Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

If you’ve been on LinkedIn recently, you’ve likely seen posts about someone being laid off or having a dream job offer rescinded, often by a high-profile, once hot startup. According to the tracker Layoffs.fyi, so far this year, 349 startups have laid off more than 53,000 employees.

Startups looking at the prospect of falling venture capital valuations are scrambling to conserve the cash they have. Just yesterday, OpenSea, the early leader in the once bubbly non-fungible token (NFT) market, cut 20% of its workforce. Earlier this month, virtual office startup Gather let a third of its 90 employees go. Last month, high-flying ID verification unicorn Socure laid off 13% of its employees.

And it’s not just startups. Coinbase, the nation’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, laid off 1,100 employees and rescinded some job offers. Elon Musk’s Tesla is cutting 3.5% of its workforce. Meta has plans to slash hiring of engineers this year by at least 30%.

While most of the layoff news has come from tech companies, the mortgage industry, too, has been slashing away as higher interest rates crush mortgage volume. This week loanDepot disclosed plans to eliminate thousands of jobs. Real estate companies RedFin and Compass have cut about 450 jobs each, and PIMCO-backed First Guaranty Mortgage Corporation let go of more than 75% of its workforce in June, before filing for a chapter 11 bankruptcy a week later.

Despite such high-profile layoffs, unemployment remained at a low 3.6% in June as the economy added 372,000 jobs. Moreover, interviews with recent job–or job offer–losers, as well as hiring managers, suggest that so far at least, most of those cut are landing on their feet with new offers.

Yet the sense of dread is unmistakable, with more consumers now pessimistic than optimistic about the short-term labor market, according to the Conference Board. And the layoffs could just be getting started: Oracle recently considered letting go of thousands of employees as early as August.

“In the tech industry, this is dejà vu all over again,” observes economist Anthony Carnevale, who has been involved with employment and education policy for four decades and is now director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “This is pretty much precisely what happened in the late 1970s, early 80s, when technology was not penetrating American industry rapidly enough and [former Fed Chair] Paul Volcker put on the brakes. We get high interest rates, high unemployment rates, and basically that shuts down technology investment and secondly, it chokes the industry.”

Given the current low unemployment rates, Carnevale adds, it’s still a question whether the slowdown will ultimately “create dislocation of substantial sorts in tech or any other industry.” His answer? “Yes and no,” he says. “The yes is yes, specific technology-based industries might be affected, interest rates being the culprit here. But what we’re seeing in the churn is that people who are seeking jobs are getting jobs. And we haven’t come to the point yet where it’s a classic recession…in which people don’t get jobs.” He noted that in general, wages are increasing — though those increases are generally offset by inflation.

“So what does that mean going forward? It may mean a slowdown in startups and in the expansion of particular technology companies, in even the overall industry if it’s strong enough, but so far, it has not meant that people can’t find jobs,” Carnevale said. “And it does not reflect on the possibilities for college graduates, at least so far, we don’t really see that.”

Indeed, a recent survey of almost 200 employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that almost 90% of respondents will be hiring new graduates for both full-time and intern/co-op positions — up from last spring’s figure of 83%.

But while early-career recruiting is still strong, it can’t erase the memory of what happened in the wake of the Great Recession, with its large jobs loss and unusually slow recovery. Some new grads caught in the undertow experienced what economists call “permanent scarring”—meaning poor economic conditions when they graduated from college contributed to a long-term reduction in their employment prospects.

Again, that’s the scary prospect, but not, as of now, the reality.

Aidan Deery, associate director at the global talent partner X4 Technology, reports that among tech companies, “largely, everyone is still hiring” and “the demand for experienced professionals is at an all-time high.” He adds that those laid off from crypto companies like Coinbase are generally “very employable” and “highly sought after in the finance and technology world.”

Danny, 23, whose last name and former employer are not being included due to a nondisclosure agreement he signed, was let go in June from his engineering job at a sales productivity company. “I know I’ll be able to find a job,” he said, estimating that of the roughly 30 jobs he applied to since being laid off, 8-10 got back to him. “Three of them actually were like, ‘Yeah, just kidding, we’re not hiring for this role.’” Some of the other companies he started interviewing with stopped the process because of hiring freezes. However, Danny has already turned down one offer for reasons including the pay, and says he is still being picky in his job search.

Curio Health, a startup working to improve remote patient care, is among the companies still hiring. CEO Yuchen Wang worries that layoffs among startups may encourage job seekers to look to more established companies for future opportunities, but insists startups will retain their appeal because, “you take a broader responsibility, and you can grow faster and learn more.”

Wang has seen both sides of this job-cutting drama. He himself lost his job in 2001, shortly after earning a Masters in computer science at Georgia State, and in a later role, had to lay off employees himself because a contract did not pan out as well as expected. “These things kind of happen, even if you do everything 100% perfectly,’’ he says. “Treat it as a new start — there are more opportunities ahead than the one you just lost.”

Still, for some job-losers, the new start carries a unique challenge–one imposed by the U.S.’ dysfunctional system for retaining foreign tech talent. Twenty-seven-year-old software developer Amitesh Singh Baghel was laid off in late June while on STEM OPT, a visa program allowing graduate international students to gain work experience in the U.S. in their field. The catch: he lost his job as a software engineer at a data security startup before he completed his visa extension — about two weeks before his employment authorization document was set to expire.

He had been offered other jobs while working there but turned them down out of “goodwill” and because his manager, who also was let go, provided good mentorship. “I had other offers coming, but I chose to stay ignoring the red flags,” such as a manager being fired and not replaced, he said.

“I tried to negotiate. I was like, ‘Instead of giving me the severance pay, keep me on the payroll so that I can finish with the extension process and I’ll still work,’” he said. “I offered them a solution…but they didn’t want to do the extra work, which is understandable. I mean, it’s not their problem.”

