously rejected or removed third-party applications that attempted to steer users to web-based alternative payment methods and Netflix has simply declined to offer an in-app sign-up option as a result.Source: Yahoo / Bloomberg
The app economy is probably the most powerful driving force in the world economy today. It’s not a key driver in the developed world, but it could be one of the most important factors driving development in less developed countries (for example, Brazil, India, and Southeast Asia).
As the app store walls come down a bit, this could have a huge impact on how large swaths of the global economy will function.
#20 Google developing own CPUs for Chromebook laptops
Google is developing its own central processors for its notebook and tablet computers, the latest sign that major tech players see in-house chip development as key to their competitiveness.
The U.S. internet giant plans to roll out the CPUs for laptops and tablets, which run on the company’s Chrome operating system, in around 2023, three sources with knowledge of the matter told Nikkei Asia.
Google was particularly inspired by Apple’s success in developing its own key semiconductor components for iPhones as well as last year’s announcement that it would replace Intel CPUs with its own offerings for Mac computers and laptops, two people familiar with Google’s thinking told Nikkei Asia.
“We found that all the tech titans are joining the foray to building their custom chips because in that way they could program their own features into those chips that could meet its specific needs,” Eric Tseng, chief analyst with Isaiah Research, told Nikkei Asia. “In that case, these tech companies could easily adjust R&D workloads without being restricted by their suppliers and offer unique services or technologies. In an ideal scenario, using one’s own chips also means better software and hardware integration.”Source: Nikkei Asia
#21 Driver’s Licenses Will Soon Be Coming To The iPhone And Apple Watch In These 8 States
Eight states will begin to roll out a new feature that will allow users to add their driver’s license and state IDs to Apple Wallet for iPhone and Apple Watch.
Arizona and Georgia will be the first states to introduce the feature, Apple announced on Wednesday, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Utah to follow afterward.
The states have not yet said when they’ll start making the digital IDs available, but once they do, the Transportation Security Administration said it will allow travelers to use them at checkpoints and security lanes at select airports.
“The addition of driver’s licenses and state IDs to Apple Wallet is an important step in our vision of replacing the physical wallet with a secure and easy-to-use mobile wallet,” said Jennifer Bailey, Apple’s vice president of Apple Pay and Apple Wallet.Source: NPR
One of the most important functions of the government beyond physical protection is, of course, identity. The government will still be in charge of issuing identity cards, but slowly the sands (and power) is shifting towards tech.
I continue to think Apple Wallet’s advantages are understated. Compared to general payment wallets, it has the advantage and power of identity cards, loyalty cards, and transportation tickets.
#22 Nvidia – I Am AI
Recently Nvidia presented at SIGGRAPH conference. Looks like they updated their “I Am AI” video to showcase all the new amazing things they are now doing with AI including using AI to turn still photos into animated 3D images.
And, as always, the thing that always gets me is that the epic music is entirely AI-generated AND the voice is AI-synthesized, too!
🚘🌽 Mobility + Delivery + FoodTech
#23 Salad chain Sweetgreen bets on automation by acquiring Spyce and its robotic kitchen tech
Salad chain Sweetgreen announced Tuesday that it has bought Spyce, a Boston restaurant company that made a name for itself with its automated kitchen.
Since its founding in 2015, Spyce has raised $24.88 million from investors, including famed chef Daniel Boulud, according to Pitchbook. The company’s robotic kitchen and conveyor belts are able to cook and serve its warm bowls and salads without any human intervention. Spyce has two restaurant locations, both in Boston.Source: CNBC
Please give me a cheaper salad. Salads don’t need to cost $20.
🚀 Enterprise Software
#24 LinkedIn is Scrapping its Stories Feature to Work on Short-Form Video
LinkedIn announced todaythat it will suspend its Stories feature on September 30 and begin working on a different way to add short-form videos to the platform.
LinkedIn announced the upcoming change to warn advertisers who might have already purchased ads that would run in between Stories. Those will instead be shared on the LinkedIn feed, but users who promoted or sponsored Stores directly from their page will need to remake them.
