Business Unusual

Update: Amazon gets wider, Uber gets a flat and Bitcoin is losing currency

You don't get to upset an apple cart without competitors and regulators looking to protect their turf. For this winter solstice we look at how some of businesses that have been covered on Business Unusual in the past are doing now.

Uber

Uber remains the startup unicorn to beat all unicorns although its horn is looking in real danger of breaking off. (Unicorns are startups with valuations of over $1 billion).

This year has not been easy, a damning labour report found violations, harassment and lapses that has seen 20 staff members fired with many more issued final warnings or sent for training revealed by a former staffer, Susan Fowler. They are being sued for stealing autonomous driving software from Alphabet (Google’s parent) for its driverless truck company Otto. Evidence presented so far does not look good for Uber.

Multiple senior executives have stepped aside including CEO Travis Kalanick who initially was taking a leave of absence but quit today (21 June).

Their use of software to monitor users and evade regulators is being investigated while authorities in many other cities continue to challenge them on employment and operating practices. They have given up trying to seize a major stake in China in favour of a part investment in the local operator and they continue to be challenged by current and new competitors looking to use their platform against them.

The most recent is a startup run in collaboration with manufacturer BMW, allowing you to hire or hail a BMW in select US cities. ReachNow offers minute rate hiring and can arrange to have a car delivered wherever you request it.

All this while it works towards an eventual public listing. It is valued at over $70 billion, yet despite significant income, has not yet begun making a profit.

Just this week a board member stepped aside after a sexist remark at a meeting. Arianna Huffington, a fellow board member, was the target of that comment and is believed to be a significant player to steady Uber through this phase. Huffington is reported to be a strong supporter of Kalanick's vision for Uber’s future and, assuming there are no more scandals, may be the one to set it up for stability and future growth.

While Kalanick could be accused of much of what saw Uber in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, he has also been a strong driver to get the business where it is. Currently the company is being managed by a committee as the board seeks a new CEO.

No company would want to go through what Uber has, but still being a private company may allow it to weather a storm that could have sent it into the ditch had it already listed.

READ MORE: Uber, the quintessential disruptor

Amazon

Amazon keeps getting bigger and its head Jeff Bezos continues to move up the rich list. Its most recent planned acquisition of US retailer Whole Foods may be for something other than selling fresh foods though. The $13 billion deal will help Whole Foods with sustainability and growth, while the benefit to Amazon will be to rapidly become sustainable with grocery and real world stores. There is another big benefit, the data produced by real world shoppers on the scale Whole Food offers when combined with Amazon’s own online behaviour will make for formidable improvements for tailoring deals for real world shopping and grocery deliveries. It is also potentially very bad news for competitors as Amazon traditionally uses very low margins, lower even that other mass retailers. Good news for consumers, but likely to see more consolidation and closures of retailers that will no longer be profitable. It may also put more pressure on retail property prices and long term sustainability of some shopping malls.

It is also looking at acquiring Slack, a messaging and collaboration platform popular with developers. If it does, it may make using Slack and the growing financial contributor to Amazon income, their giant cloud computing platform, easier for developers to use for their own projects.

A decade ago a presentation that imagined a company that combined the powers of Google and Amazon created a stir. It may be worth watching it again now. It paints a dark picture of the future, but they do correctly predict just how personal data will be integrated into what you see and potentially buy.

_A project to imagine the future from a decade ago has not come to pass thankfully, but it does highlight how powerful some companies may become._

READ MORE: Our original Amazon piece

PokemonGo

PokemonGo is almost a year old and is the most commercially successful mobile game ever. Hundreds of millions were playing during the Northern Hemisphere summer last year while countries that had not yet officially had the game were begging for it to be released or playing unofficial versions. There are as many as 65 million players still active and the game has earned over a billion dollars in revenue, the fastest ever for any game to do so. It has 5 Guinness World Records and has released a major update that adds a collaborative element to the game which they have already seen succeed with its predecessor Ingress. You can expect to see crowds gathering in parks and public places doing nothing but tapping away on their phones in the coming months (although not with the same size crowds as a year ago).

There is still a commercial opportunity for businesses to invite users to stop at their stores while out playing. Some brands have created pokestops at their premises. Elements like trade are likely to be rolled out in the future suggesting that Niantic will continue enticing mobile gamers until they have caught them all.

READ MORE: The story of PokemonGO when it launched

DJI Global

DJI are the king of the Drone skies and their latest addition looks like it will keep it that way.

The DJI Phantom set the benchmark for consumer drone technology while becoming a firm favourite with movie makers and surveyors.

Since then the drones have improved in quality, stability and ease of use while maintaining costs. The most recent Spark keeps the best of the pro models while adding gesture control and cutting the cost to $499 (R6500). The Phantom Pro 4 costs about R30 000.

It was preceded by a potentially excellent option from GoPro which built the Karma. Unfortunately building a great camera does not guarantee you can build a great drone. It failed but consumers should be happy with the DJI replacement.

READ MORE: How we reported on drones in 2015

Bitcoin

Bitcoin has broken all its records, but is losing ground to the rest of the coins that look on track to overtake it as the preferred future of cryptocurrencies. It may be a while still, but the day is approaching when the popularity of Bitcoin will be rivalled by the ascension of Ether created on the Ethereum blockchain. Its creator Vitalik Buterin, born in 1994, looks set to see the Microsoft-backed platform surpass Bitcoin.

The main challenge to the currency is the growing debate about how best to deal with its own success. The number of transactions is straining the network to keep up while the number of miners has the difficulty to mine a block so high that the energy costs are becoming significant.

The future and the past are messy. Innovation is not a smooth transition from the old to the new, but for all the issues of the past and challenges of the future the present appears to still be the best time to be alive and building a business.

READ MORE: When the Bitcoin Bonanza began READ EVEN MORE: How will first covered Bitcoin in January 2016

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