And then there’s the experience of Jenna Radwan, 22, who recently earned her BS in Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the University of San Francisco. She originally accepted a job at San Francisco-based startup Hirect, which helps other tech startups recruit and hire. When she heard Hirect would pay her a base salary of $80,000 plus uncapped commission that could push her total compensation to a multiple of that, she cut short other interviews to accept the offer, “My ears perked up, my eyes got big, and I didn’t even see any of the other companies as even close competition,” she said.

But two weeks before her start date, Radwan got thrown a curveball. Her offer had been rescinded “due solely to the current unforeseen circumstances & drastic turn in the market.” “Due to the very volatile market conditions, the business & leadership team has decided to halt/freeze all forms of external hiring at this time, and we have entered an immediate hiring freeze and a round of layoffs,” reads an email from a recruiter that Radwan shared on LinkedIn. (A spokesman for Hirect confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that it had rescinded two job offers due to the slump in tech hiring.)

Radwan was “in shock,” but quickly tapped into her network and reached out to recruiters she’d previously been in the process of interviewing with, and ultimately landed a job as a recruiter at Insight Global. “It was a wild ride but I know that I’m exactly where I am meant to be,” Radwan said, adding that she hadn’t really considered her values in terms of a career before then. “I just thought of money, but I realized that you can have money plus other things, like good company culture, like good job security, like good benefits, like good PTO,” she said.

Her advice for recent grads entering the job market amid the growing fear of offers being rescinded? Do your research, ask questions like how the company reacted to COVID in 2020 (i.e. was it quick to lay off workers?), talk to current employees and take time to weigh all your offers.

If you’re looking for an indication of the current gestalt, it may come from Radwan’s new employer. Insight Global is still hiring. But in June, it surveyed 1,000 workers and found 23% were “extremely worried” about losing their job in the next recession. Or, as Insight put it, the “Great Resignation” is giving way to the “Great Apprehension.”

Katherine Huggins

Source: Wave Of High-Profile Tech Layoffs Raises Fear Of Recessions–And Stalled Careers–Past

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Nobody Wants To Pay For Ultra Fast Food Delivery

Ultra-fast delivery startups are either folding up or leaving markets, exiting the scene just as quickly as they arrived.

Another sign of potential turmoil for these unprofitable companies? Those that stick around continue to rely on giving users freebies. So far, they haven’t been able to convince customers to pay the full cost of delivery in 15 minutes or less. And while more established delivery players like Uber have been able to rely less on discounts in a pivot toward profitability, the ultra-fast delivery startups are trying to grow amid a volatile market in which both investors and customers are growing more wary of opening their wallets.

Nearly 30% of delivery orders from GoPuff, which is the biggest ultra-fast delivery player in the US, were discounted as of April, according to data from YipitData, a research firm. The share of orders discounted is greater outside of the US. For instance, Getir, a Turkish ultra-fast delivery startup, has over 80% of its orders discounted in countries like Germany and France, according to YipitData.

Tech stocks have plummeted over the past three months, and that has pushed investors to prioritize profits. In response, companies are changing how they do business. For instance, Uber rides and restaurant deliveries have become more expensive. (Unlike the newer ultrafast deliver startups, established delivery players like Uber have been able to pull back on discounts to show investors a clearer path toward profitability.)

Attracting customers with cheap Uber rides and food delivery

Discounting is a way for delivery companies, which depend on scale, to quickly attract and retain customers. Over time, as more of the orders come from customers who have been with the firms for some time, the discounting percentage should go down, said Daniel McCarthy, an assistant professor of marketing at Emory University. For rapid-delivery companies, the fact that discounting share remains high implies a less clear path to profitability.

“There is way too much money that went into this sector,” said Mathias Schilling, a founding partner at Headlines, a venture capital firm that invests in GoPuff. “Six months ago, this is the best thing and incredible… and now everything is negative. This extreme exuberance by the people is like ridiculous.”

The rapid growth of ultra-fast delivery companies

In the past couple of years, as the demand for delivery skyrocketed, ultrafast delivery services with abstract-sounding names—Buyk, Getir, Jokr—came onto the scene. Venture capitalists invested $28 billion into rapid delivery globally, more than double the amount in 2019, according to data from PitchBook, a research firm.

Like Uber’s playbook, these companies, flush with venture capital funding, burned cash fast to move into new markets and attract and retain customers with cheap services. The biggest services like GoPuff, Gorillas, and Getir relied on high order volumes and a shift in consumer shopping habits to achieve profitability, said Alex Frederick, a PitchBook analyst. But the model works best when markets are stable and VC funding is plentiful, he added.

It’s hard to make money in food delivery, as the money is split among retailer or restaurant, food delivery company, and worker. It’s even harder for faster delivery, as it requires hiring workers as employees and often comes with no minimum order. That allows a customer to order a pint of ice cream to be delivered in 15 minutes, a costly loss for ultra-fast delivery companies.

The question now is whether these companies will be able to sustain such losses, at a moment when funding is harder to come by, or will they follow in the footsteps of past rapid delivery companies that sprung up in the dot-com boom before going out of business.

Global downloads of the top 10 ultra fast delivery apps have grown 127%, year-over-year in Q1. With a more granular, monthly breakdown we can see a lot of this growth taking place in Q4 of 2021. As you can see in the chart below, this is a faster growth rate than that of the top 10 meal delivery apps (ex: Uber Eats) or top 10 grocery delivery apps (ex: Instacart). Meal delivery still takes the cake when it comes to absolute numbers.

It is reported to be acquiring French startup, Cajoo, which launched in early 2021 and struggled to gain ground in the country ever since Getir formally launched there in June 2021. This will help Flink compete with Getir in France. Flink says its reach in the country will now be greater than Getir’s but Apptopia estimates have Getir’s app usage comfortably ahead of Flink and Cajoo combined.

