Disintermediation Defined Disintermediation is when one party inserts itself between an interested party and its customers (see below table of “disintermediators” and “disintermediatees”). Ironically, parties that suffer disintermediation often invite it upon themselves. Google Disintermediates Yelp and OpenTable For the past several years Yelp restaurant reviews appeared on Google business listings (this appears to have…
SaaS Companies and Subscription Revenue Models Every company can learn from SaaS (“Software-as-a-Service”), companies. My first exposure to SaaS companies was the first self-proclaimed “SaaS” company – Salesforce.com. This was early in my banking career around the time of Salesforce’s 2004 IPO. Today, Salesforce is a $110 Billion-plus market cap behemoth. Every company – regardless…
Content Is King Content is King to quote Sumner Redstone. At CEORater we spend a fair amount of time thinking about content. Over the past 24 months we have considered the following for our platform: 1.) video streaming of earnings calls with associated analytics 2.) employee video reviews 3.) business news (original and third-party) and…
Technology news items that caught our attention this week:
Waymo to launch robo-taxis in Europe: Link
Phoenix AZ as petri dish for autonomous driving: Link
Kroger is launching a fully driverless delivery service: Link
In the “Service, Maintenance, Repair” category: the US Army is using machine learning to predict when combat vehicles need repair: Link
Amazon to acquire online pharmacy PillPack: Link
Amazon plans start-up delivery service for its own packages: Link
Disney gains DOJ approval to acquire Fox assets: Link
Facebook launches Instagram Lite: Link
States agree not to fine Equifax over cyberbreach: Link
The Facebook uproar – wow! I’m shocked that people are shocked. We put our lives online for the world to see – the temptation for nefarious actors to act is there. We can’t be surprised at the result.
What happened? Facebook and UK-based Cambridge Analytica (“CA”) are at the eye of the storm. What occurred was NOT a data breach. It was NOT a cyber-attack. It was a case of poor supervision on the part of Facebook with regard to how a 3rd party developer accessed and used Facebook member data.
Who is Cambridge Analytica? Other than dead in the water, CA is a data mining/data analytics firm. There are thousands of companies like CA that aggregate and analyze data for various purposes.
What did CA do wrong? CA’s sin was that the firm misrepresented itself and how it would access and use Facebook member data. CA positioned itself as a personality survey application. Approximately 300,000 Facebook members downloaded the app. CA designed the app to capture your data and that of your Facebook friends. So for every person that downloaded the application, CA captured data not only on the 300,000 people that downloaded the app, but also on an additional 166 people for every one person – or 50 million people in total. While you may have provided consent, your Facebook friends did not. That’s strike one against CA.
Second, CA used this data to inform the Trump campaign’s political targeting effort. The Facebook members who gave their consent did so never knowing that their data would be used for a political campaign, much less their friends whom never consented to anything.
By the way, the Obama campaign did something similar. It too created an app for political purposes. It too captured Facebook data not only for those members who provided consent, but also for Facebook members who were friends of those who consented but never provided content themselves. So CA and the Obama campaign had strike one in common.
What should Facebook do? I believe Facebook should create a sandbox environment where 3rd party applications are tested to see how they would behave on FB’s platform – a proving ground of sorts – where Facebook could compare 3rd party application behavior to Facebook’s usage terms. However, this won’t happen as Facebook is not commercially motivated to provide this type of expensive preventative measure. It would be a waste of time and taxpayer dollars for the Federal Government to mandate this type of measure as it would be ill-equipped to audit such a process.
What should you do? There is nothing you can do to remove your digital footprint from the world. At the extreme, delete your social media accounts after you have purged your data from the respective platforms. A more practical approach would be to set your privacy provisions to “closed” or “private” across all applications and Websites that you use. Don’t volunteer to share your personal data and that of your contacts when you download apps.
This Facebook CA scandal is hardly news. Guess who else knows much about who you are? Your bank. Visa. Amex. MasterCard. Your local supermarket. Your doctor. Other companies that know or can infer much of what makes you “you” are many. Here are a few:
- Google: Google scans your email and knows what you store in the cloud. It knows your browsing history. Your search history.
- Amazon: Your Amazon order history. Your Amazon search history. Your credit cards stored with Amazon. Amazon provides auto insurance in the UK. Amazon will soon provide healthcare in conjunction with JP Morgan and Berkshire. AmazonGo grocery stores.
- LinkedIn/Microsoft: MSFT’s LinkedIn has your career history and professional network.
