Links for 1 February 2018 – IT monopolies, dreaming audaciously, beating Amazon and other retail lessons

Today we start off our links with the address from billionaire investor George Soros at Davos last week which  drew quite a lot of attention, primarily for his comments on “the rise and monopolistic behavior of the giant I.T.-platform companies,” such as Facebook and Google. Some hard hitting quotes on this from the address:

“These companies have often played an innovative and liberating role. But as Facebook and Google have grown into ever more powerful monopolies, they have become obstacles to innovation, and they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.”

“Facebook and Google effectively control over half of all internet advertising revenue.”

“Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention and directing it towards their own commercial purposes. They deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents. There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook gamblers to the point where they gamble away all their money, even money they don’t have.”

“Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it.”

On Bitcoin, another favourite topic of some of our members, Soros, known for his legendary investing in currencies, dismissed the cryptocurrency as a “typical bubble”. But he said the cryptocurrency would likely avoid a full crash because authoritarians would still use it to make secret investments abroad.

Our next link is on beating Amazon. Not only does Amazon control nearly 50% of e-commerce sales, the company has clearly set its sights on physical retail as well, having acquired Whole Foods and opened multiple retail stores last year. And emerging consumer brands should be even more concerned now that Amazon is making a concerted push into private-label. When building a consumer brand, you should ask yourself “can Amazon do this just as well?” If the answer is yes, proceed with caution. However, as the article points out, there are still a lot of ways to get ahead of Amazon.

Continuing with our retail theme, an interesting article on how Business Insider visited an H&M store and saw everything that’s wrong with the brand. This comes after H&M reported its biggest sales drop on record in the fourth quarter of 2017.

We end with lessons from Phil Knight about Business and Being an Entrepreneur. Phil Knight famously turned the startup Blue Ribbon Sports into the giant company known as Nike. Some quotes from Knight mentioned in the article that I particularly enjoy:

“Someone somewhere once said that business is war without bullets, and I tended to agree. ” “Like it or not, life is a game.” Play by the rules, but be ferocious. Dream audaciously. Have the courage to fail forward. Act with urgency.” “I wanted to leave a mark on the world. I wanted to win. No, that’s not right, I simply didn’t want to lose.” “You only have to succeed the last time.”

“Driving back to Portland I’d puzzle over my sudden success at selling. I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”

Knight’s book about his journey in creating Nike is also well worth reading and has some very influential admirers such as Bill Gates.  Bill Gates says about the book: “Shoe Dog, Phil Knight’s memoir about creating Nike, is a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It’s a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice.”

Wishing all our members a blessed day.

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