Ultra fast delivery companies do not just have each other to worry about. Traditional, or meal, delivery apps have massive brand power, user bases and deep pockets. Apps like Uber Eats are starting to enter the market of fast grocery delivery. Apptopia reported in January that meal delivery apps extending into grocery delivery, a faster growing segment of the delivery market.

Traditional grocery delivery apps are not standing still either. Instacart started offering 30 minute meal deliveries (sushi, salads, sandwiches) from supermarkets like Kroger and Publix. It will also begin offering 15 minute grocery delivery in the near-future.

When will supply chains go back to normal?

Supply chains should slowly recover in 2022, assuming overstuffed ports and warehouses finally get a chance to clear out the glut of containers piling up in shipyards and surrounding neighborhoods. But that will only happen if there aren’t any major new disruptions, like another mega-ship blocking the Suez Canal, future covid variants that shutter factories and ports, or other disasters that gum up the mechanisms of global trade.

Source: Nobody wants to pay for food delivery — Quartz

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Emerging Markets and The Future Of Blockchain

In the first ten years of the expansion of blockchain technology, it was utterly dominated by developed (or more precisely western) nations. But emerging markets like Africa are adopting crypto faster than their global counterparts. This growth is even more impressive when one considers that there has been very little institutional support for blockchain technology in these nations.

The growth in blockchain adoption has been concentrated in. Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania, which are some of the most densely populated nations on the continent, which have been banned from crypto trading. In the first ten years of the expansion of blockchain technology, it was utterly dominated by developed (or more precisely western) nations. Almost all the Bitcoin Miners were located in America and Europe, and only rising mining costs moved those operations abroad.

Asides from that, many of the earliest Bitcoin/blockchain innovators were either westerners or living in western countries. For example, Vitalik Buterin, while being Russian-born himself, had been in Canada for the better part of two decades before creating Ethereum. However, as blockchain technology is moving into the next phase of its development, it appears that emerging markets like Africa are adopting crypto faster than their global counterparts. While no one knows the reason for this, it’s very difficult to deny that it’s happening. The numbers are simply undeniable.

For example, cryptocurrency adoption grew in Africa by 1200% between the 12 months between July 2020 and June 2021. Regardless of whether this was brought on by the financial uncertainty of the pandemic or other clusters of reasons, the effect of this growth can hardly be ignored. This growth in blockchain adoption has been concentrated in countries Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania, which are some of the most densely populated nations on the continent. Peer-to-peer trading, which is a huge part of blockchain technology, is so big in Kenya that the country led the world in P2P transactions in 2022.

All this points to an exciting future for blockchain technology in these markets. This growth is even more impressive when one considers that there has been very little institutional support for blockchain technology in these nations. Many of the regulators in these countries have banned crypto trading, which has slowed down adoption. Despite that, the rate of adoption is still incredible. All this points to one thing; blockchain technology adoption might already have plateaued in the West, but this is just the beginning in emerging markets like Africa.

The Opportunities are Limitless

The blockchain ecosystem of emerging markets might not be as huge as that of developed nations, but it’s rather apparent that blockchain technology solves more structural problems in these markets than elsewhere. For example, in nations where inflation is rampant — like Zimbabwe — citizens can safeguard their wealth with stablecoins. Interestingly, I addressed the structural problems of P2E economies here and recommended the need for a dedicated stablecoin to fix these structural problems.

Blockchain technology also gives a level of autonomy to citizens in nations with oppressive and dictatorial governments. In countries where governments can unilaterally freeze bank accounts of dissidents, digital stores of value like cryptocurrency can be a real vehicle of social change.This is indeed already happening. In 2020, there was at least one case of a popular protest funded in part by Bitcoin. Bitcoin was rather useful for the protest because of the anonymity and decentralization built into the coin’s infrastructure on the blockchain.

Asides from the monetary use of blockchain, it also has administrative uses as well. By applying blockchain technology to supply chain management, countries can greatly improve asset recording, tracking, assigning, linking and sharing; developing nations can build resilient supply chains without using an overinflated bureaucracy. This can be especially useful for developing nations that are battling supply chain issues. Blockchain can be useful in the entertainment industry as well. It can be used to prevent privacy in the industry, protect digital content, and facilitate the distribution of digital collectibles.

There are opportunities in gaming too. While Play-to-Earn games with NFT characters have gotten a bad rep because of how expensive it is to purchase a character, companies like Rainmaker Games are solving this problem. Rainmaker Games, for example,  is one of the most exciting companies revolutionizing games for the future. Within just a few months, Rainmaker Games has found a way to vet the identity of players who are joining guilds, figure out a way players can play hundreds of P2E games for free, and also incorporate an NFT marketplace on all of that.

With startups like Rainmaker Games lowering the barrier of entry for P2E gamers from emerging markets, it’s only a matter of time before these players stand toe to toe with the rest of the world. Asides from the structural shakeup a startup like Rainmaker Games can cause with its technology; there’s also the matter of the financial freedom these P2E games can give to players from emerging markets.

The NFT Goldmine

Despite the opportunities on the blockchain, it’s obvious that the same enthusiasm for crypto in emerging markets has been missing. One reason that has been brought up is the unfriendly technical nature of NFTs. And that could be a good point. After all, the more technical using a technology is, the fewer people use it.

Perhaps that’s why players in Web3 are already working on the important infrastructure that will help builders scale technical barriers to entry and build products faster and cheaper in the ecosystem. Ankr is one of those stakeholders, and the company provides fast, reliable infrastructure at community first pricing. It isn’t just infrastructure either — the company does everything from helping enterprises integrate with Web3 to allowing DeFi users to stake their coins and earn higher yields.