- Twitter: TWTR knows your personal and professional interests and who/what you’re connected to.
- Oracle: Oracle owns LiveRamp and other MarTech businesses that infer or know bits and pieces about who you are through deterministic and/or probabilistic analysis. Drawbridge also plays in this space. Acxiom. Experian. There are hundreds of these Analytics firms.
- Apple: Apple knows much about who you are based upon how you use your phone – particularly if your privacy settings are set to “open”.
- Travel & Hospitality: various airlines and airline reservation systems, hotel and restaurant reservation systems, rental car providers – all store personal data elements and preferences.
Here’s our recent CEORater Podcast covering this subject:
Amazon’s 1st Ring
Amazon’s Core Services Portfolio drives the company’s macro strategy. AMZN’s more recent product and service offerings (both organic and acquired offerings) are covered in the “2nd Ring” and “3rd Ring” sections and serve to strengthen the Core portfolio.
Amazon.com: Amazon’s crown jewel. The world’s broadest and deepest ecommerce platform.
Amazon Web Services (AWS): The dominant cloud services platform. 2017 revenue of $17.5 billion, a 43% Y-O-Y increase. AWS is a sleeping CyberSecurity giant. The AMZN business unit had 62% market share as of Q4’17 and likely has a similar if not greater share of the technology startup community as customers. Thus, if tomorrow’s tech giants are built on top of AWS, it stands to reason that AWS ought to be well positioned to lead the CyberSecurity effort in instances where it owns the customer relationship. If one company is to become the dominant CyberSecurity vendor over the next decade we expect it to be AWS. Amazon’s more recent initiatives (Amazon Key, Amazon Ring, its AI effort, original video content production and music to name a few) all feed the cloud, creating new hooks into it while enhancing its utility and value.
Amazon Prime: a multi-billion dollar recurring revenue stream that provides long-term visibility and helps the company place long-term multi-decade strategic bets. Consumers were originally lured to prime via shipping discounts. Amazon has since extended those benefits to include various forms of digital content, its August 2017 Whole Foods acquisition and may be offered as an incentive to any Amazon service. Prime’s year-over-year subscriber growth and modest price increases helped contribute to Amazon’s subscription services revenue of $9.7 billion – 52% growth over 2016 revenue of $6.4 Billion. The takeaway here is that as AMZN’s recurring revenue base continues to scale and become a greater percentage of the revenue pie, it enables Amazon to outflank competitors across various industries. For this reason we would expect Amazon to win the day in the original content business when the dust settles. Not Netflix or Disney (too small in both cases), not YouTube/Google (not sure of where they want to play in terms of original content), not Apple (too slow, thanks in part to a CEO who made his chops in the supply chain, not as an entrepreneur) and not Facebook (too green in the Enterprise arena).
Amazon Alexa (AI): Google and Amazon lead the global machine-learning (“ML”)/ Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) effort in that order. Apple’s Siri is a clear laggard from a speed and accuracy standpoint (what matters). Alexa-powered Echo devices are market leaders. This is important as the more Echo devices, presumably the more Alexa-based queries. The greater the number of voice queries, the smarter Alexa becomes. We believe that Amazon’s integrated retail portfolio will help the company solidify a smart-speaker leadership position. By integrated we are referring to the fact that an entire transaction may occur on Amazon’s supply chain beginning with Alexa-powered devices to the Amazon goods and services available for sale to the Amazon warehouse where they are stored to potentially the Amazon truck (autonomous?) or drone that will deliver orders. Google on the other hand has a similar front-end experience but begins to differ on the purchase side. Google doesn’t have its own global warehouse/ inventory management/distribution system and instead partners with Wal-Mart and other retailers in what is known as Google Express. Amazon has essentially become the defacto product search engine, taking share from Google in search. The ancillary effect is that this search traffic makes Amazon’s search algorithms and Alexa smarter.
Amazon’s 2nd Ring
Amazon’s 2nd Ring consists of products and services that strengthen Amazon’s core product and services portfolio. This is largely achieved by removing friction from both ecommerce and brick-and-mortar transactions. Further, 2nd Ring products and services create “hooks” that enhance customer loyalty and drive additional purchases.
