Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corp., speaks during a climate initiative event at the Microsoft campus.
Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microsoft makes nice

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Good morning! Microsoft is zigging where its rivals zag, vowing to work with unions instead of fighting them. Is Amazon paying attention? And social audio, once the Next Big Thing in tech, appears to be taking its last gasp. Happy Friday! Let’s dive in.

Microsoft's move on unions

As Amazon and Apple actively fight unionization efforts among their employees, Microsoft President Brad Smith announced yesterday that the company won’t push back if its employees want to unionize.

Microsoft plans to “think proactively” about unions. The company is looking to get ahead of a coming wave as unionization efforts increase at rival companies.

  • Tech worker union activity is ramping up across the country, and Smith said it will “inevitably…. touch on more businesses, potentially including our own.”
  • The company committed to four principles in working with any potential unions, including recognizing employees’ legal right to unionize, committing to “creative and collaborative” work with unions in both the U.S. and Europe and emphasizing an “open door policy” when it comes to employee concerns.
  • Smith said that if employees choose to unionize, the company hopes to “avoid public disputes” by going through “a constructive and amicable process” that doesn’t require an NLRB dispute.

Though Microsoft doesn’t currently have any labor unions, it may soon have to deal with organizers due to its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

  • The game studio became the first in America with a recognized labor union after a group of quality-assurance testers for Raven Software voted to unionize last week.
  • Following the announcement, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer said that he would recognize Raven Software’s union. He said unionization is the “right of employees and something that can be a part of a relationship between a company and people who work at the company.”

Union organizers are watching closely. Communications Workers of America Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens told us the message from Microsoft is “encouraging and unique among the major tech companies.” But Steffens added that the company has to put its money where its mouth is "in order to truly give workers a legally protected voice."

Microsoft’s rivals are probably watching, too. The NLRB accused Amazon this week of illegally threatening to cut workers’ pay and benefits for unionizing. Meanwhile, Apple retail workers in Atlanta were reportedly intimidated out of hosting a union election by higher-ups (though Apple is aiming to improve working conditions for retail employees).

Smith said the announcement wasn’t meant to take a jab at Amazon, but it may push other tech giants to accept unions — or become a recruiting tool Microsoft can use against its rivals.

Nat Rubio-Licht (email | twitter)

Who won the social audio wars? No one.

Live social audio was once a hot trend, with platforms quickly developing audio tools that could compete with pandemic darling Clubhouse. But the better days of Clubhouse and its competitors seem to be behind them.

Several leaders are now leaving Clubhouse. The social audio platform has been struggling for some time, and the departures are another worrying sign that Clubhouse may not be long for this world.

  • In late April, Stephanie Simon left as the company’s head of Brand Evangelism and Development. Simon joined Clubhouse just a couple months after launch in 2020.
  • Three more leaders announced their resignations this week, including Nina Gregory, the head of News who joined last fall; Aarthi Ramamurthy, head of International; and Anu Atluru, head of Community.
  • Ramamurthy’s departure is particularly notable. She’s married to Sriram Krishnan, a partner for a16z (a major Clubhouse investor). The pair used to host the Good Time Show on Clubhouse, but they’ve recently been broadcasting it live from YouTube instead.
  • “Clubhouse wouldn’t be where it is today without them,” a spokesperson told us of the departed executives. “We’re immensely grateful for everything they have done and we know that they’ll do great things in the future.”

Clubhouse is also struggling to hold an audience, and other platforms are letting go of their own social audio efforts.

  • Between Jan. 1 and May 31, Clubhouse saw 3.8 million installs globally compared to 19 million installs during the same period last year, according to SensorTower data.
  • Facebook shut down its short-form audio Soundbites feature and its Audio hub, and its Live Audio Rooms feature was integrated into its live video offering.
  • Twitter is scaling back resources for Spaces and other long-term projects.
  • Reddit’s social audio feature, launched in April 2021, is somehow still in pilot mode.

But some companies aren’t giving up. Spotify Greenroom, for example, just rebranded to Spotify Live; Discord just launched a Clubhouse clone called Stage channels; and VC David Sacks’ new social audio app, Callin, raised $12 million last fall.

Still, there are no clear winners in the live social audio race — only losers and new contenders. And unless those new entries can attract the post-lockdown audience that Clubhouse could not, social audio may end up as nothing more than a pandemic fad.

— Sarah Roach (email | twitter)


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People are talking

Elon Musk says he never wanted to be CEO:

  • “Running companies hurts my heart, but I don’t see any other way to bring technology and design to fruition.”

Goldman Sachs' John Waldron expects more trouble for the economy:

  • “No question we are seeing a tougher capital-markets environment.”

Brian Armstrong doesn't think investors fully understand Coinbase:

  • “The markets suddenly value free cash flow much higher than investing for growth.”

Making moves

Meta is reorganizing its AI teams. AI VP Jerome Pesenti will leave the company in late June, and all AI leads will now report to Joelle Pineau. Meta’s Responsible AI team will merge with its Social Impact team, and Facebook AI Research will join Reality Labs.

Matthew Saxon is joining Zoom as chief people officer. Saxon last worked at Meta as VP of People Operations.

Saeed Raja is ScaleFlux’s new VP. He last worked on product management at Micron.

James Dong is Lazada's new CEO. Dong led Alibaba's Thailand business and served as a business assistant to Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang.

Adriana Rios Welton joined UScellularas head of Legal and Government Affairs. She most recently worked at AT&T Mexico as VP of External Affairs. made some leadership changes: CFO Josh Kinley is the new chief corporate development officer, and former Amazon exec Julie Peffer is the new CFO.

In other news

New York just passed a big crypto mining bill. If Gov. Kathy Hochul signs it, the bill would put a moratorium on mining that uses proof of work.

Coinbase is rescinding accepted job offers for some new hires who haven’t started yet. The company's also extending its hiring pause for the foreseeable future.

Tesla's humanoid robot may be ready in a few months. Elon Musk said the company's moving AI Day to the end of September for that reason.

We broke down Sheryl Sandberg's biggest moments at Meta, from Facebook's IPO in 2012 to her response to the Jan. 6 riot.

Tech layoffs are still happening. Yesterday alone, Gemini, Cybereason and Policygenius made cuts.

Tiger Global’s assets shed 52% of their value this year. They fell even after the hedge fund cut its entire stake in tech companies like PayPal, Affirm and Bumble.

Kindle is leaving China. Amazon is shutting down its Kindle digital bookstore in the country and stopping sales there next year.

Connecticut needs help finding misinformation. It’s offering $150,000 for a person to scroll through 4chan, Rumble and other toxic sites for false information about its midterm elections.

It’s all white noise

In another life (or maybe this life), we should all be white noise podcasters. Programs like “Calming White Noise” and “Deep Sleep Sounds” are getting more popular on Spotify and Apple’s podcast charts, and they’re making as much as $18,000 a month. The best part is that the people behind the podcasts don’t need to show their face or say a word. What more could we ask for in a job?


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