From the Archive
Can Marissa Mayer Save Yahoo?
Marissa Mayer is sitting in URLs, theYahoo cafeteria, making the case for the future of a company that almost everyone in Silicon Valley views as doomed. It’s been a long July, in which Mayer’s one-year anniversary as chief executive officer was marked with an uninspiring second-quarter earnings report. Mayer prefers to focus on the company’s increase in Web traffic. She won’t give numbers but says it’s enough to erase the entire decline from the previous year. “Name another Internet giant that went through three years of decline and then started to grow again,” she says for this Businessweek cover story. “It’s a very good sign.”
Costco: The Cheapest, Happiest Company in the World
Costco Wholesale, the second-largest retailer in the U.S. behind Walmart, is an anomaly in an age marked by turmoil and downsizing. Known for its $55-a-year membership fee and its massive, austere warehouses stocked floor to ceiling with indulgent portions of everything from tilapia to toilet paper, Costco has thrived over the last five years. While competitors lost customers to the Internet and weathered a wave of investor pessimism, Costco’s sales have grown 39 percent and its stock price has doubled since 2009. The hot streak continued through last year’s retirement of widely admired co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jim Sinegal. The share price is up 30 percent under the leadership of its new, plain-spoken CEO, Craig Jelinek. Click to read more of my Bloomberg Businessweek cover story from June of 2013.
Inside Google’s Secret Lab
As the polymath engineers and scientists of Google there are fond of saying, Google X is the search giant’s factory for moonshots, those million-to-one scientific bets that require generous amounts of capital, massive leaps of faith, and a willingness to break things. Google X is home to the self-driving car initiative and the Internet-connected eyeglasses, Google Glass, among other improbable projects. For this Bloomberg Businessweek cover story , I got exclusive access to the skunk works and its leaders, whose mandate is to come up with technologies that sound more like plot contrivances from Star Trek than products that might satisfy the short-term demands of Google’s shareholders. “Google X is very consciously looking at things that Google in its right mind wouldn’t do,” says Richard DeVaul, a “rapid evaluator” at the lab. “They built the rocket pad far away from the widget factory, so if the rocket blows up, it’s hopefully not disrupting the core business.”
Why Hasn’t the Web Changed the Real Estate Business?
Over the last decade, the Internet has seeped into that bedrock of the U.S. economy: the housing market. A group of growing and mostly profitable websites like Redfin, Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com have sprung up to help guide consumers through what in many cases will be the largest and most nerve-wracking transaction of their lives. But by and large these companies are not dislocating real estate agents themselves. A majority of buyers and sellers still wind up working with traditional brokers, one on each side of the deal. Here's the full feature story on Businessweek.com, about the lack of change in the real estate business and how three of these companies have a surprisingly intertwined past.
Battered Dreams, Battered Dreamliner
By the standards of commercial airplanes, the Boeing 787 was supposed to be a modern marvel. Its carbon-fiber body and new electrical system give it a reduced weight, which allows it to burn 20 percent less fuel than the midsize airplanes it’s meant to replace. The interior cabin features cathedral-like archways to reduce the sense of claustrophobia and enlarged windows that dim at the touch of a button. Because of the new, stronger composite materials, the cabin can also be maintained at higher pressure and humidity, so travelers feel fresher at landing. The airplane even has a soaring name, the Dreamliner, the winning submission in a naming contest held on America Online 10 years ago. Read the full story at Businessweek.com.
Does Jeff Bezos Care About Profits?
January in retail is a little bit like the off-season of a professional sports league. Teams dust themselves off from the grueling holiday season playoffs, evaluate their coaching staffs, and assess the balance of power in their divisions. In this month’s period of exhausted self-reflection, one of the industry’s broad conclusions is clear: Amazon.com is on its way to establishing a dangerous dynasty. Read the full blog post on Businessweek.com.
Mapping a Path Out of Steve Jobs’s Shadow
Interviews with more than two dozen current and former Apple executives, employees, and partners reveal an internal mood largely characterized by a singular focus on proving to the world that Apple can still execute. There’s also more office politics and some concern that Jobs’s departure and the arrival of thousands of new employees will dilute the culture. Nevertheless, the company is happier and even somewhat more transparent than it was during Jobs’s tenure, these insiders say. There are fewer frantic calls at midnight, and there’s less implicit pressure on engineers to cut short or cancel vacations in the heat of product development cycles.
No one would say the post-Steve Jobs Apple is better off. But to a surprising degree, it’s doing fine without him. Read the full story at Businessweek.com.
My Life As A Task Rabbit
Standing in the living room of his luxurious two-bedroom apartment, which has sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, Curtis Jackson informs me that I am a terrible housecleaner. There are soap stains on the walls of his master bathroom and pools of water gathering near the edges of the tub. My Roomba vacuum, we discover after a lengthy and humiliating search, is out of power and stuck under a bed. There’s an entire room that I didn’t know about and thus never cleaned. I also neglected to take out the trash and left the living room coated in the noxious perfume of an organic cedar disinfectant. “I respect what you are trying to do, and you did an OK job in the time allotted,” he says. “But frankly, stick to being a reporter.”
The apartment is one stop in the middle of my short, backbreaking, soul-draining journey into what Silicon Valley venture capitalists often call the distributed workforce. This is the fancy term for the marketplace for odd jobs hosted by the site TaskRabbit, the get-me-a-soy-latte errands offered by the courier service Postmates, and the car washing assignments aggregated by yet another venture, called Cherry. These companies and several others are in the business of organizing and auctioning tedious and time-consuming chores. Read the story on Businessweek.com
Part 3: The Talented M. Despallieres
In 2011 I discovered that "Alex Becker" was also known as Alexandre Despallieres and was in jail for the suspected murder of his husband, music executive Peter Ikin. I retraced the steps of our earlier collaboration and made some unpleasant discoveries. Later I visited him in Paris after he had gotten out of jail and was awaiting trial. Here's the full feature story at Businessweek.com.