Tag Archives: startup

The Queen of the Internet Surveys Her Kingdom

Everything is looking up, according to Mary Meeker, even if global smartphone growth is trending down.

(Bloomberg / Getty Images)

Hi Backchannel readers, it’s Jessi.

On Wednesday, Kleiner Perkins investor Mary Meeker delivered her annual internet trends report at Code Conference, the annual south-of-Los Angeles gathering that feels as much like a summer camp reunion as a tech confab. Meeker always presents early in the morning of the second day. To tech newbies, her presentation must seem like one of the strangest rituals in the industry — a core dump of stats, charts, and headlines, dense with exotic acronyms and hockey-stick curves. But it’s ambrosia to tech business insiders. At Code, attendees tend to meander in and out of sessions depending on the popularity of the … Read the rest

Inside the Glowing-Plant Startup That Just Gave up Its Quest

Taxa Biotechnologies promised a light-emitting plant that could replace street lamps. Here’s why that project failed.

Down in a basement along bustling Third Street in San Francisco’s SoMa startup district, Antony Evans unzipped a black tent. It’s the same kind of tent that marijuana growers use, he told me. But it was heavy, earthy patchouli, not skunk, that hit me when I stepped inside the brightly lit cube. Petri dishes piled high on a table contain clusters of green moss.

Evans had invited me to stop by his lab in late January. He was excited to share his latest news. After four years of false starts and failed plants, his startup Taxa Biotechnologies was now two months away from finally shipping its first product, a patchouli-scented … Read the rest

Kimbal Musk’s Tech Revolution Starts with Mustard Greens

A leafy green grows in Brooklyn. (Photo by Natalie Keyssar)

The other Musk is leading a band of hipster Brooklyn farmers on a mission to overthrow Big Ag.

Farmers have always had a tough time. They have faced rapacious bankers, destructive pests, catastrophic weather, and relentless pressure to cut prices to serve huge grocery suppliers.

And now they must compete with Brooklyn hipsters. Hipsters with high-tech farms squeezed into 40-foot containers that sit in parking lots and require no soil, and can ignore bad weather and even winter.

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No, the 10 young entrepreneurs of the “urban farming accelerator” Square Roots and their ilk aren’t going to overthrow big agribusiness — yet. Each of them has only the equivalent of a two-acre … Read the rest

The Invisible Force That Warps What You Read in the News

Are we in a bubble? Why has Uber’s story spun out of control? The answers hinge less on facts and more on the hidden physics of Narrative Gravity.

Image by Zach Grosser

Things we know to be true: John McCain is a maverick. The New England Patriots are cheaters. Apple can’t innovate without Steve Jobs.

But wait a second. How do we actually “know” these things? And what makes them “true”?

The answers reveal something fundamental about how companies and people rise and fall in the eyes of the media. Once a narrative sets in — such as “maverick” in a good case, or “cheater” in a bad one — it becomes very hard to break. But it can be done.

The warping effects of narratives … Read the rest

How the Tech Press Forces a Narrative on Companies it Covers

What’s Your Hour in ‘Silicon Valley Time’?

The tech press moves like clockwork, fitting company narratives into a predictable arc. Here’s how pros deal with it.

I don’t remember who told me company narratives were like a clock. I was at Google, where I’d taken a job on the communications team despite zero experience in communications. During my early days there, I tried to navigate my new profession by listening to the many comms experts already at the company from whom I would learn so much. One theory about narratives stuck with me:

A company’s narrative moves like a clock: it starts at midnight, ticking off the hours. The tone and sentiment about how a business is doing move from positive (sunrise, midday) to negative (dusk, Read the rest

How Companies Can Avoid the Innovator’s Dilemma

Graphic courtesy Gaping Void.

Innovating at Scale: The Companies That Don't Let Size Slow Them Down

Nothing lasts forever — not even unicorns. But some unicorns live long lives.

The life cycle of consumer products is depressingly predictable. A product becomes a hit because it resonates with a generation. And as time goes on, that generation matures and is inevitably replaced by a fresh set of customers with distinct tastes and perspectives. The product, a victim of its own success, eventually hits a ceiling.

In technology, the cycle is on constant repeat. Once a consumer product starts to gain a large audience — it risks disruption from another new solution, one that ups the innovation ante. These usurpers then grow and are themselves eventually displaced. That’s … Read the rest

Three Phases of Consumer Products

The Three Phases of Consumer Products

First you want it. Then you need it. Then everybody can’t live without it — like a utility.

Right now Facebook’s developer conference, F8, is underway, and it is massive. But I’m thinking back to the early days of the company. Facebook was the first company (as far as the Internet knows) to create a growth team. There’s no argument that its team has been effective at helping get sustainable user growth. What people forget is that before focusing on growth, Facebook reached what Marc Andreessen calls product market fit. Product market fit is, “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

Yet today there’s an endless stream of great content in … Read the rest