Right now, NFTs have taken on a lot of different forms, but there’s one that remains elusive; representation from emerging markets.While developing nations seem quite capable of holding their own and accelerating their development when it comes to crypto, the markedly lukewarm attitude toward NFTs has continued unabated. We know that the reason isn’t because of lack of utility. NFTs have proven that they can solve the problem of monetization for content creators and solve the problem of piracy for artists.

This means that NFTs have a huge future in these emerging markets — even if adoption isn’t on the up and up as it is with crypto. The problem, it seems, is with the complexities of releasing a token and a much higher tech barrier to entry. Cryptocurrency has largely avoided these problems due to a friendlier technical environment. For example, there are centralized exchanges for crypto where people with limited technical knowledge can just open an account and buy their cryptocurrency.

While there is also something like that for NFTs — Opensea is a great example — it isn’t targeted at or built for content creators in emerging markets.Thankfully, some NFT companies are also already solving the problem of higher technical barriers to entry. Ayoken Labs, for example, is building an NFT platform where artists and content creators from these emerging markets can release their social tokens, and essentially monetize their content efficiently.

This platform not only monetizes content for creators but also rewards fans and users in general with its native token for use. In a way, it’s like a play-to-earn game but without the gaming aspect.It’s clear that there are limitless opportunities in the blockchain space in emerging markets. It’s almost inevitable that more startups will come into the space and create solutions that are tailor-made for these markets. It is now a matter of when — not if. Today, the developed world is the capital of blockchain innovation. But it might not be for long.

By Victor Fabusola

How eBay Turned The Internet Into a Marketplace

The story of the modern web is often told through the stories of Google, Facebook, Amazon. But eBay was the first conqueror. One weekend in September 1995, a software engineer made a website. It wasn’t his first. At 28, Pierre Omidyar had followed the standard accelerated trajectory of Silicon Valley: he had learned to code in seventh grade, and was on track to becoming a millionaire before the age of 30, after having his startup bought by Microsoft. Now he worked for a company that made software for handheld computers, which were widely expected to be the next big thing.

But in his spare time, he liked to tinker with side projects on the internet. The idea for this particular project would be simple: a website where people could buy and sell. Buying and selling was still a relatively new idea online. In May 1995, Bill Gates had circulated a memo at Microsoft announcing that the internet was the company’s top priority. In July, a former investment banker named Jeff Bezos launched an online storefront called Amazon.com, which claimed to be “Earth’s biggest bookstore”. The following month, Netscape, creator of the most popular web browser, held its initial public offering (IPO).

By the end of the first day of trading, the company was worth almost $3bn – despite being unprofitable. Wall Street was paying attention. The dot-com bubble was starting to inflate. If the internet of 1995 inspired dreams of a lucrative future, the reality ran far behind. The internet may have been attracting millions of newcomers – there were nearly 45 million users in 1995, up 76% from the year before – but it wasn’t particularly user-friendly. Finding content was tricky: you could wander from one site to another by following the tissue of hyperlinks that connected them, or page through the handmade directory produced by Yahoo!, the preferred web portal before the rise of the modern search engine.

And there wasn’t much content to find: only 23,500 websites existed in 1995, compared to more than 17m five years later. Most of the sites that did exist were hideous and barely usable. But the smallness and slowness of the early web also lent it a certain charm. People were excited to be there, despite there being relatively little for them to do. They made homepages simply to say hello, to post pictures of their pets, to share their enthusiasm for Star Trek. They wanted to connect. Omidyar was fond of this form of online life. He had been a devoted user of the internet since his undergraduate days, and a participant in its various communities. He now observed the rising flood of dot-com money with some concern.

The corporations clambering on to the internet saw people as nothing more than “wallets and eyeballs”, he later told a journalist. Their efforts at commercialisation weren’t just crude and uncool, they also promoted a zombie-like passivity – look here, click here, enter your credit card number here – that threatened the participatory nature of the internet he knew. “I wanted to do something different,” Omidyar later recalled, “to give the individual the power to be a producer as well as a consumer.” This was the motivation for the website he built in September 1995. He called it AuctionWeb. Anyone could put up something for sale, anyone could place a bid, and the item went to the highest bidder. It would be a perfect market, just like you might find in an economics textbook.

Through the miracle of competition, supply and demand would meet to discover the true price of a commodity. One precondition of perfect markets is that everyone has access to the same information, and this is exactly what AuctionWeb promised. Everything was there for all to see. The site grew quickly. By its second week, the items listed for sale included a Yamaha motorcycle, a Superman lunchbox and an autographed Michael Jackson poster. By February 1996, traffic had grown brisk enough that Omidyar’s web hosting company increased his monthly fee, which led him to start taking a cut of the transactions to cover his expenses. Almost immediately, he was turning a profit. The side project had become a business.

But the perfect market turned out to be less than perfect. Disputes broke out between buyers and sellers, and Omidyar was frequently called upon to adjudicate. He didn’t want to have to play referee, so he came up with a way to help users work it out themselves: a forum. People would leave feedback on one another, creating a kind of scoring system. “Give praise where it is due,” he said in a letter posted to the site, “make complaints where appropriate.” The dishonest would be driven out, and the honest would be rewarded – but only if users did their part. “This grand hope depends on your active participation,” he wrote.

The value of AuctionWeb would rely on the contributions of its users. The more they contributed, the more useful the site would be. The market would be a community, a place made by its members. They would become both consumers and producers, as Omidyar hoped, and among the things they produced would be the content that filled the site. By the summer of 1996, AuctionWeb was generating $10,000 a month. Omidyar decided to quit his day job and devote himself to it full-time. He had started out as a critic of the e-commerce craze and had ended up with a successful e-commerce company. In 1997, he renamed it eBay. Ebay was one of the first big internet companies. It became profitable early, grew into a giant of the dot-com era, survived the implosion of the dot-com bubble, and still ranks among the largest e-commerce firms in the world.