“In developing Stories, we assumed people wouldn’t want informal videos attached to their profile, and that ephemerality would reduce barriers that people feel about posting,” wrote LinkedIn’s Senior Director of Product Liz Li in a blog post today. “Turns out, you want to create lasting videos that tell your professional story in a more personal way and that showcase both your personality and expertise.”Source: Techcrunch
Do LinkedIn’s employees understand their product and audience? I don’t understand the appeal of Stories or short video in LinkedIn. What is the point when people only go on LinkedIn once a year, and the only people on there daily are recruiters (and possibly spies).
#25 Apple Plans Blood-Pressure Measure, Wrist Thermometer in Apple Watch
Apple Inc. AAPL 0.42% is working on new health-related features for its smartwatch, including a tool to tell users when their blood pressure is increasing and a thermometer to help with fertility planning, according to people familiar with the plans and internal company documents.
Beyond next year, Apple wants its smartwatch to be able to detect sleep apnea, provide medical guidance when it senses low blood oxygen levels and, perhaps one day, spot diabetes, according to the documents and some of the people.Source: WSJ
The continuous quantified self (and benefits to health) is coming. The value of being able to know what your body is doing almost in real-time is going to be big. Right now, we go to doctors maybe once a year, and then let doctors assess our health based on one single data point on a single random day. Your blood pressure could be totally off from normal, but your doctor wouldn’t know that because it’s just one data point. Whether you walk out of the clinic thinking you are fine (or not) could be entirely wrong. It’s like trying to determine whether climate change is happening or not by only taking measurements on 1/1 every year. There’s a whole lot of (normal) daily variance that could mask real underlying trends or conditions that need to be addressed. Yet that is literally how healthcare is provided today.
The Apple Watch could become the most important medical device in history.
#26 How Modi Govt Plans to Confront Amazon, Walmart’s Flipkart with “UPI” of E-Commerce
ONDC spearheaded by the commerce ministry is an initiative aimed to promote open networks for all aspects of the exchange of goods and services over digital or electronic networks. ONDC is to be based on open-sourced methodology, using open specifications and open network protocols independent of any specific platform.
Govt claims that ‘as UPI is to the digital payment domain, ONDC is to e-commerce in India.’ The initiative is aimed to democratise digital commerce and move it from platform-centric model to an open-network model. Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal says that ONDC will work both for products and services.
“The foundations of ONDC are to be open protocols for all aspects in the entire chain of activities in exchange of goods and services, similar to hypertext transfer protocol for information exchange over internet, simple mail transfer protocol for exchange of emails and unified payments interface for payments,” the ministry said.
“These open protocols would be used for establishing public digital infrastructure in the form of open registries and open network gateways to enable the exchange of information between providers and consumers. Providers and consumers would be able to use any compatible application of their choice for the exchange of information and carrying out transactions over ONDC.”Source: Live Mint
What India is doing is fascinating. Having the advantage of being (mostly) late to a lot of new tech, India has the advantage of doing things differently in order to avoid the challenges seen in US and China (both of which also have two very different models of tech).
First, India created an identity layer called Aadhar, which not only centralizes government-issued identifiers, but also consumer and private-facing identifiers such as emails, phone numbers, etc.
Second, India started with UPI on payments, which basically creates a national, open alternative to existing payment networks. It didn’t make existing (private) networks illegal, but it does create competitive pressure for them to up their game.
Now, India is taking their UPI model to e-commerce. This sounds a lot like what crypto promises to do (but still run by the government). It takes the power of the network away from large tech companies, and transforms the large tech companies only into large storefronts that operate on top of this government-run network.
Will be interesting to see if it is successful! If so, more countries around the world may start giving serious consideration to this as a way to manage the power of private networks.
#27 India Launches Account Aggregator to Extend Financial Services to Millions
India’s top banks five years ago built the interoperable UPI rails and enabled over 150 million people in the South Asian market to pay digitally. Scores of firms — including local firms Paytm, PhonePe, CRED and international giants Google and Facebook — in India today support the UPI infrastructure, which is now reporting 3 billion transactions each month.
Banks are now ready for their second act.