Amazon Echo: We touched on Echo in the 1st Ring section. The important item to note is that the more products and services that Amazon attaches to Alexa, the greater the probability that Alexa’s usage will increase. The more Alexa is used, the smarter it becomes. This is important as we expect for AI to be as commonplace as electricity in the not too distant future. At present Google is the undisputed ML and AI leader as a result of it being the dominant search provider. However, cracks have appeared in Google’s armour. Amazon has become the default “product” search destination and social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Quora and Twitter have carved out their own search niches around friend reviews, photo search, expert opinions and news. Further, Alexa-based queries are stored in Amazon’s cloud which helps Amazon become smarter about you and your family’s behaviour and shopping preferences – predicting demand before you hit the re-order button or voice command. What will it be sir, Minority Report or 1984?
Amazon Go: Amazon Go is another add-on service that removes friction from the retail experience. The intellectual property deployed in Amazon Go stores allows for a cashierless retail experience as “purchased” items are accounted for the moment customers remove them from shelves. We do not expect for Amazon to license this technology but rather to keep in-house as a sustainable competitive advantage. Over time we expect for this technology to be rolled out widely across Whole Foods and any other “brick and mortar” retail operations that Amazon may acquire.
Amazon Key & Ring: launched in October 2017 for Prime members, AMZN Key is a service that allows couriers and other individuals whom you permission (friends and family members for example) to unlock your door and access the home. Amazon cameras record visitors while they are in the home (more intelligent data for the cloud). Amazon’s acquisition of Ring last week is another piece to the home delivery/ home security ecosystem. Key and Ring help close the retail circuit by extending AMZN’s footprint into the last mile of the retail transaction – home delivery.
Amazon Video: Amazon is investing both in original content production, live sports (NFL, UFC) and offering “channels” in conjunction with networks such as HBO. Prime members enjoy exclusive content for “free”. The company is expected to invest approximately $5 billion during 2018 in video content. We believe that in the end whomever owns Disney and its content libraries will be the clear global content leader. We advocate a position where Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all make a run at Disney. Apple has the edge in our view given that Disney CEO Bob Iger has a history with Apple that dates back to his friendship with the late great Steve Jobs.
Whole Foods (acquired)/AmazonFresh: Amazon recently announced that it is merging its PrimeNow and AmazonFresh services. The Whole Foods acquisition will provide Amazon with a treasure trove of offline customer point-of-sale data. Further, expect Amazon to leverage Whole Foods to attract more Prime subscribers while putting the hurt to the grocery food store industry. From an operational standpoint Amazon is already leveraging some of the inventory management expertise it has developed over the years in its warehouse operations.
Amazon’s 3rd Ring
The opportunity here is for AMZN to deliver goods and services to the home/consumer with increasing efficiency. “Efficiency” means at lower cost (drones/ Amazon Prime Air and self-service via Amazon Lockers) while increasing the number of customer touch points (Amazon Key couriers may leave Ads/coupons etc.). In terms of what may come – an Amazon rideshare service could make sense given Amazon’s entrenched customer relationships, built-in trust factor and focus on delivery. When autonomous vehicles are not deployed on deliveries they may be deployed in the field moving passengers from point A to B. Until then, Amazon will continue to swallow industries – until its inevitable break-up.
Human Capital is Key
“It’s people! Soylent Green is people!” shouted Charlton Heston’s Robert Thorn in 1973’s Soylent Green. Fast forward 45 years and people remain central to the process. Although the process we refer to isn’t recycled human foodstuff but rather the global economy where Intellectual Capital provides economic sustenance and Human Capital is the key ingredient (Intellectual Capital = Human Capital + Structural Capital + Relationship Capital).
Grist for the Mill
It’s only a matter of time before Technology giants begin to reach into public schools in an effort to identify and recruit top-tier talent in an Intellectual Capital-driven global economy.
Technology’s Four Horsemen – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon and Facebook – hired 247,714 net new employees in 2017, up 89% from the previous year’s figure of 131,196. Amazon alone accounted for 91% of 2017’s total and 84% of 2016’s total (this makes sense given the nature of Amazon’s retail-centric, distribution-heavy business model).
Technology companies require an enormous amount of human capital and brainpower. This is especially true of large technology companies that work to define new market opportunities and use cases. Waiting for the U.S. K-12 public education and university systems to produce inadequately trained professionals is both a suboptimal outcome and supply chain bottleneck. Therefore, we expect for companies such as the Four Horsemen to become increasingly aggressive and systematic in their approach to training and recruiting young people.
We have experienced early green shoots of this phenomenon with Peter Thiel’s “Thiel Fellowship” a foundation that awards $100,000 grants to high potential young people. Those accepted (104 fellows and alumni, 2,800 application last year), to the two-year program learn how to write code and build companies. Young people skip or step out of college to become Thiel Fellows where in addition to grant proceeds, Fellows receive support from the foundation’s network of entrepreneurs, investors and operators.