But what makes eBay particularly interesting is how, in its earliest incarnation, it anticipated many of the key features that would later define the phenomenon commonly known as the “platform”. Ebay wasn’t just a place where collectors waged late-night bidding wars over rare Beanie Babies. In retrospect, it also turned out to be a critical hinge in the history of the internet. Omidyar’s site pioneered the basic elements that would later enable Google, Facebook and the other tech giants to unlock the profit potential of the internet by “platformising” it.

None of the metaphors we use to think about the internet are perfect, but “platform” is among the worst. The term originally had a specific technical meaning: it meant something that developers build applications on top of, such as an operating system. But the word has since come to refer to various kinds of software that run online, particularly those deployed by the largest tech firms. The scholar Tarleton Gillespie has argued that this shift in the use of the word “platform” is strategic. By calling their services “platforms”, companies such as Google can project an aura of openness and neutrality. They can present themselves as playing a supporting role, merely facilitating the interactions of others.

Their control over the spaces of our digital life, and their active role in ordering such spaces, is obscured. “Platform” isn’t just imprecise. It’s designed to mystify rather than clarify. A more useful metaphor for understanding the internet, one that has guided its architects from the beginning, is the stack. A stack is a set of layers piled on top of one another. Think of a house: you have the basement, the first floor, the second floor and so on, all the way up to the roof. The things that you do further up in a house often depend on systems located further down. If you take a shower, a water heater in the basement warms up the cold water being piped into your house and then pipes it up to your bathroom.

The internet also has a basement, and its basement also consists largely of pipes. These pipes carry data, and everything you do further up the stack depends on these pipes working properly. Towards the top of the stack is where the sites and apps live. This is where we experience the internet, through the pixels of our screens, in emails or tweets or streams. The best way to understand what happens on these sites and apps – on what tech companies call “platforms” – is to understand them as part of the broader story of the internet’s privatisation.

The internet started out in the 1970s as an experimental technology created by US military researchers. In the 80s, it grew into a government-owned computer network used primarily by academics. Then, in the 90s, privatisation began. The privatisation of the internet was a process, not an event. It did not involve a simple transfer of ownership from the public sector to the private, but rather a more complex movement whereby corporations programmed the profit motive into every level of the network. A system built by scientists for research was renovated for the purpose of profit maximisation. This took hardware, software, legislation, entrepreneurship. It took decades. And it touched all of the internet’s many pieces.

The process of privatization started with the pipes, and then worked its way up the stack. In April 1995, only five months before Omidyar made the website that would become eBay, the government allowed the private sector to take over control of the network’s plumbing. Households and businesses were eager to get online, and telecoms companies made money by helping them access the internet. But getting people online was a small fraction of the system’s total profit potential. What really got investors’ capital flowing was the possibility of making money from what people did online. In other words, the next step was figuring out how to maximize profit in the upper floors, where people actually use the internet. The real money lay not in monetizing access, but in monetizing activity.

This is what Omidyar did so effectively when he created a place where people wanted to buy and sell goods online, and took a cut of their transactions. The dot-com boom began with Netscape’s explosive IPO in August 1995. Over the following years, tens of thousands of startups were founded and hundreds of billions of dollars were invested in them. Venture capital entered a manic state: the total amount of US venture-capital investment increased more than 1,200% from 1995 to 2000. Hundreds of dot-com companies went public and promptly soared in value: at their peak, technology stocks were worth more than $5tn.

When eBay went public in 1998, it was valued at more than $2bn on the first day of trading; the continued ascent of its stock price over the next year made Omidyar a billionaire. Yet most of the startups that attracted huge investment during these years didn’t actually make money. For all the hype, profits largely failed to materialize, and in 2000 the bubble burst. From March to September, the 280 stocks in the Bloomberg US Internet Index lost almost $1.7tn. “It’s rare to see an industry evaporate as quickly and completely,” a CNN journalist remarked. The following year brought more bad news. The dot-com era was dead.

Today, the era is typically remembered as an episode of collective insanity – as an exercise in what Alan Greenspan, during his contemporaneous tenure as chair of the Federal Reserve, famously called “irrational exuberance”. Pets.com, a startup that sold pet supplies online, became the best-known symbol of the period’s stupidity, and a touchstone for retrospectives ever since. Never profitable, the company spent heavily on advertising, including a Super Bowl spot; it raised $82.5m in its IPO in February 2000 and imploded nine months later.

Arrogance, greed, magical thinking and bad business decisions all contributed to the failure of the dot-com experiment. Yet none of these were decisive. The real problem was structural. While their investors and executives probably wouldn’t have understood it in these terms, dot-com companies were trying to advance the next stage of the internet’s privatisation – namely, by pushing the privatization of the internet up the stack. But the computational systems that could make such a push feasible were not yet in place. Companies still struggled to turn a profit from user activity.

In his analysis of capitalist development, Karl Marx drew a distinction between the “formal” and “real” subsumption of labour by capital. In formal subsumption, an existing labour process remains intact, but is now performed on a capitalist basis. A peasant who used to grow his own food becomes a wage labourer on somebody else’s farm. The way he works the land stays the same. In real subsumption, by contrast, the labour process is revolutionised to meet the requirements of capital. Formerly, capital inherited a process; now, it remakes the process. Our agricultural worker becomes integrated into the industrialised apparatus of the modern factory farm.

The way he works completely changes: his daily rhythms bear little resemblance to those of his peasant predecessors. And the new arrangement is more profitable for the farm’s owner, having been explicitly organised with that end in mind. This is a useful lens for thinking about the evolution of the internet, and for understanding why the dot-coms didn’t succeed. The internet of the mid-to-late 1990s was under private ownership, but it had not yet been optimised for profit. It retained too much of its old shape as a system designed for researchers, and this shape wasn’t conducive to the new demands being placed on it. Formal subsumption had been achieved, in other words, but real subsumption remained elusive.

