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Traditionally, one thing upon which the British could rely was that they never heard anything about, or from, the security services, apart from in James Bond films. That has changed. First, Sir John Sawers, the new head of MI6, has Lunch with the FT and now Robert Hannigan, left, the new head of GCHQ, has written an op-ed for the paper.
Apart from indicating that the FT has become the communications channel of choice for British spies, it shows that the security services have decided that it is no longer enough to fight in the shadows. They have to get their message across loudly, in parliament and in public. Read more
There is something peculiarly impressive about the video below of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, talking in Mandarin to students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. If nothing else, it shows a dedication to the country’s customs that very few foreign business leaders can match.
Corporate perks are tricky. One employee’s free healthy meal at Google’s canteen is another’s misery – yet another reason never to leave the office.
And so what to make of Facebook’s and Apple’s offer to employees that they will cover the cost of freezing their eggs? Read more
There is an argument that the latest Facebook scandal is a lot of fuss about nothing. A week-long psychological experiment on 690,000 users in 2012 that did no damage and had a barely noticeable effect hardly registers on the scale of research abuses over the years.
Executive biographies keep a low profile on most company websites. Not so at Microsoft, which has been showing off its new chief executive, Satya Nadella, on a special microsite of the kind usually used to hawk things that consumers can actually buy. This is unlikely to persuade anyone to buy a PC or a Surface tablet. What, then, is the point?
Visitors see a list of Mr Nadella’s qualifications (Education: BS, MSCS, MBA; Hobbies: poetry). A video shows the new CEO answering questions such as “Why do you think Microsoft is going to be successful?”, which gives you an idea of how useful he might be in a boardroom. The blurb strikes an aspirational tone: “Nadella wanted to complete his master’s degree and take the Microsoft job. He did both.” Read more
Few technology companies are hotter than Snapchat, the photo sharing app founded just under three years ago that turned down a $3bn bid from Facebook. An article about the company in Forbes calls it “the greatest existential threat yet to the Facebook juggernaut”, highlighting that “droves” of teens (the median age of a Snapchat user is 18) are turning to the social network founded almost three years ago that allows users to send videos, pictures, text or drawings that disappear after a set period of time.
But one unexpected detail in the piece stuck out for me. When twentysomething co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy first met Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder tried to dig for information on their plans. He also outlined his own plans for Poke, Facebook’s own app for sharing photos and making them disappear. According to Mr Spiegel: “‘It was basically like, ‘We’re going to crush you’.” Here’s the surprising detail: the Snapchat founders then bought a copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for each of their six employees.
In choosing that particular military-treatise-cum-strategy-guide, Spiegel and Murphy punctured two myths about tech entrepreneurs. Read more
Is Twitter showing its principles, or its lack of principals?
One striking thing about the Twitter S-1 filing for its initial public offering was that it will have a single class of shares, with equal voting rights. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and other recent Silicon Valley entrants to the public markets, it is trusting in shareholder democracy. Read more
The new free trade zone in Shanghai is a fascinating experiment by the Chinese government – among the most radical since it established the special economic zone in Shenzhen in 1980. But what does “free” mean?
Social media buzzed around Mark Zuckerberg’s comment on Tuesday that he wrote the “founder’s letter” for Facebook’s initial public offering registration statement on his mobile phone. (Big deal – investors who have suffered since must wish he’d used the phone’s computing capacity to set the offer price at a more reasonable level.)
I was more interested in his admission that the social networking group had “burned two years” betting on the wrong mobile technology. For most companies, that doesn’t sound like a long time to spend exploring a potentially highly profitable dead-end, but remember, Mr Zuckerberg hit the button that launched “Thefacebook.com” on February 4 2004. It has barely been in existence eight years. In that context, to burn two years is like Ford (founded 1903) wasting a quarter of a century developing a five-wheel car or General Electric (1892) blowing 30 years exploring the possibilities of a steam-powered lightbulb. Read more
Investors with long-ish memories will recall that Ariba, the business-to-business ecommerce network that SAP has just agreed to buy, was a dotcom IPO star of 1999: its stock surged 291 per cent on its debut, giving it a market capitalisation of $3.7bn – only just short of the $4.3bn that the German enterprise software company has agreed to pay for it 13 years later. Those were the days, Facebook investors may ruefully reflect.
Ariba had much further to go in the short period before the dotcom bubble deflated in 2000 – at one point it was worth a heady $30bn. But its longevity, before finally being snapped up by one of the companies it successfully challenged, demonstrates the durability of its underlying offering. Ariba’s early potential was obviously hugely overrated at the peak of the internet boom, but it grew into that original valuation. Read more
The 33 banks that signed up for the Facebook initial public offering may have thought they were heavily discounting their normal six or seven per cent underwriting fee in return for some good publicity on a sure-fire winner. It doesn’t look like that now.
Facebook’s sputtering IPO is drawing scrutiny both to the role of Nasdaq, which has admitted to “embarrassing” mistakes on Friday, but to the price stabilisation tactics that the banks, led by Morgan Stanley, had to employ. Read more
The travails of old media businesses are well-known but I’m starting to feel sympathy for advertisers and media buyers.
That sentiment was brought on by looking (in old media fashion) at the front of the print section of the New York Times today. The lead article is about Madison Avenue’s scepticism on whether Facebook is a good advertising medium and underneath that is a piece on Dish Network’s new ad-skipping digital video recorder.
Facebook’s advertisers have been struggling with whether display ads on the social network will produce results, with General Motors pulling its $10m Facebook ad budget ahead of the intial public offering.
Meanwhile, Dish has upset US television networks in the “upfront” season where they show off their next season wares to advertisers but producing a box that automatically skips all the commercials between network shows. Read more
Facebook investors: you have been warned. The last time I was in Silicon Valley was 12 years ago, in the very week that the Nasdaq crashed, marking the end of the dotcom boom. That I should fly back into San Francisco on the eve of the social network’s initial public offering cannot be a good omen.
I’m not here to write about Facebook – for expert insights, read the analysis of my San Francisco-based colleagues or the FT Lex team – but the IPO overshadows most discussions. What strikes me is how entrepreneurs, technology executives and analysts I’ve met are reluctant to talk publicly about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ask them what they think about him and they tend to preface their remarks with a polite request that this part of the interview should be off the record. Read more
Facebook’s video for retail investors in its forthcoming initial public offering is a nice innovation, but fundamentally, Facebook is taking a step back from Google’s IPO in 2004.
The IPO bookrunners and co-managers are a litany of Wall Street names, led by Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. But Facebook has dropped Google’s attempt to upend the IPO process by running an electronic auction. Read more
Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist who is a mainstay of New York internet start-ups, has some provocative thoughts on the lifecycle of web and mobile apps – that their lifecycles are similar to those of hit television shows:
“This round trip from nothing to everything to nothing again is also true at some level with many tech companies. Digtal Equipment Corporation was founded in 1957 and shuttered in 1998. RIM was founded in 1984 and in all liklihood will be gone before the end of this decade. Same with Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, and many more iconic tech companies.”
As he says, the networks effects that work in favour of social networks on the way up can also turn against them:
“Network effects are powerful in both directions. They can help you grow exponentially. But when they are going against you, they work just as fast. Myspace’s decline was mind-blowingly quick. RIM’s has been as well. Who is next?”