From the Archive
Silicon Valley Cashes Out in Secondary Markets
Vince Thompson doesn't appear in any accounts of Facebook's early years. Few of the more than 2,000 employees at the company even know his name. The AOL (AOL) veteran's brief stint as Facebook's first official ad-sales chief lasted less than six months. Even so, when Thompson left the company in early 2006, he exercised his options to buy Facebook stock, as is the custom in Silicon Valley, and took a sizable chunk of shares with him. About 18 months later he moved to Los Angeles and started consulting for media clients such as TVGuide.com on how to tap new sources of revenue, and he began to think about how to create one for himself. He set out on a quest, talking to friends in the New York investment banking world about an unorthodox idea: selling a portion of his Facebook shares, packaged with those of a colleague who left Facebook shortly after he did. Read the full feature story on Businessweek.com.
Hacker vs Hacker: the HB Gary Story
Greg Hoglund's nightmare began on Super Bowl Sunday. On Feb. 6 the high-tech entrepreneur was sitting in his home office, trying to get to the bottom of some unusual traffic he was seeing on the Internet. Two days earlier he'd noticed troubling activity hitting the website of HBGary Federal, the Sacramento startup he helped launch in 2009. He suspected some kind of hacker assault and had spent the weekend helping to shore up the company's systems. A few hours before Green Bay kicked off to Pittsburgh, Hoglund logged into his corporate account on Google (GOOG)—and confirmed his fears.
He couldn't get in. Someone had changed the password and locked him out of his own e-mail system. Read the saga on Businessweek.com.
Can Virgin America Fly?
On a sunny, wind-swept December morning, Virgin America kicked off a day of festivities along the otherwise unfestive runways of Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Four longhorn cattle lolled in a pen while dignitaries such as Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert lunched on pulled pork and ribs, and lasso artists twirled rope. The main attraction was the host, 60-year-old Sir Richard Branson, billionaire bon vivant and founder of the Virgin Group. While he was at the center of the celebration, he was also making an incursion into enemy territory. Read the full feature story on Businessweek.com.
The Calculus Behind Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime may be the most ingenious and effective customer loyalty program in all of e-commerce, if not retail in general. It converts casual shoppers like Tinsley, who gorge on the gratification of having purchases reliably appear two days after they order, into Amazon addicts. Analysts describe Prime as one of the main factors driving Amazon's stock price—up 296 percent in the last two years—and the main reason Amazon's sales grew 30 percent during the recession while other retailers flailed. At the same time, Prime has proven exceedingly difficult for rivals to copy: It allows Amazon to exploit its wide selection, low prices, network of third-party merchants, and finely tuned distribution system, while also keying off that faintly irrational human need to maximize the benefits of a club you have already paid to join. Read the fully story on Businessweek.com.
How Baidu Won China
Many CEOs have admirers. Robin Li—the 41-year-old, American-educated chief executive officer of the Chinese search engine Baidu—has a fan club. And each year at the Baidu (BIDU) World conference in Beijing, the members of the Robin Li fan club come out to get close to the object of their worship. READ THE BUSINESSWEEK COVER STORY.
How Facebook Sells Your Friends
A look at the mechanics of Facebook's advertising engine. Read the full feature story here on Businessweek.com.
Can Amazon Be the Walmart of the Web
THE hum of 102 rooftop air conditioners and a chorus of beeping electric carts provide the acoustic backdrop in Amazon.com's 605,000-square-foot distribution facility on this city’s west side. But the center’s employees can almost always hear Terry Jones.
On a recent summer afternoon, Mr. Jones, an “inbound support associate” making $12 an hour, steered a hand-pushed cart through the packed aisles and shouted his location to everyone in earshot: “Cart coming through. Yup! Watch yourself, please!” Mr. Jones explained that he was just making his time at Amazon “joyful and fun” while complying with the company’s rigorous safety rules. Read the full Sunday Business story on NYT.com.
Amid the Gloom, An E-Commerce War
WHEN the e-commerce giant eBay emerged from the last recession seven years ago with an aura of invincibility, its chief executive, Meg Whitman, boasted that “eBay is to some extent recession-proof.” As the online auctioneer’s revenues and stock price kept climbing, one of its primary rivals, Amazon.com, just limped along.
How times have changed. Ms. Whitman, now co-chair of Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, retired from eBay earlier this year as the company struggled with stagnation. Amazon, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the most vibrant and reliable retailers in the country. Read the full Sunday business story from 2008 at NYT.com.
Part 2: An E-Commerce Empire From Porn to Puppies
In 2008, Alex Becker helped me with a followup story into a man named Richard Gordon, who had ties to Stickam and the Japanese pornographers and also to politics, Christian philanthropies and a "charity" called the SPCA International. Here's that second story in the New York Times, which caused the American Bible Society to not renew the contract of its president, Paul Irwin.
Part 1: Accuser Says Web Site Has X-Rated Links
In July 2007, Alex Becker emailed me with a story to tell. He claimed that the social network Stickam, which catered to American teens, was secretly owned by a Japanese pornography company. I visited him in Los Angeles, where I met his wife and friends. They snuck me into the Stickam headquarters on the top floor of the tallest building in the city, and their story checked out. Here's that article, my first with Becker's help, in the New York Times.