Accomplishing the latter would involve technical, social and economic developments that made it possible to construct new kinds of systems. These systems are the digital equivalents of the modern factory farm. They represent the long-sought solution to the problem that consumed and ultimately defeated the dot-com entrepreneurs: how to push privatisation up the stack. And eBay offered the first glimpse of what that solution looked like.Ebay enlisted its users in its own creation. They were the ones posting items for sale and placing bids and writing feedback on one another in the forum. Without their contributions, the site would cease to exist.

Omidyar was tapping into a tradition by setting up eBay in this way. In 1971, a programmer named Ray Tomlinson invented email. This was before the internet existed: Tomlinson was using its precursor, Arpanet, a cutting-edge network that the Pentagon created to link computers across the country. Email became wildly popular on Arpanet: just two years after its invention, a study found that it made up three-quarters of all network traffic. As the internet grew through the 1980s, email found an even wider reach. The ability to exchange messages instantaneously with someone far away was immensely appealing; it made new kinds of collaboration and conversation possible, particularly through the mailing lists that formed the first online communities.

Email was more than just a useful tool. It helped humanize the internet, making a cold assemblage of cables and computers feel inhabited. The internet was somewhere you could catch up with friends and get into acrimonious arguments with strangers. It was somewhere to talk about politics or science fiction or the best way to implement a protocol. Other people were the main attraction. Even the world wide web was made with community in mind. “I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together,” its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, would later write.

Community is what Omidyar liked best about the internet, and what he feared the dot-com gold rush would kill. He wasn’t alone in this: one could find dissidents railing against the forces of commercialisation on radical mailing lists. But Omidyar was no anti-capitalist. He was a libertarian: he believed in the liberating power of the market. He didn’t oppose commercialisation as such, just the particular form it was taking. The companies opening cheesy digital storefronts and plastering the web with banner ads were doing commercialisation poorly. They were treating their users as customers. They didn’t understand that the internet was a social medium.

Ebay, by contrast, would be firmly rooted in this fact. From its first days as AuctionWeb, the site described itself as a community, and this self-definition became integral to its identity and to its operation. For Omidyar, the point wasn’t to defend the community from the market but rather to recast the community as a market – to fuse the two. No less a figure than Bill Gates saw the future of the internet in precisely these terms. In 1995, the same year that Omidyar launched AuctionWeb, Gates co-authored a book called The Road Ahead. In it, the Microsoft CEO laid out his vision for the internet as “the ultimate market”: “It will be where we social animals will sell, trade, invest, haggle, pick stuff up, argue, meet new people, and hang out.

Think of the hustle and bustle of the New York Stock Exchange or a farmers’ market or of a bookstore full of people looking for fascinating stories and information. All manner of human activity takes place, from billion-dollar deals to flirtations.” Here, social relationships have merged so completely with market relationships as to become indistinguishable. The internet is the instrument of this union; it brings people together, but under the sign of capital. Gates believed his dream was at least a decade from being realised. Yet by the time his book came out, AuctionWeb was already making progress toward achieving it.

Combining the community with the market was a lucrative innovation. The interactions that occurred in the guise of the former greatly enhanced the financial value of the latter. Under the banner of community, AuctionWeb’s buyers and sellers were encouraged to perform unpaid activities that made the site more useful, such as rating one another in the feedback forum or sharing advice on shipping. And the more people participated, the more attractive a destination it became. More people using AuctionWeb meant more items listed for sale, more buyers bidding in auctions, more feedback posted to the forum – in short, a more valuable site.

This phenomenon – the more users something has, the more valuable it becomes – is what economists call network effects. On the web, accommodating growth was fairly easy: increasing one’s hosting capacity was a simpler and cheaper proposition than the brick-and-mortar equivalent. And doing so was well worth it because, at a certain size, network effects locked in advantages that were hard for a competitor to overcome. A second, related strength was the site’s role as a middleman. In an era when many dot-coms were selling goods directly – Pets.com paid a fortune on postage to ship pet food to people’s doors – Omidyar’s company connected buyers and sellers instead, and pushed the cost of postage on to them.

This enabled it to profit from users’ transactions while remaining extremely lean. It had no inventory, no warehouses – just a website. But AuctionWeb was not only a middleman. It was also a legislator and an architect, writing the rules for how people could interact and designing the spaces where they did so. This wasn’t in Omidyar’s plan. He initially wanted a market run by its members, an ideal formed by his libertarian beliefs. His creation of the feedback forum likely reflected an ideological investment in the idea that markets were essentially self-organising, as much as his personal interest in no longer having to mediate various disputes.

Contrary to libertarian assumptions, however, the market couldn’t function without the site’s ability to exercise a certain kind of sovereignty. The feedback forum is a good example: users started manipulating it, leaving praise for their friends and sending mobs of malicious reviewers after their enemies. The company would be compelled to intervene again and again. It did so not only to manage the market but also to expand it by attracting more buyers and sellers through new categories of goods and by expanding into new countries – an imperative that shareholders imposed after eBay went public in 1998.

“Despite its initial reluctance, the company stepped increasingly into a governance role,” writes the sociologist Keyvan Kashkooli, in his study of eBay’s evolution. Increasing profitability required managing people’s behaviour, whether through the code that steered them through the site or the user agreements that governed their activities on it. Thanks to network effects, and its status as both middleman and sovereign, eBay easily turned a profit. When the crash of 2000–01 hit, it survived with few bruises. And in the aftermath of the crash, as an embattled industry, under pressure from investors, tried to reinvent itself, the ideas that it came up with had much in common with those that had formed the basis for eBay’s early success.

For the most part, eBay’s influence was neither conscious nor direct. But the affinities were unmistakable. Omidyar’s community market of the mid-1990s was a window into the future. By later standards it was fairly primitive, existing as it did within the confines of an internet not yet remodelled for the purpose of profit maximisation. But the systems that would accomplish that remodelling, that more total privatisation of the internet, would do so by elaborating the basic patterns that Omidyar had applied. These systems would be called platforms, but what they resembled most were shopping malls.