Another example comes from my personal experience in China 2006-2011 where a number of the large China-based IT Services companies set up company-owned “universities” to train recent college graduates in an effort to better prepare them for the type of work that they would perform on behalf of clients. My view is that these companies will reach further back into the student supply chain and begin to recruit and train students during their junior high and high school years.
A misconception that many have is that an engineer fresh out of college can hit the ground running at optimal efficiency and drive massive value for companies. That’s hardly the case. Universities do a poor job of preparing students for life in the real world. It makes enormous sense for companies to actively invest in the U.S educational system both at the K-12 and university levels. Short-term operating profit margin dilution will pay dividends over the long-term in the form of new differentiated products and services. To ensure a worthwhile outcome it is paramount that companies take a systematic approach to execution. If nothing else Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook excel in measuring outcomes and re-calibrating where necessary.
No Teachers Required
Given what we have posited it would make sense for the Four Horsemen and others to get involved in public education early in students’ academic careers. Further, it would be logical for companies to seek to influence the academic experience as much as is necessary to maximize the probability of optimal outcomes for both students and companies. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that the Four Horsemen and a few select others will eventually shape student curriculum — particularly in Math and Science. This may range from content creation to teaching methodologies to the act of teaching itself. Teachers’ Unions ought to be concerned. From a technology standpoint it would not be difficult to replace public school teachers nor college professors with machine learning platforms wrapped in friendly AI skins. AmazonGo is already doing this with retail checkout lines. It’s less a question of “how?” and more a question of public will.
Bezos is Top Tech CEO with a Total Stock Return of 83,639%
We recently queried our CEORater database to identify the Top Technology CEOs as measured by stock price performance during each CEO’s tenure. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos topped our list by a wide margin. For purposes of this exercise it helped to have been a CEO for an extended period of time. It is also interesting to note that 8 of the Top 10 and 14 of the Top 20 CEOs on our list are Founder CEOs. We define “Founder” CEOs as those CEOs who were present for the first dollar of revenue earned. Additional detail may be found at CEORater.com. Contact email@example.com for Excel spreadsheet detail.
A New Heavyweight Healthcare Entrant
The recently announced non-profit joint venture between Amazon, J.P Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway was notably scarce on detail. We previously wrote about how Apple is well-positioned to “consumerize” healthcare. The good news is that there is room for others to add value to the healthcare ecosystem.
Trust, Payments & Price Discovery
If we were to fast forward 5-10 years its easy to imagine that Amazon’s contribution to the “NewCo” healthcare joint-venture will borrow heavily from the company’s experience in online retail where three key elements may come into play: trust, price discovery and payments.
1.) Trust: Since its founding Amazon has developed a deep trust with consumers. Consumers trust Amazon to securely store payment-related information, to offer competitive pricing, to provide a wide variety of goods and services and to deliver goods and services in a secure and timely manner.
2.) Price Discovery: Transparent pricing is a key value-added element of Amazon’s platform as it enables consumers to quickly assess value. Further, Amazon has extended the visibility and reach of independent third-party sellers (3rd party sellers generated $32 billion on Amazon in 2017, a 39% increase over 2016), by allowing them to list their businesses.
It is the “Price Discovery” category where we believe the NewCo venture can create the most value. It could on-board independent healthcare providers such as neighborhood urgent care centers – forcing them to disclose pricing as a pre-requisite for listing. This would be a “win-win” for providers and consumers. Healthcare providers would benefit from listing their businesses and consumers win by having greater choice and pricing transparency.
3.) Payments: consumers and businesses have widely adopted and trust Amazon’s payment platform. This technology could easily be leveraged within NewCo’s platform to facilitate payment transactions between interested parties.
AmazonGo for Healthcare?
How far back in the healthcare stack will Amazon/ NewCo participate? The more information Amazon/ NewCo collects about consumers, the more friction can be removed from the process. One example is patient check-in. It is easy to imagine how Amazon/ NewCo could quickly become the industry standard for Electronic Medical Records (“EMRs”) enabling patient check-in to consist of a phone swipe on an electric reader. AmazonGo for healthcare?
Yes if You Ask Us While AT&T moving to acquire Time Warner and Disney (and Comcast?) moving to acquire Fox are interesting deals, it’s more interesting to us what the next chess move may be in a world that increasingly values content (live sports and premium original content in particular). We recently wrote about and…