Image: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images/Protocol
April 16, 2021
Good morning! This Friday, Jeff Bezos lays out his vision for a post-Bezos Amazon, fitness is driving innovation all over the tech industry, Big Tech has some updates on its climate goals and there's more money in the self-driving world.
The Big Story
Bezos says goodbye
Jeff Bezos is still Amazon's CEO for a few more months, but he used his 2020 Letter to Shareholders to write something of a goodbye note to the company he created almost 27 years ago. Now, Bezos is many things, but he's not brief. (Maybe not surprising, given Amazon's love for the six-pager.) So let's go through the highlights!
- He's not taking a victory lap on the union fight. "I think we need to do a better job for our employees. While the voting results were lopsided and our direct relationship with employees is strong, it's clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success."
- But he still denies some of Amazon's reported problems. "We don't set unreasonable performance goals. We set achievable performance goals that take into account tenure and actual employee performance data."
- He thinks automation and algorithms are the future. "We're developing new automated staffing schedules that use sophisticated algorithms to rotate employees among jobs that use different muscle-tendon groups to decrease repetitive motion and help protect employees from MSD risks."
- Transportation is key to Amazon's climate pledge. "Transportation is a major component of Amazon's business operations and the toughest part of our plan to meet net-zero carbon by 2040," Bezos wrote. Hence the investments in Rivian, Zoox and others, and its work to develop electric delivery vans.
- And the time to do more is now. "The economy in 2030 will need to be vastly different from what it is today, and Amazon plans to be at the heart of the change."
For his parting words to the company he founded — and isn't technically leaving, but we'll give him his moment — Bezos urged Amazon employees to make sure the company didn't become "typical."
- "You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it's worth it. The fairy tale version of 'be yourself' is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine," he writes. "That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don't expect it to be easy or free. You'll have to put energy into it continuously."
- No pressure, I guess, Andy Jassy?
Fitness is a killer app
They used to say that if you wanted to know where tech was headed, watch the adult industry. I think fitness might be a smarter bet. Over the last few years, but particularly during the pandemic, exercise has become one of the most interesting (and lucrative) areas of the industry.
Fitness is an utterly mainstream thing that people are used to spending money on. As Chris Milk, a longtime VR pioneer and creator of VR workout app Supernatural, told The Verge recently: "Fitness will be the first driving force of mass adoption through a normal consumer audience."
- Supernatural's audience, for instance, is a 50/50 split between men and women, and more than 60% are over 40. "This is not what a typical VR demographic looks like," he said.
Oculus clearly agrees that fitness can drive VR adoption. It's adding in-app subscriptions, Protocol's Janko Roettgers writes, as it tries to make it easier for app developers to build sustainable businesses. Half its early partners are fitness apps, including FitXR and VZfit.
- FitXR plans to charge $10 a month, for instance, which is a lot lower than your average gym membership. CEO Sam Cole told Janko he plans to release more content and live classes now that money can come in more consistently.
There are a million other examples. Peloton and Tonal have both become hardware, software and services giants on the back of a fitness system; the Apple Watch really took off when Apple started focusing on health and fitness; Fitness+ has now become a crucial part of Apple's services business in general.
- As the space gets bigger, it's also getting more competitive. Peloton has been removing some of its Apple Watch support, and many have speculated it's planning on building a wrist device of its own after buying Atlas Wearables.
Everyone seems to agree that exercise won't go back to the way it was, that in-home fitness is part of the future even after the pandemic. That means a lot of gym membership money is suddenly looking for a new place to go.
People Are Talking
Filmmaker Caolan Robertson said YouTube's algorithm absolutely does reward extremism:
- "We would choose the most dramatic moment — or fake it and make it look more dramatic. We realized that if we wanted a future on YouTube, it had to be driven by confrontation. Every time we did that kind of thing, it would explode well beyond anything else."
Dogecoin is growing because it's a joke, not in spite of it, said co-creator Billy Markus:
- "The original intent was a parody of all the 'serious' clone coins that were trying so hard to differentiate themselves, but all seemed the same. Dogecoin was just another clone coin, but instead of taking itself seriously, it was just Dogecoin."