The first modern shopping mall was built in Edina, Minnesota, in 1956. Its architect, Victor Gruen, was a Jewish socialist from Vienna who had fled the Nazis and disliked American car culture. He wanted to lure midcentury suburbanites out of their Fords and into a place that recalled the “rich public social life” of a great European city. He hoped to offer them not only shops but libraries and cinemas and community centres. Above all, his mall would be a space for interaction: an “outlet for that primary human instinct to mingle with other humans”. Unlike in a city, however, this mingling would take place within a controlled setting. The chaos of urban life would be displaced by the discipline of rational design.

As Gruen’s invention caught on, the grander parts of his vision fell away. But the idea of an engineered environment that paired commerce with a public square remained. Gruen’s legacy would be a kind of capitalist terrarium, nicely captured by what urban planners call a “privately owned public space”. The systems that dominate life at the upper end of the stack are best understood, to borrow an insight from the scholar Jathan Sadowski, as shopping malls. The shopping malls of the internet – Google, Facebook, Amazon – are nothing if not privately owned public spaces. Calling themselves platforms, they are in fact corporate enclosures, with a wide range of interactions transpiring inside of them.

Just like in a real mall, some of these interactions are commercial, such as buying clothes from a merchant, while others are social, such as hanging out with friends. But what distinguishes the online mall from the real mall is that within the former, everything one does makes data. Your clicks, chats, posts, searches – every move, however small, leaves a digital trace. And these traces present an opportunity to create a completely new set of arrangements. Real malls are in the rental business: the owner charges tenants rent, essentially taking a slice of their revenues. Online malls can make money more or less the same way, as eBay demonstrated early on, by taking a cut of the transactions they facilitate.

But, as Sadowski points out, online malls are also able to capture another kind of rent: data rent. They can collect and make money from those digital traces generated by the activities that occur within them. And since they control every square inch of the enclosure, and because modifying the enclosure is simply a matter of deploying new code, they can introduce architectural changes in order to cause those activities to generate more traces, or traces of different kinds. These traces turn out to be very valuable. So valuable, in fact, that amassing and analysing them have become the primary functions of the online mall. Like Omidyar’s community market, the online mall facilitates interactions, writes the rules for those interactions, and benefits from having more people interacting with one another.

But in the online mall, these interactions are recorded, interpreted and converted into money in a range of ways. Data can help sell targeted advertising. It can help build algorithmic management systems that siphon more profit out of each worker. It can help train machine learning models in order to develop and refine automated services like chatbots, which can in turn reduce labour costs and open new revenue streams. Data can also sustain faith among investors that a tech company is worth a ton of money, simply because it has a ton of data. This is what distinguishes online malls from their precursors: they are above all designed for making, and making use of, data. Data is their organizing principle and essential ingredient.

Data is sometimes compared to oil, but a better analogy might be coal. Coal was the fuel that powered the steam engine. It propelled the capitalist reorganization of manufacturing from an artisanal to an industrial basis, from the workshop to the factory, in the 19th century. Data has played a comparable role. It has propelled the capitalist reorganization of the internet, banishing the remnants of the research network and perfecting the profit engine. Very little of this vastly complex machinery could be foreseen from the vantage point of 1995.

But the arrival of AuctionWeb represented a large step toward making it possible. The story of the modern internet is often told through the stories of Google, Facebook, Amazon and the other giants that have come to conquer our online life.  But their conquests were preceded and prefigured by another, one that started as a side project and stumbled into success by coming up with the basic blueprint for making a lot of money on the internet.

By

Source: ‘Wallets and eyeballs’: how eBay turned the internet into a marketplace | eBay | The Guardian

More contents:

eBay, Inc. 2021 Annual Report (Form 10-K)”. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Global Trade: 1. Finding International Items On eBay”

Skype and PayPal – A Different Set of Rules”.

PayPal Spinoff Day Has Arrived — What Does It Mean for Investors?”.

The Perfect Store.

How did eBay start?”

The perfect store

The eBay Business Model”

The Myths of Innovation

Ebay Enters The NFT Space, Launches First NFT Collection

“EBay Founder Pierre Omidyar Steps Down From Board”.

“Brand New: eBay Settles for Lowest Bid”

eBay selling fees”.

Ebay’s history – know your roots!”.

eBay Guides – Tickets Buying Guide”.

Taxes and import charges”.

eBay Inc. – eBay Inc. Outlines Global Business Strategy”

The brand that auctioned the www: eBay

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SoftBank’s Startups Insist The Bruised Investor Still Expects Growth Despite The Economic Downturn

The economic storm is upon us, but it hasn’t changed SoftBank’s expectation that its portfolio companies will continue to prosper if only they focus on product and growth. That’s the message Masayoshi Son’s Japanese conglomerate is sending to its startups even as SoftBank posted a bruising $27 billion loss over the last fiscal year as inflation spirals, war siphons resources and interest rates head skyward.

Forbes contacted around half of SoftBank’s Vision Fund portfolio companies to learn how tech’s largest investor was advising founders to weather a slowdown that has already erased billions of dollars from the valuations of public and private technology companies.

“No matter we are in a bear market, they still think that the most relevant thing is growth, and product, and that from the founder’s perspective is great,” says Juan Urdiales, CEO of Spanish hiring platform Jobandtalent, which raised $120 million in a SoftBank-led round in March 2021. Urdiales is not alone.