On Thursday, eight Indian banks announced that they are rolling out — or about to roll out — a system called Account Aggregator to enable consumers to consolidate all their financial data in one place. (Participant banks are HDFC, Kotak, ICICI, Axis, SBI, IndusInd, IDFC and Federal. Four of them are rolling out the system on Thursday; others say they will roll out the new system soon.)
The objective of Account Aggregator (AA) is to aggregate all financial information of an individual, said M Rajeshwar Rao, deputy governor of India’s central bank — Reserve Bank of India — at a virtual event Thursday.
The new system makes it possible for banks, tax authorities, insurers and other finance firms to aggregate data of customers — who have provided their consent — to get better understanding about their potential customers, make informed decisions and ensure smoother transactions.Source: TechCrunch
Here’s another one.
India is now centralizing all financial data. It sounds like what credit bureaus do in the West, but credit bureaus usually only centralize borrowing data. This will centralize not only borrowings but also assets, insurance, tax data, etc.
One comprehensive data profile to rule them all.
The implications for fintech is interesting because the key superpower driving fintech is data. If data becomes centralized, then fintechs will be on more equal footing with banks. Both will have to rely more on ability to source capital at low cost to support growth. Fintechs might still have an edge in user experience, but that’s a pretty thin edge.
#28 Big Tech Thought It Had A Billion Users In The Bag. Now It Might Be Forced To Make Hard Choices To Get Them.
For months, the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Modi, a nationalist autocrat accused of reshaping India’s secular ethos into a Hindu state, had been hard at work trying to quell an upswell of criticism on social media after a deadly second wave of the pandemic killed thousands and protests from millions of farmers against new agricultural laws rocked the nation. But it wasn’t until the last week of May that things came to a head.
Years ago, seeing a quick path to exponential growth in India’s millions, the US tech industry rushed in, hired thousands of people, poured in billions of dollars, and became inextricably intertwined with the story of a modern, ascendant nation. But as muscular nationalism coursed ever faster through India’s veins, criticism of the powerful became increasingly difficult. Journalists were jailed, activists imprisoned, and the internet, dominated almost entirely by American social media platforms and streaming companies and one of the last remaining spaces for dissent, is now in the crosshairs.
Tech companies thought they had a billion users in the bag. But the new rules mean they might be forced to make a choice between standing up for democratic values and the rights of their users, and continuing to operate in a market crucial to growth and market dominance.Source: Buzzfeed
However, it’s good to keep in mind that India’s politics is not exactly straightforward. It’s a democracy, but it’s as dark as a lot of other places.
🤔 Hmm… / 😮 Wow
#29 Musk says Tesla likely to launch humanoid robot prototype next year
Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Elon Musk on Thursday said the electric automaker will probably launch a “Tesla Bot” humanoid robot prototype next year, designed for dangerous, repetitive, or boring work that people don’t like to do.
Speaking at Tesla’s AI Day event, the billionaire entrepreneur said the robot, which stands around five foot eight inches tall, would be able to handle jobs from attaching bolts to cars with a wrench, or picking up groceries at stores.Source: Reuters
Hope it doesn’t autonomously run into walls. Looks sleek, though!
#30 Are You Ready for Sentient Disney Robots?
Not an imitation Groot conjured with video or those clunky virtual reality goggles. The Walt Disney Company’s secretive research and development division, Imagineering, had promised a walking, talking, emoting Groot, as if the arboreal “Avengers” character had jumped off the screen and was living among us.
But first I had to find him. GPS had guided me to a warehouse on a dead-end street in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb. The place seemed deserted. As soon as I parked, however, a man warily appeared from behind a jacaranda tree. Yes, I had an appointment. No, I was not hiding any recording devices. He made a phone call, and I was escorted into the warehouse through an unmarked door behind a dumpster.
In the back near a black curtain a little wrinkled hand waved hello.
It was Groot.
“It’s thrilling because it can be hard to tell whether it’s a robot or a person — the stuntronic Spider-Man, it’s that good,” Wade Heath said as he joined the line to re-ride WEB Slingers in early August. Mr. Heath, 32, a recruiter for Pinkerton, the security company, described himself as “a major Disney nerd” who has, at times, been surprised that the company’s parks have not evolved faster.Source: NYT
Oh my god. Incredible.