Who's to blame for the meme-stock craziness? Chamath Palihapitiya and Elon Musk, according to Greenlight Partners:
- "Mr. Palihapitiya controls SoFi, which competes with Robinhood, and left us with the impression that by destabilizing GME he could harm a competitor. As for Mr. Musk, we are going to defend him, half-heartedly … The laws don't apply to him and he can do whatever he wants."
A MESSAGE FROM BROADRIDGE
"The GameStop trading shot heard round the markets served to many as a wake-up call: Retail investors are all in and they're here to stay. The issue is: How will they use their power?"
Paul Kwan is a new managing director at General Catalyst, leaving Morgan Stanley after two decades of working with Silicon Valley companies.
JD Vance is planning to run for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, Axios reported. The author and VC has recently been loudly anti-Big Tech.
Gina Mastantuono is joining Roblox's board. In her day job, she's ServiceNow's CFO.
Silvio Savarese is the new EVP and chief scientist at Salesforce Research, joining the company from Stanford.
Walmart invested in Cruise, adding to a giant $2 billion round it raised in January. Cruise has been "two years away" from full autonomy for ... a lot longer than two years. Maybe this is a sign it's getting closer?
Robinhood is suing Massachusetts over its new fiduciary rule, and to get Massachusetts to stop suing Robinhood.
Wise is considering a direct listing, The Financial Times reported. The fintech, formerly known as TransferWise, could hit a $10 billion valuation.
In Other News
- The House Judiciary Committee formally approved the Big Tech report, making the document, which contained numerous allegations of anticompetitive behavior, an official committee report.
- On Protocol | Policy: A new bill would require export licenses for some sensitive data. Sen. Ron Wyden specifically cited Chinese efforts to obtain personal data in his announcement of the bill. Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Michael McCaul said the U.S. should restrict the sale of chip-making tools to all Chinese companies designing at 14 nanometers or below.
- The EU might ban AI use in "indiscriminate surveillance," "algorithmic social scoring" and other "high risk" areas, according to draft regulation obtained by POLITICO.
- Google "partially" misled Australian consumers, a court found, in a case concerning Google's location data collection on Android phones. Google is considering an appeal.
- Apple announced a $200 million Restore Fund to invest in forestry projects, aiming to profitably remove 1 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Meanwhile, Facebook said it's achieved net zero emissions, and Google released a time-lapse feature for Google Earth, meant to highlight the effects of climate change.
- LG and GM will announce a Tennessee EV battery factory today, Nikkei Asia reported. An event is planned with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
- On Protocol: AppLovin raised $2 billion in its IPO, valuing the company at $28.6 billion. But the stock ended its first day down 18.5%.
One More Thing
How to work in the future
Since we're all planning our returns to the office, rethinking our home setups for the umpteenth time and generally trying to figure out what to do now that "going outside" feels like a plausible life decision again, we're going to use this space every day to offer some expert-approved, science-backed tips on the future of work.
Starting with: Get a better microphone! People find speakers smarter, more engaging and more likable when they're presented with high-quality audio. (If you think back on your Zooms over the last year, I bet you'll agree.) One group of subjects rated a physicist's talk 19.3% better when they had good audio. Here's the mic I tell everyone to buy, here's a better but more expensive one and here's a real pro tip: Those wired earbuds that came with your iPhone sound a whole lot better than your AirPods. Either way, it's a small price to pay for being a fifth smarter.
Companies all over the tech industry are making big promises and big plans for the coming decades, trying to do their part to fight climate change, promote equality and take a view of success longer than next quarter and wider than Wall Street. Our panel of industry leaders will examine these questions and more.
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We got a couple of things wrong in yesterday's piece about whistleblowers. First, Ifeoma Ozoma is working with the Omidyar Network, but she's not helping lead it. Second, we mischaracterized the impact of Ozoma's and Aerica Shimizu Banks' whistleblowing: The settlement made by Pinterest following their revelations was awarded to another employee. Sorry for the confusion!
Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or our tips line, email@example.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.