Forbes spoke with 20 other founders out of a pool of 300 startups worldwide backed by SoftBank’s $140 billion Vision Fund 1 and 2. Founders such as Kevin Gosschalk of Captcha maker Arkose Labs, say they were told that “focus” and “lean” growth were the priorities in an economy sagging under rising interest rates and untamed inflation

As signs of a bear market appeared on the horizon this year, SoftBank sharply dialed back the pace of its financings after making a record 183 investments last year. It has made just 32 investments since the start of the war in Ukraine at the end of February, as SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son told investors that he intends to pull back on such deals by 50% to 75%.

That shift was preceded by an earlier change of strategy at the Vision Fund, the world’s largest tech investor. The London-based team shifted from the $1 billion wagers in capital-hungry companies such as Uber and WeWork it made with its Vision Fund 1, to make more traditional venture-style investments with cheques as low as $10 million spreading its chips across industries and countries.

“The reality is that if you want to continue investing multi-billion a year it’s very hard to concentrate on a few positions and find these very large companies that can digest that,” says Yanni Pipilis, EMEA Managing Partner for the SoftBank Vision Fund.

As a minority investor in many of the Vision Fund 2 companies, SoftBank had a smaller role to play in talks about a startup’s future, says Pipilis. “So the discussions we have are more often at a board level are advisory rather than telling founders what they should do,” he says. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but of course in an environment like this one we will look at your cash burn, hiring, marketing plans and see how we can adjust that to potentially increase your runway.”

SoftBank has, like many of its rivals in Silicon Valley, refocused on European startups over the past 18 months after valuations and founders’ demands in the U.S. surged. SoftBank nearly doubled the capital allocated to European startups to 25% in its second fund after Vision Fund 1 was dominated by large American and Asian companies.

Even so, the speed and scale of SoftBank’s spending across its sprawling operations can lead to overlaps and confusion. Just days apart in April 2021, two separate Vision Fund teams invested over $3 billion in two Norwegian startups with rival warehouse robotics technology. The stablemates could soon be pitted against each other as online grocer Oda expands into Germany while Autostore seeks to power Germany’s retail giants.

Some of SoftBank’s rivals have struck a more cautious tone. In a memo to founders in its portfolio last month, Sequoia Capital issued a gloomy warning that “Cheap capital is not coming to the rescue” to bail out struggling startups. Tiger Global, SoftBank’s rival in what critics brand “spray and pray” investing in late-stage startups, has also faced major headwinds and has written off $17 billion across its portfolio.

In May, Tiger invested in 33 companies, down from 50 in January, according to Pitchbook. But despite the looming signs of a downturn, Tiger’s backers appear undaunted, raising $12.7 billion in March for a new growth fund, and is reportedly in talks to raise yet another fund focused on private markets.

SoftBank has come down to earth since this time last year, when it smashed Japan’s record for corporate profits on the listing of South Korean ecommerce player Coupang and the then-booming valuations of companies in its Vision Fund portfolio. Those milestones were before rising interest rates, sharp stock-market declines and fears of a recession hammered public and private tech valuations.

Meanwhile, banner Softbank investments such as Alibaba and ride-hailing app Didi have been swept up in China’s tech crackdown. SoftBank’s own share price has plunged 36% over the last year. It is also managing a $140 billion corporate debt pile, among the largest in the world, and a raft of high-profile executive departures.

Most recently, some of SoftBank’s biggest bets in Vision Fund 2 have started to wobble. Last month, Klarna, Europe’s most valuable startup, laid off a tenth of its employees and cut back expectations after posting a nearly $500 million loss last year. GoPuff, the $15 billion instant delivery app, is shuttering more than a dozen warehouses and laid off 400 employees in May. And View, a “smart glass” window maker, which raised $1 billion from SoftBank before going public via SPAC, is at risk of being delisted by the Nasdaq while trading at a 81% discount from its peak a year ago.

SoftBank’s star investment Alibaba, now trades at a 50% discount to its price last year, says Amir Anvarzadeh, a Singapore-based analyst with Asymmetric Advisors, who recommends shorting SoftBank. “Over the last few years, SoftBank’s transformation to become a venture capital firm has been a disaster,” says Anvarzadeh.

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SoftBank has been here before. Son was one of the biggest winners of tech investing in the 1990s, just before the dot-com bubble burst, thanks to massive bets on Yahoo and E-Trade. But the subsequent selloff saw SoftBank lose 99% of its market cap, and Son’s personal wealth took a major hit. Son revived SoftBank as a major telecom operator but has more recent brushes with disaster from multi-billion bets on failed startups like WireCard, Greensill Capital, and Katerra – each raising questions about SoftBank’s due diligence process. The WeWork saga in particular took a financial and reputational toll on both SoftBank and Son.

Founders interviewed by Forbes say they have also got the message from SoftBank that it can’t be expected to bail out a floundering startup. SoftBank has led scores of rounds for loss-making startups but now pushes for another investor to lead any subsequent rounds. “We deliberately embarked on a strategy several years ago of having rounds led by others, and being willing to participate and support rounds,” says Anthony Doeh, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers.

“As a founder you should never count on continued support from your investors financially,” says Rob van den Heuvel, CEO of Netherlands-based shipping startup Sendcloud, which raised $175 million in September in a round led by SoftBank. “Our business is doing well and they reiterated their support a couple of weeks ago. … I would understand if they don’t support businesses that are not doing well.”

Though for now, such factors have not shaken the confidence of its portfolio companies, outwardly at least. Urdiales says he was warned by other founders that SoftBank’s exposure to public markets could determine whether it was a long-term investor. “We have seen many investors who are tremendously affected by market trends,” Uriadales says. “You don’t want an investor that changes their mind every quarter.”

I joined Forbes as the Europe News Editor and will be working with the London newsroom to define our coverage of emerging businesses and leaders across the UK and Europe. Prior to

I’m a staff reporter at Forbes covering tech companies. Follow me on Twitter at @davidjeans2 and email me at djeans@forbes.com

Source: SoftBank’s Startups Insist The Bruised Investor Still Expects Growth Despite The Economic Downturn

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